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Minister News Prayers Sermon

At the Meeting Place – for 18 October 2020

 

Dear Friends

This has been the week of Elders meetings. Somehow we have fallen into the pattern of holding both Elders’ Meetings on consecutive days. Sometimes it is useful as it allows us to share information quickly but sometimes it feels a bit rushed between Ansty Road on Monday evening and St. Columba’s on Tuesday morning, and this week was a rushed one. However, it was good to meet with the St. Columba’s Elders mostly in person and to support one another as we made some practical decisions about clearing the church building. If you have not yet contacted one of us about something you would like from the building please do so. There are a number of plaques we would also like to find homes for.

At Ansty Road we spent the meeting making plans to re-open for live worship this coming Sunday. In doing so, we hesitated, wondering if in the current situation we should open at all, but decided that for the sake of those who want to be in church and unable to meet on zoom we would create that opportunity. However, there are some of us who need to stay in for good reasons, please do so. Please do not put yourself or others at risk. We need to continue to look after one another.

The rules are that:-

  • if you feel ill or particularly vulnerable, please do not come
  • you must either use the QR code or sign in the test and trace book
  • you must remain socially distanced from everyone who is not in your bubble. 
  • you must wear a face-covering and sanitise hands as you come in. 
  • we have set the church out with the chairs in pairs and threes, but you can only sit with someone in your bubble. 
  • we will fill up from the front left hand corner and we will leave from the back right hand corner.
  • if we have more than 12 households/bubbles we can open the screen and use the hall
  • the offering plate will be in the welcome area
  • we will play hymns, but those in church can’t sing – those at home can.
  • we will only open the accessible toilet and only one person at a time should go up the corridor to the toilets.
  • there will be no after church cup of tea/coffee and we ask you not to linger in the building. 

After that long list, which I know does not sound very encouraging please be assured that we will make every one who comes welcome. We welcome those who join us on zoom. And as ever you are welcome to stay at home and do your own thing. We each need to take good care of ourselves as well as one another.

Prayers & Reflection

Welcome back to Ansty Road, to our new entrance and upgraded rooms. 

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

Our past, our present, our future

Our moving on, our hanging back, our uncertain steps.

We have returned the soil and ashes from the memorial garden to a new space, it awaits fresh planting

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

Our memories of those we love and those who have gone before us

Our grieving and our living, our delight and our flourishing

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

Our fears, our dreams, our hopefulness

Our joys, our celebration, our pride.

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

Our gifts, our grace, our generosity

Our teaching and learning, our wondering questions.

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

Our preaching and listening, prayers spoken and enacted

Our good news telling, our grace filled living.

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

We name partners and friends …

We name those who we have been asked to pray for ….

Called by name, we give to God what is God’s

To the glory of God, In the name of Jesus, 

in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen

© Craig Muir, 2020

Bible Exodus 33:1-23 

Reflection After the drama of the fight that ensues after Moses discovers Aaron leading worship before a golden calf/bull, Moses begins to meet with God in a tent on the edge of the encampment. You sense that the relationship is strained, perhaps God does not want to be in the midst of these rebellious people, whilst the people are grieving this soured relationship. Reconciliation is not easy, we know that, we know how hard it is to find the right words, to be in the same space with people we have fallen out with, and we each have our own ways of dealing (or not dealing) with such situations. 

Other than the young assistant Joshua, Moses seems to be on his own. There is no mention of Aaron in these encounters, and Moses prays, “you have not let me know whom you will send with me. … show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight.” There is uncertainty here because in verse 1 God has told Moses to take the people to the promised land and that an angel will lead them – but this is not the presence of God that Moses has become used to. Moses begs God to be with them, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here …” It is tense and just like on Mount Sinai, God concedes to Moses and agrees to be present with the people as they venture onwards. 

How do we perceive God to be present with us? In this account God is perceived as a pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the meeting tent; as a disembodied voice in conversation with Moses, as a friend; and then anthropomorphised into a hand and a back, but not a face. However much we may perceive God’s presence, there is still a hiddenness, a mystery that we can not get beyond. Yet, at times of decision, dilemma, doubt we must seek God’s presence and goodness in all that we discern.

This has been a time when we have been reminded that God rests wherever we are – we don’t need special holy places. God’s presence can be with us in our home, on a walk in the park, in a zoomed prayer meeting, in a telephone conversation, in our quiet reading of scripture, a prayer,  a poem a photograph, a piece of art. Yet here some of us are – in a meeting place that is special for us, amongst friends who can be no closer than 2m unless they are in our bubble, not allowed to sing just listen and watch those who join us from home. Is God more present here than somewhere else? I don’t believe so, but I do believe that we need places to meet with one another, to work from, to be a base for all we do – and that is how our church buildings function for us. Of course they can also be places of memory, we have experience here – some for a lifetime, others much less, and at the moment we are all re-learning those experiences, not only is the space different to the one some of us walked out of in March, but the way we have to use it is different from how we imagined – because we didn’t imagine setting chairs out 2m apart. 

Where is God presence in all this? On Thursday I was sitting in the new welcome area, I could see across the labyrinth, to Ansty Road, it was late afternoon and the road was busy. Through the other window, I could watch Hocking Road, as a steady stream of traffic edged along to the junction, children were heading home from school and those who had parked all day returned to their cars – it was good to watch the world go by and hold it in prayer. There was no cloudy pillar, no disembodied voice, just the quiet certainty that God knew each person by name and here was a place where God presence can be still known through the loving actions of the community who gather here, whether in person or online. 

As God met with Moses in a tent on the edge of their community, Moses was being prepared for the future. He didn’t know it, but with him, quietly minding the tent, was Joshua, being prepared to take over from Moses in the future. It would be Joshua who leads the people into the promised land, not Moses. Moses though, still had work to do. He would intercede for the people, he would be a witness to God’s glory, he would enable the people to be aware of God’ presence in their midst even when the relationship was uncomfortable. So we dedicate this meeting place to be be a place where each person may know God’s presence in their own lives.

God of the Meeting Place

May those who stand away afraid to meet with you

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May those aware of their own failings and sinfulness

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May those who feel anger rise in their heart

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May each plant and creature, that you have named

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May our earth, created and placed by you

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May all who struggle to arrest climate catastrophe

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May all who seek reconciliation between peoples

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May all who stand in the role of peacemaker

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May all who solicit your goodness and mercy

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May those who grieve all that is lost

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May those who grasp for healing

Know your blessing and your peace

 

May those who gather in your name

Know your blessing and your peace

© Craig Muir, 2020

 

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Minister News Prayers

Horses & Chariots: 13 September 2020

This has been a difficult week. The last time that we gathered for Sunday worship at St. Columba’s I preached on John 4:34  Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work’ On Tuesday we gathered in St. Columba’s and via zoom for the first time since then. We listened to a hymn, prayed together and then made the decision to close St. Columba’s in December.

It is difficult to feel that we have ever completed the work that God has given us but we have come to a point where the work at St. Columba’s needs to be brought to an end and as a congregation it is time to move on to something new. We might have come to this view without Covid, but the lockdown has forced us to make the decision sooner than we might have liked with the added sadness that we are unable to meet and support one another as we prepare for this change. We trust that God will complete the work from the seeds that have been sown in the community from St. Columba’s.

As I prepared to print and send this letter I learnt that Ken Newborough a previous Minister at St. Columba’s died this morning. We give thanks for his life and his ministry. Please hold Janet and the family in prayer.

At the same time we continue to prepare for a new start at Ansty Road and Ball Hill. The restrictions in place for Covid mean that our restart at Ansty Road will be lower key than it would have been otherwise. We have planned to open Ansty Road this Saturday so that people can see how the work is going and have a preview of the new look building. That will still happen but in the light of the changing Covid situation we will not hold the Afternoon Tea that we had planned. Instead anyone who comes will be given an Afternoon Tea box to take home and others will be delivered. 

On Monday evening Ansty Road will hold a Church Meeting using the zoom link that we use for Sunday worship. It will be good to review our work together and plan for the future. However tentative those plans need to be there is still plenty of work to be done.

Please continue to pray for each other and support one another by your friendly phone calls and bubble visits. It makes a big difference to those who who are not able to get out and about as before. 

Prayers & Reflection for 13 September 2020

Prayer

Give thanks to the God of heaven

For love endures for ever

The stone which the builders rejected

has become the main cornerstone

This is the work of the Lord

It is wonderful on our eyes

Hymn

Guide me o thou great Jehovah

pilgrim through this barren land;

I am weak, but thou art mighty,

hold me with thy powerful hand;

bread of heaven, bread of heaven

feed me now and evermore.

 

Open now the crystal fountain

whence the healing stream doth flow;

let the fire and cloudy pillar

lead me all my journey through:

strong deliverer, strong deliverer;

be thou still my strength and shield.

 

When I tread the verge of Jordan,

bid my anxious fears subside;

death of death, and hell’s destruction

land me safe on Canaan’s side:

songs of praises, songs of praises,

I will ever give to thee.

William Williams  (1717-91)

Bible Exodus 14:19-31 

Reflection

Many lectures from my time at College have been quickly forgotten, but a few made such an impression at the time that I still go back to the notes from time to time. One of those was a bible study by John Ponnusamy, a visiting tutor from Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, Madurai. He took us through all the times horses and chariots are mentioned in the bible. It begins in Genesis 50 when Joseph welcomes the family into Egypt. Horses and chariots were the finest military hardware of the biblical period. They were fast, frightening, formidable. Every time they are mentioned they amplify military power and the might of Empire. Time and again the biblical writers show that God is far more powerful, and Exodus 14 makes the point in a terrifying way. Israel will celebrate whilst Egypt mourns.  

Later, Israel will be encouraged not to follow this path of creating military power, but to trust in God. In one story David captures chariots, but destroys them rather than use them himself. It was Solomon who brought horses and chariots into the life of his Kingdom, ignoring the warnings of the prophet Samuel that militarisation would create a society in which the whole purpose of government would be to feed the power of the army. That would be many years in the future, returning to the Exodus passage we see the forces of Empire destroyed and those who were slaves experience the joy of liberation. A fresh future is before them – what will they do with freedom?

And what do we do with the freedom we have been given? How do we view the consequences of that freedom, especially where people’s lives have been lost? Does it matter if those lives were fighting for the “other” side or do we mourn all that is destroyed through human conflict? 

In destroying the horses and chariots of the Egyptian army, God was leading the people into a life that was radically different to the one that they had left behind. They were not to build a community based on the oppression of some people for the glorification of the few. They were to build a community that trusted in God, and they would live in the wilderness for 40 years whilst those lessons were learnt. Of course, when they do emerge into Canaan they would do so by force and those living there would be conquered. This is not a simple story of peace and harmony. Human relationships are always messy. And so we pray …

Prayer

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world

have mercy on us 

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world

have mercy on us 

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world

have mercy on us 

Hymn

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word.

You, Creator God, have written
your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness
bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service
earth its destiny may find.

Fred Kaan  (1929- 2009)

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Minister Prayers

Joseph’s Empire: for 16 August 2020

We have been making plans for the autumn. They are all a bit vague filled with “maybe,” “perhaps”, and “if”. But we are also beginning to imagine a situation where we can meet at Ansty Road and continue to use zoom for those who can’t manage it to Ansty Road.

So here are some potential dates for diaries. Church members at St. Columba’s should already have 10:30am Tuesday 8th September, a Church Meeting at which we will confirm the future of the church. We will meet at church or on Zoom. At church we will use the sanctuary with one pew per household and a one way system for entry and exit. At the same time we will use the usual Sunday link  to allow anyone who can not come to the building to connect via zoom and still participate in the discussion. 

At Ansty Road we are going to explore holding an afternoon tea on the front lawn on Saturday 12 September 2pm-4pm. We will ensure there is the correct social distancing but we also hope to be able to show people into the building so that you can see how the work is progressing. This of course will be arranged with the builders and will have measures to keep the building Covid secure. On Monday 14 September at 7pm, we will hold a Church Meeting via zoom. We then hope to be able to use some weekends to clean and  re-arrange the church ready for worship to re-start from Sunday 18th October. If we have managed to get broadband installed by then we will then devise a service that can be accessed in person or via zoom. 

Craig will be on holiday for a couple of weeks including 23rd and 30th August. On those days Kirsty will be leading worship and will send you a different link in next weeks letter. 

Prayers & Reflection for 16 August 2020

Prayer

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained blessing, life for evermore.

Psalm 133

Hymn

All my hope in God is founded

he doth still my trust renew

Me through change and chance he guideth

only good and only true.

God unknown

he alone,

calls my heart to be his own.

Bible Genesis 45: 1-15 

Reflection And so we reach the emotional reunion, when these brothers are reconciled to one another and Joseph’s dreams have come true. He is lording it over the whole of Egypt and his brothers are in his power. Joseph now controls where his brothers can live, the land, their flocks, their children and grandchildren will live by his gift, and he weeps tears of joy. Only then are his brothers given space to talk. Joseph’s whole rise to power has been the classic tactics of Empire – control the land and means of production, monopolise trade and gather power into the hands of a few; restrict who has access to power and which voices are heard. 

Am I being too harsh on Joseph? Isn’t this all part of God’s plan? Well that is what Joseph wants you to believe, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” In all of these chapters God is only mentioned when Joseph is grasping power and justifying his actions. Just like the brothers, God does not get to speak other than in Joseph’s voice, it is another classic example of Empire – In God We Trust, so long as God endorses the actions of the elite. Otherwise, keep religion out of politics!

Israel and his children will become beneficiaries of empire for a couple of generations, just as many of us still benefit from the fruits of the British Empire. But in time those benefits will fade and God’s voice will be heard amongst those oppressed by Empire, will our ears be attuned to hear? Writing many centuries later, Paul, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, reminds us that, “At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:5) As the beneficiaries of God’s grace, may we know the difference between those who claim God’s blessing to endorse their own power and those who speak with God’s blessing. 

Prayer

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.     Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.

May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Psalm 67

Hymn

Still from earth to God eternal

sacrifice of praise be done,

high above all praises praising

for the Gift of Christ his Son.

Christ doth call

one and all;

ye who follow shall not fall.

Robert Bridges (1844-1930) based on Joachim Neander (1650-80)

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Minister Prayers

Empire: 9 August 2020

This weekend Chris and I were due to head to Hampshire for a festival that we have enjoyed for many years. It would have begun on Thursday, I would have come home Saturday night to lead worship at Ansty Road and then headed back for the Sunday evening and come home early Monday morning. It’s been part of our routine for most of the years since we came to Coventry – although last year I missed it so as to conduct the wedding of Chris and Georgia (Happy Anniversary!). The festival organisers were hoping until about a month ago that they would be going ahead, and I was wondering if I could find a good enough internet connection to lead our Sunday service from there. But like so much, it has been cancelled and we stay at home with our tickets rolled over to 2021. 

You will be marking your own occasions, rolling your own lives over to 2021. At the same time we continue to wonder when we can meet together in church. At Ansty Road we continue to look towards 18th October when the building work should be almost completed. But at the moment all of our furniture is in church and covered in dust, so we will have some cleaning to do as well as working out how many people we can allow inside. At St. Columba’s we have no plans to meet, but will let people know which churches are opening up when they decide to do so. Most churches will make decisions in September and will be guided by infection levels at that time as they are currently increasing within Coventry.

So, instead of sitting in a field listening to music, I will be here again and sharing worship with you on Zoom. It’s been good to see various people come and join us, if you’ve not yet managed to do so please try and join us. If you are uncertain about how it works and want a trial run, let me know and I will open the room and talk you through any problems. 

 

Prayer

Let me hear what God will speak, 

for God will speak peace to the people, 

to the  faithful, to those who turn to God in their hearts.

Let me see God’s salvation at hand 

that glory may dwell in our land.

In God steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; 

righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Psalm 85:8-10

Hymn

New every morning is the love

our wakening and uprising prove

through sleep and darkness safely brought,

restored to life and powers and thought.

 

New mercies each returning day

hover around us while we pray;

new perils past, new sins forgiven

new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.

Bible Genesis 37:1-28 

Reflection We arrive at the story of Joseph. The lectionary invites us to read the beginning this week and the end next week. So you might like to read all the drama in-between through the week. It is a story that you may have heard as the triumph of a hated dreamer, sold into slavery, forging a successful career against all the odds. A rags to riches story so beloved of a culture that believes anyone who works hard enough can be whatever they want to be and regards failure as just desserts. 

I’m going to invite you to read it in a different way, as the story of a braggart who believes he is born to rule and will stop at nothing to do so. It brings great personal glory to Joseph, but a life of slavery for the children of Israel. This is the story of Empire and how we respond to those who believe they are born to rule and the consequences of their ambition. For the brothers it creates conflict between and within each of them. They decide to confront the ambition of Joseph with violence, Reuben seeks to spare Joseph and Judah sees the opportunity to make a profit and rid themselves of Joseph’s dreams of ruling over them. Together they collaborate in lying to their father. 

What are the compromises we make to live with Empire? Do we collaborate, challenge or toil for little reward? Are we consumers, chattels or targets to be monetised? Are we actors in our own destiny or characters in another’s dream? And where is God in this? At the end of Genesis humanity is falling into captivity and God is hardly heard until the the early chapters of Exodus. Despite that, faithful people will find ways to live faithfully, grace will be found in breaking the desire for retribution, hope will rest with a father’s tears mourning his son. Salvation waits on God’s word, we peer into the future.  

Prayer

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, 

righteousness will look down from the sky.

The Lord will give what is good, 

and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before 

and will make a path for God’s steps.

Psalm 85:11-13

Hymn

The trivial round, the common task

will furnish all we ought to ask.

Lord, help us, this and every day,

to live more nearly as we pray.

John Keble (1792-1866)

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Minister Prayers

Jacob: 2 August 2020

I’ve often found borders to be interesting places. Sometimes they are markers. Whenever we head north, getting over the border is a time to pause ready for the next leg of the journey. There was a time when we would cheer or boo depending on the direction of travel! The landscape doesn’t change significantly, and yet there can be a different atmosphere and language. At the moment borders are being used to control or define the management of Covid-19. We are now allowed to go north and cross that border, some are heading west to cross that border, and those coming from Spain have to pause 14 days. But we can not yet visit our son in Leicester. 

Our Bible reading this week is set at a border crossing. A few weeks ago I was listening to the experience of people who visited Palestine as part of a URC visit. They found the  checkpoints to be a means of control and oppression, and Bethlehem, so beloved in our Christmas narrative is suffering because of it. At the same time I was writing a prayer for a Synod pamphlet that will be published later in the year, so this was the prayer I submitted.

Skip with the Peacemakers

May we play hopscotch at checkpoints,

chanting ancient skipping rhymes.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around.

 

May we patch daisies onto khaki pockets,

cultivating landing strips with seed-bombs.

Say a prayer, say a prayer, touch the ground.

 

May we dance freestyle at the border

sharing welcome howls of laughter.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, jump up high.

 

May we throw petals at broken fences

widening pathways for hand-crafters.

Say a prayer, say a prayer, bless our cry.

 

May we stroll through deserted camps

picking over well worn pointless phrases.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, bend down low.

 

May we spray arrows of hope and awe,

spinning rainbow yarns of tenderness.

Say a prayer, say a prayer, peace may grow.

Prayers & Reflection for 2 August 2020

Prayer

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and rich in love

The Lord is good to all,

with compassion on all that has been made.

Psalm 145: 8-9,

Hymn

Take this moment, sign, and space

take my friends around

here among us make the place

where your love is found.

 

Take the time to call my name,

take the time to mend

who I am and what I’ve been

all I’ve failed to tend.

Bible Genesis 32:22-31. 

Reflection

We have moved forward some 20 years. Leah, Rachel, Jacob and their family have prospered. Jacob’s management of the flock, his ability to breed spotted or speckled sheep and goats and to ensure that the strongest animals became part of his flock have served them well. But of course this has also bred resentment from Laban and his sons, and so together they decide it’s time to leave and head to Canaan. We meet them again at the border, there is no way back and yet ahead of them is Esau. Does he still resent Jacob for stealing his blessing? Jacob sends forward peace offerings, then his wives, maidservants and children and spends the night alone. 

Perhaps this is the first time he has been alone since he fled from Esau, and once again in this solitude, filled with fear and uncertainty, he experiences God. This encounter is far more visceral than the first. There is no encouraging vision, instead they wrestle through the night, matching one another in power and ferocity. At daybreak  Jacob demands a blessing before he will let this wrestler go. The blessing is forthcoming, but with it comes a new name and permanent limp. Jacob is now Israel, one who has striven with God and with humans, and has prevailed.

There are moments in any lifetime that are a struggle. Often the way in which we respond to those struggles will determine how we feel about such times. We live in a moment where the consequences of 500 years of profiteering are being confronted. Whether it is the legacy of slavery, nation building, or climate catastrophe it feels like we are standing on a border, struggling with our past and striving with alternative visions for the future direction of humanity. Such places will never feel easy, but we also know that Jesus has crossed these borders before us, given us the talents and skills to share with one another. God trusts us to strive for communities filled with peace and justice. May we know the name we have been given, the scars we carry and the blessings of God’s abundant love. 

Prayer

The Lord upholds all who fall

and lifts up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you

and you give them their food at the proper time.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Psalm 145:14-16

Hymn

Take my talents and my skills

take what’s yet to be;

let my life be yours, and yet

let it still be me.

John Bell (b1949) & Graham Maule (1958-2020)

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Minister Prayers

Leah & Rachel: 26 July 2020

I’m writing this whilst we watch a programme about Paramedics during Covid-19. It highlights the difficulties faced by people who have had to continue working through the lockdown. They have been under pressure, worried for their own health and the health of their own families whilst caring for the whole community. I can also see the thrill of it, and with the work I have done I understand that sense of wanting to be at the heart of things. I think that is what I have found strangest about the last few months. We had to close down our work at St. Columba’s which had allowed me to be at the centre of community action. Instead, I’ve been working away at home and aware that I’ve been out of touch with much of what is happening in large parts of the community. It doesn’t look like we will be able to continue work at St. Columba’s again, and we still wait to see if we begin new work at Ball Hill and how we can shape life at Ansty Road once we return to the building. So even as others are getting back to work, I’m still feeling disorientated and struggling to know what plans to make for now and the future.

I’m aware that similar changes are happening for some of you. Things that have been at the heart of your life have already been lost. Some of you are caring for people who are very ill, or dealing with illness yourselves. Even if you are beginning to meet up with family and friends again, it’s under different circumstances, with restrictions in place and uncertainty about every plan made. 

Please look out for one another, give people a ring, join us in praying for one another and for our world. We have all been affected by this time, and the long term impact will not be known for a long time.

The funeral of Eddie Jones will be next Wednesday (29th). Obviously we can not make the general invitation that we would normally do, so please pray for his family. It will be the first funeral I have taken through this period – so another new experience.

 

Prayer

Eternal God, you are with us this day in the fullness of your love.

In the love of one for another we see your will for all creation

In the tenderness of love’s embrace we remember your love once made flesh for us.

Hymn

Put peace into each other’s hands

and like a treasure hold it,

protect it like a candle flame,

with tenderness fold it.

 

Put peace into each other’s hands

with loving expectation;

be gentle in your words and ways,

in touch with God’s creation.

Bible Genesis 29:15-28 

Reflection Jacob has arrived at Haran, and we have once again been to the well so that he can check out the local women. He meets his cousin Rachel and is instantly smitten. This passage picks up the story whilst he is living in Laban’s house and we could focus on these two tricksters trying to outsmart one another, but let’s ignore them for a while and look to the sisters Leah and Rachel. From the encounter at the well we know that Rachel works with her father’s sheep and is welcoming to this stranger. But now we see them described by their looks, the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. (NRSV). In other translations Leah’s eyes are weak, didn’t sparkle, nice, tender and Rachel has a good figure, stunning, well favoured. As the story goes on their relationship will be defined by the children they produce. Is this really the only way a woman has value? 

We also see the nature of biblical marriage. One man married to two sisters, later with their handmaidens providing surrogate children. It’s very different to our idea of conventional marriage. Yet it is consistent. Throughout the Bible and Christian history the people of God have followed the customs and traditions of their culture. Sometimes there are adjustments, and always, an expectation of faithfulness within those customs. But, our concepts of marriage are constantly shifting and many will have seen that within their own lifetimes. Leah and Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah will eventually create a new family together. There will be tensions between them rivalry and jealousy will be ever present. But so is co-operation, the expectation of providence and the following of God’s call. 

God calls us into a new family. Sometimes it’s a strange family with difficult relationships  and challenging behaviour. But at our best we can care for one another, we can welcome new people into the family, we can adapt to new environments and we continue to be faithful to God’s call. It’s a lovely place to be.

Prayer

May God who is light shine in your darkness

May God who is love be the love between you.

May God who is life be your life everlasting.

Hymn

As at communion, shape your hands

into a waiting cradle;

the gift of Christ receive, revere,

hunted round the table.

 

Put Christ into each other’s hands,

he is love deepest measure;

in love make peace, give peace a chance

and share it like a treasure.

Fred Kaan (1929- 2009)

Categories
Minister Prayers

Jacob: 19 July 2020

I’m not sure what to do with myself at the moment. Whilst others are either back in church or planning for September our situations at both churches mean that we won’t be making those plans until at least September. In addition, whilst many are meeting up with more and more people, I’m still being careful, Chris has been at school and I have regularly been at Ansty Road mixing with the builders, where there is some social distancing, but sometimes it can be a bit lax. So I’m wary of mixing with others too widely. 

We would normally mark this time of year with a general invitation to our Garden for afternoon tea. But the rules on such things are awkward, so we will look at how we might be able to do that – but I know from other conversations that many of you are also uncertain, so please forgive us if that also proves too hard to do. I do hope however that Chris and I can manage some day trips somewhere. We are also still planning a holiday at the end of August, but the festivals we go to have all been cancelled, so even the summer doesn’t give us treats to look forward to. 

Which all sounds very down beat. Below, I share a blessing and write about the blessings that God promises. However down beat I’m feeling, I do know that I have been blessed in the life I have been able to live, the people around me and the work God has called me to. I do know the many privileges that my life gives me, so I won’t be grumbling for too long – sometimes we just need to have a moment!

 

Prayer

The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make his face to shine upon you

and be gracious unto you.

Hymn

Morning glory, starlit sky

sorting music, scholars truth,

flight of swallows, autumn leaves,

memory’s treasure, grace of youth.

 

open are the gifts of God

gifts of love to mind and sense

hidden is love’s agony

love’s endeavour, love’s expense.

Bible Genesis 28:10-22. 

Reflection The lectionary has jumped forward, so you might also like to read Genesis 27:1 – 28:9. We focus on Jacob, alone and afraid. Some might say it is his own fault. He has broken trust with his father and brother, he has refused to engage with the wider community, his trickiness has found him out and he is banished. It is now, at this low point, that he begins to be aware of God’s presence with him. Not just God, but the angels are coming to him, opening up the space between heaven and earth, finding Jacob in despair and preparing him to hear God’s word. 

When God speaks, it is with three important messages. 

I am with you.

I will keep you. 

You will be a blessing.

I am with you, will become the promise of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us; the last word in Matthew’s gospel, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I will keep you, will be a recurrent theme, The Lord bless you and keep you (Num 6:24-26). You will be a blessing – will be the good news that Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:1-10). 

On Tuesday I was at two conferences. The first asked, “Do black lives matter in the URC?” The second reflected on a URC visit to Palestine in 2019. In both, I was left reflecting on the way we are cursed by human conflict and our need to dominate one another leaves everyone brutalised and frightened. Jacob still has much wrestling to do, but he does so knowing that God is with him, keeps him and blesses him and his descendants. May we also know that for ourselves. 

Prayer

May you know God’s presence always with you

May you know God’s protection keeping you safe

May you know God’s promise blessing your days.

Hymn

Therefore he who shows us God

helpless hangs upon the tree;

and the nails and crown of thorns

tell us what God’s love must be.

 

Here is God, no monarch he.

throned in easy state to reign

here is God, whose arms of love

aching, spent, the world sustain

W H Vanstone (1923-99)

Categories
Minister Prayers

Esau & Jacob: 12 July 2020

May I start this week with a poem?

Striding

Three boys, brothers 

by their gaze and gait;

the taller two steps 

ahead. The smaller 

messing with stuffed

pockets half runs 

to keep up.

 

Did we walk that way?

Me strutting ahead

embarrassed by your

childishness, playing

it cool, almost a man.

 

We walk together now,

measured pace.

Three men, brothers. 

Craig Muir, 2019

This poem came to mind because this Sunday we look at the brothers Esau and Jacob. Our sibling relationships can often be difficult. We know the buttons to press and have been doing it for a lifetime. The three of us have certainly had our moments, but at this time we use our differing abilities to manage the care of our parents, supporting each other and the wider family. 

We sometimes think of church as a family. We know how to discomfort one another, yet can also be incredibly supportive and encouraging. We are living in times where we need to learn new things from one another. People we have relied upon are having to rethink their availability and the rhythm of life. We are looking for new generations to emerge and help, and this is a time when different gifts and skills are required, so may we learn how to walk together, measured pace. And talking of learning, I’m told that the numbers below are too small for some, so …..

Our midweek fellowship at 7pm on Thursday will be a time of prayer using the same link as we use each Sunday.

Prayer

Your word is a lamp giving light where we walk.

Your laws are fair-minded, we give you our word.

Accept these offerings, teach us your ways

Hear our pain, lighten our load

 

Hymn

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father

there is no shadow of turning with thee

thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not

as thou hast been thou for ever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness

morning by morning, new mercies I see:

all I have needed thy hand hath provided

great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Bible Genesis 25:19-34

Reflection

Abraham has exited and we turn to a new generation. But, the focus quickly moves past Isaac, and onto his sons Esau and Jacob. Like other biblical births, they arrive when God is ready as an answer to prayer and as a story of struggle. It is the struggle of siblings for attention, prominence, inheritance. It is the striving of nations to be stronger than the other, to shape their own destiny. Sets fast food against slow cooking, instant gratification against the long game. It challenges notions of entitled inheritance and asks questions about the birthright anyone is able to claim.

Competition seems to be ingrained. It can be expressed through sport, comparing houses, salaries or status. Do we naturally support the winners or the underdog? Do we admire Esau’s brute strength, the rugged outdoors type or Jacob’s quickness of mind? Are our competitive instincts wetted by SkySports or Bake Off?  Sometimes such rivalry has produced great achievements, yet in others we can see centuries of enmity. We know the benefits of worldwide co-operation, yet still the mantra is to be world-beating. 

Jacob inherits the promise made to his grandparents. But he will not acquire that promise by birthright, or by his own skill or because he is stronger, wiser, greater than anyone else. He will be a child of promise because he is chosen by God. He is not chosen for his obvious good qualities, indeed some might look at Jacob and wonder if he has any good qualities. Yet, there is a faithfulness, a precariousness about him, that will trust in God. He has some freedom to live life as he chooses, and yet freedom is bounded by choices God has made on Jacob’s behalf. Just as the choices we can make are restricted by so many factors, including the call God makes upon us. Here, at the beginning of this story we see Jacob and Esau in conflict with their birthrights.  

Prayer

Garland us with hope, 

Hold us with love

Catch us with joy

Turn us to your course 

Hymn

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,

thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;

strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. 

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness

morning by morning, new mercies I see:

all I have needed thy hand hath provided

great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

T G Chisolm (1866-1960)

Categories
Minister News Prayers

14 June 2020

It is now almost three months since we were able to meet together in our church buildings and whilst various activities are opening up, the advice from the United Reformed Church is to be in no rush to open. Our style of church believes that private prayer happens in the home, or street or park, we only need buildings to gather together or reach out from. Even if the government advice is that we can gather in the building, we are still going to be cautious. The Elders believe that too many of our normal congregation will still need to be shielded and that the precautions we would need to put in place would make our already small congregation even smaller.

So far, we have encouraged you to use the material on the reverse of this page, along with television, radio and internet resources in order to worship on a Sunday morning. We have produced some podcasts and have gathered online for a bible study. Elsewhere, I have learnt how to use a conference facility called Zoom. It can be accessed by computers or telephones and allows us to see and hear those who use computers, whilst those on the telephone can hear and talk. I have hosted services for Chapel of Unity, sat in on a service with North Warwickshire Group, as well as sitting in lots of meetings from the comfort of my own chair.

At both Elders’ meeting this week it was felt that the time had come to use zoom to create a space where we could be with one another on a Sunday morning and so from this Sunday we are going to offer an online service each week. I will continue to send you a weekly outline for those who do not wish to join with us or find the technology too difficult. But I would also say that many people have been surprised at how easy it is to use – so please give it a go.

To join by phone dial one of the following numbers

0131 460 1196

0203 051 2874

0203 481 5237

0203 481 5240

If you have problems try another number. When asked to enter your Meeting ID key in 831 4268 9496#-  if asked for a Participant key just dial #. If asked for a password it is 512001 

To join by computer,  click on this link  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83142689496

and say yes to the various questions. (It gets easier the second time). 

Meeting ID: 831 4268 9496       Password: 512001

Please come and join us, we will all be learning as we go.

On other matters. The work on the church building has begun. I know some of you have been past for a peek. There have been a couple of surprises once the builders were able to uncover previous work and that has caused a bit of adjustment, but I hope we have found the right solutions. If you are able to support the work financially then that would be helpful. The budget is tight and the more leeway we have the better. So far the grant applications have not been successful. If you can, please send your contributions to Caroline, preferable by a direct payment into our Barclays account Sort Code 202355 Account No 60995746. We also need to meet ongoing costs. We believe we can do that as we have a reasonable reserve but of course all contributions help to sustain that confidence. 

Sorry to end with the begging bit – keep going and I hope you find something much more nourishing.

 

Prayer Powerful God, you strengthen us, no matter what storms we face in this life. We give you the glory!

United Church of Christ, Daily Devotional 10 June 2020

Hymn

Here in this place, new light is streaming 

now is the darkness vanished away, 

see, in this space, our fears and our dreamings, 

brought here to you in the light of this day. 

Gather us in the lost and forsaken 

gather us in the blind and the lame; 

call to us now, and we shall awaken 

we shall arise at the sound of our name. 

Bible Genesis 18:1-15

Reflection Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Is this a God-incidence? Kirsty is in the process of finalising the details of renting a shop on Ball Hill so that we can start the work there that some of us have been talking about for many years. And I asked, what are we going to call it? What name do we put above the door? As is my want, I then began throwing out suggestions. Amongst the things I played with, was the current address – 185 Walsgrave Road – what if we called it 1/85 or 18:5? I began looking at bible passages that fitted, there are lots of them for 18:5 – and one is the verse above. It comes in the midst of this passage about creating hospitality. God’s self as three strangers is welcomed into the camp. This is what we want to do at our [Unnamed] shop – welcome, refresh, pass on, serve. 

Having dashed something off to Kirsty, I turned to thinking about this Sunday and looked up the lectionary readings. Here we were again, Genesis 18:5. Abraham knowing he has to welcome these strangers – however in the next verse he is mansplaining to Sarah, how to make cakes (Whoops) and then rushing off to instruct servants on picking out some meat to serve. Eventually, he settles down and he has time to hear the message, “Sarah will have a son.” Sadly, Sarah hears this by listening from the tent, but her mocking laughter is noted and her son Issac (He laughs) will be named for that moment.  

For some of us, this has been a busy time. Sometimes it’s been difficult to take time to sit down and listen to God. And yet when I do it is all about the future and some plans seem ridiculous enough to create mocking laughter. Next week Kirsty and I will be at online Ministers Summer School, instead of meeting at Swanwick. There is no planned content in the afternoons and we are being encouraged to rest and reflect. Makes you laugh!

Prayer God, you disrupt our calm. Continue to be our peace. Amen.                                         United Church of Christ, Daily Devotional 8 June 2020

Hymn

Not in the dark of buildings confining 

not in some heaven, light years away 

but here in this place, the new light is shining 

now is the kingdom, now is the day. 

Gather us in and hold us forever 

gather us in and make us your own 

gather us in all peoples together 

fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

Marty Haughen © Gregorian Institute of America