Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. Hope that you are all continuing to keep well and stay safe. This newsletter is one of our ways of trying to maintain contact and a sense of community during this time when we cannot meet together as a church family. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here. We would love to hear from you and are looking for uplifting and encouraging content to share in future issues of this newsletter. If you have any ideas or content that we can share, please do email them to Louise (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We start with our opening prayer:
Lord God, thank you for loving us
even when we turn away from you.
We are grateful for your constant care and concern.
Though we feel unworthy of your great love,
we thank you that through our weaknesses
you give us strength;
and in our wanderings you show us the way.
Reflection from last Sunday: Who Am I?
I want us to spend some time thinking about the question ‘Who am I?’ – that question which Jesus posed in the gospel reading today; the question which Moses, from our Old Testament reading, grappled with as he grew up. I’d like to explore the ways in which our choices and actions, ‘our agency’, intertwine with God’s agency and the outworking of His plans. I want us to reflect on how do we, today, answer the question Jesus that posed: ‘Who am I?’ – both in the sense who do we say that He is, and for ourselves – what does that mean about who we are?
In today’s Old Testament reading we see God at work through the actions of various women: the midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’ mother and sister. In our gospel reading we see the declaration of Peter being proclaimed as foundational to the church. In both readings we see God’s agency aligning and intertwining with human agency to accomplish His plans.
Let’s look first at the Exodus reading. This is a time of change; a new king to whom Joseph meant nothing. A new leader who was fearful of the growing numbers of Israelites.
God had promised His people they would be fruitful and prolific; a promise he’d made to Abraham and Sarah. Now as their numbers grew, the new Pharaoh was worried they might affect his power base. So what did he do – he scapegoated them. Created a time of ‘us and them’ – a pattern all too familiar to us in our world if you look at our Government’s reaction to immigration or President Trump’s actions toward the transgender community and sadly many many more examples.
So in ‘dealing shrewdly’ as verse 10 puts it, he spreads misinformation, fake news, about how the Israelites will join with enemy powers against Egypt. Stories of ‘us’ and ‘them’; what ‘they’ will do. The story goes on, with the imposition of oppression, to make their lives harsh, to subdue and to symbolise the Israelite immigrants.
In our day let’s ask ‘Who am I?’ – am I one who helps to create or perpetuate an ‘us and them’ culture, or how am I one of those that’s trying to identify and work against systematic oppression where I’m able?
The King went further to directly deal with the increasing numbers of Israelites by directing the midwives to kill the male babies of Hebrew women.
But the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, fear God and made a stand by civil disobedience – disregarding the laws and statutes. So let’s ask ourselves, Who am I?, am I one who is called to defy or disobey orders? When do we need to take a stand against the governing authorities of our day? When are we called to defy?
Back in our story we read “because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own”. Let’s just cherish this verse a moment, think about those called to midwifery at this time – perhaps the childless and barren, actively supporting others to become parents – now their fearful obedience to God, their civil disobedience, is rewarded by becoming parents of their very own children.
At the close of the first chapter of Exodus, we see the hatred and oppression escalating into the brutal murder of every Hebrew male child – by drowning in the river Nile.
Now we have the mother of Moses, looking after her baby for three months after his birth, knowing he would be taken from her and killed once she could no longer keep him hidden. Imagine that day, taking her own newborn to the river and casting him off in a floating basket. Can you imagine her emotions in that moment? I wonder what she was thinking? Maybe she was saying a final goodbye in the most gentle way she could think of. Then again, maybe there is more to it. When in verse two we’re told ‘she saw that he was a fine child’, is this just the doting eyes of a mother or is she seeing this child with the eyes of faith, and a sense of his role in God’s plan? Also, it’s notable that the word used in verse three for the basket is actually the same word as used for Noah’s ark – perhaps this hints that her actions were those of faith and her hopes were of redemption.
Let’s also notice in this moment that her sister Miriam stood and watched – sometimes we have a part on the sidelines, and all we can do is watch and pray. Now as the drama unfolds, Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe, along with her attendants, and sees the basket, hears the crying baby and feels compassion. How do we understand the motivations here – do we see people intentionally acting out what they know to be God’s beautiful plan – as though they knew it from the start? Or do we see them following their own interests, a mother acting on her attachment to her own beautiful baby and the Pharaohs’ daughter’s actions emerging from her pity. Perhaps we see something in between: a very human response to a situation, with both faith and natural instincts all muddled together. But whatever their motivations, the actions of the women align with God’s own life-giving work.
How often in our own lives do we find it hard to distinguish between coincidence or providence – how often have we met just the right person at the right time, or indeed been the right person for one another. In the next moment, Miriam, the sister watching from the sidelines – becomes a critical actor… intervening just at the right moment and offering to fetch a nursemaid for the baby. Through this quick intervention, if we notice carefully – just one word at the end of verse 8, a rather beautiful irony unfolds – the baby is returned to the one who cast it off into the river, Moses’ mum is to be paid to look after Moses until he grows older and thereafter his future is secure as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Notice how the collective work of these women is a gracious defiance to the authorities in the way it embraces life and blurs the male Pharaoh’s attempts to draw lines of distinction between “us” and “them”, between Egyptian and Hebrew, between dominating and dominated. Instead the women’s actions focus on preserving life and collaborating across the divide. Think also how it sets up Moses with a dual identity – a child of two worlds. Although he was born and raised by his Israelite mother so will identify the Israelites as his people (2:11), he becomes the adopted son of the Egyptian princess who gives him an Egyptian name. “Moses” is, in fact, an Egyptian name meaning “son”.
In years to come Moses will have to wrestle with the question “Who Am I?” I think one of the best bits of the film ‘Prince of Egypt’ is how in the animation it captures Moses grappling with his self-identity and coming to realise who he is and how his agency, his life and actions, intertwines with God’s agency.
So let’s also turn to our gospel reading where Jesus asks His disciples ‘Who do you say I am?’ The setting Caesarea Philippi, which was a city built on a rock for Caesar Augustus who, like Pharaoh, was a brutal leader. But also one who called himself the “son of a god”.
So in the opening verse of our reading we have Jesus asking who is the Son of Man. More than that he follows by asking ‘Who am I?’ Simon Peter nails it – ‘You are the Messiah’ – the first bold declaration of Jesus’ full identity, as the divine Messiah, in the gospel. Jesus affirms what Peter has said is true – more than that highlights he couldn’t have known it for himself but this was revelation from God.
And now in a great moment, just in case Simon Peter was wondering who he was, In a great moment of wondering ‘Who am I?” ‘Simon, son of Jonah’ is now renamed Peter .Peter being the word for Rock. But what is the rock – is it Peter, the man who becomes the foundation of the church. I think not, and my Catholic friends may disagree, but I think it’s ‘Peter’s declaration’ that is the rock. The knowing and declaring who Jesus is.
Interestingly in a study by the Roman Catholic Scholar, George Salmon, he observed that 44 of 85 early church fathers said the “rock” was Peter’s faith, 16 said it was Christ, and 8 all of the apostles. Only 17 of 85 thought that it was Peter.
Origen, an early Christian scholar, wrote, “if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, … [then] we become a Peter… [for] a rock is every disciple of Christ … and upon every such rock is built every word of the church… all bear the surname of ‘rock’ who are the imitators of Christ…”. In other words, as we declare that Jesus is Christ then our declaration too is the rock that the church is built.
Stepping forward from the earliest centuries of the church to the twentieth and let’s consider Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian, who while sitting in the darkness of a prison cell in Nazi Germany, determined that Jesus’ question to the disciples in our reading today, was the central question for the Church in his time and for every generation to come: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?,” he asked with urgency.
In other words, what does the call to follow Jesus look like for us in this moment? So in closing, let’s ask ourselves ‘ Who am I ? ‘ and consider how our agency, our lives and actions, are intertwined with God’s plans.
Our readings for this week:
Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)
Love in Action
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Exodus 3:1-15
- Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45c
- Matthew 16: 21-28
We are now live-streaming services via Facebook each Sunday at 11am. You can find our services here. You do not have to be a Facebook user to watch this – our services are publicly viewable. This week, our reflection will be shared by Rev’d Maggie Hindley.
We will be meeting via Zoom immediately after the service for a virtual ‘coffee and chat’. The link for this will be shared in the comments on Facebook during the service.
If you are unable to join us online for our Sunday services, but would like to receive a recording of them on a memory stick to watch at home, please let us know.
Church charity news
There’s still time to join us for our online quiz tomorrow evening (29th August) at 7.30pm. The suggested donation per household is £8. If you’d like to join us, you can donate online here (make sure you check the box to share your details with the fundraiser) and we will then send you the Zoom meeting details.
As well as our online quiz on 29 August, we are also running a postal quiz in aid of our church charity. If you’d like to take part in this, you can download and print the question sheets here. Return your answers with your donation by Tuesday 15th September to Cathy Simpson, 16 St John’s Close, Uxbridge UB8 2UX and whoever gets the most correct answers will receive some chocolate and a hand-made face mask.
Virtual Sales Table – Part 3
On our virtual sales table this week we have some lovely pot holders.
6-inch squares with a slit back for your hand for a secure grip. 2 layers of heat resistant waddling and a layer of cotton wadding. Choice of fabrics and colours or patch work in shades of blue. Suggested donation of £8 each. Delivery late September.
Hand-made face masks and crocheted face cleaning pads are also still available on our virtual sales table. You can find further details here.
Coming late September weighted door stops in various designs.
Gifts and donations can be made online via Virgin Money Giving or by cash or cheque made payable to Christ Church and clearly marked for the church charity.
(Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc – www.reverendfun.com)
New church signage
Our church signage has been updated this week to help make it a little easier to navigate our buildings when we are ready to reopen. Thank you to the signage team for their hard work with this.
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Ruislip Manor Methodist church
- Holy Trinity, Perivale (URC/CofE)
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.