Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. I hope you are all keeping well and coping as best you can with the current lockdown restrictions. Our newsletter will continue to be sent out regularly to help continue to maintain contact and a sense of community while life continues to be restricted. 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:
O Son, Beloved One, whose home
Is heights and depths, beyond the limits of the First and Last,
Who cured the madness of a world diseased:
Come here, where you are always; make salvation known.
(Epiphany Antiphon for 14 February – for more details see the Methodist Church website)
Reflection from 7 February: Engagement and withdrawal
Reading: Mark 1:29-39
I’ve called this message ‘engagement and withdrawal’. I was in two minds about this title. I thought about maybe ‘private and public’ or even ‘intimacy and action’. You see, I want to explore our lives as disciples every day in the way that we need to be joining in the ministry and mission of Jesus. In our passage from Mark, we find Jesus stepping up into this ministry. So, engagement and withdrawal. How does this work for you? Is it intention? Is it rhythmic? Is it planned? Or maybe it’s haphazard and seamlessly integrated and it just seems to happen unplanned.
When are the moments, for example, that you feel like getting stuck into some Christ-inspired action? Or when do you feel the need to withdraw into that quiet place? Maybe the Covid pandemic has thrown this all into turmoil and you’ve been, over this last year, trying to navigate what it means to be a Christian disciple when life has changed so much. With new opportunities and yet new limitations and boundaries.
To set the scene for what I want to say, I want to mention a book that I’ve been reading recently (or still reading actually) – Campolo and Darling, ‘The God of Intimacy and Action’. In it they say Christ’s spirit presses us into efforts to bring this justice to all oppressed aspects of God’s creation. And they unpack this in four ways. Firstly, in an awareness that Christ is in the poor and oppressed, waiting to be loved and served. Secondly, a call to challenge institutionalised religion. Thirdly, an understanding of the importance of entering into one another’s sufferings. And fourthly, a plan for the world as it should be.
That’s a really helpful way to come at the text today which we see all these things at work. Let’s dig into that text now, seek to understand it, for then and for now and to apply it. Verses 29-31 – this whole series of events. It happens after Jesus has left the synagogue where that man with the unclean spirit has cried out and been healed. So Jesus’ healing ministry has begun and it steps up a gear now, private at first, public after the Sabbath has ended. As an aside, that’s quite a complicated thought isn’t it – the controversy over healing on the Sabbath that’s going to develop later dangerously for Jesus. We get this growing sense that Jesus’s mission of healing, exorcism and ministry begins to conflict with the social order of the day.
Jesus withdraws to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew and their family. Where Peter’s mother-in-law is ill. We don’t know much about what’s going on, the details are omitted. We don’t know what the fever is, we don’t know her name or Peter’s wife’s name. I would have liked to have known these things. But they’ve been omitted. It was enough to put her to bed and Jesus was made aware of it. He went, he took her hand, he helped her up. Instantaneous was her healing. Complete enough for her to start serving the guests, probably that meant making food. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? Was this a joy – the joy of feeling better for her or was it perhaps the relief of stepping back into those expectations and that role that she had within the family. That’s a whole other story to dwell upon, we don’t know. Healing itself brings consequences. And then in verses 32-34, we see Jesus’s healing ministry extended to many people. We read that after sunset, and that basically means, the following day because Sabbath ended at sundown so this story of the home healing, the house story, is followed by the first of several summaries of healings and exorcisms which articulate the fact that Jesus has this compassion for the poor and the lost and the broken masses of people. You see people could legally after sundown on the Sabbath bring the sick to Jesus and Mark wants to emphasise as he recalls this for us. That what happened back in verse 26 in the man in the synagogue was not isolated. Jesus healed many and drove out many demons.
There’s no details but the all and the many seem to show the extent of the power of Jesus. That got me thinking what for us is the ‘all and the many’? Think about that for yourself. That incessant press of the needy masses in the world today. I can think of my personal experiences in India and Sierra Leone where, at times, it seemed like virtually the whole town would gather at the door. Where poverty was in action. Jesus responds despite any trouble he might get into. This preferential ministry to the poor and the broken.
The majority of that population of the day following the Roman-Jewish war were a mass of people dispossessed, especially those living around Galilee where this mission campaign is going on. Maybe not too unlike the people of Palestine today. During the American election, I got a bit addicted to CNN and in the midst of the election, they showed a piece where journalists were out in Palestine and it was pretty tragic to see this news story about how, in one area of what we often call the Holy Land, there was a tremendous, I think the world’s top, vaccination programme, yet here in Palestine amongst the poor there was no vaccinations at all and the medics were crying out as the virus was taking hold. Poverty, disease, disability, part of this cycle of poverty that can happen. And it can even happen today despite modern medicine. These masses of the crowds form the background to this passage and they do form the background for the mission of the Church, the Christian church worldwide today.
Then, as today, for a day labourer, illness basically meant no pay. The people that gathered in these stories had no other option because of their social and economic position, they were desperate. And Jesus healing ministry brings that into their lives, to this isolated and marginal part of the society of the day. It’s not just about the physical healing but also the social and psychological, emotional consequences for those who are suffering. I can’t help thinking of this cycle of exclusion, not just for the person, but for the wider social group and the family. I can’t help thinking of Ken Loach’s powerful film I, Daniel Blake here. See it if you can.
There are lots of avenues we could go down here thinking about all this wider stuff but for the moment it is enough to consider that more is going on here in this ministry of Jesus in the physical. And that needs to form part of our discipleship as well. Some years ago, I worked for a while in India and that healing ministry of the church in amongst the poorest of the poor back then it was in terms of TB and HIV and other infections that were causing people to be even more on the margins. And the church sought to be there for them. In this encounter the demons are silenced again just like they were earlier in the chapter. And they’re silenced because they know who Jesus is (v34). What’s Jesus doing here? Well he seems to be wanting to show what kind of Saviour, what kind of Messiah he is. Not just declare it – that’s a thought isn’t it? Isn’t that true for our discipleship maybe? Perhaps God wants us to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way round which can often be the case. Walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Let’s round off this passage from engagement into withdrawal, from action into intimacy. In verses 35 – 39 we read that he leaves Capernaum. Verse 35 – after a busy evening, gets up early, finds a quiet place to pray. I think it’s true to say that in the gospel of Mark there’s a record of only three occasions when Jesus prays. Chapter 6 v46, chapter14, v32-41. You might want to look them up. They all seem to be times of some kind of crisis. He may be saying, well Eddie what crisis is going on here? Jesus is going around ministering to people. But it seems to be something going under the surface. Is the crisis here the response of the people? It seems to be rather shallow. It’s too much about healing physically and not so much about what it might mean to follow Jesus. Jesus has to go spend time with his heavenly Father in communion and fellowship. How much more are the moments when we need that intimacy with God?
The disciples don’t really understand this need of Jesus. I’m no Greek scholar but I’m told that the language here is that they literally hunt him down. Maybe you’ve felt a bit in demand well this is what it was for Jesus. And here in v36 and 37, they’re not even described as disciples in that passage. They’re described as Simon and his companions. The implication there is in what they’re doing, they’re not acting as disciples. They think Jesus is going to be pleased to know that everyone’s looking for him (v37). They don’t realise that what Jesus is trying to do is not about what you might call shallow populism. That’s what he’s actually at that moment withdrawing from. Don’t we face the same temptation to be popular? Don’t we as the church face that draw to be relevant and slick and fashionable, in your face and brash?
Jesus’ church. Jesus’ disciples. A bit more like Jesus in this passage I hope. And the wonderful news if you begin to think, well the disciples have messed up again, is despite being pretty useless and we’re going to come across this time and time again, that they’re the ones that Jesus works with. Isn’t that great news for you and me? But there’s more. This controversial truth seems to be that Jesus’ reply, I think it’s verse 38-39, shows that he fears his healings and his ministry and his exorcism could actually become a hindrance to people. And I give thanks: forty years ago when I became a Christian and at the time when I began to follow Jesus, on that very day, when God called me to follow him, he graciously healed me from quite a significant disease that I was suffering from. And I’m always thankful for that, but it’s the call to follow which is primary and has been needed to be resilient through the ups and downs of life over the last forty years.
Capernaum wanted a popular miracle worker and Jesus actually says I want to move to some other villages to start preaching. The implication there is that there is more to proclaim in the Good News than what people wanted. Discipleship and suffering needed to be given greater weight. You might think that perhaps this is also to balance some sort of heresy banging around in the church for the first readers of that gospel about who Jesus Christ was. Or is it just the simple truth for every age? How do miracles and how we understand them and pray for them balance with our discipleship and obedience and suffering? If our Christian faith is just about wanting some kind of miracle worker to solve all our problems and make life easy for us, that is going to end in tears at some point I think as you and I probably well know.
So to conclude, there is this public and private thing going on, this intimacy, action, engagement, withdrawal, this working together. We have Jesus’ fame spread, two attempts to withdraw into the family home and in the quiet place, and in every case, the crowd find him and Jesus does end up responding to the demand. That interconnection of prayer and the quiet place and action. That’s true for you and me. If went want to be disciples of Jesus, that’s the struggle within. Sound familiar to you and your life? Where does this passage begin? With the fame of Jesus spreading (v28) – he’s heard of, his name is heard. Where does it end? (v39) He ministers through the area. And maybe for our discipleship there’s a sense that there are moments when we find ourselves establishing a sphere of influence for our discipleship and ministry. There are moments when we’re called to step up and act in that sphere and there are moments when we’re called to come aside and spend time with the Saviour.
To quote from David Bosch from his book A Spirituality of the Road, he says this “being spiritual means being in Christ, whether we pray or walk or work. Spirituality is not contemplation over against action. It is not flight from the world over against involvement in the world.” That’s something to reflect on as I bring this message to an end.
I’d like to offer you three short questions, maybe to go away and think about or if you’re involved in a small group, you may want to talk together with others in your home or in your group. Firstly what has inspired you to want to live in deeper intimacy with Christ and/or more actively for Christ in the world? Secondly, what spiritual practices can you develop as fuel for the fire or to renew your first love? And thirdly, is there an area where you can practically serve or campaign and act and by so doing join in with Christ’s ministry to the poor, the lost, the excluded and the broken-hearted?
Let me pray an old prayer of St Augustine:
Indwelling of the Spirit, Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred Bond of the Father and the Son, Hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving dominion. Enkindle in my tepid soul the fire of your Love so that I may be wholly subject to you. We believe that when you dwell in us, you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son. Deign, therefore, to come to me, Consoler of abandoned souls, and Protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering. Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
So may you know Christ’s blessing as you follow. Thank you. God bless.
Eddie Boon, URC Discipleship Enabler
Our readings for this week
Mark 9:2-9 (NIV)
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- 2 Kings 2:1-12
- Psalm 50:1-6
- 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Our services are currently online-only and are live-streamed on our Facebook page at 11am on Sundays. If you wish to view our services online, you can find them at www.facebook.com/christchurchuxbridge. You do not have to be a Facebook user to watch them – our services are publicly viewable. You can also view a recent service on our church website. This Sunday’s service will be led by URC lay preacher, Alan Yates.
We meet 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 in person or 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.
Looking towards Lent
Post-service pancakes – 14 February
Sadly we can’t get together in person to enjoy pancakes after the Sunday service before the start of Lent this year, but if you’d like to bring your own to the post-service Zoom chat on 14 February, we can still enjoy our pancakes together. Do you have a favourite pancake topping or do you prefer to stick to the traditional lemon and sugar?
Little acts of kindness for Lent
If you’d like to take part in a little acts of kindness challenge for Lent, you can find a sheet here with 40 small acts of kindness, each with a Bible verse and a prayer point. Hopefully each act should be possible to do in even if we remain in lockdown throughout Lent. You can do them in order or choose which act you’d like to do each day. We will be sharing one act each day on our Facebook page throughout Lent.
Woven – Lent Bible study
In our Bible exploration group during Lent, we will be following the London District of the Methodist Church’s Lent study course – Woven. Our Lent course will start on Tuesday 23 February and all are welcome to join us. You can find more information about the Lent study course and download a copy of the booklet for this course at https://www.methodistlondon.org.uk/lentcourse2021
When I was teaching, one of my favourite annually recurring activities was making Pancake Faces on Shrove Tuesday. I would provide my class with cut up fruit, cake decorations, ice cream sauces and squirty cream and allow them to create portraits on their pancakes. My challenge to you is to create a pancake face and either send in photos to email@example.com or show us at our after-church coffee on Sunday. Time to get creative!
Church charity news
Virtual beetle drive – Saturday 20th February
Hope you can join us for our virtual beetle drive on Saturday 20th February at 7pm in aid of our church charity. If you’d like to join us, simply make a donation to our church charity and meeting details will be sent out to you.
We have some beautiful Easter cards made by Joanne on our virtual sales table. They are available for a donation of £2.50 per card. They fit in a DL envelope and can also be done in lavender shades and peacock blues. Please contact Joanne if you would like to buy some.
You can find more details about our church charity fundraising events and items on our virtual sales table here. 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.
What we’ve been reading lately
Cathy has been reading Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness – here are her thoughts on it:
“I received this book last week as a late Christmas present and am totally entranced by it. In 36 short essays, the Strictly winner and all- round good egg explores activities and incidents that have made him happy. He also throws in the results of a few studies on happiness for consideration. As any of you who know Bill’s work will know, he has a slightly whimsical approach to some things, which is particularly reflected in his own illustrations for the book (he has also collaborated with a ‘real’ illustrator).
This is not a self-help book with solutions. He himself says in his introduction that “At most, there will be ‘a couple of steps toward basic personal competence’”. However, it is a brilliant, thoughtful read with plenty of space for reflection.”
If you’d like to share which books you’ve been reading lately, or have any books that you’d be willing to pass on to others, please let Louise know so we can share them in future newsletters.
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Eastcote Methodist
- URC at Eastcote and Northwood Hills
May God be your strength this week.
May Jesus bless you in a new way.
And may the Holy Spirit bring you a ‘wow’ moment
to celebrate and to share. Amen.
(Taken from Roots)