Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. I hope you are all keeping well. Our church is now open for Sunday services but we will continue to live-stream our services and send out our newsletter regularly for the foreseeable future. This week will be the last week for our post-service Zoom chat on Sundays but our virtual coffee morning will continue to take place every other Saturday at a slightly later time, moving to 11am – 12noon. All are welcome to join us for this and the details for this can be found in the ‘regular activities’ section of the newsletter.
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 (email@example.com)
We start with our opening prayer:
Loving and sometimes silent God,
we come into your presence,
thankful to quieten our hearts and to wait for you to speak.
We bring our joys, our challenges, and our questions.
We open our hearts honestly to you,
and we wait in that space beyond questions
to feel you hold us in compassion. Amen.
(Taken from Roots)
Reflection from 13 June: Looking through a different lens
Reading: Mark 4:26-34
Today we are thinking about what worship means and how it changes and affects the rest of our life.
Have you ever used a magnifying glass to look at things more closely? It’s great – we can see the veins on a leaf or the markings on a piece of wood. But a hand-held magnifying glass is no use for, say, an intricate repair to a watch. It needs to be a much stronger lens. And to look at things millions of miles away in space, you need a powerful telescopic lens. Renee Swope, the Christian writer and commentator from the USA says “The lens you look through will determine what you see.”
We sometimes use images like “glass half full” or “seeing through rose tinted glasses” to explain our view of things, but Renee’s quote goes much deeper than this. She seems to suggest that everything we see, everything we seek to explore or engage with will be determined by our starting point. The people we encounter, the situations we find ourselves in, even the way we see God’s word revealed in scripture, are all affected by the things we already hold as important. The views and opinions we have might well start us off from a certain place that doesn’t give us the full picture and indeed might prevent us from looking again from a new perspective.
Our gospel reading today contains a very familiar passage about the mustard seed. (It’s a story that can be found in Matthew & Luke’s gospels too, told in pretty much the same way.) If you’ve been going to church for a good long while then I’m pretty sure you’ll recognise it, and I expect you will have heard lots of talks on how planting small seeds can make a big difference, or how even a tiny bit of faith is enough to make a change and how God can use it. They are undoubtedly valid views of how we might discover what God has to share with us through this particular story that Jesus tells.
But what if it’s something completely different and unexpected we are to notice? Imagine for a moment you have never heard this story before. Look through a different lens if you like and pay attention to what you might see.
I want to introduce you to a few other ideas and questions that have been suggested for us to consider this morning. They’re drawn from the thinking and writing of other Christians who are interested in the way we interpret scripture and want to think harder about the lessons we might learn.
Here’s the first. Do we dismiss tiny new ideas without thinking or do we nurture them? As people of faith, we often find ourselves in the middle of discussions and meetings about what we do next. That’s definitely happening here at the moment as we think about how we, at Christ Church, move forward after lockdown in a way that makes a difference to our whole community and the world and not just us few folk who worship together here in this building each Sunday. And others are doing the same, and all manner of things and ideas are being floated at the moment about all aspects of church and societal life and many of them are really tiny ideas because we’ve genuinely not had to face life after a pandemic before.
If God’s kingdom is to grow – and grow as the result of a tiny seed – what attention do we pay, and how often are we guilty of dismissing a tiny new idea or thought because it doesn’t suit us or we “don’t get it”. Are we happy to take advantage of the great tree someone else planted for us, but haven’t thought about – or aren’t bothered about – doing the same for the next generation of Christians who will, of course, be very different people and need very different things? Are we happy to live safely under the umbrella of a great tree canopy forged by people of faith but unwilling to plant the seeds of safety for others living in tougher conditions in our world? Are we only too happy to avoid watering the tiny seeds of hope for a more just world because it might disrupt our way of living?
Here’s the second idea. Might Jesus actually want us to notice that our understanding of the Kingdom of God is beyond anything we can control or imagine. Our vision of the mustard plant is probably drawn from the cultivated varieties we use for cooking and that, as children, we put on damp cotton wool in a silver tray along with another of cress seeds and proudly took home from school or even Sunday School! The mustard plant had a bit of a reputation at the time of Jesus for running rampant and getting out of control. Almost getting into places it wasn’t wanted and growing beyond the confines of what was normal. Indeed, it was seen as a bit of an annoying weed that might be likened to our dandelions or moss found in our lawns – and I’ve certainly got a lot of that on mine (although I most definitely wouldn’t call it a lawn!). It wasn’t really cultivated at all and often grew on scrubland or actually wherever it liked. The picture Jesus paints then of the kingdom of God is one that, all of a sudden, is a bit of an irritant and can’t be controlled. Something that grows beyond its usual confines and gets into places it maybe shouldn’t. A kingdom that makes its presence felt whether others like it or not.
So, what might that teach us then here in the 21st century? Maybe that God doesn’t work through conventional channels. That normal isn’t the way of God. That our God is a God of protest and resistance against anything that would try to put a stop to his world full of grace and love. Maybe that our God brings the truth home to roost even for those who deny equality and diversity. Simply put our God is a God who stops for nothing and one that will make what they want a reality regardless of those who seek to limit it. So what part do you and me play within that – are we gardeners of the conventional variety or are we wildflower enthusiasts?
The last, and interestingly enough converse, idea is this. Is it ok for mustard to really grow this way or are we completely missing the point? If this tiny mustard seed grows beyond all measure, does it lose its real purpose? We know that plants used for food or other things get leggy and woody if we leave them alone and they are no longer fit for purpose. We know Jesus is no stranger to the concept of organic images. We have stories of sowers in fields. Stories of vines and branches. Stories of men hiding in trees. Songs and psalms. So could Jesus be saying in this story concentrate on what the kingdom of God is really meant to be like. Work out what the purpose is and stick with it. Find the flavour of the kingdom right now, because if you don’t it will morph into something strange and not like a mustard plant at all. The moment you have to make an impact might be a tiny one and if you lose focus your precious mustard seed will become like a tree and be inhabited by things that are unexpected at best and at worst unhelpful.
Are we ready to do something right now that will ensure the integrity of God’s plan for us before it gets consumed by things that don’t matter?
I don’t, of course, have answers to these questions! Which idea is right? In our weekly Zoom Bible Study group, we have been reflecting on the Bible passages we have read together through Shockers – a phrase, word, or image or something from the text that has resonated, stood out or connected with us – and Blockers – something from the text that has raised questions for us – and then discussing and sharing thoughts on questions that have been set for us. And as you might have read in our church newsletter we finish with 3 challenges for the week ahead. Perhaps it’s not the answers that are important but the questions. Perhaps it’s more the idea that every time we read a passage of scripture we really take time to start again – and not always from the same place we have done before. To make no assumptions. To very definitely think about what it meant when it was written and what, in this case, Jesus was trying to say to the people gathered there to listen BUT also to think about now and how God might be using scripture still to teach us.
To ask God – what do you have to show me today that’s really new?
To ask God – what have I noticed?
To ask God – what do you require of me now in June 2021 and how do I respond?
So, finally, let’s take a moment to imagine ourselves as that mustard plant.
What kind of plant are we?
Are we one that nourishes and sustains others through the fruit we bear and the shelter we offer?
Are we the kind of plant that infiltrates other gardens and wild spaces making a rich carpet of green?
Are we the kind of plant that chokes and takes over?
Are we one that grows so huge it goes to seed and is only in fact fit to provide shelter for vultures?
You might want to sit with these questions later. You might want to make a note and keep them in your pocket so when you are out and about on a walk, sitting in the garden or on the bus you can have a think with God about them. You might already have heard a new answer and now have a plan to make a change or reinforce an idea.
Whatever you do, try, with God’s help, to see it a bit differently and take time to work out what to do next.
Stephanie Marr (adapted from The Vine)
Our readings for this week
Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)
Jesus calms the storm
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
41 They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
- Job 38: 1-11
- Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
We meet at 11am for our Sunday services, which are also live-streamed on our Facebook page. 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. Our service this week will be led by URC preacher Peter Knowles and you can find the order of service here.
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. This week will be our last virtual post-service chat.
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.
In our Bible exploration group last week we took a closer look at temptation; looking at the story of David and Bathsheba and exploring how temptation can arise through dissatisfaction. As always, the session finished with some challenge ideas, which were as follows:
- Set aside time this week to give thanks to God and to enjoy some of his good gifts. Celebration is gratitude even for small things and enables us to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.
- Try fasting from something such as alcohol, chocolate, TV, shopping or social media and use the time to focus on prayer or serving others.
- Take some time to write a list of all the things for which you are grateful and thankful and keep adding to it each day. Colossians 3.15-17 (especially verse 17) may be a helpful Scripture to focus on with this.
From the Circuit newsletter
Rev’d Ken Kingston’s Ordination Service
The Presbyteral and Diaconal Ordination services will be taking place on Saturday 19 and Sunday 27 June. Due to limitations on the number of people the venues can hold, the services will not be open to the public, but will instead be live-streamed on YouTube.
Rev’d Ken Kingston will be ordained on Sunday 27th June starting at 4pm. The service links for the Ordinands can be found here.
Girls’ Brigade News
We are very excited! Next Friday, 25th June, we return to face-to-face meetings (albeit in a slightly different way) for the next 4 weeks before we break for the summer holidays. As the rooms in Christ Church are not big enough for us to meet all our girls and maintain social distancing, we are having to meet outside so we are just hoping and praying that the weather will be kind to us!
However, over the last 15 months it has been so good to have had so many of our girls join us for our meetings via Zoom. As the time went on and we became more confident in running the evenings, we took on more creative challenges. Here are some photographs of the results from some of our virtual craft evenings.
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Hayes Methodist
- Ealing Green URC/Methodist
Go in peace.
May the whisper of God’s wisdom
go with you today
into all your relationships.
(Taken from Roots)