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. Our post-service virtual chat on Zoom has now come to an end although we are continuing with the fortnightly virtual coffee mornings at present.
You can find previous issues of the newsletter here. We would love to hear from you and are always 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:
Dear Lord, we
Pray for our hurting world,
Ravaged by Covid. We
Ask that as we journey slowly through this phase of relaxation of restrictions, unsure of the way forward, that
You will walk alongside us, guiding and
Enfolding us in your loving arms, giving us strength and
Reassurance that no matter how long and arduous the journey may be, you will always be by our side.
This we ask in your name, Amen
(Eva Bagnell, Secretary, Newport Pagnell URC, from the URC ‘Prayers during the pandemic’)
Reflection from 18 July: Knowing Jesus
Reading: Colossians 1:15-21 (from The Message)
In many ways, worshipping together over the past 18 months has been a strange experience, hasn’t it! Sitting so far apart from each other, wearing face coverings, being discouraged from fellowshipping with each other whilst inside the building, listening to hymns but not being allowed to sing them. For many people, being unable to sing has been the hardest of these changes and the thing they’re most looking forward to doing again after tomorrow.
And yet, individuals and churches have also been very creative in continuing to include music within worship. For some, it has been an opportunity to explore songs that aren’t included in our hymn books. The internet has opened up to us a whole host of new songs, without the usual concerns for preachers about whether the congregation will cope with the syncopated rhythm and unusual melody. Some individuals have grown a little bolder in experimenting with worshipping through posture and movement.
In this morning’s scripture reading we heard the words of a hymn of praise for Jesus to which the music was lost long ago. I chose to have the reading from The Message because it seems to me that the author of that version has particularly captured the soaring emotion of Paul’s heart. As is often the case with Paul’s letters, he was writing to address issues that had arisen within a particular church. In this case, false teachings were influencing the understanding and beliefs of the congregation at Colossae. They threatened to undermine their loyalty to Jesus. Paul wrote to set the church back on the right path.
We need to understand a bit about the teaching circulating at Colossae, in order to grasp why Paul considered the situation there so dangerous and why he wrote as he did. Briefly, the teachings were that:
- God, as spirit, is good and pure and cannot touch anything evil.
- The world is evil because it is created out of matter.
- Therefore, God couldn’t have created the world.
Instead, a series of beings had emerged from God. Each one was more distant from him than the last. Eventually one was so distant from God that it was both ignorant of and hostile to him. It was that being that created the world. This meant that the world wasn’t God’s world, it belonged instead to a power that was hostile to God.
Jesus was just one in a series of these beings; so he wasn’t unique. At best, we get just a partial revelation of God from him. These beings were, in fact, a barrier between people and God. For people to get past them and reach God himself, people needed to possess special, secret knowledge. But that special knowledge wasn’t generally available to everyone.
Paul considered all of this nonsense. He was having none of it. To counter it he set out to state who Jesus is, and what he has done. Paul believed that, the more his readers knew Jesus, the more they would understand God.
Who Jesus is
The image of God
Paul asserts that Jesus is not a being who was so distant from God that he was ignorant of and hostile to God. Jesus didn’t provide a partial revelation of the divine. No: he is unique, supreme over all, holding first place in his father’s love.
All the fullness of God is present in Jesus; nothing has been left out. Jesus reveals God’s character and attributes perfectly. When we see Jesus portrayed in the pages of our Bibles, when we see the way he conducted himself, the things he did, the way he interacted with other people whether they were close friends and family or complete strangers, it is as good as looking at God.
Jesus is God, and yet he is not solely a spiritual being. He has a flesh and blood body like you and me; a physical existence. Paul says that the fullness of God dwells in Jesus bodily. Jesus represents God to people in a manner that we can know and understand.
The person through whom and for whom creation was made
Paul says that creation was brought into being through Jesus. He holds it together. It was made for him. What does he mean by that?
I invite you to imagine that creation is a piece of music and God is the composer. Being able to compose music is of limited use if that music stays locked up inside the composer’s head. But in fact, the music isn’t locked inside the composer’s head because Jesus is the musician who takes the composer’s intentions and produces harmonious sound and volume. The musician needs a composer to imagine the music, but the composer also needs a musician to play the music. Similarly, God the Father and God the Son worked together to bring into being everything that exists. This is an imperfect analogy. It’ll only stretch so far before breaking. But I hope you can follow what I’m trying to explain.
Sticking with the illustration of music, we now need to broaden out the analogy. Imagine the musician is a one man band. This person is making music by strumming a guitar, blowing into a mouth organ, he’s got a drum on his back that he operates with a foot pedal and a pair of cymbals between his knees. Each instrument has to produce exactly the right note at exactly the right time otherwise it just sounds like a discordant cacophony. But the musician ensures that his audience can hear a recognisable tune.
Paul wants us to understand that it’s through the work of Jesus that greens are green and roses have a beautiful scent and waves flow forward and back onto the beach.
But, more than that, Jesus ensures that creation doesn’t descend into the chaos that the Bible tells us existed at the beginning of time. He keeps it all ordered and vibrant. The laws of science and nature are expressions of him.
The Father, together with Jesus, created everything that has existed and that exists now. And Jesus has continued to be intimately involved in sustaining it. Jesus does that because it was created for him.
Many years ago an organist who was a member at my church and used to play for our services wrote a hymn for our church anniversary. We still enjoy singing it today. The fact that she wanted to write the hymn attests to her love of music, her love for God and her love for our fellowship. She gave us something that reminds us of who we are when we sing it and that affirms our relationships with each other and with God. The Father, out of love for Jesus, gave creation to him.
Remember that, when the work of creating was complete, God pronounced it all good. Not evil. The false teachers said the world is evil so it can’t belong to a holy God. Jesus is just one of many similar beings they said; at best we get a partial revelation of God from him. Rubbish, countered Paul.
I think that, sometimes, today we place our emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. Well, it’s important to recognise his humanity and we’ll get to that in a moment. But if we only ever think of Jesus as a good and inspiring man who lived to roughly 33 years of age a couple of millenia ago, our picture of him is too small. Too small by far. Look again, says Paul, and see him for who he truly is.
The example of authentic, enriching human existence
Jesus is God. But he’s also the example of authentic human existence.
The first property I owned was brand new. I remember going to see it when it was just a few rows of bricks on a building site. Each weekend I went back to the site to see how many more rows had been added, whether the windows had yet gone in, had the kitchen cupboards gone up onto the walls.
Of course, in those very early days of construction, it was difficult to imagine what the place would look like when it was finally ready for me to move in. But the builder had a show house on site. It helped me to picture what to expect when my place was finished.
I said earlier that, when we look at Jesus, we see God. When we look at Jesus, we also see how God intended human life to be lived. When we consider his devotion to his Father’s wishes, his kindness and gentleness, his attractive personality, we are reminded how far we have strayed from our maker’s pattern and given an example to help us get back on track. Jesus invites us to join him in an adventure of discovery, to find out for ourselves what human life can be like when lived in the way God intended.
Where God and humanity meet
Jesus is, in fact, where God and humanity are brought together because Jesus is fully God and fully human.
What Jesus has done
Reconciled people to God
I said, just then, that God and humanity were brought together in the person of Jesus. That’s true, but, through his death and resurrection he also reconciled people to God, so Jesus brings God and humanity together in that sense too.
The false teachers said that access to God depended on having specialist, secret knowledge. That access was reserved for the privileged, intellectual few. No, says Paul, that access is available to everyone who belongs to Jesus. Because of Jesus, we can approach the pure and holy God with confidence when we come before him on the final day, knowing that we are already forgiven and blameless.
Messiah who represents his people
When an ambassador goes to a foreign court or government, she represents the country that sent her. When she speaks to the ruler of that country it is as though her head of state or government is speaking to the ruler. Jesus represents to God all the people who belong to him.
Because Jesus died to sin and rose again to eternal life, all of his people have also died and risen with him. But who are his people? The people of Israel had been chosen to rescue the world but collectively they failed to carry their mission through to fulfilment. Jesus, who was a member of the people of Israel, finally achieved that mission. As their Messiah, Jesus represented them before God. They were his people.
In contrast, the congregation at Colossae was made up of Gentiles. But they had heard the good news about Jesus and committed themselves to placing their trust in him. So now he represented them before God too.
And today Jesus identifies with anyone who loves him and chooses to follow him. The pure and holy God accepts us not because we’ve lived such good lives (we haven’t); not because we’ve got insider knowledge (we don’t), but because we are with Jesus. Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us forward in love, into God’s presence.
Our access, our ability to stand before God without blemish, is all a glorious, gracious gift from God the Father through God the Son.
So, how should we respond to this picture of Jesus that Paul has set before us?
First, I think we respond with our hearts. With awe and wonder and gratitude and love. If our thoughts of Jesus, our expanded understanding of who he is and what he has done, don’t set our hearts soaring with praise then, frankly, I don’t know what would.
He is our maker, our brother, our saviour, our friend, our pattern for living day by day. I cannot understand why we would ever diminish him, but sometimes we do.
We, who too often feel like we are nothing, worthless, shabby, are everything to him. He loves us with a love that is faithful and enduring beyond imagination.
He should be everything to us. So if, over time, the picture of Jesus we carry in our mind has grown smaller, today let’s recapture Paul’s exalted view of Jesus and hold onto it for all we’re worth, because it gives us hope and assurance.
And, once we’ve got our hearts right, the way we conduct ourselves needs to follow on.
He shows us how God intends human beings to live so, with his help, let’s try to live as we are meant to live. We won’t succeed all the time. In fact, we might not succeed most of the time. But we’ll please him by trying, and when we get it wrong he’ll help us to start over and try to get it right next time.
Our friends and family and acquaintances may think we’re being a bit eccentric, they may want us to conform to the way the rest of society lives, but don’t worry about that. We take our lead from Jesus.
And, please God, some may wonder why we live as we do, find something attractive in it, want to know more, and end up making their own commitment to Jesus.
It’s very tempting, when we leave church, to fill our attention with all of the other things that have to be done today, the people we need to talk to, the things coming up in the week that we need to prepare for. We fill our lives with bustle and busyness.
Today, I encourage you to try something different. When you leave, just give yourself some space to be quiet and reflect on Jesus; to make him the central focus for a few minutes so that everything we’ve been thinking about this morning has the chance to soak into your heart.
“Christ! No more, no less”, writes Paul. May we, too, give him central place in our lives. Amen.
Our readings for this week
John 6:1-21 (NIV)
Jesus feeds the five thousand
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Jesus walks on the water
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Ephesians 3:14:21
- Psalm 145:10-18
- 2 Kings 4:42-44
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. We will be officially welcoming our new elders as they are ordained and inducted during our communion service, which will be led by URC minister Rev’d Jonathan Dean. You can find the order of service here.
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.
1 August – Mrs Lilian Evans (URC lay preacher)
8 August – Christ Church worship group
15 August – Mrs Joanne Davies (Methodist local preacher)
22 August – Christ Church worship group
This week in our Bible exploration group, we reflected on how Jesus took time to rest after teaching the crowds and the importance of ensuring that we too take time to rest. This week’s challenge ideas were as follows:
1. Rest Easy
Pick a day this week when you will be able to sleep as much as you want and need to. Sleep is a declaration of surrender and trust in God. It’s admitting that we are not in control of the world and that the world will continue whilst we rest.
2. Home Spa
Plan a day of exercise and fresh air, healthy foods, a hot bath, some good body treatments, lots of water (and maybe some wine!), a great film or a relaxing book. Plan to also include some time for quiet, solitude and meditation on verses from the Bible. Try to make the day free from interruptions and distractions. This is a day to restore your energies and enjoy.
Sometimes we don’t sleep well because we are not physically tired. If you have an office job or a relatively sedentary lifestyle, look to increase your physical activity this week.
Church charity news
Church social at Tiled Lodge – 14 August, 1pm
Please join us for a bring your own picnic on Saturday 14 August, 1pm at Tiled Lodge, Slough Road, Iver Heath SL0 0DZ. There will be shelter available in case of rain. There is no charge but donations for our church charity are welcomed. There will be a collection pot available, or you can donate online via our JustGiving page (see details below)
You can find more details about our church charity fundraising events and items on our virtual sales table on our church website here.
To make a donation to our church charity online visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Hopenothate-Christchurch
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- North Hillingdon Methodist
- Hounslow URC
Lord, help us to remain thankful for even the simple things.
Keep us focused on your loving, generous nature,
so that we can freely share what we have and who we are.
Let us be cheerful givers and humble receivers,
that all may have enough and be satisfied. Amen.
(Taken from Roots)