Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. I hope you are all keeping well. Our church is open for Sunday services but we will continue to live-stream our services and send out our newsletter regularly for the foreseeable future.
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:
The sun still shines,
The rain still falls
And the wind still blows –
The constant rhythms of life
Reminding us that your hand
Still rests upon all Creation.
Amidst the uncertainty,
And untold tears,
When the ups are far outnumbered
By the downs,
Remind us that you are still there –
Always there –
Just as the sun still shines,
The rain still falls,
And the wind will never cease to blow. Amen
(Karen Campbell, URC Secretary for Global & Intercultural Ministries, from the URC ‘Prayers during the pandemic’)
Reflection from 29 August: Getting behind
Readings: Romans 12 : 9-21 and Matthew 16 : 21-28
Do you remember the old song “My old man said follow the van”? There was the singer with her linnet in a cage following the van with her home packed in it – but she did what she was told not to do and dillied and dallied – until she lost both the van and her way home. That’s what you get for not following when you are told to! And yet in the rest of life – following along behind is rarely seen as a good thing. If you are in front, whether in skill levels, or intelligence or earning levels – you get all the praise. If you are behind – even if it is not far behind – you are hardly noticed at all. This is the difference between a gold medal winner whose name will be remembered throughout history and the person who just missed a bronze medal who will so quickly fade into insignificance in the collective consciousness. Sport, as we have are seeing this Summer in the Olympics and Paralympics, can be very cruel.
“Get behind me Satan” said Jesus, to his closest disciple, Peter. It still sounds shocking even though we might have read it many times before – especially as Matthew has chosen to include this just after Peter has made his confession of faith and been affirmed for it by Jesus. Jesus is angry because Peter wanted to protect him from the suffering and death that he had predicted. Peter had all the right motives – but because he had not yet understood what being the Messiah really meant – he was condemned strongly by Jesus.
Whenever you hear these words “get behind me Satan” – I wonder if you also hear echoes from the temptations early in the gospel accounts, where Jesus says something similar. There he is tempted by the devil to worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. And Jesus says “Away with you Satan”. They sound the same – but they are in fact very different. The devil is told to go by Jesus – nothing more – just ‘go away’. But when Jesus is talking to Peter here in this passage, he is asking him to put the temptation away – and he now also adds the word that means ‘behind’, or ‘at ones’ back’. So even though Jesus spoke harshly and called Peter ‘Satan’, he was not banishing him in the way that he banished the devil at his time of his temptation. Peter instead was told to go behind – not to go away. “Get behind me” – perhaps to watch, to learn, to follow. So there was hope for Peter. He had got it wrong, but he could learn, and the best place for him to do that was right there – behind Jesus.
Are you a leader or a follower? Perhaps the world needs people who have a tendency to both of these roles. When a group of children play the game ‘follow my leader’ there are always plenty of people wanting to be the one in front controlling everything because they have the chance to decide on the silly actions that everyone else has to copy. Yet there are always others who do not like being out in front and are happier fading into the background being one of the crowd. The same is true in most spheres of life including in the life of the church. Being out in front can certainly get you noticed but it is also very obvious when you make a mistake, and great can be the fall. Being a follower means you can hide while your leader is still there calling all the shots – but once the leader steps aside – you have to make a decision – do you then take on that role – or do you find another leader to follow?
At this stage in the gospel, Peter was being prepared, along with the other disciples. They had replied to Jesus’s initial calling. They had left everything and followed him. They had watched and listened, they had argued and questioned and little by little they were coming to a realisation that they were witnesses to the most extraordinary event of history – that this was nothing less than God breaking into human history. But they still had a long way to go. Jesus was setting his face to Jerusalem – he knew what was to come – they had not grasped it. The Messiah to them was the glorious conqueror who would restore the fortunes of Israel. It was a great leap of understanding for them to move from that image to the picture Jesus was painting of a suffering and dying Messiah – even if he did promise that after three days he would rise from death. If you read the accounts of the resurrection, it seems that they did not really grasp it at all until it actually happened. And perhaps we can sympathise with them there. Yet the time would come when they would have to lead – they would have to muster all their courage to take their astonishing news to the world.
Well, after this shocking demand that put Peter firmly in his place as a follower – Jesus then spelt out what the consequence of following would be. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. This is no easy option. Denying is rarely seen as a positive activity. When you are denied something – whether it is being denied entry to a football match because you haven’t got the right ticket – or being denied chocolate biscuits because you are meant to be on a diet – the result is a negative feeling. It is like telling a child that they cannot have something that they really want. The fact that this denial is for their own good rarely makes an impact! Denying is definite and strong. And Jesus asks the disciples to apply this concept of denying to themselves.
Denying yourself – where both the action and its impact come from within yourself – well this is a much more difficult idea. Denying yourself can mean forbidding yourself something – rather like the discipline some people choose to observe through Lent. It can be a way of focussing your mind on what is important rather than allowing it to focus on self-centred or self-indulgent things. Perhaps this is like a spiritual detox – getting rid of the impurities that clog up the system so that you can feel freer and fresher and ready to get on with life as a follower of Christ once again. Those impurities are the things that distract us just as they distracted the disciples – the lure of wealth, and material possessions, the temptation to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, the temptation to ignore the needs of others.
However denying can also mean ‘disowning’, or ‘breaking any connection with’ something or someone. That was the sense in which Peter denied Jesus after the crucifixion. That again sounds very negative – but it isn’t always. I once worked with the community of what used to be a huge Central Hall – complete with raked seating, a massive balcony and enormous central pulpit. The community there had poured years of their lives into that place, remembering when it resounded to the chatter and songs of many youth groups, when it provided shelter during the war, when it was the home of great preaching that attracted people from far and wide, and when it was able to stage great Christian theatrical performances. But they took the tough decision that this enormous building had a limited future. So they broke their strong connection to that building and allowed it to be demolished. In its place rose a smaller, beautiful modern light airy church with multipurpose spaces and an open view into the community. So they were clearly saying that the life of that community was bigger than the building. And their courageous decision allowed the church there to live out the gospel in a relevant way into the future.
So ownership is not always helpful. There are times when people need to feel they have a stake in a place because that’s where they can locate their faith. That is understandable but can also be stifling. We all need a sense of security in our faith, perhaps in this day and age more than any other, but if we locate that need in the building or the traditions, or the way things are done here and now today – then how can we as individual Christian people ever move and grow, and how can this faith community develop into the future? If this is our oasis – then nothing can change. But if we locate our need for security in our faith in the living God – if he becomes our oasis – then anything can happen. God and his love for us is secure even if nothing else is. We are asked to deny ourselves – to let go a little of the things we like to control – and to trust in God.
When Jesus asked Peter and the temptation that he represented to ‘get behind him’ – it was, I believe, a request for him to follow – not looking backwards – but looking forward to where Jesus was leading. And the consequences of that following were, as they all soon found out, to deny themselves – letting go of their control, giving up their false securities and putting all their trust in the God who called them. And as they also were soon to find out – they did not have to do it solely in their own strength but with the power of God’s spirit giving them courage and direction.
May God help every one of us to follow where he leads us. May he help us too to deny ourselves as we journey on. Perhaps we can learn not to dilly or dally – but follow close behind so that we can indeed find our way home.
Rev’d Dr Claire Potter
Our readings for this week
Mark 7:24-37 (NIV)
Jesus honours a Syro-Phoenician woman’s faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’
28 ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
29 Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus heals a deaf and mute man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosed and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Isaiah 35:4-7a
- Psalm 146
- James 2:1-10 (11-13) 14-17
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. This week’s service will be a ‘Songs of Praise’ service led by members of Christ Church. 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.
5 September – Christ Church worship group
12 September – Mrs Angela Lount (Methodist local preacher)
19 September – Christ Church worship group – Harvest and parade service
26 September – Rev’d Eddie Boon (URC discipleship enabler) – communion service
3 October – Christ Church worship group (11am)
3 October – URC North Metropolitan LAG (3pm) – Joint service of thanksgiving
Harvest thanksgiving service
Our harvest thanksgiving service will take place on Sunday 19 September. For our harvest gifts this year, we would like to collect food donations for Hillingdon Foodbank. These are the items that they are currently in urgent need of:
- Long life juice / squash
- UHT milk / powdered milk.
- Tinned fruit
- Tinned meat and fish
- Tinned tomatoes
- Rice pudding/ custard
What we’ve been reading lately
Stephanie is currently reading this series of books by Lucinda Riley and is now on book 5 – The Moon Sister.
Each book tells the story of one of the D’Aplièse sisters- named after the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione who were said to have been turned into the star constellation the Pleiades in the Greek myth. When their adoptive billionaire father whom they call Pa Salt, dies, each sister is given a clue to their true heritage and the books are the story of how each of the daughters follow the clues all over the world to trace their origins.
If you’d like to share which books you’ve been reading lately, or anything that you’ve been watching that is still available to view, please let Louise know so we can share them in future newsletters.
Job Vacancy – Part-time bookkeeper
The main duties will involve:
- Keeping a record of all income and expenditure
- Arranging reimbursements of approved expenses for church members
- Arranging reimbursements of expenses/allowances of visiting preachers
- Producing summaries of financial information for church meetings
- Preparing information for auditors
- Monthly reporting to the church treasurer or specified church elder
- Additional bookkeeping duties as required
Applicants are sought with relevant experience, computer literacy and sympathy with the aims of the Church.
The post is for 2 hours a week (worked flexibly Monday – Friday)
Proposed start date: October 2021
Salary of £10.85 per hour
An application pack is available from the church office
Closing date for applications: 5pm on Monday 6 September 2021
Praying for other churches
This week we hold Trinity (URC and Methodist), Harrow in our prayers.
God of salvation,
you open the way to life
by offering us unconditional love.
We rejoice in our freedom,
our healing and our hope.
Teach us to be open to others,
to offer welcome, and practise inclusion.
In Jesus’ name.
(Taken from Roots)