Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. Our newsletter is sent out regularly to share reflections from services, Bible readings and church news to our church family. You can find previous issues on our church website 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)
Here I am, Lord God, ready for you.
Here I am, coming in worship and silence.
I wait in the stillness, my soul is like water,
Pushed and pulled by the gravity of life’s commitments.
I pour myself out, bend myself,
and distort myself for others,
muddying myself into something that isn’t authentic.
Refresh and refill me, O God,
For you alone my soul waits in silence.
I wait in the stillness, keeping my faith alight, sometimes only barely.
May my faith be a fire that brings comfort,
one that radiates love and care to those around me;
Rekindle and fuel me, O God,
For you alone my soul waits in silence.
I wait in the stillness, the silence amongst the chaos.
The sounds of the traffic, the appliances, the crowds,
the all-encompassing dirge of life.
May I be aware of the still, quiet voice,
Speaking words of wisdom.
My hope is in you God,
For you alone my soul waits in silence.
(Taken from The Vine)
Reflection from 14 January
Reading – 1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Exploring how we hear a call from God
Before thinking about the scene we have just seen come to life, let us think about the context.
The story – who was Samuel? – who was Eli?
This comes from a period in history when God’s people worshipped differently to us. We know from closing words of the previous book, Judges, and the opening chapters of 1st Samuel, that God’s people (the Israelites), were both leaderless and disconnected from God. The closest thing they have to a national leader is the priest Eli, who with his sons runs the shrine at Shiloh. Where people came to worship and to make sacrificial offerings.
But the priests make a mockery of interaction with God. “Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels… for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt” (1 Samuel 2: 12, 17). Specifically, the people worshipped through sacrifice – they’d bring the best of their animals, and slaughter and sacrifice them as a burnt offering for the Lord. There was an understanding that the priests could feed themselves from what was left over after the sacrifice. But instead they stole the best raw meat for themselves even before the sacrifices had been made.
Eli’s sons were untrustworthy as human leaders, instead of directing God’s people to an experience of worship, they were stealing from them. This made God very angry.
Into the story comes Hannah. She was a faithful woman – but she was barren – had not conceived and become pregnant. Now in this time it was not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife. Hannah’s husband also had a woman called Peninnah as a wife – who had given birth to several children. In chapter one we read “she also provoked [Hannah] severely, to make her miserable” – making fun / bullying to upset Hannah about having no children.
Hannah was desperately upset and cried out to God. She went to the temple at Shiloh and prayed so much, and so hard, that the priest Eli even thought she was drunk. She prayed if God gave her a son then she’d dedicate her son to serve in the temple. And Eli the priest responds ““Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
So God does – and our story starts a few years later with her son Samuel, serving in the temple. And we’ve looked at the scene where Samuel first hears God speak to him, but doesn’t recognise it until Eli explains.
How do we hear God’s voice?
Samuel’s experience – of an audible voice – is rare in the Bible and rare in the experience of those I’ve spoken to.
For me over the years it’s on rare occasions it’s been a persistent and urgent sense – an inner voice if you will, not an external audible voice I can hear with my ears – specific thoughts that appear to intrude, and seem to have God behind them.
An example for me would be one time in church, back when we had printed notice sheets, there was a line item about someone we didn’t know needing a room to stay – and I had the sense God wanted us to invite them in. They were somewhat surprised when a family who they didn’t know said ‘please come stay with us’.
Most often – it’s a quiet repeated sense of what is right. Sometimes it’s reading the Bible when a phrase will resonate – will stand out and seem to apply to my life today in a new way.
What is actually quite real in the Samuel story is the way he mistakes the voice of God twice. Sometimes it’s not so clear at first. And you need to listen intently to hear and be sure.
Do you hear the call? – do you believe? – at least please question. I think God is big enough for our doubts, and for us to be very real in our questioning. With other leaders Beth and Fleur, I have the privilege of running the ‘God Slot’ for the oldest girls in Girls Brigade for the half hour of Friday evening. It’s a space to be open and honest and question.
Intentional Listening – being the ones seeking to hear and act on God’s word to us.
Samuel hears the word of God and it’s a brutal and harsh word that God will bring judgement on Eli and his sons. He won’t put up with Eli’s sons stealing the offerings. He won’t put up with Eli ignoring it anymore. It must have been a shock for Samuel to hear this – imagine how he would have felt then having to share it with Eli. The master he’d served all these years and learnt from – now he’s a message from God that God is going to deal with him and his sons.
I’d like to skip back to Samuel’s mother Hannah – there is an amazing hymn in the second chapter of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10) that is ascribed to Hannah in which she sings of the character of God.
- a god who breaks “the bows of the mighty”
- girds “the feeble” with strength (verse 4).
- God fills up the hungry (verse 5)
- raises up the poor from the dust” (verse 8)
If we think about what we need to do today (1) we should cry out against injustice and the abuse of power in the world and seek to bring God’s kingdom nearer through our lives, and (2) to hear and respond with humility to the message of judgment that challenges our own practices.
Exploring how we pass the baton on – Eli active in Samuel hearing and acting
We have just sung the psalm about being wonderfully and fearfully made, wholly known by God, that he knows our goings out and our comings in all our lives, even the days of our life span are known by God.
As it is for us it was for Samuel – he was fearfully and wonderfully made – Hannah his mother cried out to God that she might conceive and He answered her prayer.
His life of service as a great prophet and spiritual leader for God’s people, was known by God even before his birth. You can sense the God’s purposes being worked out in the story.
Samuel was but one prophet in a long succession of prophets we read about in the Bible – you may well have heard stories of Daniel (and the lions den), of Ezekiel (and the dry bones), of Elijah (and the battle with the prophets of Baal or what has become the rugby song ‘swing low, sweet chariot’ for he didn’t die but a chariot swung down from heaven for him) and many, many more. Samuel was just one in a long line of people doing God’s work.
And as it was for Samuel it is for us. Let’s just think of some of the ways great women and men have played their part in bringing in the Kingdom, have fought and won progress against those who were oppressed, those who were hungry, those who were overlooked.
If we think about overturning the established ways:
- Good men of England had slaves – until William Wilberforce and others campaign leading to emancipation in 1838
- Good men of England didn’t let Women have the vote – until Emmeline Pankhurst and others
- Women didn’t have equal pay – until, oh actually they still don’t we’re still fighting that fight if you look at the numbers of women in senior positions
- Women couldn’t lead in church – look at us now with women in senior positions
- It was unlawful for men to be practising homosexuals in private in the UK until 1967
- The repeal of Section 28 was defeated in 2000, and wasn’t passed until 2003, until then there was a ban on ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality’ – I got in trouble with the church elder over that one!
- A same sex marriage wasn’t not legal in England and Wales until 2014
- A same sex marriage couldn’t take place in Christ Church until 2023
What progress will we help bring about in our lives. A long time ago I went to Greenhill Primary School in Bury, near Manchester. I recall in Year 5 thinking about the year 2000 – some 23 years away – and wondering what life would be like. What would I have done? Perhaps the year 2040 or 2050 might capture your imagination – what will you do by then?
But let’s learn from Samuel:
- He was respectful of his elders
- He learned from his elders
- He might have been afraid, but he was willing to confront Eli with God’s word of change.
What became of Samuel? As the first prophet of ancient Israel in the period of the monarchy, Samuel exposes the threat of monarchs who are concerned with their own security and wealth rather than the well-being of their people. He calls out against ruling families throughout his career, foretelling not only the end of the leadership of Eli and his sons but also the end of King Saul’s reign in 1 Samuel 13:13-15. Actually – teaser for what comes up later in Samuel’s story – even after he dies, 25 chapters on in the book of 1 Samuel than the bit we’re looking at today; even after death he comes back as a ghost and continues to tell King Saul what God wants to say to him.
Samuel was just one in a long line of people doing God’s work – as are we.
A dear friend of mine, Sue Curley, used the phrase “we are links in the chain”. Quick history lesson – there was a railway line from Vine St in Uxbridge that went down the east side of Whitehall and Cleveland Road – a little bit of the cutting is left by Brunel. Sue grew up in the cottage by the railway bridge from Whitehall and later moved to Manor Way. I knew her through St Andrews School – she served on the PTA, and the Governing body.
She talked about being a ‘link in the chain’: we do our bit and then we pass it on. I think it’s a lovely metaphor for how we are to serve.
So, I cannot finish without thinking about the positives that Eli brings in the story, there is something wonderful and ‘inter-generational’ in this story.
Eli is really interesting. He’s previously had words from God clearly telling him he’s messing up. That he’s allowing his sons to violate the worship – to steal people’s sacrificial offerings. And we heard at the start of the reading that “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; There were not many people who felt that God had spoken to them.”
However, in the story we see that Eli was still sensitive to God’s calling of Samuel:
- He interpreted what was going on
- He guided Samuel to understand and to respond
- Even though it could be to his own detriment – he knew well the prophetic words against his family
- He invited Samuel to share what he had heard
- He didn’t contradict what Samuel had shared, but instead said let it be
So, if you think you’ve decades to come in your life… how will you seek to intentionally hear God and do what he wants you to do to improve things and bring in His kingdom on earth, as in heaven?
If you know you’ve had decades already that you look back on… how will you seek to intentionally hear God and do what he wants you to do now – as age is no barrier – whilst also seeking to bring on the next generations and empower them to take the charge after you?
Readings for 21 January
Mark 1: 14-20
Jesus Announces the Good News
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
- Psalm 62: 5-12
- 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
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 lay preacher, Alan Yates. 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.
21 January – Alan Yates (URC lay preacher)
28 January – Revd Dr Claire Potter (Methodist minister) – Holy Communion
4 February – Peter Knowles (URC lay preacher)
11 February – Christ Church worship group – parade service
I share with Louise a sense of awe when I look at a starlit sky. Every star is the centre of a system just as our sun (a very small star in a very small galaxy) is orbited by eight planets and other heavenly bodies. We can only guess at how distant exo-planets might look and whether any contain life. However, it should stop us from thinking that humankind is central to the universe and that God only created the earth and us!
The ancients studied the stars and believed they were signs. The story of the magi fits with that tradition, but we have to wonder if the writer of Matthew believed he was writing literal history or was being symbolic. I have previously quoted the poetess Stevie Smith writing of “beautiful painted fairy stories pretending to be true”. We perhaps also need to remember that it was the Church that wrote the gospels and not the other way round.
Dates for your diary
|Annual Congregational Meeting
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Kenton Methodist
- Brentford Free Church (URC/Baptist)
- Our Lady of Lourdes & St Michael, Uxbridge
Source of all love,
God of peace,
Divine energy of justice,
Accept my life today, I pray,
And put me, my skills, my hopes, my dreams, my desires to work
to build your kingdom here on earth,
In Jesus’ name.
(Taken from The Vine)