Sunday Reflection (27 June)

Dear Church Family

As you will have seen from Ruth’s email, we now have a date when we can meet to worship together. On Sunday July 12 up to 30 of us will be able to meet for a said service. Ruth has sent out a copy of the order of service, which we ask you to bring as we cannot hand out material.

It was a bit overwhelming to meet, online, with 197 diocesan clergy and office holders on Thursday evening. (see picture) It was mostly questions and answers, these flowing in on an attached side bar. I cannot speak highly enough of the diocesan leadership team. Bishop Paul has led the way together with Sarah. I have included a link to the latest reflection on Proverbs which also has a lovely worship song at the close.

Archdeacon Phil has been supportive and encouraging. I have known him for years. We used to be in neighbouring parishes and met weekly for prayer. He was a bright young thing in those days and I was his older mentor! Phil made the news when he expressed forgiveness to a young man who burnt the church hall down. He spoke up for him in court and negotiated a community service sentence. Then the young man decorated the refurbished hall. Phil always had a wise head and we are blessed to have him as our local archdeacon. His counterpart in the north of the diocese is also a familiar co-worker. He followed me as vicar in one of the churches where I have ministered. Mark is a whizz at planning and admin. For a number of years, he headed up a charity that ministered to street children in The Philippines. Now, as acting Archdeacon of Newark, he has been charged by Bishop Paul to interpret our return to worship programme, as a diocese. He has produced a flowchart that navigates all the challenges and pitfalls. In so many ways this crisis has bred creativity and birthed new ways of doing things. Praise God for His body the church and for the team that facilitate church in our area.

For todays scripture I have used the lectionary reading from Romans 8

(Rom 8:26)  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

(Rom 8:27)  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

(Rom 8:28)  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Rom 8:29)  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

(Rom 8:30)  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

(Rom 8:31)  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

(Rom 8:32)  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

(Rom 8:33)  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

(Rom 8:34)  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

(Rom 8:35)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

(Rom 8:36)  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

(Rom 8:37)  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Rom 8:38)  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

(Rom 8:39)  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The great preacher; Martin Lloyd Jones preached 366 sermons on the book of Romans. Some 93 of these were on Romans 8. He held the congregation of Westminster Chapel spellbound with his expository preaching. When we see how densely these 13 verses are packed with truths, it is not surprising he found them a source of such wisdom. Today, I will distil a few thoughts into a couple of hundred words. I invite you to meditate on the passage yourselves and draw out your own gems.

  1. Verse 26 reminds us of our weakness (most of us don’t need reminding). Faced with a crisis that has wrought havoc to our world, we want to cry out in prayer. What do we pray? How do we pray? The needs are so various and so big. Our prayers seem so inadequate. We need help.

    Help is available.

    Much controversy has surrounded the ‘gift of tongues’. This is not the time for a discussion on such a huge topic. I just say that there are times when words alone cannot express the things we want to cry out to God. We are reduced to inarticulate wordless groans. However, the Spirit of God is in those groans. God takes our raw ‘pain filled’ groans and he makes a prayer from them. For each of us the groans take a different form. Some arise out of the COVID crisis, most have been with us much longer than that. In February, as the family gathered round my sister in her final hours, we kept a rotating vigil. At around 1 a.m. I found myself alone with her and no words could express what I wanted to pray because I did not know what was best for her in that moment. I fell back on the wordless groans that bound my pain with hers and let the Spirit do His work.
  2. Verse 31 brings the all important truth that God is for us. When Archdeacon Phil (in a different zoom meeting) spoke to the 10 clergy in the diocese who were self-isolating or shielding (as I have been to support Carol) his repeated message to us was that the senior staff were supportive. He said ‘Let me say this very clearly. We are on your side. We want you and the people you are supporting to stay safe. We will do all in our power to support you. Just let us know what you want from us and we will provide it. If you feel pressured in any way to do anything or be anywhere you do not feel safe, we will send a message from the bishop to say “The bishop says … and we will insert whatever you want us to say’. Most of us never needed to call on that because no one has pressured us, but everyone was encouraged by the knowledge that someone ‘had our backs’.  God is our father, he is always on our side. He always wants what is best for us. Whatever happens in the short term, in the long term we win.
  3. Verses 38 and 39 are awesome in their scope. When we face an uncertain short term future, as we all do, we can survive, and even thrive, if we know where it is all leading and what it is all for. A few weeks before my first wife died, we were enjoying a sabbatical. We were both in good health and looking forward to the final years of ministry and then retirement together. We visited a number of churches and one Sunday we ended up at church in Long Eaton where the Chaplain of Nottingham High School for Boys was preaching. His text was Romans 8 (the same passage as this because the Common Worship Lectionary has a repeating pattern) was focussed on these two verses. Hilary was not a big note taker and the notes in her bible notebook on this sermon were the last she wrote. Among them were the words ‘It is good that whatever we face here and now the final outcome is life in heaven with God forever.’ A few weeks later that was her experience. We sang, as she had requested, ‘In Christ alone my hope is found.’ Her faith has strengthened my faith. The COVID crisis is but a blip in eternity. The best is yet to come.

God bless you all and keep you all. Two weeks until we meet again. Alan

Midweek Reflection – 17th June

Dear Church Family

Over the past few reflections, I have shared a portion of a song and linked it to our current situation. Today I continue that trend with a portion of a Beatles song.

It won’t be long, yeh,

It won’t be long, yeh, yeh, yeh.

As I shared at the weekend, the church will be open for private prayer from the beginning of July. Now, we heard yesterday, that we can begin limited public worship from July 5th, subject to all that needs to be done, being in place. I have met with the wardens, this morning, and we are attending a diocesan virtual ZOOM meeting, tomorrow evening, that will give the guidelines. The first services will be ‘Services of the Word’ (i.e. no communion) and will not include singing. However, we will be allowed to meet together, which is the vital first step.

The Bishop of London is heading up the nationwide ‘return to worship’ and she has made it clear that many churches will wish to continue to provide online resources. The maximum attendance will be 30 (which will work for us but not for many churches).

As the nation slowly rises from the ashes of COVID19, many people will need financial, material, emotional, mental and spiritual support. All of us need to play our part as God moves our hearts (and indeed our wallets).

As I read my bible in preparation for today, I came to a time in the history of God’s people when they were called to enter the promised land (indeed, to reclaim it, for it had been the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)

(Joshua 1:1)  After the death of Moses the servant of GOD, GOD spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant:

(2)  “Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people. Cross to the country I’m giving to the People of Israel.

(3)  I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on—just as I promised Moses.

(4)  From the wilderness and this Lebanon east to the Great River, the Euphrates River—all the Hittite country—and then west to the Great Sea. It’s all yours.

(5)  All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you.

(Jos 1:6)  Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors.

and

(Jos 1:11)  “Go through the camp and give this order to the people: ‘Pack your bags. In three days you will cross this Jordan River to enter and take the land GOD, your God, is giving you to possess.'”

(Jos 1:12)  Then Joshua addressed the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He said,

(Jos 1:13)  “Remember what Moses the servant of GOD commanded you: GOD, your God, gives you rest and he gives you this land.

(Jos 1:14)  Your wives, your children, and your livestock can stay here east of the Jordan, the country Moses gave you; but you, tough soldiers all, must cross the River in battle formation, leading your brothers, helping them

(Jos 1:15)  until GOD, your God, gives your brothers a place of rest just as he has done for you. They also will take possession of the land that GOD, your God, is giving them. Then you will be free to return to your possession, given to you by Moses the servant of GOD, across the Jordan to the east.”

(Jos 1:16)  They answered Joshua: “Everything you commanded us, we’ll do. Wherever you send us, we’ll go.

(Jos 1:17)  We obeyed Moses to the letter; we’ll also obey you—we just pray that GOD, your God, will be with you as he was with Moses.

As I reread the passage, a few things struck me.

  1. What had been given, needed to be claimed. Nothing in life is ever given to us on a plate. I was 68 during the past week, yet I still have a recurring nightmare every now and then and had it again a few weeks ago. It goes like this. My university final exams are coming up. I suddenly realise that there is a whole area of the curriculum I have not covered. The exam is coming so fast that I do not have time to prepare and in any case have not handed in the course work required. Then I am in the exam hall, filled with stark terror, knowing I am going to fail. Then I wake up. With relief, I realise that those exams were years ago. I did do the work. I did obtain a good pass and have the documents to prove it (see pic). I was awarded the degree/s on the basis of the work. The pictures I have of my graduation show the moment when the students could enjoy the fruits of their labours. God wanted His people to have the land. Yet, the road to possessing it would be a hard one.
  2. It needed to be a thorough job (rather than a quick job). The promise was that every square inch of the land needed to be claimed. That process took generations. Joshua’s victories were great but they were only partial. The Canaanites held their cities for another 200 years. The Philistines took the Gaza strip and David fought to reclaim it. The struggle has flowed back and forth ever since. As we reclaim our everyday lives, after COVID, we do not return to an unchanged world and the new normal will prevail for a long time. In fact, it may never be like it was. However, the new normal could be better than the old in some ways, if lessons have been well learned. It may be that the new normal has more space for spiritual searches than the old?
  3. We need to move forward in battle formation. The threefold system of rules, we have been under for the past phase, begin with the instruction to ‘Stay Alert’. Whenever we go out we do so on a high degree of alertness. We have gloves and masks in our cars. We weave around people in the local shops. We step off the pavement when others approach. We think about things we would not have thought about four months ago. Every trip is organised and planned. We perform our own little risk assessment several times a day. We follow the man who comes to repair the leaky window frame with antibacterial wipes. Many of these things are ‘for a season’ but maybe there will be a lasting effect? Will we think more about all we do, how and when we do it? As a result of living ‘alert’ will we live more limited lives or richer fuller more thoughtful lives?
  4. Whatever our answers to the above, will the Lord our God be with us? The answer is clearly yes. It would have been yes if there had been no COVID crisis. However, will our heightened awareness bring a greater awareness of the presence of God in our everyday lives? It is my prayer that it will.

God Bless : Alan

Diocesan Covid 19 Update 19 – 23rd June

Dear Clergy, Readers/LLMs and Churchwardens,

1. Government Announcement today

Following the Government announcement that church buildings will be able to reopen for public worship from 4th July, providing physical distancing remains in place, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today that we will soon be able to begin to meet and worship together in our church buildings again.

“We will not be returning to normality overnight – this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.

“I would particularly like to thank clergy and lay leaders for all they have done during the time our buildings have been closed. Not all church buildings will be ready to hold regular services from July 4th, but we are providing whatever support we can to enable them.”

See the full statement  https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/reopening-church-buildings-public-worship

Bishop Paul has tweeted; “This is very good news – for now we await further detailed government guidance and advice from the Church of England. We will be ready to support clergy and church wardens in @diocswellnott as they make decisions appropriate to their context and circumstances.”

a) New guidance is coming

As a result, we recognise there will be many questions about the Government advice and the national church guidance. We are awaiting further information in the next day or so. The national church guidance on opening for public worship and weddings will be updated and we are working on the best way to conduct the marriage preliminaries.

AGM

Due to the Coronavirus Emergency our Annual General Meeting has been postponed to a date later in the year. The date will be announced later.