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We use this page to highlight either 'news' items or other temporary information that does not fit naturally on the existing pages of the Riverside Church web site.  If you'd like to know what is going on today or this week, don't forget to checkout our calendar of events on the right, or contact us directly.

In view of the national lockdown currently in place, there will be no live Sunday services. We will continue to record our weekly podcasts. 

Week beginning 10 January 2021

If you have the YOU Bible app on your phone, there are a number of study plans which you can follow. One of them is written by Nicky Gumbel and is a journey through the whole Bible in a year. This is today's section:

Facing the Storms of Life

On 31 July 2003, the adventurer Bear Grylls led a team of five across the North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable rigid dinghy. They set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia, heading for John o’ Groats, Scotland. On 5 August, a great storm arose. There were 100-foot waves. They lost satellite contact. They (and we) feared for their lives. Thankfully they survived to tell the tale (see Facing the Frozen Ocean by Bear Grylls).

Not all of us will have to face physical storms of this kind. But Jesus said that we would all face the storms of life (Matthew 7:25–27). Life is not easy. These storms are many and varied. Abraham, David and Jesus’ disciples all faced storms in their lives. What can we learn from their example?

Psalm 7:10-17

Take up the shield of faith

In the midst of the storms David says, ‘My shield is God Most High… I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High’ (vv.10a,17).

If we fall for temptation and start to enjoy and nurture it, David warns, ‘Whoever is pregnant with evil and conceive trouble give birth to disillusionment’ (v.14). In another image, he likens it to digging a hole, scooping it out, and then falling into the pit we have made (v.15).

The apostle Paul says that you are to take up a shield with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). The shield is the ‘shield of faith’ or, as David puts it here, his shield is ‘God Most High’ (Psalm 7:10). This is the best protection you could ever have against the attacks of the enemy.

Lord, thank you that I, too, am able to say, ‘My shield is God Most High.’

 

Matthew 8:23-9:13

Trust in Jesus the Saviour

Sometimes the storms in our lives appear without warning. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples sleeping when ‘without warning, furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat’ (8:24).

Presumably the disciples were used to storms on the Sea of Galilee; it was renowned for sudden flash storms, stirring the water into twenty-foot waves. However, this storm must have been a particularly serious one because the disciples woke Jesus up and said, ‘We’re going to drown!’ (v.25).

During the storms of life, it is natural to panic (certainly, I tend to). Sometimes it appears that Jesus is ‘sleeping’ (v.24). He does not appear to be doing anything about our problems. Thankfully, we can all cry out, as they did, ‘Lord, save us!’ (v.25).

The natural response to the storms is doubt and fear. Jesus tells them that the response to storms should be trust (‘You of little faith’, v.26a) and that you should not be afraid(‘Why are you so afraid?’ v.26a). Jesus is quite capable of calming the storm and that is exactly what he did. Trust God and fear not.

Having shown his authority over the elements (‘Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ v.27), he goes on to demonstrate his authority over evil powers by freeing the two demon-possessed men (vv.28–34). Jesus was far more concerned about people than possessions, unlike those who pleaded with him to leave their region (v.34).

Jesus goes on to make the point that forgiveness is more important than healing. But healing is not unimportant. Jesus does both. He shows his power over sickness and disability by healing a paralysed man (9:1–2). ‘The crowd was awestruck, amazed and pleased that God had authorised Jesus to work among them this way’ (v.8, MSG).

In the midst of the storms there are moments of calm. Today’s passage ends with such a moment as Jesus calls Matthew to follow him. Jesus is invited to dinner at Matthew’s house.

The Pharisees are surprised to see Jesus eating with ‘a lot of disreputable characters’ (v.10, MSG) and say, ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cosy with crooks and riffraff?’ (v.11, MSG).

‘Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what the scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”’ (vv.12–13, MSG).

God’s ‘mercy’ is his kindness and forgiveness towards people who do not deserve it. Today, receive and enjoy his mercy yourself and be merciful to others.

Lord, thank you that in all the storms of life I can cry out, ‘Lord, save us.’ Help me to trust you and not to be afraid.

 

Genesis 21:1-23:20

Thank God for his provision

Abraham certainly faced storms in his life. The passage for today is full of struggles, but it starts with a wonderful moment of calm in the midst of these storms. ‘The Lord was gracious to Sarah... and… did for Sarah what he had promised’ (21:1). Like us sometimes, they had had to wait a long time, but eventually God’s promise was fulfilled. During the waiting period, the challenge is to keep on trusting God.

‘Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him’ (v.2). It was a moment of great joy. Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’ (v.6).

But very soon Abraham faced a storm in his own household. Ishmael mocked Isaac (v.9), and this led to deeper divisions in the family (v.10). Tragically Hagar and Ishmael left (v.14). These divisions were ultimately the consequences of Abraham’s previous sin in making Hagar his mistress, following his lack of faith in believing that Sarah would have a son.  

Sometimes the hardest situations in life to face can be those of our own making. Even so, God is still with Abraham (vv.12–13), and he watches over and blesses Hagar and Ishmael (vv.17–18). We see God’s grace at work in the midst of a sinful situation.

Abraham was about to face the biggest storm of his life: ‘God tested Abraham’ (22:1).

God sometimes allows us to be tested. Personally, I don’t think God ever intended for a moment that Abraham should actually sacrifice his son Isaac. The sacrifice of children was always an abomination to the Lord. But, he wanted to establish Abraham’s priorities.

The New Testament reminds us that this test came after God’s promises to Abraham about Isaac (Hebrews 11:17–19), and was therefore a test of both Abraham’s faith and his priorities.

The test was of his faith, because it challenged him to trust that God could fulfil his promises about Isaac, even if Abraham was willing to sacrifice him. Abraham had to trust that no matter what happened, Isaac would be restored to him (v.19).

Yet it was also a test of Abraham’s priorities. Your relationship with God is meant to be the number one priority of your life – above all other loves, the vision God has given you for your life and even above your closest human relationships. Abraham was willing to obey God whatever the cost. His great strength was that he loved God more than anything or anyone else.

Thankfully, God provided the sacrifice that was necessary (‘God himself will provide the lamb’, Genesis 22:8). This foreshadows the great sacrifice God was to make on our behalf. As you think about how Abraham must have felt at the thought of sacrificing his son, you get a glimpse of what it cost God to give his one and only Son for you and me (John 3:16).

Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). If God provided the ultimate sacrifice to meet your greatest need, will he not also provide for all your other needs? Here Abraham calls God ‘Jehovah-Jireh’, or ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Genesis 22:14). He is acknowledging that God providing is part of his character.

God is the great provider. So often, I have found this to be true in my own life and in our community. God is true to his promise. As the apostle Paul put it, ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

Our task is to obey God (to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’, Matthew 6:33a) and he promises that if we do that, he will provide for all our needs (‘All these things will be given to you as well’, v.33b).

God’s provision and blessing is almost unbelievably great (Genesis 22:16–18). It included this: ‘And in your Seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (v.18, AMP).

“Lord, thank you that you are my shield, my Saviour and my provider. Help me to keep trusting in you and to not be afraid. Help me to keep you as the number one priority in my life.”

Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 3 January 2021

The following is from Dave Hopwood, an author and speaker who is a regular participant and former community member at Lee Abbey.

God of blank pages

On New year's Eve a few years ago, I took up my Bible to glean a few thoughts for the coming year, and it fell open in an unusual place. A couple of pages with no chapters or verses. The pages that separate the Old and New Testaments. It struck me that all Bibles have this gap, and it's very easy to flick the page and move on.

But this papery intermission represents 400 years! 400 years! We read the last few verses of Malachi, the promise of a better day coming, and then... Nothing. Blank pages.

Pages that represent centuries of waiting, hoping, crying out, wondering. People being born, living and dying in that long pause. And it seemed to me appropriate for a New Year’s eve. As we hover on the crest of a New Year. Those of us who follow the invisible God, are invited, like Abraham, to step into the unknown. To live in the tension between what has been and what will be, what was and what might be. And to live in this tension is not easy, we are all creatures of habit, of the familiar, but like Abraham we inhabit the now and the not yet. Receiving and carrying a promise of hope in a restless, unpredictable world. The knowledge of Jesus on our side. With us, through each experience. 

This year has been full of waiting and hoping. And no doubt praying too. So many of us longing for a better day. Perhaps it has resembled a blank page in some ways. We have been reminded of our fragility, of our need. These have been days of worry and questioning. And I'm convinced that God is as present in these times, as He is in others. In these blank-page days. Psalm 46 verse 10 calls us to still ourselves, and calm our racing hearts and minds by tuning into God's presence. Actually, many verses in the psalms invite us to do this. To allow ourselves, even for a few seconds, to do 'nothing' with Him. To worship Him with our precious time and silence, and in doing so to let something of His nature rub off on us. As we stand on the doorstep of a new year, it's no bad thing to pause, and worship silently, and in doing so to let the God who emptied Himself for us, shape us and replenish us for all that lies ahead.

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.
But I have stilled and quieted myself,
just as a small child is quiet with its mother.
Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.
 O Israel, put your hope in the Lord – now and always.
Psalm 131
 
'Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.' 
Psalm 37:7

Every Blessing for 2021,

Robert.

Week beginning 27 December 2020

Tanya Marlow, who wrote the following poem, has suffered with ME for many years. Her life is seriously constricted by this awful condition, and she is often confined to bed after even a small amount of activity. Nevertheless, she has an amazing ministry through her website and her writing. She wrote the following just before  Christmas: 

Christmas Lockdown

But it will be a quiet Christmas, a silent night, a lonely night
No relatives with us and a feeling that we’re not quite at home
Bare branches of a tree and flickering lights are our frugal celebration
An enemy occupies the land and we must all return to our family home

No relatives with us and a feeling that we’re not quite at home
Jesus is born among the shadows of sickness and death 
An enemy occupies the land and we must all return to our family home
After all this time of fasting and lament, I long for a feast

Jesus is born among the shadows of sickness and death 
Bare branches of a tree and flickering lights are our frugal celebration
After all this time of fasting and lament, I long for a feast
But it will be a quiet Christmas, a silent night, a lonely night

copyright Tanya Marlow, Dec 2020

A good wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

Peter

Week beginning 20 December 2020

A couple more reflections on Advent from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Christmas Illuminations: Waiting in Hope

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

MICAH 5:2 

Last week, my husband, son, and I felt so happy to be able to meet with our best friends after weeks of just being able to chat over Zoom dinners. Only allowed to meet outdoors, off we trotted to my local zoo’s light festival, complete with our Christmas hats and matching Rudolf masks. As I entered the zoo illuminated with the vibrant colours of the rainbow, I was reminded of how God sealed his promise with a rainbow in Genesis 9. In this sign of hope, God didn’t say we won’t experience storms, but he did promise that he’d be with us in them. 
 
During Advent, as Christians we immerse ourselves in a season of expectation, a time of waiting and preparation as we look back at the first coming of Jesus as a baby and look forward to his second coming. We don’t know when Christ will return but we do know waiting allows us the opportunity to ready ourselves.
 
The message of Micah, like that of the prophets before him, isn’t pleasant or popular. God knows his people’s sins of social injustice, exploitation, and oppression. Micah declares that judgement will be swift and severe, and the nation will need to experience destruction and captivity. But in the midst of this, Micah offers a word of hope. 
 
A divine deliverer is coming and, when he does, justice will prevail. Righteousness will be truly understood as a way of life where the most vulnerable and oppressed have God’s special attention. This Messiah will emerge from the small and obscure Bethlehem to be ‘ruler over Israel’.  
 
It can be uncomfortable waiting with hope. Yet as we approach Christmas in the midst of a global pandemic, we have a unique opportunity in this uncertain time to create a chance to pause, acknowledge the difficulties and anxieties of this year, and seek God’s direction. 
 
Many of us know the carol,
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

 
What might those hopes and fears mean to you this year? What are the hopes and fears for the people you meet every day, colleagues at work, friends at school or university… the most vulnerable in your communities? In what ways can you illuminate Christ’s light and help them realise that their hopes and fears are met in Jesus?

Lyn Weston
Director of Church of England Relations, LICC

Christmas Illuminations: The Light Has Come

‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
MATTHEW 1:23

‘God with us – you’re kidding me! Where was he when I lost my job this year? Where was he when I was home alone for nine months? Where was he when my dad died without his family at his bedside? “Immanuel – God with us”? You can take that Christmas card and put it straight in the bin.’

I wonder whether Mary felt like binning the angel’s message when she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt? Whether she asked, ‘Where is God? Why is all this happening?’ The Christmas story gets dark quickly, but Matthew wants to show us that God has come to us in person to bring light into our darkness.

Like the myth of Santa (sorry!), many have added myths to the story of Jesus – that he has come to fulfil all our dreams and ambitions, that he has come to help me find a parking space in Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve – but Matthew gives us a very practical, pastoral message about the presence of God in the darkest of times.

I discovered that God was with me in the dingy darkness of a Clacton nightclub when I was way down the wrong path, and he lit up my mind with a question: ‘Where is your life going?’

Claire found that God was with her in the lonely darkness of her bedroom as she wrestled again with how to make herself sick, and his presence shone a light of hope that life could be different.

Tony met Jesus in his locked prison cell, serving time for his 98th conviction, and suddenly a new purpose began to shine in his life.

Every part of Jesus’ life was marked by the disappointment of human experience – poverty, loss, temptation, betrayal, and death. And yet he touched those who others would avoid, he drew close when others turned away, and he ate with those who others rejected.

Immanuel’s presence illuminates a new way for us to view everything, including our dark times. We may end this year feeling that darkness has dominated, but the Christmas story radiates the greater truth: that his light has come into our darkness so that we can truly know and say, ‘Immanuel – God is with us’.

Steve Rouse
Church Team Director, LICC

With Every Blessing for Christmas and the New Year,

Robert.

Week beginning 13 December 2020

Giving Birth to Christ

A Lifetime Commitment

Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?

First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.

Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . . .

Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . . .

Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . . .

Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.

All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . . .

Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.

Ronald Rolheiser, “Mary as a Model of Faith,” reflection on Luke 11:27–28

Every blessing

Peter 

Week beginning 6 December 2020

Christmas Illuminations 1: The Light Dawns

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
ISAIAH 9:2

This Advent, everyone’s waiting.
But alongside the Christian tradition of waiting expectantly to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, the world waits to be saved from COVID-19. And, interestingly, both forms of waiting use the same language: of ‘light breaking through’.
Earlier this month, when the first promising signs from vaccine trials emerged, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England offered an extended metaphor of light in the distance:
‘This, to me, is like a train journey where you’re standing on the station – it’s wet, windy, it’s horrible – and two miles down the tracks, two lights appear and it’s the train. And it’s a long way off. We’re at that point at the moment.’
Jonathan Van-Tam’s full use of the metaphor extended the illustration, but his primary message was clear: even if we currently remain in darker times, we can now see the first signs of hope and light to come.
Similarly in Isaiah 9:2, we find the prophecy of the greatest light, which will transform the lives of those walking in darkness. This verse, rightly, features prominently in Christmas readings but, as with much of Isaiah, there are layers to this future promise. Some aspects of Isaiah’s words may find interim answers through human kings and rulers, but the full list of attributes described, the full brightness of Isaiah 9, is supremely fulfilled in Jesus.
If this new start is described as a light dawning, is a growing brightness implied here? It’s a ‘great light’ but, to begin with, there’s a more subtle hue. Dawn light isn’t the brightest, but it’s a hopeful light, bringing with it the guarantee of more to come. Just as some energy-saving light bulbs appear somewhat less bright when they are first switched on: they are bright bulbs, but we don’t see the full brilliance immediately. 
If the birth of Jesus represents the light dawning, his life, death, and resurrection add lumens. When Jesus returns, the brightness will be unmissable and unmistakable, and all forms of darkness will have passed away – including all crying, all mourning, and all viruses.
In the meantime we wait, but we don’t wait passively.
From our vantage point, today, we’ve seen enough to trust, even in dark times. 
Whilst we wait, whilst everyone is waiting, may we brighten the places where we find ourselves. May we reflect the light of Jesus in our everyday contexts such that others might see and believe.

Ken Benjamin
Director of Church Relationships, LICC

Christmas Illuminations 2: Peace in the Particular

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
ISAIAH 9:6-7

Jennifer and Manish are still dealing with the fallout from choosing which two households to bubble with over the festive season (an exercise as doable as fitting a PlayStation 5 into a stocking without ripping it). Meanwhile, Donna is tearing her hair out over the future of the café she opened three years ago. To keep propping it up with her own cash, or hang up her apron and call it a day? Then there’s Bob, tearing up over Zoom as he shares with his homegroup how he’s not been able to see his granddaughter for nine whole months.
 They long for the ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’, about whom Isaiah spoke. They need this Prince of Peace not just in the big, in the abstract, in the generic, but in the small, in the concrete, in the particular.
As Isaiah looked back in time, he saw the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7, that a great king from David’s line would rule on his throne for ever. Isaiah then looked forward, with hope, to a time when the dream would become reality, when ‘justice and righteousness’ would be the default setting for all living under the reign of this ruler, this Messiah. 
At this time of year, we remember this Messiah has indeed come. We marvel at and sing about the vastness of who he is and all that he has accomplished for us and our world. We thank him that he sweated the big stuff. 
But we remember too that the weighty title he bears, and the peace he brings, is not just some grand victory ‘out there’. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who became a small baby in a small family in a small home in a small town in a small nation on the fringe of a huge empire. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who taught from a real fishing boat, healed real eyes and limbs, shared real bread and fish. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who sat with particular people, in particular places, in particular situations.
For our Prince of Peace does not struggle to make time for our small in the midst of his big. Our great king delights to work out his big peace in and through our small. So, this Christmas, in your small family gatherings, in your real worries, on your particular frontline, may you know his great peace.

Joe Warton
Church Team: Research and Development, LICC

With every blessing,

Robert.

Week beginning 29 November 2020

I'm sure all of us have been aware of the Presidential election in the United States, and the claims by Trump supporters that Joe Biden was going to "destroy Christianity". The following article was published in The Christian Post in the U.S. just a week after the election: it's by Joe Biden himself, in which he stresses the importance of his faith to his life and his politics. It's quite long, and it is in the context of America...but I would be so happy to read words like this from a British Prime Minister: 

"In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” 

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’” he said. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

These abiding principles – loving God and loving others – are at the very foundation of my faith. Throughout my career in public service, these values have kept me grounded in what matters most. As a husband, father, and grandfather, they are the cornerstone upon which our family is built. Through the pain of losing my wife, my daughter, and my son, they have sustained me with eternal hope. My faith has been a source of immeasurable solace in times of grief, and a daily inspiration to fight against the abuse of power in all its forms. 

My Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God. We are all created “imago Dei” – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth. It is the same creed that is at the core of our American experiment and written into our founding documents – that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. 

As a country, we have never been perfect nor free of prejudice. We’ve never fully lived up to those ideals, but we’ve never walked away from them. And, at our best, these are the values that have pushed us, time and again, as Dr. King said, to bend that great arc of the moral universe toward justice. As president, these are the principles that will shape all that I do, and my faith will continue to serve as my anchor, as it has my entire life.

 Right now, as a country, we are facing numerous crises, including threats to the very idea of imago Dei. It’s what I call the battle for the soul of the nation. We saw it in Charlottesville in 2017, the hatred and boiling rage of those people coming out of the fields carrying tiki torches and chanting the same anti-Semitic bile we heard in the 1930s. We’ve seen it far too often since – attacks on immigrants, communities of color, people of different faiths – violence stemming from those who would stoke hate and division in our country. It has become too easy in recent years to define our neighbors as “others” rather than children of God and fellow Americans. It has to stop. We have to strive harder to come together, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is the work we are all called to by God. 

This battle for the soul of our nation is why I’m running for president, and it’s why I’m asking for your vote. Who we are, what we stand for, and maybe most important, who we want to be as a nation are all at stake. Character is on the ballot. The character of our nation. The core values that define this nation are on the ballot. While I am running as a proud Democrat, I will serve as a president for all Americans. 

To start, on the first day of my presidency, I will tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. We haven’t turned the corner, yet. In fact, infections are on the rise again – with daily infection rates topping 70,000 for the first time since July. More than 220,000 Americans have died from the virus, and tens of millions are out of work. Millions of individuals and families are still unemployed because of this virus, and they’re worried about how they’re going to put food on the table, pay their mortgage, or fill their prescriptions. They’re terrified of what will happen if they get infected, because they lost their health insurance. And far, far too many families are grappling with the daily pain of a newly empty chair at the kitchen table where a loved one should be sitting. It’s a pain I know all too well. I can’t imagine the pain of saying a final goodbye over a video chat, or not being able to gather and grieve with your community. Yet, eight months in, this administration has no plan and no intention of enacting a strategy to get ahead of this virus so we can safely get back to our lives. 

I will choose a different way. My administration will lead a decisive public health response that ramps up free testing so we can trace this virus and curb its spread; eliminates all cost barriers to treatment for COVID-19; increases the manufacturing and distribution of the personal protective equipment that our front line workers need to keep themselves safe, so our health care workers no longer have to ration masks; and ensures the rapid and equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine when one is ready. We will also lead an economic response that begins with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis. 

To beat COVID-19, we must all work together to pull our country out of this crisis. We must all wear masks. It’s not a political statement – it’s a manifestation of God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we can save lives. And as my administration mobilizes this public health and economic response, I will work closely with Governors — Democrat and Republican — to make sure every state has the resources, support, and guidance they need to implement an effective response in their state, and to institute mask mandates nationwide. If we all work together, we can save lives and get our economy back on track more quickly for everyone – not just those at the top.

 We must also root out systemic racism, which is so antithetical to the idea of imago Dei, and which has long deprived too many of our sisters and brothers of color of the opportunities they deserve as equal children of God. These injustices have been part of our society for a long time, but this pandemic has laid them bare for all of us to face. We see so clearly how the burden of unemployment and exposure to this disease has fallen disproportionately on the backs of historically disadvantaged communities.

 That’s why we must deliver real, immediate economic relief to those who need it the most in these challenging times – including rental, food, and unemployment assistance; student loan relief; support for small businesses struggling to keep their doors open; necessary aid to state and local governments so they can keep paying their brave front line workers and first responders; and support for our schools so they are able to open safely with all the right precautions and resources in place to keep both students and our educators safe.

As pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” As president, that will be my mission – to lead a national effort to halt the wheels of injustice in our country that are bearing down on so many communities, especially communities of color. Racial equity is a core principle that is integrated throughout my agenda. We will work to remove barriers that prevent full participation in our economy and ensure all families can more easily create and build wealth to pass down to their children, including by making it easier for people to buy their first home. And, I am deeply committed to building an education system that invests in our children starting at birth and ensures that no child’s educational opportunity is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.

 We must also tackle the pervasive evil of poverty, which continues to burden too many families in the wealthiest nation on earth. Jesus tells us that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” As a country, we are blessed with the world’s highest GDP and incredible national resources – yet too many working families struggle to pay for basic necessities while the rewards of our economy are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.

My faith implores me to embrace a preferential option for the poor and, as president, I will do everything in my power to fight poverty and build a future that moves us closer to our highest ideals – not only that all women and men are created equal in the eyes of God, but that they are treated equally by their fellow man.

It means building an economy more reflective of the hope expressed in Isaiah 65 – a world where children are not born into misfortune, where workers fully share in the fruits of their labour, where the old live out their years. With more than one million of our veterans on food stamps and millions of children dependent on school lunches to avoid hunger, my administration will recognize that poverty and economic injustice hurts us all. They undermine the core values America was built upon.

In both the Old and New Testament, we are taught to welcome the stranger – a direct extension of the Greatest Commandment. I will ensure America re-establishes itself as a place of compassion, grace, and love for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, because this is part of who we are as a country.

 This is an area where the faith community has led, and as president, I will work closely with faith leaders and faith communities to reassert America’s commitment as a nation that welcomes refugees, rather than rejects them. We must again become a nation that defends the inherent dignity of every human, upholds the blessings of liberty, and provides a haven for those fleeing violence or persecution.

 I am committed to building an immigration system that treats everyone with dignity while pursuing policies that safeguard our security, uphold both our laws and our values, and grow and enhance our economy.

 Throughout my career, my work has been shaped by – and often done side-by-side with – faith leaders, organizations, and communities devoted to being our brother’s and sister’s keepers and working to ensure opportunity for all. People of faith have been at the forefront of many of our country’s most important achievements for justice, equality, and peace. I remain committed to partnering with congregations, faith-based organizations, and faith leaders to strengthen and expand the important work they do to meet essential community needs made worse by this pandemic. We are called, as Christians, to serve rather than be served, and a Biden-Harris administration will embody that foundational value. We will be servants of the people and continue the important work we’ve started to build a robust, diverse, and inclusive coalition that deeply values the contributions of people of faith. We don’t always have to agree on everything, but our country has to find a way to come together – to overcome the spirit of division and the hateful words that have defined too much of our public life for the last four years.

We all matter in the eyes of God, and it will take all of us to achieve the healing America so desperately needs. To follow God’s Greatest Commandment, and to love each other fully. Together, we can win the battle for the soul of our nation; navigate the multiple crises we face – ending this pandemic, driving our economic recovery, confronting systemic racism; address the scourge of poverty; pursue immigration and refugee policies that uphold the dignity of all; and do everything in our power to ensure that all God’s children have the hope and future they so rightfully deserve. As Christians, I know there is much more that unites us than divides us. And as Americans, I know that there is nothing our country cannot achieve when we stand together – united."

Every blessing

Peter 

Week beginning 22 November 2020

Whole Life Worship: Worship and Our Whole Lives

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

COLOSSIANS 3:15-17

I have a large extended family, still mostly living in my home village, who are in more normal times prone to big gatherings with vast amounts of food. There’s one area of friction, however. When we say grace together, half my family will add ‘in Jesus’ name’, while the rest clash with an immediate ‘Amen’, all glaring at one another! This is the result of a silly feud which the family matriarch – my late grandmother – started who-knows-when. Half follow her insistence that we always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’ and the other half refuse, possibly just to spite her.

She must have read this passage of Colossians, but her understanding may have been flawed (don’t tell my cousins!). Paul is writing to the church with instructions on how to live and worship together. Verse 16 is often picked out by worship leaders to show the importance of singing together. Paul certainly gives congregational singing his approval, and there is no doubt that it can help to teach us, and allow us to express our thankfulness to God.

Paul also goes on, however, to expand his vision of worship beyond ‘psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit’ into the wonderfully inclusive ‘whatever you do’. We are not just to sing and pray in Jesus’ name, but to do everything in this way. Is it about just speaking the phrase, like my Grandma? ‘I’m going for a walk, in Jesus name’? No, I believe that he means that we do all things in the style of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

This is especially important to grasp at this time, when singing together has been discouraged on health grounds. Music is a wonderful tool, but worship is not dependent on it. What would it look like if you treated your family and friends in the style and for the glory of Jesus today? How would working ‘in Jesus’ name’ change how you do your job? Are there ‘words or deeds’ which would be done differently in your life if you approach them as worship?

There’s a glorious truth in those last two words as well – ‘through him’. As we do our best, aiming to live ‘in Jesus name’, God the Father looks at our efforts through Jesus. And we can trust that, however flawed, a life lived ‘in Jesus’ name’ becomes a fragrant offering of whole-life worship before God.

Sam & Sara Hargreaves
Sara and Sam run engageworship.org, providing training and resources for local church worship

This comes from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity

With Every Blessing,

Robert

 Week beginning 15 November 2020

Sometimes I come across a quotation that just makes me stop and think: this is one that dropped into my inbox yesterday. It's quite short, so I'm not going to write a lengthy piece today, but I just encourage you to reflect on it, because it did make me refocus on what following Jesus is really about:

"Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it in to an established "religion" (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain, in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one's "personal Lord and Saviour"...The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on earth is too great."

Richard Rohr

Week beginning 8 November 2020

We received the following letter from the URC Moderator of East Midlands Synod last week. I reproduce it here for you. Every Blessing, Robert.

Dear Friends,

Pastoral Letter for the Churches of East Midlands Synod at the beginning of the second lockdown

The return to lockdown has come as a stark and painful reminder of the reality of the Covid-19 virus and the immense risk it poses. Even if we recognise the reasoning behind the call for lockdown we may be feeling a range of emotions – disappointment, frustration and fear – and all the more so because, having endured one lockdown and emerging from it, there is perhaps a deeper sense of anguish that life has become so restricted again. The Psalmist’s cry, How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Psalm 13: 2), may well speak for how many of us are feeling.

I have no simple remedy or magic wand but write this letter in the hope it will reassure you that I recognise and acknowledge the significant challenge lockdown poses for us all – as individuals and churches. I am conscious of the levels of tiredness and anxiety of ministers, elders and members: for those churches that have relatively recently begun to hold in-person services there is bound to be a sense of frustration and despair that we are now prohibited from doing so. I recognise that many of us are grieving for the consolation of corporate worship, in the familiar and treasured setting of our local churches. Not being able to sing has made some of us realise afresh just how significant our hymn-singing was. Subjecting the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion to a clinical exercise in church or the necessity of separation with individually prepared elements at home have reminded us of the essential nature of this sacramental means of grace as a congregational act. Preaching in-person to a congregation whose masked faces give us no clue of response or on-screen to a camera that doesn’t enable us to engage with a gathered congregation – or a screen of ‘tiles’ on Zoom, where part of the congregation is out of sight on the ‘next page’ - has made us pine for the joy and privilege of doing so where we are under the same roof. The anguish and exhaustion experienced by those who seek to reach those in our churches who do not – or will not – use virtual means of connection is significant: the preparation and distribution of liturgies and resources on paper or on CD has come as a challenge that many have embraced with energy and devotion. To say nothing of the acquisition of new skills of using digital means to conduct worship. I appreciate and acknowledge that for those congregations currently in vacancy there may be the feeling of ever greater isolation.

 All that I have said so far relates to the Church as a worshipping community. Corporate worship is the core activity of the Church that is currently prohibited from taking place in our buildings. It is significant that the embodiment of the Church’s identity as the caring community, however, is not prohibited by lockdown – namely, where our buildings are places of “urgent public support services”.

 It is tempting to resort to a special plea for our churches to be allowed to remain open for corporate worship. Some of our ecumenical partners are doing precisely that. The Synod Moderators, meeting this week, resolved not to make such a case and our General Assembly Moderators, The Revd Clare Downing and Mr Peter Pay, have issued a statement that Love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable in the Christian faith. Seeking to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of COVID 19 is an act of love through which we love God. I commend their reflection (which can be found on the United Reformed Church website: https://urc.org.uk/latest-news/3640-urc-general-secretary-comments-on-new-four-weeklockdown.html)

 I am grateful to the colleague who suggested that whilst we are all in the same storm we are not in the same boat. The impact of the lockdown and the risks posed by the virus affect us differently. But, within the family that is East Midlands Synod, we are each and all dependent on the One who stilled the storm (even though those sailing with him thought he was asleep and oblivious) (Mark 4: 35-41).

 I conclude with a prayer of lament – offered in the hope it articulates the despair we are feeling yet leads us to praise and trust:

God, beyond, above, unreachable, untouchable, unfathomable,

yet seen, among us, and known, in Jesus ... how could you watch and not stop this evil pandemic?

Why would you not end it in moments rather than watching it unfold with its hurt and harm,

bringing its ambush of death, fear and loss?

And for that death, fear and loss to dip, with the possibility of picking up normality,

to break out again with potential for more and worse than before!

Yet in the midst of this - even this - you are there ...

Grant peace, calm and comfort ...

give us patience and stamina ...

hasten the day when Covid is conquered and loss is lessened.

Make us grateful for what and whom we can reach and touch and do.

Keep safe those who have little to nothing

and prompt those who can do something for and with them.

For even in the midst of this we will dare to carry on trusting and praising.

(Geoffrey Clarke, October 2020)

Yours

Geoffrey S. Clarke, Moderator

Week beginning 1 November 2020

Many of you will remember the comedian, Bobby Ball, who died this last week. He became a Christian back in the 1970s, and his working partner, Mike Cannon, also became a Christian a few years later. In Bobby's autobiography he included a prayer which he wrote for himself, and I think it's one we could all say for ourselves:

"In this world of ever-changing faces, help me to stay on the straight line I was destined to be on.
Help me to try and put right my faults, but to realise that my strengths are gifts.
Help me to be patient with others who are as impatient as myself.
Help me to learn the value of each minute of each day that I have on this earth, that I can bring love and happiness into someone else's life and not just my own.
Teach me to be honest with myself because if I am not honest with myself first, then it is impossible to be honest with others.
Make me slow to speak but quick to listen because others have a point of view too.
Help me gain a little wisdom as each day goes by because the smallest grain of wisdom is worth all the riches on earth.
Grant me peace and serenity that I may enjoy the days that I have left on earth.
Help me to see the good in others before the bad.
And last of all, help me to be honest in all that I do, because in spite of all our insecurities and faults we are the children of God and he gave us life.
So I shall try each day to become a better human being and, when my time comes to leave this wonderful world, I can go to God in the knowledge that at least I tried.
Amen"

Every blessing

Peter 


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