From the Minister
Reverend Martin Belgrove
Aminadab, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Jechoniah should all be familiar names to most church goers. What do you mean no they’re not?? Well in fairness we don’t often hear their names read out in church. We only tend to meet them at Christmas time, they are Jesus’ ancestors from the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. They form part of the reading that many readers fear getting given.
The inclusion of the passage obviously serves to remind readers of the heritage of Jesus going back to David and Abraham but it also to my mind reminds us that Christmas is a time for family including those we see rarely such as Aminadab, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Jechoniah.
Christmas is a time for us to forge, renew and sometimes repair the bonds that unite us as families. With many of us having time off we can spend time nurturing those bonds. Some of us will be visiting family and others will have family visiting I would encourage us all to include church in those family times. Bring family along to one of our services, share your faith and maybe rekindle that in those it might have waned.
With a greater number of services and social events we as a church family also see more of each other than at other times of the year and just as with our other families it is a time for us to forge stronger bonds between us.
It is a prime opportunity to build as a church. To build our relationships as a church family, with our extended church family and the community around us as we respond to the greater interest in faith society shows at Christmas time.
Just as family members can become estranged so too can the church family with the community it serves. So as we prepare for Christmas I hope that we can all consider who we might invite to our services and other gatherings, particularly those whose families live far away or who have few friends and family so that we might share the gift of Christ with our families and the world around us.
Have a blessed and joyous Christmas
Welcoming the Stranger to Whitstable
As I am writing the sun is shining through the Manse windows and the weather is distinctly warm, what a contrast to the "Beast from the East". The sharp cold spell and protracted winter seems to be fading into the past and I hope those that suffered injuries on the ice are recovering. Summer is on its way.
The first May Bank Holiday saw glorious weather and of course an influx of visitors to the town. I believe they were queuing all the way up Borstal Hill and onto the A299 just to get into Whitstable.
Such an influx of course elicits a reaction, whilst we all know that the increased numbers is a fact of life, living in a coastal town, some still find the bustle of the town on a busy summer weekend too much compared to a wet January Wednesday.
On our local Facebook pages I read of residents disgruntled by not being able to park outside their houses, queues in the shops, and the seeming inconvenience that visitors in town pose.
It is, of course, a reaction contrary to the Word of God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV): When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Some other versions translate the Hebrew to "alien", but that tends to conjure up images from Science Fiction movies, so I like the ESV reference to strangers, and the use of "native" is very applicable to Whitstable!
Within the New Testament the welcoming of strangers is addressed in Matthew 25:31-40 which deals with the days of Final Judgment. Christ says to the righteous at his right hand they are blessed because "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
They reply, "when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?" To which Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." The message is clear that we as Christians should see everyone as Christ in the flesh.
So as summer rolls on may we as a church welcome the stranger to sojourn with us, whether someone seeking a new church, seeking a place to worship on holiday, or seeking the Lord himself; let us welcome them as if Christ himself had entered his church.
Your Light Shall Break Forth Like the Dawn
I’m not quite sure what happened to January it seems to have raced past and now by the time you read this it is likely to be the start of Lent.
Lent is of course an important part of the Christian year, when people deepen their faith in the weeks before celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and saviour.
The period of Lent traditionally starts with the marking of two days, firstly Shrove Tuesday when Christians would go to church to be forgiven or “shriven” of their sins, nowadays it is more commonly associated with pancakes. That marks a time when people would eat up the last of the staple foods in their cupboards prior to a period of fasting. I think it would take more than just a Tuesday to empty most people’s kitchen cupboards and freezers nowadays.
Shrove Tuesday is of course followed by Ash Wednesday, a day on which many Christians will attend worship and be “ashed” as the clergy mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross with ash derived by burning of palm crosses from the previous year. I know that some particularly those of reformed traditions do not care for being “ashed”, given that I have a cross tattooed in my ear I’m not one of them.
Whether it be an ash cross, a tattoo or a cross around, your neck they are visible identifications that the person holds to the Christian faith. However it is not our outward appearance that makes us Christians but our daily living and our actions.
This is emphasised in the Ash Wednesday Old Testament lectionary reading from Isaiah 58:6-8 in which God rebukes the Israelites for their vain, self-righteous fasting and says:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn
It is a pertinent reminder to us as we journey through Lent that the faith that we seek to deepen during Lent is also a faith that is to be lived out visibly. That the joy, hope and triumph of Easter Sunday is to be shared through the witness of our actions towards others so that it might shine like a light to the world.
Alleluia Christ is Risen
"How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God"
~Genesis 28: 17
If I were to ask you to describe our Church, I wonder whether "awesome" would be amongst the answers? I suspect that we might describe our church as "caring", "inclusive", "welcoming" - all very important attributes for a church, but would we saw "awesome" the way Jacob does in Genesis chapter 28??
Maybe it is our modesty that prevents us from describing our church as awesome, but that is what it is and for exactly the same reason that Jacob mentions.
Our church is God's house, and he graces his house with his presence, not just when we gather to worship or meet in fellowship, but his presence fills us every minute of every day.
As agents of God's love for the world, we have our part to play in making our church awesome in his name.
The Elders and I are planning a series of worship-based events in the Autumn that will enable us to develop as a church, to make us even more awesome!!
We will identify and build on the attributes that we do well: that we are caring, welcoming, and all the other strengths we have as a congregation. Often churches focus on the negative aspects of church life (decreasing congregations, growing secularism in the community, etc.) instead of focusing on the things they do well.
We have wonderful strengths and much to give thanks for and build upon. We have welcomed five new members to our congregation in the last two years, a situation that many churches our size would gladly welcome. This is rooted in our attributes as a church, how through God's presence we shine God's love to the world.
The dates of the church vision worship events are 22nd October and 26th November at 4pm, hopefully including cake. I hope that you will be able to attend the events and contribute, because God's love is present in each and every one of us and we are called collectively as God's people to work for and grow his Kingdom.
We are loved by an awesome God, we have an awesome church - let us grow together in awesomeness!
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
~ Matthew 4:19
This week I grabbed myself a bargain, I bought a second-hand beach fishing rod and reel at a very reasonable price. Living and working by the sea it seems the natural thing to do. The prospect of taking in the sea air along with quiet reflection to the sound of the waves is very alluring.
It all sounds perfectly idyllic, however I have no idea how to beach fish. Growing up some 75 miles from the coast, beach fishing wasn’t something we did when younger. Sure I’ve done some coarse fishing but beach fishing is so very different, the tackle is different, the baits are different, the techniques are different. It appears learning to beach fish is a case of taking what I know and adapting it, learning new ways of doing things, new approaches.
In calling Peter and Andrew Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew had grown up in a fishing community and were probably experienced fishermen by the time they encountered Jesus yet the call from Jesus was a much greater change than my modest switch from coarse fishing to beach fishing.
It was as if their skills would be used in a new way to serve Christ. They too would learn new ways of doing things and new approaches so that they can be the disciples and evangelists Christ called them to be.
It is of course a calling that applies to us as individual disciples and as Jesus’ church. As his church we are called to be fishers of people, to reach out to those who don’t have Jesus in their lives. To grow his church and his Kingdom.
It has been said that fishing is a mixture of adaptability and God’s providence. Adapting to the location, the time of year, the local conditions. There is a great deal of resonance with our calling as a church to be fishers of people.
To be effective as a church we must be adaptable, not discarding our old ways but be willing to enhance them with new ways of doing things and new approaches that are appropriate to the prevailing tide of our times, which are relevant to the community around us. That may express itself in exploring new ways of worshipping, new approaches to mission and new forms of fellowship.
Like the disciples beside the Galilean lake we are called to follow Christ, to become fishers of people, to utilise our traditions augmented with new skills and methods so that we too might reap Christ’s harvest from the sea of humanity. Amen.
Recently I came across some weird and wonderful job titles that had been used to advertise well known roles. They included the following:
- Media distribution officer: better known to us as a paper boy
- Colour distribution technician: which we might know better as a painter and decorator
And the wonderfully titled
- Education centre nourishment consultant: which is of course a dinner lady
It is clear that whoever dreamt up those job titles didn't share the desire for plain speaking that the Jews in John 10: 24 had when they say to Jesus "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly". With the European in/out referendum looming I'm sure we could all use a bit of plain speaking by both sides of the campaign.
Our desire for plain speaking is all well and good until that is the subject that is so inherently complex that it is beyond our comprehension. Then plain speaking runs the risk of being misleading to the listener or demeaning the subject. The trouble with speaking plainly about the things of God is the things of God are anything with plain.
We can speak with absolute certainty about the things our minds can grasp, but God isn't one of those things. We don't grasp God, God grasps us. Faith needs to be experienced rather than dissected.
Jesus replies to those who demand "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly" that he has already made plain what they need to know, that he has shown them by his deeds, his miracles and his healing rather than words or defined job title.
Jesus' role and identity cannot be reduced to some fancy job title like an education centre nourishment consultant, rather than his role and identity is to be experienced.
To make that point Jesus uses an analogy of him as the shepherd and his followers as sheep. Sheep don't think about the shepherd, they don't need to see his cv and qualifications, or even to know he has the job title of shepherd, although the shepherd's crook might give it away.
The point is that the sheep have experienced the shepherd's care for them, that he leads them to fresh pasture, tends them. They experience who and what he is and they follow. Through his love and blessings we too have witnessed the love of the risen Christ. We know we are his sheep and he the shepherd that leads us and bids us follow as his people of the way. Like the care of the shepherd may his love be always upon us and may we always be in his fold.
Rethinking "Giving Up" for Lent
With Easter early this year we will soon be heading into the season of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter.
Rhik Samadder writing about Lent in the Guardian suggests the Christian festival of self-denial is weirdly popular in our secular age. His article is a light hearted swipe at those in the secular world who give up things in Lent for the sake of vanity. Samadder wryly suggests that they only have things to give up at Lent because they failed so miserably with their New Year resolutions. He suggests that they indulge their vanity in a festival of self-denial so they can proudly declare to their friends the list of things that they are abstaining from to appear self-denying and strong willed to their friends.
Whilst his article is largely aimed at what we might call the secular world it has echoes of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Jesus warns people not to put on an act for those around them. He encourages them to give alms in secret and with a delightful turn of phrase, not look dismal like the hypocrites, the false fasters. Jesus' point is simple. Piety and righteousness isn't for public consumption, God sees the real in us.
So those of us who might be considering giving up cake or chocolate for Lent might wish to consider what else we might give up.
Could we give up a reliance on buying unethically sourced clothing produced by workers in unsafe conditions? In this country, can we resist the culture of exploitation or zero hours contracts? Can we favour companies that pay the living wage, not the minimum wage? Can we preserve God's creation by reducing our consumption?
It is a message that isn't just about giving up. It is also about giving. Can we give more through charitable giving, through volunteering, through prayer for the oppressed and exploited?
Can we embrace a way of living that is God's way. A way that does not store up earthly treasures that are fragile and perishable. But a way of giving that stores up lasting treasures in heaven, a way of discipleship that fosters righteousness in the sight of God not others.
So as we head into the season of Lent, may we give up things for the right reason, to draw closure to Jesus in remembering his forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Alongside our giving up, may we remember the call for us to give so that through our living, we may give our lives in discipleship to Jesus.
The dark mornings and earlier nights herald the shortening of daylight as we enter into the long winter months of November, December and January.
November is a month of remembrance as the nation remembers its war dead and reflects on the need to ensure such losses are not to be repeated. Remembrance Day also seems to signal the start of the long run into Christmas.
The time of Advent is one of waiting and contemplation in the darkness of winter for the celebration of the birth of our saviour. On a more practical level the time will also involve much planning and no doubt shopping for the Christmas holidays.
I am sure that our televisions will be showing the traditional favourites over the Christmas holidays. In amongst films such as the ubiquitous Sound of Music there is sure to be an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
It is the story of a mean-hearted miserly businessman called Ebenezer Scrooge who is transformed into a caring generous man who embraces philanthropy and helping the poor.
Whilst written in 1843 the tale conjures up images that are as pertinent today as they were then. Before his transformation Scrooge is the embodiment of winter. He reflects the themes of cold, darkness and despair. As we head towards the festive season, looking forward to time spent with family and friends, with gifts exchanged and feasts on the table it is right for us to consider others. Those for whom Christmas holds little cheer. Those in our community who struggle to heat their homes against the cold of winter. Those who face suffering from illness to themselves our loved ones that curtail their Christmas celebrations. Those that this Christmas is the first following the loss of a loved one and those whose Christmas meal will come from the Foodbank.
Further afield we remember those driven from their homes by war and natural disasters. Whilst we celebrate Christ’s birth we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who must celebrate in secret through the fear of persecution. We remember them all in our prayers this Christmas.
Yet in the transformation of Scrooge, Dickens’ tale also features light and joy, a time of compassion and of giving, a time for us to show our care for those less fortunate. It is also a time of celebration, a time to celebrate the greatest gift of all. The birth of our saviour Jesus Christ. We celebrate the arrival of the infant Jesus who grew to manhood, exercised his ministry among humanity and suffered on the cross for our salvation.
Dickens uses the contrasting themes of darkness and light. So as we celebrate Christmas this year may we remember that it is in Christ Jesus that our lives are transformed from darkness into light. As we head into the New Year may the light of Christ light our path as we journey with him in discipleship.
"He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics."
~Mark 6: 7-9
Whilst Jesus sent the disciples out without money, no bag and no extra shirt the modern reality of a minister moving is somewhat different. Kathy and I have finished unpacking the furniture and some 50 or 60 packing boxes that we brought from Cambridge. Despite having “downsized” twice in four years the removals lorry was still rather full.
Whilst it may seem that we brought a lot it was considerably less than it might have been. Much of our time packing was spent taking items we never use or simply don’t need to the charity shops.
This decluttering of the unnecessary prompted me to reflect on the verses from Mark’s Gospel. To consider the things we carry with us that encumber us, not on journeys such as ours to Whitstable but our journey with Christ.
Many of us will undertake journeys this summer. It may be a well-deserved holiday, visits to friends and family or trips out on a staycation. All such journeys provide an opportune time to reflect on some of the excess baggage that we carry through life, the things that we hold in our hearts and minds that hinder our journey with Christ.
The disciples had no need of a bag, money or extra tunic because they had faith in Jesus and he had faith in them. They were empowered by Jesus to serve and proclaim. Christ himself has called us to him, like the disciples he has empowered us to serve and proclaim as we journey with him as his disciples.
So as we tread a new stage in our journey with Christ as congregation and new Minister and new pastorate may we travel light, free from the unnecessary burdens we cling to that hold us back in our discipleship so that our focus is on Jesus and our service in his glorious name.
PS: Kathy and I would like to extend a big thank you for the generous support and warm welcome we have received. We are very much excited by the next step of our discipleship and I look forward to working with all of you to the glory of God in Whitstable.
"This Changes Everything"
This Changes Everything is the title of a book By Naomi Klein.
A long read and a detailed one, but one that made me feel page after page that this was a most important book. What is the “this” that changes everything? Not the gospel of Christ that for 2000 years Christians have hoped would change everything. Nor is it the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom that surely would change everything.
Published last September, this book lifts the veil on what is actually happening in the world as the world tries to curb global warming. It is not about the science but about the way governments and corporations are undermining international agreements and their commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.
Hence its subtitle, “Capitalism vs the Climate”. Capitalism is about making profits and if big profits can be made by finding those little things known as ‘loopholes’, then it is not surprising but very depressing to read how often businesses use them rather than abide by the spirit of regulations. All the more so because the increase in carbon emissions shows no sign of slowing in time to avoid the ‘tipping point’ when global warming will really take off.
There are about 30 years left in which to row back against the current before we enter the rapids of runaway climate change. Extreme weather, droughts, floods and storms, the retreat of glaciers that feed life-giving rivers, rising sea levels that drown low-lying coastal areas and islands will be enough to change life for us all. “We are all in this together” may not hold true in the context of economic austerity, but the effects of climate change will affect everyone.
Market mechanisms alone will not save us is the message. Politicians are shown to be often influenced by industrial lobbyists when drafting legislation, and even some green organizations have compromised – one even owning an oil well.
Yet the book is not wholly pessimistic. Renewable sources of energy are growing. There are examples of local people taking responsibility for what goes on in their own locality that give grounds for hope that grass roots democracy may be able to halt the powerful corporations. Think of Balcombe, Quadrilla and fracking. Indigenous peoples have had successes and won legal battles against the odds. We edge closer daily to the tipping point and this book is a wake-up call for change while there is still time.
The United Reformed Church has climate change on its agenda as have other Churches, Christian Aid and Global Justice (formerly the World Development Movement). Later on in the year on May 31st the Revd Alex Mabbs will be coming to Whitstable URC in connection with Earthyear 2015, which is an initiative of Brighthelm URC, a church in our Southern Synod.
Rodney Wood (Interim Moderator for WURC)