Paul Bettison 16th Nov
The Bay tree is snugly wrapped in sheets of insulating fleece. We know from bitter experience that it doesn’t react well to arctic winds or biting frost. Now I can sleep soundly, content to know that it is well protected and safe from harm.
For some folk, faith is thought to be like a spiritual fleece – offering protection from anything that will harm or disturb. You know the sort of thing; “I’m a God-fearing person, so Covid won’t get me”. I’m not sure where that comes from, other than wishful thinking.
Experience tells me that God does not protect from harm those who find favour, but rather wraps us all round with arms of love. Often those arms are those of the people with whom we share our lives. Maybe you can recall times when, facing illness, experiencing anxiety and fear, or feeling hopeless and helpless, you have found strength, comfort, and reassurance. In a world in which there are so many things that threaten both life-style and life itself, take comfort in the assurance that ‘neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Read more in Romans chapter Eight.
The protection offered by God, in Christ, is from loss of hope. That’s what we and all people need to hear and know today.
God of my faith, I offer you my doubt,
For life at times seems far too dark for me,
And my belief becomes more insecure,
When worldly cares produce uncertainty.
God of my hope, I offer you my fear,
When I am scared by my anxiety,
When all I hear is suffering and woe,
In all my shadows you will walk with me.
For that, I thank you.
Colin Ferguson (abridged)
Rev Paul Bettison – 18th November 2020
In his book, An Orkney Tapestry, George Mackay Brown tells the story of a group of fishermen who, caught in a fierce storm, fear for their lives.
One of the frightened crew members urges, “We’d do well to pray”. The skipper calls Willag, an Elder of the Kirk, and urges him to say a prayer. “O Lord, thou art just, wonderful, merciful; great art thy works; thou art mighty.” The storm intensifies and the fishing boat is almost swamped. “Butter Him up.” Cried the skipper. “Butter Him up.”
In many religions we find a belief that the gods, in order to be placated, needed ‘Buttering up’. Hence the sacrificial system. Present the gods with a goat, or a dove, or heap upon them compliments and praise, and you’ll win their favour. Judaism, out of which was born the Christian Faith, embraced that belief.
Yet there is a strand running through scripture that suggests that what God hopes of us is that we will, as the prophet Micah proclaimed, ‘Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly’ with our God. Not in order to win favour or avert danger, but rather to be in a relationship with the God who created us and loves us.
Reading the story again, I wonder whether I want to believe in a God who needs ‘Buttering up’. How about you?
I know that you don’t want
me to offer sacrifices of doves, or goats
or goodness only knows what else.
That was all for long ago.
I’m not even sure that,
in order to find favour with you,
I need to lavish you with praises and
expressions of adoration.
I thank you that in order to be
in relationship with you
I don’t need to ‘butter you up’.
So, help me to find ways in which to be
the person you created me to be,
and so reflect your life of love and mercy
in my life.
I trust that to be what you hope of me.
Rev Paul Bettison – 20th November 2020
Good news! Contrary to the rumours that are circulating, Christmas hasn’t been cancelled.
I fully understand the anxiety experienced by many people who fear that Christmas 2020 will be a catastrophe, a disaster, and a non-event. For most of us, I guess, it will be a massive disappointment should we not be able to share time with family and friends. Spending Christmas 2020 alone may be, for some, an unwelcome prospect. Having said that, the experience will perhaps enable us to empathise with those who, year in, year out, and not by choice, are by themselves at Christmastime.
But, back to the Good News. The opportunity to discover or rediscover Emmanuel – God with us – even in the midst of all the chaos and challenge of these days, will still arrive. God came in Jesus, light into a dark world, and comes still. And that truly is Good News. If it finds a home in our hearts, then our calling is to share, by what we say and what we do, that message of hope with people who are anxious and afraid. So, let’s share the Good News that Covid can’t cancel or conquer the message of Christmas, that God is with us.
Best of all is God is with us,
God will hold and never fail.
Keep that truth when storms are raging,
God remains though faith is frail.
Best of all is God is with us,
life goes on and needs are met,
God is strongest in our weakness.
Love renews, will not forget.
Best of all is God is with us,
hearts are challenged, strangely warmed,
faith is deepened, courage strengthened,
grace received and hope reformed.
Best of all is God is with us,
in our joy and through our pain,
till that final acclamation:
‘life is Christ, but death is gain’.
Best of all is God is with us
as we scale eternal heights,
love grows stronger, undiminished;
earth grows dim by heaven’s lights.
Andrew E Pratt in Singing the Faith
Rev Paul Bettison – 23rd November 2020
Are you tone deaf? Then the choir of The Poor Clares of Arundel is the place for you. You may have heard both their recording and their story. A group of nuns, living in an enclosed Order, were invited to make a CD and the result is utterly amazing.
Those listening to the meditative music may be surprised to learn that there were no auditions for places in the choir. ‘You have to include everyone who wants to be included’ says Sister Gabriel, ’The people who hear it will have to accept the ability of all of us. We’re not going to tell any of our sisters “You can’t sing, so you’re not in.”.
The church, at its best, is to be just like that. An inclusive place where, to use Sister Gabriel’s words, everyone is to be included. Those who can sing and those who can’t, those who are prepared to sing to the same tune, and those who are not, young and old, extrovert and introvert, confident and shy, sure and doubting; you’re included, if you want to be.
The title of the Sisters’ CD is ‘Light for the World’. Their message is the same.
We thank you for the gift of your church
and pray that it may be inclusive and welcoming,
a true reflection of your Kingdom.
Within the fellowship of the church,
may the losers find their worth,
the strangers find a friend;
here may the hopeless find their faith
and aimless find an end.
Based on words from Singing the Faith 680
John Bell and Graham Maule
Rev Paul Bettison – 25th November 2020
All was ready. Computer switched on and Zoom set-up. The images of folk across the circuit popped into view. Then, horror of horrors, the dreaded message ‘Your internet connection is unstable’ appeared. I knew we were in for trouble. Sure enough, no sooner had we begun the service than images froze, and sound was distorted, hence my frantic cries to my in-house IT guru.
When connections fail, we often feel unsettled, insecure, and sometimes quite isolated. I guess that most of us, during the past months, have experienced these emotions, and many more. The restrictions on our contact with others has been, and still is, a present reality.
Yet we are discovering new ways of staying in touch with family and friends. Someone said to me “I’ve seen more of my family since this began than for years”. His family live at a considerable distance and opportunities for family gatherings had been few and far between. Now, they connect every week via Skype or Zoom.
So, how are our connections with God? Stable or unstable? When I struggled with an unstable internet connection, I was unsure as to whether the problem lie at my end or somewhere else. If we feel that our connection with God is unstable or wobbly, we can be sure that the problem lies at our end. The God who created us and loves us is the God whose connection with us is stable and never fails. Maybe we sometimes need to try new ways of connecting. I leave you to reflect on what those new ways might be.
sometimes I find it hard to connect with you,
especially when the usual ways have gone,
or no longer seem to work.
I remember Jacob who encountered you
in his dream,
and Elijah, who encountered you in the
still small voice;
I remember the story of the sheep and goats
that tells of how you come to us
in folk who are held captive,
lost, and hurting,
and see how that is a story for today.
So help me, please, to find ways
in which to secure my connection with you.
Rev Paul Bettison – 27th November 2020
In October 1949, a few days after giving a concert in Edinburgh, famed violinist Ginette Neveu was tragically killed in an air traffic accident. The plane crashed into a mountainside in Azores, and all its passengers and crew perished. The story is told of how she was found in the wreckage, her precious violin, a Stradivarius, still gripped in her hand. I read the story in Min Kym’s book, ‘Gone’. A child prodigy herself, she reflects on the relationship between a violinist and her or his instrument. She writes of the story, ‘The world is probably divided into two types of people – those who don’t play the violin who think the story over-fanciful, and those who play the violin who can envisage exactly how that would happen.’
The story set me to thinking about what is so integral to my life that, come what may, I would cling to it. Maybe it’s a question upon which, in the long hours and days of ‘lock-down’, you would find it helpful to reflect.
So, what would it be? Perhaps an item of sentimental value, or the recording of a favourite piece of music. Perhaps a passage of scripture or a verse from a hymn. Perhaps the company of someone you love or a cherished memory. Whatever it is hold fast to it (or them) and thank God for the way in which cherished people and things enrich our lives and often point to something beyond.
today I want to thank you
for all the special things
that enrich my life.
Often I take them for granted,
but now, in this still place,
I call them to mind and
feel them in my heart.
So, no more words now,
just a time to reflect and
discover anew what is
precious to me.