17th August 2020 – Revd Philip Bee
Bigger than you
In the middle of the woods close to my home, a beech tree stretches out a huge canopy above the forest floor. It casts such a shadow that nothing else grows. The place is often still and the dome of branches and leaves above is a match for many cathedrals. It’s one of those places where it’s easy to feel a sense of awe and wonder which connects us to something bigger than ourselves. You will know of moments when you have felt similarly connected. At the top of a hill where the sky arches its back above you and the wind challenges you to be still. Along a seashore, where an orange ball of fire sinks below the horizon as waves lap gently at your feet. When a shooting star streaks fleetingly across the night sky high above your head. Our ancestors were better tuned to such sensations than we are today and recognised in them a connection with something much bigger than themselves. The Bible tells of ancestors who also connected with God as the One who made everything in the first place. Very often they simply wanted to say thank you!
Your name is wonderful everywhere on earth!
You let your glory be seen in the heavens above. (Psalm 8:1)
Creator God, thank you for the world you have made in all its beauty. Amen.
Where and when have you sensed there is something or someone bigger than you?
19th August 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
All was silent, then a ‘Whoosh’ as it soared overhead, only a few feet above ground. The glider, that only seconds before had been catapulted skyward, now ascended, supported by a current of air. It was a sight to behold, and remained so for half an hour or so, as it glided over the Hope Valley. I’ve a vague idea as to how they do it – by balancing the forces of gravity, lift, drag, and thrust – but how such a weighty thing can, without an engine, fly never ceases to amaze me.
I’m amazed too when I reflect on how it is that sometimes a hidden force enables me to, as it were, fly. Weighted down by weariness, despondency, or anxiety, I can find myself lifted, supported, and raised heavenward. I guess that’s what the prophet Isaiah was thinking when he wrote;
‘Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth.”
“He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not be faint.” [Isaiah 40]
It’s as if God is saying ‘Come, fly with me”
Speak in the stillness, God I pray,
come to my heart and meet me here.
Bring me your peace for each new day
-the gift of grace to earth from heaven.
When, in the anxious rush of days,
I lose my hold on faith and you,
reclaim me with your calm embrace
-the gift of grace to earth from heaven.
Lift me to see with heaven’s eyes.
I long to soar on eagles’ wings
as I press on to claim your prize
-the gift of grace to earth from heaven.
So may I be renewed in love,
helped and sustained by you alone.
Strengthened by you that I may prove
a gift of grace to earth from heaven.
Gareth Hill (Adapted)
21st August 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
As the picture shows, we’ve come a long way since the only manner of baptism was total immersion in the river Jordan! Here, because of the Covid restrictions we have a minister resorting to the use of a water pistol. Along with other areas of life, church worship has changed beyond belief.
I believe that at its best worship,is a response to an awareness of, and encounter with, God. By and large, we are accustomed to worshipping in a building set aside for the purpose. Its design and furnishings say a lot about what we are about. In Fred Pratt Green’s words ‘Here are table, font, and pulpit; here the cross has central place.’ At the moment, many of us don’t have these ‘symbols to remind us of our lifelong need for grace’, yet we can respond to an awareness of, and encounter with, God as we share in worship via Zoom or by using the weekly Newssheet. Some of us tune in to services on TV or radio. Yet, at present, worship can feel like a solitary experience. We’re used to being with others. So, we are missing the ‘things that remind us of our need for grace’ and we’re missing each other.
Yet as we sit at home we can confidently say ‘God is here’. As we worship maybe we can, in our mind’s eye, see the symbols and experience what it is that they represent – God’s grace, expressed in Jesus. Maybe too, we can feel connected with members of the church family as ‘God the Spirit comes to each’.
As I’m to conduct a baptism soon, I’m trawling Amazon in the hope of locating a Baptismal Water-Gun. However, I’m not sure that its use will sit comfortably with the first line of verse three in the hymn; ‘Here our children find a welcome’!
A Prayer in preparation for worship:
together with members of our church family
I come to worship you.
Help me to remember that wherever we are
you are with us.
May we pray to you in faith,
listen to your word with eagerness,
and be renewed by your grace.
24th August 2020 – Keith Randerson
Two quite different themes in the news over recent weeks seem to be coming together in terms of the response required.
Improved air quality has been noted and there is a desire to retain it by making the economy greener as activity rebuilds after the Covid-19 shutdown. The focus will be on ways of using less carbon for transport, house heating and industry. There have also been reports of the numbers of small mammals at risk of extinction as habitat is degraded. One item of good news is the recovery of the whale population in response to reduced hunting. The problems reflect the earlier attitude that the earth was ours to exploit for our own advantage. Alternatively we can see ourselves as custodians of the world, caring for it to the advantage of all life.
There has also been a significant response to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, although the origin goes back to 2103 and responds to a series of killings. In the UK it has provoked a re-examination of our involvement in the slave trade. Many cities and some universities are reviewing their past history and the role of benefactors and how to respond in a changed world. Old attitudes of empire are no longer appropriate as we try to respond to a call for equality – but old attitudes and civic structures are hard to change.
As we seek to work out how to live in the new world the prophet Micah has a short summary of the good life
do what is right
walk humbly with God
26th August 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
Gone are the days when, gazing into the sky over the Peak District, you could see British Airways 747s – Jumbo Jets. First, because of the coronavirus crunch, they were furloughed, now they are destined for the scrapyard. However, in their place can be seen a new arrival. The bearded vulture. With wingspan of nine feet it is, apparently, quite a sight. Only once before has one been seen in Britain. Thought to hail from the Alps, it has chosen to spend its summer break amidst the peaks of Derbyshire. Whilst it is regularly spotted above Ladybower reservoir, keep your eyes peeled because it may decide to venture North. Maybe to Birds Edge?!
Sometimes birds turn up in the most unexpected of places.
Come to think of it, Jesus turned up in the most unexpected of places too. He shared meals with tax collectors, met with outcasts, and engaged in conversations with those of ‘ill repute’. Elijah recognised God in a still small voice. Jacob, whilst dreaming, as he slept, a stone for a pillow.
In our Thought for the Day, I invite you to join me as I reflect upon what is going on in the world, in our neighbourhood, and in our circle of family and friends, and try to catch a sight of God’s presence in it all. Just like our visitor from the Alps, God can be spotted in the most unexpected of places.
have I allowed you to pass me by
without a word from me, or a thought;
that fleeting need
Lord, I ask you to give me your blessing
to pass on to those
whom I meet today.
To find in them
that little bit of you
that is in all of us.
Val Smith in URC Handbook 2017
28th August 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
When listening to a recording of Kathleen Ferrier singing G F Handel’s ‘Art thou troubled? Music will calm thee.’ you may find that it does what it says on the tin. Music can be calming. Listen, on the other hand, to the last movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. By no stretch of the imagination could it be described as being calming. Far from it in fact. The brass section is working on overtime (and maybe on some kind of stimulant!). The theme is held by the trombone section, not renowned for its subtlety. Music critics write of its sense of rejoicing. But, as one critic puts it ‘The rejoicing is forced, created under threat’. The composer himself is credited with saying; “It is as if the music is commanding; ‘Your business is rejoicing. Your business is rejoicing. Your business is rejoicing’. And you rise, shaky and go marching off muttering ‘Our business is rejoicing. Our business is rejoicing. Our business is rejoicing’.”
There is a sense in which, after worship, we may on occasion leave church with the same mutterings. Yet because of what is happening to us or those we love, we may not feel like rejoicing. But we sing ‘Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; rejoice! Again, I say: rejoice! Who would dare disobey a command from Charles Wesley?
Perhaps, when feeling less than joyous, it seems as if we are letting the side down. After all, the bible tells us that we should rejoice. But does it? Just look, for example, at some of the psalms. ‘For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing: my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away’ (Ps 31 v 9). Not much rejoicing here.
I’m thankful that God, to whom all hearts are open, understands us and accepts me as I am, be that sad or glad. Rather than, with a stick, beating me into rejoicing, God ‘shelters me in the shadow of her wings’ (Psalm 63)
When circumstances make my life
Too hard to understand,
No doubt or fear, no pain or strife,
Can snatch me from God’s hand.*
It is enough for me to know
God’s promise and God’s care:
Wherever on life’s path I go
My Saviour will be there. *
When I’m feeling down and sad,
Nothing much to make me glad,
Help me to remember,
You are there for me. **