5th October 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
You may have heard the story of the letter, signed by Desert Pete, found in a baking powder tin tied to the handle of an old rusty water pump on a little used desert trail;
This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer in it, and it should last for quite a few years. But the washer dries out and the pump needs to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a jar of water, out of the sun and corked up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about ¼ of the water into the pump and let her soak for a minute to wet the leather washer. Then pour the rest medium fast and pump hard. You’ll have water. Have faith. This well has never run dry.
When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back as you found it for the next stranger who comes this way.
I think that, if I was parched, I would be tempted to drink some, if not all, of the water in that jar. How about you? It would take boldness and faith to follow the guidance in Pete’s letter. I sense that the story has something to say about our journey of faith, especially in these challenging times. Another story about boldness and faith comes to mind. It is to be found in St Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 25 verses 14-30) and is known as the Parable of the Talents. Both the story of Desert Pete, and the parable told by Jesus suggest a way of living that is risky, yet which results in abundant life.
In you I put my trust.
In you, I entrust my spirit.
In your hands, I place my life.
I thank you for keeping my confidence alive.
7th October 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
It’s harvest time. So, “Come, ye thankful people, come..” But, if you do come, make sure that the pears and peas, beans and bread, that you bring have been thoroughly treated with anti-bacterial spray. And, as you ‘Praise God for the harvest of farm and of field,’ don’t be tempted to sing out loud. That is, unless you are worshipping in the privacy of your own home!
Whilst our harvest celebrations will, of necessity, be somewhat different to the norm, we can nevertheless, give thanks for the harvest. Our harvest hymns may be somewhat muted in volume, yet our sense of gratitude, to God need not be diminished.
I suspect that G A Studdert-Kennedy’s hymn ‘Awake, awake to love and work..’ wouldn’t make it onto a list of the nation’s favourite harvest hymns, yet, its verses form the second half of his poem ‘At a Harvest Festival’. Published in 1921, in the aftermath of the First World War, Studdert-Kennedy – nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willy’ by the troops to whom he was Chaplain – having witnessed the horrors of the front line, was able still to ‘Bless the Lord of Life’.
Our Prayer for today is a reflection on the first few verses of Studdert-Kennedy’s hymn;
Not here for high and holy things
we render thanks to thee,
but for the common things of earth,
the purple pageantry
of dawning and of dying days,
the splendour of the sea,
the royal robes of autumn moors,
the golden gates of spring,
the velvet of soft summer nights,
the silver glistening
of all the million million stars,
the silent song they sing,
of faith and hope and love undimmed,
undying still through death,
the resurrection of the world,
what time there comes the breath
of dawn that rustles through the trees,
and that clear voice that saith:
Awake, awake, to love and work!
The lark is in the sky,
the fields are wet with diamond dew,
9th October 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
Those of us familiar with road signs will recognise the one depicting an inverted letter U encased in a red circle and dissected by a red diagonal line. Yes, it’s the sign that indicates that U-turns are prohibited. A sensible restriction on busy roads, and especially motorways!
Governments are often criticised for making U turns, and I guess that, although it was uttered forty years ago, many of us recall the way in which a Prime Minister described herself, using the immortal phrase – ‘The lady’s not for turning’. Performing U-turns is often seen as being a sign of weakness, resisting them, a sign of strength.
Yet, when on a car journey, unless we’re pretty confident that we are on the right track, if advised by the voice from the Satnav to ‘Do a U-urn’ it’s wise to take notice. Otherwise, who knows where we’ll finish up. So too on our journey through life. There will be times when we get it wrong and find ourselves travelling in the wrong direction.
The parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates the point. Having headed off and engaged in ‘riotous living’, he came to his senses, performed a U-turn, and headed for home. It’s called repentance – ‘turning round’. Whilst riotous living is alien to most of us, there will have been times when, acknowledging that we’ve been heading in the wrong direction, we needed to come to our senses, perform a U-turn, and head for home. The same can be said for society. I sense that the challenge of the pandemic offers an opportunity to stop, reflect on the shape and values of our society, and come to our senses.
Then, who knows, a U-turn may lead us into a future full of hope.
The parable is also known as the parable of the forgiving Father. When the wayward son heads for home, he finds his father waiting, with arms open in welcome. As the parable illustrates, rather than U-turns demonstrating weakness, they open up the possibility of a return home, where we were meant to be.
Sometimes I get it wrong and find myself
heading in the wrong direction.
My values get out of step with the values
of your Kingdom.
I need to do a U-turn.
The same can be said for the society
of which I am part.
Whether it be care of the environment or
care for each other, we get it wrong.
We need to do a U-turn
The church has found the same.
We got it wrong about slavery,
the role of women in ministry
and much more.
And there are more U-turns to make.
Help us to sense when we are heading
in the wrong direction and give us
the wisdom and courage to
turn around and head towards home.
12th October 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
Those were the days’. Summers when the sun shone brightly throughout the whole of the school holidays. Church festivals, Harvest, Anniversary, and Nativity, when pews were full to overflowing. Pre-pandemic times, when we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, with whom we wanted, unmasked, unafraid, and free. Those were the days, albeit that we may view them through rose-tinted spectacles. And what of days to come? What will they bring of danger or delight?
It’s human nature to think back reflecting on the past, and to look forward anticipating the future, but in so doing there is a danger sometimes that we miss what’s going on here and now. There’s a lot to be said for living in the moment. Poet and priest, R S Thomas, in his poem ‘The Bright Field’ wrote;
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush
So, today, watch out for the bright field, and within it, the lit bush. Glimpses of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
When it’s permitted, we sing
‘We’ll praise you for all that is past
And trust you for all that’s to come’
And, in my better moments, so I do.
But, as I make my journey through life,
help me to resist the temptation to
be either constantly looking backwards,
ruminating about the past,
or forever gazing forward,
wondering about a future
as yet unknown.
Encourage me to stop for a while
and look, and listen.
Inspire me to live in the moment
and in so doing,
discover the pearl of great price.
14th October 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Acts and Romans carry on.’ So runs the rhyme that I learned in order to find my way around the first few books of the New Testament.
I don’t know who first coined the ditty, but I do know that it was Rudyard Kipling who, in one of his poems, writes;
‘I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.’
When reading the bible, it is often a good thing to enlist the help of some, if not all, these characters.
When, for example, we look at the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – to have some idea of what was written; when and why it was written; how it came to be written; where and to whom it was written; informs our understanding. Having said that, I’d be the first to acknowledge that, at first, they were not written down at all, but shared by word of mouth.
Until I began Local Preachers’ studies, it had been a mystery to me that all four Gospels claim to tell the story of Jesus, yet whilst being remarkably similar, they are not the same. In fact times, places, and conversations sometimes just don’t tally. Then the penny dropped (or rather my tutor placed the penny in the slot). Because each of the Gospels was shared written, and compiled at a different time, by different people, for different people; they are bound to be different. In fact, their differences affirm their authenticity.
Whilst I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus can be likened to a road traffic accident, this illustration may shed some light. Those witnessing an accident would do so from different viewpoints and they would see it and remember it rather differently. Now imagine those who, whilst not being present, have heard or read about the accident. For example, there will be differing accounts of what happened from friends of those involved, representatives of the insurance companies of those involved and so on.
So, when reading the bible, it is good to keep in mind the six who taught Rudyard Kipling ‘all that he knew’. Those six will help us come to a deeper understanding not only of the Gospels but also all of scripture.
I thank you for the Bible;
Its stories, visions and dreams
are to shape my sense of
who God is, who we are,
and what life is about.
(Based on words of Marcus Borg)