8th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
St Francis of Assisi, it is said, loved birds. So much so that he used to talk to them. In the year 1220, as the story goes, he even preached them a sermon. So, maybe he didn’t love them that much! Yet, in that sermon he encouraged his feathered friends ‘Seeing that God has bestowed upon you so many benefits, therefore my sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude’. Good advice both to the birds and to us.
A good friend of mine tells of how, every evening during the final few months of his wife’s terminal illness, they sat together and shared with each other, memories of things which, during the day, had brought them pleasure. They expressed gratitude to each other and to God for the things, large and small, that had enriched their day. That sharing, he said, made life not only bearable, but also a joy.
I acknowledge that, for some folk, there’s a lot in life that warrants grumbles, yet for most of us, I guess, life is good. A sense of gratitude makes it even better.
Priest and author, Henri Nouwen wrote ‘Every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.’ He goes on the quote the Estonian proverb ‘Who does not thank for little, will not thank for much’.
I write this as the world receives news of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore, described variously as ‘Inspiration’ and ‘National Hero’. Speaking in a recent interview Captain Tom said that his motivation in raising money for the NHS was that of gratitude – “For what they’ve done for me”.
The words of St Paul, addressed to the Christians in Thessalonica come to mind; Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
So today, in the words of the worship song, ‘Give thanks, with a grateful heart’
God our Father and our Mother,
we give you thanks and praise
for all that you have made,
for the stars in their splendour
and the world in its wonder
and for the glorious gift of human life.
With the saints and angels in heaven
we praise your holy name. Amen
Methodist Worship Book
10th February 2021 – Rev Nick Biggar
Overnight it has snowed again and there’s a good few inches! Not that I was particularly planning to go anywhere today, or tomorrow for that matter! We as remain in lockdown of course. As I sit in my study, today seems different, in that there is no sound of passing traffic, there’s just quiet. Silence! The phrase, ’silence is golden’ comes to mind and I embrace the peacefulness of this moment. In lockdown, with a teenager in the house, peace can be rare.
This is not the case for everyone of course. In this time of lockdown, for some there may be too much quietness. It can feel like being locked in solitary confinement, unable to see family or friends with only the company of the TV or radio. But this is not the same as spending time with real people. Every day can seem the same and it can be easy to get lost and confused in the week. It can be a time of anxiety or frustration, having to lock oneself away whilst this ever active and invisible virus prowls around, un-resting in its pursuit to infect yet more people, exploiting any opportunity it gets.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ disciples on that first day of the week after Jesus had been crucified. They too dared not to go outside, afraid of what might happen to them of the Jewish leaders found them. John writes that Jesus ‘came and stood amongst them’. Nobody had let him in, and the locked doors had not stopped him from entering he room and being amongst them. I imagine Jesus looking round the room at the fearful and anxious faces of his friends before saying to them, ‘Peace be with you’.
This is not the peace found in the quietness of a snowy street. Rather it’s an inner peace that brings a rest and calmness to your spirit. It’s a peace that restores and replenishes us. For those who are suffering today with fears and trauma, be assured that the Prince of Peace will come and stand with you and will speak those words of blessing over you, ‘Peace be with you, my peace I give to you, do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’.
12th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
Granddad looked worn out. I soon discovered why. He told me that he had begun a jigsaw after breakfast the previous day and felt a great sense of achievement when it was completed in one sitting. He then admitted that, having finished it, looking at the clock, he had discovered that it was 2.00 am. There were no half-measures for granddad. He could never be accused of being half-hearted. Whether it be completing jigsaws, planning and tending his garden, or untangling knotted string, he put everything into the task in hand.
Granddad’s interests, however, did not extend to reading poetry. He would not have come across the advice of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa; ‘Be whole in each thing. Put all that you are into the least that you do’. Good advice.
When we totally commit ourselves to something, what a difference it makes. We know full well that commitment nourishes and enhances our relationships. A version of the vows made in the marriage service runs, ‘All that I am I give to you and all that I am I share with you’. Not just a little bit, or quite a lot, but all. Likewise, we are called into a relationship with God that is wholehearted. In the Methodist Covenant Service, we are invited to respond to God’s unconditional love; ‘I willingly offer all that I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.’
Today, an invitation to think of your relationships and your commitment to them. Reflect upon your relationship with God, who created you, loves you, and shows that love in Jesus.
‘When I survey the wondrous cross,
on which the Prince of Glory died,
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.’
15th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
“Tell me what that means” said the vicar. We were in his study, planning some Churches Together initiative, and one member had challenged him to confirm that he had been ‘born again’. As you may well imagine, that opened up a lively discussion. The vicar responded by advocating a somewhat wider and richer understanding than his questioner was ready to embrace. In John’s Gospel (Chapter 3) we read the story of the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus. “Very truly,” says Jesus “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” [In some translations “born from above”] Again, according to the story, a lively discussion followed.
So, what does the idea of being ‘born again’ mean to you? Maybe the experience of a life transformed, with a new heart, creating a new self. Thinking of those verses from St John’s Gospel, someone who has been ‘born again’ is a person in whom the Spirit of God has been invited to make a home. The Church has a role to play here. Marcus Borg suggests that ‘One of the central purposes of our life together as a church, is to midwife and nourish the process of being born again’. As we emerge from the pandemic, can we discover anew this pivotal role in heralding the Kingdom of God? I leave you to reflect upon how we might do it.
It is natural for us to think of all this in terms of individual lives. Personal and Spiritual. But maybe if the Kingdom of God is to come on earth as in heaven, the Church may need to be ‘born again’. Transformed, with a new heart, and a new self. And why stop at the church? Surely, a communal, social, and political re-birth needs to come about in order that God’s Kingdom of justice and joy may be experienced by all of Creation.
So let our prayer for today be that the Spirit of God will be invited to make a home in the world, the church, and our hearts. Then we shall see the Kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.
17th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
Whilst he wasn’t quite knee-high to a grasshopper, to describe Godfrey as being anything other than ‘short’ would have been wide of the mark. He came to our home for lunch and one of our sons, not having met Godfrey before, asked him in all innocence “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I can’t recall the 30 year old’s answer, but Godfrey is now a Moderator of a Synod of the United Reformed Church.
Some children and young people have clear ideas of what, when they grow up, they’d like to be. Some are not so sure. Others haven’t a clue. Train driver, nurse, teacher, plumber, what was it for you?
I’ve referred, in a previous ‘Thought’, to Charlie Mackesy’s book ’The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse’. Here’s another picture of his; The boy and the mole are sitting close together on the branch of a tree. Mole asks the boy “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The boy replies “Kind”.
Just imagine a world populated by folk who, like the boy, aspired to live lives motivated by loving kindness. As I understand it, Buddhists want to develop this quality (metta) in order to help others to be happy. Christians too are encouraged to practice loving kindness. The members of the church in Ephesus are urged to ‘be kind to one another’ and those in Corinth, to acknowledge that at the very heart of their faith is a love that is kind.
Reflecting upon the past year, and our experience of the pandemic, we can be left in no doubt that loving kindness is all around. It is demonstrated by folk of all faiths and none.
So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
As the song from ‘The Boyfriend’ goes; It’s never too late to fall in love. Neither is it ever too late to aspire to be kind.
Show me how to walk in your way of loving kindness,
to cherish life, and all who live it,
to be unconditional in my loving
just as you are,
Creator, Redeemer, and source of all life
Barbara Bennett (adapted)
19th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
It was in 1801 that the United Kingdom Parliament passed a General Enclosure Act. The impact of that and other such Acts and Bills – between 1604 and 1914 there were over 5,200 of them – was to change the face of the countryside. Areas that had, since medieval times, been comprised of large, open fields, became fenced or walled-off, and either owned or rented by individuals.
The desire to enclose and fence-in what we deem to be ours seems to be a human trait. Residents don’t appear to share the enthusiasm of planners and architects for ‘Open plan’ housing developments, with front gardens joined to those of next door. We like our privacy.
Journalist and nature writer Rob Cowan writes; ‘Just as previous generations enclosed the land we’re surely enclosing ourselves. Every year we become more insular and inward focussed, at once connected to an amazing virtual global multiplicity yet often detached from the world in any physical, emotional, and moral sense.’ Writing that in 2015 I do wonder whether, in the light of our current experience of the pandemic, acknowledgement of climate change, and awareness of the impetus of moral issues such as that which motivates the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, he would write the same today.
The enforced experience of, for example, the isolation that has resulted from the pandemic, has brought about a recognition of our dependence on each other. As on our daily permitted walk, we pass people, or receive post or parcel at the door, are we not now more likely to ‘have a word’? Are we not more appreciative of the support and help of others, be that friends and neighbours, shop assistants and delivery drivers, NHS staff and Social Care workers? I sense that we are also becoming more conscious of the precarious nature of the world and our connection with it. In short, we have become acutely aware of our dependence upon each other, and all of creation.
So, turning Rob Cowan’s words on their head, we are in a period when we are seeking to break down the walls that may have enclosed us, becoming less insular and more outwardly focussed. And surely that is in accordance with the will of God, who created us and the world for each other.
We are good at erecting walls and fences, enclosing that which we consider to be ours.
Forgive us when we try to detach ourselves from each other and from the world of which we are part.
You created us for each other and to be partners with you in creation.
Help us to live faithfully, relate lovingly, and dismantle the barriers that separate us from your hopes of us and for us.