Our churches and villages: click on a picture to go to that church's page.

Posts

Remembrance Day 2020

We cannot deny that this year is really different from many years and not only because our church services were outside for our Remembrance Sunday. We are also in a complete different situation as years before, because of this Covid pandemic.

What hasn’t changed however is that nearly all of us here, and many others any where else, are wearing a poppy during the Remembrance Day period and on the day itself. 

Have you ever asked what people do with their poppies after Remembrance Day? 

It is said that every year the British legion sells about 45 million poppies, all over the UK. Over a 10 year period there should be nearly half a billion of poppies. 

But, where are the poppies gone? Have you ever wondered about what has been done to all these poppies; where are they? 

I can only guess they are either thrown away or put in a drawer and forgotten. Otherwise, why could the British Legion sell 45 million poppies every year.

Unfortunately, most of these poppies suffer the same fate as many people’s remembering. How often will the people remember, who are now wearing those poppies, in the next few days, weeks months, after Remembrance day what this day should do to us.

When people remove their poppy from the coat or jumper of what ever, will they remember why they have been wearing it. Or will they with the removing of the puppy at the same time remove the reason for why they have been remembering this time. Have they really understood what the poppy symbolises?

We being here together are remembered that the poppy symbolises hope in despair. It’s a symbol of God bringing hope and a future, not only to the individual, but also to our community and our nation.

By wearing a poppy may we not only remember those who had no future, but also remind ourselves that we have a future. 

Wearing a poppy should be more than setting aside only a days in a year to remember and remind, but should be a symbol of the vision God calls us to take up in our future. That by our living individually, and as a community, and as a nation, we seek for what makes peace with one another and with God, through Christ our Lord.

May we be the prime examples of that, being aware of our calling to let the Light and Peace of Christ shine into this world by who we are and what we do.

Hans

Rector's Letter November Magazine

On my first ever IFR flight, only flying on instruments, during my pilot training I was approaching Schiphol airport and told by the air controller to go a certain altitude before being lined up for the runway.

It all happened now more than 30 years ago so I don’t know how much has changed over the years, but in those days there was a kind of friendly animosity between pilots and air controllers. Once during a visit to Schiphol Tower, I read the sign: ‘Pilots are fools, air controller rules’. Although the pilot controls the airplane, it is the air controller who controls where to go in controlled airspace.

Hence, obediently I brought the airplane to the given altitude by the air controller. Flying above the clouds is being in a very nice sunny environment, but the new altitude we had to go meant we entered the upper layer of these clouds. 

Being in the upper layer of a blanket of clouds is a fascinating experience, because the surroundings become a milky white environment in which it is impossible to orientate. It was the best practice environment ever for flying IFR because it was impossible to see anything outside, forcing me to focus solely on my instruments. Flying like that was called ‘follow the needle’ in those days, without the electronic screens as in modern airplanes.

Not being able to orientate in this milky environment, it also gave me the impression of going round in circles. Only closely following the instruments, much against any feelings of going in circles, helped me keeping the airplane towards its destination.

Obeying the instructions of the air controller, together with following the needles of the instruments, let us finally brake through the clouds, which had become much darker the more we had to lower our altitude. When we broke through the clouds, the lights of the runway were right in front of us, making a safe landing possible on Schiphol airport.

In the airplane it were both the instruments and the air controller which has kept us safe and brought us finally home.

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, He said He would not leave us but send the Spirit to help and guide us. Together with reading the Word of God and being open for guidance by His Spirit we will also travel safe and arrive well at our destination.

In this moment in time, when so many things are uncertain and can cause confusion, let us remember that God keeps us all safe when we stay close to Him. By doing so He can guide and protect our hearts and minds. God has given us the instruments of His word and of His Spirit to be our guide, even when we do not understand what is happening around us. But, as the pilot and air controller sometimes struggle as to who is in control, so we might have the same struggles with God in our lives when we do not understand what happens around us. However, trusting and following God’s instruments in whatever circumstance will keep us safe and be our support on our life’s journey.

Hans

 

Short Sermon of the Sunday on Luke 10

In Holland I heard the story of a 82 year old widow, called Ludmilla, living in the Czech Republic. After it split from Slovakia, the Czech Republic became one the most atheistic country of Europe and even of the world. About 70% of the people of Slovakia belong to a church, or call themselves Christian, while in the Czech Republic about 75% (3/4) call themselves non-religious or without faith.

The story about Ludmilla reverberates with the reading from Luke 10, where Jesus sent out the 70 to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. And as Jesus said, He sent them as lambs among the wolves.

Ludmilla is an ambassador of Christ and besides her front door she put up a sign which says: Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven’. Ludmilla opened her house and heart for everybody who needs a listening ear. She finds it difficult that so many of her citizens and people of her country have rejected the gospel, but she’s determined to let Christ speak and work through her, in her own neighbour-hood and beyond. Therefore she calls herself an ambassador of Christ and her house is an embassy of His Kingdom.

Whenever someone comes to her house, she not only serves coffee or tea, but even more so, she listens to what the people have to say, or ask for in pastoral support. In her own words; if the Lord sends someone to my house, I gladly receive him or her and want to support the person to let the Lord grow in their lives. 

It’s a very simple message, but in a place of darkness she shines as a Bright Light proclaiming the message of salvation through Christ. The Kingdom of the Heavens has come down into her house, so it can be rightly called an Embassy of the Living God. 

Remarkable of this story is the simplicity of Ludmilla, who has not done any theological training and is not commissioned by any church. She’s no priest or pastor, but she is a great witness and a pastoral support for others. She was asked whether she was never afraid of being on her own and perhaps vulnerable on her mature age? She replied; it says 365 times in the Bible; don’t be afraid. So why should I be afraid. With 365 days in a year, for every day is the word; don’t be afraid.

In Luke 10, Jesus sent out the 70 as lambs amongst the wolves. The 70 were normal plain folk, who don’t belong to the upper-classes of society or have a special commission recognised by the leaders. Sending them out two by two was not for safety, but because in those days the witness of two people was counted to be trustworthy. 

When Jesus said; I send you as lambs to the wolves, it also  means no less than; don’t be afraid. 

Don’t be afraid. It is also said to the shepherds in the field by the angels at the birth of Jesus.

When you look at the original Greek, it is worded in the aorist, so it literally means; don’t keep fearing. It is normal to be afraid it difficult or challenging circumstances, but in Christ there’s no reason to keep on fearing.

If someone like Ludmilla can leave her fear in the Hands of God and doesn’t let it hinder her mission of being an ambassador of Christ, in an environment which is no longer Christian, we might learn much from people like her. 

Jesus is still looking for people like Ludmilla. He still wants to send out His people into the world to be His ambassador, like He sent out Ludmilla. 

Perhaps we could all be encouraged by Ludmilla to be willing to proclaim the gospel of Christ in what we do, in what we say and in who we are. The harvest is plentiful, but where are the labourers? The labourers that are you and I.

Hans

Magazine October Letter

Harvest church services are on the church calendar for this month but celebrating it this year will be unique to say the least. Anyway, at Maids Moreton we will continue with the Scarecrow weekend on the 3rd of October finished with a special service in church on Sunday the 4th as usual. Our other Parish churches are keeping their Festival services on either the 11th or the 18th of October to celebrate the Harvest.

In celebrating the Harvest and calling it a Festival service it offers us a glimpse of normality in uncertain times. The signal we want to radiant to our communities is that whatever is happening, the message of the Church will continue and not be stopped by circumstances. Hampered somewhat may be, but even with restrictions set before us, we will be here for our communities to let the Light of Christ show in the midst of us.

This type of attitude is a characteristic of so many people mentioned in the Bible who were called to fulfil a certain task. Even when the odds were stacked against them, they did not abandon their calling. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah to name a few in the Old Testament and the disciples of Jesus together with Paul in the New Testament. Also, Jesus Christ fulfilled the task laid before Him and did not stop continuing His ministry what God had called Him to.

Even today we have many examples of people who made a choice to serve others in the Name of Christ who did not abandon their mission, even in the face of ridicule, persecution and death. When we consider the example of such a person, it puts our own problems we might be facing with Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainties in another light.

One of those persons is the pastor Ramil Mateo, working in the slums of Manila in the Philippines. As a young entrepreneur and business man, he left his career to become a pastor in one of the poorest areas in our world.

His church operates a little different from our churches as the building is constantly in use. As well as being used for Christian activities it is a school for children during the day, a shelter for homeless during the night and church for Sunday services. But, even in his thriving ministry, he is facing opposition and ridicule from some in his own neighbourhood and his own family sometimes finds it difficult to be living in this disreputable situation. Despite the problems he faces it doesn’t prevent him letting the church be a place of the Light of Christ in difficult circumstances.

Seeing the persistence of people like pastor Ramil, and how his church stands strong in the face of challenge and uncertainty, it should make us all the more thankful for the places of sanctity and peace we can find in and around our own churches.

As the time of Harvest is traditionally a time of thanksgiving in the church, let us also give thanks for the abundance we have in this part of the world and the welfare and peace we experience around us. May we not forget the words of Psalm 148 in the words of praise to God: Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests…..Let them praise the name of God, it’s the only Name worth praising.

 Hans

To live or or to die; Philippians 1:21-23

Years ago I was at an evening service in a church in Haarlem and the preacher that evening preached about sin.

I don’t remember a word of what he said, but what I remember was his enthusiasm and happiness with which he was delivering his sermon. A little odd I thought, because his whole attitude did not correspond with the subject of his sermon.

Of course we cannot expect from a preacher to mimic his personalty with the subject of his sermon, but a little bit of similarity between the two is normal. Imagine if I would be using the same Bible reading for a sermon one day for a funeral and the next day for a wedding (as it happened), it would at least require some difference in attitude of delivery.

But, in this case the sermon about sin was delivered in a hurray fashion. Later that evening during coffee after the service I learned that the preacher’s first child was born just that afternoon. Now I understood why he was delivering his sermon with such a happy mind-set, because he was more taken by his personal circumstances than by the subject of his sermon.

When I read these words from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, saying; ‘to die is gain’ and ‘having the desire to depart, and to be with Christ, for it is far better’, I’m under the impression that Paul’s words are somewhat influenced by the position he was in during the writing of this letter. Imprisoned and perhaps disillusioned by the restrictions of being in prison for having done nothing wrong. In such circumstances it is not a surprise that Paul would rather be with the Lord and free from suffering and imprisonment. 

But Paul would not be the first in the Bible who would utter similar words in difficult circumstances. 

Moses in Number 11:14-15 says; ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

And about Elijah, after the miracle of the burning of the sacrifices on the altar when God sent fire to consume the offering, it says in 1 Kings 19:4; ‘He sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Not to forget Jeremiah who is also complaining about the bitter and difficult circumstances he finds himself in and says in Jeremiah 15:10; ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.’ 

In the light of all what Paul has experienced and all the difficult circumstances he went through and all the sufferings he met, his words wanting to be with the Lord are understandable.

Presumably we all have gone through difficult circumstances in our lives at a certain point and perhaps even lost hope in what this life could still bring us. But, then we can learn from Paul and from Moses, and from Elaiah and Jeremiah and from Jesus Christ. Because in all the difficult and challenging circumstances they were in, they kept their eyes on God and did not abandon their ministry. 

When we look to the letter of Paul to the Philippains as a whole, it is still accounted for being one of the most encouraging letters of Paul. The letter to the Philippians is often called a happy letter, because it is full of praise although interspersed with admonition, but overall it is a letter of joy to the Philippians.

Even with the difficulties we might face in the light of the Covid-19 restrictions, God's support and encouragement remains. If we, like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiaha and Paul, find our lives on a hard place and start to moan about our circumstances we can be encouraged that God did not abandon them and gave them the strength to continue.

It is really true; in Christ we are more than conquerors, even in the most challenging circumstances, as Paul is our vivid example and encourager to remain loyal to Christ and walk daily with our God.

Hope , Romans 15 vs 5-7 &13

In his letter to the Romans Paul is writing to the Church in Roman, giving them instructions on how to live their lives Gods way, together in Christian community. Although written nearly 2000 years ago Paul’s instructions still apply to us today:

Paul writes that we must have the same attitude to each other as Jesus had when he was on earth. His example is there for us to read in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus was  loving, forgiving and inclusive. Reading the Bible gives us encouragement as the Old Testament tells us of Gods promises to his people and the New Testament shows His love in action with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We are to have fortitude, which is much more than simply being patient. it is an attitude to ‘triumphantly cope with life’ because of the hope we have in the love of God. And we are to live harmoniously together, which does not mean that we won’t disagree and even argue, but what unites us in our Christian faith is much bigger than any differences that may divide us.

Our hope isn’t just optimism that doesn’t see difficulties and is certainly not only the prerogative of the young. Christian hope throughout the centuries has seen everything and endured but does not despair. Because our hope isn’t founded on human spirit, or human goodness or human achievements (although these can be wonderful), our hope is in the power of God.

We have all heard it said that a situation, or even a person, is hopeless. Why? Because human beings cannot see the solution. But..and this can be an exciting opportunity....it could be when we ask for Gods help. It could be when we turn to someone greater then ourselves. And it is when we ask for Gods help, when we listen to him, when we allow him in, that His blessings come. Noone is hopeless who is loved by God, and no situation is hopeless when the Holy Spirit is with us. This is our hope; that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ our saviour.

Sermon about forgiveness

Forgiveness.

When Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant of the small debt in compare to the large debt, it was a way of speaking people understood very well in those days. It was a very good traditional and natural teaching method. The point in the parables of Jesus is that although they are not historical, at the same time they are true to life. For this reason the exaggeration in this parable might sound absurd, but the underlying truth is very real.  

Besides, when Jesus told this parable it had some reference to the Old Testament. In Genesis 4:24 is says; ‘If Cain is avenged 7-fold, truly Lamech 77-fold’. The number 7 indicates the full number. And whereas Lamech the son of Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, is the symbol of avenge in unmeasurable times, Jesus is the symbol of forgiveness in unmeasurable times. The one who is obsessed with punishment stands here in opposition to the One Who forgives.

A word study into the original Greek for forgiveness will not be of much help as it one of those words that is used very frequently in the ancient Greek language, with even so many different meanings. Essentially the word means 'letting go' and other equivalent meanings. 

Because Jesus lived in a Hebrew-like speaking environment, the original Hebrew word might help us. In the old Testament there are 2 words mainly used for forgiving and forgiveness. One word describes the act of lifting up to describe forgiveness, and the other word in Hebrew means to cover up or cover over, but with expiation in mind.

It is the act of expiation in forgiving, which has been neglected in our contemporary society. When you look up forgiveness on the internet it now says: Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. 

One could argue that this is not the explanation of forgiveness as it meant to be in the context of the Old and New Testament. Forgiveness in the OT resulted in reconciliation again with God. That’s why the Jews made offerings in their Temple, because it forgave their sins and reconciled them to God. 

That concept of forgiveness leading to reconciliation is not changed in the New Testament. Except that the offer to be made for sin is once and for all done through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I regularly went to the Church of the Nazarene in Haarlem. It’s a Christian denomination from the Weslyan or Methodist movement of the 19C in the USA. They put an emphasis on holy living and in line with this principle at a sermon the preacher told the following story.

A couple went to a prison to offer forgiveness to the criminal who had harmed them as what they believed was their Christian duty. Instead of accepting this forgiveness he laughed them in the face and assaulted them with his words. 

It is certain that at this meeting not any form of reconciliation has taken place. Even though the couple might have forgiven the criminal, that forgiveness was rejected and so essentially nothing happened that could lead to an opening of a new relationship between the criminal and the couple. What has happened might be in accordance of how forgiveness is explained in this day and age, but it is not forgiveness in Biblical terms because it not with reconciliation in mind between two parties.

Reconciliation takes place after forgiveness is asked and received. In the same way God is reconciling Himself with us after we have accepted the forgiveness we have received through Jesus Christ. To be reconciled with God is not an act of forgiveness on our side, but from God Himself. Through Christ we have received forgiveness and reconciliation, which as the parable shows is given unmeasurable times.

Whereas Lamech is the symbol of avenge, Jesus Christ is God’s Instrument of forgiveness. Forgiveness in the fullest sense of the word; leading to reconciliation between Gon and each one of us. 

Hans

Sermon Love as 'ghesed'

Romans 13:8-end

Love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said the same in the famous passage in Mark 12:29-31. 

The words we always use at the Prayer of Penitence during the Holy Communion service :29 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Not only in the Bible, but in nearly everything it is all about love. Love is in the air, love is in the music, love is the keyword for our society, love in the family, love is now the keyword for describing God, and so on, but what is love? And what is love in a Christian context?

Just google the word love and you’ll find over 13 billion references. And, when you google love in Christian context you’ll get just over 2 billion hits, so that’s somewhat less.

Strangely enough, even when there’s such a lot written about love, no one has to learn it. Love is a language everybody understands and speaks. 

So when Paul repeats the words of Jesus how loving your neighbour is the fulfillment of God’s commands, it should not be an impossible thing to understand or to exercise. It is something we should not have to learn, because it comes naturally.

And then at the end of this chapter about love, Paul merges his words love in the one sentence; ‘But, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul asks this because Jesus Christ is the Embodiment of God’s love. Paul wrote that only a few chapters before in chapter 5: 8 ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ 

This simply means that God’s love cannot be disconnected from Jesus Christ. So, when Paul asks us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, it means accepting and receiving God’s love. 

The question remaining however is; how are we going to live by and demonstrate in our own lives this love of God. 

The complication is that we are limited by our humanity to understand the depths of God and of His love. In the end, we are only human beings and fall short in our understanding of metaphysics and the transcendence of God.

On the other hand, it is not too complicated either, because the word for love in the Bible is not simply a word, but even more so a concept which we can all understand and simply do.

When we hear or read in the Old Testament the word love it is translated from a few Hebrew words. When it relates to God and His love it is often from the Hebrew word ghesed like for example in Jeremiah 32 where it says that God will show His steadfast love to many. The same is said in Psalm 98 and 117 about God’s enduring kindness, or Psalm 35 which mentions how the earth is full of God’s unfailing love.

It is this concept of ghesed, the word for enduring kindness, steadfast and unfailing love which has found its way into the NT as the word for love.

So, when Paul repeats the words of Jesus about loving your neighbour as yourself and putting on Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s love he is referring to this concept of hesed.

And this concept is not difficult to understand or to live by. It simply means returning good for good. When you do something good for somebody else and you’re repaid in evil, that hurts. It is something you should not expect and when it happens it causes animosity and anger. 

In one of the 16 volumes of Botterweck’s famous Dictionary of the Old Testament it is described in summary like this: The concept of ghesed constitutes of 3 elements: it is active, social and enduring. Hesed not only designates a human attitude, but also an act emerging from this attitude. 

It is an act that preserves and promotes life. 

It is intervention on behalf of someone suffering misfortune or distress. 

It is a demonstration of friendship or piety and it pursuits of what is good not of what is evil. Together it means that the most appropriate translation of hesed is goodness, grace and kindness. 

When you help someone, or someone helps you, it creates a kind of bond and reciprocal duty, an unwritten agreement. 

Ans this is exactly what God has given to us in Jesus Christ and in His ministry. God has done something for us through Jesus Christ. As in the Old Testament did good for the Jewish nation by supprting and helping them, so now God did a similar good to us all. No longer is God’s care offered to one nation only, but instead to the whole world. God was often disappointed in the nation He saved and cared for, because it was a kind of active ghesed shown to them. But, instead of returning God’s loyalty with their own loyalty, they offered to other gods and disobeyed his commandments. 

Living according to God’s commands in this day and age, is simply returning God’s love given to us in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ, His ghesed, by staying loyal to Him. 

As to live like how the word ghesed is used in Micah 6:6-8: ‘With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself for God on high?... He has shown you what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’  

Hans

Sermon 'Out of your boat' 9/8'20

The theme for this morning from the gospel of Matthew is having the faith to walk over water. Walking over water is not possible, although there appear to be some exceptions.

Two monks, having a day off, go fishing. Being at the side of the pond, having made their fishing-tackle ready, they lower their line and float in the water. They put their fishing-rods in a holder, and begin to watch their float. When one of the monks sees his float going under, he doesn’t take his rod out of the holder, but walks over the water and pulls the fishing-line out of the water. 

Another fisher-man opposite the two monks, can’t believe his eyes. He looks with amazement on how the monk walks over the water to lift up the float and fishing hook. 

Then the other monk has a bite, and even so he walks over the water and takes up his fishing line. The man opposite them doesn’t know what to believe anymore, but when he sees his own float go under, he says to himself; If they can walk over the water, why can’t I? So, he raises up from his seat and boldly puts his first step on the water.  As you can imagine, with a big splash he immediately goes down under. 

Then the one monk says to the other; You see, my dear brother, he’s got the faith, unfortunately he doesn’t know where the stepping stones are.

Having the faith, but not knowing where the stepping stones are, is certainly not unfamiliar for the churches today in the midst of a pandemic with many churches under lock down. Even before the lock-down officially begun, the Church closed all its buildings and forbade anyone to enter the church for the fear of the Covid-19 virus. 

And here we are today, puzzling about how and where to organise our services. And in order to continue with services, churches embraced the internet to video or live-stream services as we do. And for a venue any place will do, like we saw with our own archbishop holding the Easter service from behind his kitchen sink. 

We don’t know what the future holds for our services and we don’t know when we can come back to normal. We don’t know what the new normal will  and we don’t know how many will have turned their back to the church. After all a church controlled by fear will not be able to guide others who are fearful or have lost the plot somewhere along the line, like the church has. 

Is there a better example of not knowing where the stepping stones are? The stepping stones of how to walk on the rough waters of society in the grip of a minuscule virus they can’t control.  

In the middle of a world looking for answers, with strong winds blowing against any form of Christian doctrinal teaching, what should be the voice of the Church? Instead, the world now listens to the scientists and it has turned itself into a chaos of enormous economic proportions and uncertainly about jobs and futures.

The church unfortunately has already lost its power to work miracles a long time ago. It was Augustine it the 5th century who told the anecdote about one of the early Church-fathers. He was shown all the riches of the Vatican and the pope said to him: We don’t have to say anymore; silver and gold we don’t have as Peter said to the lame man in the porch. On which the reply followed: True, but neither can you say any longer; take up your mattress and walk.

Having lost the possibility to work miracles a long time ago, it seems it now also has lost the ability to find the stepping stones. It has lost its way of walking on the waters of turmoil and tribulation and how to guide others through problems and difficulties. It has neglected to stand on Jesus Christ the Rock and to witness to the world of the risen Christ. 

When the Church doesn’t stand firm on this fundament of the risen Christ, it has lost the way and has no understanding of what to do next or knowing where to go to. Already Confucius (600 years BC) said that if you don’t know what road to take you will end nowhere.

The 2 monks in our anecdote at least knew where the stepping stones were and when Peter got out of his boat he had Jesus as his stepping stone on His side. 

Everything which now happens with the church is like being in a storm, with the winds against. The same type of weather the disciples were facing while being in their fishing boat. And we are now in the same boat, threatened by the storm and winds against us, bereaved by the loss of the many church communities. 

In circumstances like these we could also easily loose sight on the real Jesus Christ. We then ask ourselves whether we have the real Christ on our side, or just an image of Him.  In such times, we should remember the promises of God we have received through Him that God will never leave or forsake us. It, it are in these moments we hear Christ speaking to us: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

Jesus doesn’t ask from us a great faith in difficult circumstances, but to take heart and stop doubting or fearing. In all such circumstances Jesus says; take heart here am I, to take away your doubts and fears.

When we look to our churches we can’t oversee all the questions and difficult circumstances it is facing. But it are in these moment of uncertainty that Jesus also speaks to us to keep our faith in Him: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

When Peter get out of his boat, it was not because he was a hero of faith, but perhaps only because he wanted to test whether he saw a ghost or the real Christ. Peter resembles us all with his fear and his doubts, but do we dare to test our faith as Peter did by trusting in the Lordship of Jesus Christ? 

If we only focus on the circumstances we will all go under like Peter did, but the voice of Christ then also speaks to us:  Take heart it is I, have no fear! 

Having faith is not a remarkable achievement of a remarkable person in difficult circumstances. Real faith is relying on the God Who stretches His saving hands out to you and me through Christ.

With Christ we can walk over the raging waters and against the storm, if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Hans

Lammastide - the beginning of harvest

Last week, at the very end of July, Anna and I walked up to Foscote and across the fields, when we saw a combine harvester at work, starting to bring in the first of the wheat harvest. Talking with parishioners at the St Edmund’s coffee morning, held outside the church yesterday, I was asked “What was that, a red Massey Ferguson?”

I answered that I supposed that it was – and then was told just which farmer it was who would have been at work. It was a reminder to me of just how close we are, living here, to the farming life – a reminder made sharper by the conversation that followed, about the width of cut that different machines offer (from 18 feet to 40 feet) and their comparative advantages and drawbacks!  

My mother was a farmer’s daughter from Norfolk; and as research for a book that I am writing, I have been reading about how the harvest was brought in during the first half of the 19th century. An 1843 description of harvest in Norfolk describes the activities and methods: “Thirty-four men mow the wheat and in order to lay it evenly, their scythes are fitted with cradles made of iron rods. These men are each followed by two women and a boy or girl to gather up the corn into small sheaves. Eight teamsmen ..... follow to shock up the sheaves, of which they place ten in a shock, or stook ... 300 acres of wheat is cut in six days. Carting takes a further eight. Eighteen to 20 days are needed to complete the harvest.

How times have changed!

But what has not changed is the importance of the harvest, however close or remote we are to it. Bread is for most of us still a daily essential; and the importance of the flour from which it is made was reinforced at the start of the recent pandemic, when the shelves were cleared of it.

As such, it is an opportune time to remember the ancient English Christian custom of baking a first loaf of bread from the flour of the first harvest and then bringing it to church to have it blessed. In early Christian times this custom came to be fixed for celebration on August 1st – last weekend – a day that was called “Lammas”, formed from the phrase “loaf mass”, when prayers were offered for a successful harvest. I remember some years ago attending a Lammas service in another rural church, where an elaborate loaf baked in the form of a sheaf was placed upon the altar – and how strangely moving that service was: connecting us with the faith of all who had worshipped in that place over so many centuries.

So early August is Lammas-tide, a time to focus on bread and our dependence on the fruits of the harvest. Blessing a loaf of bread in church may sound a bit odd to some. But it’s interesting to note that in some Christian traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox church, prayer books also include prayers to bless not just bread but for digging wells, for salt, for sowing seed, for barns, for herds and enclosures for cattle, bees, beehives, honey, planting vineyards, stocking fishponds – and much more.

What’s interesting to note about all these blessings is not so much their specialness, but rather their very ordinariness. Many of them have to do with a farm life that most of us never touch directly, but the produce of that farm life is relevant to us all, in the foodstuffs upon which we all depend. Even the most meagre of diets—bread and water—includes bread. Bread goes to the very heart of human life.

It is therefore no coincidence that when Christ broke bread at the first  Eucharist, and instructed us to “do this in memory of me” he chose to do it through something so universal, made with the hands and the knowledge of a baker, and at the same time, the fruit of God’s creation.

We recall Jesus’ teaching after the feeding of the five thousand, where he describes himself as the Bread of Life – the one who provides everything we need in life: the answer to our prayer “Give us this day our daily bread”. Just as the bread distributed to the five thousand was sufficient for all bodily needs, so the life of Jesus in us has the potential – if we seek it – to fulfil our inner needs, our thirst for love and grace, for belonging and significance.

At Lammastide, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God as a response to his provision. 'All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.' So may we reflect, even at this difficult time, on how by God's grace the seed will continue to grow, the dough will rise, and that the fields around us will yield a rich harvest. And may we remember also to be thankful in everything we do: recognising that the first claim on all that we have is God's, because He is the provider of all things.

Joomla templates by a4joomla