After the Star
After the star the dim day,
After the gifts the empty hands,
And now we take our secret way,
Back to far lands.
After the cave, the bleak plain,
After the joy the weary ride
But journey we three new made men
Side by side.
After the star, a new light,
After the New King His law.
Never shall we forget this night
What we saw.
Came we by old paths across the sands,
Go we by new ones this new day,
Homeward to rule our lives and lands
By another way.
February always seems a strange, ‘in-between’ month. Even in January we can still hang on to something of the euphoria of the Christmas season, there is still space for partying and forlorn efforts as New Year resolutions. By March we can begin to dream of spring – look forward to new growth, and, of course of time, to the new Resurrection birth of Easter. But, February? What is there in February apart from grey skies and cold feet. Even the possible anonymous greetings of St. Valentine’s day can bring with it mixed emotions.
February, the empty month? ….. Or Not? Surely our perceptions, like so much else are ruled by the attitudes we choose to take. Do we go into the early stages of the unfolding year with a fatalistic despondent shrug, or can we determine to hold on to the wonder of the miracle of God’s love made flesh in the coming of the babe of Bethlehem – Immanuel – God with us. I forget where or when I first discovered the poem quoted above, but it is one that regularly dominates my thoughts at this time of the year and to me it says three things.
Firstly - Put behind the past. The past is gone. It is History. It is over and done with. Done and gone.
Secondly - We need to face up to the challenges of what we can do so as to share all that by God’s grace we have within us of His Love and Peace and Joy, seeking to be Peace Makers in the situations we find ourselves
Thirdly - May we pray that our eyes can be opened to recognise how much of good there is around us, even in the midst of what is so often wrong. As in Jesus’ time so today, we find corruption and lack of integrity in high places, one rule for the rich and famous and another for everyone else, but also as in the days of Jesus there are amazing stories of those who care and spend themselves in creating good for those in need. In the poem above the Wise men, still basking in the wonder of what they had experienced were determined to live their lives in a new way.
A couple of Christmases ago a group of us were challenged to produce a piece of writing entitled “Present”. My offering was based on some words of Eleanor Roosevelt – “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is Mystery, today is a gift, that is why we call it a Present”. Below is my offering, which hopefully ties in with the preceding thoughts.
Yesterday is history
Tomorrow still is Mystery,
But today’s a Present, heaven sent.
Unwrap it to find that inner Content.
Yesterday is made of ‘Why?’
Why did I kick the cat, or tell that lie?
Or spoil another’s day of fun,
So many things I wished undone.
Self-flagellation is counter productive
Although living gloomily is very seductive.
Tomorrow is ‘What’
What dire event, Will it be an accident –
Will the roof cave in, will there be a fire,
Or someone I know about to expire?
Yesterday can be made of Praise,
Thanks for friends, joys of holidays.
Thanks for the sunshine, thanks for the rain.
Thanks for the flowers, the fields of grain.
Praise can invade our histories
Which then help us face up to life’s Mysteries
And tomorrow’s mysteries we take on trust,
Resting on faith and hope as we must
Definitely needing every assistance
To survive in this crazy mixed up existence
Remember that heaven sent Present of Today.
Today is the day for make our choice.
Will we choose to travel, the gloomy way,
Or find little details to help us rejoice?
Will we choose those options, creative and positive,
Make the most of the Present in which we live.
As 2022 continues to unroll, may we determine to choose those positive aspirations of living in the Joy, the Love and the working for Peace, alongside the One who is in very fact the author and inventor of all
God bless you each one
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Can we retreat a little from wanting to be in control, wanting to be important, and just settle into a community where we are all equal, alongside, and along with, everyone else and everything else in our environment.
To be in community must be one of the greatest gifts of God. We all live in community though we may not all feel a part of community. Think for a moment about a monastic community, a Saint Benedict monastic community to be exact. Benedictine monks and nuns follow Saint Benedict’s rule. which promotes the very best of community living. Benedict expected each member to commit totally to communal living, to fulfil a role within their community and to love others within that community. So each day involves work, prayer, worship and study for everyone. Everyone contributes, everyone benefits.
Benedict taught his monks to use their senses, especially to listen and look. To listen to God and their fellows, to look for God and signs of God’s kingdom. In that way they are enabled to respond in the most useful way. They must do everything cheerfully, value their work, even if it is mundane, be generous in the way they give of themselves and their talents. It is important to keep learning, keep persevering and keep Christ as goal. Together the community members promote holiness and wholeness. Everyone has what they need, but not too much. They are respectful of all the community’s possessions and welcoming to monks from other communities who visit.
As a community embedded in God’s creation the Benedictine way of life has been shown to be very successful in its contribution to society as a whole, whilst respecting everyone as an equal and having regard too for the natural world. Since the establishment of communities in the 6th century Benedictine communities have become associated with magnificent buildings, achievements in farming, traditions of fine scholarship and education as well as economic success. Benedict’s rule is certainly a valuable tool for life. Jill
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Getting Creative with Scripture
St Paul in one of his letters in the New Testament writes to Timothy
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ 2 Timothy 3 : 16
We should be connecting with scripture every day. When we do it’s most likely going to be through reading it or hearing it. Daily readers and reflections are helpful, either on-screen, in a book or via a podcast. They help us to think about scripture from different angles, to maybe realise a ‘truth’ that we hadn’t considered before.
Seeing and hearing are useful ways to learn but what about ‘doing’ scripture. Learning more through our hands. Have you ever tried Bible journaling? That is the ‘in’ name for getting creative with scripture. It can give you a whole new outlook on the Bible.
Here are a few ideas. Choose a verse or passage of scripture that you would like to spend a little time with, then consider which words really stand out for you. What might God be saying to you through those words? Be creative with the words you have chosen, using any type of tools that suit you. It can be pens, crayons, pastels, paints, sticky paper.
Use your imagination to explore different styles for writing the words, different ways of colouring or decorating them. Add a picture that visualises the message for you. Then leave it and come back to it as you think of additions or changes. Save your final scripture picture to reflect on at another time. It may become a useful memory verse. You can share your pictures with others too.
I should perhaps add that some people decorate their Bibles in this way, although many create word pictures on paper or in a scrapbook, finding that through art they discover a new way to worship God. You might like to give it a go! It’s yet another way to help grow your faith, another way of spending time with God - and hopefully coming away with new learning and encouragement.
If you wish you can actually buy a colouring Bible that already has illustrations in it for you to colour. You can add other notes, words and pictures too. It’s worth, when you look at words of scripture in this way, to take note of the different translations too. A passage from the King James Bible, for example, may be very different from the same passage in the Good News Bible or the Message. But that only adds interest to your exploration.
An extension of this idea, that I find useful, is to create small designs on cards which fit into pockets or handbags. They can be surprisingly uplifting when you find them in your bag or pocket when you are out and about. They are useful too for giving to another person or even leaving in a café or hotel. But then we’re getting into growing the kingdom as well as our faith!
Let me know if you do any Bible journaling. It would be good to share.
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Home for most of us is a special place. There are many quotes that reflect its specialness. For example
‘There’s no place like home.’
‘Home is where the heart is.’
‘Home is a shelter from storms.’
‘Home is where you feel safe.’
Home is mentioned often in the Bible. Jesus was invited into people’s homes – Zacchaeus, Simon Peter, Mary and Martha to mention a few. He ate meals, healed and taught people in homes. He was surprised by a paralysed man on a mat in one home and a woman with an alabaster jar, full of perfume, in another. He broke bread in a home in Emmaus, showing that he is with us even now in our own homes, when we invite him in.
I came across ‘Jesus’ in Hoddesdon town centre recently, one evening, sitting by the entrance to Tesco’s store, a few carrier bags at hand, his only belongings I guess. He looked a little unkempt, sad and alone. It was quite unexpected, an unusual sighting as it seemed that the welfare state had looked after people like him during the pandemic and would continue to do so. But no, the latest estimate of the numbers of people living on the streets in London is 11,000 individuals.
Rightly or wrongly I fished in my pocket for a little money, tossed it to him with a ‘God bless’, aware that you need to be careful if you are not wearing a face mask and Jesus isn’t either. I returned to my own home, knowing that I have far too much and he has far too little. I thanked God for diverting my thoughts from my own comforts – I had no intention of going into the town centre when popping out to find some tea bags. Obviously God had something to show me.
Broxbourne winter night shelter is not going to run this year. The council are planning to support anyone that is homeless. We are asked instead to help with starter kits for those who are being housed in the local area. Obviously in the big cities it is a different story. The work of charities, such as Shelter and Crisis is very much in need. So do support them as you are able.
Thank God for your own home. Make use of your home whenever you can, not only to welcome Jesus, and others, but to help grow God’s church and God’s kingdom, to reach out to those who have far less than you. Ask God to show you how. Be imaginative and be creative. Be open to possibilities.
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Akwaba Everyone, Akwaba Humhum Kronkron! Onyame Humhum konkron Akwaba! Osoro Agya Susum Kronkron Akwaba!
I have a friend, whom I adore. I have a friend who loves me so much. The love that he has for me is immeasurable. The love that my friend has demonstrated during this earthly life that I have lived is incomparable. My friend has been there for me in times of decision making - times when a decision that could save my daughter’s life had to be made in an instant. When my answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to her medical team could go either way. My friend has been there for me in times of walking the path that is righteous – guiding me through thick and thin to do the right thing. I will not say that my friend is always there or will always answer my questions straight away. Sometimes I have to wait. I have to call on Him several times. I have to beg or scream out, ‘Where are you?’ but still I trust and obey Him. When He calls me, I answer. When He sends me, I go. And when He leads me, I follow. We all need a friend we can call on or hold on to, whether it is a family member - husband, wife, dad, mum; a church family; a pet, or a teddy. I could go on and on. I cling onto my friend and welcome Him always.
Many families have a secret recipe, a special way of cooking a dish that makes it especially savoury. For my family it was fufu (made of cassava) and goat soup. My dad used to prepare it fresh every Easter holiday or at family reunion dinners. We would tell ourselves, ‘We should really learn how to prepare this meal’, but we never got around to asking my dad. Now he is no longer with us, and his secret recipe is gone with him. I miss my dad and it’s sad to lose his recipe. But it would be far more tragic if we were to fail to preserve the legacy of Faith entrusted to us by our Heavenly Father. God intends that every generation share with the next generation the story of His mighty acts. Each generation commends God’s works to another. He designed us to enjoy family and community and to benefit from each other.
The thing that encourages me to hold on to my precious friend, the friend that we all know as the Holy Spirit, is that at Easter He died on the cross and rose up in three days. He is risen, YES He is risen and has joined His Father. He promises us in John chapter 14, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him because He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you all alone. I will come back to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. You will live because I live.” Where can I find The Holy Spirit? He cannot be seen, but He can be felt. You too can hold on to that friend who has been so good to me and is the Holy Spirit. For those who don’t know the CHI language the first line above means:
Welcome Holy Spirit! God Holy Spirit welcome! Heavenly Father Holy Spirit welcome!
As our churches begin to open again, and together we serve and worship the Christ who is risen, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit guides and encourages you, that you too may know fellowship with the Holy Spirit as your true and constant friend. I pray and thank God for the unique way He has gifted us.
Bless you all Natasha Appiah Elder, Broxbourne URC
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Letter from Mike Excell, elder at Hertford URC
Most mornings, before breakfast, I take a 20 minute stroll which embraces part of what’s often referred to as ‘the Bengeo Field’. I’m not alone in discovering that steady walking, on a regular route, is a powerful and compatible accompaniment to daily prayer and meditation. My path often crosses that of other humans (plus accompanying canines, nonplussed as they look for my non-existent dog); and one autumn morning in 2020 I encountered a local farmer who told me he was checking out the field before planting his barley. When harvested the crop would be sent to a maltings in Kent - and ultimately find its way into something nice to drink. Beer and folk music are close companions; many traditional songs reflect rural life, the passage of the seasons and the life of the agricultural worker. One such begins ‘come it’s now September’ and refers to ‘the ripe and bearded barley, smiling on the scythe’. This year the barley in ‘our’ field had had the smile wiped from its face - by combine harvester - by late July. Similarly most of this year’s bumper crop of our garden blackberries had been eaten, frozen or given away by early August, leaving slim pickings for September. It’s easy to conclude that the seasons we have known seem to be shifting slightly.
However, some things can’t change fundamentally, at least not within a time frame that the human brain can contemplate ; the geometry and physics which govern the earth’s relationship to the sun (one of creation’s miracles) and thereby the seasons, see to that. But there’s no doubt that on a more parochial level, the time-honoured reliability of ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ has been undermined by mankind’s failure to acknowledge the duty of care we have concerning the planet and its climate – all in the name of progress and often the desire to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. So hedgerows may disappear, and roads and buildings replace pastures where sheep once safely grazed. And the route of my early morning prayer walk might have needed some serious adjustment had plans to turn our field into a quarry the size of 50 football pitches come to pass. But I’m lucky; we were able to mount a strong local knowledge-based campaign to resist the diggers, the fields and byways I walk survived.
There have been many changes of course, but these long-established paths have felt the tread of many generations, who I like to think saw and heard the ancestors of the skylarks that accompany my daily pilgrimage. So I walk, and at the same spot each day I pause, listen for the silence behind the sounds, lift my eyes to the horizon and thank God, the unchanging presence in all our lives.
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Taking tea together is a way of meeting up with friends that has been around for a long time now. Tea came to Europe from China in the early 1600’s, although it has been drunk in China for well over 4000 years, but grown as a commercial crop for less than half that time. It is now grown in many countries, including India and Japan. It comes as black tea or green tea. You can drink it hot or cold, with milk or without, added sugar or none. It is suited to your taste, which makes it very popular. Many people now drink herbal tea as well, though it is not really a tea but a tisane made from herbs and spices, nevertheless it is becoming very popular too.
Most importantly, a pot of tea can be shared with others. As we share tea, we share conversation – the latest news, or gossip, our future plans, maybe our hopes. In Jesus’ time people met up for conversation, probably not over a cup of tea, but they enjoyed exchanging news and making plans too. Jesus also liked to meet with others. He mixed with people indoors and outdoors. All sorts of people.
The lectionary gospel for this year is Mark’s gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus gathered with people in all sorts of places – at the lakeside, in houses, on mountainsides, in boats, at the temple. Mark tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to teach, whenever and wherever he met with others. For Mark, the place where Jesus taught is very important. Outdoors Jesus preached the kingdom of God, he told parables and taught people about his Father, whereas indoors he explained his parables and gave special instructions to an ‘inner circle’ of followers.
We have an astonishing account of Jesus’ mother and brothers being left outside a house while he taught a group of followers inside. He explained that he not only had a ‘biological family’, he also had a family of believers. Many of these people had possibly left their own families to become followers of Jesus. We are reminded that discipleship is not easy, it is costly. We are reminded too, however, that discipleship conveys on each follower a belonging to the family of God.
Jesus sent his disciples out to do the same as he did, to meet with people, to talk with them and to teach about God. We too are disciples, sent out to meet with people, to talk and, if we can, to teach about God. In a new year of new beginnings, whether we can meet up indoors or outdoors, let us take the opportunity to talk about our faith, spread news about what is happening in our churches, offer people hope. Above all we can enjoy the opportunity for a chat. Maybe over a cuppa.
If it does involve taking tea together, put out a spare cup too. You never know when you might be joined by a visiting angel, or even by Christ himself.
Happy New Year
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