Reflection on 2 Corinthians chapter 4

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church 

The Bible mentions treasure in various places. In the gospel of Matthew and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, as we have heard, but also throughout the Old Testament, where the word ‘treasure’ is used to describe a collection of many things, be it foods, like corn and honey, or wealth, like gold and silver, or even types of weather, such as wind and hail. In the New Testament, however, it is used more often to signify riches. Jesus uses the word to describe the riches of the kingdom of God. In fact the original word used in Matthew to describe the treasure hidden in a field is the same word that Paul uses to describe the treasure hidden in jars of clay. The treasure is knowing God, belonging to God’s kingdom.

It is the best treasure ever for the man who found it hidden in a field, he sold everything to gain it for himself. Paul too implies that it is the best treasure ever. It is the source of God’s light and power for those who believe in the good news. And no one can take it away from a  believer. Why then does Paul liken a believer to a jar of clay? In Biblical times clay jars were often used for storage purposes. Coins were kept in clay jars and even the Dead Sea scrolls were stored in clay jars. Amazingly those jars remained undamaged for years. Usually clay jars were considered to be places for temporary storage. They were an everyday item, imperfect and susceptible to breakage. But there were plenty of them and they were very handy for hiding things for safe keeping. Including treasure.

Believers in the Gospel are imperfect too, easily hurt by the words and actions of others. But inside us we have the treasure that is Jesus Christ. No one can take it away. We might be hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down but we are never crushed, in despair, abandoned or destroyed. And those words are particularly important for those who are persecuted for their faith.

In areas of severe persecution around the world, believers hide away their Bibles, books and prayers. They cannot outwardly show any adherence to Christianity. They cannot attend church in any form. Often they join online communities, the only place to share their faith. In areas of less sever persecution, churches are open but watched closely. Sometimes a reason is found to close a church and pastors are imprisoned. Believers have to hide away in small groups to nourish their faith. They are often supported by international  organisations such as ‘Open Doors’ whilst other organisations, for example, ‘Christian Solidarity Worldwide’, advocate for their cause.

Today, 15 November, is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. This year several organisations have got together for an online prayer event. They have chosen to pray especially for believers in China, India and Nigeria. Here are some updates on the situation in these countries.

In China, on Easter Sunday, at least six church leaders were taken from their homes and their electricity was cut off, after government officials learned they were joining an online church service. Christians are not the only faith group at risk, however. Mosques and Buddhist temples, as well as churches, have been torn down and leaders imprisoned.

In India, Christians, and other religious minorities, are persecuted by Hindu extremists. Many states have anti-conversion laws in place. The pandemic has affected Christians in particular. Many rural believers, who already face discrimination from their communities, are often deliberately ignored when government aid is distributed.

In Nigeria, Christian communities are often attacked by nomadic herder groups and always at risk of abduction by Muslim groups. These attacks and kidnappings are often violent. Many believers have had to flee their homes and villages.

Despite these difficulties, believers who are persecuted have a strong faith. They reflect their inner treasure, the light and power of God, in showing tremendous courage and strength. They shine their light. We all belong to one big church.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (chapter 5) – ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’. So do please pray for the whole of God’s family and especially for all Christians who suffer persecution. All of us, as believers, face difficulties at times. We mustn’t forget that we have treasure inside us. And that gives us hope. We need to grasp the power of God within and let our lights shine. We must not lose heart. Outwardly we may be vulnerable, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Jill 

I went to church in a phone, I did, In a phone I went to church;

Rosem’ry was reading the lesson  While Alan was having a search

For a fault in the AV system – It seemed to be taking a while –

And in front of us all  Was cheery Chris Hall  With her always friendly smile.

My first glimpse of the church that Sunday morning three weeks ago, via Natasha’s video call, felt a bit Alice-in-Wonderlandish, as did the time after the service when I was held out so that Mary and Brian could say hello to me in my slimline container. On my other journey to church this autumn there were two of us in the phone, because new Elder Rosemary came along with me to be inducted with Dorothy and Amanda to the eldership at our Commissioning Service. We were all there to make promises. Not just the new elders, but people who had agreed to take on new jobs, and others who were continuing with an existing one. All these people promised “to serve this church fellowship faithfully, relying on God’s grace”. Then the whole church promised to pray for them and support them. A group of people making promises to one another in the sight of God.

God makes promises too. There are several in the early books of the Bible. To Noah God made this beautiful promise: “Never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” This is an unconditional promise from God, with nothing required from us. God loves the earth that he has created as a home for all his creatures. To others, God makes a promise which asks for something in return. So to Abram God first gives a command, and then a promise. He says to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” To the Israelites God offers a life-long eternal agreement with him, with promises on both sides. Having given them the commandments he tells them: “Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey”. If they do, it will go well with them “in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord promised.”

Finally to all people everywhere God makes a very different promise, which calls on us, like Abram, to make a commitment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Peace flows through the garden, its bright colours a spring palette of reds and yellows, purples and blues.

Glossy white tulips stand tall, while feathery yellows bow, showing off their striking black centres.

Birds, happily engrossed in the tasks of the day, sing and squabble, flitting between tree and hedge.

Cautiously they visit the feeders, perch on the bird bath or jump in for a quick splash.

In sunny spots butterflies hold out their new wings to dry and hoverflies hover in the middle of nowhere, maybe mulling over where to go next.

Spiders swing down on long strands of webbing and scatter back up when caught unawares.

In bare earth seedlings sprout slowly, uncurling their new leaves with a promise of food to come.

Buds on trees break forth, filling the sky with fresh greenery and shining back at the sun on high.

A path of flat stones leads to dry gravel patches, piles of logs – who knows what busyness teems there.

Hidden away out of sight, revealing perhaps one day an outpouring of life unseen for some time.

Like the life that sprang forth from an empty tomb, blessing a garden, its colours and sounds, causing joy to ensue.

God at work in the garden, creator of miracles, bringer of blessings, renewer of life in front of our eyes.

Halleluiah.

 

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At church on Sunday 4th October we had a short Harvest celebration. Our main reading was from Philippians ch 3. Paul says the only thing that matters to him is his relationship with Christ. His goal in life was to grow ever closer to Christ. We thought about the idea of ‘being ourselves’ because it seems Paul was saying that it’s better to just be ourselves, to find our individual paths in life, in close relationship with Christ. In a way, that links to harvest because everything in our display started off on its own path, maybe to become a conker or a berry or a flower. And that leads to an abundant natural harvest.

At our harvest celebration a sum of £130 was collected and sent as a donation to the charity WaterAid.

Have you got a garden? Do you enjoy gardening? Perhaps you are having a go at it now because, in the present situation, you actually have extra time on your hands?

Being out in green spaces is good for our well-being but I actually like to think it’s good for God as well. Gardening can be on a large scale of course. There are many beautiful gardens that open to visitors and they can be inspirational as well as filling us with awe. In a garden I visited in Yorkshire recently I discovered that the incredible patterns and colours of the flower arrangements depend on the replanting, twice a year, of 8000 bulbs and 24000 young plants!

Our gardens are probably a lot less demanding but can be just as beautiful. Whatever their size, they are a part of God’s creation and we need to care for them just as much as we care for natural environments anywhere. I recently purchased a ‘garden quiz book’ which is full of facts about gardens and plants – lots to learn if you can’t answer the questions! But we don’t need to know a lot about gardens and plants in order to take care of our own patch. Caring for a garden tends to come naturally. After all we, too, are a part of God’s creation.

Gardens feature a lot in the Bible. There are the well known gardens, such as Eden and Gethsemane, but there are many smaller less well-known gardens too. In particular there are many references to gardens in the Old Testament, possibly because people cultivated small areas of land for fruit and vegetables. Sometimes they grew flowers as well. Significantly in that country they needed a supply of water. And often they needed a keeper, someone to watch over the produce at harvest times. Gardens were also used for family events, much as they are today, and for relaxation.

Gardens are mentioned in the New Testament too. Often these gardens are linked to the life of Jesus. In Jerusalem it is possible to visit a special garden - the Garden Tomb. It is a pretty garden, located near to the city walls. It contains an ancient tomb, thought by some to be the tomb used for the body of Jesus after his crucifixion and also the place of his resurrection. Many visitors find in the garden a sense of holiness and some, having heard the story of Jesus, find the living Christ.

The Quiet Garden Movement, a Christian initiative, encourages people to open up green spaces for contemplation and relaxation. Sometimes these are attached to churches, but also schools, homes and hospitals. Visitors enjoy somewhere quiet where they can rest in nature. They can be people of any faith or none – their common quest is to experience a little part of God’s creation. If you are able, visit the website. It not only lists the gardens but also has resources to promote well-being, such as meditative exercises, photographs and prayers.

How then do you come close to God in a garden? Perhaps in all ways – working in it, sitting in it, watching and listening to the wildlife in it. Someone said recently ‘I’ve actually seen things grow this spring!’. With extra time on our hands we can observe God’s creativity in action in our gardens. As we spend time tending our gardens and observing what is happening in our gardens we can quite easily come close to God. And God can come close to us too.

Jill Nugent

When did you last chew on a piece of rock at the seaside? I’ve always been intrigued by the sticks of rock in shop windows, the vivid colours, stripes and letters, each stick bearing a little photo of the local seaside. As a kid I knew to avoid the pink minty sticks when making my choice! Rock making is very skilful, especially when it comes to putting in the letters - letters that are still there at every bite. Apparently sweet makers could train for 10 years to do that properly. Apart from flavourings, and colour, the only ingredient in rock is sugar – no wonder it’s so popular. What better than to sit on a rock at the seaside chewing on a stick of rock.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock on which the church will be built. The name Peter links to Petra, Greek for rock. A rock of course provides a solid foundation for a building. Jesus tells elsewhere of the wise man who built his house on a rock and the foolish man who built his house on sand, the strongest building being the one on the rock. Although Peter was likened to a rock, Peter was a person. The foundation for Christ’s church was a person, albeit an apostle. Peter was to be a strong foundation for the church. The church is not a building. It is a body of faithful people, following in the footsteps of Peter and all the apostles.

If we are to grow a church that is worthy of being called God’s church we can look to Peter as an example of discipleship, for we are all disciples. Peter loved the Lord, he tried hard to understand Jesus’ teaching, he made mistakes but he worked at it. Over time he became a strong witness to the faith and a wonderful encourager in the faith. It does take time, like the time needed to learn to put letters into a stick of seaside rock. Those sticks are often six feet or more in length when the letters are inserted. They are then chopped up to make the small sticks that are sent out for sale.

I wonder if that would be a good illustration of the church. Over time as church people we become more skilled at discipleship and eventually confident to ‘send out’ our faith. The message I think is that we must keep learning about our faith, keep grappling with the issues, keep talking about it. We all have our faults, as did Peter, but we can do no better than to walk in his way. And the way of all the apostles.

If you get to the seaside this summer do bring back a stick of rock to share 😊

Jill

     Conflict and peace. In Hiroshima there is a peace park dedicated to promoting peace following the terrible aftermath of the A bomb devastation. One special memorial is the children’s monument which was built using money from a fund-raising campaign by Japanese school children, including classmates of Sadako Sasaki. She had an idea to create 1000 paper cranes. Japanese tradition says that if someone creates a thousand cranes, they are granted one wish. Sadako's wish was to have a world without nuclear weapons. She suffered from radiation poisoning and sadly died from leukaemia in 1955.

On top of the monument is a statue of Sadako. Inside the monument is a brass crane and a peace bell. On its base is a prayer.                               

      "This is our cry, this is our prayer: for building peace in the world".

Today, people all around the world have the opportunity to donate cranes that they have folded in honour of Sadako. School children come and place paper cranes around the memorial, sing and pray. The paper crane is a symbol of peace. They are made in all sorts of colours and sizes, reminding everyone of the peace wish of one little girl. Nowadays the paper cranes are recycled into useful paper products which are sold in the museum shop.

   In church are instructions for making a paper crane, to take away and have a go at home. If this sounds a bit daunting feel free to take a paper crane from the collection that has already been made. And then keep it within sight for the whole of this month as a reminder every day to pray for peace. Pray in your own way. You may like to use this prayer as well.

O God of peace,

Let there be true peace in our homes, our churches, and our world.

Make me a peacemaker wherever I go,

That every step I take, and every day I live,

Peace may be my gift to the world, as it was yours.

                                                Susan Durber       URC prayer handbook 2019