O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
Last weekend a friend sent me a link to a song, saying God had placed it on his heart to send to me. It’s a song I knew, but in that moment the song was just the thing I needed, and I’m so grateful I received it.
We’ve just begin lent, which we often begin by reminding ourselves of Jesus’ period of solitude in the wilderness. We may imagine a deserted, desert like place – where there is little sign of life and furitfulness – where Jesus is temped and tormented after his Baptism.
For me, my wilderness right now feels less of a desert and more like an unchartered ocean, as we continued to navagate the unchartered waters of pandemic, it’s longevity, it’s impact on community, church life, on relationships and human connection.
In some ways, now that we’re almost a year on from the first lockdown here in the UK, it feels like I may be cracking an old nut going on abour the unchartered waters of pandemic. Surely we’ve got beyond some of the new-ness and unexpectedness of the pandemic, we’ve learnt to use new technology, and while we’d still prefer to sit across from one another with a fresh coffee, we’ve got used to spending more time on the phone.
But despite how long we’ve been navigating these unchartered waters, the storm is continuing, and while there are signs of hope, past signs of hope have already been knocked back by new, larger waves crashing onto the deck.
Despite being about a year into the pandemic, life and ministry still feels to me like a journey in the unknown. While each week holds within it joys and blessings, there is still a common feeling of muddling through and making do. Trying to be satisfied when I feel that I’m not serving grieving families with the ’best’ I can offer, despite knowing I’m doing all that I can within these restrictions. Knowing how much people long to be able to gather face to face and share fellowship, yet having to live with burden of reality that the fellowship we really want, where we can sing and talk with one another is just not possible at the moment. That’s all without even beginning to think about all the uncertainties about how to lead and shape future ministry as we emerge from this pandemic sometime in the future.
That’s why the song I received last weekend was so helpful for me. The whole song is filled with a reminder that life can feel like a stormy voyage on the ocean, but whether water is still or raging God is faithful – always. God is guiding us – always. God is with us – always.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters Your sovereign hand Will be my guide Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
I encourage you to take a few moments today to listen, and draw close to God who is faithful to you and says to you ‘you are mine’.
In the unknown, in the wilderness of this Lenten season and as we continued our voyage on these unchartered waters, may you find God’s unfailing grace strengthening you, encouraging you and upholding you.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
How do you define who you are?
Perhaps by your Relationships? Me – I’m a Father, Husband, friend, minister
Maybe your Roles and Responsibilities. As a Minister I may be seen as a Leader, Pastor, Preacher… I’m a Treasurer for my daughter’s school PTA
Or perhaps by labels, descriptors of identity? I’m White, I’m British, I’m heterosexual and male
Or perhaps by how we look? I’m average height, bald – and really not bothered that can’t go to the barbers right now.
All this and more contributes towards our identity – our sense of who we are. But our identity can also be impacted by how others see us. Some see me as a Christian leader – others as a Jesus freak…
In my teens I was very bothered by this question of how others see me, to the point that, at times, it negatively impacted on my well-being, and rather than being who I am, I succumbed to peer pressure, suppressed some of my own identity and put on a mask in an attempt not to stand out, to avoid bullying and make life easier.
Last we saw that Ruth is an outsider in a foreign land and how Ruth wasn’t prepared to just submit to the identity society would place on her, but determined to take action, to resist the cultural ‘norms’ and cross boundaries for find hope and home.
In chapter 3 Ruth takes another step (with a bit of a push from Naomi) and heads to the threshing floor, the town’s marketplace, a place of gathering and distribution, transaction and thanksgiving.
Here, in the dark of night this time, she meets Boaz once more. Naomi it seems, and perhaps Ruth too, is hoping Boaz will take his kinsman responsibility and provide for them permanently.
There, in the dark of night, Boaz asks Ruth – who are you? Maybe he couldn’t see, maybe he wanted to know more about this woman beyond that which he already knew.
There’s much more that could be explore here about the relationship, the actions, the physicality of the encounter – some suggest that this is the moment Obed is conceived.
But I want us to focus on that question Ruth is asked in this encounter ‘who are you’? In that moment, in an intimate encounter by the shadow of the moon, Ruth is perhaps given space to answer that question for herself. Given space to define herself on her terms.
And later in the chapter, she goes back to Naomi and we find the same question – Naomi asks ‘who are you?’ – surely she knew who Ruth was. Unless, something had changed…
This question comes twice, like bookends to this encounter – and marking, I think, a moment of transition, a sign that something has changed for Ruth in her appearance, perhaps not physically, but in terms of how she is seen by others. Her identity as an individual, is beginning to be uncovered.
As Ruth’s encounter’s help her uncover who she is – through our encountering God, we discover more of who we are, how God sees us, and who God made us to be.
God doesn’t want you to try to be someone you are not. Doesn’t want You trying to fit the mould others create for you, like I did in my teen years. God wants you to be who you are.
A person of beauty, wonderfully made, filled with great potential for love, goodness and compassion.
yes – all those things and more are God’s words over you. And God has placed them within you.
I truly believe God wants you to know that he loves you. He sees who you are, and wants to help you uncover your identity more, to inhabit in your whole being a sense of who God has made you to be.
I encourage you this week, if you can, right now, to pause… to pray, to think about who you are. how do you define who you are for yourself? and how does that compare to how God sees you?
If you see this video and want to talk about who you are and how God sees you – please get in touch through our website, through social media – we’d love to hear from you.
Listen and Understand. A message for a lockdown Pentecost
At Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate, some of us have been reading the book of Acts throughout May and today we reach the last chapter. Today is also Pentecost, the day we remember that the disciples were filled with God’s Spirit and were able to speak in many languages so that everyone could understand their message.
In this week’s Sunday Reflections, I think about Acts 28, Pentecost, how much God wants us all to know him, and the invitation we have to respond.
Many of us have been travelling through the book of Acts this May, and today we reach the final chapter Acts 28. In the last few chapters Paul has been arrested and put on trial for telling people how much he loves Jesus, and encouraging others to know him to, and now he’s been put on a ship to sail to Rome. Except the ship gets caught in a storm and they go adrift, landing on an unknown island, they later learn is called Malta.
After being on trial for some time, and travelling on the ship through dangerous storms, Paul must have been pretty glad to be safely on dry land. But he was in a new land, a land that wasn’t familiar.
Today is a special day when as Christians we celebrate the festival Pentecost. This festival takes us back to the start of Acts, when Jesus disciples were experiencing their own unfamiliar time.
Jesus death, resurrection and returning to his father was definitely not what they expected. They felt alone, living in a way that was unfamiliar to them.
I think there’s some similarities here to living I lockdown. The way we live, work, shop, learn, travel, interact with family, friends & neighbours has all changed. Even 10 weeks on, I still feel like I’m in a very unfamiliar land, and the uncertainty about the future doesn’t help either.
For Paul, for the disciples, and for all of us, the Spirit of God comes to us. The presence and power of God that supports us, encourages us, affirms us and say’s no matter how you feel, I am with you.
For Paul the presence of God with him was so strong that the natives of Malta thought he was a God. For the disciples the Spirit of God enabled them to speak in every language. For Peter he stood up and delivered a stonker of a sermon and convinced about 3000 people to join the Way – which is the early name for the people now known as Christians.
In Acts 28 Paul says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.”
Paul challenges the people that are listening to him. Will you seek to understand, will you seek to see, or will you just look and listen and then carry on as if what you’ve heard makes no difference?
I encourage you today to listen. To listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you. Yes you. Just as God’s Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in every language, God’s Spirit speaks the language of your heart and mind.
God understand your worries. God knows your strains and anxieties. God knows this unfamiliar way of life, with all its uncertainties is tough at times.
Whether you’ve never had a care in the world about God until today, or you’ve been a Christian all your life, or you used to go, but you’ve not been much recently, It really doesn’t matter. What matters is if you’ll seek to see and understand today.
God is waiting for you, and I believe God’s Spirit is already with you, and in you, just waiting for you to see, whether for the first, 10th or 100th time.
If you want to know more about God and the difference God makes to the lives of many, including you, do get in touch with us or find a church near you can connect with.
Join the Conversation
How is God’s Spirit speaking to you this Pentecost? If you’ve been reading through Acts this May, how has God spoken to you through it? What has been the standout verse or story for you? Please share in the comments below.
#A week or ago, I was included in an email sent to quite a number of people with the subject heading ‘a reminder to worship’ and this verse:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:6-7, NRSV
As I read those words I was struck by how different life looks now to how it did only a few weeks ago – and how at times it really doesn’t feel like I’m continuing anything.
I don’t know about you, but for me, almost everything that was in my diary over the last 6 weeks has been cancelled or postponed, and almost everything I’m doing now, whether it be work or family life, is very much different to how it normally is or was planned to be. How can I continue anything?
But after my instinctive reaction, I soon realised that this summons to the disciples of Colossae was not about the practicalities of church life and family living, but about continuing living in Jesus. Continuing to be rooted and built up in Christ. Continuing to sustain and deepen the faith they have already been pursuing, the faith they have already been taught and grounded in. Always giving thanks.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had good days and bad days. Happy days and sad days. Days where I’ve felt I’ve made a difference. Days when I’ve wondered if I should even have got out of bed!
Yet all the while, no matter how I’ve felt about the ‘stuff’ of my day, I’ve been certain of the fact that Jesus is there beside me.
I found this stone on the beach last week, round with a hole in it and, to me, it was like the empty tomb. It now sits on my desk next to my little stone cross as a reminder that no matter how I feel at any moment of any day, Jesus is alive and with me every step of the way.
As you continue to live in Jesus, I pray you know for yourself that he lives and is with you every step of the way.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.
Join the conversation
How has God been speaking to you this week? Please share in the comments below as we encourage each other to continue in faith.
This week, in a slightly longer than ‘normal (!) vlog, I look at Luke 24 (the Road to Emmaus) and reflect on how our plate and cup are empty, waiting to be filled because as Methodist in Britain we are not practicing communion while we are physically distancing and unable to gather as worshipping community.
The text below the video is roughly the same as what’s in the video, but at the bottom of the blog post there’s an extra video, a downloadable version of the blog post for printing, and of course, opportunity for you to join your thoughts to the conversation!
In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus resurrection, we find the story of Cleopas and his travelling companion on the Emmaus road. I shared a reflection on the passage in last week’s Sunday reflections.
Cleopas and his companion are filled with grief and uncertainty after Jesus’ death and then a stranger joins them on their journey. And they hadn’t any clue who this stranger was.
“As they came near the village to which they were going, [the stranger] walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
What I have found striking reading this over the last week is that it is in the breaking and sharing of bread that the true identity of Jesus is realised. As they sit together, in fellowship with one another, learning and discerning and questioning, eating and drinking, the bread is broken and Jesus is seen for who he is.
Breaking of bread is one of the many titles in Christian tradition we use for communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s supper. This week the Emmaus story has set me thinking about communion.
This is my home communion set. It was given to me by my placement church while I was training, a multi-cultural congregation in a deprived and diverse suburb of Birmingham. This reminds me of where I’ve come from, and how I’m part of the national and global church.
I use this set to take communion to people who are housebound. So it reminds me both of the local churches which I serve, but also of the homes to which I have visited and shared communion.
This set reminds me that the presence of God is everywhere; global, national, local and in our homes.
Communion is something may be important to our spirituality as individuals and as worshipping communities. It is a meal we share, through which we remember Jesus sharing a meal with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. We take bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of Christ, we bless them, break them and share them as we remember Christ and experience him present with us now. Where we are embraced by the unconditional love and unending grace of God, offered through Christ, made present by God’s Spirit.
But for the moment, the plate and cup are empty. We’re not sharing communion together. We are distanced from one another, unable to physically gather and share as a worshipping community.
At the moment, some churches have been practicing communion online, but as British Methodists, we are not. In 2018 our Methodist Conference considered virtual communion, albeit considered under very different circumstances to that which we find ourselves in today. Conference voted against the practice, and while given current circumstances I suspect the conversation and decision might go differently, for now we follow those decisions, leaving plate and cup empty, waiting for the day they can be filled again.
For me, I want to be honest with you, I’ve come to a point where I’m ok with that. It’s painful, not being able to share communion with those I know dearly wish to receive it. It’s painful not the able to gather at the table to share as a worshipping community.
Some of you may share my feeling ok, but I expect that for some of you, not receiving communion has been, or is continuing to be difficult right now. I want you to know I understand something of that struggle. But I also want to share with you a little bit about why, for me, I’ve come to a place where I feel ok for the moment, that the glasses and plate are empty and waiting, as I patiently wait for the time they can be filled again.
And in sharing, I hope that it may help you too.
At the beginning of this year, many Methodists prayed the covenant prayer, as a sign and renewing of our continuing commitment to living in relationship with God, knowing that God continues to be unconditionally committed to us by his love and grace.
Within the covenant prayer we say the words: ‘let me be full, let me be empty,’
I’ve found reflecting on those words in light of not receiving communion during this time helpful. The covenant prayer contrasts various ways of living, employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, being full or being empty.
But whether employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, full or empty, are all included as part of our living in relationship with God. There is never an absence of God.
For me, these words remind me that whether I have received communion or not, all of life is saturated in God, God is still present and part of my life and being. So I’ve felt God helping Me to this time, not as a case of communion being taken away from me, but a time where I consciously abstain, as part of my being emptied for God.
Yet, at the same time, I also see the empty plate and cup being just as presence filled by God’s Spirit as when they are filled with bread and wine.
Inclusion and exclusion
For me, another reason that I feel ok that we leave plate and cup empty is that, if did communion online, what about those who are offline? Who do not have internet access?
before lockdown, when communion was celebrated in our buildings there was inclusive intent within our liturgy and practice, and those that were housebound had the options of home or extended communion.
But today, those who would be excluded from online communion have no other way of receiving.
As part of communion we often share the peace, sometimes preluded by the words:
‘In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us therefore keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.’
For me, if I was able to share communion with some of you, I wonder if I would then risk breaking that unity of Spirit and bond of peace, through depriving and excluding some, from what I was offering to others.
To bring us back to Emmaus, in that resurrection story, as Cleopas and his companion offered hospitality to a stranger, it was in the distribution, the breaking and sharing, Jesus was made known.
This Emmaus encounter is not communion as we may have come to practice it. Here is a simple meal and a household who share hospitality with a stranger. In that act of sharing what they had, their guest shares with them everything he is.
We can only gather as households right now, but I can assure you that even though plate and cup are empty, Jesus is present with us, not a stranger but a friend, longing to be a guest at our tables.
It may not be how we’re used to it through communion, we still patiently wait for a time that we can once again physically gather together to worship and break bread together, but even while cup and plate are empty, if we allow our eyes to be opened to it;
God’s Spirit, the very presence of God, continues to bind us together; though distanced, we are united – one in Spirit.
God’s unconditional love and unending grace are overflowing for us as much now as they always have.
And whether we feel full or empty, Christ in his fullness is forever with us.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.
Peace be with you
A video montage of over 100 people signing Peace be with you, put together by some friends based in Manchester. Look carefully and you may find 1 or 2 familiar little faces!
 See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p6  See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p4  Part of the Covenant Prayer, Methodist Worship Book, p290  Example of the Introduction to the peace, Methodist Worship Book, p189.  I must give some credit to a friend who sowed this seed in their blog post earlier this week – https://dbobstoner.com/jesus-on-a-boriswalk/
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.