Pastoral Letter - 8th January
My Dear Friends
This coming Sunday the Church celebrates the Baptism of Christ. Perhaps this is for two reasons: Firstly, it is a key episode in which Jesus is made manifest as the Messiah in this series of "epiphanies" we are encouraged to read at this season. Secondly, at the beginning of a new Calendar year, perhaps it behoves us all to think about making a fresh commitment to Christ, reaffirm our own Baptismal promises and pledge ourselves afresh to a life of active discipleship based upon our ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Our friends in the Methodist Church have long taken advantage of this opportunity at the beginning of the year and members are encouraged to attend what is known as their "Covenant Service". At the heart of this liturgy they all stand and say the following prayer: Lord, I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering, Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, Exalted for you, or brought low for you; Let me be full, Let me be empty, Let me have all things, Let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things To your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am yours, so be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, Let it be ratified in Heaven. AMEN. It is a powerful and profound prayer of self-offering, entirely in keeping with something which John the Baptist, who will feature in this Sunday’s gospel, said and which gives us an insight into his spirituality and philosophy: "It is time for Him (Christ) to increase, and for me to decrease." (John Chapter 3 verse 30) Such is what should surely be at the heart of all spirituality, making room at the heart of one’s life, where one’s own ego and will reign supreme, there for the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to dwell. This is also at the heart of the spirituality of Mary, expressed in her words, "Be it unto me according to your word." (Luke Chapter 1 verse 38) And at the heart of the spirituality of Jesus too, "Not my will but yours be done/Into your hands I commend my spirit." (Luke Chapter 22 verse 42 and Luke Chapter 23 verse 46) And although John the Baptist is not the focus of the story we will hear on Sunday, when we read again of the Baptism of Christ, we would do well to think again of what we considered together on the third Sunday of Advent, as we lit a candle on the advent wreath in memory and thanksgiving for him, now that we are called to consider what Christ may be calling us to do this coming year and we reaffirm ourselves as His disciples, perhaps praying the prayer from our Methodist friends at the start of this letter. John was the herald of the Christ and made Him known when at last He came. You will remember that they, John and Jesus, knew each other from the womb. After Mary had been told that she had conceived of the Holy Spirit, she went into the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When she imparted her news to her Elizabeth claimed that the babe in her womb leapt in recognition and in joy. Their lives would then be inextricably linked: John would be called to bid people "Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight." (Mark Chapter 1 verse 3). John will be the one who will Baptise Jesus in the Jordan. John will be the one put to death and whose execution changed the direction of Jesus’ ministry and journey to the cross. In many ways you and I are called to perform a similar role in our discipleship of Jesus Christ: to call people into the presence of Christ, to announce His being in our midst, to make people aware of their need to turn away from false goals and entrust their lives to Him. As Christians we are called to witness to Christ, not in our own strength to argue that He exists, but to introduce people to a deeper sense of His presence, purpose and love. Drawing people into a deeper awareness of God’s presence, purpose and love is perhaps the most powerful thing you and I can do as Christians. We can do it by prayer, we can do it by example and we can do it by invitation. Let me go through these one by one. PRAYER We can draw people into Christ’s saving presence in our prayer. That is essentially what intercession is anyway. The root word implies "encounter." We pray that those we are thinking about may themselves encounter the presence, the power, the influence, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by bringing them into our encounter with the living God, whom we encounter in our prayer. First, we settle ourselves into God’s presence, perhaps picturing Him as Jesus, in a place or situation we have read about in the Gospels, and then bring the ones we seek to pray for into that scene, we see them there, with Him and we leave them there, with Him. If it is a situation rather than a person we wish to pray for, we may imagine the story of the stilling of the storm (Luke Chapter 8 verses 22-25) and see Jesus projecting His inner peace, calm, wellbeing, love, into the situation of anguish or conflict which is causing turbulence in the world. Prayer is one way in which you and I can draw people into the transforming presence of Christ. WITNESS The second way is through our witness, through our example, through how we live, through how we behave, through speaking unapologetically and in a straight forward way about our going to church, what it means to us, that we read the scriptures, what they offer us, that we pray, what a difference that makes, to us if no one else! We also witness to Christ through attempting not to behave angrily, judgementally, selfishly, harshly, meanly, but generously, fairly, compassionately, humbly, sincerely. Through acts of kindness, getting involved in charities which cost us more than merely money, donating in ways which necessitate cutting back on something else, i.e. by giving sacrificially. You will think of ways for yourselves that, through your life, people will be able to witness for themselves what a difference being a Christian makes. As I have mentioned before and as I remind myself frequently, "If Christianity were a criminal offence, would there be enough evidence to convict us?"! So, the second way in which I would suggest that we, like John the Baptist, could draw others into an awareness of God’s presence, purpose and love, is through the witness and example we offer. INVITATION. The third way I can think of that you and I are called to do this is simply by asking, by inviting. The number of people I have met over the years who have started coming to church simply because someone invited them! "Why don’t you let your little boy come to our Sunday School?" one lady, a Mrs Thomas, asked my parents when I was about 5 or 6. We were out for a Sunday morning stroll and happened to be passing All Saints Church Llanelli. It was Pet Sunday and I saw all the people outside the church with dogs, cats, canaries, tortoises, hamsters, there were even two horses. As you can imagine, my parents didn’t stand a chance of going on with their walk, not when there were animals, especially dogs, around. In I went to church, all because of animals, and I am still here! I would be interested in hearing how you started coming or going to church sometime and what or who made that more possible for you. So, as we think of the third way in which you and I are called to play our part in the making real of Christ and drawing people into a sense of His presence, purpose and love, may I encourage you to be open to inviting people to come, they may be waiting for that invitation as they feel apprehensive going on their own. As we think about the Baptism of Christ, as we consider our own Baptism and our own commitment to Christ, let us all take seriously the obligation all disciples of Jesus have, to draw others into an awareness of His presence, purpose and love. As we heard within the last few weeks, the angels were not content simply to flap around the manger where the infant Messiah lay, they flew to those still awake on the hillside and invited them to share the joy and, as we will hear in a couple of months’ time, Mary was not content simply to enjoy the presence of the risen Christ for herself, she ran to the disciples and said, " I have seen the Lord", that they might also go and see and experience Him for themselves. And you and I are called not just to experience God for ourselves, but to pray, show by our example, invite, others into that life-giving encounter with a Christ who is not just ours, but theirs too. And as you seek to do this in the coming months, may the Holy Spirit guide you and inspire you to be open to opportunities for doing that, for they may be waiting for you to do just that. With blessings and best wishes
Do please join us for our Zoom service on Sunday, as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. You can do this by clicking the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 Our readings will be: Acts Chapter 19 verses 1-7 and Mark Chapter 1 verses 4-11.
The Collect is:
Eternal Father, Who at the Baptism of Jesus Revealed Him as your Son, Anointing Him with the Holy Spirit, Grant to us, who are born again Of water and the Spirit, That we may be faithful to our calling As your adopted children, This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Dear Friends, Following the Prime Ministerial announcement on Monday that we are now in another National Lockdown, the PCC and I have had to review what opportunities for personal and corporate prayer we offer at St Mary’s Twickenham. As I am sure you will appreciate, this is done in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of those who attend our church. We have decided that: * We will continue with the weekly Zoom Service at 9.30am each Sunday. * We will open the church for people to come to pray: Wednesdays from 10am-11am and Sundays from 3pm-4pm, this is until further notice. * However, people will NOT be invited to attend a celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 11am on Sundays, for the time being. Like all of you, I look forward to the time when we can all worship together in church once again, but until then please keep safe, keep well and keep Zooming! Blessings and best wishes Jeff Hopkin Williams, Vicar of St Mary`s Twickenham.
Over the past week we said farewell to the Ferryman, Francis Spencer. This is the Prayer I offered for him at the church gate a few days ago, which you might like to read. Jeff
Francis, our Ferryman. For years you carried passengers From one side of the river to another: As you now cross the waters From this life to what lays beyond, May you know that we are carrying you In our hearts and in our prayers. Francis, our Ferryman, For years you carried others on their Journey across the Thames: May the cleansing waters of life Now refresh and anoint you, Cleanse and free you, Of all pain and anxiety As you journey on. Francis, our Ferryman, For years you relied upon the river For your pleasure and your purpose in life: May you now entrust yourself to The tides and rhythms of creation And may you arrive safely in the Land which is beyond. Go forth upon your journey Francis, With our blessings, With our prayers and With our thanks. AMEN.