Our minister is Reverend Kim Stilwell
“Mountain-top” experiences are, to me, God’s gracious gifts to recall and provide assurance when faith is at a low and God seems afar. They may come in a variety of places – a scene of outstanding beauty, a new-born baby, a sublime piece of music, a hymn sung or a piece of poetry, a garden or a holy place.
The bible records an experience of Peter, James and John as they were privileged to witness a mysterious event with Jesus and a presence of Moses and Elijah on a mountain-top – an event we call the Transfiguration. Peter wanted the experience never to go away, offering to build shelters, but Jesus leads them back down to begin the journey toward his gruesome death in Jerusalem.
I have sometimes reflected on why this story is read on the Sunday before Lent – what’s the connection? There are, no doubt, a number of possible answers, but one which helps me is to do with how we use Lent.
Our lives can seem to inhabit two worlds – the world we experience in worship or prayer, and the world of our daily living with all its joys and hardships. “With all the worry and pain in the world today,” the thought goes, “how I wish I could stay on the mountain and escape the real world.” But the task of the faith journey is to bring the worlds together – to bring holiness to daily living and to bring daily living to God. To realise that there are not two worlds but one creation, and to fill the perceived gaps that we have mistakenly fabricated.
What better time to make advances in that task than Lent? – perhaps giving something up which draws us from God (idolising chocolate, for example!), perhaps doing something positive to bring holiness to the world, perhaps focussing more on those tasks positively aimed at making connections between the “two worlds” – frequent conversation with God, listening to God’s word in scripture, finding God in fellowship with others. Aiming for wholeness as well as holiness.
Lent is a tremendous opportunity to grow as we connect our mountain-tops with the valleys of our daily living. May our faith journey this Lent help us in that task.
The winter of 2016/17 proved too much for our two furry guinea-pig friends who passed away in January within a couple of days of each other (was it a broken heart in the case of the latter?) For me, there were immediate thoughts of more space in the shed, no more expensive food to buy and less work for Stella (to whom the task of caring for the beasts had been entrusted by their owner who considered himself too young to fulfil it!) The suggestion that we should quickly look for replacements was greeted by me with horror - nevertheless it came, and from the very person who had carried the burden of the work!
If we thought of our children solely in terms of the financial burden they would give us over their lifetime, the hours of caring, worry and sometimes heartache, a new birth would be a dark time indeed.
But we are God's creation and we continue God's creating work, delighting in life and beauty and love which grow whenever a new creature, 2- or 4-legged, is born.
Without humankind there would be no war, no injustice, no lying, no abuse, no hatred, no pollution, no scarring of the planet, none of the mistakes or disturbing rhetoric that has troubled us at the beginning of this year. Are we a failed experiment best never begun, best brought to an early conclusion?
No, despite all the troubles, God loves us and continues not to give up on us. God has gone as far as he can in revealing this truth in Christ, who unlocked the mystery of the Creator and went on faithfully to die for love of us. God longs for us to be the people we have the potential to be if we live in love for him and for one another. God holds out for us the hope and the vision that one day the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. If God hasn't given up on us, let's not give up on God or upon one another as we work to hasten that day - bringing it nearer and nearer each new year in God's strength.
There's a guinea pig to be buried - but I can't help feeling it will not be long before there's another addition to the Bitterley Close zoo.
Blessings in hope
A recent BBC documentary, Life and Death the Pentecostal Way, movingly captured a number of life stories connected with the growing New Testament Church of God in Brixton. The church arose from the experience of West Indian immigrants arriving in this country in the 1950s and experiencing resentment, humiliation and rejection by their new hosts. Those circumstances left a legacy of poverty, gang-culture, drug-dealing and prostitution, all of which remain a beckoning life-choice for young people today.
Against that backdrop stands a church boldly proclaiming that each person is precious to Jesus and that he offers an alternative and abundant life in union with him, lived for him and for neighbour. The church has a profound impact not just upon individuals but on the whole community.
In another land, 2000 years ago, against a background of oppression, hatred and violence, Christ was born in Palestine, coming to show the world a new way. It wasn't an instant fix, but it opened up the path to life, to living for God and for one another. And the message continues to be heard in Brixton today.
People are already beginning to reflect on 2016, drawing their conclusions and make their predictions for the future. In the space of a few hours, I have heard one speak glowingly of prospects for peace and prosperity, another of their loss of sleep over what they perceive as an inexorable drift toward all-out war.
Like the people of Brixton, we are not powerless in determining the shape of the future, heaven or hell.
The Christmas message struggles to surface amid the festivities, but now as much as ever it needs to be heard so that the whole world may know the way and the hope that it offers. "O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing" - the message of one born to save - one who comes in humility to rescue us from greed and hatred and warfare and to bring peace upon earth. One who is Immanuel - God with us. One who teaches us love and forgiveness in lives lived for God and for one another.
A question for us all: how can we each share in the urgent task of shaping the future, proclaiming that message this Christmas? Something to think about when writing our Christmas cards?
May God help and encourage us in ringing the bells of Good News and may He bless you with a joyful, hopeful and peaceful Christmas.
With our love
Kim, Stella, Peter, Anna and John