7th June 2020

WE’RE OPEN AGAIN

We can meet together again this Sunday! Wonderful news! It will be a very low key celebration however.  This letter is vitally important because I want to set out how we are doing things.  I should note that, as I write this, we still do not have Diocesan permission to hold services but that is because the Diocese has been slow releasing an application form.  I have now received it and completed it. I expect to get permission very soon.

Thank you to those who returned the questionnaires about service times.  I sent those out because we were expecting to reopen with just 20 in the congregation.  However, after sending them out the government saw sense and increased it to 50.  That means we can have our usual service times.

There are lots of rules and regulations we need to abide by.  Some are absolutely necessary for our safety.  Some are a bit over the top.  Some are a bit silly.  However, we have no say in this. The regulations have been set by the Diocese under careful advice.  The wardens and I have discussed how to implement them. We do not necessarily agree with them all but we cannot get permission to reopen unless we promise to abide by them.  Please be generous even if you are frustrated.

Please note:  I am absolutely certain that you will be safer attending church than attending any other public place (except maybe medical centres).

SERVICES

  • We will have our normal Sunday services – 7.30 and 9.30.
  • Both services will be exactly the same. That means that 7.30 will be a little less formal than usual and 9.30 will be a little more formal than usual.
  • Everything will be on the screen. There will be no books.
  • There will be no hymns. Medical experts tell us that 50 people singing a hymn is the equivalent of 50 people coughing for 3 minutes.
  • Communion will be taken in your seat rather than coming to the front. We will distribute the elements, I will say the words of administration and then we will all partake at the same time.
  • The service must be less than 60 minutes.
  • Seats will be in place and should not be moved. We have replaced our chairs with plastic chairs to make cleaning easier.

IMPORTANT

  • If you have any of the symptoms of Covid 19 DO NOT ATTEND.
  • If you feel unwell in any way DO NOT ATTEND
  • If you feel unsafe or unsure about joining a group so soon DO NOT ATTEND
  • We will make every effort to get the 7.30 service onto our website by lunchtime at the latest. That means that if you stay at home you can still enjoy the service.

ARRANGEMENTS  (please read these carefully)

  • You will only be able to enter via the front door. This means that the driveway will be a shared car/pedestrian zone. PLEASE BE CAREFUL.
  • The hall/kitchen area will be locked off. If you need a drink please bring bottled water from home.
  • When you arrive your temperature will be checked with a temperature gun.
    • If the gun shows green you will be allowed to enter.
    • If the gun shows red you will be asked to leave and go and get a Covid check.
    • If the gun shows orange you will be asked to wait for 2 minutes and then be tested again. The warden on duty will then decide whether you can enter.
    • Your name will be checked off when you arrive. If the gun shows red or orange the temperature reading will also be recorded.
    • There must be no shaking hands etc. Please keep social distancing at all times
    • Please try to get to church early. It will take time to get through all of the entry requirements.
  • As you enter you must use the hand sanitiser on the back table and use it again as you leave.
  • When church is finished you are asked to leave as quickly as possible. Any discussion must occur outside.  The 7.30 congregation should be out of the car park before the 9.30 congregation arrives
  • If you use the toilets please ensure that you wash your hands carefully.
  • The offertory will not be collected but there will be a container on the back table. Please put money/envelopes in there. 

OTHER ACTIVITIES

  • The mid week service (Wednesday at 10.00am) will recommence next week.
  • I will not consider reopening the evening service until stage 3. This is a pity because  it was gaining momentum. We need to concentrate on our main services first.
  • All small groups will decide when and where to meet. I would ask leaders to let me know when they are meeting just so we can make sure all of the regulations are met.
  • Other activities will recommence as it becomes possible. Please contact me for permission – I don’t really want the extra work! But the Diocese requires me to sign off on everything.  There are all sorts of legal issues they are concerned with.

 

It feels good to be getting back closer to normal.  We still have a long way to go.  If people in NSW do not keep regulations and there is a second outbreak then we will have to begin all over again. If we have a single problem at our church the Diocese will be forced to shut us down again.  Let’s make sure that this doesn’t happen!

I will produce another Pastoral Letter next week to let you know how things are going.

Keep safe.

Denis

REFLECTIONS No. 18    Communion with Christ without communion!    Peter Brain 30th May, 2020

We are not the first, nor do I expect the last, group of believers, unable to gather around the Lord’s Table to share together in Holy Communion/ The Supper/ The Eucharist. Many who are imprisoned for their faith, isolated from other believers cannot share in the sacrament, just as we have not been able to do so during the past 10 weeks. But we are still able to commune with our Lord and Saviour. There is a very helpful rubric in the 1662 BCP (repeated in the AAPB/APBA books of 1978/1995) which helps us to value the opportunities we have to gather, to cherish the rich and deep communion we have with our Lord when we cannot gather for the sacrament but as we read and study the Scriptures privately and in small groups.  

If for good reason it is not possible for the sick person to receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, the minister shall counsel him that if he truly repents of his sins, and steadfastly believes that Jesus Christ has died on the cross for him and shed his blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he has by this, and giving heartfelt thanks to the Lord Jesus for it, he eats and drinks the body and blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, even though he does not receive the sacrament with his mouth. (AAPB page 579 The Communion of the Sick).

The covid-19 restrictions have given us a great opportunity to experience communion with Christ apart from receiving the bread and the wine. This has proved to be a blessing, which far from neglecting or down-playing the importance of the sacrament, leads us to a greater appreciation of the means which God uses to nourish us and a healthy anticipation of sharing together in the Supper when the opportunity arises.

The means of nourishment when we come to the Table are clearly repentance and faith. Indeed the rubric makes it clear that the real object of our faith is our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. This of course is exactly what the Scriptures teach about how we attain salvation. The lips of Jesus (Mt 3:17, 11:28, 20:28) and His apostles (Peter in Acts 4:8-12 & 1 Peter 1:3-5, 18-21, 3:18}; Paul in Romans 3:21-25, 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:20-25; 15:1-8 & Gal 3:13-14; 6:14-16, John in 1 John 2:1-2, 4:9-10 and Hebrews 9:26-28) are in unison as they sing and proclaim this glorious gospel.

The sacrament is an effectual sign. A sign that points us to the Lord Jesus and effectual in the Supper as we remember our Lord’s blood shed for us, as we receive the signs of broken bread and poured out wine, and are nourished in our hearts and minds, just as bread and wine nourish our bodies. We do this by faith as we recall our conversion when we first reached out our hands to receive Christ, and took Him to ourselves, as our own Saviour and Lord. So as we take the bread and wine, we are thankful for what He did for us at Calvary and what the Holy Spirit did in convicting us of our sin and convinced us and enabled us to receive Jesus as our Saviour the Saviour. This is reflected in the words of distribution in the Prayer Book services. After the reminder: that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ (which) was given for you, and the prayer: preserve your body and soul to everlasting life we are reminded how this takes place: take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and be thankful. The Lord who brought us new life at our conversion continues to sustain us in our new life in the same way and by the same means: hearing God’s word and receiving it as if we were receiving Christ afresh, through repentance and faith.

This, of course is what we are to do every time we read the Bible and pray. The same response to the written word will be ours in regard to the visual word in the sacrament. Let me illustrate the blessings that are ours every time we read or listen to the Bible with some lines of thought from Scripture:

  1. Revelation 3:20. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and eat with them, and they with me. Our Risen Lord, after rebuking the lukewarm church of Laodicea, counsels them to earnestly repent (19) and promises them this wonderful nourishing relationship if they do. This is to be the normal experience of each repentant believer and church. It is not dependant on the sacrament, but essential to daily communion with God and blessing when we come to the Supper.
  2. John 6:35. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and she who believes in me will never be thirsty. Here is our Lord’s promise that He will save and then sustain all who trust Him throughout their discipleship. Later in the narrative, Jesus accepts Peter’s testimony: You have the words of eternal life (6:68-69). Words that we are wise to build our lives on and be nourished by (Matt 4:4, 7:24-29 and John 10:1-5, 27; 17:17). This we do day by day as we go to the Bible. Having taken Jesus to ourselves, He becomes our all in all, the one who will sustain us through thick and thin. The graphic imagery our Lord uses in 6:52-64, should not be seen as referring to the Supper, not only because He uses the term flesh instead of body but primarily because the tense of the verbs in 53-54, imply a once and for all act of eating on our behalf. If this were so it would make entry into God’s kingdom dependant on going to Holy Communion (just once), thereby abrogating our Lord’s insistence that we become His by repentance and faith in Him as John 3:16,36, 5:24, 6:35 affirm. Whilst not referring to the Supper, it is what happens when we come to the Table with repentant and faithful hearts, just as when we pray, read and listen to the Scriptures. To eat the flesh of Christ and to drink His blood means we trust in the One who came in the flesh (John 1:14) and willingly shed His blood in our place on the Cross (1 Peter 1:18-19; Gal 2:20). Augustine put it well: ‘we see a figure (of speech), enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us’.
  3. Barclay suggests that our Lord’s graphic words in John 6:53-54 are metaphors which can be illustrated by a person having many biographies in their library but receives no benefit, no understanding, no delight until they take one down and read it. As they do they are edified, delighted and nourished by the character and life of its main subject. More so of course as we take the Lord Jesus, made known to us only through the Bible, and read ourselves rich from this treasury and delight ourselves in Him, of course allowing ourselves to be corrected and strengthened by Him, through the ministry of His Spirit, who not only wrote the Scriptures but dwells within us to enlighten our minds, quicken our consciences and hasten our obedience.
  4. If this does not happen in our personal Bible reading (indeed if we don’t read our Bibles) and when we attend church (for Holy Communion or otherwise if there is no Bible reading or biblically faithful preaching), then we are unlikely to find nourishment from our Lord. This would be akin to my gazing at a picture of my wife rather than conversing with her. The picture sacrament of her is vital, especially if we are parted, but will only truly nourish me if I had taken every opportunity in life to relate well to her. The blessing of the sacrament likewise, will be greatly enhanced as we take every opportunity to relate to our living Lord through personal prayer and Bible reading.
  5. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col 3:15-17) and its counterpoint be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:15-21) remind us that the communion of the Spirit in us (Jn 15:18) comes to us and flows through us to enrich others, nourish us, abide in Christ, bear fruit, persevere and be encouraged (Rom 15:4-6 Jn 15:5-8).
  6. Both Jeremiah (15:16) and Ezekiel (3:3) were told by God to eat this scroll/book. When they did Jeremiah described it as my joy and my hearts delight and Ezekiel exclaimed, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. This vivid metaphor is real and evocative. We become what we eat physically and we become what we read/ think/live spiritually. This is why we are to feed on Christ in our hearts by faith as a matter of daily practice. Returning to our two Old Testament prophets we recall that this was the command given to the aged and isolated apostle John (Revelation 10:10) to eat this book. At this time John experienced it as both sweet and sour (10:9-11). Why so? Because what brings life to we who believe, brings death to those who refuse its message. Put another way Scripture is a double edged sword (Heb 4:12-13) alerting us to God’s grace in salvation and our difficult and joyful role, of bringing this message to the unsaved.
  7. We commune with our Lord in two ways as we grasp this calling. Firstly as we go to the springs of living water promised as our place of nourishment (John 4:13-14, 7:37-39), ordained for our good by our Father. As we drink we hide that word in our hearts (Psalm 19 & 119). As we do we cannot but share this life giving word, like Jeremiah (4:19), with friends and family, sadly content to drink from the leaking and poisonous cisterns of the world (Jer 2:13 & 1 Jn 2:15-17). But, secondly, we are driven to prayer and we take our anguish and pain to our Father in heaven, and like those before us: Abraham (Gen 18:22-33), Moses (Exodus 32:31-34), Jesus (Lk 23:34) and Paul (Rom 9:1-3) we intercede for our own who reject our gracious Saviour. Praying that the pandemic and its uncertainties might awaken them to eternal realities. Communing with God can bring tears and anguish but these are noticed and give us an intimacy with our Saviour that pleasures rarely achieve. (Matt 23:37-39, John 11:33-35, Acts 17:16, Rom 9:2, 8:26-27, Rev 2:13, 3:8).
  8. The pandemic brings us into touch with real realities. There is little doubt that it is a merciful judgement from God. An invitation/wake-up call from our Creator that we are not masters of our destinies and that whatever gifts of medical research and human enterprise we enjoy, are gifts which should be acknowledged, drawing us to Him in repentance and faith. Our own gratitude to God for the gift of His Son and the Spirit’s gifts of repentance and faith, ensure that in both the bitter aspects of His Word, and the sweet gospel (with the grace melody line and trumpet call to repentance) we find the deepest possible communion. Fellowship with our Father as His adopted children in His sufferings over a recalcitrant creation (Rom 8:17) which nothing can take from us (8:31-39). Communion with God is surely life’s greatest, and surest eternal reality.

REFLECTIONS No. 19    THE TRINITY makes all the difference!                     Peter Brain.  2nd June, 2020

With this coming Sunday designated Trinity Sunday it may be helpful to consider the difference this wonderful truth of Scripture makes in living faithfully through the pandemic, or any other challenge beyond our control to control. Perhaps the prayer for Trinity Sunday from the Prayer Book is a good place to start.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we humbly pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord.

The Trinity doctrine is a gift of God’s grace. It is not something we would have dreamed up or discovered by our own intellect. Wonderfully it is the way of understanding the grace of God as His people experienced His power and presence in their lives. David Hewetson put it like this: the doctrine of the Trinity was not a puzzle, but a solution. It was the early Christians’ way of expressing who God really was and how they experienced him.

The first hints that the one God might exist in a Triune fellowship is in Genesis 1:2 with the mention of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters and in 1:26 let us make man in our image. These hints are confirmed and clarified as the Scriptures ascribe the creation to Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together (Ge 1:1-2, John 1:1-3, Col 1:15-16, Heb 1:2). The Colossians passage reminds us that Jesus was not only active in creation but continues to sustain the universe. Covid-19 has not taken Him by surprise nor is it outside of His loving purposes. The assurance that this brings to believers is heightened by the truth that God is love (1 John 4:8 and 16). This implies that He exists in unity and is seen in God the Son’s propitiatory death (4:10) and the lavish love He has for believers (3:1). God did not create or redeem the world because He needed something or someone to love, but because He is love. There has been an eternal love triangle between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit from eternity. Whose love we are invited to experience. No pandemic or disaster or sickness can ever separate the believer from this love as Paul eloquently expressed, and clearly experienced, in persecution and suffering (Romans 8:31-39).

Paul’s conviction (38), is based upon the twin realities of no condemnation through faith in Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who brings us to Christ, dwells within us, giving us a new control centre and assurance that we can call upon God, not as a distant deity, vague philosophy or impersonal force, but as our dear Father (Rom 8:1-17). This is as stunning as it is unique. And it is a reality, only because of the three persons of the Godhead, who exist and act as one. Were Jesus not fully God there could be no atonement. Only God the Son could discharge the demands of His Fathers justice on us sinners. If Jesus was not fully God the penalty for our sin could not have been dealt with once and for all, as it has been. Nor would the Holy Spirit have been able to enter into our sinful lives without the work of grace, bringing us to trust Christ, and crediting His righteousness to our account (Rom 4:1-8). Were the Holy Spirit anything other than fully God, we could not be transformed or helped, so thoroughly and effectively. We would still be trying to earn our salvation, frantically or proudly, doing our best to pull up our socks through religious exercises or good works. With this Triune God at work in and for us, we can be confident that any and every trial, including pandemics, and temptation can be faced, not arrogantly, but with the humble confidence of a welcoming Father, an understanding Saviour and the ever present Holy Spirit dwelling in and among us (Ep 1:13/4 &2:22).

What we call the doctrine of the Trinity describes the experience we have of God daily. It is the primary doctrine of grace, because we know that God’s Riches are ours At Christ’s Expense. At our Lord’s baptism (Matt 3:13-17) we see the three persons: the Father in Heaven and the descending Spirit, both affirming the Saviour, the beloved Son, who alone could fulfil all righteousness through His death on the Cross (2 Cor 5:21). Mercifully it is the Holy Spirit who completes the purposes of the Godhead by His sin convicting work in us (John 16:7-11), thus giving us the power to be born again (1:12-13 and 3:3-8). This is at one with these two  great Trinitarian passages: our Lord’s great commission of making disciples in the one Name, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:18-20), with the twin reminders that we have a work to do, and that He will always be with us. The pandemic must not keep us from the former nor rob us of the latter. The second is the familiar greeting we call the grace from 2 Cor.13:14 may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Life together in our churches after covid-19 will bring us joys, but given our sinfulness, challenges. With these Trinitarian words ringing in our ears we will be more likely to find, and be a blessing to each other. Paul Barnett’s words are timely: The grace of Christ removes aggressiveness, the love of God dispels jealousy, while the fellowship created by the Spirit destroys bitterness. Allowing this Triune God to transform us, can only enrich our evangelism and our fellowship.