In order to participate in todays service, please firstly download the Service Sheet here:
Let us build a house where love can dwell (Singing the Faith 409. Not in Hymns & Psalms)
Prayer of confession and absolution
Psalm 31 – sung by The Psalms Project
Psalm 31 Reflection
The Psalms, the worship songs of their day, reflect as wide a variety of the human condition as our songs today. We have uplifting ones, celebrating the days of wonder and the glory of God. We have rebellious ones, questioning and challenging God and seeking distributive justice by way of compensation. We have angry ones of lament and fury. We have lonely ones, seeking but not finding God’s presence. We have consoling ones, affirming the faithfulness and constancy of God. As Methodists, we are known to ‘sing our faith’. The Psalmists did the same – this religious songbook contains a depth and breadth of theological thinking.
Psalm 31 is a treasure-trove for the human condition. The Psalmist has experienced great suffering. The people are in pain and distress, waiting for this to be alleviated. Seeking the fortress of God.
In these times of isolation, we have retreated into the fortress or our own homes. A place of security and safety. The Psalmist speaks of their distress – ‘my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.’ It is interesting how the writer of this Psalm notes the connection between body and spirit. Tears are shed, the body deteriorates, and this has an affect on the soul. There is a refreshing honesty in how the psalmist tells God exactly how things are, in the knowledge that God is not simply interesting in our spiritual lives, but our physical ones too.
For those of us who are keeping well, we might have noticed some physiological changes over the past few weeks. Some of us might be sleeping much longer than usual, but waking up not feeling refreshed. For others, we might have fitful, broken night’s sleep full of vivid anxiety dreams. For some of us, our inactivity is strangely exhausting. The Psalmist manages to speak into our current situation – verse 10 says ‘my strength fails because of my misery.’
Even though we are locked away, we can continue to show concern for those who are struggling. The Psalmist says, ‘I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbours.’ There is a painful reality than when people are going through a really hard time, sometimes, people step away, or even there might be an element that the person suffering might be somehow responsible for their suffering which justifies why other don’t offer to help. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, some 16 years ago, she suddenly found out who her real friends were. Some of her neighbours simply stopped speaking to her. If they passed her in their cars, they wouldn’t make eye contact. The hospice nurse explained that it is a known phenomenon that when a person is dying, some of their friends simply can’t face a reminder of their own mortality, so rather than reaching out with compassion, they turn away. My mother, in her dying, had become a ‘horror to her neighbours, an object of dread to her acquaintances, those who saw her fled from her.’
There is clearly an invitation here, not to look away, but to be present in new ways with those who are suffering. Most of us dread catching COVID-19, and we have become fearful of strangers, and perhaps even friends and family, hiding away. But this must not stop us from showing love.
This is a psalm Jesus himself knew. He quotes verse 5 when he is on the cross; ‘Into your hand I commit my spirit.’ This takes on particular poignancy as we know of many people who have died because of this virus. We pray that for those who are currently dying, and commit their safekeeping into the eternal love and mercy of God.
If we take a quick look at verse 15, it says, ‘My times are in your hand.’ Hands have been particular factor during this pandemic, as our initial responses were to frantically handwash to remove traces of the virus. Other peoples hands have become a risky form of potential contamination. Most of us are desperately missing the human touch of a hug or simply handshake. But it is into God’s hands we place ourselves. We reply on God’s hands when human hands are absent.
Under normal circumstances Christian Aid Week would be reliant upon human hands, to deliver and collect envelopes to local communities, hands to bake cakes and hold coffee mornings, hands to sort books for sale, hands to count money collected. Perhaps some of you are missing this week of activity.
We were originally told that this virus was indiscriminate. Now, however, we know that this virus disproportionately affects deprived areas and those who are black and Asian. Christian Aid is painfully aware that the world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable to this crisis. They are less resilient, have less access to healthcare and will be less able to weather the economic impact. Christian Aid, through generous donations, has been standing alongside the poorest communities for the past 75 years. And it will continue to stand with them through this crisis, and will be with them afterwards. Now more than ever, please share your love for your vulnerable neighbours by giving what you can.
We thank God and pray for the hands of all those working on the medical frontline now to help save lives, in the UK and around the world. As verse 15 and 16 say, May their times be in God’s hands, may God’s face shine upon them. May the unfailing, steadfast love of God be their constant strength. Amen
Be still for the presence of the Lord (Singing the Faith 20. Not in Hymns and Psalms. Complete Mission Praise 50)
Helen Taylor is going to play for us now this hymn and I invite you, if you are able, to sing along at home.
Reflection: John 14
Reflection: John 14
This passage is a favourite at funerals, offering comfort, hope and reassurance. A well-known slogan of Christian Aid is ‘We believe in life before death,’ and throughout this pandemic this slogan provides a new challenge to us.
Perhaps for some of you, the words, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ rings hollow at the moment. For these are indeed troubling times. ‘Do not fear’ is the most repeated phrase in the entire bible – it’s not simply a platitude. We’re not asked to go about cheerfully when our world is crumbling, but we are invited to believe in the God who believes in us. And this passage comes on the Thursday evening before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus, who is about to suffer torture, humiliation and death, is the one to provide words of comfort to his anxious disciples. Do no be troubled.
I wonder which phrases did you especially notice in todays reading. Perhaps the words, ‘In my Fathers house there are many dwelling places,’ took on new meaning. We sometimes refer to our church buildings as the house of God, the Father’s house. And of course, at the moment we are prevented from entering our churches. Instead, our dwelling places are our houses. Our homes have become places of work, places of education, places of exercise, places of meditation and of course, places of worship.
No matter how difficult the circumstances, we are given the opportunity to reflect on how God can use them for good. That’s not to say it justifies the suffering or even balances it out, but in our dwelling places we are finding new ways to worship. New ways of being church. New ways to deepen our faith. For some of this, it might be easier than for others. For some of us, this feels like a wilderness experience and we might be shouting at God as the Psalmist does, why have you forsaken me? But for some of us, we are discovering how we can live out our faith at a distance from other people. And when this is all over, when we have returned to our home churches, when we can be together again, I hope we will carry with us that experience of dwelling in God’s presence. Last week we looked at Psalm 23 which speaks of dwelling in God’s house my whole life long.
If you were to be able to ask God just one question, what would it be? Just ponder that for a moment? There are so many questions I have. So many answers I want to understand. It’s difficult to narrow it down. Perhaps I might ask God for confirmation that the worship of other religions is equally as acceptable as the worship of Christians. I really hope so. Perhaps I might ask what grieves God the most? Or what delights God the most? Or maybe I’d ask why, just for once, God couldn’t have intervened and stopped the holocaust, stopped the Rwandan genocide, stopped the Cambodian killing fields. I’m sure you have better questions than I do and maybe some of you have answers to some of my questions.
I love Thomas – he’s one of my favourites. He gets a bad rap. We know him as Doubting Thomas. He’s the one who doubted, that is forever how he is known. If my discipleship is ever recorded, unlikely, but if it is, I’d hate the idea I might be known forever as Clumsy Rachel, or Swearing Rachel or even Doubting Rachel, from those moments when I’ve demonstrated all of those things. Thomas is bigger than his mistakes. And here we have him asking a profound question – how do we know the way?
I imagine at this point the rest of the disciples took a big intake of breath. He’d exposed his ignorance. He’d asked a question rather than keeping quiet. Remember back to your school days; were you someone who kept quiet even if you didn’t understand, or threw your hand up making the teacher regret that they had once said, ‘There is no such thing as a stupid question.’ Thomas is probably saying what everyone else is thinking. He’s asking the hard questions.
Thomas, like many of the Psalmists, in honest in his speaking. Honest in his questioning. This virus had led many of us to ask some hard questions, about life and faith and purpose and truth and God and many, many others. I certainly have more questions than answers right now. Like Thomas, many of us are saying, but hang on Jesus, we don’t know the way. We don’t know how to get through this. We don’t know how to follow you right now.
There are more questions we should be asking right now. Questions that may prevent us from going back to normal, because normal was part of the problem. Normal is a massive wealth disparity, both in the UK and globally. Normal is 7500 children per day dying of preventable diseases. Normal is the planned renewal of Trident at an estimated cost of £205 billion, just in case, when the stockpiling of PPE in hospitals, just in case, was a casualty of austerity. Our questions allow us to reimagine and recreate a world where poverty is not inevitable, where climate change is not inevitable, where violence is not inevitable. Where the world does not have to be troubled.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be passive in our discipleship. Reimaging and recreating requires stepping out in faith. Even in our most difficult days, Jesus promises he is with us, to the end of the age, according to Matthew. For some of us there will be painful days ahead and I pray you can cling onto that promise. When Jesus says, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ this takes on a new meaning through the lens of COVID-19, when life is fragile and we don’t know the future, we doubt the truths we are told. This virus has shone a light on our broken economic systems, highlighted new meanings, new perspectives, new connections. The early Christians were not known as ‘Christians’; they were known as Followers of the Way. I really like that. Jesus is showing us a new way and the possibility of a new normal, daring us to dream we can be as he was. As we commit to following the way of Jesus, walking in his footsteps, we commit ourselves afresh to ensuring the abundance of life is a reality for everyone. Amen
Prayer of lament and intercession
Be thou my vision (Singing the Faith Hymns 545. Hymns & Psalms 378)
The Lord’s Prayer & Blessing
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