“Act with justice and righteousness” (Jeremiah 22:1-5)
Watch the following video to find out more about the work of Action for Children
Call to worship
The theme of today’s service is ‘Choose Childhood’. Action for Children believes that every child should grow up safe and happy. To make this vision a reality, they offer practical and emotional care and support, make sure children’s voices are heard, and campaign to bring lasting improvements to their lives. Doing this lays the foundations for children to thrive. The work Action for Children does is only possible with our support. The Methodist Church has been by the charity’s side for more than 150 years. But, tragically, there are still thousands of vulnerable children who desperately need our help. With our worship, prayers and gifts, we can make a real difference to these children. Together we can choose safe and happy childhoods for every child.
Our service follows the resources provided for this special Sunday.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we gather today with thanksgiving and an open heart, help us to hear you. Fill our hearts with love and compassion for those you have sent us to. Stir up our hearts and strengthen our arms to act with justice and righteousness in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayer by Karis Kolawole, Head of Faith Partnerships
Hymn: O Worship The King, All-Glorious Above (Singing the Faith: 113)
Lord, we lift up the work of Action for Children. We think of all the families who come into contact with the charity and pray your blessing over them. We think of those struggling with their physical or mental health, and pray your peace descends on them. Lord, remove any barriers that may prevent people from reaching out.
We thank you for the thousands of staff members and volunteers who serve children and families, and pray that you would sustain them. Give them the energy and enthusiasm they need to lovingly support those most in need.
We thank you for the infrastructure that makes Action for Children’s work possible: the buildings, the vehicles, the IT – all the variables that help them to reach and serve communities across the UK.
We pray for the leadership and the trustees – may your wisdom and guidance be present as they map out the future of the charity.
We pray for our wider society – we ask that your will be done; from Westminster all the way down to our communities. We ask that lives led by love – love modelled so perfectly by Christ – transform the world we live in. In the name of the King, Jesus, Amen.
Prayer by Megan Ludlow, Bid Manager and Action for Children Christian Network
Choose Childhood: theme for our service
A Responsive Lament based on Psalm 13:1-6
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
How long will you hide your face from me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
from https://sjbrown58.wordpress.com – Worship Ideas You Can Use
Reading: Jeremiah 22:1-5
Lyle* was physically and emotionally abused by his parents. They punched and kicked him, and he’d often go hungry. After turning to alcohol to numb the pain, Lyle ran away from home. Action for Children stepped in to find him a safe and stable place to live.
“Drugs were always a big problem in my family and there was a lot of violence,” Lyle explains. “I wasn’t fed at home and my big sister would sneak food into her room most nights. But we’d often go days without getting food.”
Lyle was left to fend for himself after his parents threw his sister out. “I didn’t have clean clothes. Mum and dad wouldn’t let me bath or shower. I wasn’t even allowed to get my hair cut,” he says.
After getting bullied at school, Lyle started to isolate himself. At 14, he started drinking. “Mum and dad would offer me alcohol all the time, and eventually I said yes. I’d get home from school and they’d give me glasses of things. I’d just drink them. I couldn’t feel anything. I thought nothing bad could ever happen when I was drunk.”
Lyle left school and found a job he really liked. But things at home got even worse. “I loved my job. But I was the only one putting money in the house. And if I didn’t give the money to them for drugs, they’d take it out on me.”
Lyle’s depression and anxiety started to take their toll. “I just knew I had to get out,” he says. “I left that house with nothing apart from the clothes on my back. I was in a really bad state. I came to Action for Children with nothing.”
Action for Children found Lyle a safe place to live in supported accommodation. “They reminded me that I’m enough,” he says. “They helped me recover from alcohol. Without them, I don’t think I’d be alive. I nearly took my own life and, if it hadn’t been for my support worker coming and just talking to me, I wouldn’t be here.” I’ve got no memories of my childhood. Well, no good “memories anyway. My childhood didn’t exist.”
*We’ve changed Lyle’s name to protect his identity.
Hymn: Beauty For Brokenness (Singing the Faith: 693)
Reading: Luke 4:16-21
A prayer to begin: God grant us wisdom and courage for interpretation of words inspired by you as we seek to make them relevant in our lives. Amen
This passage from Luke contains the very first words Jesus speaks as part of his public ministry, when he enters the synagogue, takes the scroll, reads from Isaiah and then declares, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’.
If we were to read Isaiah chapter 61, where Jesus takes this text, we would hear about the ‘not yet’; they shall do this and I will do that – it’s all very future orientated. To give you some context, the Jewish people had been living in exile in Babylon and most had returned, but instead of being that beautiful safe promised land, it’s a bit of a mess and they are bitterly disappointed. Isaiah is assuming that the oppressed have not yet heard the good news, the broken-hearted are still living fractured lives, those in captivity have not been released. It’s a life of still hoping. But don’t worry, folks, God’s got it sorted and this won’t last forever and at some unknown point in time, God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before the whole world. But who knows when that will happen, in the meantime you will have to cling to hope.
And then Jesus comes along and starts as he means to go on by upsetting the respectable people; he turns it all upside down, saying a reckless and arguably blasphemous phrase when he says, it’s no longer in your future, it’s in your now and it starts with me. I’m the one. The one God has anointed. The anointed one is of course, the Messiah. Messiah being the Hebrew name, Christ being the Greek name.
I worry somewhat that we live as if we’re still waiting; still waiting for God to sort it out; still waiting for the kingdom of God. Still waiting as if it’s not already started. As if there are no signs. It’s as if we’re content with saying, well the world’s a pretty messed up place (have you seen the plastic in the oceans, have you heard what’s been going on in the Yemen, did you know about modern-day slavery, have you read some of the Twitter comments from President Trump?), but not to worry, because at some point God will come swooping in and rescue us all from this disaster of our own creation.
Jesus says it’s now. Now’s the time; through me the oppressed have heard the good news, the broken-hearted are being mended, liberty is here, prisoners released.
The Psalms are full of the lament: how long? Psalm 13 begins, ‘How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?’ For some of you, you may be thinking this lament rings true for you right now. How long will this pandemic last? How long until a vaccine is found? I read these words with new meaning if I choose to put them into the mouth of a neglected child, or a teenager in care, or a couple waiting as they go through the adoption process.
How long? What are we still waiting for? How long are we going to push God’s promise of justice into the future? How long are we going to wait for God to do the rescuing?
It’s tempting to read about the oppressed, broken-hearted and captive and put ourselves into this, assuming it’s talking metaphorically and not literally. Isaiah and Jesus mean the spiritually captive, right? We all need release, all need freedom, all needs our wounds binding up. But what if there was a practical dimension to this too. Now, usually I’m not a biblical literalist – I’m keen to dig deep and shake it up. I firmly believe God’s word is to be found in the Bible and I’m want to apply robust scrutiny to it, to put the text under the microscope and through the lens of 2020. Jesus stood against the heresy of literalism – challenged those who took his words at face value and failed to see the beauty and salvation held within them. Nicodemus got it wrong when he was told he needs to be born again and asks how on earth he can crawl back into this mother’s womb. The Samaritan woman at the well gets it wrong when Jesus offers her living water and she replies ‘Man, you don’t even have a bucket’! It’s a loose translation…
But I just wonder if we’re missing something if we only think this text refers to the poverty of spirit and leaves the politics of prophetic witness along way behind us. I think part of the temptation to turn this message in on ourselves rather than to see it in a wider context of justice, is how culturally focused we are on the individual. We talk a lot about individual rights and responsibilities – because I’m worth it, we say. And whilst there’s nothing wrong with being kind to ourselves and taking care of our needs, we need to be cautious when our own attentiveness comes at the cost of ignoring someone else’s needs.
John Wesley talked a lot about the need for holiness and whilst there was an emphasis on personal holiness and transformation, he also knew that we had to act collectively to eradicate systemic sin. Long before Martin Luther King, Wesley had a dream of a transformed society, spreading what was known as scriptural holiness.
There’s a great quote from Desmond Tutu: we need to stop pulling people out of the river – we need to head upstream and find out why they fell in. We can pull out individuals, but systemic change requires collective action – that’s one of the churches greatest strengths.
Jesus sets out what his ministry is by using the Isaiah text – it’s sometimes referred to as his gospel manifesto. And he makes it clear that that the work has started and continues with anyone who follows him. Jesus calls for freedom and an end to oppression.
There has to be something of a health warning here though – after Jesus had finished talking in the synagogue, do you remember what happened? Did he convince people listening? The crowd turned against him and wanted to throw him off the cliff. He spoke out, but it was risky. And he eventually paid the ultimate price for speaking out.
Speaking out is brave and it is risky – we might not make friends. Christians in UK culture are not really taken very seriously – often we’re thought to be pretty ineffectual, slightly inoffensive do-gooding hypocrites. In TV and film we’re rarely portrayed as radical, and yet there are some inspiring exceptions. A couple of years ago, Pope Francis declared Oscar Romero a saint, the archbishop in El Salvador executed in his cathedral as he presided over holy communion – he was murdered for taking sides with the oppressed and speaking out against the authorities.
Jeremiah writes, ‘God says: Act with Justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed.’ So maybe instead of us lamenting and saying how long, instead of putting these words into the mouths of children whose childhood has been robbed, maybe instead we can put them into the mouth of God. Perhaps God is saying to us, how long, how long are you going to be silent? How long are you going to hide your face and not take any action? How long must I bear this pain and sorrow? How long will you deny responsibility for those who are oppressed, broken-hearted and captive?
For vulnerable children in the UK, childhood hurts. In recent years, the number of children at risk of abuse and neglect, poverty and poor mental health has increased. Every child deserves a safe and happy childhood.
So what can we learn from our bible readings today?
Jeremiah calls us to act with justice. Luke reminds us that we’re sent to people in our community who are marginalised or disadvantaged. By choosing childhood, we’re choosing to act with justice on behalf of those who God has sent us to.
So what can we actually do? How can we act with justice in support of young people like Lyle and how can we Choose Childhood? Action for Children have suggested lots of practical ways of acting with justice:
1. Give a regular cash donation to support Action for Children’s work.
2. Leave a legacy gift in your will.
3. Sign up to Action for Children’s Choose Childhood campaign and invite other people to do the same. Go to: actionforchildren.org.uk
4. Write to your MP about the state of childhood today and ask them to do something about it.
5. Find out if there are any volunteer opportunities near you.
6. Befriend a family or young person in your neighbourhood.
7. Pray for the work of Action for Children and the people they support.
8. Give to your local foodbank.
All of this is living out the gospel manifesto of bringing good news to anyone disadvantaged, healing those who are broken, ensuring liberty to those held in captivity. Because we need to stop waiting and crying out, ‘How long?’ Jesus started it – we are given the task of continuing it. The rescue is down to us, by accepting God’s spirit is upon us. That doesn’t mean we’re alone or God isn’t involved or interested, because God’s spirit is with us, equipping us, teaching us how to care.
Hymn: Pray For A World Where Every Child (Singing the Faith: 527) No video for this one I’m afraid, but the words are perfect, so have a read if you’ve got a hymn book to hand
Prayers for the work of Action for Children
Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, we ask that you bring healing to any child or young person who has been the victim of abuse or neglect. They are your children and have been called into your wonderful light. Show them that you see them and know what they are going through. Show them that you are right beside them. No matter how terrible the situation, we pray that they will know that they can lean on you. Open our eyes, Lord, to see any potential signs of abuse and remove every form of ignorance from us. Give these children and young people hope and provide healing in their body, soul and mind. Ease their suffering, Father, and cause a complete restoration in their lives. Amen.
Prayer by Alison Smith, Fostering Marketing Officer and Action for Children Christian Network
Prayer of committal
In celebration of over 150 years of work and witness, we commit ourselves afresh:
Where children cry in need: We will hear their cry.
Where children are denied the gifts of childhood: We will provide for them to delight in good things.
Where there is exclusion or deprivation: We will challenge injustice.
Where poverty is rife: We will share what we have.
Where others also care: We will work with them.
Wherever we see a need: We will pray for means to meet it.
Loving God, you have called us to be your people and to share in the ministry of your Son. Grant us, we pray, ears that are open to the cries of those in need, hearts that are eager to respond, voices that are ready to speak out for the oppressed, and hands that are active in sharing your bounty. In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer by the Reverend Dr Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference
The Lord’s Prayer
A final video from Action for Children about the particular difficulties of working throughout this pandemic:
Hymn: God of justice, Saviour to all (Singing the Faith: 699)
And now many we go into the world in peace,
encouraging the faint-hearted,
helping the weak,
honouring everyone and always seeking to do good to all whoever we encounter.
May we rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Amen
(based on 1 Thessalonians 5: 13-22)
For details of how to donate to Action for Children, please go to: https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/donate
Donate now to the Emergency Appeal – https://bit.ly/33JKUW3 – or by texting “URGENT” to 70175 to donate £10 and allow Action for Children frontline workers to continue their much needed services.