Call to worship
We come in our need to worship God
In our need, and bringing with us the needs of the world
We come to God, who comes to us in Jesus
And who knows by experience what human life is like
We come with our faith and with our doubts
We come with our hopes and with our fears
We come as we are, because it is God who invites us to come
And God has promised never to turn us away.
Hymn: Be still, for the presence of the Lord (Singing the Faith 20)
Holy God, we’re not always sure how to pray, or what even counts as prayer.
So, for now I just ask that:
When I sing along in my kitchen songs on the radio, that it be counted as praise.
And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as me saying, Lord have mercy.
And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the checkout assistant may it be counted as passing the peace.
And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.
And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.
And that when I stumble upon a someone talking sense and find myself thinking of your grace and love may it be counted as a hearing a sermon.
And that as I sit at that table in my house, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.
Adapted from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jesus spoke of a yoke: Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn form me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)
In a moment of quiet, imagine your own concerns as heavy loads. Reflect that yoke of Jesus, a wooden one, hand-made by a carpenter, which makes light of our burdens, which gives joy and rest to the soul.
I unburden my heart.
I unburden my mind.
I unburden my whole being
And lay my heavy load at the foot of the tree of life,
To claim rest for my soul.
(The Book of Uncommon Prayer)
Reading: Exodus 3: 1-15
Since the middle of March, most of us have not been inside a church on many occasions, if at all. For some of us, this will have been the longest period in our lives of not coming to church. And we’ve missed it – or, at least, many of you have told me you’ve missed it. And for good reason. We come to church for different reasons; hopefully we’re all here because we want to worship God. But we also come to church to learn, to grow in our faith and to support one another. We are better people, better Christians because as a worshipping community we come together.
I wonder whether you have a favourite church? Perhaps the church where you got married? Or went to Sunday School as a child? It could be a church you visited on holiday and something about that place struck you as being special. Perhaps your favourite church is actually your current church. I’ve mentioned before that my very favourite building is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool – the Roman Catholic cathedral known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam. There is something about being inside that church that brings me closer to God. The moment I step inside I know I am standing on holy ground and I find it a deeply moving experience. It’s not a very old building, but I sense the worshipping life of the faithful Christians that have gone before me.
Being inside a church can help remind us that we are connected to each other, but we are also connected backwards to those who have gone before us, linking us to Christians from decades and centuries before. It can help to connect us even as far back to those faithful people in biblical times, and if we are attentive to it we can notice their influence on us today.
God said to Moses, take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground. Moses wasn’t inside a church or temple. He was in the rough mountainous region used to graze sheep. There were no stained-glass windows or organ music. No pews. No bibles to hand. No icons or religious symbols. This was an ordinary working environment. And yet God tells him, this place here is holy. Treat it with respect. Be as in awe in this place as you would be inside a cathedral or temple.
There are rules of behaviour most of us observe when inside a church for the first time even if we are not normally church-goers. Our voices might lower in volume. We slow down. We look around. We stop rushing. We take time.
When I was growing up I inhabited two different worlds, or so I was told. The church and the world. And I was led to believe that these two were in opposition to each other and there was very little common ground. I’ve come to the belief that there isn’t a separation between the church and the world; between the sacred and the secular; between heaven and earth and sometime even between the human and the divine. Jesus comes to bridges those gaps, to stand in those in between spaces.
So I find these words of God, when we are told ‘the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ to be very powerful and challenging. Because what if were to treat the whole earth as being holy and sacred? What if, when we stand in a queue in Tesco that can become a place of holiness? Or a hospital ward? Or a bus stop?
Gerard Hughes has described God as a ‘beckoning word.’ That resonates with me, that God is calling us out and inviting us to see the world through God’s eyes. God as an invitation into the depths of wonder and into abundant life. When we are able to accept that invitation, perhaps we will be able to treat all space as sacred, to see the creative love poured out into everything we see, even into urban and industrial landscapes. Because if all things comes from God, then wherever we are, it is holy. And perhaps our rules of behaviour when inside a church should extend to places outside church, where we need to slow down, stop and look around us, notice the awesomeness of our environment, soaked in God’s creative love.
If we could see the bus stop or hospital ward or industrial estate as holy ground, then perhaps we would treat them differently. If we believe these are holy spaces where God can be found, then this can inform our ability to tread lightly on our planet, to understand that our commitment to environmental issues is in itself an act of Christian love.
I have visited the Hebridean island of Iona on several occasions – Iona is described as a ‘thin place’ – George MacLeod, Founder of the Iona Community, said that Iona is a ‘thin place where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual.’ And I can vouch for the ease with which I found God there, whether sat on the stunning beaches, worshipping inside the Abbey, or even helping wash up in the refectory. But I find myself more and more believing that these thin places are not specific locations where we can access God more easily because of geography. It is about noticing God wherever we are. The Psalm set for today is number 104 – we’ve not read it this morning, but I would encourage you to look at it later. It speaks of the whole earth reflecting the glory of God; the clouds, the thunder, the valleys, the animals, the grass, the nests, the roar of lions, the cedars of Lebanon, it goes on and on – everything is a statement of God’s praise and creative power. Where shall I flee from God’s presence, another psalmist asks, I can make my bed in hell and sail to the further ocean and not even that is beyond the reach of God.
You are standing, or perhaps sitting, on holy ground. Not because you are inside a church, but because God is here. And later, when you go and fix some lunch and sit down, you will still be on holy ground. You only need to accept that invitation of God to notice the holiness surrounding you. The holiness of God filling you, comforting you, leading you onwards, enriching you and enabling you to meet the days ahead.
God is a beckoning word. God beckons us into curiosity, to see through God’s eyes, to see the whole earth as holy, to see Christ in every face we meet, to even see our own loveliness, for God loves the world and everything in it.
For even when our awareness is
of God who is the ground of our being
inhabiting every moment
present in every breath
still we are compelled
to turn aside
to glimpse that which is beyond
our familiar sightings.
Compelled to turn aside
to glimpse afresh
who knows when we have settled for less
when we have resigned ourselves
to a life that brings peace
but not fulfilment
or the abundance God desires for us.
when we fear we are not enough
or even too much…
God shakes up our complacency
and offers new perspective
but only when we risk
stepping off the well worn
and perhaps hard won track
so that we might glimpse
an unimaginable future
that can only be forged
with a pyromaniacal God.
Rev Liz Crumlish
Hymn: Purify my heart (Singing the Faith 508)
Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28 (Phil Summers video)
Reading: Romans 12: 9-21
Have you ever tried to define love? It’s a slippery word and perhaps we know it better by experiencing it than by talking about it. Last week we saw love in action, when some of us watched the wedding of Debbie & Kevin. That’s a really easy demonstration of love.
For those of us who might need other reminders about what love looks like, Paul, in his letter to the Romans sets it out. In this chapter of Romans there are 24 clear declarations about what love does and doesn’t looks like in our relationships. Paul is particularly interested in denying that love has anything to do with domination and control. Instead, genuine love is selfless, putting others before ourselves, harmonious; love isn’t interested in what we get back and has nothing to do with gaining advantage.
We have a potential pitfall in our passage today though: if it is possible, Paul writes, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Most people hate conflict. I enjoy debate and banter, I love a good discussion and even enjoy people disagreeing with me if it means we can have an in depth conversation. But I loathe conflict and confrontation. If two people are having a heated argument, I want to run in the opposite direction. I think that’s a pretty common reaction most of us have. But whilst love is peaceable, it isn’t silent. Love might not seek conflict, but love doesn’t run in the opposite direction when confronted with people being mistreated. How easy it is to turn a blind eye, or to claim it has nothing to do with me. That Sudanese teenager who recently drowned in the Channel is an example of this – how quick our government was to say, ‘nothing to do with us. Not our fault. Not our responsibility.’
Genuine love doesn’t leave anyone behind. Even those we think are reckless and irresponsible. If your enemies are hungry, feed them, we are told. There’s no justification for not helping; no excuses, no trying to claim that if only they’d worked a bit harder, if only they didn’t have a mobile phone, then I would feel better about feeding them. Because those are the reasons so often given for not supporting foodbanks, for putting the responsibility of poverty solely on the shoulders of the poor. If your enemies are hungry – feed them. That’s what love does.
Love doesn’t weigh up who is deserving or not of being loved. And thank God for that. Thank God that we are not judged as to whether we deserve to be loved by God. Thank God that there are no scales determining whether I’ve done enough to win God’s affection, that God hasn’t said to me, this week Rachel I’m not giving you any of my love because you’ve had some pretty unchristian thoughts about the British government, and you swore in your car when that person cut you up, and walked past that Big Issue seller, and I don’t think you deserve my love today. Thank God I don’t have to try and earn God’s love.
So why do we insist that some people are deserving of our help, and therefore of our love, and others are not? Why do we allow some people to go hungry?
Love might be peaceable, but it cannot remain silent when people go hungry, when children are drowning in our waters. And although love cannot be silent, it does not ask questions about whether the children’s parents are responsible, instead it speaks up in defence of those who are suffering.
Paul tells us to outdo one another when it comes to love. In an age where looking out for number one is considered sensible, normal, where we always expect the same back, Paul instructs us that love is not about gaining any advantage. It’s not about winning.
We should remember that on the whole Paul is writing to a persecuted church in its infancy. The enemies were real and dangerous. The moral choices were stark; to declare yourself a Christian was to put yourself in opposition to the society around you and sometimes in opposition to your friends and family. By naming yourself as a Christian, you were immediately at odds with many around you. And those who viewed you as the enemy could do you real harm.
Paul assures this community about the right response; the Christ-like response in the face of this opposition. You cannot curse those who would seek you harm; instead you need to bless them. And feed them. And not think yourselves superior. And not seek revenge.
Who are our enemies I wonder? Do we even have any? For some of us we might have lived through toxic relationships that have done us genuine harm, but I suspect many of us would be hard pushed to identify anyone as our persecutor. The media sometimes likes to identify enemies for us, as if asylum seekers are the ones who might do us and our way of life harm. But actually, the people I shout at the most are those speaking in news interviews, those in positions of power. Can I identify these as my enemies and am I prepared not to curse them?
So how can I take a stand against the hate speech I hear from certain leaders, rejecting the prejudice they spout, whilst at the same time blessing them and not cursing them? I can’t do this with anger in my heart or a desire for superiority. I can only do this through having genuine love. And yes, that’s a challenge and sometimes a monumental effort. Perhaps I have more in common with the persecuted Christians in Paul’s day than I initially imagined, because they were persecuted by those with power, not by those with nothing. I find it easy to demonstrate love to those who are weak, but it is much harder for me to demonstrate love to those who are in power. I am far more judgmental, far more willing to lay blame, far to eager to rejoice in their downfall.
Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Love doesn’t weigh up who is deserving of that love. The challenge for us all is to question ourselves as to who we find it hardest to love, who are we most judgmental about, who do we seek to point score against. Those are the people we need to bless. If your enemies are hungry, feed them, we are told. If the person you despise is hurting, help them, bless them, love them. For this is the way of Christ. Amen.
Hymn: Let love be real (Singing the faith 615)
Prayers of intercession
Jesus says, I will be with you always, to the end of the age
Jesus, be known to the Church, the holy Church, the imperfect Church, your church.
Be known to the suffering Church, especially in Egypt, in Iraq, in Syria, where the odds are stacked against faithful Christians.
Be known to the churches in this circuit, facing a hundred different problems that the rest of us do not see.
Be known to the local preachers, the stewards, the lay workers, trying to work out the gospel in the ambiguities of home and work.
Be known to us in our church life here.
Jesus says, I am with you always, to the end of the age
Jesus, be known to our nation, our confused nation, our talented nation, our materialistic nation.
Be known to those whose pursuit of money has isolated them.
Be known to the school-leavers looking out at an empty horizon.
Be known to the homeless, who are ignored and feel worthless.
Be known to our world, especially…………
Jesus says, I am with you always, to the end of the age
Jesus, be known to the weak who know their need of you.
Be known to the strong who do not know their need of you.
Be known to the sick for whom life is anxious and painful.
Be known to the lonely who are desperate for someone to call their name.
Be known to these people who we name before you…
Jesus says, I am with you always, to the end of the age
Jesus, be known to the joyful whose hearts are overflowing with gratitude.
Be known to the newly in love for whom life is a great promise.
Be known to the new politicians determined to make improvements
Be known to those who have made the decision to follow you, who have found a faith for life.
Jesus promises to all who will listen, ‘I will be with you always, to the end of the age.
Jesus, help us to believe your promise and to live in that confidence. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Hymn: Everyone needs compassion (Singing the Faith 627)
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand