Sunday 1st November 2020

man wiping his tears

(Photo from @tompumford)

Call to worship

We rejoice and praise Your holy name today, O Lord,
Because you have kept us from a destructive path.

We give thanks because Your word gives us hope,

And we reflect on Your word at all times.

You are the Source of deep seated faith,

And our spirits are refreshed in your presence! Amen!

from the Lectionary Sermons Archive page

HYMN: StF: 264 Make way, make way


Wonderful is the God of Christ,

who gathers the poor of the earth.

Glorious is our God,

who wipes away the tears of sorrow.

Wonderful is the God of Christ,

who gives inheritance to the meek.

Glorious is our God,

who satisfies the hunger of the just.

Wonderful is the God of Christ,

who gives mercy to the merciful.

Glorious is our God,

who gives vision to the pure in heart.

Wonderful is the God of Christ,

who adopts the peacemakers.

Glorious is our God,

who lifts high the persecuted.

Wonderful is the God of Christ,

who finds the lost.

Glorious is our God,

who awakens the dead

written by Bruce Prewer and posted on Bruce Prewer’s Home Page.

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

Beatitudes for a global pandemic

Blessed are those who stay indoors for they have protected others.

Blessed are the unemployed and the self-employed, for their need of God is great.

Blessed are the corner shopkeepers, for they are the purveyors of scarce things.

Blessed are the delivery drivers and the postal workers, for they are the bringers of essential things.

Blessed are the hospital workers; the ambulance crews, the doctors, the nurses, the care assistants, and the cleaners, for they stand between us and the grave, and the Kingdom of Heaven is surely theirs.

Blessed are the checkout workers, for they have patience and fortitude in the face of overwork and frustration.

Blessed are the refuse collectors, for they will see God despite the mountains of waste.

Blessed are the teachers, for they remain steadfast and constant in disturbing times.

Blessed are the church workers; the deacons, priests and bishops, for they are a comforting presence in a hurting world as they continue to signpost towards God.

Blessed are the single parents, for they are coping alone with their responsibilities and there is no respite.

Blessed are those who are alone, for they are children of God and with Him they will never be lonely.

Blessed are the bereaved, for whom the worst has already happened. They shall be comforted.

Blessed are those who are isolated with their abusers, for one day – we pray – they will know safety.

Blessed are all during this time who have pure hearts; all who still hunger and thirst for justice; all who work for peace and who model mercy.

May you know comfort. May you know calm. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.

By Jayne Manfredi @TheWomanfredi

HYMN: StF: 372 Come down, O Love Divine


Why do these blessings actually sound like curses? None of us want to be poor, or grieving, or meek, or hungry or persecuted. And the only reason we’d need to be merciful is when someone has wronged us; we’d only need to be peacemakers in times of conflict. Why on earth would we rejoice at any of this?

I have heard many bereaved people to say something like this: ‘I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be crying. My faith is strong. I know my beloved is safe with God. I know we’ll meet again someday. So why am I so sad? I shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t be upset if my Christian faith means so much to me.’

It’s as if people feel guilty when they are not rejoicing all of the time, as if grief is something to be ashamed about.

The feelings grief brings are not the antithesis of faith. Grieving is not some kind of religious failure, nor an indication of a lack of commitment or belief. The natural, human responses to loss are integral to any faith system we might have, and real human feelings should be embraced and not suppressed by beliefs.

We all experience grief at some point in our lives. It’s the consequence from loving so intensely. Jesus call us blessed because we have thrown ourselves into these relationships, given our hearts away, and are bereft when that person is no longer with us. Jesus knows there are risks involved with loving – it would be easier to build a wall around our love and not to let anyone in. That way we can’t be hurt. But that is not the way of blessings.

So we take on these risks, let our guards down, allow another person to break down our barriers. And what joy we experience when we do this. We don’t even want to think about possibility of them not being around, because joy is to be found in their presence, we can’t imagine how we would function without them. We don’t ever want to imagine how life would be.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted, Jesus says.

I want to suggest we should all be grieving something else this morning. Grieving the loss of the rainforests. Grieving the loss of eco systems in our seas. Grieving the extinction many species of life on earth are facing. Grieving the death of the polar ice caps.

Blessed are those who mourn.

If we knew the people closest to us were ill and that something we could do would save them, we’d do it in a heartbeat. We’d do it to keep them safe, to make them well, to keep them with us. As well as our relationship with those we love, we also each have a relationship with the space we take up on earth. The earth sustains our life and we are dependent upon it. And yet, when we hear that our climate is changing, that we will experience greater extremes of temperature, more flooding, more droughts, and that all of this will have a devastating effect on life, when we hear this, do we grieve? We might be inconvenienced when flooding closes some roads, or begrudge when petrol has yet again gone up in price, but do we enter a state of mourning, grieving the loss of something precious and beloved. And does this propel us into saying I’ll do anything to stop this from happening?  I truly believe that it is only when all of can be so moved , so saddened, so grieved by the destruction to this planet, that we will each step up and demand, no more, and in so doing our action will mean that collectively we will be comforted by the outcome. The outcome of us collectively grieving, is that our tears will be wiped away and will be no more, because we have each ensured the flourishing of all life.

Grief is not the opposite of faith. It is not an indication of a lack of commitment. Grief tells us we have loved. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) – our response to God’s love is to love what God has created and loves. And I believe that extends to our commitment to the whole of creation.

Last weekend I listened to part of the Green Christian Conference online. We heard a talk from Bishop James Jones, speaking about the text, blessed are the meek, for their will inherit the earth. What if in our humble, meek relationship with God, our faith extended to the earth itself? As Christians, Bishop James challenged us to reimagine the future for the earth itself. The earth that we can only continue to share in through a right relationship. Bishop James pointed to the moment when Jesus dies on the cross, there was an earthquake, and again at the point of the resurrection, there is an earthquake. The earth itself could not remain silent.

In the morning prayer by the Iona community, the liturgy says this:

The world belongs to God

the earth and all its people

Love and faith come together

justice and peace join hands

If Christ’s disciples keep silent

these stones would shout aloud

The earth is quaking, it is shouting to be heard. The fabric of life is being threatened. We need to grieve, we need to live in a humble relationship with God’s creation, for this is the way to be comforted, to inherit and crucially to pass on this inheritance. Amen.


God of all blessedness,

we turn to You now with our prayers for others,

seeking Your blessing on all for whom we pray.

You tell us: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So we pray for those whose spirit fails them,

that they might be strengthened in their faith;

for those whose poverty is physical,

that they might have an equal share in the fruits of Your kingdom;

for those whose outlook on life is poor,

that they might have a glimpse of hope and purpose.

You tell us: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

So we pray for all who are cast down by grief

 – from recent losses or a deep-seated sorrow over many years

– that they might know the comfort of hope, the comfort of love, the comfort of new life.

You tell us: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

So we pray for leaders and followers,

for big people and little people,

for the proud and the humble,

that in acceptance and grace, we might work together for the good of all.

You tell us: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

So, we pray that we, who seek to live in that very righteousness,

might indeed be filled with wonder and joy in this very place.

You tell us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

So, let us forgive others that we might know and understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

You tell us: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

So, make our hearts pure with us,

that we might know Your love all the more.

You tell us: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

So we pray for all who work for peace:

peace in relationships;

peace in communities;

peace in politics;

peace in places of conflict;

peace for the body, mind and soul …

that all might see themselves and others as God’s children.

You tell us: Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So we pray for the broken and despised,

the marginalised and the downtrodden,

the victims and the dispossessed,

the refugees and the homeless …

this kingdom, our precious kingdom, belongs also to them.

And as we pray for others, we pray also that You will hold us always in communion with the Saints of all the ages,

those who have been blessed and whose memories, example and closeness bless us,

even at this present time. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

HYMN: StF:563 O Jesus I have promised

Just to give you something to smile about…


Give me, O God, this day: 

   so I can see you in the 
      most vulnerable; 

         a cup 
   to catch the tears 
   of all who weep; 

         an arm 
   for the long-suffering to 
   cling to as they walk 
      through life; 

         a broken heart 
   which can heal those 
   who have harmed me; 

   which looks at the other 
   and sees your beloved (not 
      an object); 

   which embraces those 
   we are taught to fear; 

   which welcomes those 
   who are ridiculed as 
      they shadow you; 

   of hope, of comfort, of grace 
   whispered in the ears 
      of all who are slandered 
      for your name. 

written by Thom M. Shuman, copyright  © 2014 Thom M. Shuman.  Posted on Prayers 4 Today.  

Sunday 18th October 2020

Call to worship

Come among us, Jesus

You whom the angles worship

and children welcome


Come among us Jesus,

You who hurled the stars into space

and shaped the spider’s weaving


Come among us Jesus

You who walked the long road to Jerusalem

and lit a flame that dances forever


Hymn: God with us: Creator, Father (Singing the Faith 8)

Opening prayers (by local preacher, John Rainbow)

We come to worship our king, the Lord God, who rules the world in love and with great power.

We come to worship our brother Jesus, who shares our joys and sorrows, and brings us freedom from darkness.

We come to worship the Holy Spirit of God, who strengthens us for service and brings heaven close to us.

We come to worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – receive our offering of prayer. AMEN

And now, before God and with each other, we remember how little we deserve to be allowed to approach his throne.

We remember how we have not hoped in God, but given ourselves to despair.

We remember how we have not trusted in God’s power, but in our own strength and wisdom

We remember how we have not looked for a future with God, but allowed our past failures to be our master.

Lord Jesus – as by your death you defeated the power of sin, grant that we might truly repent of our failings, and be with us as we strive to be your disciples. AMEN

Psalm 99 (Singing the Faith 821)

The Lord is king;

let the peoples tremble!

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth quake!

The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.

Let them praise your great and awesome name.
 Holy is he!

Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool.
 Holy is he!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
 Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
 They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
 they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

O Lord our God, you answered them;
 you were a forgiving God to them,
 but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

Extol the Lord our God,
 and worship at his holy mountain;
 for the Lord our God is holy.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Reflection (John Rainbow)

I expect that you know of the festivals they have in various Catholic countries, where they parade a statue of some saint or other round the town, and then into the church – the whole town has a good time. You imagine Psalm 99 was written for a similar sort of event, everyone walking up to the temple mount, singing something like Psalm 99 (no statues, of course – the second commandment put the damper on that).

We have rather lost the confidence of those temple worshippers. We talk about the Lord God Almighty in prayers, but don’t seem interested in what that means for our everyday lives. In part, I guess, it’s because it’s easy to get the feeling that we live in an environment where nobody is in control. Mercifully, we don’t live in the perilous areas that many have to endure, but we often find ourselves at the receiving end of some horrid weather system – and that’s before we think about the danger from viral attack. And then there is all the misery caused by our fellow human beings. No-one is firing guns at us, but there’s plenty of less dramatic nastiness around – maybe some of it we’ve caused.

Various people think they have a handle on this. You know that the legal theory is that we live in a land owned by a little old lady in London, and whose bidding we all obey. But the psalmist is clear. Forget the Queen – or for that matter the Prime Minister – we are living in a world ruled by God. The Lord is in charge – and those who call themselves rulers need to know that!

And just in case you think this is too fanciful, look to the Gospel stories. Matthew, Mark and all tell a story that leads up to Jesus’ trial and execution. At Calvary, we see Jesus as the focus of every sort of brutality and evil – a promising mission brought to a horrific end. And yet, that’s not what Good Friday is about. The writer to the Colossians looks at the cross, and sees it like a great victory – a celebration of the sort that victorious Roman emperors enjoyed when they came back from battle.

The cross is a reminder of who is really in charge. It tells us that the cruelty of the Romans, the envy of the Pharisees and the finality of death all have to make way for the power of God. Psalm 99 tells us that in poetry – the cross gives us the reality.

I know this can sound horribly trite if you are at some personal Calvary. Perhaps some of you have hit a train-crash moment, and the last thing you need is some old bloke in his bedroom telling you that all will be well. All I can say (since I can’t be with you, and give any comfort) is that Easter starts with a tale of suffering and pain. Jesus trust – and ours – is not in a God who insulates us from a world of difficulty, but who holds us safe within it.

The most important message that we have to give to the world is one of hope. We probably won’t do it by processing down the Gloucester Road singing about Moses and Aaron. A good start might be for us to try to make the message of hope a reality in our lives.

We rest our hope for the future in all sorts of things. When I was 18, I signed up for a college course that said on the brochure “many of our graduates earn more than £2,000 a year”. Education gave me a hope. Today, of course, many people are pinning their future on the makers of anti-viral vaccines. Now, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be trying to plan for the future.

But “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” – put your trust where you will, there is unstoppable, indomitable power from only one place, and that’s the throne of God. in a passage from  Romans that is sometimes read at funerals, because it gives us hope when all else has failed, Paul says that there is nothing  –  neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

So, like those ancient Jews, we will face our futures with certainty – the power of God is present not only in Zion, but with each one of us. We put our hope in the greatest ruler of all.   

Hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King! (Singing the Faith 335)

Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 (Phil Summers)


Jesus is asked an impossible question – should we pay taxes. If he answers yes, he’s siding with the brutality of the Roman occupation. If he says no, he’s encouraging unrest and revolt. His reply is not only clever, avoiding the pitfalls expected by the questioner, it draws attention back to God. If everything is from God and of God, then what we give to the Emperor, we actually give to God. I could stop there, because that’s the thrust of this reflection: all we have is from God, therefore everything we give is a response to God no matter who we give it to.

There is, of course, a highly political dimension to this and it echoes what John has talked about in his reflection from the Psalm, and that is, that we build up our notions of power and authority in leaders, but our true leader is the one who will never let us down. The one we should follow, put our trust in, put our ‘X’ in a box for, give our unwavering loyalty to, is God. Those of us who are members of political parties, who support particular leaders, who decry their opponents, we risk putting them on a pedestal and ignoring their imperfections. Because ultimately of course, they are flawed human beings. Jesus was talking into a context where to say such a thing about the Emperor was treasonous. The Emperor was ‘lord’, god-like in their perfection and any criticism was seen as insurrection.

October 17th is the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Last week we learned that billionaires have seen their wealth increase on average by 27% between April and July 2020, at the height of the global pandemic. We have also learned that Donald Trump has paid a grand total of $750 in tax the year he entered the White House and paid no federal tax in 10 of the previous 15 years. Taxation may be seen as a civil issue and there are some people who endorse Mr Trump’s business acumen in avoiding taxation. But if we all ‘rendered to Caesar’ what was due then perhaps the global issue of poverty would not be so great. Church Action for Tax Justice is an ecumenical organisation which seeks to raise awareness throughout the Churches and faith communities of the fundamental relationship between taxation, equality and public service, and the urgent need for Tax Justice at national and international levels. Taxation, I would argue, is a spiritual matter, because how we spend our money, whether personally or collectively, speaks of our values, particularly about how we value the most vulnerable.

You may be thinking, this is another sermon with Rachel banging on about justice. Well I make no apologies for that, because when I open scripture I find it saturated with our requirement to ‘do justice’. If we think that our allegiance to God is a choice, we are making a false assumption.  Accepting God’s authority is not a choice but a truth. It is not a question of loyalty, but a statement of reality. Rather than aspiring to be like those we admire, Jesus shows us that we are made in God’s image. Bearing that image means we can behave like God in our desire to see justice, to act with compassion. Everything we have comes from God; our life, our breath, our resources, our relationships. In acknowledging this fact it then becomes imperative we give all we have to God.

God seeks the flourishing of us all, so God is in favour of good governance that sees the widows, orphans and foreigners fed. Good governance is a holy act because it seeks what God seeks, that we all live fulfilled lives. There can be no separation between our faith-filled lives and our political ones – this should not be a controversial statement. The God we worship is a ‘lover of justice’, the psalmist writes. 

Jesus takes a coin – on it is the imprint of the head of the emperor. If we were to take a coin from British currency we would see the same – an imprint of the one who rules over us, the Queen. Jesus reminds us that we bear a similar imprint. If we look inside ourselves we see the imprint of God left on us at our creation. Jesus reminds us to take a closer look at ourselves; what are we holding back? What are we refusing to acknowledge as God’s? Can we recognise the imprint of God’s holiness on our lives?

Hymn: There is no moment of my life (Singing the Faith 482)

Questions for your own reflections:

  • “Forget the Queen – or for that matter the Prime Minister – we are living in a world ruled by God”. How do you feel when you hear God is in charge?
  • Do you think paying taxes is a Christian duty?
  • Can you think of examples when we should not “render to Caesar”?

Prayers of intercession

God of the nations, we praise you.

You are high above all – you are sovereign over all.

You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Who is like you?

Who is there besides you?

Who compares to you?

From the beginning of the day to the end of time – your name is to be praised.

What are the nations beside you?

Who are the powerful compared to you?

You are the champion of the poor, and the one who sets things right –

Turning everything back to your upside-down right-way-round kingdom’s order.

You lift poor communities out of ashes and sit them high up with princes.

You are not impressed with those who swagger and use their power to get still more.

You are not frightened by those who threaten or bribe.

God of the nations, we praise you.

Build your kingdom in the earth we pray.

Challenge world leaders with your priorities,

Remind powerful nations what is right

And lead companies, financial institutions and governments to reform unjust systems.

Deliver oppressed nations from debt, unjust trade systems, and all forms of exploitation

And convict the powerful of their greed.

Fill rich nations with your justice and mercy

And lead them to create new, righteous practices which protect the poor.

God of the nations we ask these things in your name, and for your glory. Amen.

© 2011

The Lord’s Prayer

Closing prayer

Creator God,
you loved the world into life.
Forgive us when our dreams of the future
are shaped by anything other than glimpses of a kingdom
of justice, peace and an end to poverty.

Incarnate God,
you taught us to speak out for what is right.
Make us content with nothing less than a world
that is transformed into the shape of love,
where poverty shall be no more.

Breath of God,
let there be abundant life.
Inspire us with the vision of poverty over,
and give us the faith, courage and will to make it happen.

Sunday 27th September – Harvest Festival

Call to worship

Holy Spirit of God,

            we invite you among us.

As we come too celebrate your harvest

and to pray for your justice

we also ask you to bring your peace.

So that the quiet place inside us may speak

in stillness may we be at one with you.

As we prepare for worship now,

Our good lives can be tangled with thorns.

Thorns of failure and sadness.

Tangles of duties and demands.

            Holy God, cut away the thorns that wound and choke.

            Free us to live and too grow in your light.

Wild Goose Resources 

Hymn: Come you thankful people come (Singing the Faith 123)

Opening prayers

As we go about our busy and frenetic lives

we thank you for your on-going unfailing love,

that at times we almost forget is there.
We thank you, that you are always present in our lives,

behind and before us.

Your love is so great that we know you will never let us down,

you will never betray or deny us.

You will walk alongside us every step of our way
For you are the light of creation’s dawn,
You are the very breath of our lives,
You are the promise of renewal
You are the harvest of our soul.
You are the loyal and dependable friend and companion.
In you we place our trust

In you we hold out our hands in adoration and praise.

Katherine Baxter:

A prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

God of all beings,

A lot of us feel less safe than we did a few days ago and a few days ago we weren’t feeling that secure to begin with. Help us draw upon you, our Divine Source, when what we have just isn’t enough to get through the day. 

A lot of us are grieving. Actually, all of us are grieving: lost friends, lost family, lost homes, lost income, lost connection to others, lost health.  Help us not to also lose hope. We can lose a lot and still survive, but we can’t survive without hope.

A lot of us are so angry. Angry that our inherent worth and dignity seems up for debate by those who have never had their worth and dignity questioned in courts of law. Angry that love of power seems to trump love of neighbour. Repurpose our anger into righteous action, O Holy One.

My fear is turning to anger and I am afraid that my anger can turn so easily to hate and hate is the thing I say I am against. Turn me away from hate. My heart can’t take that kind of brittleness because I need it to give and to receive love. Remind me that my heart is spoken for.

A lot of us are ashamed of how numb we feel, but honestly we’ve run out of emotional bandwidth and the system needs to re-boot before it comes back on-line. Give us rest and self-compassion.

A lot of us are joyous and feel like we have to shield that joy from others, lest it seem like we are callous toward those who are hurting. Help us see and celebrate what good there is in our lives and the lives of those around us.

I don’t think you created us to be able to metabolize such a constant stream of bad news everyday. But I do know that you created us to metabolize biscuits and chocolate. And for that I give you thanks and praise. They are helping. But they are not enough. 

So if you could show up right now, that would be great. And if you are already showing up, give us new eyes to notice you. 


Psalm 65

You are God our deliverer

in whom all put their trust;

all who live on earth,

all beyond the horizon.

By great skill and untold strength

you fixed the mountains in place;

you calm the raging seas

and quieten the warring nations.

People throughout the world

stand in awe of your skill.

Lands to the east and west

gratefully sing your praise.

You care for the life of the planet,

forever tending the ground;

you nourish the fruits of the earth,

the crops that feed your people.

You water and level the land,

blessing each season’s growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;

rich harvests are signs of your goodness.

The open pastures are lush

and hills are clothed with joy.

The meadows are covered with sheep

and valleys burst into song.

Iona Abbey Worship Book Wild Goose Publications

Reflection on Harvest gifts

Have you ever been on a picnic? What did you take along? What is your favourite food to eat outside, perhaps having walked to a beautiful spot? I love eating outdoors – somehow food always tastes better when I’m in the fresh air. And of course, being in good company is the best way to enjoy a picnic.

In a few minutes we’re going to read a bible story about a picnic. A picnic where there was a great abundance of food and everyone was stuffed at the end and I should think wanted a bit of a sleep before walking back home. Today, we are celebrating Harvest Festival. Perhaps you’ve been able to give the gift of food recently – it may have been some homegrown vegetables to a neighbour. If you’re a cook, perhaps you’ve shared an apple and blackberry crumble with someone. Or maybe you’ve been able to buy some extra tins in the supermarket recently and drop them into the collection points for local foodbanks. Some of you may have even given gifts of money to charities such as Family Space or GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) , who are working with people who are experiencing food poverty.

It’s good to share with others. Sharing food is a way of strengthening our relationships, whether that’s going on a picnic, or sitting down for a meal. For many of us, coming to church involves taking bread and wine together – communion – it’s a simple meal, but it symbolises that we want to be connected to God and connected to each other. It fills us with God’s presence and reminds us to share that love with those we meet. It’s been really tough these past few months not celebrating this simple meal with our Christian family, but one of the things that Harvest can remind us, is that we can continue to experience God’s love, and continue to share that.

And so, for all of those gifts, we pray a blessing:

We rejoice in the good things God provides in our lives.

And in gratitude we give.

Today’s special offering, our annual Harvest offering supports Family Space and GARAS and the Foodbank.

These organisations demonstrate the Christian message of loving God

by loving our neighbours through prayer, action, and financial support.

Let us give generously with grateful hearts.

As the ancient Israelites brought their gifts, we bring our gifts today.

Generous God – we pray your blessing over these gifts.

May both giver and receiver know your life and love

and that you are always with them. Amen

Hymn: We plough the fields and scatter (Singing the faith 130)

All Age Talk

Have you had your cereal this morning? What did you have? Corn Flakes, Weetabix, or something fancy? I wonder which cereals you have tried and which you like. I guess you didn’t have cereal like this?:

These do not look all that appetising do they? Truth is that although this type of cereal is not what we would have for breakfast, some of them make up the ingredients of our breakfast bowls and  we do have it in other meals. This cereal is very important to the world diet. For some people ‘important’ is not a strong enough word. It would be better to say that these cereals are ‘essential’ or ‘necessary for life’. There are two sides to our Harvest Service: The easy bit is to acknowledge how thankful we are for what we have. The harder part it is to be so moved by the fact that we are provided for, and that we are so well-off in comparison to others, that we recognise our responsibility to share. To sometimes share what we have; and always to make an effort to make sure that the world’s resources are shared out fairly. In a moment we’re going to listen to that picnic. Somehow Jesus played a part in making sure that whatever food there was that day was shared. Surprisingly it not only fed all the people, but there was some left over too. There is a great blessing in receiving, and a great blessing in sharing.


Deuteronomy 24:19-21

Mark 8:1-10


A great crowd has gathered. They hang on every word Jesus says. But they are now hungry. Jesus may have told the devil, who tempted him in the wilderness, when he hadn’t eaten for days, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ But Jesus knows no-one lives at all without any bread to eat. The people are close to fainting, and now Jesus is worried if he sends them home, some of them might not make it.

So he tells the disciples to feed them. And the disciples immediately protest – there’s not enough. Jesus also said, ‘the poor will always be with us’ – when I get to see Jesus face to face, I intend to have it out with him over that particular phrase, because when we are confronted with the massive problem of hunger, just like the disciples, we think it’s a problem too big to solve. It’s all very well being compassionate, but we need a dose of realism, or so we are told.

The shocking reality is around one billion people will go to bed hungry tonight. And tomorrow night, just as they did last night. The good news is that until recently, the world had been making really good progress on world hunger. In 1970 around one in three people went to bed hungry. By the year 2000, this was more like one in six. Even though we have seen the global population expand, the number of people starving in real terms is coming down. Significant numbers of people are moving out of poverty. This teaches us that ending hunger is not an impossible dream. It can be achieved.

And we know what it takes to end hunger – the main ingredient is political will. It takes the engagement of the whole of society – government, the private sector, nongovernmental organisations, the media, religious leaders, and us – it takes all of us to step up and make the economy work for everyone, including the poorest.

People in first century Palestine understood food poverty – it was a rampant problem for those who were not rich. If we imagine a typical Roman feast, we might picture total excess, tables laden with food. There are stories about Roman citizens who attended these feasts eating to the point of vomiting, and then returning to eat some more – how revolting is that? It’s revolting, not just because we don’t like thinking about throwing up; it’s repulsive because their waste resulted in others starvation which were at crisis levels. And maybe we could come up with examples of waste and excess today, where money and food are squandered whilst children go to bed with empty bellies.

Jesus sees the people are hungry. He’s seen it before, probably many times over. He asks the disciples to figure out a way of feeding them. He doesn’t tell them how to do it, or provide them with the resources. But in typical fashion, the disciples still manage to get it wrong. They are trying to work out a solution purely in terms of food. They have seven loaves and a few fish. They know the maths, and that is not going to divide into anything meaningful. The disciples believe the problem is too big to solve, they look at their resources, those loaves and fish, and think them insignificant. They haven’t explored their other resources – the people themselves.

The miracle, of course, isn’t that Jesus did some magical trick and the bread and fish multiplied before their eyes. The miracle is a very ordinary one. It is that Jesus saw the solution to the problem based on the people themselves. He believed in these people and their generosity. And like an enormous picnic, when the people saw that some of them had taken out what they had and were willing to share, other people followed suit and did the same. The miracle is one of generosity, because that is what Jesus encourages. Jesus transforms greed and selfishness, he transforms a desperate group of hungry people into a community of compassion and justice, a community in which everyone is fed and no-one keeps things to themselves.

There’s not enough, cry the disciples. Oh yes there is, says Jesus, you’re just looking for it in the wrong place. The story of this mass feeding highlights the two extremes – scarcity which endangers life, and the abundance of God. We have been blessed with a planet with immense resources – creation is a larder stocked to excess because God is extravagant in generosity. The shame is we’re not terribly good at handling extravagance and abundance. We think we can store it up – a bit like the Israelites in the wilderness who tried to store up the manna, but the next day it turned foul and was filled with grubs. We have a tendency to hoard – I wonder whether you are someone who likes to keep hold of things, to collect things, or not get rid of things because you think one day they might come in handy. God’s abundance and generosity comes from a desire to share, a desire that all life is lived in fulfilment, a desire to see communities where justice and love are the guiding principles. The abundance we sometimes hoard rarely comes from these desires; they mostly come from the desire of self-preservation. We make excuses about prudence and independence and self-reliance. Saving for a rainy day might seem sensible, but not if someone else is standing in a monsoon.

This miracle is the only one which makes it into all four gospels. Matthew & Mark think it so important they repeat it, give or take 1000 people. That suggests to me that not only was it a memorable event in the lives who experienced this, but that it had great significance. It was life-changing. Transforming.

The real wonder of this story is that it continues today: God still cares deeply and passionately for those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the hungry – and God continues to use us to care for them.

What I have discovered anew about this bible reading is how much I tend to restrict and narrow the vision of God and how much more expansive God’s vision is to humanity. When I say ‘no’, God says ‘yes’. When I say, ‘there’s not enough’, God replies, ‘here’s an abundance’. When I say, ‘that’s mine’, God says, ‘share it’. When I say, ‘God can you just come and sort it out’, God replies, ‘I’m asking you to do the same’. When I pray, ‘God help the poor’, God replies ‘Rachel, I’m asking you to do it for me’.

Our harvest today reminds us about the disparity between the abundance of creation and the despair of crop failure. It reminds us about the disparity between those who have more than enough, and those who live hand to mouth. Are we prepared to step into the harvest, to step into the miracle of abundance, to step into the possibility of compassion spreading like a virus? Are we prepared to say yes to God’s justice which will see everyone fed? The miracle of generosity is waiting for us all to step up and say yes. Amen

Hymn:  Jesus Christ is waiting (Singing the Faith 251)

Intercessions & The Lord’s Prayer

We pray today for farmers and farm-workers, especially those we know in our communities.

We pray for them in the heat of summer and in the wet and cold of winter, as they tend their stock daily and cultivate their fields, as they manage the hedges, woodland and waterways.

We pray for safety in a hazardous industry, encouragement for the solitary, and a fair price for their products.

We pray for seasonable weather, good growth and good yields, so that there may be abundant harvests to feed hungry people.

For safe work practices and healthy habits for all farmers, so that people and communities may flourish and be strong.

For health and happiness in the home life of all farmers, and for families to work together with love, respect and harmony.

For wise financial planning, land care and asset management, so that farmers may be confident about the future of their farms,

for good communication between country and city, so that we may understand each other’s needs and encourage one another.

We pray for this country to increase its self-sufficiency in food that supermarket-buyers will support local growers.

We pray for all those who provide seasonal labour at harvest time,

for those who clean and process our food – often in tough conditions,

for those who transport, inspect and sell our food and for all who cook it for us, remembering particularly all the new school caterers feeding our young children.

We pray for rural and regional networks working to overcome rural loneliness and isolation; the Farming Community Network  and the National Farmers Union.

We pray for The Arthur Rank Centre, an ecumenical project working amongst the rural communities across the UK, supporting farmers and the agricultural community.

Generous God, as we celebrate your goodness we also remember the plight of those whose harvests have failed.

We pray for those whose land or crops have been affected by floods, drought, or fire, by pests or disease.

For those whose families are hungry and for those who have no seed or livestock for the future.

We also remember those here and abroad who are dependent on food banks.

Help us to be generous givers – of our money, food and time, as Christian disciples in this place, and show us how to be stewards of the resources of Your world, for the benefit of all people. Amen

Adapted from The Church of Scotland

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn: Harvest Samba


May God who clothes the lilies

and feeds the birds of the air,

who leads the lambs to their pasture

and the deer to still waters,

who multiplied the loaves and fishes

and changed water into wine,

lead us,

feed us,

multiply us,

and change us to reflect the glory of our Creator

now and through all eternity.

And the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

rest upon you and remain with you now and for ever


Sunday 20th September 2020: Season of Creation

Call to worship

As we enter autumn, our thoughts turn towards Harvest. Normally we hold one Harvest Festival as a celebration for all that God has provided. This year, we are encouraged as the Christian family to unite for this worldwide celebration of prayer and action to protect our common home.

I invite you to begin your service by lighting a candle, and setting the space with other natural items that represent the agriculture or wilderness of your local ecology, and open by praying:

We gather in the name of the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Earth and all its creatures! 

Praise be to the Holy Trinity! God is sound and life, Creator of the Universe, Source of all life, whom the angels sing; wondrous Light of all mysteries known or unknown to humankind, and life that lives in all. 

(Hildegard of Bingen, 13th Century) 

Hymn: From all that dwell below the skies (Singing the Faith 75)

Opening prayers

Thanksgiving God – we thank You that You always listen

even when our voices are less than joyful.

We thank You that You still wait for us

even when we dawdle or drag our feet.

We thank You that your generosity always overflows

even when we are grudging of its bounty to others

God – we thank You that You are always, and completely, Yourself

and that Your love is therefore never limited by our smallness. Amen

God of challenge and change,

the stories from Your word show us

how great the gap can sometimes be

between divine and human economies.

Forgive us when we have let attachment

to our own comfort and convenience

deter us from committing to the costly transitions necessary

for the wellbeing of our planet and the flourishing of all its inhabitants.


God of compassion and concern,

the stories from Your word show us

how great the gap can sometimes be

between divine and human tenderness.

Forgive us when we have let attachment

to our own understandings of justice and righteousness

deter us from following the discomforting paths necessary

for the wellbeing of our planet and the flourishing of all its inhabitants.


God of generosity and grace,

the stories of Your Word show us

how great the gap can sometimes be

between divine and human understanding.

Forgive us when we have let attachment

to our own sense of hierarchy and entitlement

deter us from making the difficult shifts necessary

for the wellbeing of our planet and the flourishing of all its inhabitants.

God Your compassion for our weakness

and concern for our wellbeing give us confidence

in the generosity of Your forgiveness.

Out of the liberality of Your grace

help us, as we begin again,

to grow into the courage, love, and understanding

which are the hallmarks of Your Kingdom,

and to live in ways which will help to make this world

a place where all life can flourish. Amen

(prayers taken from The Church of Scotland)

Psalm 145

I will praise your greatness, O God;

I will bless your name forever.

Every day I will praise you

and honour your name without ceasing.

God, you are great and deserve our praise;

your glory is beyond our understanding.

Each generation shall speak of your worth

and celebrate your goodness.

I will meditate on your wonderful work

and consider what you have done.

God is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and constant in love.

God’s goodness and compassion

are meant for all creation.

God keeps every promise,

God’s ways are always gracious.

God lifts up those who are falling

and raises those bowed down.

All eyes look to you, O God,

who supplies every creature’s need.

God, whose ways are just and kind,

draws near to all believers.

Our mouths will sing out praise.

God’s name be blessed for ever.

© The Iona Community 2016

Reading: Jonah 3:10-4:11


I have a bit of a soft spot for Jonah – he was a reluctant prophet. He ran in the opposite direction when he first knew God was calling him and that landed him in big trouble. So eventually, and I can only imagine, rather irritably, he does God’s bidding. I can see him walking through those ancient streets shouting his message of doom. And then something remarkable happens. Something totally unexpected. This city of hedonism started to listen to Jonah. They believed him and they changed their ways. Their gluttony was replaced by fasting and their fine clothes abandoned for sackcloth. They know they have nothing to lose – we didn’t hear verse 9, but the king says, who knows, perhaps God mind CAN be changed.

And indeed it was. We often speak of God being unchanging. Constant. The all-knowing one. And one of the things I love about this story is that here, God’s mind is changed. God has made a decision and then discards it. Such is the love God has for the people. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowman Williams has suggested that the one thing we can say with any certainty about the character of God is that God is for us and he rejects the idea that God seeks to punish us.

Rather than being delighted that Nineveh has heeded his warning, Jonah is furious with God. He has known all along that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and full of steadfast love, so what was the point of putting Jonah through all that if Nineveh was going to survive anyway? 

Ninevah was on a collision course to destruction. But God loves those who are messing up their world – loves them enough to throw them a lifeline they don’t understand, but will grab hold of anyway. The book of Jonah speaks powerfully to the institutional inertia of our churches and governments in the face of continuing climate emergency, and indeed, following the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ of lockdown.

God’s capacity for forgiveness and love is endless. God’s desire is to save us, not destroy us. And love always wins in the end.

God calls each one of us. Calls us into action, to save our world. Even those who are a bit on the curmudgeonly side. I can only think that Jonah was a tricky person to spend time with. Perhaps some of you will remember the TV character of Victor Meldrew, who managed to find frustration in most of life, well Jonah reminds me of him. And it gives me hope that God asks something of all of us, even those of us who far from being saintly, and say, you’re mine, you’re precious and I love you despite who you are and because of who you are.

Hymn: To God be the glory (Singing the Faith 94)

Reading: Exodus 16:2-15


Unusually this week, I’ve chosen both of our readings from the Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament. When I was reading through the passages set for today, I was struck how both Jonah and the Israelites are moaning. They are grumbling despite the action God has taken. They both wish for the better days that are behind them.

But wait, weren’t those Israelites held in captivity, as slaves, for generations? Are they seriously looking through the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia and wishing they were back in Egypt? If were to read verse 1 of chapter 16, we would learn that they have been in the wilderness now for about six weeks. Six weeks it’s taken for them to start their complaining, their questioning of authority, their discontent. They are unhappy with their new-found freedom, because it isn’t the promised land they were expecting. In fact, it’s jolly hard work. To be fair to them, they are genuinely suffering. They have a point. It’s understandable that they are grumbling; I’m sure I’d be doing the same after six weeks of not having enough to eat.

The Israelites think they have to choose between freedom and food. They think those are their only options and right now, they choose food.

As we start to think about our Harvest season, our thoughts naturally turn to the produce of the land, the crops and variety of food in our shops or perhaps in our gardens. From an environmental point of view, we know that there is enough to go around, but still many people starve, and that certain farming methods have damaged soil fertility. Choices are still having to be made about whether we can feed the whole earth, or whether we chose something else entirely. We have the choice of clean air, or the pollutants caused by travel. We have the choices of having strawberries all year round, or only eating seasonal produce, knowing there are air miles involved in transporting out of season food to our supermarkets.

Liberation is an arduous journey. It takes effort and even sacrifice. It means taking responsibility for each other, even for those in other countries, because our choices affect them too. Our choices mean that some people are held within the bondage of poverty, if we insist on cheap food or cheap clothing. Millions of people live with food insecurity, and shamefully we have people in the UK who cannot afford to adequately feed themselves.  

If we were to read on, we would hear about that bread from heaven, where instructions are given to them not to store it up. Some of the Israelites didn’t listened – they chose greed and laziness, but by the next morning the bread was full of grubs and had become foul. By taking more than we need, by insisting on more than our share of the harvest, things turn rotten. It’s the source of much pain and suffering, by not having enough to go around because others have more than their fair share.

So what might our two readings tell us? Well firstly, that God’s people do a lot of moaning. And sometimes we might even have good cause to moan. If we to read some of the Psalms, we would find them full of complaint.  Tell God – God is big enough, God can handle our anger. I truly believe that if we are to have an honest relationship with God, we shouldn’t suppress how we feel, and that means doing a bit of shouting from time to time. God heard the complaint of Jonah, heard the grumblings of the Israelites, and God continues to hear us, to listen to our pain, to be concerned for our suffering.

But I also find our readings are fundamentally about God wanting the best for us. And that happens when we act together, when we pull together as a community, with attention being paid to everyone. In a moment we will be praying the Lord’s Prayer. In it we pray ‘Give us our daily bread.’ Us. Not me. This is a collective prayer and one in which we normally recite in each other’s company, but even when we are separated, it is symbolic of our unity and our care for one another.

So what can we do about any of this? Give to foodbanks – a good place to start.  We are on this Christian journey of faith together, and our care for each other is crucial. And that care extends beyond the reaches of our own church communities, into our neighbourhoods and towns. But it can also extend to how we treat the earth itself, in knowledge that when we take care of our planet we are actually taking care of each other.

I invite you this week, if you’re in a grumbling mood, to tell God about it. Talk to God about your own pain and suffering. And let God lead you into new possibilities of how the love and care God shows to you, to share that to others. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

We pray in thanksgiving for Mother Earth in whom all life is rooted,

Brother Sun whose energy radiates life,

Sister Water who nurtures and revives us, and co-creatures with whom we live,

and for whom we are called to till and keep this garden.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters,

harming no one.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this Earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world

and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts of those who look only

for gain at the expense of the poor and the Earth.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic,

hear our cries of compassion, and heal our world and all creatures.

Inspire our hearts with a holy imagination,

to rise, freed from the demands to produce and consume

to imagine a just, sustainable way of living,

where all have enough, and all may be restored.

enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

During this Season of Creation, grant us courage to observe a Sabbath for our planet.

Strengthen us with the faith to trust in your providence.

Inspire us with the creativity to share what we have been given.

Teach us to be satisfied with enough.

And as we proclaim a Jubilee for the Earth,

send Your Holy Spirit to renew the face of the ground.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.

Creative Spirit, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world. Amen.

(adapted from A prayer for the Earth, Pope Francis, Laudato Si) 

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: All Creatures of our God and King (Singing the Faith 99)  

Closing Prayer

You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose,

I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them, for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.

I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my life that you might work through me.

I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you only when it is convenient for me to do so,

only in those places where it is safe to do so,

and only in those who make it easy to do so.

Lord, forgive me, renew me, heal me, nurture me, empower me,

send me out as an instrument of your peace and justice

that I might take seriously the meaning of servant-leadership. Amen.

(Joe Seramane, Christian Aid Lifelines, South Africa)

Sunday 13th September 2020: Education Sunday


man and woman sitting on chairs

There are approaching 90 Methodist Schools in the UK? In the state sector, we have 66 schools – about half of them spread across the county and about half concentrated in the North West of England.  Most of our worship resources have been provided by Barbara Easton, Head of Service for the Methodist Academies and Schools Trust

Opening prayer

We gather in the name of the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Earth and all its creatures! 

Praise be to the Holy Trinity! God is sound and life, Creator of the Universe, Source of all life, whom the angels sing; wondrous Light of all mysteries known or unknown to humankind, and life that lives in all. 

(Hildegard of Bingen, 13th Century) 

Hymn: Up times, Down times

Opening prayers

God of all, through all time and in all places, in each circumstance and season, You call us together in this place and welcome us with open arms as your beloved children. Each one of us is precious to you and called by you. In this time of great change and uncertainty, you are unchanging and ever faithful. Through this time together, let us feel you speaking to us, leading us, teaching us, Filling us with your spirit and strengthening us for the journey ahead.

Confession (based on Leviticus 25:1-25)

We praise you God, for the Earth that sustains life. Through the planetary cycles of days and seasons, renewal and growth, you open your hand to give all creatures our food in the proper time. In your Wisdom you gave a Sabbath for the land to rest. But these days our living pushes the planet beyond its limits. Our demand for growth, and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting our world. The forests are leached, the topsoil erodes, the fields fail, the deserts advance, the seas acidify, the storms intensify. Humans and animals are forced to flee in search of security. We have not allowed the land to observe a Sabbath, and the Earth is struggling to renew. And so we confess.

God of mercy and justice, 

You tell us the land must rest, free from the burden of production.

We confess our demand that the Earth produce beyond its limits, and our bondage to desire more.

You call us to pause from sowing, pruning, and reaping in ways that destroy the soil.

We confess our vicious consumption of food and energy.

You assure us that we can be filled from the yield of the land.

We confess our lack of trust that we can thrive within the Earth’s limits.

You affirm that our security is found in enough.

We confess our lack of courage to resist the myth of endless growth.

You tell us that the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Yours, and everything in it.

We confess to thinking of creation as given, instead of a gift.

You call us to leave enough fruit on the vine and in the fields to feed our neighbours, animals, and replenish the Earth.

We confess our failure to share what we receive from the Earth.

You call us to fairness and justice.

We confess our lack of faith, not loving you with our whole heart and strength and mind, or our human and non-human neighbours as ourselves.

Turn us from fear and mistrust,

and free us to imagine a life reconciled to the Earth and all creatures, through the Good News of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27). 


(adapted from the Lutheran World Federation)


Exodus 14.19-31
Romans 14.1-12
Matthew 18.21-35.

Hymn: O God you search me and you know me (Singing the Faith 728)

Sermon (Barbara Easton)

The theme that’s given for Education Sunday this year is, ‘A Learning People in a Time of Change’.

Education and change often go hand in hand – learning generally leaves us in a different place from where we started. That’s why Christians of all varieties mark Education Sunday and, historically, have often shared a belief in the importance of Education. Learning at its best is empowering and transformational. It’s one of the ways that the ‘good news’ is lived, as people move on to that greater fullness of life which God intends for us. And we are certainly in a time of change, what with ‘Covid’ and ‘post-Covid’ – for individuals, communities and the church. Today we’re going to be reflecting on that as we look at our readings.

When people encountered Jesus, they related to him as a teacher. We know from the gospels that, when people called Jesus in the street, they generally shouted ‘Rabbi’, ‘teacher’. Matthew’s writing maybe 50 years after Jesus died but, even for him, it’s important for him to present Jesus to people as their teacher. He even regroups Jesus’s teaching into 5 chunks to echo the 5 books of the Torah – to show that here’s a teacher who can out-Moses Moses. Jesus was a teacher par excellence. When I was a teacher at the chalk face I used to get very dissatisfied with Education Sunday sermons which said, at this point, something like Jesus was the model teacher and why couldn’t we all be like him – look! He’s engaging, he’s thought-provoking, he draws the crowds – heck, he even walks on water! The point of today, is not to make teachers feel (even) worse but to value education as a vocation within the Christian community. Covid has been quite a negative time for teachers in the media so it’s particularly important to say that, this year. Thank you, people who work in learning with our young people in all your different roles and settings. (maybe as a church you could think of a way to say ‘thank you’ this week)

But, going back to Jesus, it is true what Jesus was for the people who were drawn to him was a teacher. And if that’s the case, then it means that the people who chose to follow him styled themselves, somehow, as learners. They wanted to learn. They believed that they had something to learn – and that Jesus was the one to teach them. The word ‘disciple’ actually means someone who follows a teacher as a pupil – so that means that, whether then or now, to be followers of Jesus, is to be a ‘learning people’.

What might our learning look like? I’ve sometimes heard people say that Christians in the past were simple souls who just took what they were told, but that’s not entirely the case. I’ve read of early Methodist miners who took their Greek New Testaments down the pit so they could teach each other over their lunch. The internet has lots of definitions of learning which might apply to disciples: gaining knowledge, improving skills, developing wisdom, social learning and ‘abstracting meaning’ – I particularly like that last one. How have you been a learning person in this time of great change? I’ve learned to sew face masks; I now make better cakes; I know my neighbours much better. All that’s very good, but I think there’s still something more… a bigger question about how, as the people of God, we are ‘abstracting meaning’ from this time and these experiences. What are we learning, as disciples, in this time about what it means to seek the way of God? What are we learning about being church? How will we be changed because of our learning in the post-pandemic world?

The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is really interesting because it draws our attention to a community on the cusp of a new world. Our readings about the story of Moses have this week brought us to the pivotal moment where the people are leaving behind the only life they have ever known, even if it was unsatisfactory, and are heading to the Promised Land. Apparently the Rabbis tell a story about how no-one wanted to be the first one to step out in faith.  Eventually, one person bravely stepped forward and the waters parted. The second Rabbi nods and says, “Well, he didn’t so much step as fall, but still the waters parted.” The third Rabbi says, “No, he neither stepped nor fell – he was pushed, but still the waters parted.”

In our lives change may come deliberately or accidentally – at some time or other we probably fill each role in that story – we step, we fall, we’re shoved. Today we are thinking particularly of education, so we’re remembering young people who are in a place of change on their education journey. Sometimes we have to choose change on our journey and find our inner ‘brave’ (I’m think of refugees and people fleeing domestic violence at the moment). Sometimes change chooses us, and we have to dig deep to handle the re-routing of our journey (I’m thinking of people coping with illness and loss at the moment). Sometimes it’s someone else’s fault, like in the story – and maybe coronavirus has had aspects of all three. Whatever. The story repeats, ‘Still the waters parted’ – change comes anyway. Pretty much the whole of the Bible is the story of people navigating change. A several thousand year journey of travelling through uncertainty. What might we learn from the stories of God’s people before us to support us in our journey? Particularly as we think about moving on in our journey as a Church – God’s learning people in a time of change.

I wonder if they thought that the sea would part and there, lying in front of them, would be the Land of Milk and Honey. Of course, we know that they struggled to find their ‘providential way’. We know that they wandered in the desert for 40 years doing a journey that Google maps says should take 6 days on foot! We know that they lost the plot a few times –  they went down false alleys creating the religion they thought God ought to want instead of remembering what they’d learned about what God actually wants (remember the Golden Calf?); they failed to recognise God’s help when it landed in front of them (they called it ‘manna’ – ‘what is this?’). Perhaps we would like it if the Covid sea parted and we found the church of the future clearly laid out on the approaching shore. It’s said that, roughly every 500 years, the church undergoes transformational change. It is 500 years since the Reformation… could this be the point where we see God calling us to do things differently? And if so, what? What are our ‘golden calves’? What is our ‘manna?’.

A couple of things leap out at me in this story, and one is that God is always there. If you remember, God promised that he would go with them on the journey as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In light and in darkness – God, always there. It’s a promise that we hear more than once – a passage that really stays with me is Isaiah 30: God says it doesn’t matter which way you actually go – ‘Whether you turn to the right or the left I will go before you’. The psalmist talks about God everywhere, in the dark and the light: ‘Whither can I flee from your presence…’, and again that sense of God waiting for us in the future – in the lovely translation of The Message ‘you are already there’. In this particular story, one thing that rather interests me is the behaviour of the pillar of cloud – at this particularly dark moment the pillar of cloud actually moves round to protect them against the worst that could happen. It’s a rather anthropomorphic image (or a cloud-o-morphic, if there’s any such word!) but still, it’s a very suggestive image. There in the darkness – God. Between me and the darkness – God…

The other thing, is that Moses breaks through to the future using his staff. If you remember a couple of chapters ago, when Moses protests, ‘how am I supposed to do this, God?’, God says to him, well, ‘what have you got in your hand?’ A staff. In the culture of the time, not just a walking stick but something a bit like a totem – a symbol of a person’s authority and identity. God doesn’t give him a new staff – Moses already has what he needs for the task. People might apply that to our personal journeys but I worry that it’s a bit trite. But I wonder if there’s some learning in it for the church as we move forward in the Covid, and post Covid world – that we have, already to hand, the things that will serve us in the future. We carry them from our story so far. There is no new ‘magic dust’. Moses uses the resource that he has – his stick, his people, but in a new way ways. It is interesting how this has worked in lockdown: my elderly friend’s phone has become a prayer line; the computer is where I share church; but also, people saying that they have seen anew the value of old-fashioned pastoral care and neighbourliness.

The question is, as we travel light into the future, what do we take with us in our saddle bags? One of our loveliest ecumenical hymns talks about bringing ‘your traditions richest store’. Like many people in lockdown, we’ve done quite a lot of sorting out at home. I discover that my personal ‘traditions richest store’ turns out to be my husband’s ‘load of old tat’! How do we discern, beyond a simplistic ‘it’s old so it’s useless’ or a personal ‘this is what I like’? Are there things in our saddlebags which shouldn’t be there – things which are harmful to others, maybe? We can see the challenge to the new played out in Romans, in our reading about life in the Early Church. If ever a group of people had the opportunity to create the church from the ground up, it is surely them – and in fact they did, and we read all about it in the early chapters of Acts. It’s based in prayer, fellowship, learning and the breaking of bread. And yet, by the time Paul writes to the church in Rome, they are arguing about religious rules and ritual practices that are a hangover from things that used to matter in the past. They wanted to replicate what they had known rather than learn from it; they wanted to copy the past rather than ‘abstracting meaning’. They signed up to the new wine but they can’t manage to shape the new wineskins to go with it.

Can we?

Here are some questions you might like to think about in your own reflections:

What are you learning, as a follower of Jesus, in this time of the virus and beyond?

How do you value learning and change in your life as a disciple? How does this balance with valuing tradition and the familiar?

The ‘pillar of cloud’ was for then, not now. But how do you see God at work at the moment – in your life, in the church, in the world?

Where do you think we are being led by God into the future as a church? What do we ‘have in our hand’?


We have a dream, who are the heirs,

     through centuries of praise,

of all whose worship, work and prayers

     have hallowed former days;

upon their faithfulness we build

     for futures none can see,

a dream of purposes fulfilled

     in all that is to be.

We have a dream of listening hearts

     where Jesus’ voice is heard,

a church where God himself imparts

     the treasures of his word;

a pilgrim church whose longing eyes

     are set on things above,

a church united by the ties

     of fellowship and love.

We have a dream to serve, and care

     for all who know distress;

the world our parish, and our prayer

     the search for holiness:

a church sustained by broken bread,

     the cup of wine outpoured,

a church for whom his blood was shed

     who reigns as risen Lord.

We have a dream, a goal, an aim,

     a charge that Jesus gave,

to share the blessings of his Name

     with those he died to save.

Help us to heed the Master’s call,

     the Spirit’s power renew,

for God is with us, best of all,

     to make our dreams come true.

Written for the 200th anniversary of one of our Methodist churches by Timothy Dudley Smith. Words © 2015 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188

Prayers of Intercession – these prayers have been provided by the Methodist Youth President, Phoebe Parkin

Before we pray, I’d like to share my favourite line from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, and I feel that it is the overriding theme of this prayer, and it is this – “to love another person is to see the face of God”. Let us pray.

Timeless Creator, we pray for what has been, what is and what is to come.

Healing Creator, we pray for those who are bereaved and are grieving. May they know your comfort and peace. We pray for those who are unwell/ill, lonely or traumatised. Give us the strength to support them and the words to comfort them.

All-knowing Creator, we pray for the students and teachers who are returning to education this week. May they be kept safe and be able to enjoy the wonder of learning together again. We pray that they will be able to bridge the gap in learning after lockdown.

Powerful Creator, we pray for those who make the decisions for the future. May they do so with your wisdom, grace and strength. Keep them humble in their power and keep them grounded in their purpose.

Joyful Creator, we pray for those who are starting new roles or new adventures at the beginning of this Connexional year. May you bless them and give them zeal for what is coming next. Thank you for sharing in their joy and hope, and for being with them in the anxieties that new challenges may bring.

Guiding Creator we pray that the Methodist Church around the world. We pray that we might continue to faithfully follow where You, God, call us, in mission, and that we may recognize our unique role in doing Your work. May you be with those in ministry in the church and all those they serve and seek to reach.

Loving Creator, we pray for those who are victims of injustice. Like Jesus, may we reach out to the hungry, oppressed and marginalized. We pray for refugees, the persecuted, people who are experiencing food poverty, people who are homeless. May we be filled with your compassion and your righteous anger at the inequality in our world. Guide us, Holy God, to build your kingdom and right the wrongs of this earthly world.

Perfect Creator, we pray for the environment. We pray for all the creatures You made so perfectly and who share our home. Give us the knowledge and the skills to be good stewards of Your creation, so that we can protect its beauty and resources for generations to come.

My Creator fill me with your Holy Spirit in this moment. Let us spend a few moments with God, as we reflect on what is on our own hearts and minds.

Divine Creator, we give these prayers to you. Thank you, God, that you have heard us and hold our prayers in your loving hands. We pray all of this in Jesus’ awesome name. Amen

Hymn: Captain of Israel’s Host and Guide (Singing the Faith 459)


God did not leave His people alone in the wilderness, he stayed with them and led them on Jesus said, Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age. We are a learning people in a time of change. May the God who calls us, lead us on. Amen

Sunday 6th September 2020

Call to worship

Hymn: Jesu, tawa pano (Jesus we are here) (Singing the Faith: 27)

Opening prayers

From President of Methodist Conference, Richard Teal:

Seeking One, you are the beginning and the end of our search.

Finding One, you are the alpha and omega of all discovery.

Asking One, you are the voice and the silence of our exploration.

Giving One, you are the fullness and the emptiness of all yearning.

Persistent One, you never abandon your search for us, nor tire of our repetitive to-ings and fro-ings.

Receiving One, you endlessly welcome us home, and spread before us a feast in the face of our constant requests for mere morsels of bread.

Search us, O God, and find within us the secrets we hide.

Ask us, O God, and receive from within us the pain we bear.

Keep knocking at the door of our lives until we open our wills to your purpose, our lives to your life, and our yearning to your hope. Amen

Prayer of confession – pause to think of all we need to bring to God in our shame

Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us

Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us

Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Grant us peace

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-14

Below is a clip from the Disney film, The Prince of Egypt, depicting this plague:

Reading: Romans 13: 8-14


Our passage from Exodus should come with a health warning to any vegetarian or pacifist. I wonder if we’ve heard the story of the plagues and the Israelites being freed from slavery too many times and it’s lost some of its shock value. Have we become immune to the gruesome nature of this story? I don’t know about you, but I first heard this tale when I was a child in Sunday School – Moses, the Pharaoh, the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea – these are familiar stories to read to our children. I wonder why we’ve chosen these stories out of everything contained within our scriptures, to teach our children? Is it the colourful and dramatic nature of them that we think will hold their interest? Because I’m really not sure they are suitable for young people or those of a sensitive disposition. Somehow we are supposed to find God within slaughter and blood, and it should prompt us to love and praise this God. Hmmm…I’m struggling here.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of the economy of Jesus – his words are put in financial terms, of not owning debts. We continue to live in a money-based economy built upon debt. It’s how the financial markets operate. Our Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, freed up money for the furlough scheme and at some point that money needs paying back – questions are already being asked about whether to raise taxes or not. Owing money has become the norm – for any of us who have had a mortgage, or a credit card, or a loan. Money is supposed to make the world go round.

Pharaoh considers value only in economic terms. He owns a lot. He’s worth a lot. Production is crucial. Acquisition of wealth is the goal. And so he does what he needs to achieve his aim. We have the equivalent of Pharaoh today. Corporations that seek production as means of generating wealth, disinterested in the trickle-down effect of that wealth, because the workers are a means to an end. As people are being asked to quarantine if they have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus, some workers will not be paid during this period of quarantine. And if that meant your rent not being paid, or your children not having adequate school uniform, or even if that meant you not being able to feed your family, perhaps you would be tempted not to tell anyone you have been asked to quarantine. I completely understand the danger for smaller employers, but for global corporations continuing to make large profits, pay out enormous dividends to shareowners, award eye-watering levels of bonuses, who refuse their workers a living wage, comparisons are easy with the slave-owners in Pharaoh’s Egypt.

The Egyptian system of slavery was built upon sacrifice. People were sacrificed on the altar of consumerism, on the altar of greed, on the altar of production. Plagues had come and gone and nothing had changed, mostly because those in power hadn’t really suffered. Those with wealth were exempt from most the struggles of the people. But this last plague, this one hurt. How often is it that things only really change once the people with power accept that they are affected too? I find it hard to justify why the first-born sons had to die. Why God felt it necessary to be the cause of death and pain, even if we think the people who grieved somehow deserved to feel this grief. Finally, after decades of the slaves grieving over the meaningless loss of life (because the life of slaves is worth less than the life of princes) finally, the wealthy are experiencing what it feels like to be powerless against death.

Despite that, it still feels monstrous that God would choose to kill the sons of the wealthy in order to spare the lives of the chosen people. It doesn’t sit comfortably with us. For the Israelites to win their freedom, the Egyptians have to lose. This story feels about revenge and judgement and destruction and a total reversal of fortunes, and just for a moment I want to push back at God and ask, wasn’t there another way for you to get Moses to rescue your people? Couldn’t you have done this without so much death? So much violence? I thought you were a God whose love was expansive and inclusive.

So I’m grateful that we have the contrast of the letter to the Romans – a rewriting of the hymn of love from 1 Corinthians 13, which focuses on love. This is more the territory of my theology. Why is it I find myself having sympathy to the Pharaoh, when my sympathy should squarely rest with those enslaved? Perhaps it is because I believe that those who do the enslaving are themselves enslaved; enslaved to their love of money, their love of production, their endless quest that results in no rest for anyone. Perhaps God needed to take radical action to free the Pharaoh as much as free the Israelites, to show how life is not about the acquisition of wealth. The previous lessons, the other plagues were not enough, they did not do enough to demonstrate the error of living this way. This required something more terrible to stop the endless cycle of production.

The Passover celebrates freedom and life and safety for a deeply persecuted people. The focus may be on liberation, but it is also on community. Food is eaten and shared. If a household has too much, it will share it with the neighbours. Estimates are that there were between 20-40,000 Israelites living in Egypt at this time. That’s a lot of people to give instructions about blood on doorposts and what and how to eat. But these were a people preparing to be nomadic; a people prepared to leave at the drop of a hat; a migrant people who would travel light.

There is so much in this story to unpack, so much we could learn from. Who are the people in need of liberation today? Who is suffering at the hands of reckless inhumane production techniques? Who needs a fairer share of the harvest? Can we, as a church, learn from this nomadic people, to travel light, to leave our baggage behind and take a step of faith into a new freedom without the constraints of consumerism?

The German pastor, Martin Niemoeller, protested against the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler. He was eventually arrested and spent time in various concentration camps. You’ll know one of his most famous quotes: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist…” But the quote I came across this past week is the one I really want to share. Despite the pain he experienced, and the hatred he knew the Jews suffered during the Second World War, he said this:  “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.”

So can we balance the plague of the killing of the firstborn sons against the love which is at the heart of the gospel? Can this teach us how to react when confronted with suffering? We might imagine that the Exodus story was the pinnacle of the liberating love of God, that nothing since could match up. But as with all slaves, we are not free until all of us are free. Egypt is all around us, there are Pharaoh’s in our midst. As a faith community, are we ready? Are we prepared to take action, to travel light, to migrate to wherever there is need? Are there things enslaving us? Are we held hostage to our inability to say no? Do we feel compelled to produce more, to work harder, to think that rest equates to laziness? God offers us liberation from all of this, to move us from a place of production to a journey in which all we need to carry is care for each other.

After the Exodus came the commandments – commandments Paul repeats in his letter to the Romans, and reminds us that when we love we are fulfilling the commandments of God. So I started this reflection wondering how I can locate God within a story of slaughter and blood, but of course in my exploration of this passage I discover that God is located in every human experience, drenching it with salvation and love. The God of love and liberation is seeking to liberate the oppressors as much as the oppressed, eager for them to understand that their lifestyles binds them and causes them and others harm, keen for them to understand the currency of relationships and the economy of love. This is the kingdom of God our Christian journey of faith leads us; to the place where everyone is free and everyone is loved. Amen

All-Age Prayer

Living God here is a big story for us

of a long ago time

when you freed people who were slaves

and called them your own people.

You seem to want to change things:

to move from what hurts to what heals,

from what traps to what gives us freedom.

Help us live like that too:

moving from dislike to love.

That’s the way you do things,

that’s the way you change the world,

that’s the way you ask us to live.

And we can make our own big story

working with you to help everyone live fully, freely, fairly together.

Hear us as we pray together. Amen

Hymn: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love

Points you might like to consider:

  • Are oppressors and the oppressed in equal need of liberation?
  • Do you agree with Niemolloer: “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.”
  • Do you think the church needs to travel light?

Prayers of intercession

Join me in a moment of silence to consider how you can breathe life into the hopes of those around you.


Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

God, our hope is in you.

Breathe on us and our world. Bring life into our weariness, and joy into our despair.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

We pray for those living with only the bare bones of resources…

for those with no fresh water, for those who have lost their homes and their livelihood.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who feel entombed by their circumstances…

for the children of alcoholics and drug addicts, for our young people unable to find meaningful employment.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are tempted to despair…

For the people of lands in strife, for the refugee, for the hungry.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

God of hope, draw close to them.

Bless them with the promise of hope that no despair can overcome.

Raise them into the light of new possibilities.

Breathe life into their weakness and bless them with fresh strength.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.

God of life, breathe on us now, confirming your presence within us,

empowering us to go forth as your people, spreading your hope into our world.

Use us to help others, and bring them, and us all, to a place of hope in the fullness of life.

Breath of Life, hear our prayer.  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: Best of all is God is with us (Singing the Faith 610)


May the One who adorns the poor,

binds the rulers,

and causes the people to rejoice,

adorn you with love,

bind all that seeks evil,

and give you cause to rejoice.

And the blessing of God,

Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,

be with you, and all whom you love,

now and ever more. Amen

Some material taken from The Church of Scotland & ©2011 Spill the Beans Resource Team