Thought for the month
This is a prayer by Rev Barbara Glasson, the President of the Methodist Conference:
if we are ill, strengthen us;
if we are tired, fortify our spirits;
if we are anxious, help us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
Help us not to stockpile treasures from supermarkets in the barns of our larders!
Don’t let fear cause us to overlook the needs of others more vulnerable than ourselves.
Fix our eyes on your story, and our hearts on your grace.
Help us always to hold fast to the good and see the good in others.
And remember there is just one world, one hope,
one everlasting love, with baskets of bread for everyone.
In Jesus we make our prayer,
the one who suffered, died and was raised to new life,
in whom we trust, these days and all days. Amen.
All Christians have been invited to respond to the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that we light a candle and place it in a window for people to see, at 7.00pm this Sunday (22 March) and every Sunday as long as the situation lasts. This candle will be a symbol of our shared hope and our commitment to prayer and action.
At such a time as this, when so many are fearful and there is great uncertainty, we are reminded of our dependence on our loving Heavenly Father and the future that he holds.
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7
Although we cannot worship together at the moment, we have the great privilege and freedom to be able to call upon God individually, wherever we are, for healing in our nation. Pray for all in leadership at this time, making decisions about the containment of the COVID-19 virus, for those working in health and social care, and especially for the most vulnerable, whether elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
Stories are already being told of wonderful acts of kindness. So, as well as praying, you could take the opportunity to telephone or email someone who is isolated, buy additional food for your local food bank, or offer to deliver shopping for someone less able. We may not be able to touch physically, but we can make connections in so many other ways.
This call to prayer and action, which is being promoted by many faith groups, is for that first candle to be lit on Mothering Sunday. For many this will be a time of thankfulness, but for some the remembrance is painful, and for others Mothering Sunday is a reminder of disappointment or loss. In many ways, this period under the shadow of the corona virus will be prompting similarly diverse reactions, so it seems especially appropriate that the call to prayer is made this Sunday.
Original material at www.cte.org.uk/calltoprayer,
but adapted using insights from many other sources
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, when many of us began Lent by receiving the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads. The first of the words spoken then – “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return … ” – echo the second Creation narrative in Genesis 2.4–8 which describes God forming Adam “from the dust of the ground”.
The image reminds us that human beings are closely linked to our planet, and that everyone and everything is part of the community of creation.
The second set of words spoken as each cross in ash was drawn was the individual challenge to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.” The #LiveLent reflection on which this post is based challenges us to choose something to give up eating, buying or using this Lent that will help us care for creation.
#LiveLent: Care for God’s Creation was the Church of England’s Lent campaign for 2020, where you could sign up for resources, including daily emails to help your spiritual growth during Lent, and access a #LiveLent app to follow the daily reflections through audio, text and imagery. Go to https://www.churchofengland.org/ for the current campaign.
At our joint Communion and Covenant Service on 26 January, Rev Eddie Sykes preached on Isaiah 9:1–4 and Matthew 4:12–23. Here are some extracts, but do read the whole sermon, available at this link, or listen to the sermon again by clicking the Play icon in the panel below.
… we are introduced to Jesus at the beginning of his mission, as he walks along by the sea of Galilee proclaiming the kingdom of God – calling people to no longer live in the gloom, but instead to follow the light. This is good news. God’s kingdom, visualised and established in heaven, prophesied by Isaiah, is now being shown in Jesus’ activity, which includes calling people to share this same light and hope.
The good news is that when we follow Jesus we are going somewhere – guided by the light. … We are helped to relook at ourselves and what we should be doing – together to introduce people to God and encourage them to follow.
It means risk and trust as we take steps in a new direction. … Once you make those first steps in this new direction, your horizons change. I recall the story of a man who hired a local person to guide him through the forest. As they got deeper into the forest, the vegetation became more and more dense. At one point the man asked the guide, “Do you know where you are going? We have no map, no compass and there seems to be no path!” The guide answered. “My friend, in this forest I am the path! Just stay close and follow me.”
Is that not what Jesus means when he calls to those disciples to follow him – to stay close? To us, in this often dense, complicated world, Jesus is saying, “Trust me, and follow my direction, and I will see you through.”
… Today’s reading helps us, because it doesn’t end with the call to follow Jesus, and then the two sets of brothers following Jesus. It ends with a description of what Jesus is doing – teaching the good news of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of light – and this includes proclaiming this news and healing the sick and afflicted.
We are not drawn to Jesus’ past, but to what is happening in the present, which, in a sense, points us to the future and what it is that Jesus is calling us to. We are reminded of that in the Covenant Service. The call of Jesus is seen in his actions as well as his words. The walk and the talk go together.
… To what is Jesus calling us? Jesus calls us to follow – that has not changed since he walked along the shore of the sea of Galilee and called on Simon and Andrew, James and John. As we listen, we respond, we proclaim the kingdom of God – that God is among us – and we follow the one who is the Light.
The image by He Qi comes from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.
On 12 January, the memorable homily preached to the St Margaret’s congregation by Rev Dr Michael Paterson was based on the Gospel reading for The Baptism of the Lord, Matthew 3.13–17.
“How do you like your steak served?”, she asked. “Rare? Medium rare? Well done?” “Cremated”, I replied! By the look on her face, “cremated” wasn’t an option on her list.
Today’s readings pose the question: “How do you like your God served?”
- helpless as a baby, cooing and gurgling in a manger?
- a boy playing in Mary and Joseph’s house?
- an angry activist overturning tables in the Temple?
- or an itinerant preacher, healing the sick and raising the dead?
I ask, because in seven short days we have gone from Jesus the adorable baby receiving birthday presents from the Wise Men to Jesus the headstrong adult, demanding to be baptised by John in the River Jordan.
Baptising a God doesn’t make sense. Baptism – especially the baptism of adults – is for sinners. It’s church’s version of ‘Wash and Go’.
- Wash off the old life and Go and live the new one.
- Wash off the past and Go and live God’s future
- Wash off the life of sin and Go and live the life of holiness
So what’s Jesus, the Holy One, doing playing the role of a sinner? Baptism is not for people like him. Baptism is for people like us who mess up, and spoil things, and need a new start in life.
And yet it’s precisely here, when Jesus identifies himself with all that goes horribly wrong in the world, that the silence of heaven is broken and the Father speaks up “This my Son my beloved – My favour rests on him”.
Isn’t it odd that we don’t hear a peep from heaven when Jesus turns water into wine? Isn’t it peculiar that we don’t hear a word when Jesus heals the sick? Isn’t it strange that God offers no divine round of applause when Jesus feeds the 5,000 or raises Lazarus from the dead? Instead, what wins heaven’s seal of approval is that Jesus makes his baptism the very first act of his public ministry, and in so doing makes it abundantly clear that he aligns himself with those who are messed up and that his place is with those whose lives haven’t quite worked out and that he chooses to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are haunted by their pasts and long for a new future.
Let’s face it, Jesus could have wowed the crowds by launching himself on to the world stage with some great big glitzy miracle, or blown their minds by some amazing teaching. But no! He launches his ministry by
- plunging himself
- soaking himself
- immersing himself
in the dirt and scum and detritus of all that is broken and toxic in the world. And it’s then, and only then, that the Father’s voice resounds: “That’s my boy!”
The Baptism of Jesus asks each of us who have been baptised to take a good look at ourselves. Are we miracle-chasers, hungry for the spiritual X Factor, season-ticket holders in a religious circus? Or, like Jesus, are we willing to get our feet wet, and wade in and immerse ourselves and stand shoulder to shoulder with those around us who are barely managing to keep their heads above water?
So, back to that question: “How do you like your God served?” Helpless, lying in a manger, an object for adoration, or passionate and fierce, a trailblazer in the campaign against all that is toxic and dehumanizing in the world?
Let’s pray that this week we who have been baptized might stand shoulder to shoulder with those God sends our way. And that, when we do, we might just hear the Father break heaven’s silence once more, as he whispers in our ears: “You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter. My favour rests on you!”