So, this morning at the bandstand in bright sunshine under blue skies we feasted our eyes and happily joined together in saying our newly created Litany of thanksgiving:
For this time, this place, this day, these people
For calling us to this church, this freedom, this worship
We give thanks to the Lord for he is good
His love endures for ever.
For the changing seasons, light and weather,
For trees and birdsong and river and skies
For needless beauty and endless diversity…
That all creation joins with our praise today
That the sun sings and the earth hums…
If we were silent the very stones would sing his praise
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory
For those we love, for those who love us
For those we struggle with and those who struggle with us
For old friends and new ones, for friendships yet to be made and for reunions
For all human goodness that speaks of your presence
For our frailty that drives us to acknowledge our dependence on you
We affirm that you Lord are God
It is you who made us and we are yours
For you know how we were formed
You remember that we are dust
For the freedom we enjoy
For choice and wealth and healthcare and education and opportunities and democracy
For holidays and leisure and comfort
For the privilege to be called to give to those who do not have these things
In this sacred place we remember that these are your gifts and affirm our calling
Your kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as in heaven
For the shalom you promise
For the call to press on together as companions on the journey
For your foundational underpinning, support, comfort, direction and strength
For your constant presence – your very name spoken with each breath we take
For Jesus – for all he has done, all he does, all he will yet do for us
For loving us
Salvation and glory and power belong to you our God
We then wandered the park with a reading from Acts 7 from the Message and considered the following questions.
51-53 “And you continue, so bull-headed! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!”
54-56 At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!”
57-58 Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them.
59-60 As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin”—his last words. Then he died.
How does this passage speak to you?
Turn your prayers to those who are being persecuted for their faith today.
Pray for those in any kind of need who need that glimpse of heaven now.
Give thanks for Stephen and for all who have been trailblazers of faith, paving the way for you to come to faith yourself.
Pray that you would be able to play your part in promoting God’s kingdom in the way you are called to, faithfully following the example of Stephen and others that have gone before you.
Ask for God to soften your heart and un-flap your ears so that you don’t miss the Holy Spirit’s call for whatever God might call you to next…
Back at the bandstand we discussed at length various people and situations requiring our prayers and then took our own version of the Lord’s Prayer, line by line as our prayer for them and for us:
God, who cares for us, The wonder of your presence fills us with awe.
Your name, your very nature, is holy.
All creation resonates with it!
Let all people come to proclaim it!
May we move into your presence and unimpeded love.
Let not our will, but your will and purposes be fulfilled in our lives here on Earth.
Give us the material things you know we need to survive.
Release us – as indeed we release others – from the debt of wrong-doing.
Strengthen us for difficult times. Liberate us from all that is evil.
For you reign in majesty, in love,
Power and glory from the beginning of time and forever more.
After this, Steve spoke about his time in Costa Rica. It is a country clearly pursuing the liberal progressive ideal in a part of the world riven by instability and at a time when the US to the north seems to be going in the reverse direction. We visited the grand National Theatre built in the 1890s. This was a statement of their desire to replicate and aspire to the values of the modern European (colonising) countries. Ornate and splendidly over the top in its baroque style, it was a commitment to the highest sophistication in the arts and sciences, in health and education. They are immensely proud of it. In 1948 CR abolished its army – and it has survived. It is on the most rigorous eco-path to sustainability and maintaining its bio-diversity. This hopeful left-leaning progressive politics contrasts with the right wing revival seen in the US and parts of Europe. Theologically it reminds me of John Stott’s writing on the paradox of human beings – that we are simultaneously thoroughly fallen and made in God’s image. Perhaps we can characterise the left as believing that human beings are essentially good and that we must all plan with that hope. The right views humans as essentially fallen and tries to find a way to use their self-interest to build a way forward. The trouble is we are both fallen and in God’s image. This is beautifully and poignantly expressed in the poem, “Vultures”.
Vultures – Chinua Achebe
In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bone of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes …
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep – her face
turned to the wall!
…Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s return …
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in every germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
We finished with bread and wine and words written by him for today:
Of Dignity and Dust
We are, Lord, a paradox of dignity and dust.
We yearn for glory. We commit to hope. We aspire to love.
And yet we fall, exchanging our robes as children of God for
Our story is one of redemption and not of our own doing. Just as
the dough and the must is transformed by yeast, so we are
restored to relationship in Jesus and through Jesus.
New life and redirected perspectives as we meet with bread
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all creation whose Spirit
indwells: we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all salvation whose Spirit
inspires: we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all futures whose Spirit enfolds:
we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
And so we come to the bread that Jesus took and broke and
shared. We thank you.
And so we come to the wine that Jesus took and spilt and
shared. We thank you.
Take our dust and dignity, our hopes and fears, our loves and
losses and renew us in this meal. Go with us until we meet
again at this table. Amen.