What’s in a Name?

Sitting under the weeping beech beside the river on this fine autumn morning we split into small groups in order to keep to the rule of six.

The people leading this week tried an experiment in leading the groups. While one group listened to bible readings the other group meditated on some of the names of God. These activities were repeated with each group.

Three names of God chosen from the many used in the bible:

Elohim – God of Creation, the strong one written as G O D

“In the beginning Elohim, Elohim created the heaven and the earth.”

Spend a few moments in appreciation for what GOD has made …

 

 Adonai  –  The one who is in charge, the supervisor and manager,  written as L o r d

 

Yahweh – God who is in relationship relationship with his creation, the covenant keeping God

Written as L O R D

Yahweh is the most intensely sacred name to Jewish scribes and many will not even pronounce the name. When possible they sometimes use Adonai. Yahweh is God’s personal name it is a privilege to be able to speak it. (It’s rather like the queen asking you to call her Liz instead of  “Your Majesty” or      “Ma-am”)

Using the name Yahweh as we breathe  (in) Yah (out) weh – calm ourselves and become aware of the relational God’s presence here this morning.

Matthew 26, 6-13: (NIV)

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.

“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Deuteronomy 15:  (NIV)

4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised…….

10 Give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy.

Jesus anointed at Bethany

All four Gospels tell the story of the woman pouring expensive ointment over Jesus, but only Mark and Matthew describe the host as Simon the leper.

Simon the leper in this story has always bothered me, particularly over recent years.

Simon the leper could not have lived in a town and could not have hosted a dinner party. It seems to me that there’s something very wrong here.

In the mid-20th Century both Feigin and Torrey made strong cases for Mark and Matthew having been originally written in Hebrew or, more likely, in Aramaic.

Edmond Macaraeg has an interesting theory. Both Hebrew and Aramaic were written without vowels. The translator reading the original Aramaic manuscript, failed to properly interpret the text. The Aramaic word that was translated into the Greek as “leper” requires the addition of one vowel, but with the addition of two vowels the word becomes “potter”.

 

As proof, the Hebrew Roots Bible consistently translates “Simon the leper” as “Simon the potter.”

Matthew 26: (Hebrew Roots Bible)

6 And Yahshua being in Bethany, in Simon the potter’s house*

7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster vial of ointment,

very precious. And she poured it on His head as He reclined.

 

* The Aramaic word for potter is mistranslated

as leper in the Greek, but a leper could not own property,

live in a city or town, or have guests at his house.

 

 

Although all four Gospels report the story of the woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, there is considerable variation in the accounts. All writers (except Luke) report that the onlookers condemned this waste of a year’s wages. They wondered aloud why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11).

But Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea for helping the poor. He praises the woman for her extravagance with the ointment. And then to make matters worse, Jesus then says this well-known line: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” On the surface for someone who’s concerned about helping the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is taking a laissez-faire attitude to poverty and being rather callous, or at best being fatalistic.

But Jesus’ response to the disciples and praise of the woman with: “the poor you will always have with you” is actually a quote from Deuteronomy 15 – one of the most radical and liberating passages in the bible. Deuteronomy 15 is about the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. The chapter explains that if the people follow God’s commandments there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the Sabbath and Jubilee laws so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty – how God’s bounty can be shared and enjoyed by all. But if the people do not follow what God has commanded, then “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (in other words: “the poor you always have with you”), and because of that, it is the Hebrews duty to God to “open your hand to your poor and needy neighbour.”

Liz Theoharis says: “This passage is about God’s plan to ensure that no one is poor is referenced by Jesus in his line “the poor you will always have with you.” Although we don’t have Deuteronomy 15 readily available in our minds, I believe that Jesus’ disciples would have. So when Jesus said this line to his followers, they would have understood his reference to Deuteronomy 15 and would have known that God had given laws for addressing poverty. Rather than selling something valuable and donating the money to the poor, the people of God were supposed to be organising their society to enact Jubilee. Jesus is demonstrating that poverty need not exist, and therefore that the poor will not need charity, if only society will follow God’s laws. The woman anointed Jesus as king of an empire that had the Jubilee and Sabbatical years at its centre. What God demands of God’s followers is justice rather than charity.”

In his book “The Upside Down Kingdom” Donald Kraybill writes: “In the light of Jesus’ continual plea on behalf of the poor, it’s hardly conceivable that Jesus now contradicts himself by telling us to neglect the poor who, after all, will always be around and there’s not much we can do about it. He’s rather saying that as long as greed and ambition govern the lives of people and their social systems, there will always be poor people. His observation of this fact does not justify its perpetuation. Rather than excusing us from social obligation, Jesus is reminding us that the alleviation of poverty is a never-ending struggle.”

Not long before his murder, while in New York, Martin Luther King said this in a sermon: “A true revolution of values will cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

And again quoting Liz Theoharis: “We need to understand Matthew 26 through the lens of the Jubilee. We are then able to implode an interpretation of this passage that suggests that poverty is inevitable and instead insist that poverty should be ended: indeed, it is God’s will.  The rules and norms of God’s kingdom are set by the Jubilee. There is no poverty in God’s empire; there is no exclusion in God’s empire. All of God’s children are valued and all life is affirmed.”

It seems to me that Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom I try to follow, came to reform structures and systems that produce beggars and billionaires. May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God as we strive against injustice and in so doing do God’s will.

PRAYERS: So what is in a name?

We label people in all sorts of different ways. We pray for people like refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, disabled, underprivileged, poor, lonely and sick, forgetting that each one is an individual human being. People of the world in huge numbers are suffering and we are so privileged, how can we pray?

Sometimes when watching the news I am ashamed to say I have to remind myself that the people in the report are like me – how would I cope in that situation?

Each person has the same needs, thoughts and feelings that we have.

We can’t contemplate sometimes what it must be like for people who are suffering especially if we have not been through something similar ourselves.

But God is a relational God who cares for all his creation. Jesus came and lived a life as a refugee, he was homeless, poor, rejected, betrayed and bereaved, he suffered injustice, pain and death all for our sakes. He understands.

So in his name we pray for those who:

Have no secure homes, who are looking for peace, security and comfort

For those who are sick, that they might find treatment, care and healing

For those who are poor that they may be shown love and compassion and their needs might be met

For those who seek a safe place that they may be given refuge and acceptance

For those who are lonely that they might know your presence and see love in action

For those who need God’s comfort and strength now

For ourselves that we might bring compassionate relationship to those we meet.

 

Sharing bread & wine.

On the night before Jesus died, he gathered with his friends to share a meal. Over food and drink they shared stories of lament and longing.

They told stories of Lament for a world of injustice and powerlessness that before they met Jesus they hadn’t even noticed.

Lament over the people who were silenced, oppressed, exploited, defrauded.

Lament over the people who were blind to the possibility that the world could be anything other than what it was.

 

They told stories of Longing that the new world they’d glimpsed through Jesus might become reality;

Longing that the voiceless would be heard.

Longing that the rich & powerful would be freed from their greed.

Longing for the imagination to see that this world does not have to be as it is.

 

Then Jesus called for bread and wine.

The bread held in his hands … the words of blessing …the breaking of the bread, and then the shocking words, “this is my body… broken… for you…”

May this bread be food for our journey as we “seek justice”.  Amen.

 

The cup of wine, an ancient memorial re-imagined… the blessing … and then the heart-breaking words, “this is my blood… poured out… for you and for many…”

May this wine be a sign that we are no longer in thrall to the old order whose power Christ has broken. Amen.

 

May this place be where hopes and dreams are forged.

May this community be a reminder that we are not alone.

May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God all our days.

Amen.

(Jonny Baker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machinations about our calling

Kintsugi – The Japanese method of creating art from broken  ceramic objects.

So today we met in the park, under the weeping beech, setting up two groups of chairs to meet the ‘Rule of six’ restrictions (even though we could potentially be a whole group, socially distanced, as a church. We had about 30 minutes to reflect on the sheet outlined below before joining our two groups to share bread and wine.

Psalm 105 begins with these words: (I have alternated between male and female pronouns)

  1-6 Hallelujah!

Thank God! Pray to him by name!
Tell everyone you meet what he has done!
Sing him songs, belt out hymns,
translate his wonders into music!
Honour his holy name with Hallelujahs,
you who seek God. Live a happy life!

Keep your eyes open for God, watch for her works;
be alert for signs of her presence.
Remember the world of wonders she has made,
her miracles, and the verdicts she’s rendered—
O seed of Abraham, his servant,
O child of Jacob, his chosen.

7-15 She’s God, our God,
in charge of the whole earth.
And she remembers, remembers her Covenant—
for a thousand generations she’s been as good as her word.

The Psalm then goes on to recount story after story of how God kept faithful to his people at different points in history’. Insert your stories here of how God has kept faithful to you in the past – the good and the bad.

When… God was there for me…

When… God did not let me go… etc.
42 All because he remembered his Covenant,
his promise to Abraham, his servant.

43-45 Remember this! He led his people out singing for joy;
his chosen people marched, singing their hearts out!

He made them a gift of the country they entered,
helped them seize the wealth of the nations
So they could do everything he told them—
could follow his instructions to the letter.

Hallelujah!

What do you want to say to me God?

 Return to the Psalm – read it again, let it nudge you into conversation…

 

So they could do everything he told them – could follow his instructions to the letter…

 Over the past couple of Wednesdays and last Sunday, we have been exploring, again, what it might mean for us to be working for the kingdom of God. Just lately, I have been thinking about what a significant time this is for us all for multiple reasons. Some are newly retired, about to retire, drifting into retirement, well into retirement, longing for retirement (!) … Some need work, some are working with new challenges. Some are yearning for reunions and lamenting a loss of past levels of relationship… What does God’s calling look like right now? What can we do in this new life, at the very least characterised by less freedom and direct relationships, to build God’s kingdom in on-going Covid times?

It would be easy to default to seeing our mission as being pared back / less than that which we could do before. Funnily enough, the Gospel reading in the Lectionary today is the story of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) – the one where the folk hired late in the day get the same wages as those hired early on. I found myself seeing yet another message there about God valuing our service in the later stages of our lives – not just when we were young, bounding with energy and zeal and full of idealism (or is that just how I remember my younger self?!)

Into all these thoughts, I came across the following words after revisiting Sacredspace.ie (heartily recommended for daily reflection / prayer)

‘Your path to God is the one you are on right now and there is no other. You cannot start or move on from anywhere but here. Now is the time to ask God to help you get closer to him.’ Sacredspace.ie

John Henry Newman wrote:

‘God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another’

That definite service was not merely what we were doing in the past, the service is for today – for now – how could it be anything else? We only have now!

What can I do that only I can do? Who has been given into my care?

Take some time to ask God to help you commit to building the kingdom of God wherever your specific calling leads you. Keep your eyes open for God, watch for her works; be alert for signs of her presence. Remember the world of wonders God has made…

Prayer for others: One of the things we have thought about recently is remembering to look outwards. One way of building the kingdom is to offer our prayers to God and to trust that they can make a tangible impact on others however far away… Take some time to pray for those known to you who need Jesus now and for people in poverty, exile and fear who need God’s love, provision, encouragement and closeness right now…

Meeting together, yet apart, we used words written by Steve as we reflected on beauty in brokenness:

WABI-SABI BREAD AND WINE

In traditional Japanese aestheticswabi-sabi () is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   2 Cor 12 v 9

And when we were far off – in our impermanence, our alienations, our incompleteness – you met us and brought us home. In our brokenness, your love and forgiveness are made complete. Your mercy is there for the messy and the conflicted and the sinful. We are broken in two but you draw all things together in yourself.

And how are we to celebrate this redemption? With gold and diamonds? Crowns and coronets?

No!

With bread, made with grain and yeast by human hands, to signify your body broken.

(EAT BREAD)

With wine, made with grape and yeast by human hands, to signify your blood shed.

(DRINK WINE)

So it is with rejoicing that we anticipate the Great Feast.

Blessings on those who are broken and bruised. May all know Christ’s love. Amen.

 

Takeaway coffees from Cool River kept us warm and allowed us to share our stories and prayer requests. It is still SO good to be able to meet in person. We are blessed.

Hidden Beauty and God’s Bounty

We gathered under the twisted beach tree beside the river on this glorious sunny morning

Psalms 8, 19 & 50 selection

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens. 

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Hidden Beauty – I came up with the idea of using this subject for a Sunday morning a few weeks ago when we were sent off to do an activity in the park. As there were more people than sheets and we were leading I went off sheetless. I found a beautiful hibiscus hidden among the shrubs near the café. I spent a few glorious minutes in rapture at the hidden beauty I had found. The start of the autumn season always makes me feel a little flat, as a gardener I get great joy from what I consider beautiful. The beauty that rings my bells is colourful, attractive in form and is often planned and cultivated by man.

Then last week on a walk in Derby with Betsy in the pushchair I was on the lookout for hidden beauty and I became aware of the not so hidden “bounty of the season”. In our interconnected world we need to open our eyes to what our fellow creatures will find beautiful. Yesterday I took the same walk and found the acorn laden trees amazing, the dragonflies inspiring, the birdsong uplifting, the profusion of rose hips and the blackberries awesome. How great is the God who gives not just us our harvest at this time of year, but a bounty for our fellow creatures in this interconnected planet.

Activity

Spend some time walking in the park and as you go:

  1. Smile, make eye contact and say good morning to everyone you pass.
  2. Look for something beautiful or bountiful – write a sentence about how hidden beauty inspires you on the back of the sheet in the liturgy for sharing bread and wine.

 

Prayer

Last week we were contemplating about our world and the peoples in it who were suffering not just from the Covid19, but who had a daily struggle throughout their lives. We all commented about how difficult it was to pray. In our prayers we are going to pray for those who are beautiful because they are selfless and try to bring light into dark places we also need to pray for God’s bounty to be shared fairly.

So we pray for the same places and peoples we thought about last week and pray for those trying to bring relief to them.

We pray for those who bring food, medicine, comfort, care and release to the hungry, sick, desperate and oppressed.

Medical workers, Carers, Peacemakers, Those bringing Reconciliation and healing, Justice Seekers, Scientists who endeavour to improve our world and

People of all faiths or none who alleviate suffering.

We thank you for them and pray that you will guide their actions, words and keep them safe from sickness or danger

Steve read a beautiful piece he had written and shared with us before

If only for today…

If only for today, this singular day, I want to live gratefully, without resentments and what ifs; to play without regret.
If this were the only day, this single moment, I want to commit generously, love lavishly; to invest as if for eternity.
If this day were the last day, I want to live without fear and without anxiety because I’d send Jesus out to bat because he can sort the googlies from the flippers and the bouncers from the yorkers.
If this were the final innings and all was to play for, one final session after tea, I would gather my companions around me and I’d break the bread as we’ve been taught. And we’d look from person to person and we’d know, we’d just know.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.

And there’d be wine – not too much – ready poured – to fortify, to en-courage for the final battle. And we’d remember those who had gone before and we’d toast them.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.

If only for today, this singular time, we choose to bless not curse, to hope not fear, to dance and not be paralysed because the team Captain leads us out and his Spirit indwells. And we were born for this day and we give thanks.
AMEN

Sharing bread and wine

Open our senses to your presence

Open our ears to hear you speak

Open our eyes to see your beauty in all we see

Write your sentence here …

 

 

Touch the bread and give thanks

Taste the bread and remember Jesus

 

Smell the wine treasure what is beautiful

Drink and celebrate love

Amen,  Amen

 

Friends are beautiful – they bring care and concern and encouragement in times of trouble.

A Blessing for Friends

May you know the peace that comes with inner beauty,

and may the Lord inspire beauty in your life and works.

May you be inspired every day with the beauty that you see,

and not be blinded to the artistry of God that surrounds you.

May God’s beauty illuminate your soul and influence the way you think, the way you act and the way you are.

Coffee in the park perhaps for the last time for a while as the rule of 6 begins tomorrow

 

 

Narrowing the fitness gap

I came across an article in the paper well before lockdown which got me thinking, and for obvious reasons, the person who is the focus of the article has appeared in several other articles much more recently.

He’s Sir Muir Gray : one of the UK’s leading medical figures (no I’d never heard of him either)  – he’s a physician, an Oxford University professor, a public health expert and innovator and he’s 75 years old.  He’s researched and written much about old age, fitness and what we could and should be doing in our latter stages of life.  His view is although the aging process is something we’re all powerless to escape (Signs of aging start at around the age of 30!). His research suggests that an individual person’s rate of decline is hugely affected or aggravated by inactivity and a loss of fitness. He calls this the fitness gap and maintains that there are things that older people can and should do to make a significant difference to the narrowing of that gap.

Gray suggests that to narrow the fitness gap there are 4 s’s we should consider:

Stamina, strength, skill (balance) and suppleness.

It has stuck with me and it gave me food for thought. Not only about my level of physical fitness (definitely a work in progress)  but could I apply some of this guidance to my spiritual health? To my faith community?

 

There are tensions and traps in pursuing this thinking –the trap of dualism – of seeing only some things as spiritual (prayer, bible reading etc etc) as opposed to seeing absolutely everything as permeated by God.

Then there’s the trap of ‘effort over ease’… I am wary of defaulting back to effort – to trying to earn God’s love, God’s favour through what I do. (e.g. ‘I’m a ‘good’ Christian today because I’ve done x, y and z….)  It’s taken me a long long time to unlearn that toxic theology.

But I’m equally wary of becoming flabby….so laid back in my faith I’m horizontal….that the blurring of lines result  in a blurring of vision.

So the following is some food for thought – a hanging on to Sir Gray’s advice as a way of reflection and prayer. The words in bold are from quotations from Sir Gray – if nothing else – you might want to consider his advice.

Stamina :  Stamina is best assessed when someone is under a bit of pressure and has to keep going. You need to get a little bit breathless

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace” 2Corinthians 4:8

When have you known God’s unfolding grace when under pressure?

 Getting a little bit breathless: Pay attention. Take time. Demonstrate reverence.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” (Alice Walker: The Colour Purple)

 

SkillThe most important skill to maintain and improve is the ability to keep upright.

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, Master, save me! Jesus didnt hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.” Matthew 14

What things, situations and people cause me to ‘lose my balance’ or perspective?

“We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” Ephesians 4

Give thanks for people who support you to keep balance, perspective and stability.

Suppleness:  “Suppleness is probably the most under-valued part of fitness and the aspect that is most important as we age. As people lose suppleness they become stiffer and the usual reason for this is that what are called the connecting tissues become less elastic.”

“Recently I was in the town of Joppa praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds—you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in. “Then I heard a voice: ‘Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, Master. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.’ The voice spoke again: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.

If I had the same experience as Peter – what would my response be?

How might I be flexible, be open, be willing to stretch myself?

And how do we strengthen the connecting tissues between us in our faith communities that keep us flexible?

 And if you’re wondering where the 4th s went – strength, we used that as a reminder of ‘weight bearing’ – so we prayed for those we know and love who are going through hard times and who need us to bear them up in prayer.

Finally, Galatians 5 seems to provide the perfect summary of all of this pondering:

But what happens when we live God’s way?

He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—

things like :

affection for others,

exuberance about life,

serenity.

We develop a willingness to stick with things,

a sense of compassion in the heart,

and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,

not needing to force our way in life,

able to marshal and direct our energies wisely

 

 

Return to the Park!

On a beautiful sunny morning we met once again at the bandstand in the park. After meeting on Zoom for over 4 months it was wonderful to meet up in person and worship in the open air surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.

We followed a pattern of prayer called Anam Cara, and added various elements that some of us had brought along to share:

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

***

Our bible reading was: MARK 7: 24-30.

Arguing with a Syrian Phoenician woman.

The setting for this story is the far region of Tyre, an area way beyond the horizons of most Palestinian Jews.  Earlier in the chapter Jesus has been in dispute with the Pharisees and Scribes; the phrase, “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know it” suggests that the main reason for the trip over the border into Syria is to withdraw in order to get some peace and to give himself time for reflection. As on previous occasions his attempt to get away from it all fails, this time he is accosted by a gentile woman.  The woman falls at Jesus’ feet and asks him to carry out an exorcism on her daughter.  Mark makes the point that the woman is Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia – in other words, not only is she a woman but she is a gentile, a foreigner and a pagan.

Ched Myers writes; “Her approaching in this way is an affront to the honour status of Jesus: no woman, and especially a gentile, unknown and unrelated to a Jew, would have dared to invade his privacy and ask for a favour.”  So the sharp rebuff by Jesus is quite understandable: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  Rabbinic tradition of the time often referred to gentiles as dogs, an example is: “He who eats with a pagan is like unto one who eats with a dog.” This story highlights the ethnic, cultural and religious hostility between Jews and their gentile neighbours.

But the woman is not finished yet; she argues the point and so compounds her affront to Jesus. The fact that she is unafraid to engage in an argument with Jesus gives the story its twist: she argues that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.

In Jewish culture her behaviour is utterly shameful, made even worse by the fact that she is a pagan. Jesus conceding the argument must have been shocking to those around him. He graciously grants her request, I believe not because of her faith but because of her argument, which is an amazing turn of events given Jesus’ powerful verbal mastery over his Jewish opponents.

The point of the story is that Jesus allows himself to be “shamed” in order to include this pagan woman in the new community of the kingdom.

 

How Humans have a Tendency to Complicate Life

When we read the gospels we read many stories of Jesus taking meals with others. The Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality is shown in so many of these stories. Jesus an itinerant rabbi was funded and fed by his followers, those who he ministered to and those who tried to catch him out.

The Jewish tradition of “The Meal” carries on today in many festivals and celebrations so we can surmise that Jesus often shared meals with his friends and often blessed the bread and the wine.

At this point I want to jump to the present day and tell a story that some have already heard. I am very friendly with a group of people that I used to teach with, we meet regularly and there is always food involved of some sort. One of our number sadly died a few years ago and in her parting email to us all she asked if we could remember her whenever we met by eating cake. So we have developed a tradition of eating cake.

I like to think that when Jesus asked us to remember him in the bread and wine it was meant in the same way. Oh how we have complicated this act of remembrance! Only certain people can administer the elements, only certain people can receive the bread and wine and magic hands must be used and magic words must be said.

So for those who like simplicity:

Take your bread and wine and get ready to eat and drink.

Here we are

Together we remember Jesus as we eat bread

Jesus remembered

 

In this place

Together we remember Jesus as we drink wine

Jesus remembered

Sunshine, take away coffee and cobs for all. Amen!

 

SEEK JUSTICE!

Desmond Tutu recalls when he was a young person, one day he was out walking  with his mother when a white man, an Anglican priest named Trevor Huddleston, tipped his hat to her, it was the first time he had ever seen a white man pay this respect to a black woman. The incident had a profound effect on Tutu, he decided that he didn’t need to accept discrimination and prejudice and that Christianity could be a powerful force for bringing racial equality.

The Unspoken Privilege of Being White – Richard Rohr.

For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment [because of social systems built to prioritise people with white skin]. This systemic “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognise the experiences of people of colour as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true? Now, we are being shown how limited our vision is.

Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognise the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. All this we take for granted as normal. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us. [And we are quick to dismiss what is apparent to our neighbours who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour from their lived experience.]

Of course, we all belong. There is no issue of more or less in the eyes of an Infinite God. Yet the ego believes the lie that there isn’t enough to go around and that for me to succeed or win, someone else must lose. And so we’ve greedily supported systems and governments that work to our own advantage at the expense of others, most often people of colour or any highly visible difference. The advancement of the white person was too often at the cost of other people not advancing at all.

I would have never seen my own white privilege if I had not been forced outside of my dominant white culture by travel, by working in jails,  by hearing stories from counselees and, frankly, by making a complete fool of myself in so many social settings—most of which I had the freedom to avoid!

Power and privilege never surrenders without a fight. If your entire life has been to live unquestioned in your position of power—a power that was culturally given to you, but you think you earned—there is almost no way you will give it up without major failure, suffering, humiliation, or defeat. As long as we really want to be on top and would take advantage of any privilege or short cut to get us there, we will never experience true “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we can let go of power and privilege and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible.

Confession

Creator God, you created and love all people.

We come before you today confessing the sin of racism in our country, our community and in ourselves.  Forgive us for our part in it, for the ways we have contributed to the oppression of others whether knowingly or unknowingly.

We want to be different and for our nation to be different, but it is hard when we face the injustice of institutions as well as the prejudice in ourselves.

Help us to see the reality of racism and bigotry wherever it exists and to have the courage to challenge it.  Through your Holy Spirit, may we be given the grace and power to change within ourselves and also, to join with others to do the work of love and justice in the world; to move toward the goal of bringing an end to racism. Amen.

Heather Burtch

Christ, you reached across the ethnic boundaries

of Samaritan, Roman and Jew,

help us to break down the barriers in our country,

enable us to see the reality of racism and bigotry,

and free us to challenge and uproot it

from ourselves, our society and our world. Amen.

John Bucki

Mark 7: 24-30 [NIV]

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

(I can’t think of another occasion in any of the four gospels, apart from this story, were Jesus concedes the argument. Interestingly, he does so to someone who is a woman, a gentile, a foreigner & a pagan.)

 Galatians 3: 26-29 [NIV]

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Isaiah 1: 17 [NRSV]

….learn to do good;

seek justice!

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.

 

Extract from:  ”Why ‘I can’t breathe’ has echoed around the world.”  by Ben Okri,

The Guardian, 8/6/20.

Breathe

In the presence of the One who gives life and love to all creation:

Breathe in the breath of God

Breathe out your cares and concerns

 

Breathe in the love of God

Breathe out your doubts and despairs

 

Breathe in the life of God

Breathe out your fears and frustrations.

 

Breathe in the breath of God

Breathe out your tensions and turmoil

 

Breathe in the love of God

Breathe out your haste and hurry

 

Breathe in the life of God

Breathe out your work and worry.

 

May the Spirit breathe God’s life into us all. Amen.

Jonny Baker.

 Blessed are you…..

blessed are you who are raging at injustice.

blessed are you who are mourning.

blessed are you who feel numb.

blessed are you who feel sick and tired.

blessed are you who refuse to look away.

blessed are you who are peacemakers.

blessed are you who are tending to the needs of others.

blessed are you who care for the sick and dying.

blessed are you who are courageous and compassionate

blessed are you who have been campaigning.

blessed are you who have been speaking truth to power.

blessed are you who have been resisting.

blessed are you who feel broken beyond repair.

blessed are you who are raw beyond words.

blessed are you who are working hotlines and crisis centres and bearing witness to the forces of violence and abuse.

blessed are you who are running foodbanks and homeless shelters.

blessed are you who are marching.

blessed are you who are weeping.

blessed are you who remind others they are good and beautiful and beloved and worthy and capable of healing beyond their wildest dreams.

blessed are we when we dare to dream of a world without sexual violence, without racism, without xenophobia , without misogyny, without homophobia, without state brutality, without violence, without injustice.

blessed are we when we stay tender and gentle.

blessed are we when we stay passionate.

blessed are we when we dare to imagine change and transformation.

blessed are we when we labour to make it so.

Rev. Anna Blaedel

Prayers for the people and the world.

 

 Sharing bread and wine.

We break bread and drink wine together and remember Jesus.

Blessed are those, Jesus said, who hunger and thirst for justice,

for they will be filled.

 

We break this bread with those who:

hunger for justice,

dream of a land free from occupation,

long to live life free from fear,

search for food and water each day,

long for companionship.

The bread held in Jesus’ hands … the words of blessing …the breaking of the bread, and then the shocking words, “this is my body… broken… for you…”

May this bread be food for our journey as we “seek justice”.  Amen.

 

We drink this wine with those who:

see too much blood spilled,

watch loved ones die,

are judged by their race and skin colour,

are trafficked and enslaved,

long for someone to wipe away their tears.

The cup of wine, an ancient memorial re-imagined… the blessing … and then the heart-breaking words, “this is my blood… poured out… for you and for many…”

May this wine be a sign that we are no longer in thrall to the ‘old order’ whose power Christ has broken. Amen.

Closing Prayer

Creator God, you have opened our eyes to the world around.

May we not grow weary because of what we see:

war instead of peace,

racism instead of harmony,

despair instead of hope,

great riches for some instead of prosperity for all,

exploitation instead of justice,

climate change and pollution instead of nurture and care.

We know you continually call us to pursue justice inspired choices.

Empower us to look upon the people of the world as our neighbours

that we will not be silent at injustice

that we will not be silent about racism

that we will not let hatred or despair win over love and hope

that we will not sit by as your world is damaged beyond repair.

We pray that your Spirit will continually challenge us to make choices inspired by love, justice and compassion.

Amen.

 

“Liturgy of Strategic Interruption”

This morning Parker led us for the first time, bringing a poignancy and power in his analysis to what has been happening in his homeland, the US, in recent times and our response to that. His notes can be found below.

2020 has been a year of near-constant “interruption.” Our lives have been reoriented and redirected in new and, at times, challenging ways. For many of us, we have known family and friends affected by the coronavirus. For all of us, we have either been directly affected by the pandemic’s knock-on consequences: interrupted or discontinued employment, holidays delayed or postponed, distance forcefully imposed between us and our loved ones.

The virus has revealed in profoundly violent ways the manner in which our societies have been constructed on systemic inequities and inequalities.

That Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee have died at the hands of American police forces is nothing new. That Black and Brown folks suffer disproportionately from disease, infant mortality, and now, the coronavirus, is not new news. It is simply being “revealed” en masse on social media and television.

I propose that today we enter into what the feminist theologian Susan Ross calls a “liturgy of strategic interruption.” Liturgies of strategic interruption include those promoted by liberation theologians, who were eager to give voice to the indigenous and poor communities of Latin America, marginalized and unheard by dictatorships and the hierarchical Church; or feminist theologians, who vindicated women as active objects of liturgical practice, whether from the pulpit or in biblical exegesis.

I suggest we engage a liturgy of strategic interruption to contemplate the events of recent weeks that have yet again the experience of Black Americans. Let’s begin with a few minutes of reflection and meditation as we hear this opening song by Alexi Murdoch…

This was followed by the reading of the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4 – which seemed more pertinent than ever before. Parker continued:

(Adapted from Rick Axtell, “Ever Eastward,” Baccalaureate Sermon, Centre College, 24 May 2015: https://www.centre.edu/baccalaureate-sermon-ever-eastward-dr-rick-axtell/. Used with generous permission from Dr. Axtell, my professor, mentor, and friend.)

In the Bible, Cain and Abel are the first human brothers. The text tells us nothing of their boyhood friendship. We read only that Abel becomes a shepherd and Cain a farmer. Already in this first human family, this primal brotherhood, there is difference. And this differentiation, this unexpected reality of division in human relations, takes on the dimension of tragedy.

The brothers bring offerings to their God—Abel from his flock, and Cain from his harvest. This inscrutable Deity accepts Abel’s offering but rejects Cain’s. We don’t know why. Cain does not know why.

But it’s not hard to imagine the agony of this rejection, the arbitrariness of this preferential judgment from the authority one hopes to please, this blow to one’s self-worth. Has Abel earned this favour? What have I don’t to be eclipsed by this chosen one?

The story of this primal conflict seems inescapable:
It’s also the story of Jacob, his mother’s favourite, supplanting Esau.
It’s Rachel’s golden boy, Joseph, superseding his older brothers.
It’s the treachery of Claudius against his brother Hamlet.
It’s the opportunism of Romulus killing his brother Remus and then founding the city of Rome.
We know this story.

Cain is grieved by God’s partiality toward Abel. The God who rejected his offering now warns him that sin is crouching like a predatory animal outside the tent. God assures Cain he has the power to master this beat. But you can feel it lurking when Cain calls his brother out to the field…
“And there, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”
His “brother” Abel, the text reminds us.

And we are left with the iconic image of Abel lying unconscious on the ground.

So God puts Cain on trial: “Where is Abel, your brother?”
And Cain’s response is as chilling as it is ethically significant: “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?”
The divine response is as powerful as any line in the Bible:
“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”

Seven times, the text repeats the word “brother.” This brother who never speaks in the text has not lost his voice. It cries out from the very soil that produced Cain’s offering; soil now satiated by the sacrifice of the innocent.

Monday, June 4th, was the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, a Marian feast day inserted into the Roman Calendar in 2018 by Pope Francis.

Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of Jesus, knelt at the Cross while her Son gasped for air. The whole world hung in the balance as the persecuted Christ fulfilled the prophecy and breathed his final breaths.

The events are among the most anguishing in our Western cultural and religious imagination.

Just as Jesus spoke to Mary in the moments before his death, putting her into the care of John, and John into the care of Mary, so too did George Floyd cry out for his mother while a police officer snuffed out his life by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes.

“My neck hurts.
Everything hurts.
Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe.
I’m about to die this day.
Momma. Momma.
Momma. I’m through.”

We now know that George Floyd’s mother died some two years ago. His calling out for her was not a cry for rescue. It was a cry of reckoning, of reconciliation, of redemption. The beautiful mural created George Floyd’s memory reads, “I can breathe now.” May perpetual light shine on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of those Black Americans whose lives have been unnecessarily cut short.

In my mind, one of the heart-wrenching works art is Michelangelo’s Pietà, which portrays Mary’s motherly embrace of Jesus after the crucifixion. May we also be mindful of Tylonn J. Sawyer’s powerful re-imagination of the Pietà, which compels us to think about the Black Mothers who are forced to embrace the bodies of their limp children, victims of racism and racial injustice, but who are redeemed by the promise of Christ’s crucifixion.

 

The second reading was from 1 Corinthians 12: 15-26, of Paul’s analogy of the body and this was flowed by a reading of Letter to the Editor of the Courier-Journal:

When those working to find cures for breast cancer post signs saying, “Save the tah-tahs,” they aren’t suggesting that ears are unimportant.

When you see a bumper sticker reading, “Save the rain forest,” it doesn’t mean, “I hate deciduous trees!”

When we rise up and declare that “Black Lives Matter,” we are not saying, “White people suck!” We are saying that, like breasts and rain forests, we have here vulnerable and suffering lives that need special and even preferential attention if our communities are to be healthy.

Black lives matter.

(Scott Holzknecht (Religion Dept., Trinity High School, Louisville, Kentucky) 7 July 2016
https://eu.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/readers/2016/07/07/letter-black-lives-do-matter/86804844/)

Parker continued:

Am I my brother’s keeper? The whole thrust of the biblical narrative—from the Old Testament to the new—is that we are. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The call of the other is a demand on our lives. It is a call to confront our own individual realities and privileges and then to press for systemic change so that we may cultivate our humanity and replant the soil of human history with the seeds of justice.

You can learn about the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance from the Obama Foundation.

This prayer followed:

God of Creation,
In this tumultuous year of interruption, in which we have seen the arrival of a contagion that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters by robbing them of their breath,
We continue to pray for the victims of the pandemic, for their grieving families,
And for all of those who are working to keep us safe, often at their own peril.
We ask that you grant us the patience to be at peace with each of our respective circumstances.

Lord, enliven us to become more aware and more active in the protection of our Brothers and Sisters.
May we have the courage to confront the much more intransigent contagion of racism.
May we be mindful of your call to remake the world in your image, to create a world of justice and equality, on Earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

And then we shared bread and wine:

Much like the discordant 2020 we are living through, Jesus came to us in a broken, unequal world. A world longing for the Messiah.

In His ministry, unparalleled at that time and ever since, Jesus provided us the ultimate “liturgy of strategic interruption.”

By healing the sick and ministering to the outcasts, Jesus heeded the call of the “voice of the other.”

Even on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, knowing the misery of what lie ahead, He stayed true to his mission of peace and non-violence.

When He gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room, He endowed them with the tools to carry on His ministry.

In breaking bread amongst his friends, Jesus satiated our earthly hunger with spiritual sustenance.

His Body is the fuel our ministry of redemption and reconciliation.

The Bread of Life:
All: (Taking the bread and saying) “Amen.”

Likewise, He took the cup of wine and passed it to his companions.
Jesus told them that the wine was His blood, poured out to represent the New Covenant, of prophecy fulfilled, of death defeated.

The Wine of Everlasting Life:
All: (Taking the wine and saying) “Amen.”

Dying you vanquished death
Rising you restored life
All: Jesus, shine your light amongst us

We finished with sharing of prayer needs and reading an email from Amanda in Minneapolis concerning our email of support to her in her ministry there at this hard time. Then we committed all to God’s blessing and blessed one another with our now established ‘Blessing on you and you and you and…’ as we point to one another.

A profound, sobering, challenging and moving morning with all very grateful for parker’s input.

Lockdown Pentecost

This morning we gathered by Zoom again and celebrated the Church’s birthday as never before!

Missing being outdoors, we began taking a couple of minutes standing outside listening to the birdsong, soaking up the sunshine and feeling the breeze…

Being in lockdown continues to help me see things from a different perspective and Pentecost has undergone such for me this year. For the first time, really, it seems pertinent that encounters with the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit happened indoors, in an upper room – at times when the disciples were locked in!

We had readings from John 20:19-22, 26-27 and Acts 2:1-4

What’s so interesting is that overlap of stories about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit in different ways at different points – not just at Pentecost! Yet after Jesus breathes on them, we find them just getting on with their old life as if nothing much had changed – 7 of them are back in Galilee and fishing… It’s back indoors, in that upper room again when the breath becomes wind and flames that they are really transformed. Their lives and the life of all believers as the Church are never the same again.

I started Lockdown thinking it would be enough to just get through this time, well and without upset. But now I have come to think that that isn’t enough, I want to come through this changed and for the better – to see this as a gift of time that can change me and change all of us…
And something of that connected with a story Jane shared with me on Wednesday- so I  asked her to share that.

Jane shared how many years ago she had gone forward for prayer and blurted out ‘I want may faith to make a difference to my life’ and how she had had a  vision of a banner in the sky saying ‘God is good’. From that time on her faith was transformed…

I found myself, like Jane herself, quite interested in that emphasis of God being GOOD as opposed to God being LOVE. Clearly, she needed to hear that particular aspect of God’s nature at that time– as perhaps many do during this time of pandemic.

And along with that thought I found myself revisiting different times in my life when the Holy Spirit was depicted differently. The trouble is, of course, that the Spirit is so much harder to relate to than the Father or Son imagery given to the other two members of the Trinity – or to Jesus, who is the supremely accessible version of God for us. And historically, the Church has struggled to know what to do with this third person. Like me you must have had a wide range of teaching or experiences or at least awareness of the Spirit presented as an essentially irrelevant ‘thing’ all the way across the spectrum to some frankly oddly behaving, worrying if not terrifying aspect of God who could be summoned to do very dramatic things… And for me, there was a mismatch between so much of what was communicated about the Spirit and the other biblical title given to him / her – the Spirit of Christ. I liked and trusted Jesus but was uncomfortable with the Spirit – how can that be right?! Perhaps the Church has forgotten to emphasise that he Spirit of Christ is GOOD, Christ-like, loving and available in locked rooms…

But in ThirdSpace two images have been hugely helpful to me – and I think to many of us.

 

1. St Brendan, setting off in his coracle, hoisting his sail and letting the Spirit blow him to the right place, trusting in that benevolent wind to guide and to bless… That’s a good image when we don’t know the future and what will happen. The Spirit of God will blow us to the right shores if we let her…

2. The image of the rock pigeon – which is the ‘dove’ that inhabited the Jordan valley where Jesus was baptised and the Spirit descended like a dove. As Fiona pointed out – pigeons are ubiquitous and unvalued – often unnoticed… Barbara and Grayden took comfort and encouragement in seeing them at critical moments in their times of testing over the past 2 years or so, being reminded that the Spirit was with them. And then, of course, on ThirdSpace’s 10th anniversary, on speaking of this and of speaking about our use of Celtic Circling prayers, a pigeon flew into the bandstand (an unprecedented event) and walked around us all, encircling us before flying off… The Spirit is with us in all kinds of unnoticed ways, accompanying us, circling us, caring for us…

So this Pentecost, in our ‘locked rooms’ we  prepared to pray that he Spirit of Christ would come to each of us in a new way to bless and inspire and change us for the better. And we held  onto the idea that that same Spirit can enter induced comas and those locked down on ventilators, for those locked in fear or in grief – because there is nowhere the Spirit cannot break into.
And we prepared to pray God’s blessing on all those who need the Spirit of Christ now and to know God’s goodness and love and presence.
And we prepared to pray for the Church – that it won’t just revert to how it was before when social distancing is lifted, but will become something renewed and different and more effective and more loving.

So we took time to share the names of  those we wanted the Spirit of God to meet now…

And we spoke these prayers:

Holy Spirit, fabric of our being, thank you that there is no place too hard for you to enter. Break into these lives and situations we have mentioned, penetrate the darkness and bring a sense of your presence, goodness, love and calling.

Holy Spirit, fabric of life, thank you that there is no place too hard for you to enter – even those lock-downed disciples all that time ago. Come to the lock-downed church today – those in fear of persecution – those whom defeat and death and demoralisation have imprisoned. Transform us by the renewal of our minds, regenerate and renew in ways we can hardly think of, inspire and strengthen the leaders and the led

After that we shared bread and wine using the Pentecost liturgy written by Steve two years ago – which you can find in our resources area.

Finally we prayed God’s blessing on one another by placing our own hand on our heads and becoming the blessed and the blesser:

As we long for the end of lockdown, we long too for the renewal of all things, when death shall be no more and the land runs with compassion and justice.
May you be blessed with an assuredness of the Creator’s love, blessed with Jesus’ simplicity and blessed with the Spirit’s indwelling.
Know that God is good. You are encircled in God’s love. Open yourself to being blown by the Spirit to the right shores. Receive the Spirit of Christ.
Amen

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have always referred to living in lock down as living in a bubble. Now with some of the restrictions starting to lift: however nebulous they are, it is like living in a tunnel with light at the end.

In any difficult situation when we can see no end, we have hope and our hope is in Jesus.

Some of those who have been through near death experiences have said it was like being in a dark tunnel moving towards a beautiful, welcoming, glorious light. So even in death there is light at the end of the tunnel

Liminal Time – by Beth Merrill Neel   https://holdfasttowhatis good.com

Activity – Go outside, to a window, onto a balcony or somewhere you feel at peace. Write down what you experience when you:

Look:
Smell:
Listen:
Feel:

Breathe.

See below some of the thoughts we had

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

Prayer for bread and wine

O Eternal Wisdom,
we praise you and give you thanks,
because the dark beauty of death
could not contain you.

You broke forth into light from the comfort of the grave;
before you the stone was moved,
and the tomb of our world was opened wide.

and you reveal yourself to men and women as a companion.
Blessed is our brother Jesus, who walks with us the road of our grief,

Today my grief is… (add your sentence here)

Jesus our companion who gives us hope and shines a light in the dark

and is known again in the breaking of bread;

The bread of hope      Take bread

 

Blessed are we who walk with Jesus

We remember Him in drinking the wine;

The wine of light in the dark       Take wine

 

Come now, disturbing spirit of our God, make us one body in Christ.

Open our graves, unbind our eyes, and name us here; touch and heal all that has been buried in us,

that we may go forth with power to release resurrection in the world.

Amen.

Christ is risen from the dead. Today my hope is… (add your sentence here)

 

Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.

Steve John Leach  – adapted

 

Our responses to Look: Smell: Listen: Feel: Breathe.

Look: a castle on a hill – triple towered

Smell: the crisp freshness of morning

Listen: the soprano trill and tenor whoop of winged wonders

Feel: the cool calming leaf rustling breeze 

Breathe 

 

Hope from dark places :-

Re birth :- The frost bitten wisteria coming back to new life and growth

Something from nothing :- a seemingly empty pot of dark damp soil containing a new green shoot that turned out to be a Cala Lily.

 

Honey bee with full pollen baskets, wren in full voice, scent of rose 

 

Grey skies and green restless trees

rain on wet leaves

distant bird song

cool breeze, good refreshing fresh air

How good it is to breathe

prayers for those struggling to breath suffering Coronavirus

 

Grey and Green

Wet, wind rustling in the trees and leaves

The smell of damp and rain

Beautiful birdsong; so many different kinds

Cool fresh air 

Calmness

These were the ones shared by those willing to have their thoughts on the website

Coronavirus – a man-made crisis?

As we humans exploit new areas of the natural world, we disturb the viruses they contain, allowing them to transmit to human populations. In this way deforestation and habitat destruction enable pandemics like Covid-19 to develop. Coronavirus is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it was transmitted from animals to humans. 60% of all new diseases are zoonotic. The list includes SARS, MERS, Ebola, H1N1 and HIV. Infectious diseases like Covid-19 are emerging more rapidly than ever before, and one reason is likely to be our treatment of the natural world. As we destroy many of the natural resources and habitats we rely on, we push further and further into unknown ecosystems. Wild meat hunters are forced deeper into forests. The animals they kill are more likely to host unknown viruses that humans have not yet been exposed to.

Ecosystem disruption.

But our disturbance is not just in the form of hunting: we log forests for wood or agricultural land, mine for minerals and fossil fuels, and destroy habitats for industries linked to our consumption. Each increases our contact with previously undisturbed animal populations. At the same time, these wild animals are pushed closer to human settlements as their habitats are destroyed, bringing viruses with them.

David Quammen, explains in the New York Times: “We invade tropical forests and other wild habitats, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses.  We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

The Coronavirus Pandemic.

Addressing COVID-19, then, is not only about mutual aid networks, food banks, NHS staff and carers, and the other amazing community and health responses we’re seeing. Our relationship with the environment also needs to change if we want to avoid exposure to many further viruses of this kind.

Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York says: “There’s misapprehension among some scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to us… It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it.”

Farming destroying habitats.

Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources. As our demand for meat grows and grows, larger and larger areas of the natural world are being taken over for meat production. In countries like Brazil, forest is cleared for beef farming or to grow soya and other crops for animal feed. Habitats are destroyed, communities that rely on these forests are pushed further into unknown ecosystems, and humans come into contact with new animal populations and the viruses they carry.

Choosing a plant-based diet can reduce our destruction of the natural world, and in this way reduce our risk of exposure to viruses like COVID-19. Animal agriculture is a very inefficient use of land, meaning that we need a disproportionate amount to meet our nutritional requirements. Some experts estimate that if we all went vegan, we could reduce land use for agriculture by 75% – allowing more natural habitats to remain undisturbed, and agricultural land to be re-wilded.

Factory Farming – cruelty & disease.

The three pandemics that have emerged since 2000, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, swine flu (H1N1) in 2009 and now Covid-19, have all spread from animals. SARS spread from cats and bats in China, whilst animal to human transmission of swine flu first took place in an intensive pig farm in North America. Covid-19 probably spread from bats to chickens, then to humans at Chinese “wet” markets.

Factory farms confine thousands of cows, pigs, and chickens into tightly packed conditions where they are forced to suffer the most cruel treatment imaginable. As well as being very cruel, factory farming is a serious threat to human health.  Our demand for large quantities of meat and other animal products means that huge numbers of animals such as cows, chickens and pigs are crammed together in crowded, faeces-ridden factory farms; these provide the perfect breeding grounds for pathogens. Factory farming also creates perfect conditions for the spread of disease. The stress and insanitary conditions weaken animals’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to infection and overcrowding allows disease to spread quickly and easily.

Factory Farming & climate change.

Former New York Times food writer Mark Bittman and environmentalist Bill McKibben—write that it is most urgent that we “reduce the size and number of factory farms.” ……. “As the global health community acknowledges the intertwined nature of planetary and human health, it must also confront the role that factory farming plays in climate change.”

Today, nearly 65 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens and pigs, are crammed into factory farms. These animals are literally imprisoned and tortured in unhealthy, unsanitary and unconscionably cruel conditions. Sickness is the norm for these confined animals.

Factory farms contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—more than the entire global transportation industry. The methane releases from billions of imprisoned animals on factory farms are 70 times more damaging per ton to the earth’s atmosphere than CO2.  When you add it all up, the picture is clear—contemporary agriculture is burning up our planet. And factory farms play a key role in this impending climate disaster.

Palm oil and habitat destruction.

Palm oil – in 50% of all packaged products we buy from supermarkets –causes widespread habitat destruction.

Huge swathes of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are bulldozed or burned to make room for these plantations, “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity. Avoiding products containing palm oil or making sure it is sustainable and Fairtrade, can also lessen our demands on the natural world. Like COVID-19, Ebola is thought to have originated in bats. “The invasion of West African forests by the palm oil companies destroyed the canopy of the natural forest,” Frank Snowden, a professor emeritus of the history of medicine at Yale University says. “And so bats, not having their natural habitat, had to move to different places — places where human beings are.”

The Wellbeing of all things.

Many researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, Planetary Health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, the wellbeing of other living things and the wellbeing of the Earth and its ecosystems. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted, the world’s leading biodiversity experts have warned.

Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio led the most comprehensive planetary health check ever undertaken, which was published in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), based in Germany.  It concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. Diaz says; “There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us. Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”

Reducing consumption.

But the best thing we can do as individuals is to radically reduce our consumption. Each new purchase requires natural resources of some kind. If we can cut these down and reuse and recycle, we can drastically shift our exploitative relationship with the natural world and the pandemic potential we create.

Information culled from – Ethical Consumer, The Guardian, The New York Times, Scientific American.