Lent 2021: Getting Lost and Found with God
Call to Worship
ONE: Come with your words—old, eaten, and new.
Come, though uncertain about where it’s all headed.
ALL: Come with your aching need to be heard
And you who are new to the listening.
We need you.
ONE: Come resolved to creatively find third ways.
Come committed to not rushing out of tension.
ALL: Come with eyes unwilling to overlook injustice
And a heart unwilling to forgo celebration.
We need you.
ONE: Come ragamuffin, radical, rebel, repressed.
Come you who were wrong and willing to say it.
ALL: Come refusing to deny the stories of your people.
Come with the assurance of God’s grace as your guide.
We need you.
ONE: And together, we’ll be patient and mercifully kind—
Not envying, boasting, prideful, or rude.
ALL: Not selfish, short-fused, score-keeping, or spiteful
But rejoicing in the goodness of what’s to be shared.
We need you. We need you together.
ONE: Because together the movement keeps going.
Sound the alarm because love cannot fail.
ALL: Come resisters, revolutionaries, the meek who inherit the earth.
There will indeed be a story to tell. And it will be good news.
Taken from ‘Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice’ © 2020 by Britney Winn Lee
First Sunday: Beware of Pyramid Schemes
So today marks the first Sunday in lent and, thus, the first Sunday in our series on the book of Exodus. You may remember me saying last week that we’re going to experience a slightly different approach to our services and engagement with scripture over Lent. At best, it will encourage us to bring the world of The Bible and our world of today into a deeper dialogue in which one can critique the other – ie what might scripture have to say about how we think and act today and also, what might a twenty first century perspective have to say about The Bible.
At worst, it will mean awkward, shoe-shuffling conversation but just for 6 weeks! We can all endure that! Hopefully, you have read this week’s passage – perhaps in different versions and in different places – and have started to reflect on, and pray about, what God might be saying to us through this passage. If you haven’t – don’t panic – we’ll hear it again in a sec. In future weeks, I’ll give you a bit more context about the passage – where it sits in the wider horizon of the Exodus story – that kind of thing but this week, as we’re starting in the first chapter of the book, a brief note about the book itself.
Well, whilst Moses was traditionally said to be the author of Exodus (and the other 4 books of The Hebrew Testament, known as ‘The Pentateuch’ – literally ‘the 5 books’), modern scholars believe that it is a product of various written and oral traditions, handed down through the centuries and revised to what we have today in the 5th century BCE (Before the Common Era). As with almost all sections of The Bible, some Christians view the story of Exodus as a description of events as they all literally occurred; some the remembered reflections of a people wrestling with God; others understand it as truth contained in myth; still others a combination of the three. Whichever of these understanding you lean toward, when explored with integrity in community and under guidance of the Spirit, the book of Exodus has much to reveal to us today. With that in mind, we turn to this week’s passage…
Reading: Exodus 1:8-22 – Alison Jones
For those reading this at home, you are invited to consider the two sets of questions below and are encouraged to share some of your thoughts with a fellow church member by ‘phone. Remember – this is just for 6 weeks so go on…give it a go!
- What is going on in the passage? Who are the main players?
- Did you see any echoes of the story or its themes in your life/the world over the past week?
- With which character(s)/situations(s) do you resonate?
When it comes to the question about with whom we might resonate, I wonder if any of us thought about Shiprah and Puah. After all, we have a couple of midwives and healthcare professionals in our congregations. Individuals who, like Shiprah and Puah, sacrifice or perhaps risk so much in order to care for others. Or perhaps you identified with their rebellious streak…after all, their actions are the first example of civil disobedience in the Bible – refusing to follow the orders of the Pharaoh. Perhaps there have been times when you’ve disobeyed orders or transgressed laws because your faith and morality encouraged you so.
On the other hand, those of us who participated in a Fairtrade Communion service a fortnight ago heard or were reminded about the dangers of a ‘Disney Princess theology’ in which Christians see themselves as the hero in every story.
‘They are Esther, never Xerxes…Peter, never Judas…the slaves escaping Egypt, never Pharaoh, and, American preacher Erna Kim Hackett warns us, ‘it means that people in power have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society – it has made them blind and utterly ill equipped to engage issues of power and injustice’.
With that in mind, could it be that there’s something of Pharaoh about us? Ultimately, Pharaoh wanted to control population numbers of the other because their increase would threaten his power and security. Is that so very different from saying that Britain should only be for the British or Wales for the Welsh? That immigrants are diluting our values or threatening our economy? That Britain is full and if that means instigating policies that sees the bodies of children on our shores – just as the Nile had on its banks – then so be it? Perhaps, alongside Trump, Putin and the other obvious Pharaohs of our time, we might have something of the Pharaoic about us.
Or, perhaps, you think you’re most like the average Egyptian in the story. Not quite Shiprah hero; not yet pharaoh villain; but rather, as the final verse of the passage tells us, like the Egyptians who became complicit in Pharaoh’s power games, wanting a good life for themselves and their families whilst turning a blind eye to what was happening to others. Perhaps you think that we can all collude with systems of injustice and inequality that place unfair conditions on workers at home and abroad; that treat human beings as mere conduits of our increasing wants; that ensures that the wealthiest people and nations remain at the top of the pyramid whilst those lower down struggle to survive.
Personally, at times, I can glimpse something of all three in me.
I wonder, then, how we can encourage each other to more like Shiprah and Puah, and less like the Pharaoh. I wonder what it says that millennia later, we speak of Shiprah and Puah and do not know the name of the Pharaoh. I wonder what God’s action in this passage and beyond might tell us about God and about us.
Time to consider the second set of questions:
- What might the passage tell us about God/humanity?
- Where is the good news in this passage?
- What might the passage tell us about how we might live today?
Perhaps the passage says something to you about how inhumane we can act when we cling on to power or let fear take over. Perhaps you questioned why God allowed the Israelites to be mistreated or noted how God brought life in the midst of death. Perhaps your knowledge of the wider story reminds you that God condemns systems of injustice and acts on behalf of the oppressed.
I wonder, then, what the passage says about our present time of trial.
I wonder if you find comfort in the belief that God hears our cries, weeps with us, and that better days may be to come. I wonder how we can step away from narratives of fear and power games in our lives and churches. I wonder, at the start of Fairtrade fortnight, how we might join God in condemning systems of injustice in our shopping this week.
You’re invited to spend a minute in stillness thinking about how you might live out God’s good news, as revealed in this passage and our reflection of it, this week. For you reading this on paper, use the space below to write down one thing you want to take away from this morning’s passage and reflection.
Prayers for ourselves and others – Claire Hughes
Loving God, thank you for brave people like the women, Shiphrah and Puah, who chose to do what was right, even when it was difficult. It is not always easy to take the path of what is right or good: give us the courage and strength to be living examples of your love and help us to make wise choices.
So many people suffer from poverty, war, disease, the cruelty of fellow human beings. Covid-19 has shaken our lives, taken our loved ones. You have appointed us custodians of this beautiful planet, yet we harm it through our greed and desire for luxuries which are literally costing the Earth.
Help us to think twice when we make our everyday choices and to do what we know is right for this amazing place that you have given us for our home; to stand up against injustice; to find practical and meaningful ways to help others; to be kind to one another and witnesses to your love in all we do.
Thank you for our church community, which is not limited by the boundary of the four walls of a building but extends across the globe. May we prayerfully and lovingly support each other, rejoicing in our happiness and consoling in our sadness. We ask for your guidance as we consider the shape and path of our future as a church. You have blessed us with many talents: guide us in channelling these to your glory and to the benefit of our worldwide community.
We have lost many friends and loved ones in recent times: be with those who grieve and hold them gently in your loving arms. Breathe your healing breath on those who are ill and ease their discomfort. Watch over those who have struggled with anxiety or loneliness or have lost their jobs during the Covid-19 epidemic and let them know they are not forgotten: keep them safe. As plans unfold to return our children to their classrooms, protect them and their teachers, so that they may make the most of their opportunity to learn and to share time with their friends.
We give thanks for the vaccinations which are helping relieve the symptoms of Covid-19 and pray that we will soon be able return to a safer, more interactive life.
Let us take a moment to bring our own silent prayers before God…
We gather these prayers together in the pattern of prayer that Jesus taught, saying in whatever language we are most comfortable…
Ein Tad, yr hwn wyt yn y nefoedd
Sancteiddier dy enw
Deled dy deyrnas
Gwneler dy ewyllys
Megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd.
Dyro i ni heddiw ein bara beunyddiol
A maddau i ni ein dyledion
Fel y maddeuwn ninnau i’n dyledwyr
Ac nac arwain ni i brofedigaeth
Eithr gwared ni rhag drwg.
Canys eiddot ti yw’r deyrnas
A’r nerth, a’r gogoniant,
yn oes oesoedd, AMEN
Go then, with Shiprah, Puah, and all the divinely disobedient.
Go with the saints of the ages who have sought and brought life in the midst of death
Go with the living God who blesses, guides and loves us every step of the wilderness way. Amen.
February is LGBT+ History Month.
In previous years, we’ve marked this month by hosting exhibitions, talks and services and whilst, this year, Covid restrictions, a Fairtrade Communion and Lent focus have dominated, we still want to highlight the importance of this month and so offer the words below as our main reflection. This raw, sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes hopeful, piece was written by a friend of our churches who remains part of a denomination which does not acknowledge same sex marriage but it could easily refer to communities in our denominations. I am proud to be the minister of one church who is licensed to conduct same sex marriage and another which is asking the wider Church to reconsider its prohibition of them yet also know that we, too, can fall into patterns of prejudice all too easily. This beautifully written reflection might remind us that we must all continue to play our part in building ‘a house where love can dwell and all can safely live’. With huge thanks and deep respect to the author who has given their permission for us to read and reflect on their lived experience, feelings, and faith.
My God, My all, My God, My all,
Lord, I come to you as I am, I present you my heart and ask that you abide in me.
Use me to your will, use my hands, my feet, my eyes, my voice, my heart, and my soul
Speak through and in me your truth and your love. Cleanse my being that I may become a better person that I may become the person that you wish me to become.
Preparation for church starts with an offering to the one who has given so much. The offering is giving my heart and my life into the hands of the one that I trust. As I walk to a place that feels familiar, a place that I feel is home, I hear God’s call that invites me to come. Come into the arms of mercy, the arms of love as we spend this special time together, as we take the time to appreciate one another in a wondrous space. Each step is a step of beauty as I witness the creator’s beauty, I witness the masterpiece that is relived to my eyes. The sunlight, the heat on my skin, the breeze and freshness on one’s face. The crystal-clear sky, the sounds of birds singing and surrounded by the energy of life. The inner gratitude that this day is a gift from God.
My heart rate increases slightly, not from the increase of going up a hill but from the anxiety that builds approaching the top of the hill. On a good day, the car park is clear which rules out any passing comments, looks or cold shoulders from an offering of “Good Morning”.
Approaching the iron gates, please God let it not be this person on the door. Please God, let it be a different person. The long walk up the ramp with eyes like a hawk as I attempt to see through the glass of who is standing there. Some days the love and extension of God’s welcome is given to all of God’s children, the simplicity and warmth of good morning really does make a difference. Compared to the “Long walk” their glance, the eye contact and the turning of the back. A good morning is greeted with silence, with my mind in overdrive, perhaps I was too quiet or that they have bad hearing. Next time, I will be louder or smile with teeth or I will hang around and maybe they may hear me, maybe the good morning will be responded to. Sometimes my naivety and foolishness get the better of me as “the perhaps” never occurred with the select few.
The first hurdle is over and now comes to the second, the selection of seat. From past experiences, the front is a very risky choice. The front offers no discreet escape and no place to hide if the sermon expands on the right relationships or themes of immorality. There is no escape from the death glare or stare, no words are needed when another person’s body langue may as well read “this is referring to you”. The feeling of God, please let the ground swallow me up, let the stares stop and let this feeling of sickness to the stomach pass. The middle section offers no protection from vileness, comments, and gossip. Even with the best intentions of zoning out, it can be very hard to bite one’s lip, to hold one’s tongue and not to respond or challenge their thinking. Those in glass houses do not throw stones, do not retaliate, hold on to your chair, breathe, close your eyes and focus on the reason why you are here. Pray that the service will start soon! The back of the church seems fitting, it gives a clear vision of those within the church and provides time to prepare for any spiritual negativity. The back provides the opportunity to escape to the bathroom, even if the facilities are not required. The bathroom can provide a few moments to breathe and mentally prepare one’s self for the rest of the service.
Words within the service are a time to pause and reflect,
“The Lord is with Us.” So is the devil.
“We lift up our heart” I lift up my shield and hope for a smooth service.
Let us take a moment to confess our sins and leave them at the foot of the cross. For a long time, my first confession was, “Lord I am so sorry for being a homosexual and in quick succession followed by Lord, please let them be kind.”
Today, I stand in the eyes of the divine,
There’s no place to hide my sin, to hide my excuses
This is the time for truth and honesty
You are the re-creator of the broken, lost and messed up
You are the keeper of my soul
Your everlasting love creeps into my cracks
On my knees, my heart declares that I love you.
On my knees, I have asked you,
Why I am here? “At my current place of worship”
Why do I continue to put up with those who challenge me or who are not kind towards me?
God, what more do I have to do to be worthy among these people!!!
This question has kept me up into the early hours on several occasions as I meditate with you, Lord what more do I have to do? To feel equal, to feel acknowledged and hold the same choices.
A beautiful part of all services is given the peace to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I extend the hand of our Lord in love, compassion and acknowledge that in our differences you are my sister and my brother. I give thanks that God has created us so diverse and wonderful. However an act of beauty can be crushed, when your hand is extended and not met, when another does a 360 turn like a firework has gone off in front of them. You soon realise that the peace of the Lord is not extended in everyone’s hearts with the feeling of a “popularity contests in the friendship groups” The realisation comes once again when you wait behind a person who knows you are waiting but strikes up a conversation in the hope you will leave when they turn their backs. The hand of the Lord can still be extended in one’s mind, may the peace of the Lord bless you and your family.
As I approach your Altar,
I listen to your pulse, I listen to your breath that enters my body,
I close my eyes and everything around me disappears,
The noise, the people, the meanness and at this moment
I am yours completely,
Please Lord, do not let my sin overcome me.
You speak to my heart and my soul,
Your reply is my beloved child, I love you,
You are here to grow,
Piece by piece you will become the person who I see,
You are enough,
You are worthy,
There is nothing more required of you.
Finally, my child, continue to pray for those who are unkind and for those who will continue to challenge you.
I love them, as much as I love you, so hold them in your heart.
I open my eyes, in the knowledge that you hold me in a loving embrace, you walk with me and in honour of your name I will follow what you place in my heart. The noise once again comes rushing in and my surroundings are known.
Go in peace to serve and love the Lord. “Go and be an instrument of love in the name of Jesus.”
On arriving home, how was the service? A nightmare, the vibes were awful. How can I explain the awkwardness and how can I explain minor details that happen over time that wears me down. I am thankful that God picks me up and keeps me strong, my best friend is directing my steps for his will and work.
In the service of the Lord, I give myself to his community and follow where I am being led, this over time has caused many fall outs at home. A partner who has minimal beliefs in God and finds it hard to understand why I would continue to surround myself with people in her view who make me miserable. A partner who has seen the efforts put in for church with the view of, “you receive minimum support by clergy” sometimes I feel invisible and to be known I would need to do the impossible, just for their approval.
A partner that is angry with the church for their restrictions of our relationship. The sacrifice I ask of her in sustaining a celibate lifestyle. As it approaches 8 years, I keep waiting for the equality of Gods people, I offer my reassurance and hope that one day we will be seen as equal people in the sight of the church. We hold different ideas of intimacy; her idea of intimacy is the ring that sits on my finger a public display of our love. My idea of intimacy is with God and over the years this has always been a sensitive and delicate conversation.
God knows the worries that I hold. That my ultimate sacrifice for pursing a life in ministry, could be my beautiful family and soul mate. I believe that with God all things are possible, however, how long will one’s partner commit to a lifestyle they do not agree with. I stand firm that God will make it work and holds us together especially with the trails and many tests to come.
A recent trial was being reminded by a member of the clergy that “equal marriage will not happen in my time”. Hearing those words felt like my hopes and dreams of a “normal” family, shatter. The normality of being able to choose, the opportunities and hopefully being more accepted by those who attack me and my family.
One day, my children may be referred to by their names, instead of “them” from the mouths of some Christians. One day; I may not be referred to as “the lesbian or the one who is with the women”. As our core identity in our names swept away by the hatred of gossip.
Please my God, let my children not carry the burden of my choices and my sinful thoughts.
Please my God, let my partner realise that the call and conviction you have upon me, is my life. Instead of her recent comment “If you walk away from it all, I will support you”. My response to her, “I could not do that to God, not with everything God has done for me.”
Please my God, let members of the cloth, realise how hurtful words can be even when there are no malicious intentions behind them.
Please let people see the struggle even though their world may not even come close to mine.
Please God, may one day we live in a world that has better equality.
One day, I may be seen as an equal in the eyes of those who judge me.