In Phil’s last service with us as Minister, sweets were shared, questions asked, puppets enjoyed and the following message given…
Hymn: In A Field in the Country
“It makes all the difference to know where you’re going and where you came from.” Our true home and hope is in God.
Of course, recently, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about where I’m physically going next and how I’m feeling about it. Mixed is the answer. Genuinely sad to leave here…but excited too about the next adventure. Sometimes fresh starts can be life-giving. Sometimes, they can be soul-sapping…like this when I had genuinely just put the finishing touches to my last sermon with St David’s Uniting Church, only for my laptop to suddenly shut down before I had the chance to save my work, losing all my writing and the past few hours that I’d spent on it! Cue some unholy language, a big slice of cake, and a consideration of having a Quaker-style final service!
Well, our reading today is about another new start. It’s one of the more difficult stories in the whole Bible so to ‘tell is slant’, in their own, inimitable style, I welcome up the wonderful Open the Book team…
Genesis 6:1 – 9:17 – The Lion Storyteller Bible version
Well…any excuse to dress up! And we must send our love to Kath – Open the Book prop team member and unbelievably creative prop maker – who’s recovering at home, and hopefully worshipping with us online today.
And those who were able to come to yesterday’s party will have heard that when I first moved down to Pontypridd, just a rucksack on my back, I was greeted with the sight of a rainbow over the town. I actually took a photograph of it at the station. That’s it. The moment just before I strode down the steps to be greeted by two angels – or Lynda and Marcia as most of you know them. And in the eight years that have followed I’ve noticed a couple of other resonances with Noah and his story – disruptive flooding, life-changing mountain top views, weird and wild creatures with which he journeyed! In many ways, then, the story of Noah’s ark and, particularly that final symbol – the rainbow – will always remind me of St. David’s Uniting Church.
And given that God…or just my technological incompetence…spared you the lengthy, and dare I say, sublime sermon, which I originally wrote, let me just share three brief ways in which the rainbow might shine some light on your identity, purpose, and place in God’s kingdom.
Firstly and most obviously – the rainbow is a symbol of inclusivity – as seen here when we made and shared a cake to celebrate Ray and the courage of his coming out. For those of us who were there on that Sunday afternoon, it will forever shine in our memories. And inclusivity is threaded through the worship and witness of St. David’s Uniting Church. You sing ‘all are welcome’ and you live it out. Whether through your community projects, your ongoing refugee support, ecumenical and inter-faith work, your sacrificial stance on same sex weddings, presence in primary schools and care homes, you defiantly declare – with those other angels on a hillside back in Bethlehem – that there really is good news of great joy for all people, whatever our age, gender, or social status, our ethnicity, sexuality, mental or physical health. This isn’t because you see it as a trendy add-on or a way to make the Church a bit more friendly but because you see it as a core gospel truth…following the one who listened to women, welcomed children, touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, drank with the outcast, and condemned the religious leaders who tried to keep God’s grace for the select few. The life of Jesus tells us that God loves things by uniting with them, not excluding them…by living a life of sacred solidarity, by inviting everyone to God’s party – and that’s what I’ve seen, and cherish, about this community.
Of course, along with inclusivity, the rainbow is a symbol of diversity-in-unity. Rainbows wouldn’t look as spectacular if they were just one colour. It’s the vibrancy of the different colours which make them so special and St. David’s Uniting Church is a community of divine difference. Some of you might remember how, at my last church meeting with you, I said that I’d learnt something from each and every one of you. Well, as is the St. David’s Uniting way, one member challenged me on this and put me on the spot by asking what I had learnt from her and her friend. And I was more than a little relieved that I could rise to the challenge, for it is true. Every single one of you has blessed me – and one another – by bringing your diverse gifts and graces, positions and perspectives to the wider community.
And that shouldn’t be surprising really. After all, each of us is a unique bearer of God’s image. Each of us are God’s masterpiece, as we said back in Arty August – and whilst some of you are definitely more Picasso than Da Vinci – each of you shines with a unique light that reflects something of God’s love, wonder, and goodness. So I will be praying that you will continue to both celebrate diversity and work for unity. That you will continue to be receptive to different viewpoints, different personalities, different ways of being church whilst anchored in your shared identity in Christ…for you are St David’s Uniting Church…present participle. The work, the joy, the journey continues.
And finally, you’ll be pleased to know, the rainbow is a symbol of hope. There are all sorts of flood stories in the Ancient Near East – which suggests that there really was a flood in the area and that the nearby peoples tried to explain it. Most of these stories follow the same formula. The gods get angry with the world. They send a flood. Everybody dies. The gods win! This is where the story we inherit – though not without its difficulties – is actually one of hope. For the story we tell offers a different understanding of God. Of a God who says that violence and destruction won’t have the last word. A God wants to live in covenant – in relationship – with us. A God who actively invites us to participate in the flourishing of creation. A God who thus calls us to be people of hope.
And boy, can the world do with a little hope right now. Which isn’t to mean that we can’t get upset or angry about the inequalities and injustices that we see all around us. Quite the opposite! It’s just as St Augustine said way back in the fourth century, when Lynda was just a teenager – hope has two beautiful daughters – their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to see that they don’t remain that way. Amongst you, I have witnessed anger, and courage, and wild hope. May you continue to burn with each of these, daring to declare that love will win, righteousness will roll on like waters, that peace and justice will kiss.
So…that’s kinda what I was going to say. I think. Maybe just with a little more alliteration! In any case, the rainbow stands as a symbol of inclusivity, diversity-in-unity, and hope. It is, I believe, a motif for this church and the symbol of God’s promise for you, me, all people and all creation. A rainbow connection that binds us together with eternal, extravagant love. Amen.
Prayers of intercession –
Written by Mary Robins, read by Viviane Lamare
Dear Lord, day by day we listen to or watch the “news” on our radios or
television screens and are often overwhelmed by what is happening to our precious world, and the seemingly insoluble problems that confront us.
So, we pray for all of God’s people, irrespective of who we are or what we are. In the words of a very old hymn:-
Help us to help each other Lord,
each other’s cross to bear,
let each a helping hand afford,
and feel each other’s care
Grant that we may be conscious of, and respond to, the needs of all who inhabit this world. Let there be no boundaries between us and may the misguided, evil ambitions of a few come to nought
We pray that we should conserve and use the world’s resources wisely for the good of all mankind, striving to combat the effects of climate change that are becoming more evident as year follows year.
We pray for all those who are sick or frail wherever they may be and for those who care for them with such dedication and devotion. In particular,
we think of those in our own flock who we hear of week by week and we ask for your blessing on them in their hour of need.
We pray for the leaders of all nations, as we are confronted with the war in the Ukraine and the post pandemic world that has so severely affected all countries. Grant that we may be given the resolve, unity of purpose, and good government to strengthen us as we seek to heal and restore our world.
We pray for your churches wherever they may be, that they may influence their governments and leaders to seek solutions through the paths of peace rather than resorting to war and it’s inevitable consequences. In particular, we pray for our own church as we consider what the future may hold for us. Grant that we may be given the wisdom to follow your guidance and do what is right in your sight.
Finally, we pray for our minister, Phil, as he embarks on a new phase in his ministerial journey. As he departs, we acknowledge and give thanks for his unstinting and faithful service to us, in this church, to our community and to the wider church.
In the words of another well-known hymn:-
May God’s blessing surround you each day,
as you trust him and walk in his way.
May his presence within guard and keep you from sin,
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.
We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, your son and our Saviour