Reflection and Prayers
Today’s service at St. David’s Uniting Church includes the annual church meeting so Phil’s reflection for this week is shorter and relates to the meeting and his report that preceded it. That said, whether you’re a St David’s member or friend; go to Castle Square, another church or are a wanderer, we hope God will speak to you and your situation through the scripture passage and our reflection on it.
Matthew 7:21-29 – Wise and foolish builders
After blessing peacemakers and the poor and warning the rich and religious; after images of unsalty salt, sawdust and planks, swine and pearls; after the call to turn cheeks, give possessions, walk extra miles, Jesus ends his mount manifesto with a warning and yet another picture.
First, the warning – y’know, Jesus says, you might look and sound religious – you might say ‘Lord, Lord’; you might hold annual church meetings, pray prayers and drink grape juice from little glasses – but if you don’t put my radical teaching into practice – if you don’t live out the way of life I’ve just described, you won’t be living in God’s kingdom!
Before we get on to the big issues in this church meeting, we’d do well to think about these words. It’s not some dire warning of consequences for the afterlife or anything like that – that really wasn’t Jesus’ thing. Instead, it was a straightforward observation – my way is about love-in-action, even when it hursts, not religious lip-service that suits you. As I suggested in my report, in all our dealings today…in all our dealings everyday…we’d do well to consider – will this decision, this action, this time together lead to more faith, more hope, more justice, more love in the world? And if not, could…should…we do things differently?
Next, Jesus gives a short parable as a digestif.
These words I’ve told you, Jesus remarks, these proclamations and parables are not incidental additions to your life – they’re not DIY improvements to your standard of living. Instead, those who live out my teaching – who hear it and do it – are like a wise man who built his house upon solid ground so that when the rains came and floods hit, it stood firm. But if you just hear these words, and they’re not lived out in the way you talk, act, pray; shop, vote, spend, then you’re like some foolish builder who builds his house on a sandy beach. The storm will come and the house will not stand!
This year’s ‘Season of Creation’ theme that is being used by faith communities across the globe is ‘A Home for All: Renewing the Oikos of God’. We’ll unpack the word ‘oikos’ a bit more next week, but for now, we don’t need to be Creative Karens to see how the parable might relate to our stewardship of creation – to how our actions impact God’s world. For storms are coming – we’ve seen that both locally and globally over the past 18 months as we’ve witnessed floods on our doorstep, the world’s first climate change famine in Madagascar, and confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization that the number of weather-related disasters to hit the world has increased fivefold over the past 50 years. The storms are coming and our house, our divine home, will be hit. The question is, will it stand firm or will it crumble? Are we heeding Jesus’ warning against overconsumption, his command to sacrifice our comfort for our neighbours’ well-being, and call to live simply, or are we hearing the words whilst burying our heads – and foundations – in the sand?
The same question goes for our churches – the people and the buildings. What kind of house are we building? Is it one based on Jesus’ blueprints or on our own designs? Is it one that will stand firm against the wind and rain which are already here, or will it hold up for now, only to crumble as demands, and the waters, rise?
Before we continue on with our meeting, let me tell you about Princes Street United Reformed Church in Norwich.
A beautiful building, it was the premier nonconformist church in all of Norfolk and home, for several decades, to the influential Colman family (of mustard fame). In 1869, the 1000 strong congregation found the building too cramped so it was extended and redesigned in a stunning classical style by a leading architect who was also a member of the congregation. The church was built on solid rock. The Sunday school provided space for 1600 children; all sorts of life-changing community engagement and support was accessed on its premises; thousands of people saw and heard God’s good news on site. What a church to celebrate!
But geologists will tell you that land can change and builders will tell you that two-hundred-year-old buildings can dilapidate. In 2014, £400 000 was spent on the grade II listed building. And yet last year, when the storm worsened, the 25-strong congregation found themselves needing a new roof, and the decision to close the church was forced upon them.
I share this example, not to scare or depress, nor do I judge the Princes Street congregation in any way – remember those words about sawdust and planks of wood! – but, whilst I do not assume that history will repeat itself here as the Spirit can always surprise us, I think we – both congregations and those further afield – should celebrate our past, think very seriously about the storms of the future, and allow both to influence our decisions in the present. For this isn’t our church. St. David’s Uniting Church, Castle Square – they’re not ours. No, God in such love for us lent us this planet, this home, these buildings, so how will we most faithfully manage them all? Will this decision, this action, this time together lead to more faith, more hope, more justice, more love in the world? And if not, could…should…we do things differently?
God in such love for us lent us this planet.
This morning we are making decisions as St. David’s Uniting Church, but I would hope, not simply for St. David’s Uniting Church. In this season creation, we remember that we are part of the global Church; the web of humanity; the lattice of all creation. The way we live our lives here affects our neighbours right across the globe and that can be for good…like when the first Welsh missionaries shared the gospel with the people of Madagascar; or it can be for bad…like when our actions exacerbate climate change which has led to the famine in Madagascar. We are all interrelated. I am because we are. With this in mind, our prayers for the world are led today by friend of the church and all-round superstar, Hannah Rabearisoa, who was born in Madagascar, grew up in Penrhys, and today lives in Montgomery.
Prayers for ourselves, others, and all the world.
O God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all life, You have begun the work of creating a new world, a world where justice is known, where freedom and healing are available to all people. We pray for the places in the world that are caught up in violence, where people are held captive or struggle under oppressive powers, we think of the people of Afghanistan.
We pray for places where sickness prevails, and medical resources are scarce. We pray for the people of Haiti after the earthquake and the recent storm.
Grant those affected courage and perseverance through your Spirit. May people everywhere find the fullness of life you intend for us all. You have begun the work of creating a new community, a community where love is shared, and all find a sense of belonging. We pray for groups who are made to feel like they don’t belong, for families that caught up in tension or strife, and for those who feel isolated or desperate because no one seems to care.
Send your healing hands to those who are sick – our friends and family and those who are in grief, who finds each day challenging.
Grant them all courage and comfort through your Spirit. May people everywhere find the fullness of life you intend for us all. You have begun the work of making a new creation, a creation where all that has been broken is being restored, where all that has been distorted is made right, and what has been polluted or damaged is renewed. We pray for the earth, the places where its natural balances are threatened and species put at risk by human exploitation.
We pray for countries affected by wildfire due to climate change. We pray for Madagascar that faces one of the world’s first climate change famines.
Send your healing Spirit to renew the earth and make us wiser stewards. May creatures everywhere know the fullness of life you intend for us all. As you work towards making all things new, we pray for renewal in our churches and ministries, for leaders tired out by the responsibilities of coping with pandemic demands, and for church members who have drift away in the months of distancing.
Send your energizing Spirit to gather the church in ways both familiar and new. May your servants in every church know the fullness of life you intend for us all and be empowered to bear witness to Jesus in refreshing ways.
All these we ask in the name of Jesus, who taught us the prayer we now say together: The Lord’s Prayer…Our Father/Ein tad…
For all that God can do within us; for all that God can do without us.
Thanks be to God.
For all in whom Christ lived before us; for all in whom Christ lives beside us
Thanks be to God.
For all the Spirit wants to bring us; for where the Spirit wants to send us.
Thanks be to God
Christ has promised to be with us wherever we may journey.
We go to serve him. Amen.