Rev Ray Vincent
Ray is a retired Baptist Minister and an Elder of St David’s Uniting Church, Pontypridd.
He is also Senior Associate Chaplain at the University of South Wales based in Treforest.
We are pleased that Ray is our Worship leader for today.
Where are you at this moment?
What are your circumstances?
What makes you feel good this morning?
What makes you feel anxious?
What do you hope to get out of this service?
Lord, to whom shall we go?
Your words are words of eternal life.
Our God, we come here in all kinds of moods
and from a variety of situations.
You know what these are
and what each of us needs to hear at this time.
Make us ready for the word that brings us life
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
This is the place and this is the time;
here and now, God waits to break into our experience:
to change our minds,
to change our lives,
to change our ways.
to make us see the world and the whole of life in a new light;
to fill us with hope, joy and certainty for the future.
This is the place, as are all places;
this is the time, as are all times.
Here and now, let us praise God.
Jesus: Good News or Bad?
Many people today who call themselves ‘spiritual seekers’ tend to think that true spiritual experience is to be found in India or Kathmandu, or among the native Americans or the Australian aborigines – the more distant and the more exotic the better. Of course, we have much to learn from other spiritual traditions – Buddhism, Taoism, native American, African and Australian aboriginal spirituality. It’s good that we are realising how wrong it was to despise and trample over them. There is also much to be gained by pilgrimage, an old Christian tradition that is again becoming popular. I love hearing people’s stories of the Camino, etc., and some of us in this church made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years ago. It is good for us to get away from the familiar, see things from a different point of view, and be in places that are sanctified by centuries of devotion.
But God is not only found in distant places or special places. There is an Old Testament passage that sharply reminds us of this.
Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-14
In other words: ‘Don’t go travelling all over the world, or trying to climb up to heaven to find God’s revelation – it’s here in front of you!’ God tells you quite plainly what to do – just do it!
There are different ways of ‘doing religion’. It can consist of mystical experience or exalted feelings. For some it means ‘finding yourself’. For others it means praising God in hymns, or expressing deep feelings of love for God or for Jesus. It can be centred on standing up for correct doctrine or living by strict rules. Some people concentrate on signs and wonders or great displays of piety and sacrifice.
The prophet Micah had something to say about that:
Reading: Micah 6:6-8
It’s about what you do – how you live with other people. And it’s about knowing your place as a human being and not thinking you are God. Christianity, like the Jewish faith from which it comes, is down-to-earth and ethical.
We often talk about ‘conversion’, or ‘being saved’ as if it was something for our benefit. But in the Bible God nearly always comes into people’s lives to call them to do something. This was how he came into the lives of Abraham, Moses and Jonah. Jesus called disciples to follow him, and to follow him because there was a job to do: ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’.
His ministry was one of inclusion: befriending the outcasts, healing the sick, and teaching. In that work his love was unconditional. But to those he called as disciples, he was demanding.
Reading: Mark 10:17-25
Here was a spiritual young man. Jesus loved him for that. He was already living a good life, but he had a longing for something more. Jesus taught him at least two lessons. First ‘Why do you call me good?’ – don’t think you can get eternal life by worshipping me! And then ‘Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor’ – a deeper, higher life is not just an add-on: there’s a cost to it
This year I attended the Baptist Assembly, online. Being online has several advantages, the chief one being that we can hear people from all over the world. The main guest speaker was Shane Claiborne, who addressed us from Pennsylvania. Shane has a very down-to-earth and inclusive ministry in a deprived area of Philadelphia. He reminded us of the story of the Good Samaritan, and made one point I had not thought of before – most of us in the churches never walk the kind of roads where people are liable to get beaten up, but those are the places where the Gospel really means something!
Something that struck me even more was when he said that many people giving their testimony say something like ‘My life was in a terrible mess, but then I met Jesus and now I’ve got it all together’. His own testimony is ‘My life was all neatly together – then I met Jesus and he messed it up’!
Jesus said his gospel was ‘good news to the poor’. But to those who are not poor it is an uncomfortable challenge – and that means most of us.
Some of the teachings of Jesus are very demanding, and can disturb us. They are meant to. But in the end the love of God is unconditional for all, even the rich! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts with ‘Blessed are …’. It is not a condemnation, but an invitation to a fuller, more blessed life. The kingdom of heaven is a feast, but perhaps it is the poor who show us how to enjoy it.
Following the Reflection, we will join discussion groups- to consider the following:
We ask you to do the same.
‘Give to everyone who begs from you.’
‘Sell all your belongings, and give the money to the poor.’
‘Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’
We invite you to ask yourself these questions which we will be responding to.
How do these sayings of Jesus make you feel?
Do you think the teachings of Jesus have changed the world?
Can you think of things you have done that you might not have done if you were not a professing Christian?
Prayers of Intercession
- for people in need, thinking especially of Afghanistan, Haiti, people affected by Covid, and those suffering the effects of climate change
- for the people we care for: at home, in the church, among our neighbours, and those we we do not meet but we help them through our volunteering, charity giving or campaigning.
Will you come and follow me?
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted ; support the weak;
help the afflicted; honour all people;
love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all, evermore. Amen