Reflection and Prayers
Sharing Space and Holding Hands
So, last Sunday was a bit of a marathon, eh?! Following the church meeting service, one participant told me “It was long but it had to be. What needed to be said was said. What needed to be done was done. You can’t expect any more than that.” A pretty fair review, I thought, whilst another member commented, “It was far from enjoyable, but it was well managed by you and the elders” …high praise indeed! Well in amongst all the procedures followed, technical difficulties encountered, and praise given, you might have heard – or read – the word ‘oikos’. It came up in my reflection as I shared that the global theme for this year’s ‘season of creation’ is ‘A Home For All?: The Oikos of God’. Oikos is the Greek word for family or home used throughout the Christian Testament, and so the invitation is for us all to consider the ways in which this planet is the home for everyone – for all humanity alongside the flora and fauna with which we share the Earth. In other words, if the Earth is our home; and if the Earth is God’s home, what does that say about how we behave within it?
So I wonder, when thinking of ‘home’ – what do you picture? The Earth? Wales? Your brick-and-mortar dwelling place? And if the latter – if by ‘home’ we mean, for now, the building in which we reside – how do you feel about it? Which adjective would best describe it? Is it cosy? Impressive? A fixer-upper? Over the past year, has it felt like a sanctuary…or a prison? Is it a place where you escape, or welcome, others? Is it your workplace or party palace? Is it tidy and well-maintained or messy and delipidating? What does the way you manage it say about how you feel about it…and does it make a difference if you rent it, own it, or have the URC pay for it? What does your home, and the way you manage it, reveal about you?
If we had more time, I invite us to ponder each of those questions for longer…but we can’t end the service at 1:15 two weeks in a row so instead, I invite you to reflect on those questions this week. For today, let’s have a think about what Jesus’ home might reveal about God as we turn to the opening verses of the gospel according to John. Many of you, I know, are familiar with the poetic and more traditional version of the chapter but sometimes reading a different translation helps us escape familiarity, encountering the themes afresh, and so we hear/read some selected verses from The Message Bible…
The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
…The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
John 1:1-5, 14 – The Message
Some of us might be lost in praise now after hearing such radical, world-changing theology…whilst others might be just be lost by words and ideas that feel beyond human comprehension. I feel a bit of both! But I wanted to take a couple of minutes to suggest that there are at least two streams of thought here that might say something to us about our understanding of God, creation, and us; that might shine some light on how we might live as responsible, faithful residents on this planet that we, and God, call home.
Firstly, let me briefly take you back to 1997. Tony Blair had just swept into power; Ron Davies was declaring ‘a very good morning for Wales’; and a film about a ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage was quickly becoming the highest grossing film in history. In case you missed it, ‘Titanic’ told the love story between wealthy but oppressed Rose and poor but free Jack as they partied, painted, and panted with each other all before – spoiler alert – an iceberg is hit and the Titanic sinks. Now, in spite of the excellent cast, the film wasn’t really for me and one of the numerous problems I had with it came in the final scenes for the ship has gone, Rose and Jack are freezing, and there is little to keep them afloat. It’s at this point that they try to lay on a bit of wreckage but they after just one attempt, they decide there’s not enough room for two so Rose stays on it and lives and Jack doesn’t and dies. Ever since then, people have questioned why they didn’t try a bit harder to fit on the wreckage and, as some internet sites bluntly put it – did Rose, in fact, kill Jack?! But what’s this got to do with anything?!
Well, one way of understanding those words in the first chapter of John, or in the first chapter of Genesis for that matter, is that God makes space for the other. In the very act of creation itself, God makes room for the cosmos and all its creatures to exist. Far from taking over the whole of the wreckage and declaring that there’s no room for anyone else, in a glorious act of grace and, some would even say, contraction, God makes space for Jack and Rose, Adam and Eve, you and me. God makes space for dolphins and daffodils, leopards and lilies, hamsters, holly and humans to exist. The question is, do we? Do we resemble the Creator in whose image we are made by making space for others to exist? Do we heed Gandhi’s Christ inspired call to ‘live simply that others can simply live’ or are we more like the wealthy Rose, taking more than our fair share of space, driving others into the sea through what we consume, in the carbon we expend, by the waste we produce? In our living, how can we be more like God, making space for the other?
The second and final steam that I think it’s worth considering today is that God is not separate from creation. Everything was created through the Word, John tells us, and let’s just say for now that the term ‘the Word’ is another way of saying ‘Christ’ – Everything was created through the Word, nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him.
Everything was created through Christ. Just think about those words. Everything was created through Christ, not one thing came into being without him. That means that ‘everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God’ (Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p13). All of creation contains something of Christ’s DNA, as it were. We touched on this at last week’s zoom communion service as we noted that the truth of death and resurrection seems woven into creation itself – in the cycle of the seasons and the circle of life. But in case I’m getting a little new age-y for you here, let me take you back to 2010 when Gordon Brown gave way to David Cameron at number 10; Barry-born Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister in Australia; and a film about cartoon toys made fully grown adults weep across the globe. The film is Toy Story 3 and it is a classic. In one iconic scene near the film’s end, our beloved heroes find themselves in an incinerator, facing probable destruction when they decide to face their fate together, holding one another’s hands and eventually getting rescued by friends who are there with them. Trust me, if you’ve seen it, it stays with you!
And I think that image of togetherness, unity, solidarity, speaks of God’s attitude to the Earth and its creatures. For God does indeed love things by uniting with them not excluding them (Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p16). This can be seen in the very act of creation itself, in which all things are created ‘through Christ’ or, as the writer of Colossians more bluntly puts it – ‘Christ is all and is in all’ (Colossians 3:11). And when we still didn’t quite get this, when we assumed that God must live ‘up there’, holy, distinct, separate from creation, God ‘became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’; God looked at us with love, entered our home and held our hand in solidarity.
Again, the question is, how might we do the same? How do we hold the hand of our sister in Madagascar who is starving due to a climate change created famine? How do we hold the hand of our brother in Tuvalu where the rising sea levels are swallowing up their islands? How might we show unity, love, solidarity with those around the world whose homes are disappearing because of the way we’re abusing our common home? How might we face the future together?
For me at least, our story of creation speaks of God’s grace and divine diversity; of Christ’s compassion and sacred solidarity, and we are invited us to share this story on our lips and in our living. Perhaps that means thinking more intentionally about the things we buy and eat, and how that affects our shared home. Perhaps it means praying and protesting, holding our politicians to account in how they act at this autumn’s climate conference in Glasgow. Perhaps, for someone like me, it means it’s time to reassess dreams of far-flung holidays and rediscover the beauty closer to home. There are some tips and places to go for more information, deeper reflection, in our newsletter and on our website. For now, let us remember that God made space for the other and praise God for this. Let us affirm that God loves things by uniting with them and do likewise. Let us declare – hopefully with music this week – that God in such love for us lent this planet, Gave it a purpose in time and in space: Small as a spark from the fire of creation, Cradle of life and the home of our race…
God in such love for us lent us this planet,
Gave it a purpose in time and in space:
Small as a spark from the fire of creation,
Cradle of life and the home of our race.
Fred Pratt Green
Prayers of intercession – Claire Hughes
Let us pray,
From the tiniest ant to the huge sperm whale, from the smallest snowdrop to the massive redwoods, every plant and creature on this planet were put here by your gracious hand, God.
You gave us custodianship of our world, yet we exploit it for our own comfort and convenience, greed and vanity. Help us to redress the balance of nature, in our daily actions. Guide us in making wise choices, in the way we live and the things we buy.
When we pick up our car keys, challenge us to walk instead; when we go to the supermarket, let us think twice before adding that plastic bottle of water or packaged piece of meat to our trolley. When we visit the garden centre, may we choose the peat-fee compost to feed our lawns and flowerbeds.
Every time we use a single-use item, give us the wherewithal to consider what we might have used before it existed. After all, many of us will remember the time before plastic was king.
Speak to the hearts of those with wealth and power to do good and make change. Let them take the right path, not just the easy one. Grant wisdom and courage to the participants of the COP26 Climate Change conference in November: difficult decisions are desperately needed in order to safeguard this beautiful planet that you have entrusted to us – guide them in making those tough choices, so that our world’s recovery is put above economic and fiscal wealth.
Let us petition for regulation of big businesses who exploit natural resources irresponsibly.
May we be encouraged in our charitable giving, to support projects that direct aid to communities whose habitats are being destroyed, through their efforts to survive, because there is no alternative. Let our support BE that alternative, so that our forests are protected and our endangered species have a chance of surviving.
We pray for people, animals and countries throughout the world who are suffering loss through natural disaster, thinking of the volcanic eruption in La Palma, this week but remembering that many countries have experienced flooding, wildfires, storms, earthquakes. Wrap your loving arms around them and give them comfort. Yet, with all these tragedies, we are grateful for the beauty that still surrounds us every day and rejoice in watching the moon rise above the mountain on an autumn evening; bulls coming to the farm gate to say ‘hello’; a baby’s smile and chuckle; Wally the Walrus thankfully heading north again.
We pray for the refugees from Afghanistan newly-arrived in the UK and hope that they will feel welcome and safe. We remember those still living in war-torn or politically unstable countries, those suffering from disease and poverty, those who have lost loved ones, those who are suffering ill health, physical or mental, and think with love of those within our own congregation who are facing or waiting for hospital treatment.
In the quiet of the next few moments, let us bring our own personal prayers to God…..
We bring all our prayers together in the prayer that Jesus gave us, saying in whichever language we are most comfortable…Our Father/Ein Tad….
May God who established the dance of creation,
Who marvelled at the lilies of the field,
Who transforms chaos to order,
Lead us to transform our lives and the Church
To reflect God’s glory in creation.