Worship Leader Iestyn Henson
Hymn New ev’ry morning
Creator God, source of life and love, we come together to worship, conscious of our small place in time and space, yet uniquely loved as part of creation. Our lives are your plan; our experiences are your gift to us; our work is your work; our church is your church.
Redeemer God, source of reconciliation and freedom, we come together to give praise that in Jesus we have our pattern. Through him, we can learn to live in right relationships with each other, and in balance with our world.
Spirit God, source of inspiration and comfort, we come together to celebrate your presence with us. In your company, we explore what it means to be the people of God; with live with you and work with you as guide, comforter and companion.
Living and Loving God, creator, redeemer and spirit, we give thanks for all that has been and for all that we shall be, together, uniting and in freedom,
A time for Covid
In the midweek reflection, I suggested that this was really the genius of the poetry of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3 – the section which lists a ‘time for this, and a time for that’
Taking the pandemic as our example, very many now say they’ve had enough – that it’s time to get back to normal, that it’s time to completely lift all restrictions. But very many also say that until enough have had a double dose of the vaccine, until the spread of the latest variant is completely under control, then how can we allow normality? Different perspectives, which, for me, suggest that it’s not one or the other that is going to be right or wrong, but a sense of balance that is needed.
With this in mind, I asked for some contributions for an alternative set of couplets to the Ecclesiastes 3 set, inspired by our experiences of the last 18 months or so. And so our first reading is very much a community effort.
A Time for Covid – Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
God says: There’s a right time for everything.
A time to give and a time to receive;
A time to look after neighbours, and a time to let your neighbours look after you;
There’s a time to try out a Covid Recipe Book, and a time to delight in the culinary gifts of others;
A time to keep to the one-way system around the supermarket and a time for a chat at the checkout;
A time to keep that 2-meter distance and a time for a cwtch;
A time to wear a mask for a while, and a time to see a friendly smile;
A time for the final whistle and a time for extra time;
There’s a time to study and learn and a time to work and earn;
A time to use new technology and a time for old school telephony;
A time to brave the train for the commute and a time to sit in the spare bedroom on mute;
A time to queue and be injected and a time to recover and be protected;
A time to wonder at human ingenuity and a time to appreciate human fragility;
There’s a time to gaze and see the world, and a time to listen and hear the world;
A time for Church and a time for our living rooms;
A time to Shout for Joy at the good things we have and a time to weep for what we no longer have
And there’s a time for the mute button and a time to come off mute and bless each other with cacophonous Grace!
God says: There’s a right time for everything.
Reading Luke 4: 16-21 in ‘The Message’
16-21 Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been raised. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s time to shine!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
REFLECTION (Luke 4: 16-21 and Psalm 123) ~ Iestyn Henson
I’ve often wondered, sitting in a pew on a Sunday, listening to sermon after sermon, which passages from the Bible, which stories or parables, which letters or teaching, have received the most attention. I think it’s fair to say that there are some standard passages which we return to time and again; it’s equally true that there are probably great chunks of the Bible about which few of us know a single thing. In this, the Lectionary is both a help and a hinderance: set readings to look at on a 3-year cycle, a choice of Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel and Letters giving some variety within that structure. It’s useful for pattern, it’s useful for that sense of ‘knowing where we are’ that we’ve already talked about. In one way there’s ‘A time for hearing this story again and a time to sing the song’.. It’s also rather reassuring to know that, by and large, the Church around the world, is giving thought to the same things at the same time of year; there’s a sense of sharing worship and sharing evangelism across congregations, denominations, even countries. Just by way of example of this, exactly three years ago (seems like yesterday, and yet an age ago), it was my turn again to take the service on the first Sunday in July – and the Lectionary pointed to the same Gospel readings and letters as it does today – not that I had to preach, as those who were at St David’s in July 2018 will remember the visit of our American Cousin, David Henson, who preached, whilst I put the rest of the service together around his excellent sermon, which is still on the website somewhere, I believe.
The Lectionary can also be a hinderance however, as I found when looking again at the set readings for today; I tried time and again, prayerfully, to think of what I would want to say about Mark, chapter 6 or Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, but nothing would come. I was getting very frustrated, if truth be told, because I kept wanting to find something to say about ‘today’, ‘a time for the right word’ and it just wouldn’t come.
And then, doesn’t God just work in mysterious ways?? I remembered that I hadn’t looked at the Psalm for today – I mean, I don’t often do so anyway, and we only really know our favourite psalms anyhow. Today though, the set Psalm is number 123…..not the 23rd on which I’ve preached at least twice, but the 123rd….. at four verses, it’s one of the shortest of them all. And it’s a bit of a corker, particularly if you can find a really good modern translation.
So here we are folks, today’s lectionary reading, Psalm 123, as found in ‘The Message’ – a contemporary translation from the United States:
1-4 I look to you, heaven-dwelling God, look up to you for help.
Like servants, alert to their master’s commands, like a maiden attending her lady,
We’re watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy.
Mercy, God, mercy! We’ve been kicked around long enough,
Kicked in the teeth by complacent rich men, kicked when we’re down by arrogant brutes.
And that’s it –, the Lectionary Psalm for today. A new one on me, but a word for today? Quite possibly so!!
But if that’s the new word for today, my reflection is much more on the Jesus Manifesto as we heard, from Luke Chapter 4, and I’m guessing that this is one of the more common choices for a sermon. It’s significant that, after the nativity stories, the stories of Jesus’ baptism and of his period in the desert, both Luke and Matthew’s Gospels start with a section where Jesus’s agenda is set out for all to see. Their setting is different, of course. Matthew gives us a series of Jesus’ thematic teaching collected together in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. Luke in contrast doesn’t have Jesus preaching to the crowds on the side of a hill, but puts him first right in the middle of his own people, in the Synagogue, in the religious meeting place, in his home town of Nazareth. I’m drawn again to this idea that everything has a time and a place.
I have often wondered, or imagined, what Jesus’s demeanour and voice must have been like that Sabbath in the synagogue. According to the report, he’s doing what we’ve done many times, standing up at the front to read from the holy books. I imagine Jesus would put inflection into his quote from Isaiah, emphasis on certain words, if that were the custom and practice. I imagine a pace or tempo to the reciting, dramatic pause or even a certain use of body language. It’s certainly not just the ‘talking head’ of a video call or a zoom meeting. I wonder whether he would have been taught to talk to the ‘imaginary spot’ midway through the congregation; look at the clock on the gallery was the advice given to me years and years ago, in church or in Eisteddfod. Or did Jesus narrow his focus and catch the eye of those figures in his local church who most needed to hear the word – yes, Brian Cohen, I’m talking to you!
All speculation of course, but not necessarily unimportant, because we have to think a little of what Jesus was saying, and how he was saying it, if we are to understand properly.
And for that matter, we also need to think a little of how the congregation was hearing it too. We stopped the reading before the response – but you know how it went don’t you: “All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was just a kid?”
In that Message translation, there’s a lovely clue to suggest that to begin with it went a little better that we might have imagined, at least from the perspective of the ordinary people. Jesus had spoken well, and in other translations, the people speak well of him in response. They are not dismissing the carpenter’s son, but rather amongst the ordinary people, the message has landed. Everything a time and place. But as Jesus continues, he upsets them – at least he upsets the ones with the clout; perhaps it’s not the ordinary people who are the snowflakes here, but the self-righteous.
This got me thinking further. By now, we’re used to hearing this part of Luke Chapter 4 with all its metaphor and imagery: setting prisoners free isn’t literally an opening of the police cells, making the blind to see isn’t just a healing miracle, but also about clarity of purpose; releasing the oppressed isn’t just about freedom from Roman invaders, but a wider call for justice and mercy.
Would that Sabbath synagogue congregation have heard these metaphors? Would they have understood what we now believe to be Jesus’s meaning when he said that this prophesy has been fulfilled, in that time, and in that space? Perhaps most of all, would the congregation have thought ‘Jesus is speaking to me, and about my condition?’ – or would the high and mighty have thought ‘this applies to them, but not to me’? I can certainly imagine the Pharisee being self-righteous; and yet I can also imagine others feeling as though Jesus is preaching to the converted already.
Perhaps we can only ask in our time and place – is Jesus speaking to us, and about us?
If scripture – Lectionary even – has any contemporary value at all, then we must answer ‘YES’. “Mercy, God, mercy!” cries the Psalmist – “We’ve been kicked around long enough, kicked in the teeth, kicked when we’re down….”
“I’ve come to set you free” says Jesus, in direct and plain answer.
And Jesus is talking to all of us.
If this pandemic – and its ongoing variations and mutations – has taught us anything, it’s that actually, for one to be free, we must all be free. Personal freedom counts for little if we can’t meet as families, as community, as church; freedom to travel is at best a mixed blessing if doing so still takes the virus from one place to another; holidays aren’t the relaxation they should be if we are stressed about tests, paperwork and quarantine on return. Or, to put it another way, the desires of our personal freedom must be balanced with needs of freedom for everyone, and indeed, for the whole of creation.
The poets of Ecclesiastes understood balance. The poets and people of St David’s and Castle Square have a pretty good understanding too, I think, because, when all is said and done, our freedom comes not from government proclamation or even personal choice to do as we please. Our freedom comes from God in Christ Jesus, who came to restore the balance of our relationship with God and with each other; that in turn we might forever be free to love each other and our world, just as we have been loved.
Prayers of Intercession –~ Claire Hughes
We live in a democracy and are grateful for the social and political freedom we enjoy in this country. Our laws protect us from bigotry and oppression. We are aware that many millions of people throughout the planet do not experience such freedoms in their daily lives: their lives are controlled by the State and dictated by fear; they are trapped in the violent arena of warzones; poverty and disease confine them to hand-to-mouth living in slums, with no prospect of breaking free.
We think of and pray for those imprisoned for their beliefs or for speaking out against oppressive regimes, or being used as political pawns. We remember in particular Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, detained in Iran, against her will, since April 2016: give her courage and fortitude. May her freedom be secured so that she may return to the loving bosom of her family.
Give us the courage to use our voices to entreat our government to continue to provide aid abroad; to bring pressure to bear on oppressive states, so that they may provide fair and free living conditions for their people; encourage us, Lord, to support charities like Amnesty International and DPIA in their work to help the oppressed and displaced. May we be more welcoming to refugees, seeking escape from oppression and war. Let us be ready to share our good fortune and standards of living with those who simply ask for a life free of fear, disease and poverty.
We pray for those who are victims of human slavery, for children forced into marriage, for women and men forced to prostitute themselves against their will. We pray that the hearts of their captors will be opened and filled with compassion, so that they may break free of their prison.
Let us remember that a prison is not always a physical place. We pray for those trapped by mental illness, who are afraid to face the outside world, who struggle with day-to-day living. Let them feel the warm comfort of your love and may they receive the help and support they need to recover their health and be free to enjoy a fulfilling life.
As we start to enjoy new freedoms, with the lifting of restrictions made necessary during the pandemic, we pray that we do not go back to taking for granted the liberal lifestyle we enjoyed. Let us always be grateful for our ability to share one another’s company, enjoy nature and the people and world around us.
In a few moments of quiet, we offer our personal prayers for those we know, needing freedom from illness, loneliness, fear, grief…..
Our greatest freedom comes from knowing we are loved by you, Lord. We know that you are watching over us and know our every need. We bring our prayers together in the words you gave us, saying Our Father….