Reflection and Prayers
“Money’s too tight to mention!”
To further to encourage us in our Lenten reflection on ‘faith and finances’, today we consider upcoming Jubilee celebrations and what they might say about our values.
2022 was not supposed to go like this. After parliamentary prorogations and political turmoil in 2019, the double whammy of local floods and something called Covid in 2020, and the losses that waves of new variants brought in 2021, 2022 was supposed to be the year in which we could return to normal, blinking in the sunlight, ready to embrace the everyday joys of hugs and handshakes and revelling in the camaraderie that surviving a global pandemic might bring to the world. In fact – 2022 was to be the year of partying for it is the year of Jubilees. In June, with an extra bank holiday in hand, we’ll be invited to mark the Queen’s 70 years on the throne with streamers and street parties…which will inevitably cause the usual mix of royalist celebration and republican consternation here in South Wales.
Equally divisive – though on a somewhat smaller scale – are the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of the United Reformed Church in October for, whilst some are keen on celebrating all that the denomination has shared over the years – a focus on social justice, equality and ecumenism for example – others are declaring that the ecumenical experiment has failed and that the denomination is broken beyond repair. Added to these parties, we have other more local, and hopefully less controversial, Jubilees to celebrate across our churches this year as Diane & Alan, and Marcia & Brian mark their Silver and Golden anniversaries respectively. Yes, 2022 was supposed to be the year of fun and frivolity, picnics and parties that we all needed…but Putin had other ideas.
Of course, even suggesting that Putin is raining on our parade and upsetting our sense of peace is making things all about us and, whilst there’s no shame in acknowledging the despair that can creep in when hearing about the war, we must always remember just how fortunate we are over here – keeping the real victims of the conflict and discussions of how we can help them at the forefront of our minds and prayer.
I’d also want to say that acknowledging the horrors of the world does not mean we should not enjoy its delights too. On the contrary, I’ve found that those who are well acquainted with life’s shadowlands are often those who are most attuned to life’s everyday blessings too whilst those safeguarded by comfort and privilege often get lost in trivialities and their own narrow horizons. There’s something of that in the outlook of Jesus – he who often ate, drank, and was merry – compared with that of the religious leaders who were busy straining gnats and spotting specks of sawdust.
And speaking of the Bible…were Jubilees really meant to be about parades and palace parties in the first place? What are they even for? Where do they come from? Well, for that, we will turn to this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Testament and God’s declaration of the Year of Jubilee as found in the book of Leviticus…
Count off seven Sabbaths of years—seven times seven years: Seven Sabbaths of years adds up to forty-nine years. Then sound loud blasts on the ram’s horn on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement. Sound the ram’s horn all over the land. Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year. Proclaim freedom all over the land to everyone who lives in it—a Jubilee for you: Each person will go back to his family’s property and reunite with his extended family. The fiftieth year is your Jubilee year: Don’t sow; don’t reap what volunteers itself in the fields; don’t harvest the untended vines because it’s the Jubilee and a holy year for you. You’re permitted to eat from whatever volunteers itself in the fields. In this year of Jubilee everyone returns home to his family property.
Leviticus 25:8-13 (The Message)
Okay…now we’re getting somewhere. Far from an excuse for some flag-waving over vol-au-vents, the principle of Jubilee originates from The Hebrew Bible and God’s blueprint for a just and compassionate society. Given to the Israel to live out as a new community, the Jubilee Year was to be celebrated once in a lifetime – every 50 years – and was a year in which land was returned, slaves were freed, and debts were written off! It was a radical economic, cultural, and environmental reset in which the land and the people were to rest and those oppressed by financial burdens were to be liberated. As theologians at Tearfund have put it;
The jubilee laws acknowledged the reality of living in a broken world: that some families would do better than others, land would be bought and sold over time, people would move around – and sometimes even need to sell themselves into bonded labour. They offered a dramatic, radical answer to the situation: a resetting of the society and economy that expressed God’s justice and desire his whole creation to flourish. The year of jubilee…would restore Israel and the Israelites to the life that God intended for them.
Doesn’t that kinda blow your mind? A total economic reset! It’s hard for us to get our heads around. To be fair, it was hard for those at the time to get their heads around, as demonstrated in the fact that there’s no evidence that the laws were ever actually enacted! But just imagine what would happen if it was! In a world in which billionaires race each other to the moon whilst children still die of starvation; even just here, in the UK, where social mobility is so frozen that it would take five generations for a poorer family in the UK to reach the average income; embracing the principle and purpose of the original Jubilee celebrations would turn the whole economic and political landscape upside-down!
Perhaps, then, as one URC Youth member suggested at January’s Assembly, the United Reformed Church should mark its Jubilee by selling off all its buildings, encouraging churches to rest for a year, and if God really wants the denomination to continue, God will find a way! Perhaps, as suggested by numerous Christian charities over the years, on a global scale, we should be cancelling the debt that debilitates smaller nations and seek to pay reparations to nations who are still suffering after-effects of slavery. And perhaps, we should put aside banners and bunting – or at least put them up whilst also bringing up questions of how we can do our bit to house the disposed, welcome the refugee, liberate the economically oppressed today.
This might all sound a little revolutionary, a touch scary even…but if we don’t like it, maybe we need to question what we sing, say, and pray as a Church. Do we really ‘wish for a heart full of goodness over a luxurious life’ (as we sang in Calon lan?). Do we really want God’s kingdom to come if that means a dramatic change in the status quo; if it means praying and working for a time when ‘the last will be first’ (Matthew 20:16a) and ‘the well fed will go to bed hungry’ (Luke 6:25a)? Sometimes, I wonder.
And yet, the sheer fact that over one hundred thousand people across the UK immediately signed up to the new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, welcoming desperate refugees alongside the trauma they have endured into their own homes, shows that when squarely faced with the cruel injustices of the world, many of us are prepared to give sacrificially. I know we have some such individuals within our congregations, whilst others who are not so inclined for all manner of good reasons have given generously to the Red Cross and are already planning how we might welcome and support any refugees once they’ve come to South Wales – as they have done before.
So, then, when it comes to Jubilees and generosity, or ‘finances and faith’ as Ray’s excellent Lent studies put it, how might we celebrate; how much should we give; what should we do? Questions like these usually signal a good time to look to Jesus. Let’s hear of one encounter he had with a wealthy man who had similar questions of his own…
Reading: Mark 10:17-27
It’s a rich passage, isn’t it? One that most of us have heard many times before. So what’s it got to do with how we might live today? Well, let’s go along with that old adage that preaching, like art, is there to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
First, then, disturbing the comfortable. Put simply, Jesus’ words in this passage should indeed disturb us. Most churches would do anything to welcome and keep wealthy young men in their congregation and yet Jesus effectively sends him away by telling him to sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor.
And just as the disciples are trying to get their heads around this, he explains both clearly and then with artistic flourish just how hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! Now, other than suggesting that he could really do with some PR assistance, what do we do with this passage? At least hear Jesus’ challenge, I reckon. The rich young man was a religiously obedient and observant person. He knows his commandments – has done since his youth – and ticks the Temple boxes about what to do and how to act. And yet when Jesus looks at him with love, he is challenged to sell all he owns. We can wrap up an interpretation of this with all sorts of valid contextual caveats but there’s no getting away from the fact that throughout Jesus’ life and teaching, he tells his followers that their faith will be evidenced in their actions. That it’s not enough to go to the Temple – or the church – once a week to sing some nice songs and hear some hope-filled words for God is bringing forth a new world order. It’s one of Jubilee liberation where debts are forgiven, the imprisoned are freed, where peace and justice kiss. It’s one where the hungry are fed, the outcast are welcomed, where everyone is invited to the party. Yet it’s one where moths eat riches; sheep and goat get separated and where those who cried ‘Lord, Lord’ but neglected the needs of their neighbour will be judged. I wonder, then, what Jesus might be saying to each of us today. The comfortable might well be disturbed.
But the disturbed can also be comforted for Jesus’ teaching to his friends did not end with words of judgement but words of hope. Astounded and somewhat dejected with just how hard the entrance requirements to Jesus’ new movement had become, they ask him, ‘But who can actually do all this? Who can be saved?’ to which Jesus replies – ‘For mortals it is impossible…but for God, all things are possible’.
Thank God for grace! For grace takes seriously the injustices and inequalities of this world – including the part we play in them – but does not let them have the final word. Grace acknowledges the debts we burden ourselves and others with, then welcomes us to reset and begin again. Grace means the kingdom of God is not something we can own, attain, or deserve but a way of life we’re all invited to embrace. Not just every fifty years – more like every fifty seconds. For God never gives up on us and never will.
Perhaps then, this year, like every other one we spend in God’s good world, we do have cause to party. Amen.
 And there are MANY blessings to count right now. From the colour of spring flowers and promise of longer days, to the return of our ladies’ guilds and invite back to Coedylan assemblies.
Hymn: When I needed a neighbour
Prayers of reflection and intercession – Claire Hughes
Let us pray….
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
Imagine the situation: you’ve been in prison for 5 years and you are about to be released: fear and anxiety temper any excitement and relief…where will you go? Who will hold your hand or open their door to you? God help us to be welcoming to the vulnerable, even when it may be uncomfortable to do so. Let us pray for Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, as they adjust to their newfound freedom after years of enforced
I was hungry and thirsty; I was cold, I was naked, were you there?
As fuel and other costs rise, more families are seeing their already tight budgets squeezed further. Foodbanks are in increased demand. Parents go hungry so their children’s bellies are filled before they’re put to bed in chilly rooms because switching the heating on is out of the question. Lord, shower your love on these families and guide us as we endeavour to support them, through initiatives like the Foodbanks.
When I needed a shelter, were you there?
Too many vulnerable people are living on our streets. Millions find themselves refugees, escaping theatres of war, tyrannical states, disease, poverty, natural disasters. Our thoughts are particularly with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, at present, as unspeakable horrors are perpetrated there. We wonder if the world will ever learn, as we watch a 21st century dictator causes untold levels of destruction, to life, limb and infrastructure. Political power comes with a responsibility to the people who the politicians are there to SERVE but we are witnessing an abhorrent abuse of power, an attempt to colonise what belongs to God: the heart, mind, soul and strength of the people of Ukraine, holding the power of life and death over those who are at their most vulnerable. As eminent Christian Orthodox theologians declared this week: ‘No political leader should attempt to accrue to himself or herself powers they have no right to exercise’. God, we know that you suffer when your people suffer. Encourage us to stand up to terrible wrong, to open our hearts and our wallets and our front doors to help those displaced and running for their lives. We pray for a swift and peaceful end to the conflict and liberation for the Ukrainian people.
When I needed a healer, were you there?
We think of those suffering from ill health or waiting for death, across the world and closer to home, amongst our own community and we take a moment to think of those within our own congregation who are unwell or facing hospital treatment or have other troubles….PAUSE…… Covid still affects our daily lives, as case numbers remain high, those with the disease still endure awful symptoms and health services remain strained, in their bid to reduce high waiting list numbers whilst coping with the fallout of Covid. Lord, hold all those who suffer and grieve in your loving embrace and remind them that they are not alone.
Wherever you travel, I’ll be there….
We rejoice that we can trust in you, God, to be ever-present, at our sides throughout our daily lives. You are in the sunshine and the rain, in the birdsong, in a stranger’s smile, in the mighty oceans and the lofty mountains. Thank you for loving us, for giving us this wonderful planet on which to live. With all the troubles that our world currently faces, let us remember, too, with jubilation, that there is much good to be grateful for, many people helping others, giving of their love and energy, time and money, to provide support to the needy.
We bring all our prayers together – those spoken and silent – together in the name of our neighbour and saviour, the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
So, as we step out into the week,
May God’s extravagant love consume us,
Christ’s life and passion inspire us,
And the Spirit’s guidance compel us to do ordinary things
with extraordinary love.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and
Spirit be upon us and remain with us always.
Our service in here is ending.
Our service out there starts afresh. Let’s go in grace. Amen.