On Sunday 2nd June we welcomed URC Wales Ecumenical Officer Rev Sally Thomas to our Church as ‘Guest’ speaker, although Sally is more like a friend!
The sermon developed the family time when we shared as ‘guest thoughts about climate change and the way, post-Brexit, people with racist views are more inclined to express them publicly. We thought about our responses in terms of lifestyle changes and speaking out to express our care and concern for people and planet
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
- UK Society at the present time
- and Church
How do each of these connect and ask us to consider what our corporate and personal response is?
Are changes in thinking and acting being asked of us?
Climate change is hardly new, but now we have a renewed and I’d say needed wake up call through not only scientists and researchers but so strongly through the thousands of school age children worldwide who, inspired by modern day prophet Greta Thunberg, stay away from school on Fridays to demonstrate and say enough is enough – time to change.
School children came together at the Senedd in Cardiff to speak out against climate change. BBC NewsWales
Personally, I’m encouraged that children are teaching us adults how to live responsibly and I hope we have the wisdom to listen to them and the commitment to act.
There are also the challenging actions of Extinction Rebellion who have staged a number of protests in recent weeks and are now saying they plan to close Heathrow Airport for weeks to protest about a third runway. Whether you approve of their methods or not – they’re making their point to those politicians who have so far mostly refused to listen.
The prayer ‘New Responsibility I read earlier is from a URC resource published in 1989.
It suggests we haven’t learned much in 30 years, have we?!
We now need to recognise that changing those aspects of our lifestyles that damage our planet are essential.
We can’t say we want a better future for our children and grandchildren and then fail to act ourselves. They are prophesying to us and we need to take notice – to re-create earth as God intended.
The reading from Isaiah is often referred to as the Isaiah Vision for the way the prophet paints a picture of God creating a world in which all share equally – where people live in the houses they build, eat the food they grow, have lifestyles that enable human flourishing where people don’t die before their time because of hunger, neglect, illness, exclusion.
For Christians such a world is embodied in Jesus Christ and we are the ones to be actively participating with God in creating such a new heavens and new earth now – right here where we are.
We need to act for creation to by letting ‘die’ lifestyles and inherited habits that we now understand cause harm – and it isn’t one huge and sweeping change – it’s the everyday little things that also embody the Resurrection of new life for creation – being as plastic free as we are able, eating less meat, being mindful of our environmental footprint, rejecting fossil fuels, buying fair trade goods when we can and so on. We need to demonstrate we care for our planet by intentional and thought through lifestyle changes but we also must act positively for the well-being and inclusion of all people.
In the season of Easter, we should always be aware that Resurrection is more than an annual celebration, it is a way of living we need to embody.
Reflecting on UK Society at the present time and what we thought about earlier it is, I feel, a sad reflection that the rise in xenophobia we see here and in a number of countries accompanies the current bandwagon of the politics of popularism – this trend, I’d suggest, is concerning; it diminishes us all.
Welcome as the natural response – for the stranger as well as the familiar ones is inherent to our faith.
If we don’t engage to change how things are when there are clearly wrong then our encounter with the living Christ becomes a dishonest one.
Yet some seem to prefer to change his meaning rather than change themselves; to, as it were, stitch him into a fashion that suits their sensibilities. But isn’t that to neglect our commission as followers of Christ today; to deny the possibilities of the power of Holy Spirit – Christ’s gift – for all humanity and so neglect the physical and spiritual needs of the world in which we live? If we pray for people yet fail to participate in creating a just and equal world what good are we doing?
At its best Church is outward looking, passionate for justice, engaged in positive actions but a decline in people and resources sometimes leads to the stereotypical behaviour of looking inward, avoiding engagement, battening down the hatches to be protective of what’s ours – metaphorically rolling back the stone and entombing ourselves. We can do better than that – in Resurrection God calls us to participate.
- For dignity
- For equality
- For justice
The key speaker was Rowan Williams who suggested that a main reason why we in the UK sometimes struggle with this is we don’t recognise our own poverty; our own need.
We fail to appreciate how much we need to receive and learn from people who know too well the reality of hardship every moment of their lives. If we don’t, we see ourselves in a position of privilege – a hierarchical world in which we give what we can spare when in reality we all need to create a global movement that pursues equality, inclusivity, dignity and justice for all.
This global strategy identifies a three-prong approach for churches
- The change we want to see
- What we will do to bring about this change and
- What outcomes we will work towards.
I don’t know about you but over the years church has taught me to always care about and pray for the ‘poor and needy’; always to give to those ‘less fortunate’.
Such language is, I’d now suggest, looking backwards and not ahead to the Isaiah Vision of the new future God continues to open our understanding of; the one we need to live into and be part of creating.
It labels people in a way that denies their human dignity; that says we are not equal – there is no meeting of minds to enable us both to learn and grow together. The ‘poor and needy’ become ‘them’ – implying somehow lesser than ‘us’
To engage meaningfully with the reality of the world now whether through the work of Christian Aid or in any number of ways we need to look to the future, think about the change we want to see then consider what we will do to bring it about.
We need to change the narrative if we want to change the world.
We need to recognise our own poverty and need – the poverty of privilege that allows us to regard others as ‘them’.
As Amanda Mukwashi, Director of Christian Aid powerfully brought home to us, people have names, stories, hopes, dreams and so much to offer from the reality of their lives.
In this Easter season and as we move towards Pentecost, we should ponder Resurrection – what it means for us – how we embody it.
© 2019 Josh McDowell Ministry
Christians vary in how they understand the Easter story. Some take the biblical accounts as literal fact while others see them more as a metaphor but wherever we are on that spectrum we’re united in proclaiming Resurrection – that which overturns all self-centred values – points us towards a world transformed by God’s active presence – a world we’re invited to be part of creating.
Kate Compston’s 30-year-old prayer for creation brings home how little we’ve changed in that time and the urgency of now. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall. Most of you, like me, will have watched it live on TV caught up with the expressions of delight on peoples’ faces, the sense of relief that the Cold War was over, the hope that infused Europe that now we could all be truly united. Could any of us have imagined then the political turmoil of Europe today with so many right-wing movements gaining ground? A few years after that wall came down Peter and I went to Cuba, to Havana. There, looking at the crumbling buildings were families still live, seeing the old American cars lovingly tinkered with and patched up by people who would never be able to afford to replace them should they break down completely, listening to the stories of their lives of abject poverty we learnt that they had relied on support from Eastern Europe. Support that ended when the wall came down. The joy of Germany and Europe created the hardship of others most of us didn’t have a clue about at the time. We need wisdom to create the renewed heavens and earth which will provide for all. We need too to try to immerse ourselves in the stories of others, to recognise, seek to understand and engage with the bigger picture of our global human interconnectedness. Such an approach is a risk – it will almost inevitable ask that we come to terms with the poverty of our privilege, that even those of us with little by UK standards are far better off than the majority in the developing world – that we need to learn from one another and see each other as people with aspirations and the right to belong equally.
Yet poverty is reality here as well and it’s mostly avoidable. I’m pleased to read on the front page of the United Reformed Church website that we and the Baptist Union are among a coalition of churches calling for an independent review into benefit sanctions, saying recent changes to the system will not fundamentally change the impact on struggling families. They are telling Government that Universal Credit further expands the reach and duration of benefit sanctions and continues to drive families to foodbanks. It is to be hoped that Government will listen and act.
It’s a reminder also that for us, as the Christian community today, Resurrection is something to be part of; to live into.
I’ve suggested just two aspects of our common life where we may have actions or attitudes that need to ‘die’.
How we engage with creation – particularly with our heightened awareness of the effects of climate change caused by human exploitation of natural resources.
How we relate to people – all people embodying the wisdom of Christian Aid and others that, in God’s economy, all are equal and valued – to make the Isaiah vision our daily goal.
But finally, what about us as Church – both collectively and individually?
My colleague’s comment that for ‘a faith predicated on death and Resurrection we’re not very good at death’ is, I feel, pertinent to where we are as Church today.
Speaking personally, I’m part of the Church because I love Jesus, I am committed to the purposes of God; to abundance of life for all; to the transforming power of Holy Spirit. Sometimes I love the Church as well but other times it frustrates me to the point of exasperation!
And this is mainly because of the ways it refuses to let ‘die’ ways of being, thinking and doing that may have been fine in their day but have run their course – what was once fresh is now tired and worn.
An obvious example in Wales is that in 1975 the United Reformed Church along with the Church in Wales, Methodists, Presbyterian Church of Wales and Covenanted Baptists signed a Covenant to become one church, a united church with and for all the people of Wales. Today we’re no nearer and the main reason is that not one of us was or is prepared to give up or adapt whatever part of our tradition is a barrier to unity. Unless and until we embrace the ‘death’ of such obstacles we won’t experience the joy and the risk of Resurrection.
You may have noticed that in the visions of a renewed earth in both readings today a common theme in both Isaiah and Revelation is no buildings. God is present and active in the world.
“I saw no temple in the city”, writes John in Revelation, “for its temple is God. . .the glory of God is its light [and] . . .the nations will walk by its light,
Even with a thriving church, and I see you as thriving, things evolve. Any baggage of inherited attitudes and prejudices that create barriers need to ‘die’ to receive the gifts and the new life that living Resurrection brings.
Such a suggestion doesn’t mean forget what is past; it doesn’t mean the past doesn’t matter but rather be grateful for the journey so far; recognise the good of all we have inherited but also that what was right once may well have run its course and so let it die.
It hasn’t failed, rather it’s a case of mission accomplished now what does God have in store for us next?
You will have heard in the news that the Banksy painting on a garage in Port Talbot has been sold for a six-figure sum and is now being carefully moved. I was amused to receive this cartoon by David Hayward who couldn’t have known how apt his timing was.
It’s a stinging reminder that maybe we are not being the people we are called, commissioned and equipped to be. Sadly, some do invest more emotional energy into the bricks and mortar of a much-loved building than looking outward to the world – to a church without walls where God’s creation continues.
I don’t know what shape Church will have in the future but I do worry that unless we’re prepared to let go, unless we’re willing to risk letting ‘die’ that which has served its purpose we are, like the stone that covered the Easter tomb, putting a barrier in the way of experiencing and living Resurrection. We’re keeping Jesus out when we should be throwing open the doors of our hearts, minds and buildings.
The Easter season is an apt time to ponder, and recognise what may need to ‘die’, in our lives together as church, within society and in our own lives for new life to emerge and flourish freeing people and planet to experience, embrace and live Resurrection.
And maybe we need more confidence that seemingly small acts by ordinary people really can make a difference.