Opening music – Come all you people
Call to worship (based on psalm 130)
Let everyone hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
With God there is great power to redeem.
It is God who redeems us all.
1 Hail! Holy, holy, holy Lord!
whom One in Three we know;
by all thy heavenly host adored,
by all thy Church below.
2 One undivided Trinity
with triumph we proclaim;
thy universe is full of thee,
and speaks thy glorious name.
3 Thee, holy Father, we confess,
thee, holy Son, adore,
thee, Spir’t of truth and holiness,
we worship evermore.
4 Three Persons equally divine
we magnify and love;
and both the choirs ere long shall join
to sing thy praise above:
5 Hail! Holy, holy, holy Lord,
our heavenly song shall be,
supreme, essential One, adored
in co-eternal Three.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 9 .
Prayers of approach and adoration
From Psalm 130:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning
Let us pray:
As we come into your presence, God of our salvation, help us to calm and quieten our spirits.
Open our eyes, that we may catch sight of your glory.
Open our ears that we may hear your word.
Open our hearts, that we may respond in love.
Loving God we praise and thank you
For you created the heavens and the earth,
And made us in your image.
You looked on all creation and proclaimed that it was good.
When we disobeyed you, you did not forsake us.
But poured out your love and mercy upon us
That in Jesus Christ we may have life in all its fulness
And through your Holy Spirit share you love with all your people
To you be all praise and glory, now and through all eternity. Amen.
(from Companion to the Revised lectionary vol 10 and additional material/adaptations by P Smith)
Reading – Genesis 3: 8-15
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’
Reflection Part 1
I don’t know if any of you caught the TV adaption of the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman “Good Omens” starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen? It takes as its premise that the account/s of creation etc in Genesis are after all literally true and that the earth is heading for Armageddon, when the forces of heaven and hell will square up to reach other. Dinosaurs etc on the fossil record are just part of God’s sense of humour, and the earth is only about 6,000 years old. I couldn’t help wondering if the new leader of the DUP thought it was a bad taste documentary. The programme worked not just because of the fine writing and acting, but because we all know that the Earth is billions of years old.
You just have to be careful in how you approach the stories in Genesis. I like to imagine an early people gathered round the communal fire telling and retelling the stories of how God created the world, perfect and good. But, someone asks why are we no longer in the garden, why is there evil, death destruction, pain in the world? What went wrong?
So, the stories of the temptation and the fall are woven to explain how we got from the perfect newly created state to the world we know and experience. We have heard part of that story this morning. Humanity has gained knowledge, and self-awareness, and the power to do both good and bad, that comes with free will.
One friend has argued that the chief aim of a garden is produce material for the compost heap, so that without a compost heap no garden is perfect, which means that you need death and decay for a perfect garden!
For humanity to truly flourish we need the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from our mistakes. The idea of Eden sounds to me too much like the gilded cage.
I don’t know if you ever try and replay your life in your head, wondering what would have been different if only… We all experience a mixture of good and bad things in our lives, but too often if you try and imagine a life were only good and positive things happened you find that something incredible life affirming etc gets lost in the mix because the circumstances that lead up to it just didn’t happen.
So, the legend tells us, God resolves that Adam and Eve must learn to live with the consequences of their actions. We start from where we are and trust in God’s love and grace.
1 What shall I do my God to love,
my Saviour, and the world’s, to praise?
Whose tenderest compassions move
to me and all the fallen race,
whose mercy is divinely free
for all the fallen race, and me!
2 I long to know, and to make known,
the heights and depths of love divine,
the kindness thou to me hast shown,
whose every sin was counted thine:
my God for me resigned his breath;
he died to save my soul from death.
3 How shall I thank thee for the grace
on me and all the world bestowed?
O that my every breath were praise!
O that my heart were filled with God!
My heart would then with love o’erflow,
and all my life thy glory show.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 516.
Gospel Mark 3:20-35
and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
Reflection part 2
“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” This is often been referred to as the unforgiveable sin. Really? A sin for which there is and never can be forgiveness? How does that sit with our understanding of a God of mercy and of love? After all we’ve just sung “ whose mercy is divinely free, for all the fallen race and me!” and “… the grace on me and all the world bestowed?”.
F F Bruce in his book the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” suggests that those who have worried most that they have committed such a sin have almost certainly not done so, precisely because they are worried! (The opposite of those who think they have explained/understood the Trinity who have almost certainly committed one heresy or another!).
Context as always is the key. Jesus’ reputation has reached the ears of those in Jerusalem and an official delegation has been sent to investigate what is going on. The whole thrust of Mark’s Gospel account is to establish the authority and identity of Jesus, so that his readers will know precisely who he is. In the same way, it should be obvious to the religious elite that in Jesus’ words and deeds God is at work through God’s Holy Spirit. To say or think otherwise flies in the face of all the evidence of divine revelation – so in accusing Jesus of being in league with prince of demons they are wilfully closing their eyes, ears, minds to the work of God’s Spirit. They know or should know in the very core of their beings yet they maliciously deny what is before them. In this context Jesus speaks of the sin that cannot be forgiven. They are prepared to swear that black is white, up is down etc for their own self-interest. Sounds like some politicians etc.
Yet, I’m ever the optimist. If we believe that all can be saved and all can be saved to the utmost, then there remains the possibility that in the final moment even the most wilful sinner will accept God’s grace so freely given.
It’s not often that we encounter such wilful behaviour that flies in the face of the evidence and experience of many. But it does happen. We see it in those who will ignore science and cling to a view that the earth is circa six thousand years old on the basis of the misreading of the stories in Genesis.
Some people like rules and regulations, they like to have certainty in their lives, and perhaps the Scribes from Jerusalem were genuinely worried and disturbed when they encountered Jesus, apparently freestyling, acting outside of their expectations, pushing the boundaries, and we should cut them some slack. People do take time to accept that God is speaking in new and wonderful ways.
Recently I have been struggling with the new form audit reports. Most of the text is proscribed, but we now have one quite lengthy section that we need to write ourselves and standard setters are so obsessed with avoiding “boiler plate” that they haven’t given us any examples. Fortunately, others are but they are not to be followed slavishly – we need to be creative, context specific etc. Hey ho!
Well it seems to me that that’s just what God wants us to do. To take the basics and apply them to daily life. If all the law and the prophets are summed up in just two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbours, why do we feel the need for more?
It has always struck me that we could have ended the debate on human sexuality in 1993 with just the first two resolutions we passed at the Conference that year:
- The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God’s gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
- All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purpose for us all.
But, just like the person who asked yes but who is my neighbour, we have wanted clarity – whatever that means. We have been locked into a debate about the nature of love.
I have been thinking about two poems:
Love by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
And, Alfred Lord Douglas’ poem Two Loves, which finishes as follows:
…..I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?’ He said, ‘My name is Love.’
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.’
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.’
Well surely love is love? Too often parts of the church and society have been too quick to dismiss peoples lived experience. We no longer think its acceptable to put up signs that say “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” , we believe that men and woman should be paid equally and treated equally, and yet casual racism and discrimination persist in our society and the church is not immune. One friend of mine has been feeling increasingly angry and frustrated as he experiences transphobia, that would deny his humanity, his identity as a transman – and coincidently he is a Methodist Minister.
Attitudes and beliefs that deny that others are made in the image of God, are loved and love, are surely sins against the Holy Spirit if not The Sin.
Our duty, is to not let racism, transphobia, homophobia or any form of discrimination go unchallenged. At times the quiet word my suffice, at other times we will need to be more vocal, more public in our opposition and our support of the victims. All lives matter, but it is those who face discrimination etc who need most to hear that their lives matter, hence Black Lives Matters remains an important rallying cry.
Yet, there is change and transformation. One of the most moving speeches at Synod as we debated God in Love Unites Us, came from someone who had journeyed from a position of opposition to LGBT+ people, (a love the sinner not the sin position) to acceptance and a readiness to speak up for inclusion and equality, including celebrating same sex marriages in Methodist Churches. We spoke afterwards and I was struck by her humility, and how hard and long the pilgrimage of faith had been.
So, in light of experiences like that and an awareness of my own shortcomings and the immense and wonder full grace of God, I am compelled to remain hope full that all are indeed welcome in God’s Kingdom, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.
2 There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
3 There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.
4 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
5 But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.
6 If our love were but more simple
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be illumined
by the presence of our Lord.
Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 416 .
Prayer of confession (by P smith)
From Psalm 130:
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
Let us pray
Loving and gracious God,
we know that we often feel threatened and challenged by the “other”.
We prefer the old certainties, because change can be frightening.
We have been reluctant to recognise your Spirit at work in new ways.
We have denied your presence, and have failed to see love and grace in other people.
We come in repentance, to seek your forgiveness
Loving God, your grace in immeasurable, wonderful and free. May we hear your gracious words and know them to be true:
Your sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God. Amen
Prayers of intercession (by P Smith)
From Psalm 130:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
Let us pray
We have been asked to pray for…
In the stillness and the silence, we bring or prayers to God
For all in involved in industry, commerce and trade
That they will act with fairness and integrity.
For those exploited and enslaved
That they may know freedom.
For the marginalised and excluded
That they may the know of joy of being included.
For leaders and all in authority
That will act with wisdom and pursue the common good.
For all who suffer in body, mind or spirit
That they know your healing presence with them.
For your Church throughout the world
That it may be a community of prayer for all people.
That we may be faithful disciples of Christ.
We give thanks for all who have died in the faith
And rejoice in their witness to you.
These an all our prayers we offer in and through the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen
Prayer of dedication (by P Smith)
Loving God, accept the gifts we offer,
of money and time
of lives committed to follow Christ.
that through us, others may see you Spirit at work
and rejoice in your love and mercy. Amen
1 All hail the power of Jesu’s name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all.
2 You seed of Israel’s chosen race,
you ransomed of the fall,
hail him who saves you by his grace,
and crown him Lord of all.
3 Hail him, the heir of David’s line
whom David Lord did call,
the God incarnate, Man divine,
and crown him Lord of all.
4 Let every kindred, every tribe
on this terrestrial ball,
to him all majesty ascribe,
and crown him Lord of all.
5 O that with yonder sacred throng
we at his feet may fall,
join in the everlasting song,
and crown him Lord of all!
Edward Perronet (1726–1792)
adapted by John Rippon (1751–1836)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 342 .
Go now rejoicing in God’s grace and mercy,
Share God’s immeasurable love in words and actions,
In reverence for the earth and encounters with others.
In the power of the Spirit, work for justice and challenge prejudice.
And know that the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is upon you now and always. Amen.
Closing music: Bless be the tie that binds – sung by Fiona Vittery