Uniting Church Sketty and Wesley Church, Clydach, ‘Worship from Home’ 5th July 2020
This ‘Worship from Home’ has been prepared by Alan Cram.
Prepare for Worship
Let the door of our heart be open to receive, O Christ; the soul of our being unlocked to welcome you; and the gate of our life flung wide for your entering in. Amen (Ambrose of Milan: 340-397)
Hymn StF 55 Immortal Invisible, God only wise:
Read, sing, pray or listen to this hymn of praise, full of big words conveying something of the mystery of God
OT Reading: Zechariah 9: 9-10
The Israelites had been in exile in Babylon for many years: a humiliating, devastating experience for them, not least because they felt that God had abandoned them, and of course they had no temple in which to worship. Their despair is heard in the words of Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept……how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
However, a new empire came into being, and the Persian King Cyrus allowed at least some the exiles to return to their ancestral lands, although they were still under foreign rule. Over the following years, the returned exiles rebuilt the temple, encouraged for instance by, Zechariah and Ezra and later, Nehemiah. This short passage from the prophet Zechariah is one of hope, encouragement, looking forward to a new age, a new normal we might say. It speaks of God ruling the nations, and promises for the returned exiles a future restoration of Israel, using an image that 6 centuries later is mirrored, some would say fulfilled, by Christ’s entry into Jerusalem: that of a liberating king coming in peace, and riding not on a war-horse but on a donkey.
Although during their exile, the Israelites had no temple to go and worship in, just as we are locked out of our churches at present, it would be facile to make too many comparisons between the Israelites’ exile with that of our own lockdown. Certainly many of us are perhaps sharing emotions similar to those experienced by the exiles: worries about the present, anxious about the future, in despair, even. Indeed, we are told that there has already been a dramatic increase in the number of people experiencing mental health issues since lockdown began and sadly there has been an increase in the number of suicides. We think of those who have lost jobs, or are waiting with trepidation the redundancy notice; those who have underlying physical health issues and are worried about contracting the virus; those who have lost loved ones; health workers and care workers who have been at the front-line treating people with the virus, overworked, with inadequate PPE, watching helplessly whilst the virus claims another victim, perhaps even a colleague; those in education wondering how on earth they can begin to deal with the challenges ahead; children and young people isolated for months from face-to-face contact with friends, and worrying how they might catch up with all the education they have missed; those in Government who have to make what are in effect life-or-death decisions. Do we believe, like Zechariah, that in the present crisis God is in control? Do we have a vision of a future restoration of our country that we can offer to people? How can we sing the Lord’s song in this alien land?
Think of (“The Scream” by Edvard Munch),
- Do you see yourself in the painting?
- Or perhaps you’re thinking of someone we mentioned just now, or people known to us, who are anxious or with mental health issues
- What comfort and support, hope and vision, can we, members of the Church, bring to our hurting, damaged communities? Or, perhaps like the two figures in the background, do we walk away, pretending that the problem is somebody else’s?
Our New Testament reading comes from Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve heard recently how Jesus instructed his disciples to go out into the world proclaiming that the kingdom of God is near, and demonstrating that by their actions. We take up the story in our reading.
“You wait all day for a bus, and then three come along at the same time”. Well, that often seems to be the experience of people living in, or visiting, London! The people of first century Palestine must have been wondering the same thing, but not about buses, of course! They’ve been waiting centuries for the messiah and then apparently two come along at the same time: first there’s John: austere, exhorting the people to repent and seek forgiveness; and then there’s Jesus whose tactic is to have parties with sinners. John, of course, always pointed people to someone greater than than himself, but even John’s expectations about the Messiah, and the kingdom he would bring, were thrown off course, and from prison he asks for clarity. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see” said Jesus. And so John’s disciples did just that: that people were being healed, and the “good news” was being preached. But as well as bringing healing and restoration, and giving back the down-trodden their self-worth, Jesus himself like John had a lot to say about repentance and forgiveness. And it seems to me that these two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are as important today as ever. Jane Goodall—she of chimpanzee fame–has warned for some years that we are sitting on a time-bomb. As we destroy habitats by deforestation and by changing the climate through our profligate lifestyles, different species are forced to crowd together, and humans come into closer contact with wild animals. This, together with the illegal trade in wildlife and the so-called “wet markets” of Asia, inevitably enable viruses to jump the species barrier: we’ve had SARS, and now we have Ebola and COVID-19. Somehow, without being self-righteous, Christians have to join with other people of faith and none in acknowledging their mistakes, our mistakes, and accepting that things cannot go on as they are. We would call it repentance: a turning around. And then giving people hope that things can be different, will be different, if we try and live out kingdom values of love for one another and for the created world. So as Christians, we are called to be agents of healing, to be partners with God so that his “kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”, and Zechariah’s vision of restored communities is fulfilled.
Lord, forgive us for losing hope when everything seems hopeless; for losing the vision of how things can be, will be, when your kingdom is fulfilled. Instead of dispersing the gloom, our words and actions have so often deepened it. Instead of agents of healing, we have deepened the wounds in our society. And so, knowing that we are forgiven, we pray that you will sow the seeds of compassionate love in our lives; grow the seeds of your compassionate love in
our communities so their fruitfulness be known through our witness and worship, by our commitment to justice and our hopeful living, by our inclusive hospitality, by our healing of broken relationships between people and with the created world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
God to enfold you, Christ to uphold you, Spirit to keep you in heaven’s sight; so may God grace you, heal and embrace you, lead you through darkness into the light. John L.Bell (StF 648)