Reading Psalm 18:16-19

God reached down from on high; he took me;
    he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy
    and from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he delivered me because he delighted in me.

Reflection
The psalms have always been a site of hope for me. The words ‘God brought me out into a broad place, or a spacious place, from Psalm 18, has become something of a personal motto for me for the last few years. The idea of breadth, space, delight, and rescue that sing through are central to my understanding of what it means to ‘build communities of good news’ – one of the marks of mission.

It has been my experience that ‘good news’ is often figured in two directly opposed ways, the ‘straight and narrow’ or the ‘wandering and spacious’. By supporting wandering/wondering, instead of imposing a narrow definition of good news, we can be a part of the journeys of communities with flat structures, that form themselves, rather than building communities in ways that are hierarchical or draw on the unhelpful desire to ‘save’ others.

The people whom I work amongst as a minister outside of mainstream church in Cambridge’s city centre have begun to form two communities, “Solidarity Hub” and “The Gathering”, as they travel together in spacious places – broad spaces. These have become the communities in which I glimpse good news, including the good news of deconstructing and re-grounding faith– of knocking down the fences and walls that mar God’s broad spaces.

Many of us – including me – have experienced the sense of drowning in ‘the mighty waters’ of domination-based Church structures, controlling saviour mentalities and hierarchical decision making. Many of us – including me – have experienced the hatred of those deemed mightier than us. For us, then, a community of good news is one where we all make the decisions and do the work, we all delight in each-other, and we live out the love of God – the ground of all being – in a way that liberates, that does not constrain.

God is bringing us out into a broad place. May it be so.

Prayer 

This prayer is an excerpt of the ‘Theos Prayers’ co-created, and said weekly, by Cambridge Solidarity Hub.

Acknowledging the limits of language,
We bring our attention to God.
Acknowledging the limits of our power,
We bring our attention to justice.
Acknowledging the limits of our love,
We bring our attention to empathy.
 
If able and willing, we say together:
Ground of our being, as near as breath,
And yet far beyond our understanding,
holy is all, new potentials arise,
sparking change, here and now.
May we enliven each-other, as God enlivens us.
God is in the spaces in between
May we rest in those spaces, too.
May we resist destruction
and strive for loving kindness
In all people, and all times, Amen
 
We close with a moment of quietness, bringing our attention to that which we do not yet know…
Amen.

Reading Isaiah 54:2-13 
 
Enlarge the site of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
    and your descendants will possess the nations
    and will settle the desolate towns.
 
For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
    I am about to set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires
I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
    your gates of jewels,
    and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
    and great shall be the prosperity of your children.

Reflection
Who puts jewels in foundations?  Over the last six years, as I’ve watched Northstowe grow from 150 to 1,500 of the planned 10,000 houses, I’ve never spotted a sapphire in the footings!

Meanwhile, Isaiah’s call to ‘stretch wide the tent’ has become our vision. We’ve dared to partner not just ecumenically with Christians from across the traditions, but with community groups, developers, schools and others that God sends our way. This isn’t simply for today: we dream of a Northstowe where our spiritual descendants will be a blessing for generations to come. More than dream: we’re putting down deep “stakes” of prayer, trusting in the One whose steadfast love holds us firm.

So perhaps there are gleaming jewels in the foundations: God’s expansive, unwavering love. A love that we pray will continue to shine out from the gates and pinnacles.

Isaiah’s honest appraisal of storms and disappointments resonates too. Our challenges might not be those of Isaiah’s first hearers, but many of us know heartbreak. I wonder if some of the jewels sparkling in the foundations are the tears of shared lament?  I’m challenged by the reality that tears will glimmer on the pinnacles and gates too.

And there are more jewels: our story is of God sending just the right people for each stage. What hope, encouragement, and joy these people have brought! Sometimes, their ministry among us has only been for a season: new town populations are transitory, and work-life patterns shift and change rapidly in a community with so many young families. So Isaiah’s picture gives me hope: their gifts are enshrined in the foundations. And God will bring more “jewels” to help shape the pinnacles and gates.

If God can do that here, where else might precious gifts be unexpectedly nestling? What jewels of love, lament, and joy is God pouring into the places where God has put you, too? 

Prayer 

Surprising God: Creator, Saviour and Sustainer,
we have much still to learn from you,
even as you continue to meet us where we are:
whether in our pain, confusion, or joy.
Thank you for the great and still unfolding story 
of how you love your people.
Help us take up our place in that story,
trusting you to reveal the jewels of your love, 
our shared lament, 
and the gifts of those around us.  Amen

Luke 13:18-20 (NIV) 
Then Jesus asked “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.

Again, he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 

Reflection
To plant a church requires more than a pinch of mustard seed and madness! My husband Andrew and I have church planted in West Thamesmead, London.  We are thankful for funding, but with no team, church building, manse in the local area, or real community –  as opposed to individuals behind locked doors – it’s been a challenge. 

But, because of a deep sense of call and faith in a mountain-moving God, we started by praying and planting seeds, reaching out into the area, sharing the good news, and creating community. We knocked doors, introducing ourselves,  inviting people to free community events. Intentional about plans from the start, blending spiritual and social. Last year the church, together with the new community association, with a grant from the URC, started a free café that has become a real blessing.

From the beginning, God went before us: Paul, washing his car, responded, ‘Praise God I have been praying and fasting for three days for God to start a church in West Thamesmead!’  He invited his family, his friend Timothy and his family.  Praise God, we had a team!  And ‘The Lord added to our number, those who were being saved’.

Ada, originally from China, had not knowingly met a Christian, before she came to an event. Hearing the Good News, she committed her life to Christ, was baptised, and now is serving Jesus in church and community.   

We are still planting seeds and, praise God, the church continues to grow. The yeast is working throughout the dough, others are planting seeds too. A few weeks ago, during street evangelism, Peace invited Bridgette to church, the next day she came with her children. Last Sunday Bridgette said, ‘I think I have found my spiritual home’.

If we plant mustard seeds in faith and water them and encourage others to as well, God will bring the increase.

Prayer 
Loving God,  
thank you, for your Holy Spirit’s gift of faith to believe
that  if we share the Good News of Jesus, 
people will listen and respond.
Reveal to us the specific ways 
you are calling us and our church, 
to reach out into our communities. 
Mountain moving God, 
break down any obstacles, 
fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit, 
for strength to pray without ceasing 
and in obedience, 
until your will is done, Amen.

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Monday 20th May 2024
Matthew 11: 1-6 and 16-19
Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’…. ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”;  the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

Reflection
In Matthew 11: 1-6, John’s disciples check whether Jesus is the one they’ve been anticipating – and he doesn’t teach them doctrine, or tell them how to organise religion, but instead, draws their attention to what’s happening: people on the margins of society are given a new beginning and even the poor are encountering good news. When the world pushes people to the side, God invites them to the centre. In fact, ‘the last shall be the first and the first shall be last’ is seen to be Jesus’ doctrine – a reordering of the world. It’s a kind of ‘anarchy’, turning the world on its head – and this becomes the basis of how to organise religion: committing to a restructuring of the world.

But it seems too absurd to imagine that the world we know can be turned upside-down! And certainly, religion falls short of this vision. We lose sight of this very different horizon and struggle to work for it. We even put our energy into preserving the status quo. After all, we’re colonised by systems and habits much stronger than us, and the wilderness of a new world is not as seductive as the security of the Egypt we inhabit.

But in verses 16-19, Jesus compares things to children: some playing tunes while others refuse to join in. Churches may think that it’s others who don’t join with us – but I wonder: are we attentive to the tunes of lament and joy in the world around us or are we staying safe? Jesus dared to be seen as impure, by being in amongst people’s lives. So to build communities of the gospel is not only to aim for ‘a new world’, but to demonstrate it in risky solidarity with the struggles and dreams of others; learning and growing together.

Prayer 
God of the new horizon,
may the story of children
teach us to play well with one another –
to join in people’s tunes of lament
and rise with their songs of joy,
as we hunger together for abundant life for all.
Humble us if we assume we are the goal;
forgive us if we belittle others’ struggles and gifts;
help us to breach our boundaries
and be in the margins
with you.

Today’s writer

The Revd Dr Graham Adams is a minister of the Congregational Federation and tutor at Northern College in Manchester.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday Worship 19 May 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Cara Heafey

Welcome and Introduction

Hello and welcome to worship on Sunday the 19th of May, Pentecost Sunday. My name is Cara Heafey, I’m a hospital chaplain in Oxford and an associate minister for  Marston and Wheatley United Reformed Churches.  It’s an honour to be sharing worship with you on this special day.  Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

Call to Worship

Come, fire of love, warm our hearts.
Come, winds of change, awaken our senses.
Come, Spirit of God, meet us here.

Hymn     Come Down O Love Divine
Bianco di Sienna, public domain. The choir of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney and 
used with their kind permission.    

Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing,
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
 
Prayer of Approach

Source of life,
imaginer, artist, and author
of such rich and beautiful diversity,
you have room to hold us all inside your love.
We gather here today to seek you, to praise you,
and to lean into the warmth of your grace.

Spirit of God, you are full of surprises.
Intuitive one, you know the needs beneath our words.
Teach us to pray with sighs, with groans, with silence…
bringing the wholeness of who we are
into the fullness of your redeeming love.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Welcoming God,
you invite us into your life-giving presence,
and we come as we are.

You know us intimately:
     our selfishness…
     our stubbornness…
     our apathy.
You teach us that the truth can set us free.

In these moments of quiet,
we bring you our own prayers of confession…

(silence is held).
 
God of grace and compassion, forgive us.
Redeem our failures. Restore our hope.
Love us back to life.  Amen

Assurance of Grace

In Jesus Christ, God makes all things new.
The former things have disappeared.
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Sisters and Brothers, your sins are forgiven;
be at peace.  Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn     She is the Spirit
John L Bell & Graham Maule  © 1988 Iona Community, GIA Publications, OneLicence # A-734713  Sung by the virtual choir of Devana Parish Church of Scotland, Aberdeen

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.
 
Prayer for Illumination:

Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

(John 16:12-13a)

Come, Holy Spirit, freshening breeze.
Breathe life into the ancient words of Scripture.
Let our minds bloom open, like petals unfurling.
Kindle within us your dreams for the earth.  Amen.

Reading     Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;  and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

Music     Send Forth Your Spirit O Lord / Psalm 104
Sung by the Samoan Catholic Choir, Ashburton, New Zealand  One Licence

Reading     Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’  But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Sermon 

It may not get the same billing as Christmas or Easter, but Pentecost is an important time in the Church year. It’s a time when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples, as described in the reading we heard from Acts. Many consider this event to be the birth of the Christian church… the moment when a ragtag group of scared, grieving, Jesus-following Galileans get it together, step into their power and begin changing the world.
This is far from being the Spirit’s first appearance in the Bible. She’s been there from the very beginning. In the Genesis 1 creation story, while the earth was still a formless void, she hovered over the surface of dark waters of chaos. In the book of Numbers, she inspires Moses and the elders of the camp to prophesy. In Ezekiel, in a vision, she leads the prophet to a valley of dry bones and restores them to life before his eyes. In the gospels, she shows up at Jesus’ baptism, descending from heaven in the form of a dove. Later, when Jesus prepares his disciples for his coming death, he promises that the Spirit will come to comfort and guide them.

I’ve just been using female pronouns to describe the Holy Spirit, and you may be wondering why. My answer would be, why not? Let’s remember, though, that all our language is limited. It can’t contain God, any more than religion can. All the names and images we use are provisional. Indeed, the Spirit’s MO seems to be to defy containment and open up new possibilities.

Early Christians here in Britain used the image of a wild goose to depict the Holy Spirit in their art and illuminated manuscripts. I think there’s a lot to be said for this idea! Geese are more powerful and bolshy than the gentle dove. They’re noisy and disruptive. In the place where I usually walk my dogs, a footpath that runs between a river and a reservoir, flocks of wild geese often fly low overhead. It’s exhilarating every time. I hear them – a cacophony of urgent honking – before I see them emerge over the top of the hedgerow. Sometimes I can feel the downdraught from the beat of their strong wings.

Picture again the scene described in that reading from Acts… the stirring wind, the voices proclaiming in every language, the raucousness and joyful chaos that startled onlookers, causing some of them to ‘tut’ in disapproval… Yes, a wild goose seems fitting, doesn’t it?

What I love about the Pentecost story… and the work of the Holy Spirit in general… is the radical inclusion. The gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out lavishly, indiscriminately, all over everyone, just as was promised through the prophet Joel. Gender is no barrier. Age is no barrier. Social status is no barrier. Culture, race, language are no longer barriers. Not because they are erased, but because they are all made welcome and provided for. In this glorious moment, there are no barriers. Everyone is able to join in. They get to hear the Good News in language they understand and can relate to. They get a full, VIP, access-all-areas pass to the Gospel. What began as a huddle of believers hiding in an upstairs room has spilled over and out into the street. That’s the unruly, uncontainable Spirit of God for you.

If you carry on reading the book of Acts, you’ll find that the Holy Spirit keeps on overflowing all attempts at control and containment. There’s a great story in Acts chapter 10 about how, while the community of believers were still arguing about whether or not gentiles could be baptised, they notice that they’ve already received the Holy Spirit anyway. We may have our own ideas about who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ – the Holy Spirit delights in ignoring them.

Sad to say that a couple of millennia later the Christian church still expends considerable time and energy debating where to draw its boundary lines. What a mess we humans make of things. Paul’s words from Romans 8 ring so true: the whole of creation groans in labour pain, just as we ourselves see the state of things and inwardly groan with longing and despair. 
 
Today, I want to suggest – as Paul does – that the Holy Spirit helps us in our brokenness. We see her at work when we make our worship and worship-spaces more accessible. What are the barriers to full inclusion? How can we dismantle them? When we say that “all are welcome,” does this truly reflect the experiences of those who are different from us?

We see the Holy Spirit at work when relationship becomes possible, even when differences had seemed insurmountable. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been present in the occasional spine-tingling church meeting where emotions run high and decisions are costly but conflict gives way to grace and a loving way forward emerges. Those are Holy Spirit moments. Moments where the scales of confirmation bias and tribal loyalty fall from our eyes. Moments where we glimpse our fellow humanity, and the image of God in those we had “othered”.  

We see the Holy Spirit at work when our worship spills out of our buildings onto the streets and into our neighbourhoods. When our Sunday-morning faith spills over into the rest of the week. When belief translates into action. There’s a modern hymn that refers to the Spirit as “enemy of apathy” – what a wonderful description! The Holy Spirit kindles creativity and hope.

Perhaps you’re listening to this and you’re struggling to see where the Holy Spirit is showing up in your church. In the United Reformed Church, many of our local churches are closing. Many of our congregations are ageing. It may be hard to feel hopeful about the future. Just like those first disciples at the end of Acts chapter one, we may be grieving our losses, licking our wounds, fearful, disappointed, confused.

Friends, do not let your hearts be troubled. Our readings this morning speak directly into situations like ours. Jesus promised that we will not be alone. When hope is scarce… When despair overwhelms…. When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for… the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, “with sighs too deep for words.” I don’t know about you, but I find those words so helpful. I cherish the idea (which is well supported by other Biblical examples) that groaning is an effective form of prayer.

I pray that our Scripture readings today will shift our perspective. We are part of something so much bigger. A world-wide family of Christians. Dysfunctional but beloved. Beautiful in our diversity. Woven together by the wild, uncontainable, and always surprising Spirit of God.

Come, Holy Spirit! Amen

Hymn     Holy Wisdom, Lamp of Learning
Ruth C. Duck, 1995; copyright © 1996 The Pilgrim Press OneLicence # A-734713  
sung by the choir of Upper Clyde Parish Church.

Holy Wisdom, lamp of learning 
bless the light that reason lends. 
Teach us judgment as we kindle 
sparks of thought your Spirit sends. 
Sanctify our search for knowledge
and the truth that sets us free. 
Come, illumine mind and spirit 
joined in deepest unity.  

Vine of truth, in you we flourish; 
by your grace we learn and grow. 
May the word of Christ among us 
shape our life, our search to know.
Joined to Christ in living, dying, 
may we help the Church convey 
witness to the saving gospel, 
bearing fruit of faith today.  

Affirmation of Faith

We believe in a living God,
a God who has not stopped speaking,
who bends the arc of history towards justice.
We believe in a living God.

We believe in God-with-us,
brother in our suffering and victim of our brokenness,
who breathed peace upon his friends,
and promised we will never be alone.
We believe in God-with-us.

We believe in the Spirit of God,
who dwells within and dances between us.
Healing divisions. Defying expectations.
Igniting creativity and love.
We believe in the Spirit of God.

Prayers of Intercession

These prayers have a ‘call and response’ refrain, based on Psalm 104:30…

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

God of love, your creation groans
under the weight of human carelessness and greed.
We pray for forests and glaciers, oceans and rivers,
the air and the soil and the life they sustain.
We pray for communities who are displaced
or endangered by a changing climate.

Help us to restore balance in our lives
and in the ecosystems that hold us.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

We pray for places that are torn apart by war.
Where conflict is entrenched,
and trauma handed down through generations.
Where children are pulled from the rubble.
Where peace seems a distant, impossible dream.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

Breath of life, we pray for your Church.
Blow through us like a wild wind:
disturbing our certainties, stirring our hearts,
energising our worship.
Burn in us like tongues of flame:
illuminating truth, exposing injustice,
beacon of welcome and hope.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.
    
Peacemaker, intercessor, advocate,
we pray for our relationships.
Help us to communicate well.
Gift us with language that’s expansive and inclusive.
Make us generous in our listening,
and courageous in confronting our own prejudice and privilege.
Warm with compassion hearts that are hardened by hurt.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.  
Amen.

Hymn     Spirit of God Unseen as the Wind
Margaret Old © Scripture Union Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir.
Accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison  One Licence # A-734713  

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

 
You spoke to us – long, long ago 
gave us the written word; 
we read it still, needing its truth, 
through it God’s voice is heard. 

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

Without your help we fail our Lord, 
we cannot live his way; 
we need your power, we need your strength, 
following Christ each day.

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

 
Blessing

May the Spirit of God
blow through our lives,
unsettling our certainties,
awakening our imaginations,
driving us out into adventure.
    
And may the blessing of God:
Source, Saviour and Spirit
be yours today and always. Amen.

Luke 8:40-56
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house,  for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him.  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped.  Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’  But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’  When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.  He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’  When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’  When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother.  They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’  And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’  Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.

Reflection
I love this dynamic story. 

How Jesus engages with each person has helped shape my charity’s therapeutic practice, but also challenges me personally.

First,  we meet an unnamed, ostracised, poverty-stricken woman who’s known twelve years of agony. Then Jairus, a rich powerful figure whose known twelve years of fatherhood, now facing his daughter’s imminent death.  Both reach out to Jesus in their pain. Jairus uses words. The woman uses touch.

Trauma impacts us differently, but often affects our cognition. I’m so thankful Jesus didn’t need the woman to find words. Her courageous action was enough to cause him to seek her out. 

Jesus meets everyone where they are at – physically, but also emotionally. Jesus assesses what both groups need. He agrees to go to Jairus’s home, but when he meets the woman, he radically prioritises her need over the community leader. She has no advocate. Jesus meets her need with no further delay, no more humiliation. This “daughter” is of equal value to Jairus.

Finally, Jesus marks moments of transformation. We call them “kairos moments” in our workshops – a Greek concept of time, when a moment of self-discovery leads to hope. He tells the woman that her faith has healed her. He notices this commendable quality and encourages her in it. For the family of the little girl, I wonder if it’s a different kind of “kairos moment” – one of humility and huge potential for emotional and social transformation.  Next time we have a lightbulb moment, let’s make sure we take time to sense what God might be marking in us or for us. These “kairos moments” are gifts of discovery from God.

To ponder: 

Do words come easily to you when you are processing challenges? Or do you prefer to do something physical or creative?
How can we be better at meeting people where they are at? Do we always expect bruised people to come inside our church buildings to receive help?

Prayer
Father 
we are of infinite worth in your eyes.
Imprint this on our hearts
that we may offer the same love to others.

Loving Lord Jesus, 
you are always ready to meet us just as we are.
Equip us to be advocates for others who long for healing 
but lack confidence or a sense of their own value.

Gracious Spirit, 
inspire us to seek moments of discovery: 
mark each such moment in us.
Amen.

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Friday 17th May 2024
Luke 8: 1-3
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Reflection
Jesus healing many bruised people. Scope and attention is often paid to what Jesus said, or secondly on the level of illness, demon possession, or death. Today’s passage speaks of the incidentals before the next great utterance of Jesus. We glance over these few verses without a second thought. Yet in this passage we are told of the great number of demons and illnesses that the group had. Jesus’ reputation for healing starts with those closest to him. Mary finds wholeness and is healed. Joanna and Susanna too, find their illnesses gone. Their thankfulness shown in the generosity of supporting this important mission to the towns and villages.

Jesus met people in their towns and villages rather than asking them to come to him. He seeks out the broken and bruised; people recognise and want to talk to him. Working as a hospital chaplain has made me realise that the one thing that gets bruised more than anything in hospital is our confidence: the elderly lady getting a hip replacement after a fall, the younger man who has to ask for carers to come into his house to clean him daily, and the child who has to have another operation. Chaplains cannot tend to medical needs, but can offer support and understanding to help rebuild confidence while we encompass them in our prayers.

Rather than going out on a grand mission with a large entourage, there is something to be said for just bringing Jesus with us in the day to day spaces and places where we work and have being. The words of comfort in the corridors of the hospital often reflect the acknowledgement of our common humanity, our laughs and loves; the pains of life are considered in a moments dialogue, or indeed held in silence. As to grand thoughts of mission –  I simply ask Jesus at each bedside to tend to their needs, mend every bruise and give patients and staff solace and comfort.

Prayer 
We pray for those
bruised and battered by life’s travails, 
tripped up by illness, confused in spirit 
or touched by the weight of the world’s problems.
Allow us, O God, 
to show love and pray for bruises to be healed.
Help us to manage our own infirmities 
and support those whose vocation calls them 
into intimacy with humanity’s 
diseases, difficulty, and death.
O God may you be thanked and praised.
Amen

Today’s writer

The Revd Dr Paul Dempster is a chaplain at East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust Hospital mainly based at Ipswich Hospital.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

This Sunday is Pentecost (or Whit Sunday).  The promise of a comforter, guide, advocate and companion, is fulfilled at Pentecost when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit.

Join us for our Sunday service at 11:00 when the Revd Jacob Bali (Minister) will lead us in worship.

Our Chinese Group and the Junior Church will leave after the second hymn for their own time of worship and activities in other parts of our building.

Following the Service there is an opportunity for everyone to meet friends and visitors when coffee and tea will be available in the Old Hall.

All very welcome.

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
  and worship him day and night within his temple,
  and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
  the sun will not strike them,
  nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
  and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Reflection

“No disrespect,” said the man, “but I was hoping your seat would stay empty.” An unexpected greeting from the passenger in the window seat as I boarded a long flight.  I stayed quiet, and tried not to draw attention. Eight hours later he began to talk of travelling home at short notice because his father had cancer. He himself was a doctor, deeply aware of the seriousness of the moment. He was also a son, unable to keep his dad from feeling pain.

Cancer is a diagnosis that is at once unifying and isolating. Most of us will at some point have a cancer or love someone who does.  For many, the experience is tough – mentally, physically, and spiritually. Bruises follow not just from blood draw needles and cannulas, but fearful nights, careless remarks, hopeless moments, setbacks and disappointments. 

In the middle and the aftermath of a health crisis we might feel tender, broken or bruised, wondering how our pain is overlooked by God, who sees even a bruised reed and will not break that. If a stalk of grass has God’s care, why do I or my loved one suffer? 

In Revelation 7, pain follows a life of faith in a hostile empire. For others it flows from illness or poverty. The dreamer observes that healing continues even in death. Pain is our common human experience and just as surely, God acts with tenderness and brings healing. They are without pain, and their weeping is over through God’s kind caress.

Four months after the flight some unexpected mail arrived at my manse. The doctor had remembered our conversation, found my address, and sent a note to tell me that his father was responding to treatment and doing well. We can all act with tenderness to another, and remember that we do not know what bruises, fresh or enduring, they are nursing today.

Prayer

God and the Lamb,
tend us by your Spirit,
that our wounds may heal, 
our bruises mend,
and our eyes be free from tears. 
You bring us out of pain into freedom.
May we witness your loving care again and again
in this world and the next.
Amen.

Pentecost Resources

Dear Friends,

On Sunday the Church celebrates Pentecost as the Easter season draws to a close and we focus on how the Holy Spirit propels the Church into mission in the complexities of our world.  The Revd Cara Heafey has prepared this week’s Worship Notes.  Cara suggests having a party theme for the younger folk celebrating Pentecost as the Birthday of the Church, offers a very wide selection of hymns, prayers, and some ideas on how to approach the readings.  In the music section I have added some ideas for a plainsong hymn to start the service and a rock-style hymn to end it!

Just above the Worship Notes are weekly intercessions fashioned by the Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch as an alternative to those offered by Cara.

Enjoy Pentecost!

With every good wish

Andy

The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship