Our minister Trevor Dixon and our deacon David Hunt led this morning’s worship beginning with our Lenten focus on Noah and the flood, but how God gave the sign of a rainbow to signify that God would never again destroy all life completely as he did in the flood; during David’s reading of the meditation Trevor extinguished another candle symbolising people’s failure to follow God’s ways.
We sang ‘Lord God, your love has called us here’ by Brian A Wren. After the introductory prayers led by David, we sang the celebratory hymn ‘I will sing the wondrous story’ before our first reading from Isaiah 55v1-9. As a congregation we read Psalm 63 from 853 with one side of the church reading the words in lighter type and the other side the words in darker type and it really made us all involved and helped us to note the words more. I remember that this was my father’s favourite psalm, so it always reminds me of him. Then we had the reading from I Corinthians 10v1-13 before we sang another favourite hymn of a member of the congregation, but the version chosen was from the old Methodist Hymn Book, rather the shorter version in the Hymns and Psalms; the original version has a different balance reminding us of those we have lost but also how through the ups and downs of life God is with us; ‘Who fathoms the eternal thought?’ reminds us of how we can never understand Him. The shorter version in the Hymns and Psalms has the emphasis on what God can do for us only. I had never sung it before and thought the original version the better, even though it is much longer.
Trevor described the Old Testament as the place where people learn about God and what it is to be human. It centred round the Jewish nation who made a special covenant with God as the chosen people, beginning with Abraham and his seed. The second covenant was with Moses and he gave the 10 commandments from God to the wandering nation in the Wilderness. King David made the third covenant with God saying that God would provide for his chosen people in a special way, as long the King was faithful to God, keeping the commandments and ruling justly. The Old Testament used the image of the vine which needed nurturing, protecting and guarding for the nation of Israel. The image in the New Testament was the fig tree. Trevor reminded us that the book of Isaiah was actually compiled by three different prophets. The first Isaiah told the people that God required holiness, righteousness, justice and moral purity; there was a hint that if they did not do that they would face destruction, although not total destruction as in the days of Noah. He warned them that just because they were the chosen people they would not escape the consequences of their actions; and they were taken into exile to Babylon. It was a punishment and yet it became an opportunity for growth. Second Isaiah told Israel that it had to come to know God and live as his people not only for themselves but also take the opportunity to share their God with the whole world, not just keep it for themselves.
After the exile the Jewish Nation failed live up to the challenge and turned in on themselves to keep to their own nationality and rejected other nations and gave up the idea of being a missionary nation. Such introspection continued under the Pharisees and Sadducees and was prevalent in the time of Jesus. On the other hand Jesus mixed with outcasts and despised people, who were beyond the pale. He even talked to a woman Samaritan and helped the centurion’s servant; and yet the hated Samaritan leper was the only one to be thankful. Jesus told the religious leaders that they were failing God reminding them that suffering or sickness was not a result of an individual’s sin. Then Jesus was asked about was whether the Galilean Jews had been great sinners when they were killed by soldiers during civil unrest; Jesus refuted that suggestion. 18 people were killed when towers on the East side of Jerusalem fell down, but Jesus saw it as a tragic accident; life was after all like that. Some bad things are just accidents.
Trevor reminded us of the way our culture is a blame culture; someone must pay for everything that goes wrong but life is not like that. Premature deaths remind us of our frailty as human beings. The parable of the fig tree showed how the gardener expected a harvest and God in the same way looked for a response from people. The gardener believed in giving the tree another chance but only one more chance. Jesus was saying that the building of the kingdom had to begin. Jesus then had gone on to heal the crippled woman and been criticised for healing on the Sabbath day, but was quick to say that it was more important be meet a need than to be pious and the crowds rejoiced with him.
Trevor also reminded us the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast in dough. The yeast, although a small part of the mixture, spreads through all the dough making it bigger and better. The tiny mustard seed grows into a large tree. The smallest action can have a greater impact than ever could have been imagined. ‘God, grant us the serenity to accept the things, I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference;’ is a mantra which is only too applicable to the ups and downs of life. We need to accept the things we cannot change; accidents happen, knowing God does not make life free and easier in line with integrity and we need serenity to keep us on an even keel through joys and sorrows.
There are those people who challenge superstition and reject dogma like Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela allowing small seeds to grow into a tree of justice or the yeast of St Francis of Assisi and many others today like Bob Geldof have all worked to make a difference and continue to work to change injustice; even individual church members supporting their favourite charity is making a difference. We have to seek prayerfully those things which cannot be changed, when to speak, when to be silent, when to act and when to stand back. We are called to mourn with victims of accidents, victims of war in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Israel or with those who have been struck down by unpalatable illness. When we pray we turn our sadness into action and our tears into finding solutions. As Isaiah said that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts we are being challenged to put our hearts, minds and thoughts into God’s way and follow that way in his strength.
David then led the prayers of intercession. We sang the hymn, ‘Father, who is in Jesus found us’ before Trevor led us in the communion service and our worship was concluded when we sang ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’.