On Sunday May 11th Ken Dransfield an elderly local preacher was due to lead worship at our chapel when he was too unwell to take the service. As he is a conscientious local preacher, the hymns and readings and order of service had been compiled; he had even done the sermon. The son of one of our stewards Daniel Sudron always accompanies Ken when he can to assist him, leading prayers and reading. Pam usually sings at his services so she was still able to take part. Les Sudron our steward and our worship leader Christine also took part in worship, as Ken had been so well prepared. We began worship with ‘When morning guilds the skies’, before Daniel led the opening prayers. Daniel also read the first reading, ‘1 Peter 1v17-25’. We then sang ‘For the beauty of the earth,’ before the offering was received. Christine Bunting then led the intercessions. Pam, Ken’s friend, sang ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ in a moving way before we all sang ‘Jesus’ hands were kind hands doing good to all.’ Daniel read the gospel reading from Luke 24v1-19, 28-31, which was the Road to Emmaus and other appearances of Jesus to his disciples.
Les Sudron then prayed that he would be able to read Ken’s sermon meaningfully to bring his message to the congregation. Ken remembered the Hollies’ song; ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’ which described a long road with many winding ways. (Incidentally; Malcolm and I, now always refer to that song as Robert’s song, as he had wanted to listen to it, as Cathy drove him to his brother, and my late first husband, Stephen’s final resting place in the dales he loved.)
Ken had wanted to include the road to Emmaus, the lectionary reading from the previous Sunday in his reflections that morning. The Road to Emmaus story seemed short on details about what could be a world shattering story. Who were these 2 men? Only one of the men, Cleopas was named? Why did they fail to recognise Jesus when he walked and talked with them? When they realised it was Jesus, why did he vanish from their sight? Are we challenged to step out in faith as the 2 men did after seeing Jesus, suddenly re-energised to return and share the good news of seeing the risen Lord? Do doubts and concerns hold us back?
We have the power to step out in faith. Many people nowadays tell us what is wrong with our belief; surely it could not have happened and did not happen? Ken said that we were to put aside what we felt about politicians; our reactions to their actions, when for example David Cameron suddenly expressed his faith in a Christian nation and in Jesus as saviour!! Some of us find that harder to do, as we see the marginalisation of the poor and vulnerable, who are getting the brunt of welfare cuts, and the forced movement of people, whose rent subsidies exceed the cap, even from London to Birmingham, because of the excessive costs of private rented property and the shortage of council houses or social housing with affordable rents for the low paid. When David Cameron calls us to make a difference by getting out and helping those people; he is pushing the responsibility for the low paid and marginalised onto charities and removing the safety nets for those who are disabled, unemployed or suffering with mental health conditions. We as a church and community are trying to help the lonely and marginalised and now in so called ‘wealthy’ Harrogate we have 2 food banks, breakfasts supplied for the homeless, an advice centre, where food and showers and often a place to stay are provided. People work tirelessly to provide a bed for the homeless, even if our local homeless hostel is full.
Even more than 20 years ago it took years for my husband on low pay could find a flat he could afford to rent, so he lived with his parents in a rented tied property let to his retired father, a Methodist minister and his wife. In 1991 he found a flat to rent, which he could afford, as the landlord was more concerned that Malcolm would be able to keep an eye on the more elderly residents. When we married in 2000 he passed on the flat to Graham, who was also on a lower income, and he too was supportive to the other residents. Since Graham moved with work the rents in those flats have more than doubled. That was a number of years ago and today most low paid have to live outside our area and come in to work, as the situation is so much worse.
Ken laments the fact that atheists such as A C Grayling seem to know best; many of so called Christian values are matched by Greek philosophy, Roman law, so in his opinion are secular values. Ken feels, however, that no one can ridicule our faith. Those who wanted to follow Jesus were constantly being challenged to give everything away, leave their families. Of course A Grayling rightly criticised the inquisition, and he criticised the wrongs of religion, but never mentioned Christ at all, who comes into our lives and walks through our lives with us.
Jesus was a Jew, oppressed under Roman occupation; the real Roman world was different from the philosophers’ portrayal. Jesus began his ministry in the synagogues, then stepped out in faith, on his own journey, bringing hope to the hopeless, healing, freedom from oppression and spoke out for the poor and marginalised. Jesus was a man of action who showed what needed to be done, unlike classical historians or politicians. Jesus was not a university professor but he lived and worked in the community, showing us how God intended us to be. In his ministry and teaching Jesus inspired the disciples to continue his work and service of those in need.
Others too carried on his work, John Wesley reaching the poor with the good news; freedom from slavery begun by William Wilberforce and continuing today, as more abuses are found and trade unions establishing fair working conditions; and the NHS providing healthcare for all at the point of need. (I fear that so many of those improvements, especially the NHS, and fair working conditions are being eroded today and pray that I am wrong or life could return to the worst conditions of the 19th Century for the more marginalised in our society.)
Ken urges each of us to work each day to make a difference, through the inspiration and help of Jesus. Christianity is far from dying out he reminds us; there are 2 billion Christians around the world, in spite of all the efforts to blot Christianity out. The gospel was not put together until after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when the disciples were empowered through the Holy Spirit to step out in faith to share the good news. Ken asks who is he to question the validity of that record of Jesus’ life and work. He just steps out in faith on his own road, asking Jesus to walk with him along life’s way. Worship concluded as we sang, ’Stay master stay’.