On Thursday May 22nd I stood as the Labour candidate in our very Tory area of Harrogate, so I was gratified to get 168 votes! I was not quite the bottom of the pole which as usual the Conservatives won in the Pannal area. Still it was good to make a stand for what I believe in. If only more people would vote in our constituency; most of those who don’t vote seem to claim they don’t understand about politics or that even if they voted it would make no difference! It will certainly not make a difference if they don’t vote, as those who don’t vote cannot criticise the government whom they have not played any part in electing! It is vital that we vote, especially after the vote was so hard fought for by the suffragettes so that women who had played such a large part in the First World War at home could have a vote. My grandmother was very much a sympathiser of the suffragettes. I certainly feel it is very important to vote. We are called after all to work for justice and support those who often through no fault of their own find themselves in need of sustenance and support.
On Sunday May 25th I led worship at Bilton Area Chapel. It was good to be able to lead a morning service there as I mostly get planned there in the evenings. We began worship as we sang ‘All my hope on God is founded’ and I led the opening prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. I then told them a story about students doing a study in the Baltimore Slums of 200 boys to see what they thought their future might be and they all said that they did not have a chance. 25 years later a new professor asked his students to find out what happened to those boys. They found that 20 had either moved away or died but they were able to meet with most of the other 180 and discovered that 176 of the boys much to their astonishment had become lawyers, businessmen and doctors! How had they beaten the odds? It was a certain teacher. The teacher was now retired and was asked what her secret was and she simply said that she just love those boys! Jesus told the disciples to love one another as he had loved them and that is exactly what that teacher did, valuing each of those boys so they achieved beyond their potentials.
We then sang ‘Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.’ We then had a dramatised reading based on Acts 17 v21-32, which brought the reading to life, I think. The second reading was John14v15-21. We then sang, ‘All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord,’ before the sermon.
The disciples were facing the impending departure of Jesus and Jesus was preparing them for that inevitable day. However he told them that they would not be totally bereft and alone, as he would send them a helper. This helper would be the ‘Paracletos’; that is ‘someone called in to help’ in times of trouble or need. He told them that if they loved him they would follow what he had taught them and live as he had shown them. The advocate, the Holy Spirit, would come to remind them of all Jesus had taught them and would bring them strength and wisdom so they would not have to struggle alone. As Jesus loved them they also had to love one another and share that love with others. They would not see him for a while but then they would see him again. The disciples now had witnessed the suffering and death of Jesus and had been overjoyed to see the risen Lord appearing to them on several occasions and knew that He was alive. Jesus had begun to reinforce his teachings and prepare them for the time he would finally leave them. When the promised Holy Spirit came He would inspire them and give them courage to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
When Paul arrived in Athens he wandered round the city and took note of the numbers of shrines set up to honour their gods, in particular one shrine to an unknown god. He knew there was a forum, the ‘Aeropagus’, where the philosophers and thinkers met to learn about and discuss new ideas. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit started his talk with what he had noticed around him in Athens; he addressed them, as Men of Athens, acknowledged how very religious they were as he had noticed that amongst the shrines there was a dedication to an unknown God. He then went on to say that their unknown god was indeed the God who had created everything in the world and in whom they live and move and have their being. His presence was all around them whether they recognised him or not. God had not just given life to all beings, but he was concerned about his creation and wanted to have a relationship with them; in fact before his disobedience Adam had been in constant communion with God. Paul explained that people had been created to be in communion with God and longed for that relationship stumbling in the dark to find him. Paul explained to his audience that in truth they had been created to be utterly dependant on God as a child is on his or her parent. Now no one needed to stumble in the darkness looking for God, as the true nature of God had been revealed through Jesus Christ in life and ministry. Previously they had worshipped idols in ignorance so they had not known the one true God. Jesus had been crucified but had been raised to life by God and appeared to many of his disciples. Now was the time for them to repent from worshipping idols and recognise the true God and worship him alone.
Our love for Jesus and God is not a passive cosy love but it is a love that calls us to action. We are called to share the all embracing, unconditional love of Jesus with all who have not come to know him. We need to get to know the person before we can share our faith, so we can start from their point of understanding; otherwise our witness can seem like bombarding them with our views without taking the trouble to see things from their point of view. It is similar to when we prepare ourselves for an interview for a job; if we are going to make an impression, especially if there is a lot of competition for the job, we need to research the job thoroughly, what is required, and what the company’s work is. Paul started from a place his audience could understand and expanded from there to enlighten his listeners. Finally praying for inspiration will give us the words we need especially when we feel totally inadequate for the task. We need to listen and be prepared to accept the challenges God presents us with, allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen our witness.
We sang ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here’ before a worship leader from the congregation, Jean Clay, led the prayers of intercessions. Worship was concluded as we sang my favourite hymn, ‘And can it be.’