The following week all Harrogate was in preparation for the finish of the first stage of the Tour de France here. We had known for weeks that many local roads were to be closed on the Saturday July 5th and Sunday July 6th. Our side of town and the town centre was closed on the Saturday but the Knaresborough side of Harrogate and Skipton Road was closed on the Sunday, when the cyclists came through Harrogate from York on the second leg of the race. Some staff stayed in local shops overnight as travelling would be difficult over the weekend. All West Park Stray was taken over with stalls and the paraphernalia that accompanied the tour. There were large television screens on West Park Stray and Oatlands Stray. It was extremely hot on the Saturday so my beloved and I stayed inside and watched it unfold on television, which gave us a better view out of the heat. It was crowded near the finish of the race and those on the spot could see little. It was a wonderful showcase for our beautiful Yorkshire countryside. The tutor at the Acorn Centre Kath walked across the fields from her farm and got a great view as the cyclists sped past on their way through West Tanfield. On arrival in Harrogate one cyclist, Mark Cavendish brought up in Harrogate had an accident and injured his shoulder badly and limped to the end of stage one of the race, but sadly had to pull out of the race the following day due to his injury.
I was asked to lead worship on Sunday July 6th as many members of our congregation including our minister would be unable to come to worship due to road closures. I had the help of the stewards and those who could attend worship on our side of Harrogate to lead worship. We began worship by reading the Psalm 145 responsively which reminded us of the mercy and compassion and love of God. Then we sang, ‘Come let us sing of a wonderful love’ followed by the prayers. We had the first reading from Romans 7v15-25 and then I did a short talk.
Paul was haunted by that sense of frustration in the conflict between his ‘better self’ with its good intentions and his flesh with its destructive reactions controlled by some evil influence which can dominate his life. Paul is constantly aware of the pull of moral ideals embodied in the law of God and the opposing pressure of forces within himself that makes him a prisoner of sin. Paul found it shocking that even when people were genuinely devoted to religion in following the law, they could be subverted by sin and bring about the exact opposite of what was hoped for, a perverted relationship to God instead of an authentic one. Feeling helpless and miserable he cried for deliverance from ‘body of death’; he was referring to either an individual’s death or the mass of unredeemed people under the rule of death. Then he thanked God, who had done that though Jesus by becoming one with him. It is only when we know and follow Jesus that we are able to do what we know we ought. If our human will is strengthened by Christ we can hope to make the right choices. Jesus is the one person who has experienced life with its struggles and choices and made the right choices, so he not only knows what is wrong, but is best equipped to put the wrong to rights, and he helps us make the correct choices.
We then sang one of my favourite hymns, ‘Just as I am without one plea’ before we heard the dramatised reading based on Matthew 11v16-19. Jesus was saddened by the perversity of human nature. He saw people like children playing in the market place. No matter what was suggested they didn’t want to do it; they could always find a fault in everything. John who lived in the desert, fasting, separate from society was criticised for cutting himself off from other people. On the other hand they criticised Jesus as He mixed with all the wrong kinds of people, outcasts, and being a party-goer; lacking morals! If people didn’t want to listen they would find excuses not to respond to John or Jesus. Jesus, however said, ‘God’s wisdom, however, is shown by its results. He meant that no matter what the critics said, the events revealed the results. John drew the people to God, as they had not been drawn for centuries. Through Jesus people had new access to God with a new power to follow him. Surely the lesson for us to learn is to stop judging people by our own prejudices. Let us give thanks for any person who can bring people nearer to God, even if we do not share their methods.
Being a local preacher means I can choose the hymns which mean the most to me and the next hymn, ‘Longing for light, I wait in darkness longing for truth, we turn to you. Make us your own, your holy people, light for the world to see’ before we heard the readings from Zechariah 9v9-12 and Matthew 11v25-30. Jesus saw the struggles of people to find God, trying to be good by keeping the law and the despair they felt when they failed. Somehow the simple ordinary people accepted Jesus but not the intellectuals whose pride could stand in their way. The ordinary people recognised their lowliness and their need of God. Zechariah in his prophecy predicted that the king would come in righteousness recognising his victory as having been given him by God. The king would come humbly in peace riding on a donkey as Jesus did and would be given worldwide dominion; however that dominion came through suffering and death before God raised him from the dead. Jesus came to serve and love the marginalised and outcasts of society. We too are called to serve others, smiling, listening and seeking to bring peace between all people.
We are called to use our resources to help those who are in need, but there are times when we are called to rest; Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who are exhausted and weighted down beneath your burdens and I will give you rest.’ As we come to know Jesus we see God in him because he reflects the very nature of God in all his dealings with those he meets and ministers to. The many rules and regulations of the law added burdens too heavy to bear to ordinary people and here Jesus was offering his rest. He told them the yoke he had to give them would fit them well and the life he was showing them was not going to be a burden to them. That yoke was laid on with love and would remind them that Jesus was sharing their burden and showing them how to love God and serve those in need around them. An old story tells of a little boy carrying a smaller boy; the man commented that it was a heavy burden for him to carry, but the boy replied, ‘That’s no burden, that’s my little brother!’ May we take on the yoke of Jesus which makes our burden light and in his strength learn to ease the burdens of those around us.
We sang ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say, come unto me and rest’ before our steward Mike Goldberg led the prayers of intercessions. Our worship concluded when we sang ‘Give me the faith which remove and sink the mountain to a plain.’ I was glad we all worked together to prepare our worship service.