Sunday February 28th Worship at Wesley Chapel

On Sunday February 28th one of our local preachers, Mike Greenberg, led worship, when the planned local preacher was unable to lead worship. As it was the third Sunday in Lent our minister Trevor Dixon did the Lent meditation and prayer on love. God gives love for the brokenness, darkness and the pain of injustice in the world. Trevor prayed for God to draw us together in love.

We sang ‘Jesus calls us here to meet him’ before Mike had a few words with us. God gives us love, care, friends, home and food yet Mike wonders why God gives us so much when other people don’t have all those things. We can be thankful for all we have but not forget to consider what other people lack. Let us think of those in the world with so little. He asked us to have a time of silence as we considered the needs of the world and then he drew our thoughts and prayers together and we said the Lord’s Prayer together. We then sang ‘Great God, your love has called us here.’

Mike enjoys reading the letters in the Methodist Recorder. He has found the discussions over same sex marriage quite fascinating. In Genesis 2.18 onwards there is the second story of creation which showed God creating animals for companions for Adam and then creating Eve out of the rib of Adam, so that she was flesh of his flesh, and a man leaves his father and mother to be united to his wife. Mike said that represented the patriarchal society of that time’s view of women, as man’s helper with the male being supreme and dominant. Those views led to male dominance in the emerging Christian church in Acts.

However now we need to be careful about how we interpret what we are reading in the Bible in the light of our more enlightened views on women being equal partners in a relationship. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.25-31 gave advice now on marriage as he considered time was short, faced with an impending crisis or the imminent return of Jesus, but he was not formulating a rule for all time. Mike explained that Paul’s words had to be understood in the current situation with the occupation of the Romans. The persecution of Christians and Jews and the imminent second coming of Jesus, Paul advised the Corinthians not to have children as it would be a distressing time. Most of the writing of Paul was not setting down rules for all future Christians in the following 2000 years, but it was practical advice for those times; Mike explained that we cannot nowadays pick out literal laws from scripture.
The third reading Mike considered was in Matthew 22.23 onwards where Jesus had been teaching and was tested first by the Sadducees and later by the Pharisees. They wanted to know whose wife, a widow who had married 7 brothers without offspring and finally died herself, would she would be in the context of the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. Mike explained that a widow marrying her brothers in law was set in the Old Testament as a requirement to protect the vulnerable widow. The brothers in law would most likely be already married but would take the widow under their family protection; some men had several wives at that time. It is not clear whether Jesus supported that policy but he answered the question in the light of the resurrection.
Mike reminded us that there are a lot of laws in scripture which are happily ignored, whereas others are kept as law.

We sang ‘Lord you sometimes speak in wonders’ after which Mike reminded us of how God speaks to us in many varied ways; through scripture; through the gentle whisper of God’s voice; through silence as we wait and pray to know God’s voice and always through Jesus’ showing God’s love and acceptance in action. The Bible does not contain a rigid set of rules, even the 10 commandments classes women as the same as slaves, cattle and donkeys, which was the tradition at that time; it was only though shalt not covet neighbour’s wife, etc but no mention of a woman coveting a neighbour’s husband!! Society at that time was inseparable from its religion.

The Laws in Leviticus required people to go to the priest to verify healing, and absolution. Disease and illness were seen as blamed on the patient’s sin, so to prove healing, the person had to go to the priest for cleansing. Of course Mike said we could accept the rule of scripture for all times and never challenge it and ignore 2000 years of social development. Mike says the key is in Matthew’s gospel when the Pharisees came to test Jesus on the greatest commandment and Jesus replied the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart and mind and voice and their neighbour as they loved themselves; on those two great commandments hung all the Laws and the Prophets. All we do needs to be filtered through the Love of God and one another. Scripture is not there for us to literally follow as if it were our rule for life; instead we need simply to follow the commandment to love and put people before doctrine. We are not to ignore suffering and injustice, and not treat others such as gays, lesbians or transsexuals, who are different from us with disrespect. Jesus treated people as individuals like the unclean bleeding woman or the Samaritan woman; to him they were just people in need of love. We can at least by showing love and acceptance to others help to make the world a better place. We have to make up our own minds about current issues and learn to judge through the eyes of love, as Jesus did.

Mike introduced us to a new hymn from ‘Singing the Faith’, the words of which struck me as really brilliant, so I am going to quote it fully.

‘Let love be real, in giving and receiving,
Without the need to manage and to own;
A haven free from posing and pretending,
Where every weakness may be safely known.
Give me your hand, along the desert pathway,
Give me your love wherever we may go.
As God loves us, so let us love each other;
With no demands, just open hands and space to grow.

Let love be real, not grasping or confining,
That strange embrace that holds yet sets us free;
That helps us face the risk of truly living,
And makes us brave to be what we might be.
Give me your strength when all my words are weakness;
Give me your love in spite of all you know.
As God loves us, so let us love each other:
With no demands, just open hands and space to grow.

Let love be real, with no manipulation,
No secret wish to harness or control;
Let us accept each other’s incompleteness,
And share the joy of learning to be whole.
Give me your hope through dreams and disappointments;
Give me your trust when all my failings show.
As God loves us, so let us love each other:
With no demands, just open hands and space to grow.

Before he led us into the prayers of intercessions he gave us some themes to consider. He said that the views of Donald Trump were serious but he is only giving voice to politically incorrect thoughts some people have but daren’t express. There are people who have those views in tabloid papers and we know people who possess those views. It is important for us to be aware of those situations and have the courage to speak out against such views. In the silence Mike suggested we seek courage to respond to those who express those views. Worship concluded when we sang ‘Where can we find you, Lord Jesus, our master? I found Mike’s service challenging and thought provoking.

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