If I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you me be alsoJohn 14: 3
Hymn 436 Christ triumphant ever reigning
You are always with us
always around us
you see and know the thoughts of our hearts
you understand our fears, our worries
you see too the thoughts we try to keep hidden
but still you surround us with your love
you seek the best for us
you seek to shield us and protect us
and stand with us in times of difficulty
You are our guide through life
you have told us what to do, and what not to do
you have given us the example of Jesus to follow
you have given us your Spirit to help us
You prepare the path for us
you have a plan and a purpose for each of us
you lead us into situations where you need us
and you help us and equip us to cope there
But we are not always aware of you, of your goodness to us
we do not always appreciate it
we do not take the opportunities you give us
we do not seek to know and do your will
we do not live by Jesus example or teaching
we have those thoughts that you know only too well
Help us to open our lives to you
to let your Spirit change us to be more Christ-like people
to listen for your voice leading us to the task you have for us
to be ready, to take the opportunities you give us
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Among our collection of storybooks for children, used in Facetime storytelling sessions, is one about Mrs Large announcing to her three children (two of school age) that she is going for a bath. After the inevitable, ‘Why?’, her answer is ‘Because I want 5 minutes peace from you lot’. It doesn’t last long: the two older ones come upstairs, one to practise his recorder, one to practise her reading. Then the toddler climbs in the bath fully clothed, and the other two eventually join in.
I suspect that there are a number of folk who can relate to the idea of escaping for five minutes peace and quiet. We all need some to unwind and relax, to escape from the stress and anxiety of everyday life. It’s what many people hope for when they go on holiday.
There are various stories in the Bible that involve someone escaping for peace and quiet, or to get away from the stress of everyday life:
- Moses fled into the desert after he killed an Egyptian who was beating up a Hebrew slave
- Elijah fled into the desert when Queen Jezebel indicated that she was out to get him
- John the Baptist went to the desert before he began his ministry by the Jordan, preaching, calling on people to repent and be baptised
- Jesus too went into the desert before he began his ministry, and when he heard that John had been executed, we find him going up a hill by himself, perhaps to grieve and reflect
Outside the Bible, but at the same time that John the Baptist and Jesus were around, there were a group of very earnest and committed members of the Jewish Faith who had retired to the desert to escape what they considered to be the corruption of life in Jerusalem, and to focus on being a faithful worshipping and studying community. We know them as the Dead Sea Scrolls Community.
Down the centuries some Christians have gone off into the desert to live (if they lived in a warm climate) or on a lonely island somewhere, to be on their own. Some became part of monastic communities, some went off to the New World to found a ‘godly’ community there.
Did they find their peace and quiet? Or were they like Mrs Large in the bath?
- Moses met God at the Burning Bush, and God said, ‘Go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh that he must let my people go’
- Elijah arrived at Mount Sinai to be asked ‘And what are you doing here? Away back home’
- John the Baptist left the desert to conduct his ministry, even though it ended in his death
- The same could be said about Jesus. And what happened to him when he climbed the hill? 3000 folk trailed after him, looking for stories, looking for teaching, and needing fed!
Even many of the monks who went off into the desert, or who retired to monasteries, found that people came to them looking for help and assistance.
There are times we need to step back and recharge our batteries, there are times when we just need to be with church folk. But God does not want us shut away with just church folk all the time. He wants us out and about in the Big Wide World, meeting people, sharing his love and Good News, and working for change in the world.
John 17: 6-19
Hymn 445 Alleluia sing to Jesus
For the last year everyone’s attention has been focussed on Coronavirus. We have been encouraged to work together, to think of the common good, of our neighbours, of ‘building back’ a better world post-pandemic. People have asked questions like ‘How can we ensure that our children have the best possible opportunities in life? How can we eradicate the need for foodbanks? How can we address mental health issues better? How can we create a sustainable economy? How can we work together to vaccinate the world?’ It sounds like the prelude to a fairer, more equal world.
Yet over and over again we see a world that is doing anything but becoming fairer and more equal. Some populist leaders seem more interested in winning votes and getting good PR than worrying about public safety. Some governments come down heavily on people who hold different opinions from them, and want the freedom to express those views. Social media seem to play a leading role in disseminating fake news and conspiracy theories. There seems to be a growing readiness to express hatred of people who are ‘different’ – whether in ethnicity, appearance, gender, sexuality, religion, political views or whatever. In some quarters it seems to be accepted that if someone is ‘different’ then they are fair game for insult, abuse and worse. It seems too that in many places what matters are might and money.
How do we cope, how do we survive, in a world like this? Can we change it? Should we just keep our heads below the parapet and hope it sees us out? But what of our children and grandchildren, and generations still to come? What about people in Russia, China, Myanmar and many other places where there are real issues now?
In our Bible reading today Jesus is trying to give encouragement to his followers – the disciples in the Upper Room, the community or communities for whom John’s Gospel was written, and subsequent generations like us – about how to live through the challenges of life, and still be his witnesses.
John’s Gospel seems to have a complex history. Modern books usually say in the front when they were first published, and when there were any re-prints. If it’s a popular book, it might even say when a new edition was published, which might have had the text updated or additions included. John’s Gospel doesn’t have a page like that, we don’t have any dates for it, but it seems that it went through various editions before becoming the text it is now. Chapter 17, from which today’s reading came, looks like part of an update in a later edition.
It can sound to us a bit odd to speak about being ‘in the world’ or ‘of the world’, because surely we are? We aren’t aliens from Mars or Jupiter! Nor are we being asked to retreat to some Hebridean island to escape from ‘the Big Bad World’. To understand better what Jesus means, we need to remember that the Gospel was put together to equip a church community to cope with the challenges it was facing. Life generally was hard in the late 1st Century, and life for Christians could be particularly hard. Many neighbours were hostile, and were happy to spread false rumours about what Christians believed and did in order to get them into trouble with the authorities. They encountered people who were absolutely hostile to the core tenets of the Christian faith, and needed to be equipped to counter their arguments. They also encountered people who took the name of Jesus, or some of his teaching, but turned them into something that differed from the Christian faith.
Chapter 17 seems to be concerned about people with views a bit like some of those who lived in the Dead Sea Scrolls community, who saw a clear divide between Good and Evil, Dark and Light, Them and Us – where they alone had the ear of God, they alone did what was right, they alone would go to Heaven. Everyone else was regarded as ‘the world’ and subject to the control of demonic forces. Jesus reassures his followers that he is always with them. He cares for them, he supports them through life’s challenges. But he isn’t whisking them away to some Paradise where all is sweetness and light. They are to stay where they are, live in the world as it is and be witnesses to him, his Good News, his love and his values where they are. They are to work for change in the world where they are.
He says the same to us. We aren’t to try and hide below the parapet – simply enjoying meeting our friends at church, socialising with them at church and outside, and avoiding the Big Wide World like the plague. Rather we are to engage with the world around us, the people around us, sharing his Good News and working to build peace and justice. There will be challenges, it can be a Big Bad World, but he is with us throughout – and we have our passport that says that as well as wherever we live here, we also belong to God’s Kingdom and are fully welcomed there when the day for travel there comes.
Prayers for others
Sometimes what is going on in the world gets us down
we hear about problems at home and problems abroad
we can’t see any answers to the problems
things just seem to get worse
and we don’t know what we can do
Help us to trust you
that you are Lord of all the earth
a God who brings peace and justice
a God who acts
Help us when we tend to retreat from the world around us
when we just want to meet with our church friends
and do the things we have always done
but are reluctant to step out and engage with the world around us
to share your love and healing
to share your Good News
Give us the strength and conviction to obey your command
and be your witnesses in the world
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 439 Look ye saints the sight is glorious
Christ our King make you faithful
and strong to do his will
and bring you to reign with him in glory
And the blessing of God Almighty..