He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live…they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.Psalm 107: 35-37
Hymn 43 O God you are my God alone
We like to think that we human beings are special –
that not only are we different from other creatures
but that we are better than them
we know so much
we can do so much
the earth is ours to enjoy
us and develop for our own purposes
In Jesus you even became one of us
and lived a life like ours
But so often there is nothing special or better
about the way that we human beings behave
we are selfish and greedy
we are thoughtless
we treat other people badly
we use our knowledge to harm the earth
to harm other creatures
to harm other people
we do not so much ‘use’ the earth as ‘abuse’ it
exploit it and despoil it
We turn our backs on you
and try to live life without you
we take you for granted
we ignore your teaching and example
we do and say things that hurt you and others
We are sorry
Rekindle in us love for you and others
and all that you have created
Rekindle in us the fire of commitment to you
and to the values of your Kingdom
Through Christ our Lord we pray
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Stone is part of the natural world. Some of it is firmly attached to the earth’s crust: some can be seen quite easily, some is hidden away underground. Millions of years of weather, wind, water and ice have chipped away large and small bits, and we find them in fields, gardens, river beds and along the shore.
Some farmers find stones a nuisance, because they catch on ploughs turning over the ground. In the past many cleared bigger stones from their fields and used them to make drystone dykes. Some gardeners find them a nuisance too if their soil is very stony – others ‘go with the flow’ and focus on plants that have adapted to stony ground.
Stones of different sizes are part of everyday life for most of us. In a town like Dumbarton many older buildings are built of, or faced in, stone. Newer buildings still use stones in their cement and concrete. Stones help to make our pavements and roads. Stones, in the form of ore, are used to make metals like iron, steel and copper, and stones are used in many other ways as part of life.
Sometimes we use stones for fun: skimming them along the tops of the waves, throwing them into the water to make a big splash, building a cairn, using them to decorate a sandcastle [message on the beach], or painting names or pictures on them [Marie Claire during Lent]
Jesus mentioned stones and rocks in some of his stories. The grain that fell among stones didn’t do very well because there were few nutrients for it, and it needed to be able to put down deep roots to cope with the hot sunlight. Then there was the wise man who built his house on rocky ground, a firm foundation, safe above the flood.
At a time when we are thinking of the impact of the climate crisis on our planet, we do hope and pray that those who take decisions affecting all or lives will pay attention to the image of the wise man building his house upon the rock.
But Jesus wasn’t just giving advice to the planners and construction industry. He was talking about all of us building our lives on the firm foundation of God’s love and care, knowing him, and living his way.
Bible reading Isaiah 35
Reflection Part 1 Desert is special
The people of the Bible lived on the margin between fertile land and scrub or desert. Right through the Bible the landscape shaped those people – how they saw life, how they lived life, how they perceived or experienced God. In the valleys of the Nile and the rivers Tigris and Euphrates there was abundant food, pasture and wealth; but they were also the places where people experienced slavery, exile, being a minority that was tolerated but not much more. Parts of the Holy Land were very fertile too, and when the people were in those lush, green lands, it was easy to think less about God, easy to be a bit lax in worshipping and praying. In much the same way, as people in places like Western Europe, Australia and Canada have become better off, their thoughts have turned less to God and his worship – whereas in many places in Africa, for example, there is poverty but a thriving and growing church.
When the people of the Bible lived in the desert or scrubland, when survival was a real struggle, they thought a lot about God, and how they depended upon him. It was an environment where people considered what really mattered to them, when they recognised the importance of community and depending on each other. Some of the great religious experiences of the Bible – the call of Moses, the giving of the Law, the making of David’s reputation, John the Baptist’s ministry, the preparation for Jesus’ ministry – all happened in the desert. In the early church the first monks and hermits literally went off to live in the desert. The Celtic monks didn’t have a traditional hot, sandy or stony desert nearby, but they found wild, isolated places where they could live on the margin. Even those picturesque abbeys in the Borders, the Dales or the Fens were wild, desolate places when the monks first moved there.
Maybe sometimes we need a ‘desert’ place – making time or space for ourselves to focus more on God, thinking, praying, learning. Maybe as we plan for the greater re-opening of church life we need to take a little time for preparation. But God never intended his people to stay in the desert. They were to go and settle in the Holy Land, with all its temptations to become a little lax, a bit less faithful. And God calls us, in our green and fertile, and reasonably affluent, place to accept the challenge of living out God’s values here, showing his love and concern for those round about us, and inviting others to follow him too.
Hymn 338 Jesus tempted in the desert
Reflection Part 2 Desert is OK as it is
Life that develops in the desert, religion that develops in the desert, can be austere. There isn’t room for thinking about things like beauty and being picturesque. When your God has promised you that you will settle in a land flowing with milk and honey, where you won’t need to worry about where your food will come from, then you don’t think how attractive sand and stones are. When your God has promised you that the land devastated by war will be restored – vineyards, orchards and olive groves replanted, mills, irrigation ditches, field boundaries restored, then you don’t think how picturesque they were as weed covered ruins. You want lushness, you want prosperity, you want everyone to be fed. You want to see the desert bloom.
Certainly when we see pictures of places in Africa or Asia where the rains have failed, where once-fertile fields are now dustbowls, where folk are facing poverty and starvation, then we believe that God wants change there, wants the desert to bloom, and we want to see steps taken to make that happen – whether it means support from development charities, or global action on the causes of climate change.
But there are places which have long been desert, which have their own eco-systems with plants, insects and animals. An independent but fragile world. Those deserts, those creatures, have beauty all of their own. Sand, stone, rock can have great beauty to be celebrated and enjoyed, a rugged, austere beauty all their own. It is different from the beauty of trees and fields, but it is still beautiful. Beauty comes in many forms.
People can be like that too. The media love to bombard us with perfect body images, perfect lifestyles, perfect careers. Then we look in the mirror and see someone who doesn’t quite fit the image: we are too tall, too short, too fat, the wrong colour of hair, no hair, wear glasses, hearing aids, have artificial replacements; we don’t have the wealth, the latest toy, the wardrobe full of the latest designer fashions. God sees beauty in green fields and rocky desert. God sees beauty in people of all shapes, sizes, styles, lifestyles, and his love embraces all. God may wish us all to change in the way we live our lives, so that we show his values and characteristics – but we don’t need to stop being ourselves. God loves our variety, and he wants us to love it too.
Prayers for others
Rocks and stones come in all sorts of shapes and sizes
but there are so many different uses for them
Maybe there is a message for us all there
that whatever we’re like
you have a special plan and purpose for each one of us
Because of climate change
some people are struggling to grow food in dry, barren ground
we pray for them
those trying to help them
and those who need to make decisions on addressing the climate emergency
We remember too those who feel they are in a metaphorical desert
where life feels stark and barren
and they are looking for a refuge away from other people
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 191 Do not be afraid
And the blessing of God Almighty.