The LORD makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for humanity to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart, oil to make the face to shine, and bread to sustain the heart.Psalm 104: 14-15
Hymn 137 All things bright and beautiful [1 2 4]
Maker of the sun and sky, the hills and the sea
the earth, the rocks, the grass, every living thing
we rejoice in the beauty of the world you have made
we rejoice in the friendship and companionship of one another
we rejoice in the gifts of art, music and poetry
enabling us to see deeper marvels, deeper mysteries
in the world that you have made
You are the giver of life, you are the giver of new life
you will wholeness and fullness of life for all your world
you have called us to be your sons and daughters through Jesus
in him you came into our world and shared its pain and hurt
in him you showed us the pattern and example for our living
in him you won us for yourself
you give us new life, new hope
But we have not lived his way
we hurt you and others by what we have said and done
in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
For many people mention of ‘the countryside’ immediately brings to mind pictures of fields of corn, or meadows with cows and sheep (probably reflecting jigsaw pictures, old films or television series set in the 1950s or earlier). We celebrate such landscapes in many of our hymns and prayers.
In fact most of those expressions of the ‘countryside’ are man-made creations. Leave most fields and meadows to their own devices, and in a few years trees and bushes will begin to grow there, and in a few decades there will be a wood. In other parts of the country – like lowland Stirlingshire or the Fen country of Eastern England – the original landscape was bog or heath, that was drained and cultivated.
From Stone Age times humanity has been altering the landscape to provide suitable habitats for growing cereals and vegetables, and for keeping livestock. In some cases a sustainable arrangement has been arrived at, and we have fields and meadows, in others the ground has had all the goodness taken out of it, and nothing put back, and desert or wasteland created.
As Christians we believe that God is willing to let us adapt and develop the landscape in order to produce food, material for clothing etc, but we also believe that he wants us to balance our needs and requirements with those of other species, and hand on a sustainable planet to future generations.
Bible reading Mark 4: 1-9
Reflection Part 1Fields and meadows – places to rest and play
Fields and meadows aren’t quite what they were. Developers keep building houses and flats on every available piece of ground – and many of us now see housing developments where we used to play as children. Expectations and safety considerations have changed over the years. Many of us grew up when there was far less traffic about, and children could safely go away for the day together on foot or on bikes. Similarly on family days out we accepted it as OK to tramp along muddy tracks, sit on wet grass, eat squashed sandwiches and drink water from a bottle or tea from a flask, play hide and seek, spot flowers and insects, and nip behind a bush when required. Nowadays our expectations have changed: we want proper paths, real toilets, seats and tables, barbecue facilities, tea room or restaurant, guided walks and organised play areas.
Taking all that into account, there is still demand to go to the country for leisure, recreation, peace and quiet, to recharge the batteries. We may have lovely parks in which to stroll and play, there may be streets lined with gardens and trees where we can walk, there may be gardens where we can commune with nature – but there is something special about being in the country, among trees and fields, along the banks of rivers and streams, up on the moors, among the burns and peat bogs.
Long ago folk in Ancient Rome used to look down on those who lived in the country: they were simple, behind the times, so unfashionable. But at the same time they envied a certain wholesomeness and innocence in country living. Life in the city had more buzz, but it could leave you feeling cynical and shallow. It was a theme that many writers, poets and painters returned to in the late 18th Century as the Industrial revolution hit Britain. Think of some of Burns’ poems.
Sometimes Bible writers felt that way too. They looked back through rose-tinted spectacles to the simpler days of long ago when they were herdsmen following their flocks from grazing spot to grazing spot. They saw that relationship between sheep and shepherd as an analogy of their relationship with God. Jesus spent a lot of his time in the countryside of Galilee, and used country themes like sheep and sowing seed in many of his best known stories. He also went up into the hills by himself to have time with God – to share his thoughts and concerns, listen for God’s voice, and let their relationship grow. Jesus was no recluse. He found rest in the countryside, but it could also be a tiring place, because he met, healed and taught people there. He also went to the towns and cities where large numbers of people lived and gathered.
Following Jesus means making time and space for peace and quiet to talk with God and listen for God, to feel refreshed and let our relationship grow. Following Jesus also means engaging with people in our community, in towns, cities or wherever we are, to share his love and Good News.
Hymn 143 Who put the colours in the rainbow? [All]
Reflection Part 2 Fields and meadows – the other side of the story
Life in the country: long, hot sunny days; miles of fresh, clean washing blowing in the breeze; a permanent smell of hot scones, home-made soup, jam and chutney; large fresh eggs; timeless quantities of courtesy, neighbourliness and the Women’s Institute. It’s how The Archers used to be, how the countryside was portrayed in Janet and John books, in Postman Pat, in adverts for wholemeal bread and real butter, it’s what Granny’s Hielan’ Hame was like. Or it’s how we would like to picture the countryside – but it is very largely myth.
Many people who live in the countryside love it, but you don’t need to be a fan of TV programmes like Emmerdale or the Archers to know that it isn’t all sweetness and light. People in rural areas can face the same kind of issues as their town-dwelling cousins, and have some issues all of their own. They often have long distances to travel to school, to hospital, to leisure facilities, the post office, the bank, the shops. Public transport is poor, affordable housing can be difficult to find, mobile phone signals and broadband may be at best erratic, and during the winter (or a summer storm) roads may be blocked and power turned off. And close-knit communities aren’t always friendly or supportive.
Many of us may have grown up picturing Heaven as a lovely sunny day in the country. For many a lovely sunny day in the country can be more Hell than Heaven, if you suffer from hay fever or asthma. For some strange reason best known to himself, the Good lord seemed to think it OK that we should not just share the countryside with cows and sheep, but also with flies and ticks, midges and flukes, and e-coli bacteria. Then humanity decided to add fertilisers and crop sprays as well.
Jesus never tried to spin an attractive picture of what following him would be like. He spoke honestly and realistically about the difficulties his followers would have as they tried to live out God’s values, and share the Good News. Living out God’s values took Jesus to the cross. Many followers since have faced many kinds of difficulties, but Jesus never expects more of us than he endured himself. Through his Spirit he gives us the strength, courage and patience we will need, and he promises us that in the end his way of caring for others, of honesty and truth, peace and justice, will triumph
Prayers for others
We thank you for the countryside
particularly the countryside around us
which has been such a help to us through the times of lockdown over the last year
we are sorry when we take it for granted
we are sorry too for the times when we don’t respect the countryside
leaving litter, destroying habitats
We pray for those who live in rural communities
with the special challenges they face
associated with distance from facilities
lack of facilities
additional costs for goods and services
and for those who take decisions affecting the lives of people in rural communities
that they will be sensitive to their needs
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 500 Lord of creation to you be all praise [1 3 5]
And the blessing of God Almighty.