Stand firm in the faith; be valiant, be strong. Let everything you do be done in love1 Corinthians 16: 13-14
Hymn 129 The Lord is King lift up your voice
It is common practice in our world
to make a big fuss of things
to think about PR opportunities, and good publicity
presenting ourselves in the best possible light
it is common practice too
to make sure that people hear about our donations
our sponsorship, the support we give to some good cause or other
but your ways are different
when you chose a people to whom to reveal yourself
you didn’t choose a large or powerful one
when you acted to save and change the world
you didn’t choose a rich or powerful figure
mighty armies or special effects
you chose a village carpenter
and a ragbag group of followers
as your Spirit works to bring peace and justice
healing and wholeness to the world
it acts quietly
and most of the time people do not notice it
you want us to work quietly and without fuss
not drawing attention to ourselves
not seeking praise or approval from others
but seeking only to bring you pleasure through what we do
but we don’t always bring you pleasure through how we behave
we fall into the ways of the world around us
we confess our failings and ask for your forgiveness
help us to live by your values
and the example of Jesus our Lord
through the leading of your Spirit
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
[Puppies and hens] Maybe when we have joined a new group (at school, at work, in some club we belong to, or whatever), we have had experiences a bit like the puppy’s, and a bit like the young hens’. Maybe when someone new joins ‘our group’ we should remember our own experiences, and try to make it easier for them to feel included, rather than receive the ‘pecking order’ treatment.
Jesus called everyone into his church: big and small, young and old, rich and poor, clever and slow, fit and unfit, men and women, people from all social and ethnic backgrounds, people speaking every language, and with every accent. Everyone is welcome in his church.
It all sounds wonderful. However, we are all to be part of his one church, not separate churches for people with particular likes or dislikes. We all have to be accommodated in the one church. Now, to be blunt, some people are easier to get on with than others. Some are easier to like than others. Some are absolute pains, we really can’t stand them, they rub us up the wrong way.
But Jesus calls us all into his church, his one church. He loves them, he wants us to love them, and through his Spirit he is ready to help us to love them and work with them. It isn’t easy, it might at times not even seem fair. But God wants his church to be an example to the world of how the world could be if people would work together, and accept each other, instead of fighting each other. So he wants us to work at making his church a place where we accept and live with people who are very different – even people we don’t like.
Hymn JP78 He’s got the whole world in his hands
James 2: 1-10
Reflection How to treat people
[mid-1960s TV programme The Frost Report included The Class Sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett I look up to him, but down on him; I look down on both of them, more on him than him; I know my place] Social structures and attitudes were always a bit more complex than that, but in a very general way it describes attitudes around for centuries, including Bible times.
In the wider Mediterranean world Paul tried not to ‘rock the boat’ over the structure of society, simply urging masters to treat their slaves fairly, slaves to be honest and work hard, and for people to give as they were able for the good of others. But it was a wee bit different in the Holy Land, which is why many commentators think the Letter of James originated there, even though it’s written in very good Greek.
- in the ‘John Cleese’ place were members of the aristocratic families based in Jerusalem. They had large portfolios of land and property, which they rented out to earn a substantial income, and they could be fairly ruthless in their demands for rent or tax. They were wealthy, they exercised considerable political power (even under the regimes of Herod the Great and the Romans). They also controlled the Temple and large parts of Jewish religious life. It was from among their number that the High Priests were chosen. They felt they could justify their wealth and position from those passages in the Bible where God had promised rich material blessings to those who followed his way, but poverty and suffering for those who didn’t
- in the ‘Ronnie Barker’ one were a mix of people. Some might have smaller portfolios of land and property, out in the provincial towns, which they were equally adept at managing ruthlessly. Some ran small businesses. Some were like Zacchaeus, and made a lot of money from the way they managed government contracts. Many Pharisees came from that sort of background – they liked their own kind of people, but didn’t want to mix with the ritually unclean, many of whom were from the ‘Ronnie Corbett’ category
- the financial position and religious outlook of the bulk of the population – the ‘Ronnie Corbetts’ was far from uniform. There was however among them a significant movement that rejected the religious rational of the aristocracy. Groups like the Dead Sea Scrolls Community completely cut themselves off from the Temple and the High Priests declaring them utterly corrupt. Others attended the Temple, but looked rather to the refrain found right through the Jewish Law, to remember ‘the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner’. They remembered the words of prophets like Amos, stories of the challenges put to government by the likes of Nathan and Elijah. They called themselves the Anavim (the Poor). We hear echoes of them in some of Jesus’ teaching (especially as recorded by Luke) including the Magnificat
If the situation described in today’s Bible reading reflects a real event in a particular church community, or even one that might well happen, then it tells us a couple of things: on the one hand the church was drawing in people from a variety of backgrounds, but on the other it wasn’t handling it well. Including new people to a group means being ready to accept change in the group dynamic, accepting that we can’t go on doing thing the ‘way we’ve aye done them’, some may have to give up roles in the group that they’ve held for a long time and enjoyed. Accommodating new people also means being ready to recognise and address prejudices we might have:
- it might be what the other person wears (is it too scruffy, too casual, too short?)
- other aspects of their appearance (hairstyle, tattoos, piercings)
- ethnicity, sexuality, accent, behaviour (“they were on that phone right through the service!”), the job they do, or the tradition or congregation they come from
Jesus has called them into his church, and he is not pleased when we don’t love those he loves.
Maybe we also need to reflect on the questions of the anavim (and Jesus) on wealth and poverty, rich and poor. They are topics very much in the arena of government and politics at the moment:
- following the Brexit referendum five years ago politicians began to recognise that many voters, many areas of the country were feeling ignored, being left behind. There are to be plans for ‘levelling up’ these areas, but what will it involve, will it have the desired effect for those who feel marginalised and left behind?
- during the course of the pandemic we have seen government borrowing rise exponentially. We have also been reminded of how much we rely on ‘key workers’ – who are often on low wages and whose working conditions could be a lot better; we have seen the different ways in which the virus and lockdown measures have affected poorer and richer families; we have seen people lose jobs, go onto Universal Credit, and have to resort to foodbanks; and what will measures to achieve carbon-zero mean in financial terms for individuals and families?
- How will all this be paid for?
There is going to be public debate, there will be important decisions made. What does God want his people to do? Sit quietly and leave it all to ‘the experts’, or does he want us to speak out about what he wants?
Hymn 251 I the Lord of sea and sky
Prayers for others
We thank you for all the people we count as friends
for their individual personalities and gifts
and we ask for your blessing on all of them
There are others we find more difficult to cope with
help us to love them as you love them
help us too to cope with the prejudices we have
but prefer not to acknowledge
Guide and inspire all in positions of authority
who are looking to address poverty and inequality
in this country and throughout 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 180 Give thanks with a grateful heart
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
And the blessing of God Almighty.