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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church Service for Sunday 7th November 2021
The Rev’d David Coleman Chaplain, Eco-Congregation Scotland
Welcome, friends, from Scotland, indeed, from the Great City where the trees line Sauciehall Street, and something wonderful, encouraging, disappointing and essential is taking place: COP26 : the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Hosted by the UK government, carrying the hopes of many nations, surrounded by pilgrims who have made their way here to pray and protest in the dear Green place, Glasgow – founded by a bullied schoolboy, the son of an abused woman, who spoke without embarrassment to the wild things of the Earth. This is the great city founded by one of the most beloved of Celtic Saints: Mungo, or Kentigern. And you, however you join us today, are welcome.
Call To Worship
We are the Church – the people who pray for and live in the kingdom of God. A Church united across time and space
We are the Church – a people of many races, languages, races and ways of life. A Church united across time and space
We are the Church – we respond with love to the One who makes all things new. A Church United across time and space.
Hymn: How Great Thou Art Carl Gustav Boberg; Translator: Stuart K. Hine (1949)
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the works thy hands hath made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee: How great thou art, how great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee: How great thou art, how great thou art!
2 And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin;
4 When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration And there proclaim, “My God, how great thou art!”
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
God above us around us beneath us, within us. We delight to share with all life, what all life does for their home and habitat: with the birds that make air air, the fish that make the sea the sea – and we also delight to share with them the building-blocks of cells and the minerals of which we are made, their capacity for joy and their fragility.
We acknowledge the limits of our knowledge, limits which become the more apparent, the more we learn. As also we become to know the wonder of the mystery of our radical interdependence, the weaving of the web of life.
As also we are inspired by poets and artists, for whom it was inconceivable that a cross of salvation would not also be a tree. A holy habitat to all the birds of the air without whom heaven is not heaven.
We see much too, that seems cruel and vicious in what we call nature. Predators, who nonetheless ensure the balance of life and environment And human selfishness and arrogance which afflicts us as a species, expressed in injustice and the oppression of the poor, pernicious twin of violence to the earth
For if we are yet to find our calling in the communion of Creation to make the world God’s world, then this diverse habitat of God’s own Earth then we must attend to how we treat ourselves.
And so, appalled at the damage that has been done, but encouraged by the beauty which remains, we seek and claim the forgiveness which Jesus so often offered before folk could put right the harm they had chosen.
God in Christ, hear us, continue to warn us help us to turn and rejoice in your way. Amen
Prayer of Illumination
God, when we find ourselves in a wilderness show us the life that surrounds us. When we are sure we are lost awaken that pathfinding sense you gave our ancestors. to pick our way to freedom in our common home, the Earth.
Reading1 Kings 17 8-16. Bombastic Elijah and the starving widow
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
HymnBe still my soul Kathrina von Schlegel; Translator: Jane Borthwick (1855)
Be still, my soul! The Lord is on thy side; with patience bear thy cross of grief or pain: leave to thy God to order and provide, in every change he faithful will remain. Be still, my soul! thy best, thy heav’nly Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2 Be still, my soul! thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul! the waves and winds still know his voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
3 Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on when we shall be forever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
How would you read that story? How would you play it? Would you go for laughs? That might be the most authentic: The first Book of Kings plays for the most shameless and vulgar belly laughs when it comes to the ridicule of the abusive cults of the Canaanites.
Are we too prim and proper, too uptight with the delusion of imagined responsibility for the costs of change, for us to cock a snook and blow the odd raspberry at the absurdities of the world’s greatest polluters branding themselves as green whilst they knowingly continue with plans which, if not modified, will grossly to disrupt the lives of millions of humans whilst precipitating the greatest mass extinction of other forms of life for some millions of years.
(Oh dear, I’m underplaying it again. God help me!) Or do we actually think we’re in charge?
You know this story…the tree-planting story.
When’s the best time to do something about Climate Change? Plant a tree or whatever? yesterday, or maybe thirty years ago. You all know we’re well past that. But the next best time? Right now!
Damage is done and will continue to be done, and so we fall back on the resources of our faith, the key to our spiritual resilience and our value to the world God loves: the jar and the jug of mitigation and adaptation and lament – but also of sustaining joy through the latest of many ends of the world that Christianity has seen the world through.
I used to love a song with the final line “we’ll be turning the world upside down”. I didn’t realise which bits.
We’ve made a start with end of the ridiculous confusion of hesitancy and wisdom.
But then God’s angels, God’s scary messengers were invariably sent with a goad or a whip and a hearty hi-ho…. ‘get on with it’. Angels don’t say slow down. Not even the ones God later sent to force-feed Elijah when he was on the point of chucking it all in. Certainly not the angels at the ascension, with their blunt message for the church: stop gawping up into the sky and get on with it! That’s the Gospel. For now. We can give up that indulgent preoccupation with the decline of the church too: the depressing future of irrelevance against the backdrop of capitalism and endless growth triumphant has evaporated as endless growth turns out to be a toxic, abusive cult to rival any Canaanites. In scary times, the embarrassingly scary stuff you didn’t want that sensible man Jesus to come out with begins to have meaning.
You realise that it takes a mad world for the gospels to make sense. And I hope and pray you can delight in the funny side of that. Even if, until now, Creation herself has been the Rosa Park on the bus of our prayer and worship.
Then there’s the miracle of Jonah. Everybody loves that stuff with the whale, but far less likely, it seems, is that anyone, even I, or even the Pope, could wander through the streets of Glasgow waving a copy of next year’s leaked report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the nations now meeting would set aside their differences, bite the bullets, realise their mutual challenges and bring to bear everything within their power to transition from where we are now to the very much better state of the world which would come with a deep concern for justice.
Yes, that’s the problem. I looked back with embarrassment at the street corner apocalyptic evangelism of my late father in his youth, and yet here I am, serving the most sensible of churches, reading scientific reports of the utmost seriousness….
And speaking in a way which, when I began my ministry, I would have dismissed as aff yer heid , as they might say here, in this wonderful city. As you hear this today, we don’t know what will be the outcome of COP. Whatever they come up with on the floor, we must not be the same. Here in Scotland, here in the UK, as for now it still is, we’ve had it in our face…..The hope, the absurdities, the desperation. And the voice of the Earth, neglected; the Rainbow Covenant partners in flesh: treated like property. And the rich industrials and the oil-rich arabs and the small island states who cried out way back when AIDS was flavour of the month that they were already drowning. All together in the Ship of Fools that is COP.
As Scotland’s happiest apocalyptic preacher, I’ve often been surprised how thoughts we might entertain as jokes turn out, whilst remaining jokes, to be rather more than that. I’m Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, but also Barnabus, the encourager.
But to return to this situation comedy of famine….
The consciously ridiculous desperation of the starving woman and the prepremptory bossiness of someone who’s not always very attractive prophet. (Elijah certainly lacks what one might call a Christian attitude to those who make themselves his enemies. ) And God, who works through both.
Elijah – He’s a character who’s also just little too convinced of what is nonetheless the God-given fact of his own indispensability. Yes, God has special things for him to do, but these fit in with a web of divine intention of which he’s far from aware. And yet it’s easy to make of him a hero. Which may be why Jesus reminded his followers that his own rather cranky vegetarian cousin John was greater than Elijah. yes, John called a spade a JCB, but he was prepared to go out of his way to give to the slimiest of pharisees, and indeed even to the brutal soldiers of the occupying forces in his homeland the chance to change.
God told Elijah he’d ordered the woman to feed him. A command is one thong, But if a command was issued , she’d got better things to do than listen to absurd commands to put the kettle on for a grumpy stranger when her son was about to kick the bucket. And yet. Theses two came together, survived together. And God got the credit. We shouldn’t resent that. Nor the vital saving contribution, however pompous the prophet, of those who have least of all.
When the decision makers of the URC decided to switch investment from fossil fuels, there was something of a miracle there. Not everyone will know how long and hard the arguments were. But the outcome was unanimity. People convinced, rather than people defeated. If any of us feel we’ve won an argument about climate change, rather than been part of a process of healing and reconciliation, then we will have lost. Victory, like vengeance, is the prerogative of God alone.
So let’s pray for a miracle this week in Glasgow. And let’s travel with Christ come what may, in our cities towns and settlements, joyfully singing Hosanna – and remembering to translate that joyful cry as God Help Us! Amen.
What will change your life’s direction? Whose the story you need hear? Which of all our fellow creatures, when endangered, we hold dear? All alike face the threat Christ, alert, alongside, yet!
2: Prophets, pilgrims, foolish martyrs Gave their all to warn and guide; Seeking signs and scanning stories till it’s time to fling gates wide: “God won’t hide turning tide!” -glory’s repetition, cried!
3: Christ, with mission and momentum building on his own land’s creed, recognised the common calling: sky and soil and flesh in need! Once again, Jesus’ reign active for a world in pain
4: Tipping points and one-way journeys: Glory and God’s word, employed; love re-purposed, re-committed lest green beauty be destroyed Once more, Christ, dawn’s bright ray: hope from crisis, crafting day.
The Glasgow city Crest is full of inspiration for environmentally aware Christianity: there’s an obvious connection with the founder of the city, the sixth century Celtic Saint Mungo or Kentigern, whose written biography includes many profound encounters with fellow creatures and the spirits of the Earth. The BELL, though, like many in Ireland, is connected with the very pastoral and very prophetic work of the saint. These bells predated the sonorous bell-metal of tuned handbells, but they were very good for drawing attention, as well as clankily calling injustice to account, and indeed, driving out evil. As COP approaches, this is an opportunity to make a loud, irritating and joyful noise, for climate justice. And perhaps to rethink the rhyme, given our renewed awareness of extinction, habitat, forests, oceans and ecosystems under urgent threat
Here’s a tree -it’s time they grew we breathe, we feed, we climb., we build the tree was one with Christ; the Cross the vine, the branches, nations’ healing Look at all the trees, says Jesus Here’s a tree -it’s time they grew
Here’s a bird: it’s time they flew with urgency and song and nesting eggs and poultry, feather bedding flocks at sunset, insect-eating, Look at all the birds, says Jesus
Here’s a bird: it’s time they flew Here’s a fish: it’s time they swam the oceans teem – or sadly, empty with warming and acidic surging currents fail, and glaciers melt But Jesus spoke to calm the waters. Here’s a fish: it’s time to swim
Here’s a bell: it’s time it rang It’s time we spoke the truth in love It’s time to sound an urgent note To call injustice to account To ring in ways to share the world Here’s a bell, now ring it loud!
Here’s a church, whose time has come to preach good news to every creature care for earth and sea and sky find our place and purpose, sharing Jesus’, shepherding, with love
Here’s a church, whose time has come let all be so. Amen
And may the blessing and the presence and the friendship of God, of Christ, of the Breath of Life be with you in its wildness, all the days that Christ walks with us. AMEN.
Sources and thanks
Call To Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Mennonite Church of Canada. Affirmation of Faith from the Worship Source Book. Recorded by the people of Priesthill URC.
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776, Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762