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United Reformed Church Daily Devotions Service for Sunday 9th May
The Rev’d Tony Addy
Good morning and welcome to this morning service. My name is Tony Addy and I am a URC minister. I am now living in Austria.
Over the last 25 years I have lived in Geneva, Prague and Helsinki.
In recent years, my main work has been developing an international academy for diaconia and social action in central and eastern Europe and central Asia, interdiac. Diaconia in this case means church involvement in social and community work.
My work in developing interdiac was supported for 3 years by the URC as a Mission Partner. interdiac is an Academy which runs ecumenical learning and research programmes for its members across the region. The members are churches and Christian organisations in the region from Estonia in the north to Serbia in the south and from the Czech Republic in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east.
Call to Worship
One: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Many: He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
One: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy, as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
HymnThere’s a Spirit in the Air Brian Wren (1936-) sung by Strathroy United Church, Ontario, Canada
There’s a spirit in the air, telling Christians everywhere: ‘Praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working, in our world!’
2. Lose your shyness, find your tongue, tell the world what God has done: God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
3. When believers break the bread, when a hungry child is fed, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working, in our world.
4. Still the Spirit gives us light, seeing wrong and setting right: God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
5. When a stranger’s not alone, where the homeless find a home, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working, in our world.
6. May the Spirit fill our praise, guide our thoughts and change our ways God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
7. There’s a Spirit in the air, calling people everywhere: praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working, in our world.
Prayer of Approach
Loving God of grace and salvation there is no way we can buy your favour: God has no limits, God is love
Jesus Shared his life with all kinds of people. He crossed boundaries and saw that love is not limited by identity or ability: Jesus accepted no limits, Jesus is love
The Holy Spirit enlivens creation and the whole of our life. The Holy Spirit has no limits, the Spirit is love Amen
Loving God, you have given each one of us different gifts; no two of your people are the same, but by your grace you call us to form the patterned diversity of your Kingdom. Sometimes we are too busy, sometimes we feel empty but we are longing and searching for a fulfilment we cannot create alone, we are longing and searching for your Kingdom and we need your grace.
Inclusive God, lover of each and all of us enable us to be open to you and to each other so that our time together becomes an expression of your grace and a step towards your Kingdom in our daily life, Amen
Prayers of Confession and Forgiveness
Loving God, maker of all, have mercy on us.
Jesus Christ, servant of the poor, have mercy on us
Holy Spirit, breath of God have mercy on us
Loving God, we ask you to grant your forgiveness: for our false desires and the ways we have abused your creation for our careless thoughts and thoughtless actions for our empty speech and the way our words have wounded others
Lord, hear our prayers and change our lives
Loving God we ask your forgiveness: for the times when we were silent and should have spoken out for the times when we should have responded to another and we did not meet their eyes for the times when we did not open our lives to your call Short silence
Lord, hear our prayers and change our lives
May God forgive you, Christ renew you and the Spirit enable you to grow in love. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
In the beginning was the Word And the word was with God and the Word was God We listen for God’s Word in the scriptures Our hearts and minds are open Amen
Acts 10: 34 – 35 & 44 – 48
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
St John 15: 9 – 17
Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
For the Word of God in Scripture, for the Word of God among us, for the Word of God within us, thanks be to God.
New songs of celebration render to God who has great wonders done; love sits enthroned in ageless splendour; come and adore the Mighty One. God has made known the great salvation which all the saints with joy confess. God has revealed to every nation truth and unending righteousness.
2: Joyfully, heartily resounding, let every instrument and voice peal out the praise of grace abounding, calling the whole world to rejoice. Trumpets and organs, set in motion such sounds as make the heavens ring; all things that live in earth and ocean, sound forth the song, your praises bring.
3: Rivers and seas and torrents roaring, honour the Lord with wild acclaim; mountains and stones, look up adoring, and find a voice to praise God’s name. Righteous, commanding, ever glorious, praises be sung that never cease: just is our God, whose truth victorious establishes the world in peace.
As you can imagine, from my introduction, a lot of my life has been involved in crossing borders. The more obvious political borders, but also the borders between different cultures and different churches and faith communities. I have been very much involved in church community work but have become more critical of the word community because whilst it includes people, it excludes at the same time. This becomes a fundamental problem when we live in times of super diversity.
When we look at the life of the early Church, we see that they also had a real problem with diversity, a problem with borders and boundaries.
The first hint comes at the beginning of Acts when there is a problem concerning the widows who did not have a Jewish background. They were getting neglected in the daily distribution of food. It seems there was a practice of discrimination.
Later we find a number of stories which also focus on the question of identity and exclusion. The story we shared in our first reading is a reflection of the struggle around the question, do you have to be a Jew, or become a Jew to become a Christian? As we know from the reading, the story ends with it being accepted that non-Jews could become part of the Christian movement.
We can see that this idea was challenging because although the life and mission of Jesus involved crossing boundaries all the time, in the early church found it hard to deal with. This kind of problem is still with us.
Jesus came from Galilee in the north of the country. The area around sea of Galilee was diverse. The western coast was Jewish and the eastern coast gentile. Between Galilee and Judea, lay the region of Samaria and there was no love lost between the Jews and Samaritans. Jesus’ ministry not only reached into Judaism but to regions and groups beyond Judaism.
Just think about the different characters in the gospel story – their social – and as we might say ethnic position: a Canaanite girl, a Centurion and his servant, a Samaritan woman….and so we could go on! In the healings and the parables there is an immense diversity! Jesus was constantly teaching about the ‘edges’ and those beyond, about all those ‘on the other side of the lake’.
The announcing of the Kingdom of God embodied in Jesus, starts in international waters – for that is what the sea of Galilee was.
This affirms that the Kingdom is open to people beyond Judea! The gospel is radically inclusive – Jew, Greek, gentile, slave, free, women, men…..all shall be welcome in the Kingdom of God. Though we are many, we are one body, as Paul would have it…. With this background it is strange that conflicts about identity arose in this new movement we call Christianity have continued until the present day!
The reading from John’s gospel points out that the basic command is ‘to love one another’ and that this is a key test of those who follow Christ. I found this issue of boundaries and inclusion or exclusion to be a very important issue in my own recent biography. When I moved to live in mainland Europe, I found out a lot more about borders, actual borders and imagined borders.
Nowadays, there are so many conflicts across borders in central and eastern Europe. These often result from lines drawn on maps by powerful countries who won particular wars. So, there are minorities of Hungarians in Ukraine, Serbia and Romania for example and the borders of the former Soviet Republics are very often contested.
It is also a mistaken view that the former countries which were part of the Soviet Union were all ‘the same’ and all the populations were monocultural. The more engaged I became the more I realised how little I know, as someone from the islands. I am still on a learning journey. These divisions also reflect in divisions between the churches, because churches are often expressions of distinct cultures.
In my work in Interdiac, we were discussing what the major problem facing societies in the region are. Of course, there are fundamental economic problems and environmental issues. There are problems of lack of transparency and corruption (which are not unknown in western Europe, by the way). The fundamental issue facing the churches and civil society is ‘how can we live together in peace with justice’. This is not so far away from the problem faced by the UK as I experience it at a distance.
We could not find the way to ‘name’ this issue through any of the terms in use in western Europe. They all had some issue related to migration from the global south or the arrival of refugees. There are issues related to migration – out migration is a huge issue. People move into and between countries on the region and refugees from other countries arrive. But the words, like multiculturalism have decidedly western roots.
I proposed conviviality as a word which was not common in any language to describe this situation. It has, of course Latin roots related to living together. We took some time to dig into this and found a great deal of resonance. Here are three ways to look at conviviality which help us to think about how we live together.
Firstly. for people in Britain, conviviality is related to having a good time together, even to having a party. The roots of this idea lie in Paris in the nineteenth century. It described an evening together with a shared meal and no doubt a glass of wine. During a convivial evening, ideas could be shared and discussed. Nothing was off limits and the unwritten rule was respect for the other.
This has some links with the Christian tradition of the Eucharist – a shared table in equality – and in the experience of many that to bring diverse people together over a shared meal is a way to develop mutual relations and build trust. Not surprisingly, in the early church the eucharist was also more like a shared meal amongst a group.
Secondly, the word was used as a key entry point to life together by the Croatian theologian Ivan Illich, who himself had diverse roots in the Balkans and central Europe. From a multireligious background he became a Catholic priest and served in poor neighbourhoods in New York and later in Latin and Central America.
He was very sensitive to efforts made by the USA to develop Latin America. He saw the USA imposing American values and the American way of life in violent and peaceful ways. Being a sensitive ‘outsider’, he could see the damage this did to local culture and ways of life. So, he proposed ‘conviviality’ as a concept for development. Conviviality does not imply imposing one model of development in another context. It resonated because many of my colleagues also felt that models from outside were being imposed in central and eastern Europe.
Illich’s idea of conviviality was first expressed in a small book called ’Tools for Conviviality’. He criticised a society that uses ‘tools’ to exploit people and the environment. Tools could be technology or systems and even education and health services. Illich thought that conviviality was related to an idea of freedom. He thought that freedom should be realised in interdependence between people and with the environment.
Thirdly, the deepest roots of the use of the word conviviality lie in Spain, when for a period of about 500 years, Christians, Jews and Moslems lived together in relative peace. This lasted until the counter reformation when non-Christians were driven out. Not surprisingly this also was the time when the colonial project in Latin America started, also with violence against those who were not Christian. This has direct relevance to our discussion of how to live together in conviviality with diverse other people who share our space on this earth.
Seeking conviviality has become a concept through which we can reflect on the task of the churches nowadays.
When we reflect on the work of the local church, it seems that the church has become a minority among minorities. This is not only connected with migration and the arrival of refugees. The question of diversity has also become more important because of the rise of nationalism, which often tries to harness the symbols of religion in its cause. Religion has become an important factor in living together.
I have been working with a pan-European Lutheran project on what it means as a church to seek conviviality. We found that often work with people who arrive in Europe is described as hospitality. Hospitality is not bad but is a very limited word to use when working with migrants and refugees. If I offer hospitality, it means I keep the power to define the limits. If I invite guests for an evening and they stay till too late, I can ask them to leave. Being hospitable is a start but convivial life together has no implicit time limit and implies that power is shared and people may change.
I started by sharing something of my biography and what I notice from this is that my identity has changed during my life. Much of our thinking is based on the idea that all of us have a fixed identity and this is a barrier to working together across diversities. Two people with a similar background may have very different identities. This is related to socialisation, gender, sexual identity and so on. Therefore, in seeking conviviality we should be very careful in ascribing identity to another person. In fact, I would say it is a threat to convivial life together.
If we think about this from a Christian standpoint, we can see the link between the conviviality approach and the idea that all people are made in the image of God and that all have intrinsic dignity. The approach of seeking conviviality goes beyond the idea of tolerance of other people’s difference from an imagined ‘us’. It implies mutual respect and trust building towards creating an inclusive positive identity which can support working for change.
Seeking convivial life together supports the idea of a church which is present in the everyday life world of people and which works with people to build up mutual trust and solidarity. This implies an openness to change by all involved. It means local churches will be or will provide safe places where people can meet across diversities and it implies a commitment to co-working for change.
This resonates with the story of the early church which also built relationships across many diversities and had a particular focus on the poor and the marginalised.
Love one another, which we could translate as agape or unconditional love and which is expressed through compassion and empathy is the key to convivial life together. Amen Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen again Michael Weisse (1480-1534) Tr Catherine Winkworth (1827-78) Sung by Collegium Regale Music
Christ the Lord is risen again; Christ hath broken every chain; Hark! The angels shout for joy, Singing evermore on high, Alleluia!
2: He, who gave for us His life, Who for us endured the strife, Is our Paschal lamb today; We, too, sing for joy, and say Alleluia!
3: He, who bore all pain and loss Comfortless upon the cross, Lives in glory now on high, Pleads for us, and hears our cry; Alleluia!
4: He whose path no records tell, who descended into hell; who the strong man armed hath bound, & in highest heaven is crowned. Alleluia
5: Now he bids us tell abroad, how the lost may be restored, how the penitent forgiven how we too may enter heaven. Alleluia!
6: Thou, our Paschal lamb indeed, Christ today, Thy people feed: Take our sins and guilt away, that we all may sing for ay Alleluia!
Affirmation of Faith
God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the Scriptures describe in various ways.
It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind.
They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work in which we trust.
Let us pray
Living God, we hold before you people and situations who need our special attention at the present time.
For those who we are in conversation with, in our everyday life and work and who need our concern.
Lord in Your Mercy: Hear our prayer
For those who make the headlines because of what they did or said.
Lord in Your Mercy: Hear our prayer
For those who are in hospital or care, or who have been uprooted to a strange place.
Lord in Your Mercy Hear our prayer
For those who do not know where their next meal is coming from and for those living with super abundance.
Short silence Lord in Your Mercy: Hear our prayer For those who are living with pain and suffering who we would like to remember.
Lord in Your Mercy: Hear our prayer
Lord, hear our prayers and if we might be the means by which you answer the prayers of others, let us not be deaf to your call through them and be ready to fulfil your purpose, in your name we ask it. Amen
Living God, we long for the time when all shall live together in peace with justice when all who are hungry and thirsty will be satisfied when all are recognised as being made in your image We believe that now is the time that more good can be done and we can make a difference
We pray that this may be so, through the offering of our gifts and the offering of our lives.
Hymn The love of God is broad like beach and meadow Anders Frostenson (1906- 2006)
The love of God is broad like beach and meadow, wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
1 We long for freedom where our truest being is given hope and courage to unfold. We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming, and look for ground where trees and plants can grow.
2 But there are walls that keep us all divided; we fence each other in with hate and war. Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison, our pride of self the prison coat we wear.
3 O judge us, Lord, and in your judgement free us, and set our feet in freedom’s open space; take us as far as your compassion wanders among the children of the human race.
May God bless us and keep us in the Spirit’s care. May God lead our lives in the way of loving service we see in Christ.
May the openness to others that we see in Jesus be our inspiration. May the peace of Christ prevail through our life and work. May the Hoy Spirit guide, support and protect us through every day
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, evermore. Amen
Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Wir Glauben all’ an Einen Gott (“We all believe in one God”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2001)
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Jenny Sheehan, Anne Hewling, Chris Watson, Esther Watson, Morag Donaldson, Kate Yates and Sarah McGrory for reading various spoken parts of the service.
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