John Wesley once referred to the Methodists as ‘a peculiar people’. One of our peculiarities is treating September as the beginning of a New Year. At another level we live in a world in conflict and, in the UK with a government with a new Prime Minister. All of us together are faced with decisions. At a time of decision for the people of Israel Moses challenged them – ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live’. (Deuternomy30: 19) The following hymn asks what choosing life might mean for us today. 1 What are the gifts we would treasure most highly: freedom or justice or money or wealth; food for the hungry, or drink for the thirsty, love for our children, or power, or health? 2 Once God had given a choice to the people: they could decide to choose life or choose death. They were encouraged towards life's enhancement, shunning the ways that would quench life and breath. 3 What does it mean for ourselves at this moment, challenged by God, as to what we should choose? What does ‘life’ mean, for each friend, for each neighbour, what will encourage and never abuse? 4 Now at each crisis, each time of decision, save us from selfishness, things that oppress; help us, O God, to be wise, never grasping, help us to cherish those things you would bless. Andrew Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2011 alt by the author 2022 © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. alt 2022 by the author. Metre: 11 10 11 10 Tune: EPIPHANY HYMN
I sometimes wonder if we, as Christians, haven’t got it all wrong, or at least we’re focussing on the wrong thing. When I was studying biology we sometimes used microscopes, homing in on ever smaller things, an insect or the cells of a leaf. One lecturer reminded us, obvious really, that if you didn’t know which plant the leaf was from or where the insect lived you didn’t have a full picture. More to the point, you could be way off the mark in terms of any conclusions you drew.
I think we have sometimes made the same mistake with our faith. We have the whole of the Bible So let’s begin there. Think of a long bookshelf with a bookend at each end.
‘In the beginning, the earth was without form and void’. At the other end… ‘a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’. It seems that, even in the understanding of the writers of Genesis and Revelation earth had a beginning and an end. I have an insatiable curiosity. Always have had and I’ve not grown out of it. The James Webb telescope points, not just into the distance, but back in time. The universe is older than the earth, it seems, much older. Light takes a long time to reach us from things that are further away. It strikes me, that as humanity, we are perhaps just a little arrogant. Biblically we begin with the earth. While that’s an old perspective it can limit our thoughts.
The same is true at the other end… Revelation talks of the old earth passing away…so do today’s prophets, perhaps in a different way? – David Attenborough…puts the fault at our door. There is talk of the end of the world, apocalypse. But let’s think on a bit. My sense of global warming is not that the earth will end, but that an awful lot of life on earth will end, including us. Focuses the mind just a little? Should do anyway?
Where does Jesus fit into all of this. For the moment I have no personal knowledge of life before I was born, even less of space before the earth formed. I’m content with scientific findings but they can, and do change. As to the afterlife I don’t doubt it, but humanly I’m agnostic as to its nature.
So, as I was musing, what of Jesus?
Ask people outside the church what is important about our beliefs. They know about Christmas and Easter and little else. In short-hand Christmas says that God is so intimately concerned with us as to live with us, some of the Biblical language sounds like ‘tent’ with us. Then God’s humanity – Jesus – here on earth – is temporary. Yet still we emphasise birth and death, beginning and end, bookends. Is it not time to re-adjust our focus and read the books that come between, the Life of Jesus? What can that teach us? The most important things that we can ever learn about being human, I believe. For us birth is self-evident – we are alive! And last Monday I was at a funeral – so is death. So rather than stressing the obvious would it not be best to learn from God in Jesus how to live between the book-ends of life?
There was something before the earth and there will be after, before us and after, but, as Sydney Carter once said ‘show me the good news in the present tense’! And the bottom line is, I believe this, everyone who met the human Jesus went away better for the meeting. That’s not to say they felt better – Jesus criticised bigotry and hypocrisy, but he lived love. If we hear criticism we can be better for the learning… what is significant is to find out all we can of Jesus grace, self-giving, joy, love, kindness and honesty, and to quote him, ‘go and do likewise’. That won’t, in itself stop global warming, nor postpone our death, but while we are here together, stewards of this earth, lent to us for a life-time, life will be better all round if we treat others as Jesus did, with love. Not a wishy washy love but a love that cares for our neighbours now, and the neighbours that come after us. It Involves us and those WE delegate to govern us. Christianity Is not above politics. But It should point us to choices which are not driven by self-Interest but the Interests of those with whom we live from day to day, with those with whom we share this planet and to those who Inhabit It when we are dead. This learning to live is the essence of being a disciple, a learner of Christ. It is always far more about what we do and how we live, than what we claim to believe., more abut the here – the only earth we know – than the hereafter.
"How little can the rich man know Of what the poor man feels, When Want, like some dark dæmon foe, Nearer and nearer steals! He never tramp'd the weary round, A stroke of work to gain, And sicken'd at the dreaded sound Telling him 'twas in vain. Foot-sore, heart-sore, he never came Back through the winter's wind, To a dark cellar, there no flame, No light, no food, to find. He never saw his darlings lie Shivering, the flags their bed; He never heard that maddening cry, 'Daddy, a bit of bread!'" William Gaskell (in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, 1848)
Amanda Udis-Kessler (Colorado Springs) words, on the prompting of John Churcher (United Kingdom), have now been recorded by Canadian, Reba Sigler, who is also an opera singer. The wonders of internet communication! The recording can be found here - Reba Sigler sings Amanda Udis-Kessler's Rebuilding starts with weeping. US hymnwriter and sacred music composer Amanda Udis-Kessler wrote the text just after the 2020 US Presidential Election and has re-shared it following the violence at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. I have asked and been granted permission to reproduce it here. It is pertinent in the US context but also in the UK and Europe through pandemic and Brexit. Do visit her site - link below.
Rebuilding starts with weeping, with tears that fall like rain, With full and honest grieving for years of loss and pain, For suffering and sorrow that never had to be. Rebuilding starts with weeping for all who are not free. Rebuilding starts with praying, with hopes allowed a voice, With visions for our country, with reason to rejoice. We offer up our spirits, our hearts and minds and hands. Rebuilding starts with praying for strength to heal our land. Rebuilding starts with loving, with care for every soul, With yearning in compassion that all may yet be whole, That enemy and neighbor may know a better day. Rebuilding starts with loving, for love will show the way It is most often sung to the Bach Passion Chorale.
Amanda’s many other inclusive hymns, worship songs, and rounds are freely available for listening and download at https://queersacredmusic.com.
Days now to an anniversary…and we witness strife (an understatement) in Afghanistan and this hymn, perhaps still speaks to us. That saddens me (understatement again). I thought it would lose any validity or use within days of being written…I hoped
When will we ever learn…
Twenty years ago this year the USA, and with it the world, was shaken with the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. This exacerbated the polarisation of faith traditions and ideologies across the globe. Tensions increased and an ‘us and them’ mentality, already present, was exaggerated by political posturing, understandable, to a degree, in the light of what had happened. Broken bridges have still not been rebuilt but today those labelled enemies in Western nations are as much within as outside out borders and reconciliation is still needed. Ideologies are in tension with each other and this is overlaid by the threat of a pandemic. Global cooperation has never been more necessary. A hymn I wrote in 2001 within 24 hours of 9/11 is perhaps still pertinent…those we label or sense to be enemies inhabit the fabric of our own politics. Their actions are not as obvious but just as damaging…trust is at a premium…
1 God's on our side, and God will grieve at carnage, loss and death; for Jesus wept, and we will weep with every grieving breath. 2 God's on their side, the enemy, the ones we would despise; God quench our vengeance, still our pride, don't let our anger rise. 3 God's on each side, God loves us all, and through our hurt and pain G od shares the anguish, nail scarred hands reach out?love must remain. 4 God show us how to reconcile each difference and fear, that we might learn to love again and dry the other's tear. Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © 2001 Stainer and Bell Ltd., please include any use on your CCL Licence return or contact Stainer & Bell via www.stainer.co.uk. Administered in the USA by Hope Publishing. Tunes: AMAZING GRACE; BASIE (Kleinheksel)
Some of the poetry in Words, Images and Imagination are perhaps pertinent to this situation…