Reflection for Sunday 26 April

Here is our weekly reflection.

If you’d like to join in our online worship sessions each Sunday morning you can email me at

newarkcongregational@virgin media.com

Mark 

 

Sunday 26 April 2020 – A Reflection

A Bible passage to begin:

In the beginning, when God created the universe,  the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared.

 

Today should have been Café Service day. I’m going to try and reproduce the experience as far as possible in our online service – but it’s really difficult on paper!

I do hope that you will make yourself a bacon roll, and sit with a cup of coffee as you read these words.

As usual I have done a quiz. The answers are at the end of the post – no cheating now.

 

Quiz 

The answers to questions 1-5 share a common word and those to questions 6-10 a different word.

 

1 Reality TV show with Tom Jones as Coach/Judge _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _
2 1998 film starring Jane Horrocks _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _
3 The USA equivalent to the BBC World Service _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _ _
4 Narrative in a film heard without an image of the speaker _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _
5 V.O.I.P. – a way of making phone calls over the internet _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ /

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

6 1965 film set in Austria _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _ _ _
7 767 mph _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _ _
8 Album by 10 c.c. featuring ‘I’m Not in Love’ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ /

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

9 Fjord in the South Island of New Zealand – I think _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _
10 1964 Simon and Garfunkel song _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

This is the last week of our theme for March and April – ‘Hearing God’s Voice.’

The writer of the account of creation in the book of Genesis, which we read at the beginning, recognised the importance of God’s voice. In this story God doesn’t just create everything – he speaks it into existence. On each of the 6 days of Creation God speaks – and then things happen.

Now of course there’s no way any human being can know what happened at the time the universe was created. You could ask the question – if God was actually speaking – who was he speaking to? It’s a bit like that old question ‘If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it does it make a noise’? But symbolically at least, and this is a story full of symbolism, the voice of God is what gets things underway.

I want us now to read two more Bible passages – both from the Old Testament.. The first one is God speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai – just before giving him the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 19: 16-19

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud appeared on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast was heard. All the people in the camp trembled with fear.  Moses led them out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord had come down on it in fire. The smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the people trembled violently.  The sound of the trumpet became louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.

 

The second reading is about the prophet Elijah, just after the story of him calling on God to demonstrate his power in front of the prophets of the false God Baal.

1 Kings 19: 8 – 13

Elijah got up, ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to walk forty days to Sinai, the holy mountain. There he went into a cave to spend the night.

Suddenly the Lord spoke to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

He answered, “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!”

“Go out and stand before me on top of the mountain,” the Lord said to him. Then the Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks—but the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice.

When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Let’s pause now for a hymn.

The week’s hymn has always been one of my favourites – one of those where the words and the music complement each other so well. It’s number 4 in the UK’s favourite hymns chart. And it’s inspired by our reading about Elijah on the mountain.

You can watch it on YouTube from Winchester Cathedral https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1MN3chW1Hk

Or if you’d prefer here are the words – you probably know the tune so you can sing it to yourself if you like. Go on – no-one is listening!

It’s in verse 5 that the reference to the Elijah story becomes clear.

1 Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

2 In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

3 O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

 

Reflection

Have you ever heard God speaking to you? If so – what was it like?

Take a few seconds to think about it.

 

 

Now some of you might have answered ‘Yes’ and some of you might have answered ‘No’ – and it doesn’t really matter.  But if you answered ‘Yes’ I’d be very, very surprised if your experience of hearing God speaking to you was one where you literally heard a voice like you’d hear a person’s voice – something that you could record and play back to someone else to hear; something that another person could have heard if they’d been there too. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened that way, just that it’s not in my experience that those sort of things happen.

Today we’ve read three Bible passages about God speaking – speaking in three very different ways.

In the Genesis version, as we’ve already considered, the voice of God couldn’t be literally heard at all because there was no-one to listen to it.

In the story from Exodus God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai in a very dramatic way; he came down like fire and when Moses spoke God answered him in thunder.

And finally in the story from the first book of Kings (also on Mount Sinai) God wasn’t there in the earthquake, nor in the wind, nor in the fire, but in the soft whisper of a voice.

I want to concentrate on this last one.

You see it would be really handy, wouldn’t it, if all we had to do to know what God wanted was to wait for him/her to tell us clearly and incontrovertibly, out loud, and preferably in words of one syllable so we could understand clearly (definitely not using words like ‘incontrovertibly’). If only God would make things clear! Why couldn’t God tell us what to do instead of us having to make up our own minds. God could tell us who to vote for, what decisions to take about our relationships, how much money we should put in the collection, which charities we ought to support, how many packs of toilet rolls we really need to buy… the list is endless. Why doesn’t he just do a daily broadcast so that every morning at 10 am we could just open our windows and hear a voice coming from the clouds with the correct answers to the questions we’d face today. I dare say there are a lot of people in governments all over the world who have wished they could have got clear answers on what to do over the last few months.

This is a clip from the beginning of The Lego Movie. It’s one we looked at in Film Club a couple of years ago. Although you might think it’s a film for kids (and it is at one level) there’s a lot of theological meat in there too. Well worth watching the whole movie. But for now just a minute or so.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1wBgILP6gY

In the Lego Society people follow the rules. There’s no room for freedom of expression, doing your own thing. There’s a clear set of rules and everyone knows exactly what to do – but there’s no freedom, no creativity, no room for individuals to express themselves.

The name of the character we have just met says a lot about him. He’s called Emmet – which is an old English word for an ant. Now ants are very efficient at what they do – their society is quite complex, and everything they do is programmed into them in order for that society to function well. But you can look from ant to ant and not see a sign of individuality.

I’m really pleased that God hasn’t given us a list of instructions, hasn’t provided a rule book. He’s given us quite a lot of guidance: through the scriptures, through the wisdom of his followers through the generations, most of all through the example of Jesus Christ, but it’s no good turning to the Bible and expecting to find clear cut answers to everything. You will find some very strong guiding principles about love but then it’s up to us to work out the details.

And that’s fantastic you know. Because it means that we aren’t automatons – all doing everything the same way, all thinking the same (or not thinking at all). God didn’t make people to be like that – he made them free. Free to do the right thing, and free to do the wrong thing too come to that.

But as people of God we should listen out for God’s voice. It won’t come out of a cloud; it won’t sound like thunder; it will be ‘the soft whisper of a voice’ – so quiet that no-one else will hear it. Listen out for that voice in your head and sometimes you will hear it. And when you do you’ll know it’s God’s word and you’ll know to listen carefully to what it’s saying to you – what it’s telling you to do.

Time for Prayer

First a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession from Christian Aid:

Let us pray:

For the health workers tending the seriously ill

for the scientists working on a vaccination 

for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends

for the media outlets working to communicate reality

for the supermarket workers, hygiene and sanitation providers

for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning

for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities

for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness

for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support 

for the internet and telephones and technology that connects

for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important

Thanks be to God.

 

For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones

for those who were already very anxious

for those immune suppressed or compromised

for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions

for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories

for those watching their entire income stream dry up

for those who have no choice but to go out to work

for those who are afraid to be at home 

for those who are more lonely than they’ve ever been

for those who are bereaved and grieving.

God be their healer, comfort and protection,

be their strength, shield and provision

be their security, safety and close companion

 

And raise up your Church

to be your well-washed hands and faithful feet 

to be present to the pain

to respond with love in action

if even from a safe distance.

 

God, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer

Amen

 

And now The Lord’s Prayer.

 

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name.

Thy Kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

 

Amen

 

 

If anyone has any questions or comments about the above, or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Mark Taylor

07954 172823

newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com

 

Quiz answers

 

1 Reality TV show with Tom Jones as Coach/Judge The Voice
2 1998 film starring Jane Horrocks Little Voice
3 The USA equivalent to the BBC World Service Voice of America
4 Narrative in a film heard without an image of the speaker Voiceover
5 V.O.I.P. – a way of making phone calls online Voice Over Internet Protocol

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

6 1965 film set in Austria The Sound of Music
7 767 mph Sound Barrier
8 Album by 10 c.c. featuring ‘I’m Not in Love’ The Original Soundtrack
9 Fjord in the South Island of New Zealand – I think Doubtful Sound
10 1964 Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound of Silence

 

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