Reflection – 28 June 2020

Here’s my reflection for Sunday 28 June

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week – it’s virtual cafe church. If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 28 June 2020 – A Reflection

As we are no longer able to meet for worship due to the virus situation we will offer a weekly reflection by email or delivered to the home of church members.

If you can’t join us by telephone perhaps you could sit each week and read this at the time we would normally meet for worship – in that way we would still in some way be together.

Our call to worship:

From the comfort of our homes we gather to worship.

Whether through printed word, or through the gift of technology

we are a community.

Here we seek connection to the Divine.

Come, let us worship God,

shown to us through the risen Christ.

Let us pray

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans

‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’  

God of heaven and earth,

in these times of isolation,

apart from loved ones

distant from friends

away from neighbours

thank you that there is nothing

in all of creation,

that is able to separate us from your love.

And may your love that never fails

continue to be shared

through the kindness of strangers

looking out for each other,

for neighbours near and far

all recognising our shared vulnerability,

each of us grateful for every breath,

and willing everyone to know the gift

of a full and healthy life.

Keep us all in your care. 

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

As it’s café service here’s the traditional quiz. Answers are at the end.

This month all the answers have a word in common. Just unscramble the letters.

1A puzzle where you have to fill in missing letters 
2A method of embroidery using stitches in an X shape 
3A safe method of crossing the road using coloured lights 
4A property on the Monopoly board 
5A medal which has the words ‘For Gallantry’ engraved on it 
6Traditionally – the place in London where all distances are measured from 
7Hit single for Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1965 
8A symbol of free France during the Second World War 
9A new railway line from West to East London 
10How Romeo and Juliet are described at the start of the play 

Our preaching theme for May and June is – ‘God’s resources and toolkit.’

Last time we had café church we looked at some medical instruments. Do you remember?

Personally I’m finding it difficult to forget the haemorrhoid forceps and the bladder stone remover! The message we got from looking at those tools was that things shouldn’t be set in stone. Because humans continually develop and improve their understanding of things, because we’re clever, because God means us to use our brains, we can understand and do things differently as time goes by. We can improve our understanding of God over time too.

Revision session over.

I suppose that in one way the tool I want us to look at today is a bit similar to those hideous medical instruments.

It’s a tool that inflicts great pain – but that in some way makes things better.

It’s this tool:

This is a painting of the crucifixion by an artist called Marc Chagall. It’s called the White Crucifixion. Chagall was a Russian Jew – the painting depicts Jesus clearly as a Jew and the crucifixion in the context of Jewish persecution in Europe at the time he painted it – the 1930s.

But we’re not going into a detailed look at a painting this week. If you want to find the image you can find it easily on the internet along with people’s thoughts about it.

So the tool I want us to spend a bit of time thinking about today is the cross.

Let’s have a break here for a hymn – In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song

This Cornerstone, this solid ground

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My Comforter, my All in All

Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless Babe

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones He came to save

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died

The wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on Him was laid

Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain

Then bursting forth in glorious Day

Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me

For I am His and He is mine

Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death

This is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath

Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man

Can ever pluck me from His hand

‘Til He returns or calls me home

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Reading – Hebrews 10: 1-14

The Jewish Law is not a full and faithful model of the real things; it is only a faint outline of the good things to come. The same sacrifices are offered forever, year after year. How can the Law, then, by means of these sacrifices make perfect the people who come to God? If the people worshiping God had really been purified from their sins, they would not feel guilty of sin any more, and all sacrifices would stop. As it is, however, the sacrifices serve year after year to remind people of their sins. For the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins.

For this reason, when Christ was about to come into the world, he said to God:

“You do not want sacrifices and offerings,
    but you have prepared a body for me.
You are not pleased with animals burned whole on the altar
    or with sacrifices to take away sins.
Then I said, ‘Here I am,
    to do your will, O God,
    just as it is written of me in the book of the Law.’”

First he said, “You neither want nor are you pleased with sacrifices and offerings or with animals burned on the altar and the sacrifices to take away sins.” He said this even though all these sacrifices are offered according to the Law. Then he said, “Here I am, O God, to do your will.” So God does away with all the old sacrifices and puts the sacrifice of Christ in their place. Because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do, we are all purified from sin by the offering that he made of his own body once and for all.

Every Jewish priest performs his services every day and offers the same sacrifices many times; but these sacrifices can never take away sins. Christ, however, offered one sacrifice for sins, an offering that is effective forever, and then he sat down at the right side of God. There he now waits until God puts his enemies as a footstool under his feet. With one sacrifice, then, he has made perfect forever those who are purified from sin.

Reflection

I would be willing to wager that more sermons are preached about the cross and the crucifixion than any other subject.

‘Jesus died for us’ or ‘Jesus died for our sins’ or ‘Jesus died to save us from our sins’ are all the types of things we hear a lot. What does it mean?

At film club earlier this month we were looking at the film The Children Act starring Emma Thompson as a judge who is required to rule on whether a boy of 17 who is a Jehovah’s Witness should receive a blood transfusion. (Blood transfusions are prohibited by JWs) The boy’s father argues strongly in court that he should not be allowed the treatment, but the judge finally rules that he should and the transfusion goes ahead.

There was a quote from near the end of the film where the boy in question is talking to the judge and says this:

“If you loved your son, your only son, why would you let him die?”

Now that’s a very appropriate question in the context of the film – but as is often the case in the films we study it’s interesting for other reasons too isn’t it.

It’s a very good question

“If you loved your son, your only son, why would you let him die?”

That’s the question I want us to think about today

What was it about a painful death on an ancient instrument of torture, designed not only to kill but to maximise suffering, that saved humanity?

Our first hymn offered us an explanation. In verse 2 it says

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied –
for every sin on Him was laid;
here in the death of Christ I live.

The wrath of God was satisfied. Is that the answer?

The reading we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews offered another answer – that Jesus was a sacrifice..

Which one is right?

Time for a bit of audience participation.

Thinking about Jesus death on the cross which of these options best fits your thoughts about how it achieved humanity’s salvation?

  1. God required Jesus to die in order to be able to forgive our sins
  2. Jesus’ death was a type of sacrifice – he died for our sins
  3. Jesus’ death demonstrated the unending depth of God’s love for us
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above – something else
  6. I have no idea

Let’s have a very quick think about some of the options we have

  1. God needed Jesus to die to be able to forgive us.

I think this is probably still the way things are most often thought of. The thinking seems to be that in some way God could only reconcile us to himself by letting Jesus die – without that it just couldn’t happen.

But it seems very strange to me as a way of thinking.

You see if we believe that, fundamentally, God can do what God likes, then the question would be – why couldn’t God just forgive us without Jesus dying? And I can’t see a very easy answer to that question. If we believe that God could do that – forgive us without Jesus dying in agony – then why wouldn’t he do that? So to me that explanation just doesn’t wash – I don’t think that’s what it was about at all.

  • Jesus’ death was a kind of sacrifice

There is lots of stuff in the old testament about sacrifices. Page after page of instructions on what type of animals to sacrifice when and how. Sacrifice was seen as a very important way of seeking favour with God. The passage from Hebrews was all about this. It sees Jesus’ sacrifice as a one-off that replaces all the other sacrifices.

But we also have passages in the Old Testament like this one when God speaks through the prophet Amos

The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.

This passage is saying that ceremony and sacrifices aren’t important to God. God won’t accept them. An example of how our knowledge of God grows and develops over time – things that were written down in the early days don’t have to last for ever.

So with this in mind I don’t believe God needed or wanted a sacrifice to appease him – and in particular not a sacrifice of his Son. You’ll also remember I’m sure the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. God tested Abraham who was prepared to kill his son – but in the end God doesn’t require him to actually kill Isaac – he doesn’t need a sacrifice to know that Abraham is on God’s side.

  • Jesus death demonstrated God’s unlimited love for us

The third explanation I want us to think about is this – that Jesus’s death came about as a result of his message – his teachings and actions. In this model it’s those that are the most important things – not his death as such.

Jesus life taught us what we need to know to be put right with God, to reform the way we live to follow his example and to live good moral lives of love. His life was all about teaching us just how much God loves and cares for us and how we can make the world better through putting his love into action.

Of course this message wasn’t one that was acceptable to the powers that be at the time and it is this that lead to Jesus’ death – the radical nature of his message meant that the authorities had to find a way to be rid of him and that’s why he was killed.

His death was a consequence of his life, rather than his death being the primary thing and his life just a prelude to what really mattered.  

Jesus reconciled us to God through his life – words and actions.

I have to say that it’s this explanation which means most to me.

So there we are – we’ve done a bit of theology. I’ve told you about some of the theories and I’ve told you what I think. Does any of it matter?

That’s up to you to decide – but when I go back to the question from The Children Act

“If you loved your son, your only son, why would you let him die?”

The only answer I have is that you wouldn’t. And you certainly wouldn’t want him to die, let alone require him to die.  

The reason I think it does matter what we think about this is that it is all about our view of what kind of God we believe in and what our relationship with God is. Do we believe in an angry wrathful God like the first hymn spoke about? Do we believe in a God to whom rituals and ceremonies matter more than the way we live our lives? Or do we believe in a God who loves us very, very much and wants to demonstrate this to us?

Have a think. Make up your own mind. You certainly don’t have to agree with me – as always I’m not claiming to know the answers. My job is to encourage us to think about the questions.

We’ll have our second and final hymn. This is a brand new one by John Bell from the Iona Community. He also wrote the hymn we had a couple of weeks ago – Inspired by Love and Anger.

By the way John Bell is not only a fine, fine hymn writer, a committed Christian and a Church of Scotland minister – he is also gay. I was at Greenbelt Festival  a few years ago when he ‘came out’ as gay and he got a standing ovation. His hymns are brilliant, his love for God shines out of everything he writes and his sexuality matters not one jot to me.

This new hymn looks ahead to when some of us can get back together physically for worship – it’s looking like that may not be too far away. It’s called ‘We will meet…’ and it has a lovely, simple but haunting, melody.

We will meet when the danger is over,

we will meet when the sad days are done;

we will meet sitting closely together

and be glad our tomorrow has come.

We will join to give thanks and sing gladly,

we will join to break bread and share wine;

and the peace that we pass to each other

will be more than a casual sign.

So let’s make with each other a promise

that when all we’ve come through is behind,

we will share what we missed and find meaning

in the things that once troubled our mind.

Until then may we always discover

faith and love to determine our way.

That’s our hope and God’s will and our calling

for our lives and for every new day.

Time for Prayer

A prayer of Dr Martin Luther King

God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus.

Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds,

and love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension,

when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail,

to be with us in our going out and our coming in,

in our rising up and in our lying down,

in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow,

until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn.

Amen.

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

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

1A puzzle where you have to fill in missing lettersCrossword
2A method of embroidery using stitches in an X shapeCross stitch
3A safe method of crossing the road using coloured lightsPelican Crossing
4A property on the Monopoly boardKing’s Cross Station
5A medal which has the words ‘For Gallantry’ engraved on itGeorge Cross
6Traditionally – the place in London where all distances are measured fromCharing Cross
7Hit single for Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1965Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey
8A symbol of free France during the Second World WarCross of Lorraine
9A new railway line from West to East LondonCrossrail
10How Romeo and Juliet are described at the start of the playStar-crossed lovers

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