Reflection – 08 November 2020


Here’s my reflection for Sunday 08 November.

As this Sunday is Remembrance Sunday worship will start at 10.55 so we have time to take part in the 2 minutes silence at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week.

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 08 November 2020 – A Reflection

Our call to worship

We come before God, not to glorify war,

but to honour and celebrate those

who walked into the chaos and evil that is war:

those who were civilians and those who were military;

those who braved the censure of society

and those who gave of themselves for that society;

those who survived and those who did not;

those who were friends and those who were enemies.

None who have waded through evil, death and sorrow

are untouched in body, mind or spirit;

they are beloved of God.

We all were affected and changed by wars in the past

and all are in need of reflection, renewal, comfort and healing.

We’re going to watch this video of my favourite Remembrance Sunday hymn

O valiant hearts who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war
As who had heard God’s message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave,
To save mankind—yourselves you scorned to save.

Splendid you passed, the great surrender made;
Into the light that nevermore shall fade;
Deep your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet call of God.

Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human clay,
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self same way.

Still stands His Cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.

These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God:
Victor, He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice.

O risen Lord, O Shepherd of our dead,
Whose cross has bought them and Whose staff has led,
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy gracious hand.

If you are reading this on the morning of 08 November I hope you can take part in the traditional two minutes silence at 11.00 at this point.

Why not switch on your TV now and watch the two minute’s silence from the Cenotaph?

It’s right that we remember those affected by wars. But we need to be careful, particularly in churches I think, not to stray from remembrance to glorification.

War isn’t glorious, it’s dreadful. That’s not to say that there have been immense acts of bravery in war. We have a huge amount to be thankful for that there were people prepared to fight wars, particularly the Second World War in my opinion – a war that became necessary in order to defeat evil. But the act of war itself is an abomination.

Just so we don’t stray into glorification I want us to listen to this song. I think it’s the greatest anti-war song ever written. It’s by a chap called Eric Bogle – a Scotsman who now lives in Australia and it’s about the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War.  We’ll hear Eric Bogle himself sing it. It’s quite long. Listen to or read the words. It might make you cry.

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack,
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said “Son,
It’s time you stopped rambling, there’s work to be done”.
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay,
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well
He showered us with bullets and he rained us with shell
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda,
When we stopped to bury our slain.
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well we tried to survive,
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I woke up in me hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve, to mourn, and to pity.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then they turned all their faces away.

And so now every April, I sit on me porch,
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask meself the same question.

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday no one will march there at all.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me

Let’s leave Remembrance behind us for a while as we move into the rest of today’s worship.

We are on our second session looking at Matthew Chapter 6 – still looking at the Sermon on the Mount.

Last week Martin looked at Matthew 6:1-4 and 16-18. So what happened to verses 5-15 I hear the more numerate of you cry?

Well although this passage does fit in well with last week’s material about practicing our faith in a way that doesn’t bring attention to ourselves, not doing it so we look ‘holier-than-thou,’ it was worth a session of its own we thought.

Let’s have our readings

Isaiah 1:10-17

Pay attention to what our God is teaching you. He says, “Do you think I want all these sacrifices you keep offering to me? I have had more than enough of the sheep you burn as sacrifices and of the fat of your fine animals. I am tired of the blood of bulls and sheep and goats. Who asked you to bring me all this when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all this tramping around in my Temple? It’s useless to bring your offerings. I am disgusted with the smell of the incense you burn. I cannot stand your New Moon Festivals, your Sabbaths, and your religious gatherings; they are all corrupted by your sins. I hate your New Moon Festivals and holy days; they are a burden that I am tired of bearing.

“When you lift your hands in prayer, I will not look at you. No matter how much you pray, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”

Matthew 6: 5-15

Teaching about Prayer

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.

“When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven:
    May your holy name be honored;
may your Kingdom come;
    may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
    as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.
Do not bring us to hard testing,
    but keep us safe from the Evil One.’

“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

Luke 11:1-4

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this:

‘Father:
    May your holy name be honored;
    may your Kingdom come.
Give us day by day the food we need.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we forgive everyone who does us wrong.
    And do not bring us to hard testing.’”

Talk

So the missing verses were about the Lord’s Prayer. There’s plenty of meat in that prayer – but before we get into that let’s look at what else it says in Matthew 6. Because when we pray the Lord’s Prayer every week we usually do it completely unaware of the context in which Jesus introduced the well-known words.

In fact we’ll start with what Isaiah had to say.

He said this:

“When you lift your hands in prayer, I will not look at you. No matter how much you pray, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”

‘No matter how much you pray I will not listen.’ What Isaiah is pointing to, and the point that is made in many places in the Old Testament, is that what matters to God is what we are doing, what’s really in our hearts as is seen through our actions. Actions do indeed speak louder than words to God.

God won’t listen because we are covered in blood (not literally of course) because we are doing evil, or – if that seems a bit strong – because we are not doing what is right, because we aren’t caring for those who are less fortunate than us. If we get that right then maybe God will listen to us. Perhaps he’s more inclined to give us a hearing now we’ve donated nearly £500 to the Foodbank. But no doubt there are lots of other things we ought to be doing – not all of which cost us money.

Then we have Jesus – under the heading ‘Teaching about prayer’. He doesn’t go straight in by giving us the words we should use. The first thing he says is that we shouldn’t be doing it in a public place but in private. We shouldn’t think that a long complicated prayer full of pious language and big words, spoken loudly so that everyone can hear is the way to do it. God will hold no store by that. No, what matters is that the prayer is sincere.

And then he says this: ‘Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.’

That should really bring us up short.  Jesus is saying God knows what’s in our hearts, what’s in our minds, before we open our mouths. He already knows what we need. Interestingly Jesus doesn’t say God knows what we want (although he probably does.) What we need is what matters to God, and he knows what that is. Much better than we do.

OK – so far we’ve learned that God won’t listen because we’re not fit to be heard and that in any case he already knows what’s good for us.

But Jesus doesn’t then say – there’s no point in praying, although you might have thought that would be the logical conclusion if God isn’t listening and doesn’t need us to tell him anyway.

So what might be the point of praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer? Here are a few of my thoughts. As usual they come with a disclaimer that I might well not be right – but I may say something that makes you think. And if I do that then I’ll be very happy.

You see I think that The Lord’s Prayer, and in fact all prayer, is primarily about helping to put us right with God. And that it does this by making us think about things that matter to God – it helps us get our heads into the right place to do what God wants of us.

What do I mean? Let’s have a look at the Lord’s prayer in sections:

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name.

We start the prayer by thinking about God, and where God is in relation to us. God is our Father – God cares for us; God is in heaven. I don’t think of heaven as some place above the clouds but as a metaphor for perfection. God might be our Father but he’s different to an earthly father. So much so that we need to consider him as holy.

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

 Starting with ‘thy kingdom come’ – by saying this we are recognising the brokenness of the world, that it isn’t as God wanted it to be. Turning to ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – now that’s an interesting bit. Because if you look back to Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer that bit isn’t included at all. And it’s thought that Matthew and Luke based quite a lot of what they wrote on an earlier shared document. It’s called Q – from the German for Source – Quelle. The assumption is that whenever Matthew and Luke both use something in their version of the Gospel that it comes either from Marks’s gospel (which was the first to be written so would have been available to them both) or from Q. The Lord’s prayer isn’t recorded by Mark so it may well be from Q originally. So it looks like Matthew has added a bit to the prayer from the original. If to ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ was in the original surely Luke would have included it too.

Anyway, interesting as that might be – leaving that aside for now – it’s basically just reinforcing thy kingdom come – there’s work to be done.

Give us this day our daily bread

That’s reminding us not to take things for granted, to be grateful for what we have, to know that nothing we need to survive has been provided by humans alone. Yes we can farm, we can mill, we can bake – but we didn’t create the soil or the seed or the sun and the rain to make it grow. That’s all creation’s gift to us.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us

In saying this we are reminding ourselves that we’ve not been perfect, we haven’t always done what God would want, we’ve sinned if you like. But it’s also reminding us that if we want to be forgiven, we might want to forgive people ourselves. That two letter word ‘as’ is very important. forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. It means ‘in the same way.’ We’re asking God to forgive us, but reminding ourselves that we can only expect this in as much as we’re prepared to forgive others.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

You might remember that a short time ago the Pope decided that this bit of the Lord’s Prayer could be better translated as ‘do not let us fall into temptation’ on the grounds that God isn’t likely to be doing the leading – we’re quite capable of doing that ourselves. But do you know I think that the only one who can stop us from falling into temptation is us. We can’t blame God if we do stuff we know to be wrong. But in saying this we’re remembering the pitfalls in front of us every time we say the prayer. It just might make us think about what we didn’t ought to be doing.

Finally

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Well that bit isn’t in the Bible at all (at least in the more modern translations.) Either in Matthew or Luke. And the Roman Catholics don’t use those words at all. So shall we ignore that bit?

So there we are. Saying that prayer, and thinking about what we’re saying (of course we don’t always do that) is beneficial in its own right. If God does already know what we were going to say as Jesus tells us (and to be fair he’s heard this prayer a few times already); if God isn’t listening because we’re not fit to be heard (as Isaiah warns us) well saying the prayer still has benefits for those who say it  because it reminds us about what God is like, what God wants, what we need from God, and what we ought to be doing to make things better. In less than 50 words.

How amazing is that?

Let us pray

Our Father, who art in heaven,

slow to anger, and of great mercy, lover of all peoples of the earth,

Hallowed be thy Name.

Remind us that “all the nations are as nothing before thee,”

their governments but a shadow of passing age;

Thy kingdom come on earth.

Grant to thy children throughout the world,

and especially to the leaders of the nations,

the gift of prayerful thought and thoughtful prayer;

that following the example of our Lord,

we may discern what is right, and do it;

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

Help us to protect and to provide for all who are hungry and homeless,

especially those who are deprived of food and shelter,

family and friends, by the tragedy of war;

Give us this day our daily bread.

Forgive us for neglecting to “seek peace and pursue it,”

and finding ourselves in each new crisis,

more ready to make war than to make peace.

“We have not loved thee with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves”;

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Let us not seek revenge, but reconciliation;

Let us not delight in victory, but in justice;

Let us not give ourselves up to pride, but to prayer;

Lead us not into temptation.

Be present to all thy children ravaged by war:

Be present to those who are killing and to those who are being killed;

Be present to the loved ones of those who are killing

and to the loved ones of those who are being killed;

Deliver us from evil.

Subdue our selfish desires to possess and to dominate,

and forbid us arrogance in victory;

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

For our final piece of music this morning let’s listen to Andrea Bocelli and a full choir singing a setting of the Lord’s Prayer.

From 0:54

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

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