Reflection 14 March 2021


Here’s my reflection for Sunday 14 March.

The online worship session will start 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

London Road Congregational Church Reflection 14 March 2021

Call to Worship: Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels;

praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens,

and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

for he commanded and they were created.

Let us say together the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

Have a look at these two pictures.

What do they show?

Could you see the Earth on the first one – go back and have another look. It’s the pale blue dot to the bottom right

What do those pictures of Earth make you think?

You might like to pause here to think before you move on

  • A small speck in a huge universe?
  • A bright beacon of life?
  • Insignificant – or hugely significant?

I want you to read an edited version of a column from the Sunday Times a few weeks ago. It’s by Rod Liddle. He’s a very cynical journalist, always amusing but controversial in his comments. Not afraid to upset people. He said this – it surprised me.

“On Thursday, a little before 9pm GMT, the Nasa rover Perseverance landed on the surface of Mars after its 300-million-mile journey from Earth. The project, which cost more than $2.8 billion, hopes to reveal signs of microbiological life on the Red Planet, and also take some nice pictures.

“They’re back again,” was the immediate response from Zorg, senior administrator at the planet’s Extramartial Monitoring Centre. Masked up and with plenty of sanitiser on his 11 tentacles, Zorg went out to investigate. “It’s another one of their bloody Tonka Toy dumper trucks, with a camera glued on the top. Can’t they leave us alone?”

No, we can’t, Zorg. There have been about 50 missions to Mars, beginning with failed attempts by Nikita Khrushchev in the early 1960s. America has sent more than a dozen missions to the place. Our own Beagle 2 was catapulted through space but, predictably enough, broke down as soon as it reached the surface, probably having encountered “the wrong kind of sand”. India has sent a mission. Even the United Arab Emirates has had a bash, presumably in the hope that it might discover a topography even more arid and boring than its own.

This year the Chinese will be sending some gizmo called Tianwen-1 to touch down on the surface. I believe tianwen is Mandarin for “Annex the planet, subjugate the locals, deprive them of all human rights and give them the flu”. I hope Zorg and his colleagues are especially alert this summer.

I have no objection to any of this, incidentally. Science is one of the very few things of which humankind might justifiably be proud, along with maybe 150 books and bacon and mushroom Heinz Toast Toppers (now discontinued). Space exploration may have been merely a useful side benefit of mankind’s determination to find swifter and more exciting ways to murder each other, via intercontinental ballistic missiles, but science for science’s sake always gets my vote. We are nothing without our curiosity — which of course was the name of one of America’s more successful attempts to explore our planetary neighbour.

But search for life? Not a hope. The answer to David Bowie’s question is: no, mate, sorry. There is no life on Mars or anywhere else. We are alone. Every expedition raises expectation that we might at least find a primitive organism — comparable, say, to the contestants on Celebrity Love Island — and those expectations are always dashed. Still we cling on to hope, though — the hope that somewhere there is a planet where the locals are making less of a bloody hash of it than we are.

The maths has narrowed in recent years. Once it was assumed that, given the billions upon billions of stars in our universe, and the proportion that have planets, there must surely be life somewhere, on those “Goldilocks” planets at the right distance from their respective suns. A founder of Nasa’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti) suggested that there were between 1,000 and 100,000,000 life-supporting planets in the Milky Way alone. A later study, using Bayesian statistical inference — my favourite kind of statistical inference — lowered the possibility of life to 60 per cent. The latest work — from Oxford University, only a month or two ago — suggests that because of bizarre “revolutionary transitions” that occurred on Earth, we are probably alone.

Further, our first radio signals left Earth in 1895; no Zorgs picked them up and responded. That Seti programme has found not the faintest glimmer of extraterrestrial life. OK, sure, I’ve been talking about intelligent life; but increasingly it seems there is nothing at all, intelligent or otherwise. No microbes. No bacteria. Not even Covid.

If we are wholly, entirely alone, what does this suggest to you? An utterly freakish statistical chance that defies understanding, an accident of maths and evolution? Maybe. Or, given the enormous improbability that we are here at all, in this echoless emptiness, the faint suspicion of something divine?”

Hymn: Look at the World – John Rutter

Look at the world: Everything all around us
Look at the world: and marvel everyday
Look at the world: So many joys and wonders
So many miracles along our way

Chorus:

Praise to thee O lord for all creation
Give us thankful hearts that we may see
All the gifts we share and every blessing
All things come of thee

Look at the earth: Bringing forth fruit and flower
Look at the sky: The sunshine and the rain
Look at the hills, look at the trees and mountains,
Valley and flowing river field and plain.

Chorus

Think of the spring, Think of the warmth of summer
Bringing the harvest before the winters cold
Everything grows, everything has a season
Til’ it is gathered to the fathers fold

Chorus

Every good gift, all that we need and cherish
Comes from the lord in token of his love
We are his hands, stewards of all his bounty
His is the earth and his the heavens above

Praise to thee, o lord for all creation.
Give us thankful hearts that we may see
All the gifts we share, and every blessing,
All things come of thee
All things come of thee

Readings

Isaiah 24:1-13

Judgment on the Whole Earth

Behold, the Lord will empty the earth[a] and make it desolate,
    and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
    as with the slave, so with his master;
    as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
    as with the lender, so with the borrower;
    as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered;
    for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth mourns and withers;
    the world languishes and withers;
    the highest people of the earth languish.
The earth lies defiled
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
    and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
    and few men are left.
The wine mourns,
    the vine languishes,
    all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the tambourines is stilled,
    the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
    the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No more do they drink wine with singing;
    strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The wasted city is broken down;
    every house is shut up so that none can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
    all joy has grown dark;
    the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city;
    the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth
    among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
    as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done.

Genesis 1:26-30 – The Message

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
    reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
    the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
    and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
    he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
    He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
    “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
    for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

Then God said, “I’ve given you
    every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
    given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
    everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”


    And there it was.

Reflection:

So our theme for the Springtime is Stewardship.

What does that actually mean? Well here’s one definition

“Utilizing and managing all the resources God provides for the glory of God and the betterment of His creation.” 

You can talk about a lot of things under that heading – but in the Sundays I have I want to concentrate on the environment. And today I want to set the scene.

Let’s listen again to part of the passage from Genesis we’ve just heard:

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
    reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
    the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
    and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

This translation is from The Message.

This is the same section from the Good News Bible that we normally use

Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

So which is it – ‘rule over’ or ‘be responsible for’ Most translations go along with the Good News version. The King James Version and some others use the words ‘have dominion over’ which sounds even more powerful than rule to my ear.

But rule over and be responsible for have very different meanings don’t they?

So – again – which is it?

Now those of you that have been listening to me over the years know that I have my own view about the first few chapters of Genesis – which is that they aren’t to be taken as literally true or factual. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t learn about God from them. So let’s try and learn something this morning.

Some Christians take the definite view that God gave humanity the role of ruling over the earth. In fact whatever your understanding of that verse in reality that’s exactly what human beings have done and are doing isn’t it? By and large, as a species, we treat the Earth as if it’s ours to do with as we will, for our benefit alone. And usually that’s so people can get richer.

If that means that there’s no thought about the impact of our actions on the animals and plants that we share our world with – then so what. God gave the planet to us to rule over. We’re the top of the tree so we’re really all that matters.

Very often Christians who are of that persuasion also take the view that the state of the planet doesn’t matter in the long run anyway as God has said that in the end there’ll be a new heaven and a New Earth – it’s in Revelation – the last book in the bible. (And another Bible book that was never meant to be taken literally.) So we can ruin the planet and look forward to the last days when God will put everything right.

And they can point to those Hebrew Words in Genesis to back up what they say. The Bible is literally true – that’s what the bible says – end of argument.

At this point I could put it to a vote to let you say whether you think that what I’ve described to you so far is the way I think. But I think that you may have picked up the subtle signs that I’ve been giving out to make you realise that I think that those type of Christians have got it so, so wrong.

But let’s start from the words actually used in the Old Testament which as we all know was written in Hebrew. If only God spoke English things would be a lot easier wouldn’t they.

Here is the word we need to look at.

Now I know little about Hebrew but I believe that this word is pronounced vee-yir-du

And when you translate vee-yir-du it means ‘rule’. It doesn’t mean ‘be responsible for’.

So have I just proved that I’m wrong?

Well I don’t think so. You see languages are of course made up of words. But languages aren’t just a list of individual words are they. The purpose of language is to try and communicate meaning. And that’s rather more difficult than you might imagine. Because a word can have lots of different meanings.

Let’s look a little further at that – here are some synonyms for the word Rule’ from a thesaurus

  • have power over
  • control
  • guide
  • oversee

Rule can mean any of these – but have power over is very different from oversee isn’t it?

To understand what a word means we need to read it in context, in a sentence, a paragraph, a story even.

I think it’s reading this verse in context that makes the meaning of vee-vir-du clear. What does God say just before the bit about humanity ruling over the earth? God says – let us make human beings in our own image. God wants human beings to be like God, to behave like God. And in the context of this creation story what does that mean? God has spent 6 days (or 14 billion years – delete as you feel appropriate) creating the universe and in particular this life-filled, beautiful, extravagant corner of it we know as Earth. And at the end of the process come humans that God wants to be God-like.

Everything we know about God from the writer of Genesis so far is God as a great creator; God making everything and God being pleased with just how good it all is. So if we’re made to be God-like how likely is that to mean exploitative, destructive and uncaring? Surely it must mean we need to cooperate with this God-adventure of creation, to look after it and maybe even to improve it?

Let’s go back to the article from Rod Little where we came in. In it he referred to this recent story from Oxford University:

We’re all alone: Oxford study says chance of intelligent life elsewhere very low

Paper uses statistics to examine how long it took life to evolve on Earth and how likely each step was; concludes highly unlikely other intelligent civilizations out there

For years there has been an assumption, bearing in mind the vast scale of the universe with it’s billions of stars in billions of Galaxies, that the odds are that there must be many examples of intelligent life out there. No-one knows of course – it’s all based on calculations and probabilities.

But this latest study by Oxford University has concluded that it’s ‘highly unlikely.’

That made me think two things.

Maybe that’s why the universe had to be created to be so big. Perhaps it’s only just big enough to allow the development of intelligent life.

And if it’s true, just how precious does that make this pale blue dot that we live on?

Let us pray

Prayer for Creation

Creator God, We thank you for the beauty of your Creation, and for giving us the privilege of caring for it. We confess that we have not cared for the earth with the self-sacrificing and nurturing love that you require of us. We mourn the broken relationships in creation. We repent for our part in causing the current environmental crisis that has led to climate change.

Faithful God, sustainer of all—we pray with hope, because you are already at work through Christ to reconcile all of creation to Yourself and to renew all things.

Loving God, help us to turn our lives around to be people of restoration. Help us build just relationships among human beings and with the rest of creation. Help us to live sustainably, rejecting consumerism and the exploitation of creation.

God of justice, give us courage and persistence to work for justice for those most affected by environmental degradation and climate change.

God of mercy, hear the cry of the poor who are already suffering and will continue to suffer water and food shortages and who will be displaced by climate change.

Creator God, give us your Spirit to work together to restore your creation and to hand on a safe environment and climate to our children and theirs. Let our care for creation be our act of worship and obedience to you. Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Our closing hymn today is Creation Sings the Father’s Praise

Creation sings the Father’s song; He calls the sun to wake the dawn
And run the course of day ’till evening falls in crimson rays.
His fingerprints in flakes of snow, His breath upon this spinning globe,
He charts the eagle’s flight; commands the newborn baby’s cry.

Chorus:

Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing,
“Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship;
Tell the wonders of creation’s King.

Creation gazed upon His face; the ageless One in time’s embrace
Unveiled the Father’s plan of reconciling God and man.
A second Adam walked the earth, whose blameless life would break the curse,
Whose death would set us free to live with Him eternally.

Chorus

Creation longs for His return, when Christ shall reign upon the earth;
The bitter wars that rage are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky, all heav’n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: the glory of our God and King!

Chorus

Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing,
“Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship;
Tell the wonders of creation’s King.
Fill the earth with songs of worship;
Tell the wonders of creation’s King.

Let’s close by saying he grace to each other.

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

2 thoughts on “Reflection 14 March 2021

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