Reflection – 12 September 2021

Here’s my reflection for Sunday 12 September.

If you’d like to join in our online worship follow this Zoom link. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84890359132

Our worship session starts at 11.00 British Summer Time.

We are delighted that the church building is open for worship too. The Zoom service will also be run from the church building.

Mark

Call to Worship – Psalm 23

Caring Shepherd,

you supply all our needs.

We celebrate God’s generous care of us all.

Good Shepherd,

you take us by the hand

and lead us through the dark and fearful times in life.

We celebrate God’s compassion and understanding.

Gracious Shepherd,

your goodness and mercy nurtures and blesses us,

and it enriches our soul.

As we worship you,

we share together in the feast you prepare for us,

and it restores and refreshes us. Amen.

Opening Prayer

Let us go, in heart and mind,

to see what has come to pass.


Let us go with the shepherds:
Let us go to find the Saviour!
Let us go with the wise ones:
Let us go to find God’s promise,
Let us go with the poor and humble:
Let us go to find our King,
Let us go with all the world,

with all the peoples of the nations.


Come, let us worship;


Christ the Lord!

The Lord’s Prayer

Our call to worship this morning was from Psalm 23. I thought we’d start with 2 hymn versions of the Psalm – one to just listen to and the other to sing along with if you’d like.

This first version is sung by the church’s Just Sing! choir. It’s a version by Howard Goodall and you might know it best as the theme of a certain television show. You can find it here https://justsingnewark.co.uk/concert-2019/november-2019-gala-concert-page-4/

This second one is the beautiful version by Stuart Townend. The words will appear on the screen

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone,
And I will trust in You alone,
For Your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness,
And He anoints my head with oil,
And my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on His pure delights.

Chorus

And though I walk the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
For You are with me, and Your rod and staff
Are the comfort I need to know.

            Chorus

Our theme for the autumn quarter is all about how Jesus interacted with people on the fringes of society.

There’s quite a lot to go at – because Jesus spent a lot of his time doing just that. There are lots of examples. I’m sure you can all think of some.

And of course if Jesus spent a lot of his time doing that then he must have done it for a good reason. And perhaps there might just be a message to us, his followers, that we might think about if we should be doing it too.

So it’s me to start on this theme and to start with we’re going to hear two Bible readings.

The first one is from the Old Testament – so Jesus doesn’t appear in it at all!

In the second one Jesus is mentioned – but he doesn’t say or do anything! You’ll find out why he doesn’t when you hear it.

! Samuel 16:1-13

David Is Anointed King

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you go on grieving over Saul? I have rejected him as king of Israel. But now get some olive oil and go to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, because I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

“How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “If Saul hears about it, he will kill me!”

The Lord answered, “Take a calf with you and say that you are there to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will tell you what to do. You will anoint as king the man I tell you to.”

Samuel did what the Lord told him to do and went to Bethlehem, where the city leaders came trembling to meet him and asked, “Is this a peaceful visit, seer?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I have come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me.” He also told Jesse and his sons to purify themselves, and he invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab and said to himself, “This man standing here in the Lord’s presence is surely the one he has chosen.” But the Lord said to him, “Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him, because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

Then Jesse called his son Abinadab and brought him to Samuel. But Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen him either.” Jesse then brought Shammah. “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen him either,” Samuel said. 10 In this way Jesse brought seven of his sons to Samuel. And Samuel said to him, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.” 11 Then he asked him, “Do you have any more sons?”

Jesse answered, “There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep.”

“Tell him to come here,” Samuel said. “We won’t offer the sacrifice until he comes.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He was a handsome, healthy young man, and his eyes sparkled. The Lord said to Samuel, “This is the one—anoint him!” 13 Samuel took the olive oil and anointed David in front of his brothers. Immediately the spirit of the Lord took control of David and was with him from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah

Luke 2:8-20

The Shepherds and the Angels

There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, 10 but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. 11 This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born—Christ the Lord! 12 And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. 17 When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. 18 All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. 19 Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. 20 The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

Talk

“We’ve been thinking it might be true but today’s confirmed it. Taylor has lost the plot.

Last time he was talking about Easter in August and now we’re having Christmas stories in September.

And he’s just had his appraisal so we’re stuck with him for another year.”

Be honest – is that what you’re thinking?

Give me ten minutes and let’s see if you still think the same when I’ve finished

So you might have spotted a theme running through things so far. It has been fairly obvious and I’m sure you’d have noticed it even if you haven’t particularly been paying attention.

There’s been an awful lot of shepherds this morning.

I want to start by talking about the Christmas story we just heard, from Luke’s gospel.

What’s the significance of the shepherds in the Christmas story, and what’s it got to do with the theme?

I’m sure we all know that the Christmas stories that we love come from just two of the Gospels.

Mark and John don’t mention the birth of Jesus at all.

Matthew gives us the story of the Magi, the visitors from the East, the Wise Men.

In Luke we don’t have the Magi but we have shepherds as visitors to the infant Jesus instead.

In the version we read it says:

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. 

That’s the only time Jesus appears in the story, just as ‘the baby’ not even mentioned by name – and obviously as he’s only a few hours old he’s not going to be saying anything or doing very much at all. So how can this be a story about Jesus interacting with people on the fringes of society?

Well let’s start by thinking about why Luke wrote it into his gospel. It clearly mattered to Luke, otherwise he wouldn’t have written it. After all he says this at the beginning of his gospel, in a passage that’s usually skimmed over.

Dear Theophilus:

Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message. And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.

So Luke is setting out to write an orderly account of what happened. He’s not just writing things down as they come into his mind (as you might think that Mark does – that’s the other gospel writer not me.) He’s thinking carefully and writing down what he thinks people need to know. So lets assume that this story does matter.

The next question is why does it matter? And why shepherds?

This miraculous appearance of Angels could presumably have happened to anyone. It harks back to what I was saying a couple of weeks ago. If you wanted a reliable witness would you pick a bunch of raggle-taggle shepherds in a field? Couldn’t there be a more reliable group higher up the social pecking order than shepherds? I’ve read various accounts of just where shepherds were in the scheme of things – one of the Bible commentaries I’ve looked at calls them ‘a despised occupation.’ They weren’t wealthy, they weren’t important, they were in all probability quite smelly.

But it was to them that Luke tells us the great news was told and they were the first people to see Jesus other than Joseph and Mary. The first to interact with Jesus, however slight that interaction was.

Right at the beginning of it all Luke is telling us that the message about Jesus is a message for the poor, the unloved, the outcasts from polite society. And we should read the rest of the Gospel in the light of that knowledge.

Let’s move on to the other story – the one with absolutely no mention of Jesus in it! This is the story of when David was chosen to be the second King of Israel. The first one, Saul, has displeased God so Samuel is told to choose one of Jesse’s 8 sons to replace Saul. One by one they are brought before him and they are rejected. And Samuel has to ask Jesse if he has another son:

Jesse answered, “There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep.”

Another shepherd. Now David doesn’t turn out to be a perfect. But he’s such a significant man that it’s important to the Jews that the promised Messiah will be a descendant of the great king David. And David was a shepherd.

The link I’d like to draw between these two stories is this.

Jesus and his message need to be seen in light of the Old Testament. It’s not only since Jesus appears that God’s message has been for the poor and outcast. The choice of shepherd-boy David as king shows that. The shepherds in the Christmas story show that’s still the case. And right at the beginning of his ministry Jesus reminds us again of his priorities. Here’s a passage from Luke Chapter 4:

16 Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures 17 and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed
19 
    and announce that the time has come
    when the Lord will save his people.”

And it remains the case today that the poor and the outcast are at the centre of Jesus’ message for the world. It’s important that we remember that.

There’s a couple of the points in our church manifesto that remind us of that. We’ve committed:

  1. To make a priority of kindness and compassion, and pursue justice for all people; and
  2. To resist passing judgement, and befriend people in the margins.

Jesus’ message is for the poor and for the people in the margins. And it’s clear in his story from the day he was born.

Time for Prayer

O Christ, you lived as an ordinary man 
not in style but simply, 
yet still you caused uproar, and questions everywhere; 
you drew the expectations of hungry crowds, 
and brought buried conflicts to the light. 

May we,

who are sometimes swayed by the crowd’s approval, 
and who often avoid conflict 
for fear of its cost to us, 
hold fast to the gospel of peace and justice 
and follow faithfully in your way of compassion and solidarity 
with those who are poor and excluded, 
wherever it may lead us. 

Amen.

Our final hymn today is Will You Come and Follow Me by John Bell, which is based on the passage from Luke chapter 4 that I’ve just referred to.. The lyrics are in the video if you want to join in.

Will you come and follow me

 if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know

and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown,

will you let my name be known,

will you let my life be grown

in you and you in me?

Will you leave your self behind

if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind

and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare

should your life attract or scare

will you let me answer prayer

in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see

if I but call your name?

Will you set the prisoners free

and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean

and do such as this unseen,

and admit to what I mean

in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide

if I but call your name?

Will you quell the fear inside

and never be the same?

Will you use the faith you’ve found

to reshape the world around

through my sight and touch and sound

in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true

when you but call my name.

Let me turn and follow you

and never be the same.

In your company I’ll go

where your love and footsteps show.

Thus I’ll move and live and grow

in you and you in me.

 

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.

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