Thought for the Week May 2nd 2021

Last week Danny pointed us to the lectionary readings set for the day and gave us the opportunity to allow those scriptures to speak to us directly, something I know a number of people, including me, really engaged with and appreciated. Some also considered the whole concept of the lectionary and how it’s used, again me included. Today I’d like to share a few thoughts in light of this and the readings set for this week.

As a non-conformist of some 50 years now, the lectionary is not something I follow particularly strictly. The view of many non-conformists is that services and preaching should be spirit lead in order to minister to the needs of a particular congregation/community at any given time, and not be dictated to by people divorced from issues affecting those people – or challenges that may need to be posed. This is a view I have some sympathy with. However, with that freedom comes responsibility! In the same way the lectionary can succeed or fail depending on how it’s used, so can the freedom of not having one.

One upside of the lectionary is that it can sometimes make us look at passages which are uncomfortable and challenging in ways we might otherwise choose to ignore – one of the downsides of freedom. On the other hand a downside of the lectionary is when the set readings are perplexing and difficult in a week when the congregation is in desperate need of hope, love and reassurance following a tragic or difficult time – one of the upside to freedom. For me, this is a perfect example of how none of us have the exclusivity on being right, but how, with love and respect for each other’s traditions we can enhance each other’s spiritual lives with no damage to our commonly held Christian beliefs, something I’ve found a privilege to share with my co-contributors.

To continue with Danny’s lottery analogy (I love analogies) the ‘Jackpot’ win comes when the lectionary readings coincide with the needs of the people and for me personally that seems to have happened last week and this.

Right now it seems the country is at a potential turning point. But because, for some time now, we’ve all been living in what could be described as an alien environment, denying us our natural social behaviour patterns and ability to interact with each other, the thought of being able to revert to some sort of normality is producing a number of different reactions. Some are full of jubilation and eager to get going, others sadly are full of anxiety and unease about meeting with people again particularly large crowds. And of course a multitude of differing emotions in between.

In Danny’s reading related prayers last week, we asked for courage, like Peter’s to do what is right, the assurance of God’s presence described in Psalm 23, the wisdom to take our knowledge of His love and turn it into action, and finally the security of being held within His flock for ever.

Courage, assurance, wisdom and security are all things which will help us going forward in to whatever the future holds. And for me this week’s readings add another two vital ingredients, trust and remaining connected to God, and each other.

Often when I am given a passage to read I like to read the bits either side of it in order to be certain I read the words in the context they were written or said. This week:

The Old Testament reading (Genesis 22: 1-18) tells us of the time Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son Isaac who was His only son, born to him and his wife Sarah in old age. Abraham had total trust in God and set about obeying. God saw that trust and spared Isaac’s life, Isaac went on to father Jacob – the father of Israel. And through Israel came God’s Son and our saviour Jesus.

The Psalm is Psalm 22, the verses set are 25 – end, but if we start at verse 1 we see the words Jesus agonisingly cried from the cross ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?’ but by the time we get to the second half of verse 24 we read ‘…he did not hide his face from me but heard when I cried to him.’ The Psalmist David trusted God, Jesus trusted in his father God, and so did Abraham. If we read the set verses in that context, then perhaps try re-reading Psalm 23 again, for me there’s whole new clarity.

The Gospel is from John 15: 1-8 where Jesus talks about being the ‘true vine’ and the need for the vine’s branches to bear fruit. It’s a real lesson on how we need to stay connected and draw nourishment and strength from the root i.e. God. If we read a little beyond the set verses we hear Jesus’ command to the disciples to ‘love one another,’ which together with the vine analogy, links very nicely to the epistle reading from 1 John 4: 7- end, which describes the nature of God’s love.

Many years ago I did a parachute jump, not a tandem jump where you’re strapped to an experienced jumper with a fancy oblong parachute so that you can both land gently on your feet, this was a static line jump. For this we jumped solo with the old style round parachute, the rip cord attached by a line to the plane so that as you jump the parachute automatically deployed. The instruction period was fairly intense, among other things we had to learn how to turn the parachute at just the right time into a hold position before landing and then how to land, the ‘parachute landing fall’ (PLF) – you hit the ground at a speed roughly the same as jumping from a six wall!

To do this you need the courage to jump, the assurance that someone has packed your parachute properly, the wisdom to follow the instructions of the expert, the security of being connected to the chute and trust that all those things put together will lead to a safe landing.

Now the sensible ones among you may be like my brother, who would say that the safest way to land is not to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane in the first place – but where’s the fun and excitement in that?

Now, with courage, being assured by God’s word, having the wisdom to follow His instruction, by being secure in His love, let’s begin to step into the future trusting in Jesus (the perfect parachute to land us safely). And let’s do it together with anticipation and excitement. And if we see someone scared, take them by the hand and gently lead them, using Jesus as our mentor and guide. Amen. 

Heavenly Father

As we begin to look to a new future

Help us to face it with courage.

Guide us in our thoughts and actions

To be wise, compassionate and understanding

Of all those around us,

Especially those who struggle to adapt.

Help us to see your world in a new way,

To Love and respect all your creation,

To see our neighbours through the eyes of Jesus.

And to do it all, trusting in you,

In the assurance of your love

And in Jesus precious name. Amen.