Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Lord's Prayer - the heart of the Christian faith

Welcome and Call to Worship
160 Praise my soul the king of heaven

1          Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
            to his feet thy tribute bring;
            ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven
            who like thee his praise should sing?
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise the everlasting King!

2          Praise him for his grace and favour
            to his people in distress;
            praise him still the same for ever,
            slow to chide, and swift to bless:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Glorious in his faithfulness!

3          Father-like he tends and spares us;
            well our feeble frame he knows;
            in his hands he gently bears us,
            rescues us from all our foes:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Widely as his mercy flows!

4          Frail as summer's flower we flourish,
            blows the wind and it is gone;
            but while mortals rise and perish
            God endures unchanging on.
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise the high eternal One!

5          Angels, help us to adore him,
            ye behold him face to face;
            sun and moon, bow down before him,
            dwellers all in time and space:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise with us the God of grace!

Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16
Psalm 23 – OBG
Luke 11:1-13
Hymn: We limit not the truth of God

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:
The Lord has yet more light and truth
To break forth from His word.

Who dares to bind to his dull sense
The oracles of heaven,
For all the nations, tongues, and climes,
And all the ages given?
That universe, how much unknown!
That ocean unexplored!

Darkling those great fore-runners went
The first steps of the way;
'Twas but the dawning, yet to grow
Into the perfect day.
And grow it shall; our glorious Sun
More fervid rays afford:

O Father, Son and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend your love:
And make us all go on to know,
With nobler powers conferred,

George Rawson (1807–1889)
Based on the parting words of Pastor John Robinson
to the Pilgrims who were to sail on the Mayflower, 1620
Tune: Ellacombe 247, 367, 413

The Lord’s Prayer

And so we come to the end … and discover it’s the start of something new both for us and for the church family here at Highbury. There are so many thank you’s to say, I am not going to try to begin – suffice it to say it has been good to share here over all these years and we have to say a big thank you to everyone in the church family for all that we have shared.

Felicity and I gave 10 months notice and now we have come to the end of our time in ministry here at Highbury. In the run up to Easter I decided to preach a series of sermons that went to the heart of the Christian faith.

Starting on Easter Sunday and the Road to Emmaus I have in a series of sermons on Sunday mornings explored the way Luke as he tells the story of the early church in Acts from that evening onwards and as he tells the story of Jesus coming to a climax on that day of resurrection, helps us to address one of the biggest questions facing people of all faith communities in the 21st century – how we read our sacred texts.

This evening I want to return to the heart of the Christian Faith.

On my first evening in Bethlehem at a conference on the theme of reconciliation ten years ago, the Rector of the Tantur Institute who was hosting our conference took us up on to a flat roof where we could see the hills around Bethlehem. The tops of the hills were covered with what looked like new towns, new housing estates – one or two of our number had been before and were shocked – they had been bare hill tops before rather like the hill above Cheltenham overlooks Cheltenham – but much more rugged and considerably more mountainous. And now those hill tops were being built on. Ten years on … those housing estates have been joined up – they are all in what is known as the West Bank, the Palestinian Territories – they are the Settlements much condemned by so many.
The conference was set up to help us to see through the eyes of the other. It was moving, it was powerful.

He gave us a leaflet and introduced it too. You will hear the call of the Muezzin at the hour of prayer. That beautiful musical chant that calls the faithful to prayer. In the early hours of the morning, and then through the day and last thing at night.

How do you react, he asked?

Some react with fear.

Don’t do that, he suggested. Instead hear it as an invitation to prayer. And in those moments pray. Why not say that short prayer our Lord taught us to pray. The call to prayer of the Muezzin goes to the heart of Islam. The call to prayer of Jesus goes to the heart of Christianity.

I brought to mind a day I had been to at the University. It was shortly after 9/11. It seemed to me in the wake of that horror there was a responsibility laid upon us to respond to that evil with love – that after all is the way mapped out by Jesus. And love means just being friendly with Muslim neighbours. It also means seeking understanding.

The University had a number of day conferences on Islam – and I went along. All but one of the speakers read their paper, had no visual aids, and what they said has disappeared into the mists of time. One speaker stood out. He did not read a thing as he was in his 90’s and could no longer read from a script. Instead he spoke from the heart and he was the only one to use the simplest of visual aids. I could recount the substance of his lecture to this day … but I won’t. It was interestingly all about how to read the Qu’ran.

His name was Kenneth Cragge, he was a personal friend of Vaughan Harries who at the time was a regular in our evening congregation. Kenneth Cragge, a Christian, had spent a lifetime in the Middle East and was a scholar of the Qu’ran highly regarded by Muslim and Christian alike.

His introduction to Islam is the finest I have come across. He explores Islam through the Call of the Minaret – that indeed is the title of the book. He takes each line of the call of the Muezzin and unpacks Islam. It’s a brilliant account.

He then goes on to explore how Christians should respond. He suggests that the prayer Jesus taught us can in the same way not only be a prayer but it can also go to the very heart of the Christian faith.

I recalled that on one occasion when I had a conversation with one of the dads from St John’s – his daughter had been part of the nativity here in Highbury and we got talking at the Christmas fair. He came round. He was passionate as he described to me Islam . He wanted to say in the wake of on eof those horrific terror attacks – not in my name. That’s an aberration of Islam – he wanted to share with me true Islam.

He got to the end – and he had taken a long time. Then he asked me, so what is Christianity about. That’s when it came to my mind. And I found myself using the Lord’s Prayer as pegs to hang an account of my Christian faith on. So this for me goes to the heart of the Christian faith.

I know there are different versions in the Gospels. I know the one we say isn’t in the oldest of the manuscripts. I love the old words. Three thoughts on those words

Spoken English naturally has the rhythm of the heart beat. De Dum, De Dum.  William Tyndale captured that rhythm as did Shakespeare. The traditional words have something of that rhythm – it’s is as if praying these words is the stuff of life.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, they will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

The oldest words in English are single syllable words and come from the Anglo Saxon. Longer words have come in from Latin or from French. Often you can weigh words – longer words as it were weigh more. They are more weighty.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, they will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

Wait for it now, we are about to encounter a three syllable word. It weighs more, it weighs heavily.

Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

Trespassing is breaking the law – I think that’s a good way of describing what we need forgiveness from

The modern forgive us our sins – also needs explaining – but the word sins is too short, it doesn’t weigh heavy, it’s a thruway word.

And deliver us from evil. Notice that deliver is the first three syllable word that carries weight – to counter temptation to be delivered from evil is weighty stuff – it needs a counterweight.

And then we come to the climax

The modern version goes

The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours … the last word is a thruway word that yours that’s lightweight.

Contrast that with

For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory.

There’s a mounting crescendo until you reach the climax in a glorious word – thine is the kingdom the power, and the glory.

Forever – another three syllable word! And ever. Amen.

But it’s the content and meaning of those words that goes to the heart of the faith.

Many see the Christian faith as all about getting people into heaven. It’s all about what happens when you die. I don’t accept that. When Jesus meets people he does not begin by leading them through a step by step process which will get them into heaven. He comes alongside people, meets them where they are and draws them into a friendship that in his presence enables them to have life and have it to the full.

The Christian faith is not about getting people into heaven. It’s about getting heaven into people’s hearts, into people’s lives, into people’s homes, into the world.

So what is heaven. It’s not the place we go to  when we die – though it can be a lovely picture of that. Heaven is where God rules OK – heaven is where God’s way prevails. It’s where God’s will is done. It’s here and now and it doesn’t come to an end at death. It’s for all eternity.

Heaven is where God’s will is done – where God rules – earth is where we are living out our lives. We can live out our lives in a way that we want to – each one for themselves. Or we can live out our lives according to God’s way – Love God, love your neighbour, with the transforming love of God real in the presence of Jesus empowering us but the strength that is from beyond ourselves in the Holy Spirit.

That’s the start of the prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name – heaven is where God is

Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven – heaven is where  God is, where God’s rule prevails – that’s what we pray for on earth as well. What is that kingdom like – the clue is in the next phrase – thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

God’s rule is where God’s will prevails.

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

So that’s the start.

Getting heaven into people’s hearts.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Each day is to be treasured. Not wished away. That’s something for me to remember – treasure each day – and live it to the full. Take no thought for the morrow. The sacrament of the present moment.

And this day give us just what we need. Not more, the things we need. The basics.

There’s a whole life style thing there – not wanting to excess, but accepting each day.

And it is to God we turn each day for our needs for that day.

That plaque Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.

Forgive us our trespasses.

The thing is you can’t do it. You cannot live up to the ideal of love for God, love for neighbour, even before Jesus extends it to love for enemy too.

Trespassing is breaking the law – and we do break God’s law too often.

Forgive us our trespasses.

I also like that English word – you trespass when you go into someone else’s space – forgive us those times when we have gone into someone else’s space – those times when we haven’t stayed in God’s space but gone elsewhere.

Forgive us our trespasses. The forgiving love of God in Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith for me. Think of all those people Jesus befriended and they had failed in some way or other.  And yet forgiveness was theirs – right through to the cross – Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

But then comes the kick in the teeth – the bit that’s difficult to say.

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

I remember one occasion when I interrupted the saying of the Lord’s prayer at that point. And got people to think – so who has trespassed into our space. Who don’t we get on with. Who do we bear a grudge against.

it’s reciprocal this forgiving love

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

And lead us not into temptation.

There’s another of those three syllable words. Some complain at that line – even the Pope recently said that’s a line he wants to re-write. It’s not that God would lead us into temptation. Rather it is a definite thing. Lead us not into temptation. And there are temptations galore. Don’t let us succumb to those temptations that nag at us.

But deliver us from evil. That three syllable word again – God can counter the awfulness of temptation and gets the better of evil.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s not just deliver us from the evil that may befall – but deliver us from complicity in the evil that can so easily prevail in our culture, in our hearts.

For thine is the kingdom – that’s what Jesus message was about. God’s rule breaking in here on earth.  We end in this prayer as we began. It’s not human authority – we are citizens of God’s kingdom under God’s rule.

Thine is the kingdom, the power.

In our faith is a source of strength for living our lives. We host a number of twelve step programs – Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous – someone I know who belongs to one of those groups helped me to understand. I wanted to do something with them, for them. No, they said. You mustn’t. The very fact they have a safe space to meet that means the world to them. The very fact of a warm welcome – that means the world. Not all churches would host those meetings. There are very few secular meeting places in Cheltenham. It’s important.

1.      We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. ...
2.      Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. ...
3.      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

God’s way for us to follow involves love for God, love for neighbour
We know the transformative power of the forgiving love of God in Christ, a forgiveness we can reflect and share
But we also have a strength from beyond ourselves, a power to live by in the unseen, yet real presence of the enabling, empowering, Holy Spirit.

Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.

I love the way the prayer builds up to that climax in glory.

The Christian faith is not about getting people into heaven.

The Christian faith is about getting heaven into people.

That’s not to deny the glory – it is to affirm it.

For the life that we live to the full begins here and now but does not end with death. Death is not the end beyond which there is nothing but in Christ Jesus the beginning of life in the eternal glory of the love of the God who is love.

Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever …

That’s the ultimate victory – nothing can prevail against it.

And to that you can only say Amen.

546 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

1          Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
            Uttered or unexpressed,
            The motion of a hidden fire
            That trembles in the breast.

2          Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
            The falling of a tear,
            The upward glancing of an eye
            When none but God is near.

3          Prayer is the simplest form of speech
            That infant lips can try;
            Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
            The majesty on high.

4          Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice
            Returning from his ways,
            While angels in their songs rejoice,
            And cry: 'Behold, he prays!'

5          Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
            The Christian's native air,
            Our watchword at the gates of death;
            We enter heaven with prayer.

6          Prayer is not made by us alone:
            the Holy Spirit pleads,
            and Jesus, on the eternal throne,
            for sinners intercedes.

7          O thou by whom we come to God,
            The Life, the Truth, the Way!
            The path of prayer thyself hast trod:
            Lord, teach us how to pray!

James Montgomery (1771-1854)

Looking back and Looking forward
Prayers of Concern
Offering and Dedication
159 Lord, for the years

1          Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
                        urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
            sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
                        Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

2          Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
                        speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
            teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us,
                        Lord of the word, receive your people's praise.

3          Lord, for our land, in this our generation,
                        spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care;
            for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
                        Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

4          Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him,
                        loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain;
            hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him,
                        Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

5          Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us, 
                        self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;
            past put behind us, for the future take us,
                        Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Timothy Dudley-Smith (born 1926) 

Words of Blessing
Music: Richard Sharpe & Frank Guppy

Journey of Faith 9 - Reading the Bible through the eyes of Jesus

Text for the Week: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ Luke 10:25-28

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any who are worshipping with us for the first time. During our morning service we invite all who love the Lord Jesus Christ to share with us in the Lord’s Supper.

It’s ten months since Felicity and I gave notice that we would be retiring and moving on and now the moment has arrived. How the time flies! Today’s a day for looking back and saying thank you for the way everyone at Highbury and among the churches of Cheltenham has made us as a family so welcome: it’s been great to share!

It’s a day for looking forward as we, in a sense, hand over to the Ministry team and the Deacons here at Highbury and as we look forward to a new adventure in Bridgend.

First and foremost, we have all come together to share in our worship.

And at the heart of that worship we are once again going to look out for the way the words of Scripture connect with the world we live in and become for us God’s Word for today.

In the three months leading up to Easter I set out to explore the heart of the Christian faith: I’m going to return to that theme this evening and reflect on the way the Lord’s prayer says it all. Since Easter I have been exploring what seems to me one of the biggest issues facing the major faiths in today’s world: how we read our Sacred texts each of which has passages that are hateful in the extreme. That seems to me to be the big question explored by Jesus on the day of Resurrection and worked out by Luke in telling the story of the early church in Acts and of Jesus in the third Gospel. For me the key to it all lies in the greatest of Jesus’ parables, the Good Samaritan.

Welcome and Call to Worship

122 Let all the world in every corner sing

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

The Kind Stranger – Open the Book

A Hy-Spirit Song

What do you read there?

I thought this morning I would finish where I began … with the parable of the Good Samaritan. That was the theme I chose to take for my very first sermon at a youth service in the church where Felicity and I grew up, Clarendon Park Congregational Church in Leicester. It was, I think, 1970. Two years before Martin Luther King had been assassinated and my father had taken me to the memorial service at a church with a predominantly black congregation in Leicester. That same year in Britain Enoch Powell had made his rivers of blood speech in Wolverhampton. In 1969 my father had taken me to see the Springboks play the East Midlands at the Welford Road Stadium, … from outside the ground – we joined the demonstration that encircled the stadium in a successful attempt to stop the South African cricket tour of England after South Africa had forbidden the England Test side to select the mixed race Worcestershire player, Basil D’Olivera.

Fear of the other, Xenophobia, Racism – these were the pressing issues of the day. And the Parable of the Good Samaritan seemed remarkably modern – who is my neighbour? The very one you think of as ‘the other’ turns out to be the one who was neighbour to the man who fell among thieves. How vital we go and do likewise.

On the weekend of President Trump’s visit, as the detailed plans for Brexit are laid before Parliament, fear of ‘the other’, the ‘stranger in the midst’ is as rife as ever, the parable of the Good Samaritan speaks as loudly as ever. Who would you cast as the Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan today?

I will leave that to your imagination.

I want to pursue another avenue of thought that seems to me to speak to one of the major, if not the biggest issue facing faith communities in today’s world. It seems to me that the big issue for us who are people of faith to address is how we read our sacred texts. In Judaism, in Christianity, in Islam there has been a resurgence in recent years of very narrow, tightly defined, fundamentalist readings of the sacred texts of those three faiths. Those texts are then used to justify fear and loathing of ‘the other’. And in the Jewish Tanakh, the Law, the Prophets and the writings, the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran there are texts that are hateful and can be read in the most divisive of ways.

How do you read your sacred text?

Tradition has it that two books of the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus and the story of the Early Church were written by Luke the beloved physician who was a travelling companion of Paul.

At three moments in the Gospel, Luke describes an occasion when Jesus offers a way of reading the Scriptures he and his audience who were all Jewish regarded as their Sacred Scriptures and we regard as our Old Testament. That’s where those hateful texts are to be found.

At the very beginning of his ministry in Luke chapter 4 Jesus went to the synagogue he grew up in and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place at the beginning of Isaiah 61 where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

The immediate response was entirely positive. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words, the words of grace, that came from his mouth.

But by the time he got to the end of his sermon, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

What did he have to say that turned them to such rage?

As far as they were concerned they wanted someone to proclaim good news to THEIR poor, release to THEIR captives, sight to THEIR blind, freedom for THEIR oppressed.

Jesus had something else in mind entirely. It was entirely in keeping with their Sacred Scriptures … but it focused on bits of those Scriptures those folk didn’t really want to hear.

He told two stories about the first two great archetypal prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Elisha.

There were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow living far beyond the boundaries of Israel at Zarephath in non-Jewish, Gentile, Sidon.

What’s more, there were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the commander of the oft-times enemy Syrian army.

The message was clear the way Jesus brought the Scriptures to fulfilment was to bring good news for the poor WHOEVER they are, release to the captives WHOEVER they are, sight to the blind WHOEVER they are, freedom for the oppressed, WHOEVER they are.

It was when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

At the end of the Gospel, on the day of resurrection Jesus joins two of his followers walking sadly on the Road to Emmaus but they don’t recognize who he is. The way they read those Sacred Scriptures we call the Old Testament, they had been convinced Jesus would be the Messiah to free the people from Roman oppression – and his death had shattered all their dreams.

He’d shared with them his way of reading the Scriptures of the Old Testament but they had missed the point, they simply hadn’t got it. So in that two hour walk he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

It was in the breaking of bread that they recognized him and saw he was risen from the dead  … rushing back to tell the others they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

Back in the Upper Room Jesus appeared to all his followers and said, Peace be with you. Then he took them back to their sacred Scriptures:  ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

Jesus’ priority on Resurrection day was to open the minds of his followers so that they could understand the scriptures of what we call the Old Testament and see them through his eyes.

As Luke goes on to tell the story of the early church in Acts time and again he explores the way those first followers of Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Philip, James and then later Paul read the scriptures of what we think of as the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus and see in Jesus the one who brings to fulfilment the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.

So the big question is, how did Jesus read the scriptures we think of as the Old testament?

This is as crucial a question for us now as it ever has been. For it is in the Old Testament that texts can be found to justify slavery and racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia and the hatefulness that is in our world today all too often rearing its ugly head. Some extreme Christian readings of those texts can even be used to justify anti-semitism.

We are used to a way of writing that leads up to a punchline which contains the key message.

In Middle Eastern writing the key message often comes in the middle and the beginning and the end match each other.

That’s how Luke’s exploration of the way Jesus reads the Old Testament works. At the beginning in Nazareth and at the end on the day of resurrection Jesus opens up the Scriptures. It is in the middle that we find the answer to the most crucial question of all.

The middle part of Luke’s gospel is a journey to Jerusalem that begins at chapter 9 verse 51 and ends in chapter 19.

At the start of the journey a Samaritan village refuses to allow Jesus to enter. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them and said, You do not know what spirit you are of for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings, but to save them.

It’s shortly after that that a lawyer, an expert in the Law put a question to Jesus. It’s important to follow through the conversation. It’s easy to imagine the lawyer was trying to catch Jesus out. He stood up to ‘test’ Jesus – maybe that means he was testing out this new teaching of Jesus.

Just then a lawyer – that’s to say, an expert in the  stood up to test Jesus.

‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

The question is not ‘what must I do to get to heaven?’ It’s not even what must I do to live for ever.

What must I do to inherit from those who have gone before us in the faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all the great people of faith, What must I do to inherit that life that can be lived to the full here and now, that life that is not boundaried by death, eternal life.

What Jesus does is to respond to the question with another question – because that’s the Jewish way of learning. You always ask questions. It has been said that the Protestant tendency in reading the Scripture is always to look for the one definitive meaning – the Bible means this. The Jewish way of reading the Scriptures always is ready to ask more questions.

Notice the two questions Jesus asks. He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’

What is written in the Law, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers Deuteronomy is every single word from Genesis 1:1 to Deuteronomy 34:12

What do you read there? Is a question that invites you to go to the nub of the matter. For Jesus this is the all important question.

It is the Expert in the law who gives a classic Jewish response – this is not Jesus’ idea in this conversation. It is the expert in the law. This is one way of reading the Scripture. It might have been possible to come up with another that focused on purity of race, keeping apart from others lest they taint you … but he comes up with this statement that for him goes to the heart of what the Torah, the Law is all about.

He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

Jesus says, You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

Notice that. Not do this and you will get to heaven. It is do this and you live, here and now, you will have life to the full, life in all its abundance – and that life will not end at death.

 But wanting to justify himself, the expert in the law asked Jesus yet another question.

‘And who is my neighbour?’

Jesus replied in another classic Jewish way. One Jewish way of reading the Scrpture is to find a story that illustrates the meaning of a passage, a Midrash. In a sense the story that follows is Jesus’ story that shows how you are to read the Torah through his eyes.

 ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

There’s still a road that goes down from Jersualem to Jericho and it is currently in the news. It runs entirely through the Palestinian Territories, the West Bank. It’s a major road two lanes going each way and it’s controlled by the Israeli Government. You have to have Israeli number plates to drive on the road. Part way along is a tiny village of Bedouin people who have a make shift encampment under corrugated iron roofs – they wandered the Negev desert until 70 years ago when they were removed from their lands and set up this tiny little village. The village is to be demolished to make way for another settlement on the Palestinian land. Christians who support the settlements, those who support the government of Israel in what they are doing would do well to reflect on the way Jesus invites us to deal with ‘the other’.

It is significant that the man is stripped – because naked he has none of the markers that differentiate Jew and Roman and Samaritan and anyone else.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

It’s great to update the story – but it is significant that it is a Priest and a Levite – for the Priest and the Levite are the custodians of the Temple which for the Jewish people was where God’s presence was most keenly felt – they are effectively the custodians of the law – but somehow they have not got it.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

Again, great to update the Samaritan. But to do so is to miss the point. When Israel divided into two kingdoms the northern kingdom was known as Samaria. They were exiled when the Assyrian empire became a world power and overran their territory. That left just Judah the territory around Jerusalem – the southern kingdom. They were destroyed when the Babylonian empire became a world power. It was when the Persian empire arose that people were allowed to return – those exiled from the North were the Samaritans and they set up a holy temple on Mount Gerizim. While they did not regard the Prophets and  Writings as their holy book, they did keep to the Law – which they had in their own version. There is still a tiny Samaritan community in Nablus on the West Bank.

The key thing here is that the Samaritan was also one who had regard for the Law – he, however, was reading it differently.

 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

Jesus finishes with yet another question:

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’

The expert in the law replies with very significant words. He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’

That’s a word that is a characteristic word of the Prophets and also in the writings – and key to understanding the law.

Then it was that Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Read this parable as Jesus’ response to the big question of our day, How do you read your Sacred text’ and notice that Jesus places great store on what is at the heart of the text.

It’s not what is written in every word that counts. It’s what you read there. For Jesus it’s all about love: love for God, love for neighbour.

He lives it out – there are words written in the law that keep a woman in her menstrual period away from engaging with others – Jesus is not perturbed when the woman who is bleeding touches him. There are words written in the law that stop you from touching someone suffering from leprosy – Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. So many words written in the Law can become hateful, divisive … Jesus invites us to ask what do you read there? What is the nub of matter.

When ever someone builds a whole way of looking at the world, a whole way of dealing with people that is based on what is written in certain particular texts of the Bible – pause a moment, don’t just ask what’s written there? Remember the way Jesus moved on to the second question, What do you read there?

And then remember the nub of the matter is love – for God and for neighbour, whoever that neighbour might be.  Our task is to show mercy, to go and do likewise, and to read the Scriptures the way Jesus opens them up for us, not least here in this wonderful parable.

Hymn: Christ has called us to each other

Christ has called us to each other
Linked in one humanity.
Colour, culture, class or gender
Break the chains to set us free.
Hold the hand of fiend and stranger,
Hold the dreams of age and youth,
Hold the cynic and the searcher,
As we journey to the truth.

Christ has challenged every motive
And disturbed all stale belief,
Re-imagining the future,
Scatt’ring vision, healing grief.
Open doors will welcome homeless,
Open eyes will see the need,
Open hands will work in friendship,
Sharing love instead of greed.

Christ will use all that we offer,
Build the Kingdom in this space,
Living stones of strength and weakness,
Each unique and in its place.
Art and science, thought and action
Human struggle near and far:
Jesus Christ transforms the questions
In our search of who we are.

Christ has called us to this moment,
Times of change and new ideas,
Re-imagining the future,
Bringing hope despite our fears.
Open minds explore potential,
Open arms embrace each child,
Open hearts live out his purpose:
All creation reconciled.

C.Beverley Hughes 2017 (Tune: Hyfrydol)

Looking Back and Looking Forward

It’s great to say thank you to everyone for all we have shared over the last 27 years here at Highbury … but good also to look forward – and a real sense of handing over to the team we have put together – we have built up a team ministry. That will take us forward – and I hope through the process the deacons have already started when the church discerns whoever it is God is calling to take up the ministry here at Highbury, there can continue to be a real sense of a shared team ministry to go from strength to strength.
Our Ministry Team

Pastoral Care: Lorraine, Louise, Rachel
Worship Maureen Williams with Karen Waldock
Discipleship Judi Marsh with Karen Waldock
Children – Andrea
Youth – Mary
Mission and Outreach Jean

Deacons: Darryl, Janet, Kate, Sue, Mary

Church Secretary: Ian
Church Treasurer - Roger

Administrator – Julie Lane

May God richly bless you in all you share together in the leadership of the Church here in Highbury. Let me share a reading … and then Felicity is going to share a prayer.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory,
he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being
with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Prayer led by Felicity

Hy-Spirit Song

Prayers of Concern – led by Karen Waldock

Hy-Spirit Song – My lighthouse

The Lord’s Supper

167 Guide me O thou great Jehovah

Words of Blessing

Now to him who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly far more
than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The Love of God and
The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all evermore. Amen.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light