Sunday May 9th 2021
A warm welcome to worship. The intimations are at the end of the service.
Hymn 500 Lord of creation, to thee be all praise
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Come and celebrate our common home, as we gather with the family of humanity.
In the mountains, islands and deserts, we honour the glory of God in creation.
In the lakes, rivers and seas, we come to the source of living water.
With the land, its soil, seeds and sustenance, we give thanks for God’s generous provision.
With the forests of great trees, the lungs of the planet, we will sing with joy and clap our hands.
We join with the whole of creation, inspired by those who have gone before and the prophetic voices of today.
We dare to praise and pray for another possible world, for the sake of Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying…Our Father…
Hymn 18 The earth belongs to God alone
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42vTK1cJShI (tune St Magnus)
Readings: Psalm 24: 1-5
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
2 For he hath founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the floods.
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?
or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;
who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord,
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Hymn 246 Great God of every shining constellation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaP0NUrZVP8 (tune: Lucy)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC-ViMwBnT4 (tune Highwood)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Sometimes I think the old things are the best things, and nothing illustrates that more than translations of the Bible. So, for example, the Good News Bible tells us that the first line of Psalm 24 begins: “The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord.” Other modern translations talk about “the Earth and everything in it.”
But the Authorised Version, on the other hand, says, in very familiar words, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. With all due respect to the modern translators, that idea of fullness seems to me to be telling us something very different, and much more important, than the newer translations. And the translation in the Authorised Version actually sticks more closely to the original Hebrew than the modern versions.
As is usual with the Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, the Hebrew word which is translated as “fullness” is related to a whole collection of words that give different shades of meaning to the idea of something being full. And at the heart of all of them is the image of things being complete and as they should be. The suggestion of the Psalmist is that God has set out the world as a coherent creation where everything fits together and everything works together---provided that nobody does anything to disrupt it.
And that proviso is the key to what the Psalmist thinks may go wrong with the world: people can disrupt the unity and coherence of God’s creation when they fail to approach it with what verse 4 in the Authorised Version calls “clean hands and a pure heart”.
There are a lot of ways to interpret “clean hands and a pure heart”, especially these days when, quite literally, failing to have clean hands can kill you, and everybody around you. But of course the Psalmist is thinking not just of physical cleanliness but also spiritual and moral cleanness, in fact a “pure heart”.
And here is where things can go badly wrong. One Bible commentator gives an interesting example of this. He points out that atomic energy has been implanted in nature from the beginning of time. Human beings have not created atomic energy, they have merely discovered how to exploit it. And what was the first thing they did with that discovery? They built a devastating new weapon with it, and annihilated tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And from there they went on to threaten the annihilation of the whole world with ever more powerful nuclear weapons.
That Bible commentator sees this as the ultimate example of what it means to approach God’s creation with dirty hands and a corrupt heart, and he thinks sadly that it’s typical that the very first thing people did with atomic energy was to turn it into a weapon of mass destruction. God created the energy of the atom to light the Sun and warm the Earth for the benefit of all living things, and then human beings discovered this energy and turned into a threat to life itself.
This is perhaps the most extreme case of people approaching creation with dirty hands, but unfortunately it is far from the only one, as we see all around us with such things as environmental degradation, the spread of Covid-19, global warming, and the exhaustion of basic resources.
And if the Psalmist were alive today, I have no doubt that he would see all of these assaults on God’s creation as man-made dangers which only human beings can put right. And here we move from the very general moral and spiritual concerns of the Psalmist to some very specific and down-to-earth problems.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, not just from my personal experience but also because I’ve been reminded of it again as we approach our annual Christian Aid week.
We have recently come to the end of what has been described as one of the driest Aprils since records began. Personally, I like dry weather, because it means that my dog, Lolly, and I don’t get wet and muddy when we go for a walk. It is nice not to have to wear wellies and clean mud off a dirty Labrador when we get home. But I suspect I’m being a bit selfish on that score, since I know that those of you who are gardeners and those of you who are farmers will have been longing for a bit of rain to help your crops, your vegetables and your flowers to grow.
The fact is, that although walkers like it dry, water is essential for life. It is one of those things that God at the beginning of Creation made absolutely indispensable for life and health.
And I have no doubt that the early disciples realised that fact, both literally and in a spiritual sense.
In our Bible reading from Acts, the early believers have just witnessed the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles as well as the Jews. And then Peter asks the question: “Can anyone withhold the water?” Now of course, in the context of his question, Peter is referring to the water of baptism.
When I think of the water of baptism, I think about it in terms of symbolising the cleansing of baptism, the symbol of the water washing away our sins. But baptism is also about dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. So as well as the cleansing, there is the idea of new life. And water of course, is essential to life.
So when I read these words of Peter “Can anyone withhold the water?” rather than thinking only about the water of baptism and its gift of spiritual life, I found myself thinking more widely about water and the gift of physical life. We know that if water is withheld from a country, or a land, or a people, the result eventually and inevitably is death.
And sadly we have seen this very thing happen many times in many places over the centuries.
In times of war, the bombers target reservoirs, because without a regular supply of clean water a country will very quickly find itself unable to survive and thus be forced to surrender. And even in times of so-called peace governments compete to seize water resources from their neighbours, as we have seen sadly in recent years even in the Holy Land itself.
So it is appropriate at the beginning of Christian Aid Week this year, that we note that Christian Aid are focussing on how climate change has affected the water resources of many people, and Christian Aid highlights particularly the situation of people in Africa in countries like Kenya which has seen an increase in drought over the last decades.
We all know that global warming has affected the climate over the whole planet, but Christian Aid is reminding us yet again that it is the poorest communities, those least responsible for the changing climate, who are forced to bear the brunt of it.
So as we reflect today on the importance of water to life itself, may we also think about the changes that we can make in our lives to try to counteract the effects of climate change, and remember, that by giving to charities like Christian Aid, we can help them to provide resources for the poorer communities of our world.
Hymn 540 I heard the voice of Jesus say
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of abundant life,
we see Your goodness all around us and we thank You for every part of it:
from the plants and animals which play their part in complex ecosystems,
to the dry deserts and stormy seas which test the limits of life.
We pray that in this time of climate crisis and ecological emergency, You may
help us to rediscover
Your love of creation and to reflect that in our own lives.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
God who speaks through unexpected people,
We thank You for contemporary prophets
who are challenging us to act on climate change;
for indigenous people and their invaluable knowledge
of the land and sea where they live,
for scientists dedicating their careers to warning us
about changes to the planet,
and for young people striking for their future.
We pray that You will help those in power to hear their prophetic voices.
Help them to see beyond short-term political priorities and business plans.
Give them wisdom and courage when they face difficult decisions.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of second chances,
we recognise the damage we have done to the Earth
and the injustice we see in society every day,
fuelled by worship of profit and possessions.
We pray for the coming of a better world
with justice, kindness and humility at its heart.
We ask that You guide us to be co-creators of this new world.
Give us confidence to follow the prophetic voices,
to stand against injustice to people and to planet.
So that together, in Your strength,
we stop this climate crisis.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer, for the sake of Christ our Lord, Amen
Hymn 622 We sing a love that sets all people free
God of life,
May the promise of the sunrise
Be echoed in our minds
May the warmth of the midday sin
Flow through our hearts
May the peace of the sunset
Touch our souls
And when life seems dark
Teach us to remember even then, that you are with us
And that we will again see your light
In the name of Christ,
Closing voluntary: Handel’s water music – Hornpipe