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Sunday Worship 28th November 2021

In this morning’s service we celebrated Advent Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent. Heston and Katherine and Kate led us in our worship with Heston sharing with us some thoughts on the state of our world and what the coming of God’s Kingdom might mean.

Sunday Worship 21st November 2021

In this morning’s service we celebrated “Christ the King” and the Rev. Hannah Lievesley from St Chad’s led us in our worship and shared her thoughts on how we might think of “Christ the King” and of kingship.

Sunday Worship 14th November 2021 – Remembrance Sunday

Our Remembrance Sunday service of worship was led by Jonathan and Katie with Councillor Abigail Marshall-Katung Jonathan sharing her thoughts on remembrance.

Sunday Worship 7th November 2021

This morning our worship was led by Heston and Ted. Jonathan shared with us his thoughts on COP26 and where we might have gone wrong in our thinking about the world and our relationship to it.

Here is the text of Jonathan’s talk:

We are now halfway through the COP 26 conference on the Climate Emergency. It began with speeches from world leaders. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said:

When it comes to tackling climate change, words without action are absolutely pointless.

The London Evening Standard commented:

Apparently he didn’t get his own memo. The Prime Minister is joining the rest of COP’s eco hypocrites by returning to London by private jet.

It goes on to say he wasn’t the only one. The parking space for the conference had 400 jets in it. 

I’m going to suggest that, in order to solve our environmental problems, our whole society needs to turn away from 400 years of destructive values. 

What happened 400 years ago is illustrated by a changing interpretation of an old story, the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. 

I’ll describe the background. Then we’ll listen to the story. Then I’ll describe how its meaning was changed, giving rise to a different agenda.

Every society has some way to ask its deepest questions. Why do we exist? Who made us? For what purpose? And how should we live? 

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in small equal communities, sharing their possessions. Their working week was about 20 hours. When agriculture developed, there was a surplus of food. Kings commandeered the surplus and used it to pay armies and tax collectors. They usually left the peasant farmers worse off than they had been before. 

What I shall focus on is how kings justified this exploitation. They appealed to their gods. A text has survived describing the justification used in ancient Babylon. The gods had created humans for the purpose of providing their food. The king’s job was to collect taxes in the form of food from the peasants, and give it to the gods as sacrifices. The purpose of human life is not to enjoy ourselves: it is to work hard to produce the sacrificial food. Of course the real beneficiaries were the ruling classes.

This story was recited every year in Babylon’s new year festival. For a while some of the people hearing it would have been exiles from the city of Jerusalem. We don’t know, but they may have been the authors of a very different creation story, the one in the first chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 1 is a hymn to a god who doesn’t need anything from us. God has created the world, and all living beings, purely as an act of generosity, to bless us. We are created to enjoy ourselves. 

But. Here comes the most common argument against the God of Jews and Christians. If a good god made a good world, why is there so much evil and suffering in it?

We should not be surprised that the text of Genesis immediately goes on to answer that question. Chapter 2 tells us that God has given humans freedom. We can choose whether to live well, or to mess things up. Chapter 3 describes how the messing up happens. 

These chapters are written in a different form. They have the form of bedtime stories. Good bedtime stories illustrate what life is like. They use imaginary characters, often talking animals. This one has a talking snake.

Genesis 3:1-13

This story has been interpreted in countless different ways. For the first 2000 years Jews, Christians and Muslims understood it to say that the natural world around us, our environment, is just what we need. God designed it to bless us. What goes wrong is the human misuse of the freedom we have been given.

This is what changed 400 years ago. From the 14th century onwards Europe was riven by 300 years of plagues, beginning with the Black Death. To many people it seemed that the natural environment wasn’t such a wonderful gift.

The central figure in the change was an English government minister called Francis Bacon. Bacon is best known for establishing the principles of empirical science. He argud that science and technology, brought together, should enable humanity to put right what went wrong when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

According to Bacon, what went wrong in the Garden of Eden was not that humans became sinful but that nature was spoilt. He argued that humanity still had the power, through science and technology, to put nature back to its original perfection. 

Bacon didn’t live to see how his theory got secularised. In his account, there would be an end point to all this examining nature. Eventually humanity would recreate the original perfection before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But as the drive for new technology got secularised, Adam and Eve dropped out of the story, and what we have inherited is a determination to produce more and more new technologies, endlessly. 

So while medics and biologists tell us how our bodies have evolved to live well in the environment we’ve had over the thousands of years, our culture tells us to value the opposite: artificialising our lives more and more. 

There have always been new technologies. The potential for new technologies is part of the goodness of the world God has given us. What changed with Bacon was that technology became the big agenda. We came to think of progress as all about developing new technologies. Whenever our society needs a solution to a new problem, the first place we look is often for a new technology. 

40 years ago I attended a lecture on The Silicon Chip. We were told that computers were developing so quickly that one day it would be possible to fit a computer inside an ordinary house. Computers would revolutionise our lives by doing a lot of the work. We discussed whether we would all retire at 50, or stay in education till 30, or do a 20-hour working week. 

What has happened since then is the exact opposite. We are under more pressure of work. The retirement age has gone up. Working hours are longer than they were then. 

The hopes we placed in that new technology were misplaced. Genesis was right. The problems people faced then were not caused by a lack of technology. They were caused by the way people treated each other. Sometimes new technologies enable the powerful to increase their profits by making other people work harder.

The constant drive to produce more and more new technologies is bound to harm the environment, but the harm is multiplied by modern economic theories. Just as Francis Bacon saw the natural environment as flawed, so also Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo believed that nature doesn’t provide enough resources. The solution is to get people working hard to manufacture more and more products. Economics text books characteristically state that the whole point of studying economics is to learn how to maximise production. As with new technology, the proponents of economic growth don’t offer an endpoint. They don’t say that we just need so many percent and then we’ll have enough. 

Going back to that lecture 40 years ago, none of us either had or wanted a mobile phone. Here’s mine. Its 2½ years old, which makes it obsolete. Already. Can I have a show of hands – who has a mobile phone older than mine? Is there any hero here who hasn’t got a mobile phone at all? 

40 years ago we neither had nor wanted them. We did things differently. Gradually, what started as a luxury for a few ended up as a necessity for many as people changed the way they did things. We could say the same for lots of other things.

So to summarise. Ancient Babylonian society was driven by one dominant agenda: to provide the sacrifices the gods demanded. That agenda meant everyone had to work hard. Slackers would be punished.  Today our society is much the same. We don’t talk about gods. We talk about the need for new technologies and economic growth. But once again we are driven by an agenda, an agenda that forces us to spend long hours working for someone else. And once again the real beneficiaries are the most powerful people, accumulating wealth at the expense of others. 

So the Prime Minister goes to Glasgow saying they will invest in electric cars, when we really need fewer cars. He says we’ll invest in wind farms, when we really need to produce less stuff, and then we won’t need so much electricity. But the culture he lives in can’t cope with doing less. Whatever we do to save the environment, our culture wants to present it as growth.

There is an alternative. We have been given everything we need. Evolutionary biologists tell us our bodies have been adapted over millions of years to live well within the environment nature provided. If we hadn’t been so well adapted, we’d have gone extinct.

The Bible adds that all this has been given to us for a purpose. The gift of life is intended as a blessing. There is some work to be done, through which we can express our creativity, but there should also be plenty of time left over to celebrate and play. 

We have also been given freedom. We have been designed to live at our best by caring for each other and making sure everybody has what they need. But we can instead benefit ourselves at the expense of other people. The agenda of constantly seeking new technologies and more wealth is an excuse for the powerful to hang onto their wealth, forever telling the deprived that a technical solution is round the corner. 

The solution I hope for is a change of values. Instead of constantly striving after new technologies and economic growth, we could produce less, spend less time in paid employment, value more highly what nature provides, celebrate and share our resources more equally. I don’t know whether that jet set at Glasgow will actually show the world the way forward. But the Junktion Café does.

Sunday Worship 31st October 2021

This morning our worship was led by Heston with help from Katherine and a team of musicians. Katherine-Alice and Ruth shared with us their thoughts on what Harry Potter, JK Rowling and other literature can teach us about how we approach the Bible.

Here is the Diversity Reading List that Katherine-Alice and Ruth mentioned in their talk. Do please share with us your additions to this list and let us continue to learn from each other about how we approach the Bible.

Sunday Worship 24th October 2021

This morning our worship was led by Heston with help from Lydia and Ted. Pippa shared us, with help from others, their thoughts on prayer.

Prior to our sermon on “Teach us to Pray!”, Pippa asked people to suggest resources or ideas they had found helpful in their own prayer experiences, and had a fantastic response.   Here goes for a starters, but please feel free to add to the conversation:

APPS, WEBSITES and EMAIL LISTS

  • “Pray as you Go”: a daily reflection on a Bible passage, with beautiful music, silence and prayer. First recommended to me by Hannah.
  • “Time to Pray”:  daily morning and night prayer in the Anglican tradition. to listen to or read.
    Ted says, “You can listen to a recording of the morning service and join in, or just read it.  The singing is fantastic. Either use App or online at:
    https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer
  • Richard Rohr of the Centre for Action and Contemplation:  a daily email meditation, to encourage inclusive theology and learn contemplation.  www.cac.org 
  • From Holly:  24-7 prayer is a movement dedicated to providing prayer resources, they have lots to look at on their website!  www.24-7prayer.com  
  • Katharine Salmon says: I find Joan Chittister’s books really helpful, especially this one – The Monastic Heart
    Joan Chittister has her own site, Joanchittister.org is worth a look. You can sign up for her newsletter which always has food for thought!
  • Katie is a great fan of the black activist Howard Thurman – just google him, for books, quotes and features!   See also www.spiritualityandpractice.com 

BOOKS

Three twentieth century classics:

  • Bob recommends “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, which has been reprinted many times.  There’s a website and daily meditation: www.utmost.org
    Also: the Society of Saint Francis book, “A Franciscan Companion” or a new book, “Franciscan Praying”, which you could purchase through Jan.
  • David recommends Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Meaning of Prayer”.
  • Pippa was enthused in earlier life by “The God of Surprises”  by Gerard Hughes, which gives stories and exercises to understand praying with Bible stories, using active imagination  

Rev David Randolph-Horn would be delighted to support anyone who would like to talk about prayer.

Talk to Jan or Heston about the Third Order Franciscans. A way to be part of the monastic movement in everyday life, without becoming a monk or nun!

Penny says: I’ve always thought that  the book, ’Prayer – Does it make any difference’? by Philip Yancey is one of the best especially because it covers issues like  the language of prayer, unanswered prayer, prayer dilemmas and the practice of prayer. All really down to earth. 

Emily says:  “I realised recently that the best way that often works for me is starting a prayer but then just sort of being in the presence of God. Not necessarily thinking words, as I’m sometimes not sure what to say, but just feeling. Letting thoughts and feelings come and giving them to God.
I wish someone had told me that that was an alright way to pray. I was brought up with the idea that you have to vocalise your prayers.”

Does anyone else have any more “I wish someone had told me…”  stories??

Last word to Ted:  
“Oh, and two more things I find useful:
A cup of tea;
A blanket.”

Sunday Worship 17th October 2021

This morning our worship was led by Heston with help from Ted and Bill. Jan shared with us her thoughts on posture and how we use our bodies in worship.

Here is the poem that was shared during the service:

I saw your face and I was amazed

I saw your face and I was amazed
How could this happen to see your face
I thought you had come from my dreams
I looked at you and my heart was cleaned
I hope so much that you will be mine
I would be there for you and my life will be fine.
My heart is beating every-time I think of you.
I just hope you will be mine to live life through.
You will never worry and have no doubts
My love for you would be the largest amount.
So please say yes when I ask you to be with me
My life will be fulfilled and peacefulness will reach me.
Please say yes to make me happy.

Sunday Worship 10th October 2021

This morning our worship was led by Heston, Lydia and musicians with Graeme leading us on a trip through the Bible which pointed us towards the God who we worship.

Sunday Worship 3rd October 2021

On our last Sunday of Creationtide Heston shared with us some of his thoughts inspired by the life of St Francis, with the help of a red squirrel!

Overwhelmed by the Climate Crisis?

Do you feel overwhelmed with news about the Climate Crisis but don’t know how to respond?

You understand things need to change, but how?

Maybe you feel like you simply want to know more.

Carbon Conversations is a set of 6 sessions helping small groups to work through their response to Climate Change. Each session offers a practical focus on a different area of life such as food, home and travel, helping you feel empowered to make changes. If it’s time to stop, think and talk about the Climate Crisis then why not take part in Carbon Conversations?

We are running a Carbon Conversations series at St Matts (Burley St Matthias) starting 14th October. You can find out more and sign up here or have a chat with Paul Magnall for futher information. The sessions are free!