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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues
Setting us free
Is there bondage from which we need to be set free? (Luke 13.16)
Two years ago we were in the first Covid-19 lockdown. Many people (though not all) saw that as a form of bondage from which they longed to be free. Two years ago there was, as yet, no vaccine; this week we have heard news about the autumn booster vaccinations including for the first time a bivalent vaccine attacking two forms of the disease . Vaccines have led to most of us (but not all) feeling free to resume something approaching normal life. But it seems in many ways a very different world, even without a cost of living crisis or war in Ukraine, let alone climate change.
World events frequently remind me that we tend to stick to a familiar world view which others may not share. As I read of the stabbing attack on Sir Salman Rushdie, I noted that it was reported in Iran on the basis of a radically different world view from that in Britain or the USA. Iran’s state broadcaster was reported as saying that ‘an eye of the Satan has been blinded’. Lyse Doucet’s reflections on the anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan also remind us of another very different world view: one Taliban official asks her “why is the West always interfering? We don't question how you treat your women or men."
My language skills are inadequate to listen to news or read a newspaper in another language but I do try to access English language news sources from outside the UK which frequently reflect a very different view of the world - and for that matter a very different view of Britain - than much of our media. Even the BBC World Service (easily available in Britain nowadays on DAB, online, mobile and on all digital TV platforms) often reflects a different, and more nuanced, viewpoint than the domestic services of the BBC. Can we be sure that our world view is true and that of others is false?
Ideas for sermons or interactive talks
Did you feel that the restrictions imposed on our lives because of Covid-19 were a form of bondage from which you wanted to be free? Or did you welcome the fact that little was expected of you? Do you welcome the ‘new normal’ in which we are now living? Or is that a different sort of bondage?
The synagogue leader in today’s gospel story could not grasp the notion that the needs of the woman might take precedence over the traditions and rules of which he was a guardian. Can you imagine how your church might respond to the propounding of a radically different view from that usually heard there? Would your church respond well to the arrival of a group of Romany folk? Or even to the arrival of a group of people much younger than the usual congregation? Or of people who are visibly unfamiliar with how we do things? Exposure to a Christian culture in which it is normal to stand for prayer and sit for hymns could well be shocking. I do not forget the deep shock I felt when, as an undergraduate over 50 years ago, I observed children receiving bread and wine, and most adults not doing so, at a celebration of the Orthodox liturgy led by the priest who taught Russian to fellow undergraduates.
What are the aspects of our world view which may hold us in bondage, as individuals and as Christian communities? Might they include the style of our worship, whether we call it ‘free’ or ‘liturgical’ or something else? Might our expectations of visitors to our congregations make it difficult for us to see them as human beings with needs? Would we be happy to welcome people with radically different lifestyles? Or radically different attitudes to human sexuality? Many years ago someone whose lifestyle was somewhat unconventional told me how hard it had been to come back to church for the first time because of the attitudes she expected to encounter. Whilst ‘Sunday best’ is no longer so dominant in many congregations, do we still have expectations of the way visitors should dress or behave?
More generally, might the world view of the newspapers we read be preventing us from seeing things as others see them? If one follows the debates, in the world view of those contending for the leadership of the Conservative Party (and hence Prime Minister) climate change, Covid-19 and Brexit are all non-issues. But how biased are our starting points?
I recall how, invited by a church member who had been involved in preparing their house, newly arrived Muslim Syrian refugees came to our harvest festival and, when the congregation was invited to write prayers and bring them forward, joined in. I know of one church which has welcomed a Ukrainian orthodox congregation and is now beginning to explore how that welcome can be translated into a formal ecumenical arrangement. You may know of similar examples. But what things about the way we normally think and act may get in the way of our response to people in need? There is evidence of negative ways in which many British churches responded to the arrival of people from the Windrush generation; are we quite sure that we would respond differently now?
Finally, some words which turned up on my Facebook feed today:
If you see someone falling behind, walk beside them
If you see someone being ignored, find a way to include them.
Always remind people of their worth. One small act could mean the world to them.
Questions for discussion
What holds us in the affluent west in bondage? How might we become free of any constraints which blunt the message that God’s kingdom is amongst us?
How can we act to welcome people who are very different from us and respond to their needs as Jesus responded to the needs of the woman in today’s gospel story?
Dudley Coates is a local preacher in the Yeovil and Blackmore Vale Methodist Circuit and a former Vice President of the Methodist Conference.
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
In this week’s passage we encounter rules getting in the way of seeing and responding to important needs. Jesus heals a woman who was unable to stand properly, but he is criticised for healing her on the Sabbath – when work was not to be done. In response, Jesus calls out the hypocrisy: if the synagogue members can feed and water their animals on the day of rest, why not help this woman? Rules, views, and prevailing attitudes may exist, but we ought to be mindful of whether they serve the needs of the people and world around us.
This week we’ve heard that a Member of Parliament, William Wragg, will take a short break from his work to recover and respond to the severe anxiety and depression he is facing. This is a brave and commendable thing to do.
Unfortunately – while there is greater awareness of mental health issues these days – stigmas remain, meaning that people don’t always prioritise their emotional needs with the same immediacy as they might attend to their physical health. Should I just work through it and hope it goes away? How will I be judged by other people for my mental health? How might my school or workplace judge me? But look at the responses which William Wragg received – they were supportive, positive, and thankful.
The prevailing attitudes and cultures of the world should not and cannot rule over our actions and, as we have seen, good things can come, and barriers can be broken down, when we work to be more like Jesus – seeing and responding to people’s needs.
Joe Allen is studying for an MA in Theology at the University of Exeter. He is also a Trustee for the charity ‘Action for Stammering Children’.
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