The week in focus
Connecting to the world right now
Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues
How God’s world works
Peter, monumentally fails to see that God’s way is different from the world’s and is told ‘you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’ (Mark 8.33).
This week’s ROOTS Sermon Ideas begin with the affirmation that ‘Everyone lives within a story about how the world works.’ James (3.2), helpfully, reminds us that ‘all of us make many mistakes’.
Notice that while Peter is sharply corrected by Jesus, he is not rejected as a disciple. Indeed, he will make more mistakes (and the cock will crow), but he remains the rock on which the Church is built. Look at what this says.
Reflection and ideas for a sermon, talk or conversation
We are in Creation Time (1 Sep – 4 Oct), in which we consider and respond to the challenges we see in our world. It is salutary to start by looking at the way God made the world, just in case, like Peter, we’ve got it wrong. The universe began 13 billion years ago, and our solar system, within which life has developed is around 4 billion years old.
The most primitive life forms which first appeared, eventually acquired the possibility of reproducing, and thus extending their life spans to future generations. It is only with evolution over billions of years that all the variety of life on earth has appeared. And it did so because mistakes in reproduction were possible. Everything we know relies on the fact that the possibility of random change was built into our universe from the moment of the big bang. God made a world in which mistakes were not only possible, but necessary.
The story in Genesis 3 gives the impression that God created a perfect world, and that our present state was caused by Adam’s disobedience. But we now realise that evolution is only possible because random mistakes in reproduction can take place. Instead of seeing Adam’s mistake as a disaster, we now see that the creator used the possibility of random change to produce our universe.
God knows (and Peter and James knew it too) that we make mistakes and wants us to learn from them. He wants us to repent of our wrongdoing and change our ways.
So, looking through the Gospels, notice how freely and frequently God, through his Son, forgives. He doesn’t find it difficult! In the Synoptic Gospels the paralysed man is forgiven and healed simply because his friends brought him to Jesus (Matthew 9.1-8; Mark 2.1-12; Luke 5.17-26). In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry opens with the conversion of a Samaritan women regarded as a sinner. But then, Jesus had said, in conversation with Nicodemus (John 3.16-17): ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
In many events in the Gospels, and in parables, notably in Luke 15 which includes the prodigal son, we see that God is always ready to forgive.
Today, with evidence all around us of the approaching climate crisis, every nation must be aware of the importance of the forthcoming climate conference in Glasgow. We now know, just this year, that if the whole world hadn’t stopped releasing hydrocarbons into the atmosphere which were destroying the ozone layer at the south pole, the world would already have been overheating at an unstoppable rate which could devastate the whole earth.
The whole world needs to repent our abuse of the planet. In a kind of justice, it seems that all the greatest contributors to the problem have recently had their own reminder of the danger, with floods in Europe, including London, terrible high temperatures in north America and Australia, floods in China, India and Pakistan, wildfires in the tundra of Russia which was once permafrost, fires in Indonesia. Everyone has a timely reminder in advance of the climate talks later this year in Glasgow, and every nation is having to look at this with renewed seriousness.
So, in case we never knew it before, we all have a duty to care for our world. God has given us this responsibility for creation because it was made with the possibility of going terribly wrong if we act maliciously or carelessly. It never was perfect and wasn’t ever designed to be perfect. When Jesus was asked about working on the Sabbath he said (John 5. 17): ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ God’s creation is a work in progress, and we are part of that work. So, what we do matters.
Questions for discussion
- ‘All of us make many mistakes’ (James 3.2). We know things always go wrong; a piece of bread always falls on the floor jam side down! We learn to walk by learning not to fall over. How important is forgiveness? Do you have stories of forgiving and being forgiven that have made a deep impression?
- Is there a story you know about learning from a mistake?
- The climate crisis is bigger than anything the world has ever faced. It can’t be solved by one group or by individual nations. What can we do to make our concern and our influence more widely shared?
- When people make mistakes, they are often expected to resign or be sacked. Is this the best approach? How should we deal with wrongdoing?
Tom Ambrose is a retired vicar assisting in a parish in Cambridge. He was formerly a geologist and contributed to official geological mapping in Spain.
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
There was lots of singing, impressive pyrotechnics and, of course, many flags as the Paralympic closing ceremony took place on the first Sunday in September. It marked the end of a busy summer of Para and Olympic sport and, for most of us, it will be at least three years before we find ourselves watching the marathon swim (two hours of arms flailing through the water) or reading up the rules on wheelchair rugby (in short - there are no rules!).
But how do countries measure if they have had a successful Olympics/Paralympics?
Is it all about medals and personal bests? These are obviously key targets for individuals, but often the bodies who run the different sports talk of another success - how many ordinary people give their sports a go after watching it on the TV.
Basically, success is when someone gets off the sidelines and gets stuck in.
In Mark 8 Jesus challenges a crowd to leave the sidelines and follow him. He makes it clear that it won’t be easy, that if they want to follow him, they are going to give up everything. This is going to be costly.
It’s costly to train for a sport - whether you are an Olympian or a Couch-to-5ker. It costs you time and sweat. But those costs are worth the reward of achieving personal goals, picking up new skills and getting fit.
Jesus told his followers that it would cost them everything, but they would gain true life.
So, as this new school year starts, here’s a key question.
Are you ready to get off the sidelines?
Chris Neilands runs Play it by Ear drama company which helps people connect with the Bible and explore some of the big questions of faith through performances and workshop.
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