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
Life’s stuff transformed
Jesus takes the basic, necessary stuff of life and transforms it (John 2.1-11).
With the Omicron variant now dominant, cases of Coronavirus have reached record levels. Although the number of hospitalisations is not as high as this time last year, staff shortages are causing all sorts of problems, not least in schools. And in the NHS, provision is deteriorating little-by-little, with long waits for hip and knee replacements.
Ideas for sermons or interactive talks
I imagine that many of us are feeling uncertain and anxious. Uncertain about our own lives, and about how events will unfold on the national and international stages. Maybe you are at home self-isolating, coping with loneliness. Maybe you are ill, or waiting for a cancelled operation, feeling rotten, or simply languishing. Maybe you are overwhelmed at work, coping with the fall-out from staff absence. Maybe you have difficult decisions to make over what events should go ahead. Maybe your travel plans are in disarray. This is the ‘stuff’ of life right now. We can but offer it up, praying, ‘take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee’.
Living through this pandemic will inevitably change us. The question is, what kind of change will it be? One of the phrases in George Herbert’s poem ‘Heaven in Ordinary’ is ‘heart in pilgrimage’. Can we view this time as a pilgrimage, and allow our hearts to be guided deeper into the heart of God’s love? In the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana, the miracle happens once the wine has run out. It is when our resources are depleted, and we are face to face with our own weakness, that we know our need for God’s mercy and love. A formative book for me was Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God by William Vanstone (DLT, 1977). The writing style now seems old fashioned, but it still carries a powerful message about costly, creative love. Vanstone argues that God does not send or preordain disaster, but that God’s limitless self-giving is always at hand to restore and redeem. ‘If the creation is the work of love, its “security” lies not in its conformity to some predetermined plan but in the unsparing love which will not abandon a single fragment of it, and (our) assurance must be the assurance not that all that happens is determined by God’s plan but that all that happens is encompassed by His love’ (p.66).
Psalm 36, set for this Sunday, is a psalm of lament. It contains an affirmation of trust in God’s steadfast love in the midst of tribulation. The lectionary compilers, however, have chopped off the psalm’s beginning and end, which recount the psalmist’s distress. If the description of those who ‘plot mischief’ does not resonate with your experience, you may like to supply your own opening lines, naming your current situation, from within which you are recalling the transforming power of God’s lovingkindness.
Questions for discussion
- What is the reality of your life right now?
- How has the experience of the pandemic changed you?
- Where do you discern God’s transforming power at work?
Ann Conway-Jones is a Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, Salisbury. She has recently published a series of audio lectures entitled Moses, Mount Sinai & Early Christian Mystics (also available as an e-book).
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
Have you ever watched the Great British Bake Off and wished you could give it a go? Well, here is your chance. On Monday, a competition was launched to create a ‘Platinum Pudding’ to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee later this year. Anyone is invited to submit a recipe and a photograph of a new pudding creation, the winning creation will be served to the Queen and reproduced for street parties up and down the land. (The details are here if you fancy giving it a go!)
The judges aren’t just looking for any old cake or trifle – they emphasise that it needs to be fit for the Queen and must look the part, a bit like the ‘showstopper’ round in Bake Off. They are looking for something extraordinary. At the same time, however, they point out that if it is to be reproduced by people at home, it can’t have any fancy ingredients or require any specialist equipment. Everything needed to make the pudding must be very ordinary. So, there is the challenge: take some very ordinary ingredients and create something extraordinary.
This week, we read about Jesus taking some very ordinary ingredients (water, a wedding celebration) and transforming them into something extraordinary – not only the best of wine, but an image of God’s generous hospitality.
Questions to think about:
- Can you think of examples of ordinary things which reveal something extraordinary about God?
- Where is Jesus transforming ordinary things in your life or community?
- What ordinary gifts could you offer for Jesus to do extraordinary things with?
Darren Philip explores intergenerational ministry with the Church of Scotland, based in Livingston United Parish Church.
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