Dermot called our attention to the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, making our church a Holy Space where we have gathered to meet our God. Following that we sang
Hymn AHB 28 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”, that being the purpose of our gathering.
We then prayed a Prayer of Praise and Adoration and Confession which began with the words:
“God of Creation - who abides over and in all that has been made
God in whose image we are made
And in your image we are given minds that wander and hearts that desire
And there is freedom - freedom to think and wonder and want...”
The prayer continued, but what Dermot was making clear was that we are free to seek in all directions in this Cosmos that God has created, to satisfy that yearning inside of us, and it is our choice to make the God of all the One to satisfy all our yearnings.
Dermot completed his prayer thus:
“God, who has gifted us and cursed us with freedom, you have not abandoned us to that freedom but have revealed in Jesus the nature which can be ours - no-one need be left out of the grace of Christ, except by their own foolishness...”
Hymn AHB 10 “ All People who on Earth do Dwell.” God’s love is for all and all are meant to respond.
1Timothy 1: 12-17 The words of a repentant man, acknowledging God’s mercy.
Luke 15: 1-10 The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. God is not satisfied until each and everyone of us have turned back to a life of full joy.
Dermot spoke, comparing the idea of God represented in the various lectionary readings for the day. “The Lectionary readings suggested for today make a fascinating collection - I had to resist not including them all - they seem to almost represent two different worlds, and maybe they do as they straddle a long time and arguably pivot on the life of Jesus.”
Dermot spoke of Jeremiah where God is supposed to have described us as “foolish” and “stupid children” and then a few verses later God is said to be fiercely angry and to have “laid in ruins” cities seemingly because the neglect of the people had made the fruitful land a desert.
Also in Psalm 14 God is said to look “down” to see if anyone is wise but has found all have gone astray and are perverse.
There are many places in the Old Testament where God is said to be angry with humankind and to be set on punishing us.
As Dermot says: “All this stuff about sin and God (sic) punishment. Mind you, we will also see God’s forgiveness - somehow humanity has been allowed to continue.”
But in today’s readings from Timothy and Luke speak of God’s mercy to a blasphemous persecutor and God’s grace to all, even those seen as living against God’s laws such as tax collectors and “sinners”
We could think that the Old Testament speaks of an angry, punishing God and that the New Testament speaks of a God of love.
But from the first times, the concept of God is built from the God ‘over there on the mountain’ to the transcendent God who is faithful and is known as Abba/Father.
Dermot leads us to the God whose aim is to bring us to repentance as represented by the Timothy reading of an image of a man on his knees “tearfully acknowledging the forgiveness of God.”
There are descriptions in the Old Testament of God telling his representatives to destroy an enemy but I, like Dermot cannot think of the God, who is love, inflicting any sort of “punishment” on anyone.
Actions bear consequences and as humans who know very little, we often create disasters of our own making. Then there are natural disasters which occur because that is the way the geology and meteorology of this planet acts. Illnesses are caused in many ways, some of which may be our own fault but some a matter of being in the wrong place, such as being on a bus where someone else is sick or living near a place that is unknowingly polluted. Or for many other reasons. None of these are punishments sent by God.
God simply is reaching out to us, wanting us to repent and turn back to enjoy a happy relationship with him. (Or her or whatever form God takes because a God is above the restrictions of humans.)
Hymn AHB 399 “Father in Heaven” Asking for God’s blessing (which is promised to us).
Then in the Prayers of the People Dermot addressed the concerns of the church Nation- wide and those of our own Congregation.
Hymn AHB 480 “Forth in Thy Name go.” Our every act should be with God’s purposes in mind.
As we walk from this Holy Place, this Holy gathering,
Let us all walk with Christ as we share the love and grace which we
know is the mark of God present in and about us, in Jesus’ name.
Blessing Hymn “Now unto him”
Now unto Him Who is able to keep, Able to keep you from falling. And present you faultless Before the presence of His glory With exceeding joy. To the only wise God our saviour Be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen