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Weekly worship: Sunday 22 July

A reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

Zanan with herd of goats and sheep in Iraq - Christian Aid

Zanan with his herd of goats and sheep in Iraq. He is working with our partner REACH to restore his village after conflict. 

Old Testament

2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Psalm 89:20-37

Reading this passage from 2 Samuel in the context of our Uprooted campaign on displaced people makes for poignant reading. The hope of God for a ‘house to live in’ is the hope of millions of people who have had to leave their homes for a multitude of reasons, among them climate change and conflict being two of the main drivers.

The passage begins in a time of post conflict, when the ‘the king was settled in his house… at rest from all his enemies’. Finally, after battle upon battle throughout 1 Samuel and until now in 2 Samuel, David gets some rest. And it’s from that place of rest he reflects on the transient nature of God abiding in a tent.

We often look to the incarnation and the infant Jesus for solidarity and empathy with those who have been displaced. There are many examples of displacement in the Old Testament, not least the story of exile itself, in this instance it is God who is asking: ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’

Even the divine desires a place to call home. And as we reflect on the image of God made in each and every person, we get to create that home for God when we work and act for those who are displaced to be given the rights they need as they journey towards home.

Take a look at Becoming Human Together, a recent theological reflection provided by Christian Aid Scotland on migration.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 23

It is wonderful how pastoral care as a term and idea has lasted for generations despite the move away from agriculture in many western and urban societies. Even though many no longer have experience of how sheep behave, or what is required by a shepherd, we still understand the principles of pastoral care.

In both passes from Jeremiah 23 and Psalm 23 we are reminded that one principle of good shepherding is to reassure, comfort and give their flock no reason to fear or be dismayed.

In these days of often confusing political leadership, and when scaremongering seems rife in our media, we do well to meditate on the words of Psalm 23 and on the metaphor of the Shepherd that has stood the test of time. To allow these words to comfort our anxieties, to lead us to a place of restoration and courage. To revive us to continue our journey and to fulfil the call of realising justice for all.

New Testament

Ephesians 2:11-22

The reading from Ephesians is a powerful piece on peace. The reconciliation found at the centre of the gospel is proclaimed in the following words of reassurance for those first readers and listeners to this letter:

‘For he is our peace…
he has broken down the dividing wall…
so that he might create one new humanity in place of two,
thus making peace,
and might reconcile both groups to God in one body…
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near.’

As we consider the protracted conflicts of the Middle East, the long-running conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the divisions in South Sudan, the tensions that persist in Myanmar and the violence that permeates societies and communities across the world, these words are as refreshing as sitting by still water.

In a world where we seem to be becoming more divided, setting groups and genders up against each other, we are invited in reading this letter to the earliest Christians to remind ourselves that at the centre of our faith and the good news is an embodied message of peace.

No longer divided by our bodies, but united in the body of Christ, let us seek to be the ambassadors of that reconciliation that the world and our church so desperately needs.

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

Mark 6:31

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

As with Psalm 23 this gospel passage is a tonic for the busy reader. Even if our busy-ness is with worthy and important things, Jesus calls us to rest.

And it is from that place of rest that Jesus is able to be open hearted, feeling compassion for the great crowd that meets him on the other side. Rest ensures such compassion leads to provision rather than burnout. The disciples, by resting, are given the resolve to serve, that is to work out how to feed the five thousand that the lectionary passage selection leaves out.

The only hurrying and rushing in this passage is being done by those who are demanding Jesus’ time and attention, not by Jesus and the disciples. In this month of July, when we often give ourselves permission to rest and have a holiday, may we draw inspiration from Jesus and the disciples to operate from a place of restoration rather than being hurried and rushing around.

Prayer

Good Shepherd,
lead our minds to still waters
revive our bodies with deep rest
comfort our souls from anxious tension
prepare our hearts for the way ahead
that we might be restored to serve you well.
In your name,
Amen.

Pointers for prayer

Pray for all those on holidays this month, for their bodies, minds and spirits to be fully rested, so they may return to the demands of life refreshed. Pray in particular for those in leadership to get the restoration that they need to serve well.

Pray for Christian Aid partners across the world to have the rest that they need to continue to have compassion and avoid burnout.