Sunday Worship Emmanuel Church, Didsbury
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events
ANDREW Good morning.
On Friday night at 11 o’clock I walked through the centre of Manchester on my way home from the cinema. There was a heavy police presence as you would expect. But the atmosphere was relaxed and lively as it usually is on a Friday night – maybe even more so. Young clubbers were chatting and joking with police officers. There was no sense of threat.
But along the main shopping streets there were shops and offices, doggedly proclaiming “business as usual” behind their mangled shutters and boarded-up windows. The atmosphere on Tuesday night couldn’t have been more different.
And yet it occurred to me that many of the people out on Friday night – certainly some of the police officers but surely some of us members of the public too – must have been the very same people who were there just four days earlier when the very worst of human nature was on display.
This is part of the puzzle of the past week’s extraordinary events in London, Manchester, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. The same human heart that can create such violence and chaos can also produce the charitable words of bereaved father Tariq Jahan and the indomitable spirit of a thousand broom-wielding volunteer cleaners.
[As we come together this morning in worship we need to wrestle with the disturbances and lawlessness of the week; not to explain or to excuse, but to ask God why, and what is to be done - and of course to ask for God’s healing and grace for those most affected.]
In a confusing world we need to hold firm to God’s promises - like these, taken from the book of Isaiah…
ANDREW Tell everyone who is anxious;
ALL Be strong and do not be afraid.
ANDREW The blind will be able to see;
ALL The deaf will be able to hear.
ANDREW The nations will live in peace;
ALL They will train for war no more.
ANDREW This is the promise of God;
ALL God’s promise will be fulfilled.
MUSIC Guide me O thou great redeemer
ANDREW God of all creation.
You made the world out of kindness,
creating order out of confusion;
you made each child in your own image;
your fingerprint is on every soul.
ALL Have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You are the poor man who made others rich;
the healer who let himself be wounded;
the criminal on whom the soldiers spat
not knowing they were fouling the face of God;
you are the saviour who died and rose again.
ALL Have mercy on us.
ANDREW Holy Spirit.
You break the bonds of race and nation,
to let God speak in every tongue;
you make warriors into peace-makers;
you show how love can make all things new
and open the doors to change and freedom.
ALL Have mercy on us.
The Reverend Nigel Ashworth is Rector of St Ann’s, the City Church in the heart of Manchester’s shopping centre.
On Tuesday many rumours were spreading that Manchester should expect trouble on the streets, as we had already seen happen in London. So my Methodist colleague and I agreed to have a look around and see how things were. It was a sunny afternoon and in many ways the city seemed absolutely fine – but there were a lot of Police vans around and, talking to members of the public, they seemed apprehensive. As the evening drew on this feeling grew and by around seven the atmosphere noticeably darkened. We found the Police in riot gear in Market Street and a fast-moving crowd of young people. There was a sinister kind of playground mood developing and a lot of tension in the air.
A point quickly came when this tension burst. A loud bang, a window smashed in and then more. There seemed to me to be a flux of adrenelin, mischief and violence as the crowd moved up and down the street, responding to the movements of the Police. Quickly one store had a fire set. The looting started. It was getting too dangerous to stay. We needed to go.
And it took hours for order to be re-established.
Along with other cities where rioting and even murder have happened we are now reflecting on the causes. People usually talk much too simplistically about riots: In reality they are complex. They unfold with speed but they have a large hinterland of motivation.
“Where were the parents?” has been the cry. More fundamentally, what about the boundaries which parents need to show their children how to live the right way? A riot almost by definition is unconfined: It is without boundaries. It moves quickly and the usual constraints which should stop a person from smashing or stealing seem to melt away. Parenting and education need to help each of us to grow the inner boundaries which set our moral compass – in other words how we are going to treat others and the world around us, how to live with love and respect.
We are beginning to ask about other boundaries too: some bankers have shown us almost no limits to their recklessness and greed. Some politicians the same. And now we know that some of the press have crossed the boundaries that stop them intruding into the most intimate areas of personal grief.
What I witnessed on Tuesday was the physical manifestation of the absence of all boundaies. The people involved were diverse. You could almost say that the only thing they had in common was their unrestrained humanity.
ANDREW David the Psalmist was a national leader and a war hero. But he found in himself all the same potential for sin and selfishness that he could see in the least of his subjects. So in the words of Psalm 51 he prayed
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
MUSIC Psalm 51:1-13
ANDREW Some striking individual stories are emerging from this week’s disturbances. A young graduate from North London, on the brink of a career as a social worker, who stole a TV set from a shop last week: now she has a criminal record. Overcome with remorse, she turned herself in to the police. “I don’t know why I did it,” she’s reported to have said.
And an 18 year-old Christian student who works as a mentor at a London Baptist church. Now he could face a prison sentence after admitting stealing from three shops.
All week the air has been thick with social commentators offering their opinions. But whatever else might provide the context for this week’s lawlessness it surely laid bare the innate sinfulness of which we are all capable. Which of us can be sure that, given the right opportunity, we might not do something shameful and hurtful? Indeed, which of us can say that none of our actions – as neighbours or employers, as consumers or as family members – don’t sometimes harm people we may never meet. The problem of sin is no respecter of age, race or location. It affects all of us, like a splinter lodged deep in our humanity.
Saint Paul, writing to the church in Rome, spoke about his own internal struggle between what the law of God told him and the gravitational pull of his own nature. So much so that he almost felt that he had been possessed by sin. Here are his impassioned words from Romans chapter 7, beginning at verse 13.
BIBLE READER Look how terrible and evil sin really is.
I know that my selfish desires won't let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong. And so, if I don't do what I know is right, I am no longer the one doing these evil things. The sin that lives in me is what does them.
The Law has shown me that something in me keeps me from doing what I know is right. With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me.
ANDREW St Paul says that the problems of our society begin in the human heart. The medicine that will heal us may include better parenting, greater respect for young and old, more and better investment in our social infrastructure. But it will also include a turning of each heart away from self and towards God.
Thankfully many shops and businesses in Tottenham and elsewhere will eventually recover – though for some people this week has changed their lives – either because of what has been done to them, or because of what they themselves have done. And at least four lives have been lost.
But if shattered glass is an icon of sinfulness, the icon of hope is the broom – and one of the great features of this week has been the use of social networks to marshal thousands of people of goodwill to clean up after the riots. There have been spontaneous collections of goods to help those made homeless and money to support damaged businesses. In the end, however counter-intuitive it may seem, the broom is more powerful than the baseball bat. Far from going to hell in a handcart we have seen heaven arriving in a dustcart. Hopefulness is the natural mode of the Christian. Each act of exchanging beauty for brokenness is a tiny sign of coming kingdom of God.
MUSIC Beauty for Brokenness
ANDREW Aaron is 16 and lives in Salford. After seeing the destruction in his home-town, he got out of bed at 7am and set off to join the clean-up effort. Aaron is going to read a story from Luke chapter 15 that Jesus told to illustrate how the sheer dogged persistence of hope trumps the darkness of despair.
BIBLE READER Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
ANDREW People of faith need to seek out and celebrate the evidence of God’s grace breaking into our present. That’s what Christian hope means. The 17th century poet George Herbert called it “dancing without music”. A far more ancient text from the Abbey at Solesmes puts it differently: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est : Wherever there is love and friendship, there God is. This setting is by the French composer, Maurice Duruflé.
MUSIC Ubi Caritas
ANDREW I’m joined this morning by the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch
This morning’s worship is providing us with an opportunity to reflect prayerfully on what happened to cause such thuggery, vandalism and theft, what prompted murder, and the vicious malice shown towards the police. Whatever the reasons, they can never be excuses. Justice must be done. But the problems won’t be solved by individual court sentences.
In the wake of these shocking events, it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions and trite answers. I think many people realise that the causes are complex. Deprivation and measures of austerity are likely to have played their part – but it would be simplistic to place sole blame there. In any case, as those who remember past riots in nearby Hulme and Moss Side have said to me, what happened this last week here was different. More a smash and grab spree.
Clearly something has gone badly wrong and already the analysis and debates have started. I hope there’ll be at least some recognition of the serious and relentless erosion of public values, including those whose roots are in the rich heritage of religion. The result of their disappearing is a moral deficit in private and public life that has spawned acquisitiveness and dishonesty. And it’s evident at all levels of our society. To be frank, the riots are not the only recent examples of theft and greed.
One of the regrettable mistakes of our present culture is the way in which private and public morality have been decoupled. How we behave is evidence of the sort of character we have. To create a false division between what we do in public and how we are in private is fraught with problems of credibility.
So is it any wonder that a moral vacuum has been created, leaving people of all ages and backgrounds confused about the difference between right and wrong. The result is a me-first, ultra-consumerist culture, in which the quest for possession of things overrides a caring concern for others, and the key commandments become don’t get caught and don’t grass. This week we’ve had an unpleasant glimpse of the default position to which society inevitably returns when its moral imperatives are forgotten.
So how can faith communities and the Christian churches, in particular, help to remedy the problem? I’m not sure that shrill demands for the Ten Commandments are likely to be heeded – even though I have a high regard for that moral code of unsurpassed clarity about not stealing and not coveting what belongs to others.
What I think we do need – and this isn’t easy because I know how difficult teaching can be these days – is for our church and other schools to take a more robust approach, through intelligent nurture and clear guidance, to building up strength of character, encouraging a sense of purpose in life, and inculcating values that lead to a healthy society in which people learn the importance of honesty, respect for other people’s possessions, and the dangers of seeing money and things as being all that matters.
Although it’s patently true that you don’t have to be religious to be moral (and alas not all religious people act morally), those building blocks for leading an upright life are at the heart of our Judaeo-Christian culture, and indeed are mostly shared by other faiths, and many non-believers too. They offer a secure moral foundation – so that when temptations come, as they do, to get caught up in something that is wrong, we have the strength to stay firm. This is exactly what St Paul’s experience was. Even when deep down he wanted to do right he found he couldn’t – until rescued by following the way of Jesus Christ.
What has unfortunately happened this week gives us an opportunity to contribute sensibly to the national debate. First because of the experience of church and faith leaders who have been giving prayerful and practical support to dismayed and shattered people, as well as calling for calm and discouraging vigilantes and reprisals. And the experience too of daily ministry - in schools, and through parenting; among the poor and marginalised; alongside those who feel they have no purpose in life and that nobody cares; and sometimes connecting with young people for whom gangs provide their only sense of family and community.
Secondly because we have some insights about where God fits into the mess – and that therefore no-one is ever a lost cause. We are each made in God’s image and we are, all of us, redeemable.
So, what matters most about faith is that God never loses faith in us; his hopes for us never dim; and his love for us is always there.
Much has been said about the youngsters with their brushes cleaning up after the riots. It was certainly a hopeful sign that, although we can all slip so easily into doing the wrong thing, the capacity to put others before self is still there in us all.
Which is why the real issues our society must face are about enabling people to have a framework that gives them self-esteem, a way forward for their lives, and, above all, the security of knowing they are loved.
That is the way of Jesus who supremely put service before self.
MUSIC O for a closer walk with God
ANDREW The anthem O for a closer walk with God, in a setting by Grayston Ives. Our prayers are led by Aaron and Megan.
AARON We pray for those who have been directly affected by the events of this week. For the families who are bereaved; for those who have lost homes and possessions; for those who have lost their livelihoods; for those who are living in fear.
MEGAN We pray for those whose job it is to protect us; especially for police and fire-fighters. And we pray for those who are called to lead our country forward; for politicians, church and community leaders.
AARON Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and friend of children,
We ask for your mercy on children, bombarded by images of plenty beyond their grasp, but unsure whether they are loved and valued for themselves.
We pray especially for the children known to us – for our own faimilies, neighbours and friends. And we ask for you mercy and grace for every parent who is at their wits end.
MEGAN We pray for communities beyond these shores that are divided by war and conflict. We remember the people of Syria, oppressed by their own government. And we pray for the people of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, facing the scourge of famine and the spread of disease.
ANDREW And we bring our prayers together in the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
ALL Our Father
Who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the Kingdom
The power and the glory
For ever and ever,
ANDREW Praying the Lord’s Prayer is itself a hopeful thing to do. It’s a prayer for when our faith burns low and our anger burns high. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” we’re saying “the world can be different from the chaotic and dissonant way we know it. In fact it will be different.” It’s an act of faith – almost an act of protest. We’re saying that this is not the way things should be and it’s not the way they will be. So when someone says “What is the world coming to?” Christians have an answer. However far off it may seem, it’s coming to an end that God has determined.
MUSIC I cannot tell
ANDREW So as we go into the week let’s commit ourselves in faith and hope to the work of God’s Kingdom.
Living Lord Jesus,
Help us to encounter the world as you do.
Re-sensitise us where we have become numb.
We recommit ourselves to feeling the world’s pain –
and to sharing in our neighbours’ struggles for justice.
We believe in the coming of your kingdom;
the hope of healing
and the possibility of peace.
CHOIR Your Kingdom Come
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
ANDREW [We set our hearts on doing good –
tenderly and carefully,
recklessly and passionately –
with all the hope that flooded the great, green earth
with heart and healing
on that other Sunday
when life came leaping from the tomb.
CHOIR Your Kingdom Come Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
ANDREW In hope and in faith
we wait and we watch
for the hints of grace
and the signs of salvation
as God works shalom
between persons and nations.
CHOIR Your Kingdom Come Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.]
ANDREW Our closing hymn Be Thou My Vision is a prayer that God will be all that motivates us, strengthens us and fills our future.
MUSIC Be Thou my Vision
BISHOP NIGEL May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May he make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his face towards you
and bring you peace.
MUSIC Organ improv to fade