The Way To Freedom
And now it’s time for Sunday Worship and the 3rd in our Lent series ‘The Way to Freedom’. It’s introduced by the Reverend Dr Trystan Owain Hughes
Item 1: Welcome –
Revd Dr Trystan Owain Hughes
Welcome to Dewi Sant church in Cardiff, named after St. David, the patron Saint of Wales. The Welsh Celtic saints particularly valued education, and they established what is purported to be the first ever University on British soil, down the road from Cardiff in Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan. The great St David himself even studied there. That University has long ceased to exist. But, just across the road from this church, is a large University which is very much alive. I am the Anglican chaplain and our worship will be led this morning by the Methodist chaplain, the Revd Delyth Liddell, with readings and prayers from some of our students
Item 2: Link to hymn -
Revd Delyth Liddell
Throughout Lent, in partnership with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, we’re looking at the theme of freedom, and in our service today we consider freedom through action, the courage that leads us to act in line with the convictions of our faith. This liberates us from always worrying about what we might have done or what we should be doing.
Cardiff University has 35,000 students, who come from the four corners of the world to study here. But whether students choose to study in their local college, or to travel many miles for their education, it certainly takes courage to leave home and commit to undertake a new way of life. Students will face various challenges during their time at University. ‘Freedom through action’ can certainly be learned and modelled at this formative time of our lives.
And our hymn now takes up that theme: ‘God of grace and God of glory’. The first verse ends ‘Grant us freedom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour’.
Item 3 - Hymn
God of grace and God of glory
Item 4: Opening prayer - Delyth
Let us pray -
As we come before your holy presence this morning we bring before you those times when we failed to love you with all our hearts, our minds, and our souls, and when we did not love our neighbours as ourselves.
We especially remember those occasions when we failed to act out our faith and hold to our convictions in the face of injustice, prejudice, or hatred.
And so we lay those failures at the foot of your cross, knowing that when we come to you with contrite hearts, you offer us acceptance, compassion, and mercy.
In your holy name and in the power of your spirit,
Item 5: Reading 1 – Luke 9:18-25 – Tom Bates
Our first reading is taken from Luke chapter 9, when Jesus tells his disciples of the consequences of confessing him as Christ.
18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
Item 6: Reflection – Melodie Mason
My name is Melodie and I’m one of the students at Cardiff University. I’m involved with a group who go out in the early hours of the morning to give out free bottles of water to those returning from dancing in nightclubs. It’s not always an easy task because sometimes we have to wait around in the cold and the dark. But we try to do it as an act of love and charity, knowing that the water will rehydrate them.
We also give out flip-flops, so that the girls don't have to walk home in their high heels. Most of the time the clubbers are very grateful, but sometimes they‘re hostile to our efforts and make fun of us. On those occasions, we have to be brave and reassure ourselves that we are doing something helpful. Sometimes we’re asked why we are giving up our nights to care for others. Again, we have to be courageous in our answers, explaining that part of being a disciple of Jesus involves us in taking up our cross and following him, loving as He loved and living as He lived.
Item 7: Link – Delyth
The Cardiff University chamber choir will now sing, ‘Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est’. The first line of this Latin motet translates ‘Where charity and love are, God is there’, reminding us that when we face life’s challenges with hearts of love, God will be alongside us.
Item 8 UBI CARITAS - Choir
Item 9: Sermon – Part one - Trystan
A few years back I took a group of students to a former Nazi concentration camp for them to ponder and reflect on this dreadful event in the recent history of Europe. Our visit was, understandably, a harrowing experience.
At one point, we all stood still outside one of the wooden huts in which the prisoners had slept, reduced to silence in the midst of our thoughts of the horrors the prisoners faced – extreme hunger, freezing weather, physical pain, and mental anguish. Then, one student suddenly said: “imagine if we had been one of the guards here”. I could see on the faces of my students the dawning realisation that, yes we could have been one of the prisoners, but we equally could have been one of the oppressors.
We are so used empathetically to putting ourselves in the shoes of the oppressed, that we forget that the oppressors are also human, just like you and me. This leads us, of course, to question whether we ourselves would be courageous enough to make a stand when facing the pressures to act in ways that run counter to our beliefs.
While we may not ever have to face as extreme decisions of conscience as many had to make in Germany during the Third Reich, there will be many other situations that will demand from us bravery and determination. It’s when we’re confronted with such challenges that our faith can provide a compass for us to discern how to act and then give us strength to do so in line with God’s commands for us to love him and love our neighbour.
The task of living out our beliefs is, then, not always easy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose own brave stand against Hitler and the Third Reich led to his death at the hands of the Nazis, had earlier differentiated between what he described as “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. Cheap grace is when we live our faith without living out the courage of our convictions. Costly grace, on the other hand, is when we allow our faith to inform our everyday lives. This is costly because it often takes much courage to stand on the side of justice, goodness, and love. Perhaps this is something of what Jesus meant when, in our first reading, he said that his disciples would have to “take up their cross” when they chose to follow him. Sometimes when we make a stand on an issue which we know to be right, it certainly feels as if we are treading the way of the cross. We can experience rejection, mockery, and even hatred from others.
A few weeks ago, the Islamic Society students of this University organised a peace vigil to protest against injustices across the world – from Syria and Gaza in the Middle East to Burma and Tibet in Asia. A number of Christian students joined their Muslim brothers in their protest. We stood on the grand steps of the National Museum of Wales, we lit candles, and both the Christians and Muslims took turns to pray. While it was a deeply moving experience, it was certainly not an easy one. It was a wet and bitterly cold evening, and most of us could hardly feel our fingers and toes. Furthermore, while we did not experience hostility, we still had a lot of strange looks from passers-by, and a number of youngsters felt the need to mock our disparate group of protesters. Albeit in a very small way, this was part of the costly grace that Bonhoeffer referred to – despite the difficulties that we faced, we were living out our convictions, amongst them that Muslim and Christian can stand together in this way.
In the eighteenth century, the author John Bunyan described and depicted the life and struggles of a Christian. His spiritual allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress suggests that often we do, indeed, have to be bold and courageous when we take up our cross.
Yet, by leaning on God, the Christian pilgrim is strengthened and inspired, as is described in Bunyan’s hymn ‘He who would valiant be’.
Item 10: Hymn – He who would valiant be - Choir
Item 11: Reading 2 – Mark 2:1-11 – Charlotte Trombin
Our second reading is taken from Mark chapter 2, when Jesus heals a paralysed man, who had been brought to him by four of the man’s friends.
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Item 12 – THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD - Rutter - Choir
Item 13: Sermon – Part two Trystan
One of the most wonderful things about the story of the healing of the paralytic man, which we’ve just heard, is the fact that the incident would never have taken place if it weren’t for his friends. They were the ones who carried him to Jesus, they were the ones who struggled to get him to the top of the roof, they were the ones who had the vision to make a hole in the roof and lower their friend down. Without them, we have no story; without them, we have no miracle.
The challenge is for us to be like them – to be brave enough to support those who are most in need, standing up for people who face suffering, injustice, or prejudice, either in our society or in others across the world. This might lead us to oppose any local instances of racism, homophobia, bullying, or prejudice that we see people encountering. Or it might be a case of us joining national or international campaigns to support those whose basic human rights are being restricted or who are struggling for freedom from poverty or oppression.
I recently came across a University campaign to combat injustice and oppression which used an image of superheroes in its publicity material. In a year when a rush of new blockbuster superhero films are in the pipeline – the Avengers, Batman, Spiderman, and Superman - it made me realise that, in spite of the glitz and the glamour, the victories of fictional characters can inspire us more today than we perhaps realise. They tell stories of fortitude in the face of wrong, they encourage us not to abandon hope when things at first don’t go our way and they give us strong examples of good triumphing over evil, even when it looks as though the hero is about to experience defeat.
Down the years, so many real people have stood up against injustice and oppression, and have found themselves struggling and on the brink of failure. Some have even paid the ultimate price of their lives through their brave stances. Ninoy Aquino, for example, famously stood up for freedom, by opposing the bloody dictatorship of President Marcos in the Philippines in the 1970s. After being imprisoned for many years in his home country, he escaped to the US, where he informed the world of the corruption and extravagance of the Marcos regime.
In 1983, Aquino decided to return to the Philippines, fully aware that he almost certainly faced either imprisonment or death. In an interview only 24 hours before his flight, he told foreign journalists: “If my fate is to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction or fear of assassination and therefore stay in a corner”. His words were to prove prophetic. As he descended the steps of the plane in Manilla, shots rang out and, minutes later, he lay dead on the airport’s tarmac. Yet this tragic event was not the end of the story, as his sacrificial act heralded huge change in his beloved country. Within three short years, the "People Power Revolution", as it became known, had toppled the Marcos regime and a new President, Aquino’s wife Cory Aquino, brought a new era of freedom and peace to the Philippines.
We ourselves may rarely be faced with such extreme situations. Still, the drive and perseverance of these modern-day heroes can encourage us in our smaller struggles. The stories in our scriptures can also inspire us – from Moses leading the slaves out of Egypt, through the exile by the rivers of Babylon, to St Paul and his friends facing persecution, incarceration, and shipwreck. But, as St Paul himself put it, it is often in our weakness that we find our strength.
Jesus himself, of course, is the ultimate example of this. He opposed injustice by championing God’s love and peace, even though it meant being persecuted and killed at the hands of his oppressors. That, however, was not the end of the story. Three days later, his resurrection was a triumph over the powers of evil and oppression. And so when we find ourselves following in his footsteps, when we tread a lonely path and take up our cross, we can be reassured that resurrections do indeed follow crucifixions.
Our next hymn, the classic Celtic hymn ‘Be thou my Vision’ reminds us that, in all our thoughts, conversations, and actions, our focus can be on God. Whatever hardships we face, He is our guide, our vision, and our wisdom.
Item 14: Hymn – Be Thou my Vision - Choir
Item 15: Prayers – Melodie Mason and Jonah Prout
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that your presence within us will make a real difference to our everyday lives. Allow our faith to affect every part of us – be in the conversations we have, in the things we do, and in the decisions we make. Enable us to be your hands and feet in the world.
God of Freedom.
Hear our prayer.
Help us to stand alongside others in their difficulties, and inspire us to counter injustice and prejudice in our communities. Give us the wisdom to discern how to act, give us strength to carry out your will, and give us courage to take up our cross when times get difficult.
When we experience rejection, mockery, or hatred for our convictions, strengthen us and help us to stand firm.
God of Freedom.
Hear our prayer.
We ask your blessing on all those who are suffering at this time – for all those who are lonely, who are anxious or worried, who are grieving, who are sick and injured, or those facing any other adversity. Be with them, Lord, bring them strong friendships to help them through their dark times, and bring them your love, your peace, and your comfort.
God of Freedom.
Hear our prayer.
We pray that you will bring peace and freedom to those parts of the world where there is conflict or war, especially remembering the families and friends of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan during the past week and the on-going unrest in Syria. May walls that divide crumble, suspicions be overcome, and hatred cease.
God of Freedom.
Hear our prayer.
We thank you that you move people to give their lives for freedom and compassion. We ask that their efforts are not in vain. And we pray for all who are standing up for justice across the world; those who are opposing corruption, oppression, and prejudice; and those who are working for peace and protecting our freedoms.
God of Freedom.
Hear our prayer.
Thank you that you have given us in your son Jesus Christ the ultimate reassurance that love and justice will win the day. And so we pray the words that Jesus himself taught us:
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, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. AMEN
Item 16: link – Delyth
Our final hymn affirms that our ultimate freedom is in Jesus, our shield and defender. When we trust him in everything we do, then even when we take up our cross, we are assured of resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
Item 17 – Hymn – WE REST ON THEE - Choir
Item 18: BLESSINGS Trystan
1 Father of all,
We give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son
and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us in this hope that we have grasped;
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name.
2 Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no-one evil for evil; strengthen the faint hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
3 And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be amongst you and remain with you now and forever. Amen.
Closing announcement – Radio 4
Sunday Worship this morning came from Dewi Sant Church in Cardiff and was led by the Rev Delyth Liddell. The preacher was the Rev Dr. Trystan Owain Hughes, the Cardiff University Chamber Choir was directed by John Hugh Thomas, the organist, Jeffrey Howard and the producer Sian Baker. And you can find a link to resources complimenting the Lent series, provided by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, on the Sunday Worship web page. Next week Sunday Worship comes from the Church of the Good Shepherd in Belfast and the preacher is Bishop Donal Mckeown