Warwick Rd United Reformed Church - 18/08/12
Music (introit) Jubilate – (Dearnley)
Good morning and welcome to Warwick Road United Reformed Church here in Coventry where we’ve been celebrating the Olympic Games as a host city and, like many, are still riding on the wave of enthusiasm that’s broken across the country as we begin the countdown the Paralympics Games starting in just 10 days’ time.
With a record number of tickets sold for the Paralympics, we can see the motto of the games – Spirit in Motion – becoming real, as millions wish to see the determination and inspiration of disabled athletes. And in our service this morning, we’ll be exploring the Paralympic values of courage and equality as well as the encounter of God through disability and its purpose
[Part of our role as a host city has been to provide multi faith chaplaincy services and as one of the chaplains I found the opportunity to go out into the city and offer a welcome extremely enriching. There have been many meaningful conversations between people of different faiths and none.]
The celebrations didn’t end though with the closing ceremony in London last week. Using a combination of teamwork and human endeavour, groups of disabled and non-disabled Scouts will ascend the highest peaks of the four home nations and using the traditional technique of rubbing flint together they will create sparks to kindle a flame.
These flames will be placed in a miner’s lantern and transferred to the nation’s capital cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And from then they become the focus for a day of Paralympic celebrations. Shortly our Lord Mayor together with Coventry’s former Paralympic Gold Medalist and Paralympic Flame Ambassador, Rita Thompson, will be travelling to Trafalgar Square to collect the Paralympic flame and return it to Coventry for a day of celebration on 25th August.
So as the nations of the world continue to untie through sport, we sing Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing…’
HYMN – Oh for a thousand tongues to sing (Richmond)
Almighty God, you search us and know us: may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Paralympic Games have grown from a small gathering of British World War II veterans in Stoke Mandeville to become one of the largest international sport events. The Games were designed to emphasise athletic achievement not disability.
The Olympic Creed has appeared on the scoreboard during the Opening Ceremony of every modern Olympic Games since 1908 . It reminds us that in our life, just as in the Olympics, winning is not the most important thing -
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."
‘Stef’ Reid is a Paralympic sprinter who competes for Great Britain in the 100m, 200m and Long Jump. With a bronze medal from the 2008 Paralympics and 3 world records, she’s Britain’s only female amputee sprinter and a strong multi-medal prospect for London 2012…
Reflection from Stefanie Reid (CD INSERT played into church 2’00)
God has blessed me with the ability, drive, and passion to compete in sport. It was my dream to play rugby at an international level. But at 16 years of age, everything about my life changed. While on holiday, I was run over by a motor boat, and my body was caught in the propellers. I suffered severe lacerations to my lower back and right leg. I was scared. I was taken to a small clinic, and I remember being furious with the doctor for sending my parents in. I knew what he was doing – he was sending them in to say goodbye. I prayed in desperation and begged God to save my life. It was through God’s grace that I survived, and I was incredibly thankful. ..until my mum told me that the surgeons were forced to amputate part of my right leg. I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t know if I wanted to experience life as an amputee, unable to fulfil my dream, always looking differently from everyone else.
I was angry with God. But even in my anger, I experienced a peace that I had never known. It filled my hospital room. I didn’t know how, but I knew God was going to take this broken person, and this broken situation, and transform it.
I am a Paralympian, a disabled athlete. It sounds like a paradox to most. Disability is not often associated with things like strength, power, or speed. But this is God’s forte. He loves it when we give Him the chance to transform our broken lives and our broken dreams. I can’t honestly say that I am thankful for the accident, but I am incredibly thankful for the way God has used it to reveal himself to me, and for the chance to experience his love and grace.
Music – To be in your presence (Noel Richards)
Much of our modern culture seems to idolise strength and tough self-reliance but courage has another side that many of us have not thought much about. We hear now from the apostle Paul who tells us that it is when we are helpless that we see most clearly that courage is not about trusting our own power. When our own strength is exhausted by suffering, we see most clearly that true strength can only be rooted in God’s power, and true courage inspired by God’s love.
2 Corinthians 12:1-9
It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
MUSIC – The Lord is my strength and my shield (PLW) 4’30”
Alan Whetherly is a former paralympian and European Athletics medallist who has also been two times’ national men’s visually impaired tennis champion. He now works with young disabled people through sport so that they are fully included and fulfill their potential.
Reflection from Alan Whetherly (CD INSERT TO CHURCH) 1’34
I have always been involved in competitive sport for visually impaired people and have had the privilege of representing my country at international level. But I believe God has given me purpose in my disability to help others. Like spreading the Gospel of Jesus, I can spread the gospel of sport to young people with disabilities – particularly young people with sight loss.
I try to show young people that their disability is no barrier to achieving anything that they want to. I make sure they believe that they are valued and that their achievements, even if it takes 10 goes to get the skill I am looking for, is a fantastic one and something to be really proud of.
The challenge is there for people to achieve their God given potential. My faith took me to Arsenal to talk about running a coaching session for children. I remember a colleague at the time saying to me – “do you think anyone’s going to come?” The doors flung open and at the first session we had 55 children with sight loss playing football! It was a marvellous experience and a massive answer to prayer.
I pray that the forthcoming Paralympic games and the legacy they will leave will be a fantastic opportunity to welcome disabled people into our lives and to see them achieve their God given potential. Sport is an integral part of this. It has given me self-esteem, confidence and my faith gets stronger through being able to service God in this way.
MUSIC – Praise ye the Lord (Rutter)
Our Gospel this morning is taken from St Luke, after which we’ll hear from Dr Mike Townsend who is the Chair of “Through the Roof”, a pan disability, Christian charity.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.
SERMON - Mike Townsend
The gospel reading was Jesus' parable about a party thrown by a very rich ruler. This was going to be a big society party. The right sort of people were invited. Look at the guest list. A wealthy landed gentleman increasing his acreage, a successful business man expanding his farm with more oxen, and a well-connected man embarking on marriage.
But they didn't turn up!
The ruler was determined to have a good party, so more invitations went out. Look at the kind of people in this guest list: crippled, blind, lame and then the vagabonds and low life from the roads and lanes. Not the sort of people you would want at a glittering society function.
Which list do you think you would have been on?
Our society values the kind of people in the first list. Wealth, beauty, skill, and connections - the a-list. Some disabled people are there, but a lot of us are on the z-list.
The ruler in Jesus' story is God. How does God see people - you and me?
We are "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1 27). Isn't that amazing? Each one of us bears God's personal stamp.
Pause. think. How does that make you feel?
I am totally blind. People often make sure I know who they are by saying "it's only me." I hate that phrase. Nobody is "only me." We are all special, made in the image of God - even those on the z-list.
Perhaps you don't feel valuable this morning? You may have messed up, been overlooked and neglected, lonely, struggling with illness, or disabled?
Why do you think the ruler persisted with the party?
"that my house will be full" he wants you there.
God says we are all special. We all have a purpose.
Do disabled people bear the stamp of God's image? Do we have purpose?
I lead summer camps in Romania for blind and partially sighted poor and orphaned children. I've got tickets for the Monday night of Paralympic blind swimming. Eli and Anna, from our summer camp, will be competing. You can guess which country I will be shouting for! "Romania!" As you see those blind youngsters slicing through the water, that will be "spirit in motion".
In the 60's I was an athlete. I ran the mile in 4 minutes 7 seconds, 10 seconds off the world record.
As a totally blind runner, I needed sighted guides. None were fast enough for the full distance. It was like a relay. At each quarter mile, I dropped one guide and picked up the next.
Their support enabled me to achieve my amazing time.
The Paralympic athletes run with a purpose. What purpose do disabled people have?
Some ethicists and theologians believe that profoundly disabled people have no purpose and are barely deserving of human life. In less extreme terms we are already effectively filtering out the birth of disabled children through pregnancy screening and abortions.
God sees value in all people. "Created in the image of God" cannot mean physical or mental characteristics. John 4 24 tells us that "God is spirit". I believe the image imprinted upon our personality is spiritual. We, uniquely among God's creatures, have the ability to respond spiritually.
- My wife and I fostered Mark, our new link foster care lad. He was profoundly disabled. He couldn't see, speak, or move independently. How was I going to connect with Mark as I am totally blind? We connected through touch and sound. Mark loved his bumpy, deformed back massaged. The sighted people told me his face filled with a beaming smile. Did Mark like music? I tried Guns and Roses and Mark stiffened. He relaxed and gurgled to James Galway's flute. Mark could not say anything, but shared his love and pleasure as we relaxed together as a family.
Though God designed us as individual personalities, he did not mean us to be loners. God is trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That relational interdependence pervades the whole of God's creation.
Adam had an Eve.
I succeeded at the mile because of the support of my guides.
We each find purpose together within God's interconnected framework. The cross is the heart of that framework, binding it together in love.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life".
We can each take our place together in God's framework of love. It may be like Alan, Stef, Eli and Anna striving for gold. Or, it may be like Mark taking his place in God's loving framework.
Many disabled people recognize disability as part of their personal identity. Does disability persist into eternity?
- The Book of Revelation says: "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne." Jesus' resurrection body is physical but different. Jesus could go through walls. He still bares the wounds of the cross.
Paul talks of our resurrection bodies as being like plants. You can't tell from the seeds what they will be like. We will all be as gloriously different as the stars in the sky. 1 Corinthians 15.42 “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
... it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power."
Many believe that we should all match up to a standard of health and success. The pressure on us to be healed into health is immense. I believe that the hope and purpose for us all, including disabled people, is not physical success within an earthly context, but to be ourselves within the framework of God's eternal love. Each one of us is made in the image of God.
As the paralympians set their "spirits in motion" for gold, let us set our own "spirits in motion" by connecting with Jesus loving sacrifice on the cross.
MUSIC Take my life (PLW)
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are one of the few events that bring all the peoples of the world together for a common goal but it is important that we don’t just celebrate the talents and hard work of the athletes. It is a time to celebrate the glory of God at work through men and women of faith around the world. Let us prayer, using firstly the official Paralympic prayer…
Eternal God, giver of joy and source of all strength, we pray for those who prepare for the Paralympic Games. For the competitors in training and their loved ones. For the many thousands who will support them and for the churches and others who are organising special events and who will welcome many people from many nations.
ALL Light a new flame in our hearts
In a world where many are rejected and abused, we pray for a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of humility and respect and for the health and safety of all. May we at the last be led towards the love of Christ who is more than gold, today and forever.
ALL Light a new flame in our hearts
We pray for those who are ill at home or in hospital, for those taking care of them, for their families and friends worried about them. Send your healing power, give them peace and help them to know you are alongside them
ALL Light a new flame in our hearts
Eternal God, you created humanity in your image and delight in our talents, skill and flair. Give us grace to celebrate the achievements of our fellow men and women. Give determination and equity to competitors, gratitude and charm to winners, grace and mercy to those who do not come first and thankfulness and admiration to observers; that in all our best efforts your creation may be glorified.
ALL Light a new flame in our hearts
Lord God, as we pray for the Paralympic Games we are also aware that there are places today where there will be no celebration, no equality, no peace. We pray especially for the people of Syria, where atrocities continue to unfold. We pray for the defenceless civilians subjected to violence and terror; and for those who look on in horror but don't know how to react. Lord God, awaken the flame of conscience, courage and urgency in all who work for your kingdom.
ALL Light a new flame in our hearts
We say together the prayer that Jesus taught us…Our Father
MUSIC Touching place – John Bell
I started this service with the words of the Olympic creed and there is no better way to finish
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."
And as Christians we know for whom we do this – it’s all for Jesus..
HYMN – All for Jesus
Lord God, go with us now as we continue our journey of faith. Revive us when we grow tired. Inspire us when we lose heart. When we long to give up keep us going. May we travel always onwards with you by our sides, a pilgrim people with our eyes on Jesus, who has run the race before us and who now waits to welcome us home. Amen