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Holding fast to that which is good

Exploring what it means to be steadfast in times of uncertainty, reflecting upon the meaning of St Paul's words to the Thessalonians: 'Hold fast to that which is good'.

This morning's Sunday worship explores what it means to be steadfast in times of uncertainty, reflecting upon the meaning of St Paul's words to the Thessalonians: "Hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5.23) How do we hold fast and what should we hold onto? This contemplative service led by the Revd Richard Carter and members of the Nazareth Community in London, explores the Christian call to faithfulness and staying with, in the face of fear and change. Producer: Andrew Earis

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 17 Feb 2019 08:10

Script including music recordings used

Please note:

 

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.

 

Music

Go forth into the world in peace – John Rutter

sung by the Cambridge Singers, directed by John Rutter

 (CD: John Rutter – The Ultimate Collection, Universal Classics)

 

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 fainthearted ; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Good morning. I have always loved those words from the benediction found in the 1928 book of Common Prayer. I know them like many others by heart. But I wonder how we can be the bearers of that peace today and how we truly can hold fast to that which is good. All of us are acutely aware that we are living through troubled times, times of uncertainty where our world, indeed our own nation seems a divided place, with no one sure of what the next weeks hold or what the way forward will be.

 

Listening to the news often seems unsettling. Faithfulness and steadfastness are not something we often reflect upon in our world today.  But how do we inhabit the uncomfortable place, or place of trepidation where there are no quick fixes or easy answers. All of us are confronted by the anxieties and problems of our time. Will I, when facing injustice, be able to show justice and mercy? Can I discover Christ within me the one who transforms even his wounds into signs of hope? How do our lives become the opportunity for God’ s amazing grace?

 

Music

Amazing Grace – arr. Will Todd

Sung by the Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields

(CD: Evensong in Blue, St Martin-in-the-Fields)

 

Again and again the scriptures speak about staying, dwelling, remaining steadfast:

 

Lamentations 3.22-23

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases its mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness.

 

First: Hold fast to Prayer

 

After Jesus had dismissed the crowds he went up the mountains by himself to pray. When evening came he was there alone

 

Speak Lord, your servant is listening

It is the silence of prayer that offers space for our lives

too big and complex to be contained or explained by any words

It is the silence of God that gives a home,

to all the hopes, the fears, the fragments, the layers, the tangents, the tangles and the tearings.

And in the silence God holds us, all of us, and tells us

“You are mine,

the light, the dark, the shadow,

the sun, the rain, the wind

the rainbows of your lives.

Hold fast to that which is good

Seek my presence

at the very centre of all that we are,

the living centre that makes the fullness of your humanity possible.”

 

 

Second: Hold fast to Truth

 

Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your father in heaven

 

Our Gospel is a call to truth, to leave behind pretence, reject fabrication and pretention. I wonder how we can open ourselves to the notion of being the instruments of a life, and spirit greater than ourselves.  I wonder how we can be true to our deeper shared humanity? Is it not a greater sense of trust and truthfulness that we all long for? My niece Molly helped me to witness that grace.

 

When Molly was nine years old she came home from school saying that there was a play at the local theatre called A Midsummer Night’s Dream that her headmistress had told them needed school children who wanted to play the parts of fairies. Molly has never shown a particular interest performing but she thought she would like to be a fairy and so she applied. Her father became far more alarmed than her when he discovered that 600 other children had also applied for the parts of 4 fairies and that Molly would have to audition on the stage in front of a panel of selectors. A few weeks later Molly went for her audition, she followed on from recitations, children singing, dancing, performing tap and ballet routines. Her father was doubled up with anxiety when he saw the line-up fearing his daughter was in for a public humiliation. Molly came on the stage said that she was going to do a dance which she had leant for a her school assembly. They asked her what music she was going to use and she said that it was in her head. And then she danced without music, just simply without embarrassment. Later in the afternoon the theatre phoned to say that Molly had been chosen. “Are you sure you’ve got the right name” her Mum asked on the phone- “she was the one who did the silent dance.”

“Oh yes quite sure she’s the one, her dance was really unaffected, it was truthful, open and beautiful. And the way she was too- she was so attentive to others- that’s what we need

 

Music

The Lord’s my Shepherd – Howard Goodall

(CD: The Choirboys, Decca)

 

 

Third: Hold Fast to Wonder

 

When I look at the work that your hands have made what are we that you should think of us?

 

When I was living on Holy Island in Northumberland, I was visited by my friend who had two children who sat in the car watching separate films on their own tablets with ear phones. I said would they like to explore the island and the sand dunes

 

They said:

 

This island’s really boring. There’s nothing to do here. I’d rather stay in the car”

 

In fact everything for them seemed boring. “I’ll give you a challenge” I said “I wonder if you can get through the next two days without using the word boring and without looking at your tablet.” Their mum thought this was a great idea so somewhat reluctantly they took up the challenge.

 

We walked across the shallow water like the ancient pilgrims,

to the island even though the water was icy cold for my toes,

we climbed the watch towers on the way,

where they can rescue you if the tide comes in.

I saw the way the sky joined the sea.

I saw the swirl and then the heads of seals near the rocks and the honking noise they made. It was so cool,

I walked round the whole island, climbed up to the castle,

I ran across this huge beach and watched the tide come in, and join up in pools and then cover the sand. I wrote my name in the sand in the dunes about two metres high and watched the sun go down into the sea.

 

I saw their true characters emerge, scrubbed by the wind and infused with sun and salty air so that they shone. After two days they didn’t want to go home. They had learnt to wonder

 

The place was live, so awesome I wanted to come back again

 

I teacher I heard about asked his class for home work to find out what the seven wonders of the world were. The next day when asked in class one of the class had written:

 

“To see, to hear, touch, to smell, to taste, to move, to breathe

 

He was of course right. What wonders these things are.

I wonder how we can hold fast to wonder in a world so alive with miracles?

 

Music

All things bright and beautiful - John Rutter

sung by the Cambridge Singers, directed by John Rutter

(CD: John Rutter – The Ultimate Collection, Universal Classics)

 

 

Fourth: Holding Fast with Steadfast Love

 

 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
 your walls are ever before me.”

 

Love waits for you at the station

Filled with joy at your coming

Or outside the doctor’s surgery

In the car to drive you home

It frustrates, irritates, gets in the way, longs, hopes, worries, wants to do it for you, knows jealousy, protects, confronts, defends, flashes with anger at your selfishness or neglect,

Longs for your successes

And yet loves you exactly as you are

Through years of imperfections

Love waits at the door for your return

Under the hanging basket of flowers you gave them years before

And welcomes the whole of you.

The bed is already prepared with towel

The endless cooking of the food you like

The room which you painted is waiting

The photo by the bedside from twenty years ago

And the thousand memories that pierce you heart

with affection and concern

and fear of loss

This love is home

To which you will return in search again and again

For this one who is watching and waiting

Whose eyes you know better than your own

And the clock on the wall already aching with the tick of departure.

 

Music

Down Ampney – Christian Forshaw

(CD: Christian Forshaw ‘Sanctuary’, Integra Records)

 

 

Fifth: Holding Fast in Times of Trial and Trepidation

 

He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating and no one gave him anything but one day he came to his senses.

 

We were listening to the Lost Son coming to his senses

He told of his grandfather

who said prayers and then they ate,

and after they has eaten he said more prayers.

His whole body lit up as he told us this warmth of the past,

his face became young again and the corners of his mouth raised in a smile

filled with innocence.

But then he told us of the ‘dark side’

A filthy alleyway in London

and the heroine and crack,

and the fear

and the fighting for money and the next fix

His lip quivered, as though his face was about to crack open

like the shell of a fragile egg.

“I realised this was no fun.” He said.

“It was destroying me.”

“I had to get out, it was the memory of my grandfather’s prayer,

somehow I had to return or I would be in this darkness forever.

It will take all my strength, it will take years to get back to where I was.”

We were listening to the Lost Son coming to his senses

And I am sure everyone in the room as they listened, like me, were longing for him,

willing him to return,

praying that this new born man, emerging  vulnerable from his shell

would make it back

and be clothed again

and dwell in his grandfather’s love forever.

 

Music

Blinded by your Grace

(CD: Katherine Jenkins – Guiding Light, Decca)

 

 

Sixth: Hold Fast to God even in the Face of Death

 

Jesus said I pray that they may all be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, may they also be in us.

 

They phoned me from the monastery at Mirfield to tell me Fr Simon had been diagnosed with leukaemia and been given only a few weeks to live. We had shared so much of our lives for twenty years.

 

I entered a bedroom filled with winter light

Simon was sitting up alert and full of joy

 

“I feel as if I am in a ship’s cabin on a vast ocean”

 

We talked about going home.

 

“What is home? Home- is making a space for God in yourself for other people”

 

I looked at him with tears welling up in my eyes. For years I had been coming and sitting in his room and he has made space for me, a safe life-giving space. And we had talked about everything…the meaning of our lives. This monastery was my sanctuary but I was acutely aware that Simon was being called to leave it behind. “Are you frightened?” I asked.

 

 “I am walking into something beyond human understanding.

God is surprise. I am just holding fast to that which is good.

 

“Just as well” I said

We talked about his diagnosis

 

“I am not frightened of illness

As though illness were an enemy

I am me

I am part of creation

There is no me and the illness- just me.”

 

We talked about the nature of love:

 

Everyone who God has given to me, has given more of God to me.

Love taught me that loving someone was not loving them for yourself

But sharing the love God has for that person

The love was not mine it was God’s

God’s love.

“Delight in God

You cannot love Jesus and….

As though the and were something different or alternative.”

 

We talked about his fading memory

 

 “Memory is a strange thing,

the older I get the more difficult it is to remember the narrative.

It’s the now that matters

I want to sing God’s song now

I want to dance now

Like Mary I want to sing now

Yes God surprises us

We are often beset by the instinct to want to control God

But God, thank God, is uncontrollable

 

Music

Mortal Flesh - Christian Forshaw

(CD: Christian Forshaw ‘Sanctuary’, Integra Records)

 

 

Finally Hold fast to God

“What advice would you give me?’ I ask and he is silent. And then he says

 

Do not trust self

Jesus said I AM

Put your trust in God 

The passion of Christ is a complete oneness in God

There is great struggle but in the end a truth that is met

And this truth sets you free

And when your spirit and the spirit of God are one

It is complete

You have come home.”

 

As I pondered this I realised how contrary this was to the advice of the world which teaches that self-interest is everything-

 

Do not trust yourself

Jesus said I AM

Put your trust in God

 

What do you seek? I asked

 

I want now to disappear into God

For the me to become us.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And do not trust in your own understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And he will make straight your path.

 

Fr Simon Holden CR died on Thursday 7 February. I can still hear him speaking to me. “I want to disappear into God’s love. I want the me to become us.”. Hold fast to God

 

The Kingdom of God

You look through the window

And see the wild beauty beyond

You see and long but you are not fully part of it

You try to open the window but it is locked

And you feel the separation

The iron frame and rusted lattice you cannot open.

But then you find the key

And ease open a window used to being closed

And the wind comes through

No glass now, just this opening

And you gulp the air

and feel the softness of the rain in your face

and the greens and the blues calling you to be part of them

to go beyond the spectator stand

And enter in

So you climb through the window

You feel the ground

You taste the sky

You hold the wind in open hands

And find that your heart has opened to

And there is no longer any division

No in

No out

Just God 

 

Music

God shall wipe away all tears (from ‘The Armed Man’) – Karl Jenkins

Sung by Polyphony, directed by Stephen Layton

(CD: Karl Jenkins Motets, Deutsche Grammophon)

 

Let us pray

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And do not trust in your own understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And he will make straight your path.

 

We pray for all those who are troubled and afraid. All those who live in situations of fear, violence or uncertainty. We pray that even in the darkness they will know God’s steadfast presence.

 

We pray for our divided nation, that the me will become us and we will once again know the unity of Father Son and Holy Spirit

 

Help us lord to hold fast to that which is good- to hold fast in prayer, hold fast in truth and wonder,  to hold fast in steadfast love, hold fast through tribulation, hold fast even in death.

 

Lord’s Prayer.

 

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 fainthearted ; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

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