533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 120 [Rev.2:1-7] Objective: Setting out – the call to pilgrimage One term used for this trip is ‘pilgrimage’: a journey undertaken with spiritual intent and expectation. Psalms 120 to 134 are known as the Songs of Ascents & they were used by pilgrims travelling together to Jerusalem. There won’t be time to look at all the psalms but what I’ll try to do is to connect some of them with the sentiments from each of the letters to the 7 churches, as complementary reflections. But why go on a pilgrimage at all? What was/is the purpose of making what might have been then a dangerous journey to a holy place, and why travel with other people? There’s something here about the dissatisfaction with where you are, the value of the journey itself, the importance of hearing the stories of those you travel alongside, and the significance of your destination. For at the end of the day, you will come home again, but changed. We make a pilgrimage not so much to escape our context but so that our journey and what we learn on our travels will bring us back changed and better equipped to live in the neighbourhood, workplace or family God has placed us in. Psalm 120 represents that initial moment of dissatisfaction, the glimpse of your face in the mirror that shocks, hearing yourself speak & hating what you hear… The realisation that, to use language from Romans 12, you’ve become too conformed to your surroundings & need some spiritual inner re-shaping. The psalmist cries out to God using the same lips whose words he despises. He suddenly sees what he has become and feels that sense that he doesn’t like himself any more. He even wonders if God can like him either, let alone love him! 2 I’m choosing to connect this theme with the letter to the church in Ephesus. It’s a church commended for many good deeds, for its diligence in rooting out falsehood and for its perseverance. It’s not so much weary as somehow joyless. The scars and bruises of surviving in their surroundings have produced a spiritual callus. Like an organisation that ticks every box and has every official process and procedure up-to-date but seems to lack wellbeing. In a recent comment the UK Health Minister spoke of some hospitals “hitting targets but mission the point”. Renewing first love is not about manufacturing false joy, any more than a couple can re-create falling in love, but it is remembering the centrality of love. Psalm 37v4 says, delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Do you/I recall what it feels like to delight in the Lord? When did we last get in touch with our heartfelt desires? Our motivations and expectations when coming on a pilgrimage like this will vary widely. Dissatisfaction may be part of that but also fascination and a curiosity about how, under God’s guidance, encountering a past in a different place can renew our lives in the present. It forms part of the wider call of Jesus to journey - “Follow Me!” or the recall towards love. It’s a journey with uncertainty and hope, but we’re so sure we can’t stay put, that we’ll start the journey in faith and trust that God will be our inspiration & protector. And, with that in mind, we know that we will return to dwell where God has placed us with renewed capacity for loving distinctiveness in His name. Reflect upon what we are hoping to gain from this pilgrimage and how it might change us, especially our love for Him. Be open to the fact that God’s agenda might be unexpectedly different to ours and that he may know more about our deepest desires than we do! 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 121 [Rev.2:12-17] Objective: Reassurance of a God who sees & protects The first of the Songs of Ascents, centred upon the sense that we’ve been too long in a place and among a people that have corrupted our perspective. That dissatisfaction produces an urgency that is one factor which can lead toward pilgrimage. I said that starting a journey away from the familiar, however hopeful we may be feeling, means taking a risk, always mindful that we’ll come back once more to where we started. We start out trusting that God will be our guide and protector but it’s all too easy to turn back at the first sign of trouble That’s where Psalm 121 picks up the story; for the journey, itself, throws up fresh questions to test our faith. As they look up at the hills the pilgrims see the pagan shrines set as high as possible so as to be nearer to the gods. Perhaps in the past they have worshipped at some of these altars – is there still that temptation to do so again? The presence of these altars overshadows and threatens: Where will my help come from? Then comes the wonderfully subversive reply; our help comes from the very person who made these hills and everything else in all creation! Around, above and below are the everlasting arms of our God. Moreover, our God never sleeps so his protection over us covers both night and day. And the psalmist takes this one step further as he connects the dangers of the day as being physical – the burning rays of the sun – while the dangers of the night are more psychological or emotional – the properties of the moon as they were perceived in those days [lunatics] The jurisdiction of our heavenly protector covers our daily movements, however mundane, right through to the very ends of time & our earthly lives. Truly that’s Comprehensive Cover! 2 We might connect this Psalm with a number of the 7 letters for several allude to the threats of heretical corruption, distraction by false leaders or persecution by those following other gods. But let’s look at the letter to the church in Pergamum. Jesus says that they live or dwell, “where Satan has his throne”. The letter implies that, although they have some good points, they are in danger of being corrupted by other religious practices. Just as the pilgrim has no alternative but to travel in the shadow of these hilltop shrines, the church in Pergamum has no choice but to live where God has placed it. The word used in the Greek for ‘dwell’ implies permanence, not a brief sojourn. It appears that Jesus has truly called them to be there, but his concern is that too many of them are looking at and drawn towards false teachings and distractions. They need to turn their eyes afresh away from what they see and by faith gain a deeper insight like that of the psalmist who sees, subversively, that the very hills on which these shrines are built belong to the God in whom he puts his trust. However tempting they may seem it is God alone, in the work of Christ alone, that true security and identity is found. The pilgrims of Psalm 121 have set their course towards the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has replaced all that the Temple stood for and made himself and his presence in us by the Spirit, all that we need for salvation and life. We choose the perspective of faith and we turn afresh towards the one who protectively watches over our coming and going. We have a Saviour who is able and willing to watch over us. Not one who interferes and molly-coddles, but one whose eternal power and care are unwavering so that our trust of him can also remain sure even when we face the most unexpected situations and have to dwell under difficult circumstances. 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 122 Objective: Coming together in worship with joy Given that the pilgrims have quite a journey to make I’d be surprised if they’ve actually arrived in Jerusalem at the point when they share this psalm together. I think this is the moment when those who’ve been there before begin sharing past experiences and those on this journey for the first time listen with growing excitement & anticipation. This is a moment of mutual encouragement and we do well to remember that, for all the individual responsibility we bear for our faith, our place is as part of a community of faith. We even describe ourselves in the baptism service as a ‘pilgrim people’. This psalm roots itself in shared purpose & encouragement – ‘let us go’ – recognising themselves as a people comprised of several tribes and Jerusalem as the place which is the focus for secular and sacred authority. Their identity as the people of God and a nation are both symbolised by Jerusalem. Thus their security, peace & prosperity are all tied up in Jerusalem. Their pilgrimage is a sign of their commitment to & dependence upon The Lord’s appointed city. For the sake of their whole nation, they pray for its continued peace. How then should we, as Christian pilgrims, appropriate this psalm for ourselves? We may be heading towards a heavenly Jerusalem but I don’t think that’s the immediate focus of our pilgrimage. Our security lies in Jesus, descended from David - a member of Israel’s earthly royal family, and Jesus the priest and sacrifice through whom we become children of a heavenly Father. Jesus, who sits enthroned in heaven as the eternal king, and Jesus the one who came to do away with the temple by his death & resurrection. 2 Our security, peace, prosperity and identity are all found in Jesus Christ. Our gathering to worship is centred upon Jesus and, picking up Jesus’ prayers from John 17, our prayer is not for the peace of Jerusalem so much as for the peace and unity of his Church as witness to his glory. Let us indeed encourage one another to worship and pray in these ways as we tread the path of our pilgrimage. Hebrews 12 says that we approach in our worship, not an earthly Jerusalem, but the very gates of heaven and the saints who have gone before us. Let me end with these words from Hebrews 12:22-29 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 123 Objective: Whose service is perfect freedom. The metaphor of slavery is frequently used in the Bible – both OT & NT. And it can have positive and negative connotations. In Romans 6 St Paul describes us moving from being slaves to sin [v6] to become slaves to righteousness [v18]. Today we have a very negative view of slavery but in bygone days, being a slave was much closer to being ‘in service’, as we might say, using the slightly archaic language of Victorian and Edwardian eras. As with any job today, the key lies in the character of your employer - their integrity and fairness. Thus, although the pilgrims sharing this psalm may reflect upon their tough lot in this world, they agree that they will look towards the one to whom they are ultimately accountable and from whom will come their eternal reward. St Paul tells us to work in all things as if serving The Lord [Col.3:23-24]. But sometimes it’s more about looking to The Lord for protection and mercy, for a good employer protects the rights of their staff. It’s a bit like those people and communities who have suffered great loss and fear in the wake of the riots last week, looking towards their leaders for help and direction. It can be tempting when things get tough to play the blame game with God or feel that by serving Him we deserve better. Jesus reminded his disciples that whatever they suffered or gave up for Him in the present they would receive a hundred times as much in the age to come as well as eternal life [Matt.19:28-30]. Along with those pilgrims sharing this psalm, we may watch 2 and wait, looking towards our Lord and wishing that he would look our way sooner rather than later for surely this world has suffered enough. But, like St Pater, we know that however incomprehensible Jesus’ ways may be, we will keep looking to him because he has the words of eternal life. We don’t fully understand the Kingdom-paradox that the last shall be first and the first shall be last but we trust in the love & character of God. And so, like the psalmist, we keep looking towards the Lord; we keep seeking his face and favour; we keep praying for his mercy but we do all this with a hope and resolve based upon the promises of scripture and upon what we have already experienced of God’s goodness in Christ. As the Collect says – His service is perfect freedom!” 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 124 [Rev.2:8-11] Objective: God’s rescue and protection A few weeks ago I saw a pigeon run over by a car and yet survive. The wheels went either side of it so that it somehow rose from behind the car with a flurry of feathers and an expression of absolute surprise, to perch on a branch at the roadside. It didn’t exactly evade the hunter’s trap but for a few moments it enjoyed a bewildering sense of escape! I guess that this psalm is recited after an evening of recalling stories of escape; times when the tellers knew that wave of relief that takes in both facing the consequences of what might have been and enjoying the renewed sense of still being alive! Escape can come in many forms. We’ve all had moments of physical danger – almost changing lanes into the path of a lorry, of moral danger – almost linking up with a shady proposal, of social danger – almost losing your temper, of spiritual danger – almost falling for a temptation or almost rising to verbal insult. When and where we live, physical danger and rampant enemies are very rare although not completely unknown. Yet I guess we can all point to times when we have recognized, looking back, the presence and protection of God. It’s interesting that the experiences referred to here are not about a God who prevents hardship or danger but of one who protects during the experience or reduces the consequences. This ties-in with Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and 1Cor.10:13. Jesus’ letter to the church in Smyrna sees him contrasting how they appear to the world with how he sees them. The paradox of worldly weakness & poverty set against spiritual strength & riches from a Saviour who himself endured apparent weakness and failure to reveal and achieve Victory over sin and death! 2 The church in Smyrna trusted in Jesus through all sorts of trials and Jesus was warning them that there was more to come. This is not a letter of criticism but one of encouragement to persist and endure. I wonder how often this church re-read this letter? I wonder whether there were times when they had come through a particularly tough patch and Psalm 124 became a theme for worship? Perhaps, like me, you can be quick to note when things aren’t going well and God seems distant but slow to praise Him when His intervening power has made all the difference? Recognising God’s protecting hand & giving him praise is not only courteous it brings him glory and celebrates that Satan’s purposes are defeated once again so that God’s kingdom is advancing! As I reflect upon these things I am drawn to a Heavenly Father who did not prevent his only Son undergoing deep agony and suffering for our sake. Yet a Father who ultimately raised Jesus even from death itself to break for all time Satan’s trap of death and to give all of us the chance to fly free eternally…! We have escaped and we are promised a crown of life! None who trust in Jesus will ever be hurt “by the second death” – Alleluia! 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 125 [Rev.2:18-29] Objective: Only those with feet on the rock will survive It’s been a bad year for those who held certain people in high esteem from Jimmy Savile to Lance Armstrong. These were people who apparently did good and heroic things and inspired others to be courageous and aspire to greatness. But now they are brought low and their legacy is devalued. To the pilgrim going to Jerusalem the first view of the city presented quite an impressive sight. To him or her it seems as the setting of this city emphasises its security in God. It is set upon a hill and stands apparently unshakable. The surrounding hills seem like God’s encircling protection. Jerusalem inspires faith and aspiration. The sight causes reflection upon how God establishes and protects those who put their trust in Him. The land represented the promise of God fulfilled; their inheritance. But, just as the previous occupants had been sent away to make way for God’s elect so God can, just as easily, reject those of his own people who fail to live up to their calling and inheritance. Jesus knows the Church in Thyatira for all it has done and how it has grown in good deeds. But that’s not the whole story. Within their company are those who go under the name of Jesus but live out their lives under many other influences. Jesus reminds them all that he knows and searches hearts and minds. Under his scanner all is revealed. Thus Jesus promises judgement that reflects his true valuation of their deeds and recognises those who have or have not hung on to what is true. Just as Jerusalem seemed to the Pilgrims to be fixed, hanging onto, Mount Zion. So Jesus will judge the people of the church in Thyatira according to what they hang on to. 2 Some hold on to “Jezebel’s” teaching, and it looks as if they felt intellectually superior for doing so. But others hold on to what they know of Jesus even if it sometimes makes them feel stupid. It reminds me of how St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians of the message of the Cross looking like foolishness to the Greeks and being a stumbling block to the Jews, and yet Christcrucified is; the power of God and the wisdom of God [1Cor:1:24] Those who stick with the truth of the Gospel have to overcome persecution, ridicule and indifference, but also the stigma of its foolishness. Both Psalm 125 and the letter to the church in Thyatira make clear the judgement of God for those who decide to hold on to what is attractive but false, and the reward for those who hang on to what is less attractive but true. Those who do hang on are those who, like Jerusalem, are surrounded by God’s goodness and protection. Jesus promises authority to those who now feel inferior though their faith in Him and to the faithful the psalm promises peace. 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 126 [Revelation 3:7-13] Objective: The God who transforms tears into joy Telling stories to one another from the past reminds us, even in the bad times, that we have genuine experiences from real life that show how things can be different. The stories lift our spirits but also make us yearn for a future where we can know that joy again. Can these dreams come true? The Israelites on their pilgrimage were expectant that this journey might indeed lead from the disappointments of home to rejoicing in the presence of God at the Temple in Jerusalem. What new stories might they be able to share on the way back and then tell again to the folks at home? 2 Psalm 126 both remembers and anticipates – rather like we do at Advent both remembering Jesus coming as a Baby but also looking for his coming in glory. That place of ‘now and not yet’ is where all Christians live to some extent. Like the middle of a piece of music, there are many melodies to enjoy but we await the final resolution of the complete piece! So, Jesus promises a Psalm 126 experience to the church in Philadelphia. There will come a day when they will feel renewed, full of laughter, singing for joy… as they hear, “welcome, good and faithful servants”. Then they will see the abundant fruitfulness of their labours. They will be restored and crowned by the one who holds the key to eternal life! They believed in a God who could transform in such a distinctive way that other nations, looking on, wouldn’t be able to miss his activity & then stand in wonder! The miracle of tears to joy was as incredible as that of seed becoming harvest The people of Philadelphia were familiar with picking themselves up after earthquakes had cracked walls and broken buildings. Likewise the church felt under constant pressure. Psalm 62 refers to a person under pressure as feeling like a leaning wall or a tottering fence [62:3]. The Christians in Philadelphia probably felt as if their work was like sowing in tears because there seemed so little reward, yet Jesus speaks as one who opens up possibilities that none can prevent. Like spring plants coming up through hard ground or blossom appearing from lifeless winter twigs, Jesus promised life to all who kept going in their faith even though feeling weak The Christians in Philadelphia might feel like a tottering fence but Jesus declares that those who oppress his people will in fact be the ones who fall down. They will fall before the church as they come to recognise Jesus’ love, power and authority! Perhaps even the desert might have a part to play? I was reminded of an experience when we were in Israel several years ago. Talk about our walk down the Wadi Quelt. The bullet, the flower and the water. The incredible transforming power of God at work even in the desert to absorb pain, nurture hope and garner springs of joy! 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 127 [Revelation 3:1-6] Objective: Lasting fruitfulness comes from being rooted right A few weeks ago we saw shocking scenes of a collapsed building in Bangladesh; images of people struggling to dig through the unstable rubble to try and find survivors and the repeated grief of those discovering the bodies of loved ones. Builders and architects are being held to account for shoddy planning & workmanship. It has been tragic that, even without an earthquake or any other radical event, these buildings have simply collapsed under their own weight. People will have been going about their daily labours under the impression that the building which looked so solid and secure was actually safe. The Psalmist warns that poor foundations lead to ultimate collapse. Jesus had a similar warning in his story about wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27; perhaps he had this psalm in mind? Talk about rocks and sand-bricks… In a similar way Jesus warns the church in Sardis that appearances can be deceptive. In their case it’s the fact that although they have the reputation for being alive, underneath it all they are dead. Perhaps they are living on past reputation? Perhaps they are very adept at putting on the right show for others? But Jesus sees right through it all and perceives that their roots, their foundations, are anything but sufficient. From Banks to Churches we can all probably point to organisations we’ve experienced where everything looks fine on the outside but underneath the veneer, things are shaky and hollow – their collapse has come as a shock. Jesus says to the church in Sardis that maintaining your image isn’t enough – reputations can easily blow away. The Psalmist says that simply working harder won’t work, either, if the foundations are poor. 2 I guess all of us can identify in some way with these thoughts: the realisation that the face we present to the world hides an inner reality that is less secure and less lovely. The awareness that our testimony is about the past but not the present. We may feel bad but it’s important we also hold on to the truth that, although Jesus sees right through us to our foundations, he also loves us with a love that is unshakable. He loves us as we are and he loves us too much to leave us as we are! That’s the wonder of grace! The Psalmist goes back to the grace of God known by those who are in loving relationship with him. If they are genuinely trying to build their lives on a relationship with God, then they will know true blessing. The evidence of that blessing is described in terms, not of things or possessions, but as family and children; the next generation who will continue the legacy passed on to them. In a similar way Jesus tells the church in Sardis that they need to retrace their steps to the place where they lost their way in relationship with Him. It’s a process of repentance from waywardness and towards obedience. True life and fruitfulness only lie in that direction. Jesus does not want to come and expose what they are really like. He longs, rather, for a people with whom he can walk in relationship and acknowledge with pride before His Father. I think Colossians 2:6-7 sums it up rather well: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 128 Objective: The power of blessing Talk about Growing Leaders groups we ran – that first evening praying for each other… The word ‘blessing’ can be no more than just a knee-jerk response when someone sneezes or a patronising aside, but I’ve come to feel that it can also have so much more significance. Meeting couples preparing for marriage one of their greatest reasons for marrying in church is the desire for God’s blessing. They may be a bit vague as to what that means & possibly there’s some superstition involved, but it is a sincere desire. In the Bible we might think of Jacob, that deceiver who wrestled with God out of a desire to be blessed, maybe realising finally that all his own schemes came to nothing without God’s blessing. We might think of Jesus ascending into heaven watched by his disciples and in an attitude towards them of blessing. That final image he leaves with them is of a saviour who wants to bless. This psalm says that if we are in right relationship with God them we are blessed. That blessing is realized in real and practical ways – it’s not just sentiment! Our greatest blessing is, of course, our salvation in Christ but we can also point to events and situations in our lives where we feel anything but blessed: illness, tragedy, bereavement, pain… We need to balance this psalm with many others where the writer is struggling with a lack of blessing. Jesus himself was not immune from such. 2 Nonetheless God’s blessing is real and potent and those of us who are his children are granted the capacity to pass it on. We are told to be those who bless, who stand in a place where humanly-speaking we’d like to curse, and choose instead to bless. That way we are stepping outside our worldly framework and behaving as children of the King; the King who blesses. And it’s interesting that this psalm ends with peace. Because one of the most beautiful blessings Jesus uttered was to bestow his peace upon his people, a peace that the world cannot give, a peace born of the Kingdom of God. Let’s become more and more a people who realize how much we are blessed and therefore how much we are equipped by our Heavenly Father to be those who bring His blessing to others. As we do so then the potent goodness of the Kingdom of God is released to fly in the face of Satan’s power and instil the peace of the risen Lord Jesus. 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 129 Objective: We stick with God, but then he sticks even more surely with us! Stickability is a quality we admire in others but it’s so hard to make it our own. Maybe the tradition of giving things up in Lent is partly to demonstrate or develop our own stickability, our own perseverance? I don’t know about you but I look back and I see where I regret lack of perseverance. If only I’d practiced sight reading more I’d be better now at playing the piano. If only I’d stuck more doggedly at New Testament Greek I’d be able to understand the New Testament better…! Yet, for all the waywardness of the Israelites, the Jewish people are renowned for their doggedness. Through persecution after persecution, since the beginning of their nationhood, they have somehow stuck with God. The image of the ploughman’s furrow gouging across their backs is painfully explicit and makes me think of Jesus after his scourging on Good Friday. The key of this psalm pivots about the word at the start of verse 4 – ‘but’. But the Lord is righteous. It’s worth persevering for the sake of something that is true or someone who is utterly dependable. I guess the ‘but’ has its roots in faith believing God for who he is and what he has promised. The literal translation of verse 4 speaks of God setting the people free by cutting the cords of the wicked. The image seems to be that of cutting the harness that connects the oxen to the plough so that their power is no longer able to do any harm. 2 Persevering with God isn’t a short-term fix for we will all know Christians who have suffered, but if God is truly righteous then the eternal benefit is worth the pain [Heb.12:2 – …for the joy set before him...]. I don’t feel that the psalmist goes on to cover himself in glory. We know that Jesus tells us to love our enemies, pray for them and bless them. But I can’t say I blame them for wishing ill of their tormentors. At least he or she wishes God to do the punishment & isn’t asking God to let them have the gratification of doing it in revenge. But, by reverse inference, perhaps we do learn something about what it looks like in the longer term to be opposed by God - Purposes are defeated, crops are unfruitful and nobody blesses you. The Psalmist seems to be saying, persist with God and you will find freedom on the other side of the pain because God is righteous and faithful. However, persist without God & you will ultimately lose your way, lack satisfaction and be isolated from all that’s good – sounds like hell to me! 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 130 [Revelation 3:14-22] Objective: By listening we will hear Jesus knocking and by longing we will bid him enter to bring life and release! Talk about Jonathan Couper’s word over me. The anticipation of encouragement and the confusion when rebuked! I wonder how the Church in Laodicea felt as it first heard the letters to the other six churches? Were they waiting with bated breath for what Jesus would say to them? I can imagine the silence after they heard that word of being judged lukewarm. And the mixed feelings at the further words of warning and invitation. Was it really true that Jesus was knocking but, despite all their times of worship, He felt excluded? I expect they responded with a mixture of angst and anger! But what would they do next? Psalm 130 would have given them a good template to follow. It’s a psalm we’ve used a few times in our church as an act of repentance and confession. Satan loves to condemn us because that locks us up in guilt and self-pity. Jesus comes to convict us out of love because he wants to free us and lead us out into abundant life! Let’s apply Psalm 130 as if it were the Laodicean Church responding… It begins with an acknowledgement of sin; recognition that God’s judgement is true and fair, but also that he is the only one with the capacity to forgive. Knowing it is in God’s power to forgive brings a sense of fear and reverence! When stood before the one who can forgive, you ask yourself whether, in their judgement’ they will forgive. You fear they may choose not to. [Peter’s fear as a sinful man before Jesus] But the Laodiceans know that Jesus comes to them out of love. Realising that Jesus is knocking on the door, awaiting invitation to enter and bearing gold for their poverty, clean clothes for their nakedness and ointment for their infected 2 sight, so they now wait, hushed, hopeful and expectant… Now, far from being lukewarm, their attention is totally focused in anticipation of Jesus, like the watchmen looking for first signs of the dawn. They await both the intimate presence of their Lord and Saviour, and the fulfilment of his promises to those who overcome; an eternal place by his heavenly throne. As Psalm 130 ends, “Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”. We don’t know how each of these churches received their Letter from Jesus. Some may have responded and become more fruitful as a result. Perhaps the responses in every case were mixed. But the purpose of every letter was to challenge error and encourage good. At the start I suggested that we make a pilgrimage not so much to escape our context but so that what we learn on our travels will bring us back changed and better equipped to live in the neighbourhood, workplace or family God has placed us in. I wonder how Jesus has been speaking to each of us though what we’ve seen and sensed over these days of Pilgrimage? Have we been challenged by these churches and the words of Jesus to them? Talk about where Jonathan Couper’s words led me…! I’d love to think that the church in Laodicea did adopt a Psalm 130 response. What will be your response and mine as we return from Pilgrimage once more to live where we started. How has the loving word of Jesus convicted and encouraged us? Will we be attentive to his call and be changed? 533581989 1 3/8/16 Reading: Psalm 133 [John 17:20-26] Objective: Choosing unity so as to bring down God’s blessing upon us and through us. Three days after the Olympic Games have ended, whatever you made of the opening and closing ceremonies, it would be hard to avoid the overall conclusion that they’ve been a great success. As one foreign correspondent put it from our National Anthem, “victorious, happy & glorious”! You sense that this psalm might have had in mind just such an image. People of diverse nations competing in what was generally a good spirit, urged on by appreciative crowds and supported by enthusiastic volunteers – it’s been an amazing spectacle! Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 also centres upon unity and it’s a unity between people that also embraces people and God. Just as Christ himself lived in total harmony with God’s purposes so we are to aspire to a unity that is an expression of the very relationship Christ has with his heavenly Father. It is in our unity that the glory of God and the glory of God’s creation are made most visible. That’s why there was something about the Olympics that resonated with how things were meant to be – wonderful diversity united in purpose and harmony. How sad that Jesus’ prayer for his church is still to be answered fully. The Church down the ages has all-too-often been the last place to find unity and harmony! We are a people defined by God’s forgiveness, as this very service reminds us, yet so often we fail to be shaped by that forgiveness. 2 Because unity may be beautiful but it is not automatic. Unity is made up of choices – just go and read 1Corinthians 13 again and see how love, the essence of unity, is made of choices such as forgiveness, patience, not keeping a record of wrongs… I wonder what stories you might tell of times and experiences where you sense a Psalm 133 unity in the church or Christian group you were in? Tell of Ventures. The images in Revelation assure us that there will indeed be a time when our unity will be a bigger party than any Olympic ceremony! Our God longs to bless us and I believe He is generous in his blessing, but we read in Psalm 133 that his blessing is poured out most freely for his people and through his people when we are united – when we are making kingdom choices to be God’s chosen people, diverse living stones, drawing the dew of heaven to fall upon the earth.