13 February, 6th Sunday after Epiphany
A downloadable version of this page is available for anyone who would like to save or print it out.
The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for their thoughts on Racial Justice Sunday, the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.
Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.
It provides liturgical material that can be used for worship in all settings. Our writers are asked to share their approaches to creating and delivering this material to equip leaders with a greater confidence and ability to reflect on their own worship practice and experience and encourage them to consider how this material might be adapted for their own context.
We would encourage continual reflection on the changing patterns of worship and spiritual practice that are emerging from disruption and how this might help identify pathways towards development and worship renewal.
We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.
- Simple worship activities
- Musical suggestions
- Reflecting on our worship practice
- Useful links
Welcome to this year's Racial Justice Sunday (RJS) worship material and resources, which have the theme: ‘Racial Justice Sunday: What's it got to do with me?'
This is very much a call for all Christians to engage in the righteous struggle for racial justice because racial justice is everyone's business. As we shall see in this resource, the Bible has a lot to say about justice because as God's Word, it reflects God's heart for justice. It can be argued that we should love justice because God does! Racism and racial discrimination are justice issues because they deny basic justice and human dignity to women and men who are made in the image of God. Equally, they are sinful because, among other issues, they assume all are not equal before God and are not part of God's family.
The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 has been described as a Kairos moment for the Church, and it led to much soul-searching and a desire on behalf of many to see change. However, some in the Church were left befuddled and struggled to engage with the conversations that emerged from that tragic event, as well as protests and the clamour for real change.
This resource has been written with that cohort specifically in mind because the work to end racism requires a collective response with all sections of the Church fully engaged in this task.
For those who have previously not engaged with RJS because they did not feel equipped to do so, this resource will provide them with the tools to play an active role in this work. For those who have argued that their churches do not have Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic people in their congregations, so do not have a ‘problem', this resource suggests that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people should not be considered ‘problems', and shows that the hostile attitudes towards them are also found in churches that do not have them in their congregations.
Indeed, diversity in a congregation is no barometer for acceptance or hospitality. (Moreover, history shows that far-right, anti-immigration parties do as well, if not better, in areas without a significant minority ethnic population. As such, churches in these areas have an important role to play in encouraging these homogeneous communities to be more accepting and understanding of difference, inclusion and change.)
For those who worship in Black-led churches that have Black majority congregations, and so for whom racism within the church is negligible, racial justice is important because it addresses the racism in situations, places and spaces that congregants inhabit outside of church. As such, this material equips churches with the necessary tools to address these situations.
Who is this resource for?
As the preamble points out, racial justice is everyone's business and RJS should not be regarded as an onerous matter to be avoided, but an opportunity for churches to focus on the three ‘R's of ‘Remembering', ‘Reflecting' and ‘Responding':
- ‘Remembering' the importance of racial justice
- ‘Reflecting' on human diversity and thanking God for it
- ‘Responding' by working to end injustice, racism and ignorance through prayer and action
How this resource can be used
The Weekly Worship material on these pages is taken from the CTBI Racial Justice Sunday resource, "Racial Justice: What's it got to do with me?"
The full version can be downloaded from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. There, you will find the full range of materials that will enable churches and congregations to carry out an act of worship or a service focusing on racial justice. The RJS resource has been designed to be used by Christians of all traditions and churches of all denominations, as befits the ecumenical nature of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
The resource includes:
- Prayers, sermons and worship activities and hymns that help worship leaders to prepare gatherings that will enable congregations to celebrate RJS in a more profound way
- Information, ideas and activities that enable them to continue the conversations that may emanate from RJS
- Invaluable information exploring racial justice from a biblical as well as sociological perspective
- Reflections, opinions and racial justice journeys of a cross-section of people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England; all of whom speak of the importance of racial justice within their context
- A glossary containing a breakdown of the terms and terminology linked to racial justice that will demystify the subject for the uninitiated, as well as upskill the learned
You may find it beneficial to read the full version of the resource prior to exploring the worship material below, as this may enable you to put together a richer, more creative, and insightful act of worship.
Prayer for Justice
Mighty, and everlasting God.
As Your people come into your presence,
We are thankful for your graciousness, your mercy, and your love.
We continue to remember all those adversely affected by the COVID pandemic,
We pray that your Holy Spirit will be present with them,
To comfort and to heal; to sustain and be reconciled, one with another.
On this special day, we remember the family of George Floyd,
We remember all those who are hurting, disadvantaged,
and impacted by racial prejudice.
We also remember all those have suffered at the hands of injustice,
May your Holy Spirit be present with them,
To comfort and to heal; to bring justice and reconciliation,
one with another.
Faithful God, we commit this service into your hands,
We pray for every participant and every listener,
That you will empower them with your strength,
That they might be courageous to say and do what is right and just,
and that your good and glorious, magnificent, and righteous name might be praised,
We pray in the name of your selfless son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen! Amen! And Amen!
© Written by Mark Sturge
A Responsive Prayer
In the stillness we pray…
(Response) Creator God, hear our prayer
Creator God, when the disciples got into their boat, it was dark and Jesus had yet to come to them.
We pray for those who experience the absence of security because your peace has not yet come to them. We remember in our hearts and pray for those whose countries are in the midst of the war, famine, persecution.
In the stillness we pray…
Creator God, hear our prayer
Whilst the disciples were in their boat the sea became rough.
Creator God, we remember and pray for those who are in the midst of national and international storms, and for those in whose hands lie the way that makes justice and peace.
We also pray for those we know whose battle is against personal storms: difficulties, challenges, hurts, confusion and uncertainties which are overwhelming.
Forgive us for our apathy and compliancy. May we who profess to be followers of Christ, willingly do what we can to work towards justice and peace, for people both within and outside of our communities and the country in which we live.
May we too be willing to share in the joys and pains of those here who need us.
In the stillness we pray…
Creator God, hear our prayer
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were afraid. Jesus said, ‘It is I. do not be afraid.'
Creator God, we remember and pray for those who live in fear; in fear of abuse; in fear of loneliness; in fear of the future.
And for those of us who live with fear each day.
May we remember the words of Christ – ‘It is I, do not be afraid.'
As we begin another day may we keep our hearts and our minds fixed on you and rejoice in you.
In the name of Christ. Amen
© Jillian Brown
These can be used at various points within liturgies or as stand-alone prayers. Once we see where material from others is coming from, we could easily shape a specific liturgy or symbolic act for use in worship.
"Ever present God,
you called us to be in relationship with one another
and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered.
In our community, we are many different people;
we come from many different places, have many different cultures.
Open our hearts that we may be bold
in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us.
We pray in faith. Amen."
Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr
God our Maker,
in whose image and likeness each of us has been created,
with a human dignity worthy of respect.
Listen to the cry that rises from every corner of this fragile earth,
from our human family
To world leaders and decision makers,
grant the wisdom to reach beyond boundary and border.
May our common humanity drive policy
and foster peaceful dialogue and constructive collaboration.
To those who misuse their power or take power from others,
through violent action or hateful speech.
Grant mercy and grow in them a humble heart of compassion,
peaceful dialogue and constructive collaboration.
To the innocent ones robbed of dignity, possession, or shelter,
to the victims of these forces who have had life taken from them,
we entrust them in Your everlasting arms, O God,
that are wide enough to embrace all of Your creation.
You made us in Your image,
with minds to know You,
with hearts to love you,
with wills to serve You.
But our knowledge is imperfect,
our love inconstant and immature,
and our obedience incomplete and self-serving.
Help us today by day grow in Your likeness,
which is so widely displayed in the diversity of creation.
Help us to understand our own prejudices and narrow mindedness.
Help us to love our neighbour as we ourselves long to be loved.
Help us to serve others with humility and gratitude.
Do not hold our sin against us,
but help us to repent of outdated and inappropriate world views.
Help us to mature in our thinking, loving and serving.
God of all,
You alone are worthy of praise,
from every mouth
in every nation and time.
You created the world in Your infinite grace,
and by Your everlasting love redeemed it.
Hold us to the shared task of loving one another
as You have loved us.
We come from scattered lives to this place,
seeking unity in the Spirit,
seeking the grace of the Christ of all people,
seeking the peace of the God of All.
God's people have gathered,
in our glorious diversity and difference,
as God created and intended.
Let us worship God together.
Call to Worship
God our Maker
You call us here to worship You together.
To bear witness to Your creativity
seen, heard and found in all who gather.
We are all Your children,
bearing Your divine image,
shaped by Your imagination and breath.
You have gifted us
with the beauty of difference
the blessing of diversity
the pleasure of individuality
and the bond of love and peace.
Lord Jesus Christ,
who crossed boundaries and borders,
help us to love our neighbours and break down barriers in our communities.
who made blind eyes see and deaf ears hear,
enable us to perceive the reality of racism,
bigotry and racial injustice in ourselves and our society.
Prince of Peace,
Inspire us to celebrate difference and reconcile division
and help re-imagine this world as a place where justice and peace kiss
and freedom abounds.
Maker of all
You painted into being all heaven and earth.
Creatures and all living things,
with such depth of diversity –
shape, size, colour, uniqueness and giftedness.
Help us to recognise Your Divine Image in stranger and friend,
to see Christ in the displaced and dehumanised,
that we might recognise their dignity
and act with Your passion and zeal
to see justice, equity and love abound.
When we do not listen to the cries
Give us ears to hear
When we do not recognise racism and injustice
Give us eyes to see
When we do not speak truth to power
Give us voices to declare…
[This prayer can lead into songs like ‘For Everyone Born A Place at the Table' or ‘Let us Build a House'. Songs that are already sung in many Church of Scotland congregations, and are part of a widely shared hymnody repertoire.]
Crossing the Bridge of Justice Leads us to the Land of Peace
Shermara JJ Fletcher, Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic and Multi-Cultural Relations
The recent event of the COVID-19 global pandemic has exposed a national and global underbelly of polarity, division, and civic unrest. There has been the resurfacing of alarming health, race, and class inequalities, the racially motivated stabbings, and attacks of Muslim women in France and America as well as the senseless and tragic murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which sparked anger, disgust, and protest across the globe. Racism has also reared its ugly head in Britain, particularly in the context of the politically polarising and divisive ordeal of Brexit. Justice has been crying from streets across the world, and disillusionment and lethargy have clogged the hearts of humanity and the quest for peace is now urgent. However, the quest for peace, equality and equity cannot exist without crossing the bridge of justice and this short sermon will offer two bridges that need to be crossed to help the Church get there. These are crossing the bridge of personal prejudice and crossing the bridge of fear and silence.
Crossing the bridge of personal prejudice
The stain and sin of racism, discrimination and prejudice should not reside in the attitudes and hearts of Christians, and the 21st century Church, but unfortunately, they do. However, this is not a new issue and was even experienced by Jesus as a member of the occupied and oppressed Jewish community living under Roman imperialism and which was perpetrated amongst His disciples and in particular Peter.
Peter was a church leader who had earned his theological stripes in Judaism. And if that was not enough, he had even spent time with Jesus in the flesh, had walked on water and personally experienced his forgiveness after denying Christ, yet he had a narrow racist attitude towards the gentiles which fluctuated depending on the crowd and its level of importance (Galatians 2:12). We can learn a lot about God's attitude towards racism, discrimination, and prejudice through Peter's story. God was not interested in all of Peter's accolades, church accomplishments and directly called out Peter's attitude making it clear that he should not call anyone common or unclean (Acts 10:15, Acts 10:28). This revealed a universal Gospel that was radically inclusive and an intolerance for any form of antagonism towards the advancement of different people coming into communion with God and flourishing. The recording and correction of Peter's attitude shows that it is possible for the Church to be prejudiced and that it is not acceptable to perpetrate prejudice masked behind theology, culture, church establishment and positions. Peter's correction and revelation also provides hope for perpetrators of prejudice that change is possible, and that God is also lovingly concerned about their heart condition.
Which leads to the second bridge that needs to be crossed in pursuing justice.
Crossing the bridge of fear and silence
In the face of injustice and in particular racism, do we have the confidence and determination to resist the temptation to remain passively silent and maintain the status quo? Well, Jesus condemns the religious rulers of the day for this passivity in Matthew 23:23, stating, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others".
It is interesting that Jesus does not hold to account the politicians, guards, or tax collectors, but explicitly speaks to the religious leaders of the day. Jesus' condemnation also challenges the Church and its leaders to take seriously their responsibility to implement an inclusive environment where all equally flourish, and challenge injustice in the world and Church.
Which raises the critical question, what are we focusing on? Are we solely focusing on shiny six-point church growth strategies, how we can sustain our church cultures and income whilst neglecting the weightier concerns of unjust laws that deplete people's lives and the injustices that effect the people in our pews? The impact of standing up and dealing with weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness, is evident in Queen Esther's life and timeless declaration "if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). Esther's decision to resist the temptation to remain silent saved generations from genocide and ethnic cleansing motivated by racism (Esther 3:8). Esther forsook her privilege, societal benefits and used her power to benefit nations. In fact, this decision can particularly encourage those who work in the racial justice space or hold responsibility for racial diversity in their institutions to step out in boldness and courage.
And finally, as we struggle with our responsibility to address racial injustice in the church and wider society, whilst living in the tension of "the already, and not yet", I leave you with this question on which to reflect. When you deal with and uproot any attitudes of racism, discrimination, and prejudice in yourself and/or institution, what does your voice have the power to save and what does your silence have the power to enable?
We are all one in Christ, or are we? (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Revd Mandy Ralph, Minister, Church of Scotland
In life, if we are honest with ourselves, we know all too well that there are insiders and outsiders. The welcome mat is dusted off and laid out for some and not for others. Some people are accepted, others are rejected. If you know and experience acceptance, it is a nice and secure feeling. On the other hand, maybe you have experienced rejection and exclusion, and it's not so nice, it's frustrating, disheartening, disillusioning and hurtful. In some of the rural villages I have ministered in even after 30 or 40 years, unless you were born there you are still referred to as an incomer – ‘Aye see these interloupers!'
But how does that feel when you are excluded, an outsider because of the colour of your skin, because you look different? We read in Ephesians of how we are all one in Christ. Interesting concept or a reality, or non-existent when it comes to our church communities? As you reflect on the passage from Ephesians and how God's word speaks to you, maybe you are thinking what significance does it have on Racial Justice Sunday? You may also be thinking what does Racial Justice Sunday have to do with me? The answer is everything. For it is about acceptance before God and acceptance of one another.
Within Christian communities you often hear the phrase: ‘We are all one in Christ'. By faith we are assured of this as we are all part of the body of Christ. Jesus walked among us and knows us only too well, our complexities and our frailties. Therefore, let's not kid ourselves that we can use the phrase to our own ends; when we use it to paper over uncomfortable discussions or to prove we are right in our stance or as a line of defence. Sometimes when we use that phrase what we are actually doing is closing down the conversation, especially when it comes to inequality and racial injustice. ‘We are all one in Christ – so we don't need to address this.' But the person on the receiving end is still excluded, for their voice has not been heard, in fact it has been silenced.
Jesus walked and shared by example, we are tasked to do the same, to follow in Jesus' footsteps, to go in faith in what unites not what divides. So, when we say, ‘What does Racial Justice Sunday have to do with us?' – Everything! It's up to us as Christian communities to set a good example, to walk the talk, putting our faith into action in fighting racial injustice, and God wants that from all of us, not just a select few. For we are all made in the image of God, yet we are all also unique.
In Scotland we have a great saying – ‘Wur aw Jock Tamson's Bairns'. In faith ‘Wur aw God's bairns' – children of God. All loved the same by God. So, let's treat each other equally and respectfully, understanding that as Christians we all have a role to play regardless of the colour of our skin in addressing racial injustice, both in our congregations and communities.
Voice with the Voiceless (Mark 11:15-19)
Revd Wale Hudson Roberts, Justice Enabler, the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Jesus came to the Temple prepared and equipped to confront the merchants.
The Temple was more than the religious centre of Jewish life. It was the governing institution of Israel. The centre of Israel's political life and power. Let us not forget that it was at the Jerusalem Temple that the High Priest held court and presided over the powerful Sanhedrin. It was at the Temple that the priestly elite obediently represented their own interests. It was at the Temple that the priests issued pronouncements and decisions that affected the life of every Jew in Israel. The Jerusalem Temple was the centre of Israel's economy. Its central bank and treasury. The depository of immense wealth. Indeed, so much of the activity of the Temple hinged upon buying and selling and various modes of exchange. The Jerusalem Temple had become an economic institution, not a religious one.
This is highlighted in the exceedingly high incomes of the priests. Their privileged status contradicted the biblical understanding of egalitarianism. There is an interesting account in the Rabbinic writings that reinforces this regrettable position. Ancient writings suggest that the price of sacrificial doves had become so unreasonably inflated that the worshipper was unable to afford them, which could result in supplicants staying away from the Temple in shame, and therefore making no offering at all. This in turn would have a chilling impact on Temple revenues and the priest's own income. It seems that because of this, the price of doves dropped by about 99 per cent. That the costs could be dropped so drastically while the merchants still made a profit gives a sense of how disgracefully inflated the price of doves had become under the Temple oversight. These insights possibly provided by Josephus illustrate how corrupt the Temple had become.
It had become a Temple for some not for all.
It had become a temple for the rich, not the poor and rich.
It had become a political and economic powerhouse facilitating the wealth of a few and not a religious space that gave voice to the voiceless.
So, here is the question. What are the similarities between the misuse of Temple power and the misuse of Church power; in terms of churches failing to speak with the voiceless?
The disempowering of the voiceless, is the first:
Temple dues guaranteed the priestly class a privileged status beyond most Jews. However, their misuse of power pushed them to engage in practices by which they enriched themselves. These unjust practices had become part of the Jerusalem Temple narrative, disempowering the Jewish voiceless.
Disempowering the voiceless has become a normative practice in some of our churches. Far too many of our churches appear reluctant to give voice to the voiceless. This means Black and Brown congregants struggle to find belonging, women are overlooked because they are women, those from within the LGBTQ community are invalidated and the rights of the disabled undermined. Churches often describe such exclusionary behaviour as unconscious bias. I believe it is largely conscious.
The second similarity between the Temple and Church concerns the normalising of injustice:
Josephus, when providing an analysis on the unjust Temple experience, by referencing the insistence of the priests to collect the tithes from the working class Jews, helps the reader to reflect on how unjust Temple practices had become. This practice, though heinous and totally unjust, had gradually became acceptable and therefore normal.
It is weird to think that unjust behaviour can so easily become normative within society and our local congregations, but they can and so often do. For example, discouraging and in some cases preventing women from preaching or occupying a leadership position, is unjust. But in some of our churches this prohibition, often theologically justified, is normative and fully acceptable.
The third similarity is the extent of the injustice:
The Temple context suggests that the priestly elite were made very wealthy by the people's Temple dues. Priests received a portion of every Temple sacrifice and offering. Now given the number of pilgrims on ‘high' holy days could swell into their tens if not the hundreds of thousands, (pause) this represented considerable wealth. The extent of the injustice was not just normative and disempowering it had become institutional, embedded in the Temple structures, processes, and culture. It was extensive big time. But this is how discrimination works, particularly institutional discrimination. It seeps into the fibre and culture of the congregation and goes undetected, sometimes for decades and when it is exposed it becomes our problem and we who represent the ‘othered' are problematised.
So, how then did Jesus seek to dismantle this institutional injustice? Injustice in the Temple that can be characterised by its extensiveness, normality and acceptability and its disempowering consequences?
To answer the question, we return briefly to Mark, who reminds us that Jesus returned to the Temple the day after His demonstration, seemingly still filled with outrage at the exploitation of His people. He then recounts, that of all the areas of the Temple environs that Jesus could have chosen, he chose to locate Himself opposite the Temple treasury. Now, when a poor widow made her own contribution. Jesus took this as an opportunity to denounce a system that made those who had nothing feel they had no choice but to contribute their last or risk being excluded from God's blessings. This system was focussed on filling its own coffers.
By denouncing the priests for their injustice in the Temple, Jesus shows it to be guilty of one of the worse sins in the Hebrew Bible: mistreatment of the widow. The sin that would lead to the Temple's destruction.
It was not long after this episode, Jesus echoes Jeremiah's pronouncement, namely: the Temple would be destroyed for failing to treat people in the image of God.
When all the events surrounding Jesus' demonstration at the Temple in Mark chapters 11- 13 are considered, it is obvious that Jesus had the destruction of the Temple in the forefront of His thinking. Just Look at the chronology; immediately before even entering the Temple He declared destruction on a fig tree. It can be no coincidence that in several biblical texts destruction of a fig tree is symbolic of God's judgement for discrimination and injustice. Also note, when His disciples emerged from the Temple and noticed that the fig tree had died, Jesus responded by telling them that if they were really serious and committed to transforming their situation they had the agency to throw the mountain in the sea, if that was their choice; ( pause ) no coincidence that He uses the word mountain to capture the complexity and consequences of sin exemplified in the Temple.
So, back to our question, how did Jesus dismantle Temple injustice?
Many liberation theologians argue that His destruction of the fig tree illustrated how He dealt with injustice, and we know how He dealt with the fig tree. I totally get and agree with the symbolism captured by those who threw the statue of Edward Colston into the Bristol Harbour. For what that picture represented was an emphatic no to institutional racism; I am glad that the statue is now going to be relocated (lest we forget). The imagery of the statue being thrown into the Bristol Harbour was appropriate. This image of a slave owner situated in the heart of Bristol, validating, and affirming colonialism and racist practices, deserves its place in the harbour.
How does this apply to Church life? Ridding the Church of injustice is important and necessary; however, this is a process. It does not happen overnight. The more we as leaders journey with our churches and embody just values, the greater the capacity of our churches to robustly deal with injustice. Our roles as servants of Jesus is to journey with the churches we have been called to love and through the building of relationships, ongoing conversations, theological dialogue and sheer love, eventually lead the Church to a place where most of the worshipping congregation can confidently and robustly say ‘No to patriarchy', ‘No to racism', ‘No to classism' and ‘No to homophobic practices'.
How did Jesus deal with the Temple injustice?
Secondly with creative anger:
Again, let us return to Mark, who makes it very clear in the Temple narrative that Jesus is not shy in coming forward with His expressions of disgust towards injustice in the Temple. He lambasts the priests denouncing them as crooks. Listen to what He said: "You den of robbers…." This scathing expression used by Jesus comes directly from one of the most bitter attacks against the Temple in all the Bible, namely, God's declaration upon the Temple of Jerusalem. In this passage, the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord was a radical ultimatum: Israel's upper class ends its rampant corruption, it ends its oppression of the powerless and the poor, or the Temple will be destroyed.
Not long ago I was asked to deliver a presentation in which I compared the theology of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Sam Sharpe (a Jamaican Baptist Pastor, a freedom fighter against enslavement). After the presentation, a colleague approached me. He thanked me for the presentation and then proceeded to say, "I must say though, you came across like an angry Black man." I said, "Thank you, I would rather come across like an angry Black man than a White man who appears to be disengaged from issues of justice." My colleague was not happy. But then my intention was not to make him happy.
Musa Dube, a Black female theologian from Zambia, captures the essence of the response of Jesus and His creative anger. She said: "I don't think a church can fully become anti-racist or anti-sexist, or anti-homophobic or anti-tribal until every member of the church is able to express creative anger at injustice, reflecting the character of God. It is ultimately, angry worshippers that change the culture of church, creating a space for all not just a few."
We see this anger against injustice and a commitment for a new world in the lives of people like:
- Ella Baker
- James Baldwin
- Stokely Carmichael
- Malcolm X
- Rosa Parkes
- Betty Shabazz
- Valerie Amos
- Kofi Annan
- Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr
- Jesus Christ
Their strategies, fused and undergirded by a real sense of anger, supported their commitment in bringing real change to an unjust world. I believe this sense of righteous indignation provides the fuel to continue to challenge injustice within our churches and give voice to the voiceless. So, here is the question for leaders seeking to give voice to the voiceless in their churches. How can you cultivate a congregation who by their creative anger are compelled to be a voice with the voiceless?
Thirdly and finally, Jesus was willing to go the cross:
Let us not forget the words; "kept looking for a way to kill him" (Mark 11:18). James Cone in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, argues that the lynching tree is a viable symbol for reflection on the cross of Jesus. He claims that the cross placed alongside the lynching tree could help us see Jesus in a new light. The cross and the lynching tree both share the common heritage of inspiring hope and vision, despite the oppressors' designs to arouse fear and stifle the anticipated reality of justice. The cross and the lynching tree are symbols that represent both death and the promise of redemption, judgement, and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope. Both represent the worst in human beings and at the same time an unquenchable ontological thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.
The crucifixion of Jesus, spurred on by Jesus' commitment to justice, seen in the Temple narrative is both a symbol of death to injustice (fig tree) and a symbol of hope for justice (the cross and the resurrection).
The ministry of Jesus combines both darkness and light death and resurrection. Therefore, repentance, lament, death, resurrection, and hope, signalling just inclusivity for the oppressed and the oppressor, the ushering in of a new kingdom, are the hallmarks of an anti-discriminatory Church and Union.
Giving voice to the voiceless is not easy. It is challenging, sometimes sacrificial of self and family. It calls primarily for the letting go of privilege, power and ego. But it is the way of the cross, and frankly it is the only way we can create a just world and just churches.
Building a Multi-Ethnic Church (Acts 13:1-3)
Richard Reddie, Director of Justice and Inclusion, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
One of the Bible's fascinating qualities is the way certain events and activities are ‘hidden in plain sight' and Acts 13:1-3 is a great example of that. In the previous chapter, the writer of Acts explains how Antioch, a city in Syria, was an early stronghold of Christianity, and it was here that the followers of Jesus were first called ‘Christians'. We also read how these Syrian-based Christians had such love for their brothers and sisters in Christ that they provided help to those who were struggling elsewhere as a result of a famine.
In the first verse of today's reading, we are presented with the names of the prophets and teachers who led that thriving Antioch church. Five individuals are named: we heard about Barnabas and Saul last week: Barnabas was a Cypriot, and Saul was from Tarsus, which is modern-day Turkey. Then there is Manaen (who we know little about except that it says he ‘had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch'). That Manaen became a Christian having lived with a tyrant like Herod reveals a lot about God's mercy and grace. However, the two individuals that are really interesting are ‘Simeon called Niger' and ‘Lucius of Cyrene'. In Latin, the term ‘Niger' means ‘Black', and Bible scholars suggest that Simeon was a Black man, probably an African Gentile who had moved to Antioch, and met with Jesus. While Lucius was from Cyrene, which is modern day Libya. In the same way that Christian tradition suggests ‘Simon of Cyrene', the man who carried Jesus' cross, was Black (Mark 15:21), Bible scholars also assert the same for Lucius. So, what we see in today's reading is that Christianity, which has its origins or roots in Jerusalem, soon has its most dynamic presence in a Syrian-based church that is being led by believers from Asia Minor, Africa and the Mediterranean.
If we were to describe the Antioch church in modern-day language, we would say that it was a diverse church with a diverse leadership. What is interesting is that we often think of terms such as diversity, equality and inclusion as new-fangled ideas. While the writer of Acts does not mention that actual word ‘diversity', we do we see it in action. The Antioch church has worshippers from parts of Africa, Turkey, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Greece and Syria – what was then all of the known world. What is more, it had equality: the believers were all considered to be sisters and brothers in Christ and of equal status. Moreover, it had the best form of inclusion imaginable; it had Black people not only in the congregation, but also in leadership positions within the church – Simeon and Lucius for example. These men were not there to make up numbers, or to add colour to proceedings, but were using their God-given abilities to lead and build up the Church in Antioch.
This was powerful, prophetic stuff that is radical even by today's standards. Churches today are still debating the issue of diversity, while the Antioch church almost 2,000 years ago, was just getting on with it. What is more, we know that this was part of God's plan, because the Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully in that church. It seems that every action or decision taken by the Antioch church, was led by the Spirit. In verse 3, we read that the Holy Spirit says: ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' These two are then sent from the Antioch church, not the church in Jerusalem, which was considered the headquarters, but that particular church to do God's work in Cyprus. So, there must have been something singularly amazing about that church; it was undoubtedly ‘on fire' for God.
We can see that the Antioch church welcomed people of all races from different places. These Christians truly had all things in common; they were united in Christ and in their diversity, and were a community of believers. In this country, we tend not to use the word ‘community' in reference to Christianity. For instance, we rarely refer to the ‘Christian community' in Britain, in the same way we would the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist communities. Some would argue that it is right that we do not use the term ‘community', because while all Christians have that one thing in common (a belief in Jesus Christ), some would say that we are not truly united, not only in terms of our theology, but also how we treat our fellow believers.
British missionary activity in 19th century sought to systematically share the ‘Gospel' with those in the former British Empire. Although a great deal of this activity has come in for much scrutiny (and criticism) over the last several decades, an obvious consequence of this effort is that many Black and Asian Christians in Britain have their roots in the old British Empire, now the Commonwealth. One of their massive contributions to the British and Irish Church has been the way they have bolstered the Christian faith on these shores, and we should be thanking God for this. Statistics reveal that Christianity is really growing in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, and in this country, in the places that have experienced immigration. Yet, sadly, what the Church should see as a blessing from God, it has sometimes spurned. Those Black people who came to Britain as part of the Windrush Generation often experienced rejection and marginalisation, and that racism is still a feature today.
But if we read the Bible carefully, we see that God does not have a problem with diversity or difference. If God did, God would have made us all the same. In Genesis 1:27 it says that we are all made in God's image, and as such there is only one race, the human race. We may have different skin colours, but we are one people. But, while God does not have a problem with ethnic difference, some human beings do, and the history of our world is sadly full of instances where people have been separated or treated unfairly on the basis of their skin colour, and the Church has been complicit in this sinful behaviour.
Yet, I believe that if we could truly emulate the Christian unity that took place in the Antioch church, the world would come running to the Church, because everyone would see (and know) that Jesus Christ has the power to bring all people together – to unite them. We live in a time where there is so much disunity – there is a lot of head-scratching about how we can become a more united, cohesive, integrated and harmonious society.
The Antioch church, which was really being led by the Holy Spirit rather than Barnabas, Saul and the other three prophets that were mentioned earlier, was bringing people together, uniting them in Christ. The question for us is, what is the Holy Spirit telling the Church today about diversity and unity? And the other question has to be, has the Spirit been speaking to us, but maybe we have not been listening, or deliberately ignoring the Spirit, arguing that God could not be in these new-fangled ways of thinking and activities? As today's Scripture reading shows, this thinking and these practices are as old as the Christian Church, and if led by the Holy Spirit, can transform the Church. How many potential ‘Simeons called Niger' or ‘Lucius's of Cyrene' are in our churches today? Women and men with giftings and abilities that the Holy Spirit wants to use to further God's kingdom. And let's face it, it is not as if the church in this country is in a strong position to disregard what God has put before it.
What was amazing about the Antioch church was that it did not appear to hold meetings, establish commissions or committees or write reports about how some Christians should be treated: led by the Holy Spirit, it just did the right thing, and as a result, God blessed that church in so many ways. Let us be people who listen closely to the Holy Spirit and put into practice what God is calling us to do.
Simple Worship Activities
Give everyone in the church a handful of tomato seeds. Ask them to hold them in the palm of one hand and to squeeze that palm as tightly as possible. How does it feel? Do the various sharp edges of the seeds cause pain to that particular hand? Encourage the person to then pour the seeds into the other hand and get them to observe what impression has been left on the palm that had grasped the seeds. Are there any marks? Have the seeds left any of their colours on the hand. Racism causes pain and often scars a person (sometimes permanently).
As tomato seeds can be planted in February, encourage congregants to plant the seeds in a pot at home and see they grow. As we all know, growth requires the appropriate environment and treatment and invariable results in change.
Think about the ways growth and development can bring about individual or collective change.
What does racial justice look like?
In small groups, encourage members of your congregation to discuss what racial justice looks like in church and society. Regarding society, this would be in education, the criminal justice system, employment, healthcare etc.
Telling our stories
It is important that churches talk about racial justice, and Racial Justice Sunday is a great opportunity for this to happen. In pairs, encourage attendees to talk about how they responded to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
It can sometimes be the case that where a person sits in a church is reflective of how comfortable they feel about being in that church. Those who feel (or are made to feel) like ‘outsiders' invariable sit at the back or to the sides, and rarely at the front. It is suggested that during the early part of the service, the leader encourages the entire congregation to move seats – if a person is at the front, they must move to the back or sides and vice-versa. However, the one caveat is that a person cannot sit next to a person they normally sit with or close to. This should be followed by an opportunity to have a talk with a new neighbour about one of the topics found in the Racial Justice Sunday resource. Not only does this provide everyone with a new perspective on the service, but it also enables congregations to break out of their comfort zones and speak to someone they may never have properly spoken to before.
© CTBI 2022
Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.
You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.
- CH4 166 – "Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy"
- CH4 198 – "Let us build a house where love can dwell"
- CH4 259 – "Beauty for brokenness"
- CH4 263 – "God of freedom, God of justice"
- CH4 360 – "Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets"
- CH4 543 – "Christ, be our Light" (Longing for light, we wait in darkness)
- CH4 694 – "Brother, sister, let me serve you"
- Suggested playlist of songs for Epiphany from CH4
The following hymns/worship songs can be readily found on the internet, e.g. CCLI SongSelect, WorshipTogether.com, etc.
- Bring forth the Kingdom
- Cry Freedom! In the name of God, and let the cry resound
- Extol the God of justice
- From those forever shackled God forgave my sin
- God, Your justice towers
- God's Spirit is in my Heart
- Great God and Lord of the earth
- How good it is, what pleasure comes
- How shall we sing salvation's song
- Jesus heard with deep compassion
- My love for You
- They will know we are Christians by our love
- This is amazing grace
- True religion
- With the Lord, there is mercy and fullness of redemption
Reflecting on our worship practice
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.
We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:
- Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
- Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
- In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
- While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
- Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
- Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.
The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.
- How inclusive was the worship?
Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
- How was the balance between passive and active participation?
- How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
What helped this? What hindered this?
- How cohesive was the worship?
Did it function well as a whole?
How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
- How balanced was the worship?
What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
- How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
- What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?
Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.
You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.
You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section
You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.
Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.