Helpful Bible passages
Hymns to explore
- For the beauty of the earth (StF 102)
- From heaven you came, helpless babe (The servant king) (StF 272)
- God is love: his the care (StF 403)
- Immortal, invisible, God only wise (StF 55)
- Let earth and heaven combine (StF 208)
- One human family God has made (StF 687)
- Sacred the body God has created (StF 618)
- Summoned by the God who made us rich in our diversity (StF 689)
- We come today to celebrate (available on the StF + website)
Holy God, before ever you made us, you loved us. Nor has your love ever slackened, nor ever shall. In love all your works have begun, and in love they continue. In this love our life is everlasting, and in this love we shall see you and be glad in you forever. Amen
Julian of Norwich, 14th century
(Praise and thanksgiving)
you have made nothing in vain
and love all that you have made.
You are like a loving parent to all your children.
Although the burdens of life overwhelm us,
we still put our trust in you,
knowing that you are with us always;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
extracts from Funeral Service for a Stillborn Child,
The Methodist Worship Book
© 1998 Trust for Methodist Church Purposes, reproduced with permission
(Thanksgiving and petition)
We thank you, God,
because you give us
more than we would ever dream of asking:
daily bread and shared meals that become feasts,
the breath of life, and voices to celebrate,
the understanding of our history and the hope of our future;
work we can do, and time to be recreated,
people to love and trust,
people who love and trust us,
gifts and responsibilities.
We thank you, God,
because you ask of us
more than we dream of giving:
skills we have never developed,
care for a world whose problems we cannot solve,
listening which hurts us,
giving which leaves us empty handed,
love which makes us vulnerable,
faith which seems impossible.
But you do not ask us to be supermen and women.
You challenge us to be human.
Give us the courage to be human
because you yourself became human
and lived our lives,
knowing our imperfections,
sharing our joy and pain,
making us your people
so that we can say together:
“Our Father. . .”
Jan S. Pickard
© Christian Education Movement www.retoday.org.uk
reproduced with permission
Also see Additional Prayers
The Marriage and Relationship Task Group report opens by asking a broad question: How can we best live in relationships today? For Christians, who understand that we are made “in God’s image”, our task is to reflect on what this looks like in terms of living faithfully and graciously in our relationships.
The report’s title, God in love unites us, is a reminder that in doing this we begin with God before we focus on us. In other words, to discover our best human selves requires us first to understand what God is like.
The nature of God
On the face of it, this is a daunting challenge – to describe the seemingly indescribable; to capture the divine in a thumbnail portrait. Over the years, people have testified to God being revealed through Scripture, through experience, through the Church and through reason. But God is always much greater than our thoughts and goes beyond the boundaries of anything we can imagine. For that reason, many hymns emphasise what God is not: not mortal, not visible. . . :
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes. . .
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
not wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might. . .
(Walter Chalmers Smith, Immortal, invisible, God only wise StF 55)
Turning this approach around, Percy Dearmer offers an emphatic statement of what God is: God is love: his the care (StF 403). His hymn describes succinctly how God is made visible through the incarnation – “Jesus came to show him, that we all might know him”. The hymn echoes a number of biblical passages including 1 John 4: 7-21.
The impact of the incarnation on how we understand our humanness is brilliantly encapsulated by Charles Wesley in a hymn we too-often reserve only for Christmas: Let earth and heaven combine (StF 208). Wesley establishes God’s humility and nearness, taking up our shape and form (“our clay”). Then, in verse 4, he asserts that, not only may we now understand our lives and physical presence (our “human condition”) as good in the eyes of God who has shared that experience with us; we can also experience “the life of God” in a whole new way because it has been made “manifest below”.
How we relate to God and each other
Through experiencing “the life of God” in the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see what God is like. This in turn helps us to understand what it means to be authentically human. We are drawn to behave as Jesus behaved, and to love as he loved. In this way, Percy Dearmer says, we can “Godward move”:
None can see God above;
neighbours here we can love;
thus may we Godward move,
finding him in others,
sisters all, and brothers.
(God is love: his the care v2, StF 403)
We are capable of loving others in a way that reflects God’s own nature, write the authors of God in love unites us. As the epistle writer puts it: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4: 7, NRSV)
Similarly, Graham Kendrick interprets Jesus’s example of service with a challenge to nurture the needs of others:
So let us learn how to serve
and in our lives enthrone him,
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.
(From heaven you came, helpless babe, StF 272, v4)
How we are made to relate as sexual beings; and to affirm diversity
There is a joy in being embodied beings, not least in being sexual beings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second chapter of the Bible’s Song of Songs – a richly evocative paean to physical love. A little more restrained, but nonetheless expressive, are the words of Folliott Pierpoint’s deceptively simple For the beauty of the earth (StF 102), which is by no means just a “children’s hymn”.
Nowadays, there is also a growing understanding of our complexity as human beings, and of our diversity. Ruth Duck explores the implications of the issues raised in this section of the report in her hymn (StF 618) that begins:
Sacred the body God has created,
temple of Spirit that dwells deep inside.
Cherish each person; nurture creation.
Treat flesh as holy, that love may abide.
To be authentically human in the modern world is to remember that God lives “in all life. . . the true life of all” (StF 55). If this is so, we will want to embrace the richness of human diversity as much as we do the diversity of the natural world in which we live. “Holy the difference,” Ruth Duck writes, “gift of the Maker so let us honour each story and song.”
Likewise, Stephanie Jenner writes:
We celebrate diversity,
as well as common ground,
and will continue so to do
while love and peace are found.
(We come today to celebrate, StF+ website)
At the same time, we are required to explore the implications of that human diversity. The Marriage and Relationships report quotes Delores Dufner’s hymn: Summoned by the God who made us rich in our diversity (StF 689). She envisions an ever-widening circle gathered around one table in Jesus’ name, bringing “gifts that differ” and singing “a new Church into being”.
The costly demands of such a task are laid out starkly in Rosemary Wakelin’s One human family God has made (StF 687), which is quoted in the preface of the report. She acknowledges that we very often fail to fulfil the gospel imperative to be One (see John 17: 20-26) but challenges us to be “partners of the living Christ, who risk the path he trod”.