The Birth of Esau and Jacob 19 This is the story of Abraham’s son Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebecca, the daughter of Bethuel (an Aramean from Mesopotamia) and sister of Laban. 21 Because Rebecca had no children, Isaac prayed to the Lord for her. The Lord answered his prayer, and Rebecca became pregnant. 22 She was going to have twins, and before they were born, they struggled against each other in her womb. She said, “Why should something like this happen to me?” So she went to ask the Lord for an answer. 23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are within you; You will give birth to two rival peoples. One will be stronger than the other; The older will serve the younger.” 24 The time came for her to give birth, and she had twin sons. 25 The first one was reddish, and his skin was like a hairy robe, so he was named Esau.[a]26 The second one was born holding on tightly to the heel of Esau, so he was named Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. Esau Sells His Rights as the First-Born Son 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilled hunter, a man who loved the outdoors, but Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home. 28 Isaac preferred Esau, because he enjoyed eating the animals Esau killed, but Rebecca preferred Jacob. 29 One day while Jacob was cooking some bean soup, Esau came in from hunting. He was hungry 30 and said to Jacob, “I’m starving; give me some of that red stuff.” (That is why he was named Edom.[c]) 31 Jacob answered, “I will give it to you if you give me your rights as the first-born son.” 32 Esau said, “All right! I am about to die; what good will my rights do me?” 33 Jacob answered, “First make a vow that you will give me your rights.” Esau made the vow and gave his rights to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave him some bread and some of the soup. He ate and drank and then got up and left. That was all Esau cared about his rights as the first-born son.
O Lord, you have answered my cry, our cry to you. There is life within me hope, joy, anticipation dwell deep inside.
And yet, there is not peace. It feels more like war. Wrangling, struggle, fighting for the upper hand, the greater share of life within me.
Why should this be? Should the fruit of love, the gift from you, the next generation of life, not be love, harmony and mutuality. Can they not dwell in peace even inside me?
But this is not their way. They represent two different ways, two new beginnings, two different kind of strength. Each will live their own way, seemingly always in conflict, one caring so little for his inheritance, the other too much.
They pain me now and will go on to bring pain to our family and to each other.
But they are mine.
Lord, I see Jacob and Esau, warring factions right from the start, wanting different things, seeing the world in different ways
and I have to stop and wonder, what about me?
What about your world?
What about your people? The church?
We are all different, with different ways, different perspectives, different priorities
But how do we work them out? How do we learn to live together? How can we be different, but together? Committed to going in one direction in our different ways?
Show us how to live together in peace not conflict. To live for the good of all, but especially the weakest; to celebrate difference and learn from it, not fight over it; to share different perspectives that we can all see a bigger picture.
Because we are all yours and you love each one of us, equally, with our different gifts and insights.
Following on from some of the underpinning theory and theology of yesterday, where I reminded us about John Wesley’s words of the whole world being his parish and how that might apply to the World Wide Web being our parish too. We were also reminded of Jesus’ commandment to go into all the world and make disciples. All the world is a bit bigger these days than were perhaps once thought it was.
In this part I wanted to move on to some of the practicalities and realities of today.
One of the major benefits of lockdown and much of church moving online, has been that those for whom church buildings and structure have been difficult, have been able to take part in all kinds of things, that they never could before, or found very difficult to before. All of a sudden they found themselves able to join in online things that they had been missing out on.
Now I have to declare an interest in this, because whilst not housebound, I am very restricted in where I can go, what I can do and how long I can do it for. So to me , this has all been an amazing revelation and given me opportunities to do things that I haven’t been able to do for ages. My greatest joy is that I have been able to take part in leading some of the Daily Devotions for our Circuit. Something that I could never have done in real time, but being able to record them, pause regularly when my voice runs out, edit them and do them in my time has made that possible – and I am incredibly grateful.
In general day to day life, online is where I live a lot of my life. It is where I have my community, where I chat with people in similar circumstances (and by chat I mean mainly ‘writing’ chat!) and it’s where I do a lot of my shopping – it is where my life is. To me it is my native land, it is a normal place to be and so it’s perfectly normal to do worship there as well.
I’m incredibly am ashamed to say that the house restricted community is something I never thought much about until I was a part of it. I guess none of us do, we are all busy leading our lives in the way that we can. But there are so many people who struggle with the physical church building, either because of health reasons, their own caring responsibilities, work commitments or myriad other reasons that make half past ten, or whatever time you meet on a Sunday, in a church building physically incredibly difficult for them. Zoom worship has opened ‘church’ back up to so many of those people. We can sit at home, where the conditions are much more conducive to us, in a chair that we find comfortable, with the things that we need around us, a drink, or whatever it is that makes life and worship more comfortable for us – and worship God together. Or if it is recorded people can access it at a time that suits them, whatever that time is or join in at a time and place that suits them, or play it in small chunks if you can only process or manage small parts at a time. Zoom worship has made all of that possible for us.
I know that personally, that if zoom worship hadn’t been a thing, if we were not in lockdown and we had still been meeting in our church buildings, I wouldn’t have made it to church my health would have kept me away from physical church the last six or seven weeks, I just haven’t been well enough. Yet I have been able to sit on my sofa and see people that I know, or on really bad days just lay on the sofa with the camera off and hear what was happening – and what a blessing that had been! Very selfishly, but on behalf of all others in that position either temporarily or permanently, I do not want to lose that.
I’ve also this year been able to be a part of Cliff Festival, as that went online – Festival at Home. I haven’t been able to go to Cliff Festival for fifteen years, just because of the physical impossibilities – and how amazing that was to be able to go to a festival like that, to hear international speakers and amazing Christian teaching that I would never have been able to encounter if that wasn’t available on the online.
I’ve also been able to go to some church meetings as well, which doesn’t sound that exciting, but when you haven’t been able to go to go to them for years and years, how amazing it’s been for me to be able to be a part of the bigger picture, to be able to sit in meetings, hear what people are saying, and maybe even be able to say something into that meeting. I never thought that the opportunity to go to a Methodist business meeting would be a thrill, but it’s been an absolute joy and a blessing to me to be able to be a part of that again in a small way.
I don’t want to stop those who can worship in buildings, how lovely it would be at the moment to actually see some people in real life! And better even to hug them – though I don’t think that is going to happen for a long time… But I think as we start to go back to our buildings, or consider going back or deciding what we are going to do, we need to consider what, how and why. What the missions of those buildings is in the place where they are, as much as we are talking about what the mission of our church is in the online world. I’d be really quite upset if online worship disappeared, but we need to work out how we are meant to be God’s people in our community physically or online. I very much long to be a part of the worshipping community – and to give and receive in that way.
We have also continued to have our house group meeting via zoom. Zoom is not just for worship! Our house group was set up specifically for those with chronic health issues or caring responsibilities. It’s very short, quiet, contemplative, and we have been able to take that online. Much as I would love to see those people and hug them, I can see that because of the situation that some of us are in, much as we love to meet in person, zoom will continue to have a use in our house group – and I’m sure in others.
What I hope is that what has been termed as ‘hybrid worship’ will become a possibility, where yes there will be things happening in buildings, but there will be things happening online as well. That we can have some kind of mixed economy where we can continue to reach, if not all, a lot of people where they are.
Obviously digital poverty is something that we need to be really aware of. Not everyone can, or wants to, access the internet. Not everyone can afford the equipment that they would need to join in online, or necessarily have the knowhow to work it. That is why I particularly like Zoom, because you can at least phone in to it, though obviously that has its drawbacks as well as people can’t see what is happening, they can only hear. If you have got hearing problems or processing problems and you need to be able to see to grasp what is happening, it is not ideal, and we need to work at overcoming. But at least it widens it out to a lot more people than just the church building. I think that there is probably a fine line between worship online and that kind of worship becoming a spectator sport, where you can still be involved in it. I think we need to think quite carefully about that, though I have to say I’d be happy to sit at home and watch worship happening much more than not being able to go at all. I’m sure we can come up with some creative ways whereby people digitally involved in worship can still contribute to the worship that is happening in a building.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that Zoom or Facebook Live is not the answer to everything for the church, but for times of isolation it can be a great help – and it can be, and is, a place where God is entirely alive, where God can be worshipped, where God can use the structures that are available and where discipleship can happen. We need to be careful that we don’t make online or Zoom or Facebook Live the idol, but we can certainly use it as a tool.
Do join the conversation. Let’s think creatively in this opportunity that has landed upon us when we least expected it, to explore how we can usefully use online for God’s mission in the world today. For ultimately it is for the glory to be to God and for people to come to know and love him.
We thank you Lord for all the opportunities that the online world brings to us, for opportunities to worship together in new ways, to worship when we would not ordinarily be able to worship, to take part in things that are happening a long way away from us or places that are inaccessible to us.
Thank you that we have been able to learn more of you in more ways than we would ever have imagined.
But we pray Lord too for our buildings. We thank you for them and all the good things that happen in them for the people that come into them during the week, for the people that see the building, and understand something of what it stands for, for the work that is done from those buildings.
Help us Lord not to overlook that work, not to think it’s no good because we have found other stuff that we can do.
Help us to treasure all that you give us, all the different ways you give to us to be your people, to be faithful, to learn and to care and to share.
We offer to you Lord everything that we do, everything that we do in concrete places, places where our feet walk and our hand touch, but also those places online.
We offer it all to you Lord, that it all may be for your glory and that people may come to know and love you.
Twenty one years ago, as part of my ministerial training, I wrote my dissertation. It was called ‘The World Wide Web is My Parish’. Focused on whether and how churches should be using the, then relatively new to general use, internet. At that time the big question was mainly about churches having websites, whether they should and if they did how they used them – was it mainly as a notice board, or for interaction.
All these years later, the internet is a very different place and the advent of social media has brought much more space for the church to consider how it uses. And in 2020 a global pandemic has brought a whole new slant, opportunity and, for some, questions. Zoom worship is now a pretty established thing that has, in my opinion, been a great blessing to the church, particularly as it has the ability for people to phone in to via a landline phone, which means most of the population of the UK could access it. How awesome it has been in a time of isolation to be able to ‘meet’ together, to share fellowship with one another and to worship God together.
But as lookdown eases and the possibility of churches re-opening their buildings for worship, even with restrictions, the question is raised of what happens to zoom worship. Perhaps now is the time to look at some theology of online and our place in it…
“I look upon all the world as my parish. I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it, meet, right and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work that I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it.”
Jesus parting words to his disciples, which includes us, were:
“Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Online, in all its forms, whether we like it or not, is very much a part of our world, and therefore an entirely legitimate place to be in worship, mission, discipleship.
In his book Mission and Dialogue, Michael Nazir-Ali reminds us that the Church is called to “proclaim the gospel afresh in every age” Part of being christian and being church is to live out our experience of God where we are, within our community. To do this the church needs to be a part of its community and not hide in a “holy huddle” in the safe place. If we are to bring the gospel to the world we have to be where the people are.
Historically Methodism plays its part by breaking out of imposed structures and boundaries, when necessary, to be where people are. John Wesley left the buildings and preached in the streets and fields to reach people. To believe in God incarnate is to want to see the church incarnate in the world, not just clinging to its familiar ways. Unless we express church in a way our community understands, we are failing to be Christ’s body to them.
We could question if there is is a need to liberate Jesus from clutches of a church focussed on institutional buildings, so that he can be experienced and encountered anew for each generation – relevant to their experience and understanding.
Throughout history, particularly by the church, there have been profound misgivings about machines and technology and the effect they may have on the social and spiritual wellbeing of the nation. The printing press and television were both seen as highly dubious in their time!
Frank Wright in his book, The Pastoral Nature of Ministry asks the pertinent question if we have so conceptualised faith that we have forgotten it is primarily an invitation to see (1980, p15)? Have we become to hung up on our buildings that we forget what God can do, or even that he exists outside them? Buildings very much have their place, but they are not the only place. For the Church to fulfil its mission, it has to be changed and learn new things (as Leslie Newbigin asks in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, p124), not to move from its core foundation and principles, but reinterpret the way it expresses them. The church can join the search for new community, taking its place in it, and not missing its voice in the discussion.
The Church is a place for people searching for truth, love, peace and wholeness. We have that to offer and should seek to make that offer in any place where people are. Online is such a significant part of the lives of so many people, the first place to which they turn. The church is failing to fulfil its mission to go into all the world if it is not in that part of technology that covers the whole world, regardless of any political, geographical or physical boundaries.
In part 2, I will follow up with questions about where we are today, what lockdown has taught the churches about an online presence and where we go from here.
We pray Lord for those whose lives have been so upset by the Corona virus pandemic, those whose certainties and sureties have been taken away.
We pray for those isolated, who feel that they have lost their community, those who feel that they have lost what they held dear, those who have lost their routine and those who feel they have lost their connection with you.
We thank you Lord for all the ways we have been able to connect whilst being aware that those ways are not for everyone, but we thank you for the gift and the blessing that we have found in services in Facebook Live, zoom, in the Daily Devotions, in things that we have time to read, that we wouldn’t have had time for before.
Thank you Lord for meeting us in so many ways, in the place where we have found ourselves.
We pray that you will continue to bless us, that you will continue to meet with us, as we begin to be able to meet together as we are able and for those who still want to meet online.
We pray for all those seeking to find a place where they can meet you and know the reality of you.
We pray not just for those who know and love you but for those who are seeking and for those who don’t even know they are looking, may they encounter you in the place and in a way that they need to, that all the world may know, that all the world will hear, that all the world may fall in love with you.