Written services from previous weeks
This service is best read on your computer so that you can click on the music and it will then play for you. I am sure by now you have worked this out and that all you have to do is put the cursor on the link, press the control button on your computer keyboard whilst left clicking on the mouse, the music will then follow. Make sure you have the volume turned up.
Sixth Sunday of Easter May 9th 2021
Call to Worship: Make your paths known to me, Lord; teach me your ways, lead me by your faithfulness and teach me, for you are God my Saviour. Psalm 25
Hymn: To God be the glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xPAF0YlY5A
A prayer song, to help prepare us for prayer:
Reign in me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEcrJvC4gN0
Prayers: Lord in our service today we ask that we might look at the scriptures anew and see the part we must play in them. Help us to open up the calling of your love which is abundantly given for us to share with joy. May we, through attention to your word, help to make our lives and community part of your Kingdom? May we be worthy examples of your loving nature, and help us to comprehend that the love which you give and which we share, does not diminish but increases by that very act of loving others.
Gracious Lord, we thank you for all that you have been to past generations, all that you are to this generation and all that you will be to our generations yet to be. Praise to you, God of all nations. Amen.
Lord’s Prayer: Sung in Urdu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ParMYPL82Jo
First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
God has glorified his people, and offers them abundant life. His word is to be heeded, it will always accomplish God’s purpose. It is spoken in the language of the day, where the abundance of food was deemed a blessing.
Gospel: John 15:9-17
Jesus speaks to his disciples, not as servants, but as friends. They are to abide in his love and obey his command to love one another.
Thought for Sunday:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another...You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12, 14)
The Queen’s official birthday on 21st June is normally marked by the ceremony known as ‘Trooping the Colour,’ and the chosen brigade parades with great splendour to pay tribute to their monarch. The occasion is famous for its drill movements performed with intricate precision at the word of command. Indeed, the whole ceremony depends on commands being issued and instantly obeyed.
The precise commands of the parade ground are very different from the one which Jesus gave his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” It is a short command, it appears to be simple, but in fact is just the opposite. No command could be less precise. No command could be more difficult. To complicate matters, there is a condition attached, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Few service personnel would be friends with the one who gave them their orders, let alone love them. But it is fundamental to our understanding of the Christian faith to say that we love Jesus. We need to resolve this apparent contradiction.
We recognise that particular command, and the many others that Jesus gave his disciples, follow established biblical tradition. The whole Bible story unfolds in response to a series of commands, “In the beginning ... God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” God placed Adam and Eve in the garden with the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. When they disobeyed, he ordered them out and commanded for them a life of toil. God commanded Abram to leave his home and venture into the unknown. As a test of his faith, he commanded him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which still lie at the heart of Jewish faith and practice.
God called the prophets and commanded them to proclaim his word, despite their misgivings and feelings of inadequacy. Similarly, Zachariah, John the Baptist’s father, could not believe he would have a son. The angel commanded that he should remain dumb until the birth took place.
The pivotal moment from which the good news of Christ develops is the appearance to Mary of the archangel Gabriel. Again it is the pattern of command and obedience. God has chosen Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, “let it be with me according to your word,” she replies. But other qualities are involved, for Mary, love and tenderness for the new life conceived within her; for Joseph, we may surmise some turmoil of conflicting feelings. How was he to find a loving response to the command of God? How do we respond to the command of Jesus to love one another?
The clue is to be found in John’s first letter, “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen,” (1 John 4:20). We can extend this observation further, how can we love the brother or sister whom we may or may not have seen, when we do not love ourselves as the person we live with day by day?
However contradictory it may seem, we cannot begin to love other people until we have learned to love ourselves. We may find ourselves difficult to love, painfully aware of our faults and failings, unwilling or unable to extend to ourselves the forgiveness and understanding which, at our best, we would want to extend to others. Too often we burden ourselves with unattainable targets, unrealistic expectations. We blame ourselves, often unnecessarily, when we are unable, for whatever reason, to achieve them. We may burden ourselves with feelings of guilt and failure. There can be too many ‘ought to’s’ in life, and sadly and invisibly, our faith may add to them.
When we are friends with ourselves, we can be friends with others, love them even, knowing that they are like us. They have their joys and sorrows, their struggles, their conflicting feelings, and all of this God knows, sees, recognises, forgives and accepts. So we reach a point where the words of Jesus become realistic and attainable, “This is my commandment, that you love one another ... You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
The parade ground drill at ‘Trooping the Colour’ is performed in response to a series of precise and clear-cut commands.
Jesus’ command to love one another is less than precise, but falls within recognised biblical tradition of commands given and obeyed.
Many of these commands caused personal conflict in those who received them. We may find Jesus’ command to obey him by loving one another causes us difficulty or conflict.
The problem may be resolved by looking at ourselves and recognising our own personal problems, quirks and difficulties.
We can then look at other people, see that they are very much like us, and be content that God knows, loves, forgives and accepts us all.
We reflect as we listen to this new hymn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tYEo0DXclE
Prayers of intercession:
We pray for all who take decisions or issue commands, and for those who obey them.
We pray for all world leaders, and for the leaders of our own country, that the decisions they make and the steps they take may lead to peace and well-being in our world.
We pray for all who make decisions about the distribution of the world’s resources, that they may be used for the good of all and the relief of many.
We pray for all who are persecuted and oppressed, for all who are forced into obedience against their wills or their consciences.
We pray for all who make decisions for the life of the Church, that it may be healed of its divisions, and become itself an agent of healing.
Father, strengthen us we pray, as we seek to love one another as your Son commanded us, so that we may bring peace and reconciliation to your troubled and divided world. We ask it in his name. Amen.
Hymn: Amazing grace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBs7-crFAKQ
Go out to love and serve one another in the name of the Father, who created us for his service,
in the name of the Son, who accepted us for his service,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us for his service,
And may the blessing of God be your just reward. Amen.
To end with we hear one of many songs written by Chris Bowater who was the musical leader at the New Life Fellowship in Lincoln. The fellowship bought what was a redundant URC church and filled it with young people. You may wish to look up some of his other songs on YouTube.
Fifth Sunday of Easter May 2nd
Call to Worship:
We come into the presence of God, the source of all our light and life. Like branches of the vine, may we draw our strength and nourishment from him, and worship him with glad and thankful hearts.
Hymn: Crown him with many crowns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTDt4TLXGdw
Prayers: Almighty and eternal God, we come before your presence singing.
From all that we are, for all that you are, we offer you our love.
You are our maker and minder; in you, darkness becomes light, chaos becomes order, and the desert bears fruit.
You are our friend; through Jesus you reach out a hand of forgiveness and hope to the world; embracing us with strength and courage.
You are our guide; breathing your spirit in us and between us, so that we can know your grace in our lives and show your grace to the world.
Loving God, Maker and Minder, Friend and Guide, we come before you in worship, in Jesus’ name. Amen
Lord’s Prayer: Tasked with writing a new song the composer chose to set the Lord’s Prayer to music and in Swahili, his adaption won him a Grammy award. It’s contemporary and demonstrates the joy of the prayer.
First Reading: Baruch 3:9-15, 32–4:4
The Israelites are directed to listen to the commandments of life and learn wisdom.
Hear the commandments of life, O Israel;
give ear, and learn wisdom!
Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies,
that you are growing old in a foreign country,
that you are defiled with the dead,
that you are counted among those in Hades?
You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
If you had walked in the way of God,
you would be living in peace forever.
Learn where there is wisdom,
where there is strength,
where there is understanding,
so that you may at the same time discern
where there is length of days, and life,
where there is light for the eyes, and peace.
Who has found her place?
And who has entered her storehouses?
But the one who knows all things knows her,
he found her by his understanding.
The one who prepared the earth for all time
filled it with four-footed creatures;
the one who sends forth the light, and it goes;
he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling;
the stars shone in their watches, and were glad;
he called them, and they said, “Here we are!”
They shone with gladness for him who made them.
This is our God;
no other can be compared to him.
He found the whole way to knowledge,
and gave her to his servant Jacob
and to Israel, whom he loved.
Afterward she appeared on earth
and lived with humankind.
She is the book of the commandments of God,
the law that endures forever.
All who hold her fast will live,
and those who forsake her will die.
Turn, O Jacob, and take her;
walk toward the shining of her light.
Do not give your glory to another,
or your advantages to an alien people.
Happy are we, O Israel,
for we know what is pleasing to God.
You will remember last week there was a preamble to the thought for the day about celebrating the bible. Today’s reading comes from one of the books written between what we call the Old and New Testaments, we think it was probably written between 110 to 63 BCE.
The Book of Baruch is found in some Christian traditions. In Judaism and most forms of Protestant Christianity, it is considered not to be part of the Bible. It is named after Baruch ben Neriah, Jeremiah's well-known scribe, who is mentioned at Baruch 1:1, and has been presumed to be the author of the whole work. The book is a reflection of a late Jewish writer on the circumstances of Jewish exiles from Babylon, with meditations on the theology and history of Israel, discussions of wisdom, and a direct address to residents of Jerusalem and the Diaspora.
Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
The distinguishing characteristic of those born of God will be the love they have for one another. To love God alone is not enough: believers must also love their brothers and sisters.
Gospel: John 15:1-8
Jesus describes himself to his disciples as the true vine, and urges them to remain in him as the branches remain in the vine. Just as the branches need to remain in the vine if they are to be fruitful, so the disciples need to remain and abide in Jesus’ love.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
The creation stories in Genesis 1-3 have offered rich food for study and contemplation throughout the ages. Thomas Keating, the Benedictine monk, the founder of the contemplative Centring Prayer movement, focuses on these stories in two lectures given under the title ‘The Human Condition.’ In the first lecture he begins, “Where are you? This is one of the great questions of all time. It is the focus of the first half of the spiritual journey.”
Keating takes this question from the biblical story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Despite a contented and fulfilled relationship with their Creator, Adam and Eve have succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and eaten of the apple. Guilty and ashamed, they have hidden themselves from God amongst the trees after their disobedience, and God searches for them with the question, “Where are you – why are you hiding?” (footnote 1)
The story in Genesis is concerned at this point with the issues of union and separation. Before their disobedience Adam and Eve had enjoyed close communion with God, were content and at ease in his company, and were unaware of any sense of separation from him. But the eating of the apple changes everything; now there is a sense of shame and alienation, and so God asks, “Where are you? – why have you moved away from me?”
Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel passage is concerned with the same tension between union and separation. He asks each of us, “Where are you?” Are you attached to the vine – or trying to strike out on your own? The saying “I am the vine, you are the branches,” (v.5a), assumes the same relationship of intimate union between Jesus and his disciples as the pre-fall Adam and Eve enjoyed with God in the Genesis story. The challenge to each disciple is to remain attached to the vine, “because apart from me you can do nothing,” (v.5).
The language describing the cutting down and burning of the dead branches is brutal and uncompromising, (v.6). But rather than representing a threat of punishment, Jesus is simply indicating a natural consequence; one obvious to any vine-grower, if a branch becomes separated from its sole source of life and nourishment then it will inevitably die.
But the consequences which naturally follow when the branch remains deeply attached to the vine are equally clear, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” (v.7). The vine and its healthy branches cannot do anything other than work in agreement, it is impossible for the branch to ‘ask’ for anything that the vine does not naturally give to it.
Some commentaries on this passage treat the vine image as totally synonymous with the Church, and the subsequent teaching relates to the need for believers as ‘branches,’ to play a full and active part in their church life and fellowship. And it is certainly true that a serious commitment to Christ will result in inner promptings of the Spirit which urge us to co-operate and share with Christ in the work of the kingdom. But, it is not about bricks and mortar, it is connectedness with Christ. The church is an aid - not a destination.
We cannot anticipate what directions these promptings will take, sometimes they may coincide with the work being urged on us by our churches, at other times they may not. The boundaries of the kingdom are set wider, and if we limit our consideration of this passage to the active work of the Church, we will not allow ourselves to be drawn in deeply enough. As branches of the vine, we are called before all else to become ever more firmly embedded in Christ.
In the first instance, this is a call to deeper prayer and will involve a patient, silent waiting on God, listening for the still, small voice within. The Centring Prayer movement, established by Thomas Keating, has encouraged countless numbers of disciples along this path of silent listening prayer. If we are willingly to spend regular, disciplined time with God in this way, and
can resist the pressure to rush headlong into a frantic, (and possibly guilt-ridden), busyness, we will gradually become more sensitively attuned to the nuances of our Father’s will.
The effect of the God-directed activity arising from this prayer will be light years away from that resulting from the frenetic busyness generated by our own efforts. It will invigorate rather than drain us, because its source is not in our own limited strength, but in the life-sap of the vine itself.
Jesus urges his disciples to remain as firmly fixed in him as the branches are to the parent vine.
A branch cannot exist by itself, without the nourishment of the vine, the branch will die and be thrown on the fire and burnt.
If the disciples do not remain in Jesus, they will be unable to accomplish anything by themselves.
We need to spend time in prayer, waiting silently on God, listening for the subtle promptings of the Spirit within.
If our work for God arises out of the Spirit’s promptings it will not drain us, because its source is the life-giving sap of the vine.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sicaArhwbIw&t=28s
Prayers of intercession:
As peace-makers and vine-dwellers, we pray for the Church and for the world.
We pray for the Church, that in all its areas of tension and misunderstanding, it may not lose sight of its kinship with Jesus the true vine.
We pray for the world, for all who suffer injustice and for those who seek to reveal the light of Christ in the dark places of the earth.
We pray for our local communities, and for all those, within our churches and beyond them, who give of their time, energy and resources on behalf of others.
We pray for ourselves, that we may be willing to cultivate our relationship with God, seeking an ever-deepening relationship with him.
We pray for all churches as we approach the day when with joy they may reopen and minister to their congregations and community.
In the name of Jesus Christ we commit our prayers, and all the unspoken thoughts of our hearts, to the loving wisdom of our heavenly Father. Amen.
Hymn: A contemporary hymn that speaks of the challenge ahead for all congregations as churches reopen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca9LnzJnpjQ
May the strength and wisdom of God the vine-grower invigorate you;
may the loving wisdom of Christ the vine inspire you;
may the quickening zest of the Spirit fill you with joy.
And the blessing of God almighty be your strength and stay this day and evermore. Amen
A tradition in Judaism: ‘A second blessing.’
Keating was one of three principal developers of Centring Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer that emerged from St. Joseph's Abbey in 1975. William Meninger and Basil Pennington, also Trappist monks, were the method's other principal developers. When the concept was first proposed by Keating, Meninger started teaching a method based on the 14th century spiritual classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing.’ Meninger referred to this as the ‘Prayer of the Cloud’ and taught it to priests at the retreat house. Pennington gave the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut where the participants suggested the term "Centring Prayer". Since Thomas Merton had been known to use the term prior to this, it has been suggested the phrase may have originated from him.
Fourth Sunday of Easter April 25th 2021
On this fourth Sunday of Easter, we give thanks for Gods loving care for us all and for the promise of resurrection.
Call to Worship: Psalm 100.
Let all the earth acclaim the Lord! Worship the Lord in gladness; enter his presence with joyful songs. Acknowledge that the Lord is God; he made us and we are his, his own people, the flock which he shepherds. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name; for the Lord is good and his love is everlasting, his faithfulness endures to all generations.
Hymn: Lead us heavenly Father lead us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpkEeXWtWg0
Prayer: most holy, most lovely God, you have called us from many places and wooed us with many voices. Gently, persistently, you have asked us to take our place among the friends and followers of Jesus, and this we do mostly with joy, though sometimes it is through clenched teeth.
As we offer you our worship this day, hear the silent murmurs of our souls for it is there that our following of Jesus is formed.
Most holy, most lovely God, as we meet together, we join our worship with those of every age who have followed in the way: with those who have loved amidst hatred; with those who have comforted the afflicted; with those who have suffered in body and mind, and not counted the cost.
Grant to us courage and love that we may witness to the glory we find in Christ; the glory which offers new paths to the wayward, wisdom to the foolish, a feast to the poor in spirit, and a party to the lonely.
May the light and leaven of your grace work its mystery in us today? Amen
Lord’s Prayer in Maori: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIyK7c_Az8g
First Reading: Genesis 7:1-13
The story of Noah’s ark and the rainbow gives us the first of God’s biblical promises and covenants to protect and save the whole world.
Preamble to Thought for Sunday:
One of the things the modern church is bad at is celebrating Christian festivals and one in particular is Bible Sunday. This used to be a great day in the church in which I grew up and it was made more special for us younger ones by the Sunday afternoon tea that was laid on for all. In the morning service there was a display of family bibles belonging to the church folk. It was fascinating to see how many different styles there were of the one book.
The leader of the day would tell us of the origins of the written bible, how it was passed down over the years as an oral tradition until the Hebrew nation wrote it all down, in an effort for some form of conformity. They were amazed at how perfectly the stories melded together to form a unity. The only differences were in the manner of the re-telling, slightly differing in the way it was re-told within that group’s culture and views, a bit like the old Irish comedian Frank Carson used to say “It’s the way I tell ’em.” The priests re-told the stories as they saw and heard them, the judges likewise. The compilers of the first written texts included all the different views so that nothing might be missed out, that’s why some scripture appears repetitive, it’s just to ensure total accuracy.
Most people think the Bible is a finished book, in that no more can be added, whilst for myself I think it is a book still under construction. But first I need to explain. The word ‘bible’ means library, not book. What we hold precious is but volumes one and two, the actual history of the people of God continues onwards. In the Hebrew scripture the history books are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel 1&2, Kings 1&2, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. These books take us to the restoration of the Temple around BCE 500. During the following 400/500 years a lot happened to the Hebrews, but it was a silent period when no prophets were raised up by God. There are some writings from this period that research is proving to be valid, books of what we call the inter-testamental period, that period before John the Baptist, who foretold of Jesus. The Christian volume contains the teachings and essence of Jesus and also some helpful books that teachers and leaders used as the new church grew and dealt with its growing pains. Just like the Hebrew scripture the Christian scripture contains some apocalyptic prophesies, these are Daniel and Revelation. The future volumes of the bible are being written and can be seen on the book shelves of shops and libraries, maybe even on your book shelves. That’s the writings of Godly people who have been led by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The key to all this is that we can produce books easily now, whereas once it was an onerous task, covering years of hard labour with quill pens and homemade ink.
To give you a personal example, over the years before my retirement, I had five volumes of church history on my bookshelf, from the time of Jesus to almost the present day. There were also books about God, Gods teaching, Gods revealing nature, Gods creation. The hymn book and prayer book of the bible are the Psalms, but on my shelf was a whole stack of hymn books, prayer books and books of wisdom. This is just to illustrate what I’m trying to explain above.
Just like our brothers and sisters of Judaism who hold the Torah in high reverence and celebrate its worth on the festival of Simkhat Torah, so we should celebrate the book we hold in high reverence and acknowledge that it is an unfinished book. God’s spirit continues to excite men and women to write of the wonders of God’s awesome nature so we too might share that moment when the boundary between earth and heaven grows narrower.
Having now celebrated God’s written word, let us now refer to it for today’s lesson.
Gospel: John 10:11-18
Extending the biblical image of God as a good shepherd, Jesus reveals his identity and promises to lay down his life to save his Father’s sheep, trusting in the resurrection.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11b)
Not many of us have first-hand experience of keeping sheep. Perhaps the closest we’ve come to it is watching the long-running series of televised sheepdog trials, One Man and His Dog. We’ve seen the shepherd, often at some distance behind his sheep, letting the dog demonstrate its expertise, guided by shouted or whistled commands.
In biblical days however, the shepherd went first, looking out for danger, while the sheep followed. The much-loved 23rd Psalm tells us – “The Lord is my shepherd… He leads me beside still waters.”
The image of a protective shepherd of God’s flock is popular throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Lord frequently promises to lead the flock in person one day. Through the prophets, there is divine criticism of the kings of Israel who were supposed to be fulfilling the role but making a mess of it, like uncaring hired hands. God will be the Good Shepherd, what a wonderful picture!
By the time Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd that’s in today’s Gospel reading, the people of Israel were familiar with God’s promise to care for them like a shepherd tending his flock. Yet Jesus isn’t simply promising to lead them and care for them, but to die for them. In this promise of the resurrection, Jesus tells his stunned audience that he will lay down his life for them willingly, because that is what his heavenly Father has asked of him… and take it up again.
His words about the Good Shepherd are in response to remarks made by indignant Pharisees, following his gift of sight to a man who had been born blind. They have objected to his insinuation that they are themselves blind; blind to the purpose of God, and blind to his own identity. On regaining his sight, the blind man had worshipped Jesus; the Pharisees still could not see who he was.
Using the familiar biblical image of a loving God caring for the sheep, Jesus therefore identifies himself with his heavenly Father. This further antagonises the religious authorities so that his reference to laying down his life becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sheep have a vulnerable image, innocent, defenceless, almost childlike, and certainly in need of a shepherd’s protection. To those who refuse to acknowledge their need of God, those who are blind to God’s purpose, deaf to God’s voice, being described as sheep may seem like an insult. They fail to see that Jesus is holding out the promise of eternal life, of a welcome into God’s own flock, regardless of their background. His ‘sheep’ are the ones who recognise his voice, and subsequently follow him.
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd leading us, reminds us that Jesus does indeed go before us into every situation. We don’t need to face anything alone because in any new situation, good or bad, exciting or challenging, he’s there already, checking it out. Whether it’s an illness that’s just been diagnosed, a new job or relationship, we need to fear no evil.
Furthermore, if Jesus is our Good Shepherd leading us, we need to follow him – not dash off in another direction, like some of those naughty sheep on One Man and His Dog.
But what does following Jesus mean? Like the very first disciples in the immediate aftermath of the resurrection, it means following his example, continuing his ministry, spreading the good news of the kingdom of God in word and action. We can try to emulate our shepherd, or at least the faithful sheepdog, trained to follow those shouted commands of “Love God! Love your neighbour!”
We may not all be preachers or teachers, but even the way we live our lives can draw others to Jesus. We may not be able to perform miracles of healing in quite the way that Jesus and his first disciples did, but we can give generously to medical charities, or visit people who are ill, or lend a sympathetic ear to someone who just needs to talk. It’s no coincidence that the Church’s caring ministry is described as pastoral – the work of a shepherd.
Most of us are not called to lay down our lives for others but, in the name of Jesus, we are called to dedicate our lives to them. We can share God’s love with others, so that they too can follow Jesus towards that final place where he has gone before us. At every service of Holy Communion we recall how Christ died and rose again, to lead us all into eternal life, ‘For the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Alleluia!!’
1. Unlike the shepherds in sheepdog trials, a shepherd in biblical times would lead the way. Good shepherds were strong leaders.
2. God, as a good shepherd, was a familiar image in the Old Testament.
3. Jesus used that image to show who he was, developing it further as a promise of the resurrection; but some would not recognise him.
4. The Lord is our shepherd, going before us into challenging situations.
5. We need to follow Jesus in our lives, leading others into eternal life.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ-I-VQsvko
Prayers of intercession:
We have boldness before God through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit who has been given to us. In union with Christ and in the power of the Spirit let us offer prayers for the Father’s whole flock, for the Church, the world and ourselves.
We pray for the Church; that like good shepherds, Christian leaders may search for a safe path for us through the dangers of dogma and doubt.
We pray for the world; that like good shepherds, all governments may feed and care for their flocks, protecting them from harm.
We pray for ourselves; that like good shepherds, we may all tend to the weak and the vulnerable, and to those who suffer in any way.
We pray for those who mourn; trusting in the promise of our divine Good Shepherd to lead us all into eternal life.
Loving Father, hear our prayers in the name of your Son, whom you raised from the dead, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: All hail the power of Jesus’ name https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vWF_lctSTo
May the Lord lead you beside still waters into pastures green;
May the Lord feed you with faith and keep you safe;
May goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life.
And may the blessing of God almighty and the safety afforded by the good shepherd
Be with you and guide you through life’s journey. Amen
Ode to Joy in English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMY3ivdNzwE
Third Sunday of Easter April 18th
Today’s service starts with the National Anthem to show respect for our Queen and the loss we share with her.
Call to Worship:
We come together to fix our eyes on the risen Lord. We come to worship the Christ, who is both magnificent and mundane, and to consider what his resurrection means for us.
It is with sadness that we learn of the death of Reverend Rhona Jones who once ministered at St John’s Wideopen.
The tale is told, the deed is done.
The Christ was killed but rose again.
And now we know the words to say,
Christ is the truth, the life, the way.
We commit ourselves to that way,
We crave that life,
We hunger after that truth.
We pray our days
Are touched by both,
Cross- shadow and resurrection-light,
The love and hope
At the base of our belief,
The pain and purpose
At the root of our faith,
The cost and gift
At the heart of our calling.
In Christ’s name. Amen
Lord’s Prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF7dD8AYRbw
First Reading: Acts 3:12-19
The early Church begins to find its feet. Here Peter explains to the astonished witnesses how the miracles they see are connected with the recent events of Jesus’ death and resurrection; they illustrate what can be achieved from having faith in the resurrected Christ.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7
John tells the wonderful news that every Christian has become a child of God and, as such, their actions must reflect the goodness of God. There is no place for continued and wilful wrongdoing in their lives.
Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
The resurrected Christ appears to the terrified and unbelieving disciples. He reassures them and they finally believe it is really him. He commissions them to make the next step in the task to take the good news into the world.
Thought for Sunday:
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41)
Everyone has gestures special to them, those distinctive little things that they alone do; the raising of an eyebrow when sceptical; holding a coffee cup in a particular way; beginning a question with a certain tilt of the head. These things can be the stuff of both love and irritation, but actually most of them are the kinds of actions that you don’t always notice on a day-to-day basis. Quite often it’s only when you haven’t seen a person for some time that you suddenly become aware of the little things that they do. Or they catch you by stealth when you’re thinking about something else; maybe you are sitting quietly somewhere and you can hear someone approach; they suddenly cough in a certain way, and you know instantly who it is. Everyone has these gestures: the seasoning – the salt and pepper, – of the way we express ourselves in the world, but it takes someone else really close to us to know and see them.
Perhaps, with their senses overworked after their post-crucifixion trauma, it was just such a gesture that finally woke the disciples up to the presence of Jesus in their midst. After all, these bedraggled and devastated disciples had been through emotional hell. Their beloved friend, the one who had filled their heads and hearts with such love, such hope of a new world and a new way of life, had been tortured and killed in the most awful way. We can only imagine their helplessness and grief, not to mention regret, failure and fear.
Then there had been those strange incidents. In the verses that precede those we read today, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, along with a few others, had reported finding an angel in the empty tomb, who announced to them that Jesus was alive – and more than that, they received a celestial lecture that this was entirely what they should have expected all along. Peter had been to see for himself, but couldn’t understand what had happened. Then there was that strange appearance to Cleopas and his compatriot on the road to Emmaus. There again they received a lecture about their failure to understand that all these horrible events had to happen.
But the funny thing is – or perhaps it is not so funny, just normal human behaviour – none of these things seemed to really convince them. In the end it was not the appearance of angels that brought them realisation, nor the lectures, nor even the presence of Jesus himself. This all seemed to terrify and confuse them. It was some very simple gestures that made the Messiah real and really identified Jesus to them. Our reading today was when he asked for and ate a piece of fish. On the road to Emmaus it was the breaking of bread. Maybe it was because ghosts don’t eat food, or perhaps it was that they were so close to Jesus that they instantly saw that the way he took food was quintessentially him. Suddenly, after all the drama, this simple gesture seems to open the disciples’ understanding, and the mission of the Church can begin.
And this mission, of course, is one that we continue. It is a huge and daunting task, one that we spend a lot of time and energy talking ourselves into. But perhaps we’re barking up the wrong tree. The disciples were motivated to carry on their task, not by lectures and angelic appearances, but by a moment of true recognition brought about by the simplest of gestures. So perhaps we should be looking for the simplest, most commonplace things that will identify God to us. What they could be we don’t know and we are often too busy to notice, but it’s a good reason to be attentive and vigilant, because you don’t know when this might happen.
One of the messages of Easter is the opening of our eyes; the moment of true recognition that enables the beginning of the rest of the story. It is this we are looking for – the gesture that opens our eyes and allows us to claim Christ for our own, that makes us say, “This is the one! This is Christ to me!” Whatever it is that brings that moment, it is this that will pave the way forward to a new life and the beginning of the rest of our own story. It’s a message of good news that for me, and I hope all of you also, that beats the abundance of egg-shaped chocolate any day.
Each one of us has little gestures that are completely distinctive to us; sometimes the stuff of love or annoyance, but mostly unnoticed day-to-day.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples as the resurrected Lord, they had trouble in recognising him, or in believing what they saw. In the end it was the simplest of gestures – eating food – that identified Jesus to them. It was this believing that enabled them to carry forward the work of the Church.
Often it is not the sermons of the Church or the stories of faith that help us to really see and believe in Christ, but the simplest of gestures. It is these that energise and motivate us to carry the work of Christ forward.
A time for reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oj_5SuMWu0
Prayers of intercession:
We look for Christ’s transforming presence in our lives and communities and ask his help to see the possibilities of God in even the most difficult situations.
When it seems that power always corrupts and world governments play a dirty game, may we see that truth and justice can triumph.
When it seems that we have no voice in our communities and we don’t like what we see, may we perceive those who work for good, and be willing to walk alongside them.
When we are too busy or ignorant to see injustice and cruelty taking place in front of our eyes, help us to pay attention and be prepared to help.
When we have become so used to those around us that we don’t see the gestures that identify the people we love: may we be enlivened by their uniqueness and see Christ in them.
When we see brothers and sisters not at peace with one another we pray for your intervention. We especially pray for Princes William and Harry just now.
When we hear the sad news of a death may our prayers lift up to heaven commending the soul to our maker and redeemer. This week we remember Rhona Jones and Prince Philip Mountbatten-Windsor and pray that God’s love be shown to their families as they come to terms with their loss.
God is a God of transformation. He wants to see the flowering of justice and love wherever we are and in whatever field we influence. May God empower us for the task and help us to rise to the challenge. Amen.
Hymn: Trust and obey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VoA0Cs8kgI
May the overwhelming magnificence of God make you breathless with awe;
May the simple gestures of Christ transform you with love;
May the energising power of the Spirit give you strength for the task;
And may the blessing of God almighty be your strength and your goal this day. Amen
Hymn: My Jesus I love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LPLxV3qxB0
These emailed services will end in four weeks time when I expect the churches to be open again and people attending as they once did. I have been greatly blessed to have had the honour of serving you in this small way.
Second Sunday of Easter April 11th 2021
Call to Worship:
We gather in the joy of the resurrection of Christ, to worship and adore him, and to renew faith and hope for ourselves and for one another. Let us worship God with eyes open to the presence of Christ among us.
Hymn: Praise to the holiest in the heights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjPhcD75E34
If we should not rejoice this day
and give you thanks, Lord Jesus Christ,
let the stone roll back and seal the tomb again.
Let Mary sorrow-laden, stumble from the morning garden.
Let Cleophas eat bread with tears, the Christ unrecognised.
Let Thomas hold his doubt as truth,
and Peter keep his denial unforgiven.
the truth is out and death has died.
The earth is bathed in resurrection light,
and we give thanks, rejoicingly. Amen
Lord’s Prayer: In Yupik the language of the Eskimo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZPu0kIBF9c
First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
The first Christians live in the power of the resurrection, and in their faith and joy they share everything with one another.
Second Reading: 1 John 1:1 – 2.2
Walking in God’s light, we find joy and forgiveness.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
The truth of the resurrection becomes clear even to Thomas, for whom Jesus provides the evidence he needs.
Thought for Sunday:
“I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
There’s a children’s story by Jack Kent entitled ‘There’s no such thing as a dragon.’ One morning Billy finds a tiny dragon in his bedroom. But when he tells his mum, she says, “There’s no such thing as a dragon.” Even when the dragon gets bigger and eats all Billy’s breakfast, gets in the way of the housework, and grows so big it fills the whole house, Billy’s mum still doesn’t believe it exists. Only when the dragon runs off with the house on its back does mum give in and admit it exists. Then the dragon shrinks again to the size of a kitten. “Why did it have to grow so BIG?” asks mum. “I’m not sure,” says Billy, “but I think it just wanted to be noticed.”
Children love the story because it shows them being right and adults being wrong. But the story works because of the dominance of rationality in our human thinking. We know dragons don’t exist outside of children’s stories, but we have a framework for understanding the world, and we disbelieve things that don’t fit within that framework. The resurrection of Jesus is one such thing, and Thomas is the equivalent of Billy’s mum.
Thomas wants proof. He is being entirely reasonable. He believes what he has seen with his own eyes. He knows that Jesus is dead. Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die, and a soldier stuck a spear in his side just to make sure. He was taken down, tidied up and buried. He was really, truly dead. Thomas knows this.
Thomas knows plenty about death. He has seen it many times before. He is a rational man. He knows there are rules in the universe, and one of them is that the dead stay dead. Oh, there are stories – the story of Lazarus for one, but who saw Lazarus when he was being put into the tomb? Who’s to say he wasn’t just in a coma? The sisters, hysterical with grief, might have been mistaken. There is a rational explanation, Thomas is certain of this.
Thomas had believed in Jesus. He had taken on Jesus’ mission. He had adopted the message of God’s love for the poor, of the rule of God which takes precedence over everything else, of life to be enjoyed by everyone not just by the few. He had listened to the stories, seen people being healed, watched joy overcome grief and fear wherever Jesus was. He hopes the work can continue. He wants the message to live on, and even be spread. But that’s not going to happen if his friends, his fellow workers, delude themselves into thinking Jesus is still alive. They need to move on, not huddle together in a room waiting for Jesus to show. He goes out and about, looking for people who are sympathetic to the message, thinking about ways to preach it now, wondering about another Galilee tour.
When he goes back to the others, they are burbling about Jesus appearing to them. But the dead don’t get up and walk, much less walk through walls. Thomas is having none of it. He refuses to believe something that is so clearly nonsense, that flies in the face of everything he knows about reality. He is hanging on to his sanity, no matter what is happening to the others.
But then he sees Jesus. Someone stands in front of him holding out his wounded hands, and he can no longer turn away. He can’t deny the evidence of his own eyes and not see the hands. His world shifts. The rules of the universe have changed, he now understands. There is a new rule, that life is stronger than death. His old framework has been shattered and, to his credit, his response is immediate. This is no hallucination, and he admits his mistake. He has seen, and he believes.
As Christians we believe in things that other people insist are impossible. Academic atheists write books and go on television to demonstrate that faith is a dangerous delusion. We too have our frameworks of understanding, and we know that dead people don’t get up and walk around. We have not had Thomas’ experience of seeing the proof in front of him. For us, believing in the resurrection of Jesus is a leap of faith and of trust in the tradition handed down to us in the Bible and within the Church. We believe, against the evidence, that life is stronger than death. The story of Thomas shows that God allows us our doubts, and welcomes our believing.
1. Thomas refuses to believe something he is told and that he knows cannot be true.
2. Thomas’ framework for understanding the world has to change when he is shown the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.
3. Our belief in the resurrection, without proof, is a leap of faith and trust in a God who allows us our doubts.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dh02OnJpIE
Prayers of intercession:
As the disciples gathered to pray and to wait on God, so we pray in faith today.
We pray for the Royal Family in their time of grief and commend to you Prince Philip. Bless the family as they bear the sad loss of a much loved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. We give thanks for all the years of devoted service and support he gave to his wife, Her Majesty the Queen, his family and to this our country. Amen
We pray for the family of Pauline McRae as they say farewell to their mother on Tuesday. Our prayers go with them all at this sad time.
We pray for God’s people, that they may put their trust in the risen Christ. We pray for those who are afraid to raise their doubts or to risk the adventure of faith. May we be given clarity of vision to recognise the risen Christ in our midst.
We pray for our world, in which so many are seeking some meaning beyond what our eyes can see. We pray for the inspiration given to scientists and philosophers as they struggle to understand the deepest secrets of our universe which, through their endeavours, the miracle of God’s love may be more fully known.
We pray for the communities in which we live and work, that they may be places of fellowship and sharing, characterised by honesty and acceptance.
We pray for those who are ill at home or in hospital, those who are housebound and those who are alone. We pray for any who are troubled and anxious, that they may be able to put their trust in the God who offers healing and peace.
We rejoice that life is stronger than death. Trusting in the resurrection of Christ, we pray for those who have recently died, and all those we have loved and lost over time. We commend all God’s people to his mercy and love.
Risen Lord, hear us in your mercy, and strengthen all for whom we pray that they may know your presence and peace all their days. Amen.
Hymn: Now thank we all our God https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s99dNPKYtHk
Filled with the grace of the Father, may you go on your way with joy.
Enfolded in the grace of the Son, may you forgive as you have been forgiven.
Fired by the grace of the Spirit, may you speak boldly of God’s love.
And the blessing of God almighty go with you now and always. Amen
Easter is an unfinished Business, so let’s not forget it!
Easter Sunday April 4th
Call to Worship:
Christ is risen! Your sorrows will pass.
Christ is risen! A new day is breaking.
Christ is risen! The darkness is falling away.
Christ is risen! Let us arise and give thanks!
Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVIKjE4uIFI
This is the day that starts the week.
This is the day of rising.
This the day that starts new life.
This is the day we sing for Joy.
For Christ our Lord, though killed on the cross,
is now alive for ever.
And so we gather, to rejoice and give thanks
That this day and all our days
are lived in the light of that hope,
In the name of Jesus, the Christ, our Lord. Amen
In silence take time to make your own confession
The Lord’s Prayer:
Gospel: John 20:1-18
John's narrative sparkles at every turn, his words and images bearing rich allusion. In his first resurrection narrative Mary's tears seem quite natural, yet Jesus’ questioning of them becomes the announcement that Isaiah's longing prophecy has been fulfilled.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13)
A small boy gets lost in the crowd. He's surrounded by a forest of legs but none of them are the right ones. His mother is beside herself with worry but when they find each other she wipes his tears from his eyes.
A man in his forties is made redundant for the third time. His debts are mounting. He can't provide for his family. He feels such a failure. He breaks down and his wife holds him close. Later she wipes his tears and holds him some more.
An old man fondly recalls a teenage summer, with crystal clear vision. Suddenly a woman is shouting at him angrily. He left bacon frying on the cooker and the house nearly caught fire. She looks vaguely familiar. She is his daughter. “Was that me?” he says, and something makes him cry. He feels confused and ashamed. And now she puts her arms around him and with the edge of her thumb, pushes his sorrow to one side.
When someone weeps with you it means they will never leave you. When someone tells you to dry your tears, it's because there is more coping to be done. When someone wipes your tears away it means a new day has dawned.
In today's Gospel, Jesus doesn't physically wipe away Mary's tears, but the episode and imagery are part of a developing biblical theme beginning with the tears of Hagar in Genesis 21 and ending with the New Heaven and Earth of Revelation 21. Thematically central is the resurrection of Jesus.
John calls it “the first day of the week.” Had he used the alternative ‘third day’ his viewpoint would have been looking backward – sealing up the Easter event and opening into the future. But John, whose Gospel began by alluding to the original creation, wants to emphasise the beginning of a new creation.
Yet, because of the hour, ‘it was still dark.’ Darkness and light always mean more than the existence of photons. Here, the darkness mirrors Mary's lack of spiritual sight; she is shrouded in grief and cannot see beyond it. But as with any dawn, the darkness will lift.
At Mary’s urgent call, Peter and a second disciple rushed to the tomb. Something about the grave clothing made them pause. John says the beloved disciple “saw and believed,” but immediately makes it clear that he didn't understand what he believed in because he hadn't yet learnt about the resurrection.
Knowing in their hearts the presence of God's hand, they went home. ‘But Mary stood weeping...’ Like Jesus' tears at the tomb of Lazarus, her tears gather up all the grief the world has ever known and all the sadness any of us feel.
First Angels, and then Jesus ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping, who are you seeking?” It's obvious why someone would be weeping at a tomb, and doubly so when the tomb had been disturbed. So the question is a challenge rather than an enquiry. Who does Mary think Jesus is? Who did she ever think Jesus was? If he was a mere human being, she would be right to weep at his demise. Is this who she is looking for – a good man who ran out of options? Or does she seek the Son of God?
Mary answers on the surface, but Jesus' question has begun to open her spirit. When he calls her by name, there is instant recognition. “Mary?” “Teacher!” He has just taught her all over again.
The message of Easter is like the rising of dawn in our hearts. Of course our world and our lives are still full of tears. Some of us are struggling in our work situations; others are struggling at home or in our families; some have companions in the struggle; others bear the burden alone, and for others it just takes all their energy to survive.
Yet the resurrection of Jesus heralds the first day of a new creation and so it urges us to look beyond our struggles; to look with faith and to name them as temporary. To do this doesn't make our struggles any less; Jesus came to us because without him our struggles will never be diminished. Yet the reality of our struggles shows even more brightly the power of this new dawn which is displacing them.
This Easter, let's actively rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, for it is God, his Son, his power and his salvation we are seeking, - and he wipes every tear from our eyes.
1. The image of God wiping tears runs throughout the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus stands thematically at the centre.
2. John emphasises the resurrection as a turning point by calling it the first day of the week and by mirroring Mary's spiritual darkness-to-dawn in the physical description of the ‘darkness-becoming-light.’
3. The repeated question “why are you weeping, who are you seeking?” begs the issue of who we believe in. If God is truly at work in Jesus then everything can be transformed.
4. Today we find ourselves in similar situations – burdened by problems and heavy with grief. But the message of Easter is a call to rise up in faith, rejoicing in the victory of Christ who defeated death.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFDzS5Yt8zo
Prayers of intercession:
Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Let us spend time with the tears of our world.
For those who mourn the death of a child or someone very close...
For those who can barely make ends meet...
For those who have not eaten properly for months...
For those who feel the weight of shame...
For those who have lost their bearings in life...
For those who are struggling to find, or hold on to, faith...
Mary called him ‘Teacher.’ Lord, teach us to live in peace, as those who put the past behind us and stretch to embrace your new day. Amen.
Hymn: And can it be https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC8HSEKtuio
“I have seen the Lord” said Mary.
May the light of Christ's presence pour down upon you,
play joyfully around you,
wipe away your tears and give you the vision of a new day.
And may the blessing of God almighty go with you on your journey. Amen