Give me the Faith

A Service for Sunday 9th August prepared by Rev Arthur Cowburn.

StF 51 Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

Prayer

Eternal and ever loving God, you show your faithfulness to us in many ways.We experience it in the wonders of your creation, great and small.We discover it in the love of our friends and families.We find it as your Spirit seeks to guide us in our lives.Yet, our love for you is weak.We miss opportunities to share your love because we are afraidOr we lack confidence in ourselves to speak of you. But you were faithful in sending your son, JesusThat through him our sin might be forgiven.May we know that forgiveness in our hearts and lives And dedicate ourselves to living to your praise and glory. Amen

1 Kings 19: 9-18
There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.  Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Matthew 14: 22-33
 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,  and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 3 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 3 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

StF 426 Hark, my soul! It is the Lord;‘tis thy Saviour, hear his word;

Sermon One of the things I’ve missed most this summer has been our annual trip to the Scottish Highlands. The majesty of the mountains is something that the South Downs cannot compare with. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the encounters with God in the bible take place on the top of mountains. They are wonderfully spiritual places.Both these readings incorporate a meeting with God on a mountain. Jesus, having fed the 5000, goes up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Perhaps he just needs that space after all that’s been going on, time to communicate with God and to recharge his batteries. Elijah is there because he’s on the run again and perhaps the last person he wants to meet with, other than Ahab and Jezebel, is God. But God is the one thing we can never run away from and Elijah has to face that question, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Although I’ve never had to face the sorts of challenges Elijah had, I’ve got great sympathy with him. I grew up in a reasonably large Sunday School but by the time I left to go to University I was the only one left. It felt like Christianity was something outdated, certainly not for young people and I had decided that once I left, that would be it, me and the church would part company.God had other ideas though and surprised me by providing lots of Christian friends when I felt lonely and isolated, a long way from home. God doesn’t do that for Elijah immediately although he provides the assurance that Elijah is not on his own. There are 7000 who still feel the way he does about the Jewish faith. And although there’s a magnificent display of thunderstorms and earthquakes, it’s in the still, small voice that Elijah finds the reassurance. Often, it’s in the darkest times that we encounter the wonder of God in the stillness.Whilst Jesus is up the mountain, the disciples are also having a difficult time of it. They have been sent across the lake by Jesus in a boat, but the wind is against them and they’re struggling to make progress. Just before dawn they see the most unexpected sight of somebody walking towards them across the water. No wonder they’re frightened. But then Jesus speaks saying, “Take courage! It is I!” There is a suggestion in some commentaries that this may be a similar construction to that used in Moses encounter with God at the burning bush when God declares himself to be I am. Don’t be afraid, Jesus is saying to his disciples, God is still in control.

Which, of course, leads to one of the great comedy moments in the gospels where Peter decides that if it is Jesus, he wants to do what Jesus can do and walk on the water. I’m giving him full marks for bravery for even trying. Some years ago, we were at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire where there is a famous, quite long set of steppingstones across a fast flowing river. As we ate lunch, we watched people going backwards and forwards on them and I was persuaded to give it a try. However, I have no head for heights and an atrocious sense of balance. I’d only gone about 3 or 4 steps when I looked down at the fast-moving water, the distance across the river to the other side and panicked. I just froze and had to be coaxed to turn round and get back to the safety of the bank. Something similar happens to Peter, he begins to sink and has to be hauled back into the boat.

Perhaps that’s the real wonder of God. That God trusts human beings, weak and frail as we are, to do his work on earth. Elijah knows the power of God. He has defeated the Prophets of Baal in the Great Barbecue Challenge but still feels vulnerable against Ahab and Jezebel. The disciples have seen the amazing things that Jesus can do, and Peter has managed to begin to walk across the water but then his faith lets him down.

How often is that the case for us? We see other people doing amazing things in the power of God but think that’s for them and not for me. We know deep down that we have a wonderful message to proclaim to the world but aren’t even sure how to begin. We hear that the Church is growing across the world but because we don’t necessarily see signs of numerical growth in our own churches feel that the world is against us and we are fighting a lonely battle. And yet God still comes and asks, “What are you doing here?” and Jesus still comes before the dawn and says “Take Courage! It is I!” We are trusted by God and empowered to be his servants in the world however great our doubts and lack of faith in our own ability. What a wonderful message of hope that is for the world and for us.

Prayers of Intercession

Lord God, we come before you to pray for all those people for whom taking risks is a way of life.Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray for our emergency services – paramedics, the police,
the fire service – all who daily face difficult situations
as they seek to help to protect us and make our world a safer
and more peaceful place.Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray for people who work in troubled areas– the armed forces in war zones,
those who bring humanitarian aid into areas of natural disaster, and many more.
Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray for all those who have taken risks during this time of coronavirus Doctors, nurses, and other people in the NHS.Those who work in care homes or provide care in the communityDelivery drivers, postmen, shop workers and all others who have enabled us to receive the things we need.Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray for people who take risks in your name, Lord Jesus– those who take your word where it is most needed– and for people who grapple with faith and doubt.
Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray for those who are afraid and uncertain.Those worried about the safety of going outside Those anxious about the health of loved ones Those worried about life following a bereavement.Lord, reveal yourself to them and keep them safe.

We pray ourselves that we might have the courage To share your love by our words and our actions. Lord, reveal yourself to us and keep us safe.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

StF 661Give me the faith which can remove and sink the mountain to a plain;

Acts by the imprisoned

A few weeks ago a friend enquired: how we were getting on in our “Open Prison”, referring to the necessary lockdown restrictions.  This led us to think about people carrying on evangelising from prison.

A well known example is St. Paul whom during his two year house arrest in Rome wrote most of the letters which he is known for today.  These letters are known by the names of the areas which the letters were written to such as Corinthians, Romans, Galatians and Ephesians.

The reason for this imprisonment is described in Acts chapter 21 to 28.  A previous more dramatic imprisonment involving Paul and his friend Silas can be found in Acts 16. The book of Acts describes the Actions of Jesus’s followers after the crucifixion which resulted in the formation of the first Churches, which were formed despite the many and varied difficulties encountered by the disciples, and followers of Jesus including imprisonment.  In particular St. Paul, one of the central figures in the creation of the Modern Church, was enabled to do this during severe lockdown (i.e. enchained and imprisoned).  If the church can be created in such circumstances, then what can we still do, and what is God aiming for us now in this time of transition?

Another well known Prisoner is John Bunyan who wrote “Pilgrims Progress” whilst in Bedford Gaol when he was imprisoned from 1661 to 1672 for being a nonconformist preacher.  The Pilgrims progress is an allegory with a Christian message.  The Pilgrims progress had been published in more than 1300 editions by 1938, so there must be even more now.  By coincidence Bunyan was buried in bunhill fields the same place as Issac Watts who recently was profiled in a blog on this site.

We may not be able to write Christian literature of the value in the examples given above, but let us hope for inspiration for us all to spread Gods Love and his word at this time.  To quote John Wesley ” Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.”

Feeding of the five thousand

A service prepared for Sunday 2nd August by Rev Trish Davis

Call to Worship (from Psalm 145):I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

Hymn: Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah 465 STF (By William Williams).

Prayer:

Holy God, we thank you for your constant love and we rejoice that you are our strong deliverer, our strength and our shield. We praise you for coming into our world in Jesus; for giving us a glimpse of your glory, and for showing us what you were prepared to do to draw each one of us to yourself. We know that we do not deserve your sacrifice for us, and as we consider the cross, the place of both suffering and healing, we come before you to confess our sins.We have been angry and impatient, complaining about the faults of others, and failing to see our own. We have been lazy and selfish, neglecting the interests of others and pursuing our own. We have been faithless and unworthy, ignoring the strength you offer and relying upon our own. (Pause to reflect on your personal failings and to consider changes that you will commit to this coming week…)

God of mercy, you have promised to forgive those who truly repent. Help us to accept your forgiveness, and dwell in us by your Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ 16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ 17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection:

We can’t imagine what it might be like to be a part of a big crowd anymore…can we?! Many of us feel very uncomfortable at the thought of crowds right now. Can you even remember the last time you were part of a large crowd? Why were you there? What did it feel like? So, this well known Bible passage about Jesus feeding the 5000 might be harder than usual for us to relate to.Maybe we will dwell more on the thought of Jesus withdrawing privately to a solitary place. Many of you have been on your own a lot more than normal over the past 4 + months and you might be fed up with being in a solitary place. For Jesus it was a chance to recover himself following the very sad news that his cousin, John the Baptist, was dead.Perhaps you have had to come to terms with the death of a family member, or a friend, during lock down, and the opportunities to meet with others to share grief have been limited. Interestingly Jesus was not alone for very long – people sought him out, and he was able to find enough love and compassion for them to want to help them – he healed all those who were ill, and then he gave them food to eat, much to the shock of his disciples who felt there was nowhere near enough food to go round. I wonder if the part of the account that struck you the most today was: ‘he gave thanks and broke the loaves’. A reminder of our Communion services – do you remember them!? We have something very special, as Christians, when we meet together to share the bread and the wine, and for many, being unable to do that for so long will be a real sadness. We can be assured that, although we may experience a particular closeness to our Lord through sharing bread and wine together, Jesus is still as close to us as ever in our own homes and anywhere else we might find ourselves. What would Jesus’ disciples have been thinking as the miracle took place that day? Would they have thought back to the times God fed his people in the wilderness with manna and quail after the escape from Egypt with Moses? Would they have Herod’s birthday banquet in mind – which led to the death of John the Baptist and from which they had collected John’s body? – A meal that served to display Herod’s power, so unlike the meal Jesus was offering, which showed his love and compassion for the crowd who had followed him. Would they be amazed at the role they were playing in this miracle – taking the bread and fish from Jesus and handing it round – seeing it grow and spread, satisfying such a huge number of people? They might have felt utterly incapable of doing what Jesus asked of them, but did it the best they could anyway, so Jesus was able to work a miracle through their efforts.What hope that brings to each one of us! If we ever feel powerless to do what Jesus asks of us, here is a reminder of how Jesus can work through faithful disciples.

Let’s use the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’ to fuel our faith. We might feel despondent, useless, frustrated, unhappy because of some of the changes in our lives over this Covid-19 time. (Or you may have experienced hope and joy in many unexpected ways! Don’t feel you should have found this time purely a struggle…) Whatever you have felt, and still feel, look to Jesus – consider how he cares, how he teaches, how he leads by example, how he manages his own sadness and how he inspires his disciples. Rejoice that you belong to him. Look for the unexpected joys around you; consider who you might show compassion to…

If you wonder how you can show compassion or inspire others ask yourself: Can I pray for someone I don’t usually pray for, or encourage them in some way (through a phone call, or a letter, or an email, or a text)? Can I bake a cake or some biscuits for someone, or give them flowers, or a picture I have drawn or coloured? Can I write a poem or take a photo which might bring joy to someone else? If my circumstances are more limited just now, and I rely on others to care for me, can I brighten their day or show my appreciation through a warm smile or a kind word?

Know that the smallest of beginnings, like the few loaves and fishes broken by Jesus and shared out by his disciples, can grow into something so much more, and determine to be part of that in whatever way you can.

Amen.

Hymn: Christ our King before creation STF 318 (By Ivor. H. Jones)

(You can sing this to any tune you use for the hymn ‘Love Divine’)

Prayers

Gracious and holy God,

we come to you with our prayers for others, confident that you hear us.

We pray for our world – for the ability to contain and defeat the coronavirus; we ask for protection for the most vulnerable, thinking especially of nations with limited resources and people living very close together. May the efforts of scientists working towards vaccines be fruitful and the vaccines be made available worldwide as quickly as possible.We pray about the economic difficulties faced by many people; for businesses ruined or threatened with ruin; for job opportunities lost, and for the fear this brings. We ask that governments will make wise decisions to encourage economic growth, especially in areas that will offer hope for our planet.We pray for school children who have missed out on education since March and may have been living in dysfunctional families; for the teaching staff trying to work out how they can best run schools safely next term. We ask that the school holiday time through August will bring refreshment to children, staff and parents.

We pray for all those who are ill – physically or mentally – that they will have good care and suitable support. We pray for medical and care staff, counsellors and social workers, that they will make the best decisions even when they tired and under pressure.We pray for all who are grieving. We know that you understand their pain and have equipped us to show comfort to those who mourn, through the comfort we ourselves have received.We pray for our churches as we seek to work out how and when we can open for worship services; and for opportunities to let others know about your love even when we are not able to meet together. We offer ourselves to you afresh; hopeful that we can continue learning to serve as your disciples did; strengthened by your power and guided by your Spirit. Amen.

(Pause for a moment to add any of your own prayers, silently or out loud…)

The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn: Lead us heavenly Father lead us 238 STF (by James Edmeston)

Blessing:

May we move into this week filled with your joy, your forgiveness and the peace that knows no understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us all, now and forever more.

Amen.

Lockdown Parables

A service for Sunday 26th July prepared by Rev Les Judd.

Call to worship;

The kingdom of God is here Found in the little things.

The kingdom of God is hereFound in the surprising things

The kingdom of God is here.Found within us.

Thanks be to God.

Hymn 137.New every morning is the love

Prayer

Gracious, Loving God,

We come before you today to offer our worship and praise.

Even though we are separated it feels as though we gather together around you with thanksgiving on our lips and love in our hearts. We come to surrender our lives to you, and have them redirected by the inspiration of your living word

Hymn 495 Dear Lord and Father of mankind,

Reading 1 Kings 3: 5-12

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Reading Matthew 13: 31-33; 44-52

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Sermon: Shifting our perception and shaking us free.

From the time I sat on my mothers’ knee and listened to a nursery rhyme, I fell in love with a good story. I expect it is the same for you. During these lockdown days, no doubt you have had time to watch some good dramas on the TV or read some good stories. I have loved the theatre nights on the TV and was recently mesmerised by the production of Amadeus by the National theatre. I have read and loved ‘The cuckoo’s calling’ written under a pseudonym but actually authored by J. K. Rowling. I’ve enjoyed Ken Follett’s ‘The pillars of the earth’. I even had time to reread Dark Fire and Lamentations by C. J. Sansom. These stories varied in length from five hundred to over a thousand pages long. Yet when I read the short parabolic stories in chapter 13 of Matthew, I am astonished by the depth and power of Jesus the master story teller, who shifts our perceptions and shakes us free from previous attachments by using a few well-chosen words. Jesus uses simple descriptions to conjure up astonishing images. A small mustard seed becomes a large bush in which birds nest. A huge amount of flour becomes even larger because of the yeast hidden in it. A field bears hidden treasure and is purchased for its concealed prize. The kingdom of heaven is likened to a merchant looking for fine pearls, a net catching great numbers of fish, and an owner of a storeroom containing old and new treasures. Each story stands on its own. We may skim over them because of their familiarity. But we would be wise not to. In case we dismiss the story-teller and the genius of his stories. In the time of Jesus, as in our own time, the kingdom of God is not obvious and visible, nor does it have great influence. Yet these stories suggest that out of small beginnings the kingdom will grow and become almost too large to be imagined. The theme of growth shifts with the parables of the treasure (13:44) and the pearl 13:45-4. Both parables refer to an unbelievable discovery and are the material out of which dreams are made. They express the incomparable worth of the kingdom of God, which requires doing all within your power to gain it. Risking everything, it suggests you take advantage of the unexpected opportunities presented, for the presence of God and all God’s blessings are contained here. Being surrounded by empty, yet dangerous distractions, we are invited to seek the pearl of great price; pursuing it single-mindedly, or with equal determination dig a field, (without the use of a metal detector!) to find the hidden treasure. Thereby gaining the one thing that is more valuable than anything else.

Then there is another enticing shift that says the kingdom of God is like a net which catches fish, but some of the fish are not worth catching so they are thrown out. In other words the kingdom of God is like an invisible net swirling around us and catching us up in an exuberant moment but those who do not recognise it, fall out and are lost.In these incredible thumb-nail sketches of the kingdom of God, Jesus persuades us that the true nature of things is not obvious. He tries to break our hypnotic concentration on life as it’s always been. He wants to shift our attention; to alter our perception, to expand our awareness, to change our behaviour. He directs our attention not to the world as it is (where the kingdom is obscure) but to the world as it will be when the kingdom is realised. These parables are constructed in order to shake us free from our present condition and embrace that to which God is calling us. The parables dare us to live as if the kingdom is here and now and within us, in all its fullness.

But there is more. These parables move in lots of directions, all at once. The point of parables, as we have said, is not simply to help us understand something, but rather to shake us free from a firm but wrongly held belief; to shift our attention. They are stories to tease us out of our current way of thinking and to lead us to see the world differently. Their intention is to help us not only see things differently but also to behave differently. Like a kaleidoscope the parables have many patterns and create a variety of pictures and have as many interpretations as your imagination allows.

For example, it has been said that a mustard seed that grows into a small tree can be likened to an unwanted weed. I have seen it suggested that mustard seed shrubs were the uncontrollable weed of ancient Palestine. If you didn’t pull it out or prune it back it grew as large as this parable describes, and it housed birds. Who want birds in the field where you have just sown precious seed? Fields have scare-crows; to scare off the birds. Does this say the kingdom will become rampant and uncontrollable and cover every part of the land?

The parable of the yeast challenges us too, because it is suggesting God is not like you imagine God to be. The elements of yeast, the woman and the flour are all challenging. For example, yeast has a rather ambivalent set of associations in scripture: sometimes negative describing sinfulness, sometimes positive speaking about growth, rising and resurrection. To speak about the woman as analogous to God is totally unheard of, and the amount of flour would probable bake enough bread to feed a small village. This parable seems to talk about the excesses of the kingdom, but could also imply the kingdom is experienced as both growth and decay. Listen closely to the parable which says the kingdom of heaven is like the net and not the fisher-folk. Everyone is caught up in the kingdom, simply because it is God’s kingdom and at an unknown point there will be some sorting out to be done. It seems to suggest that you can live in the kingdom but be unaware of its blessings and benefits. Or you can already be participating in the joys and freedom that the kingdom offers. Are you receiving all of the promise of the kingdom?At the end of the parables of the kingdom, Jesus talks about teachers trained in the law, but who understand the message of Jesus. They are like a household manager who has treasures old and new to show for his labours. This has something to do with the wisdom of knowing what blessings come to us from the past, and what creative and exciting new things are yet to be discovered and belong to the kingdom.It seems like it is a hard lesson, to be aware of the new with all its blessings without discarding the old. Or put another way, to be aware of the old but not discard the new! It’s about remaining connected to the great Christian tradition and adopting the new because God is continually making all things new.God wants to shift our emphasis and shake us free, because his kingdom is always challenging, exciting and new.

Hymn 255 The kingdom of God is justice and joy;

Prayers of intercession.

God of love and compassion, we pray for all who seek your kingdom and long to make a difference in the lives of others. For the church and its varied mission activities, from outreach charities like ‘All We Can’ to caring professions like ‘Methodist Homes for the Aged’. We ask you to prepare us for creative new models of mission and intergenerational work.

We pray for those involved in the medical profession, from nurses and doctors to critical care workers and cleaners. ( Reflect on all the workers who have given so much recently.)

We ask on behalf of those who listen to the needs of others, like ministers and mediators, counsellors and carers. (Reflect on those who have talked about mental health.)

We pray for the police and probation services and all the agencies that are concerned with the ordering and well-being of our society. (Reflect on government agencies.)

We think about teachers, pupils and parents as they all wrestle with the difficulties of education at this time. (Reflect on families you know.)

We remember before you the daily tribulations of the poor. (Refugees and rough sleepers.)

We pray for all who actively work to build your kingdom here. For those challenging injustices and who stand up for what is right. For politicians and protesters who seek to do what is right. For activists and pacifists who long for what is right. Help us Lord who believe in your kingdom to always seek what is right.

We pray in your name

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn 254 Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

The Sending.

Go as agents of the kingdom of God: Carrying the marks of the kingdom about you, from the baptismal cross signed on your forehead at the beginning of your journey to fruits of the Spirit that are growing in you now. Be prepared to be surprised by signs of the kingdom in the little things around you. Rejoice when you see them and allow peace to reside in you. This is what God wants for you. So go into the coming week fortified in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Jacobs Dream at Bethal

A Service prepared for use on Sunday 19th July by Rev. Anthony Parkinson.

‘We gather together’ – that’s how we often began a service of worship in our churches – but at the moment ‘gather’doesn’t seem the right word! We meet with God just the same as we used to, but not in the immediate company of many others (for some not in company with anyone at all). And yet, somehow, in the mystery that is God, we are together – not just with the others who we used to meet on a Sunday at church, but with a whole host of others who are part of God’s family.So let’s pause for a moment, and give thanks for those we can’t see, but with whom we meet in Jesus’ name here and now.

Father God,
we thank you for the amazing company
of which we are a part.
Thank you for our church family
as they too meet with you.
Thank you for your welcoming and generous love
which holds us all together.

StF 609 – As we gather in your presence now

Let us pray.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we meet in your name to rejoice in what you have done for us. Even before we knew we had any need of you, you gave up your life – willingly – so that we could live close to you all the time.
Lord, we know there are times when we have become distant from you – when we let go of your best for us and ‘do our own thing’, when we make mistakes – and we are truly sorry.
[Pause to remember]
Please Lord, forgive us and make us whole again.Jesus is always ready to forgive us when we repent.
He reaches out to us now and embraces each one. We are “welcomed in to the courts of the King”, finding mercy, warmth and comfort.

Holy Spirit, Comforter and Sustainer, we welcome you into our hearts today.
We thank you for all you have done for us in the past,
worship you in the here and now,
and trust you for all that is to come.

Amazing God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we worship you. Amen.

Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a (NIV) – Jacob’s dream at Bethel
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway
resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Let us pray

Jacob’s memorable night in the wilderness came when he was at rock bottom. Alone and afraid he discovered God was with him, and in a powerful way that Jacob never forgot. Right now, we are all going through something of a wilderness moment. Many of us are cut off from our families and friends in ways we have never been before, and lots of us are struggling. Let us acknowledge our own problems now – loneliness, fear and anxiety about the future, dulled sense of belonging, dryness in our relationship with God, depression, anger …

Loving Father God,
we acknowledge and own our difficulties of this time.
We feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.
We cannot see the way forward.
Our faith tells us that you are with us always,
no matter where we are or what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Help us to believe and feel this truth deep within us,
so that we can say, along with Jacob,
‘Surely the Lord is in this place’. Amen.

Father God,
we thank you for the amazing company
of which we are a part.
Thank you for our church family
as they too meet with you.
Thank you for your welcoming and generous love
which holds us all together.
Let us pray.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,
we meet in your name to rejoice
in what you have done for us.
Even before we knew we had any need of you,
you gave up your life – willingly –
so that we could live close to you all the time.
Lord, we know there are times
when we have become distant from you
– when we let go of your best for us
and ‘do our own thing’,
when we make mistakes
– and we are truly sorry.
[Pause to remember]
Please Lord, forgive us and make us whole again.
Jesus is always ready to forgive us when we repent.
He reaches out to us now
and embraces each one.
We are “welcomed in to the courts of the King”,
finding mercy, warmth and comfort.

Holy Spirit, Comforter and Sustainer,
we welcome you into our hearts today.
We thank you for all you have done for us in the past,
worship you in the here and now,
and trust you for all that is to come.

Amazing God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we worship you. Amen.

Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a (NIV) – Jacob’s dream at Bethel
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.
Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway
resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give
you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth,
and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed
through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He
was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Let us pray

Jacob’s memorable night in the wilderness came when he was at rock bottom. Alone and afraid he discovered God was with him, and in a powerful way that Jacob never forgot. Right now, we are all going through something of a wilderness moment. Many of us are cut off from our families and friends in ways we have never been before, and lots of us are struggling. Let us acknowledge our own problems now – loneliness, fear and anxiety about the future, dulled sense of belonging, dryness in our relationship with God, depression, anger …

Loving Father God,
we acknowledge and own our difficulties of this time.
We feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.
We cannot see the way forward.
Our faith tells us that you are with us always,
no matter where we are or what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Help us to believe and feel this truth deep within us,
so that we can say, along with Jacob,
‘Surely the Lord is in this place’. Amen.

H&P 63 – All my hope on God is founded
To sing along go to

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3LCGh02Vew

We continue in prayer:
Into this place of sanctuary, we bring our families
siblings, parents, children,
as well as our Church family
and hold them in our hearts.
Father God,
fill them with your love,
comfort them when they are distressed,
and give them strength to meet the challenges of the days ahead.

We think of those we see when we are outside our homes
shop workers, nursing and care staff,
delivery drivers, postmen, other shoppers …
Loving Father,
give them strength and patience to keep going
even though circumstances make life stressful,
and help us to show our appreciation with thanks and smiles.

We pray for people who bear heavy responsibilities
Boris Johnson and those who govern our country,
managers and those working out how to re-open their businesses,
teachers making plans for the return of pupils in September …
Loving God,
fill them with your wisdom,
that they may lead justly and fairly,
in ways that give confidence and keep us safe.

The difficulties we face are mirrored all over the world.
We think particularly of countries
where medical facilities are stretched much more than ours,
where access to clean water is not assured,
where lack of education means lack of opportunity
and a huge divide between rich and poor.
Father God,
you love all of these people too,
no matter what their circumstances.
We often find it hard to see how they can experience that
when their lives are so impoverished,
but you can and do reach out to them
through aid workers,
small acts of kindness,
the gift of gentle rain,
a smile …
We pray for relief for all who suffer
and for ‘richer’ nations to take the initiative
in bringing about equality and justice for all.

We say the prayer that unites God’s family everywhere: The Lord’s prayer.

Sermon
We all know the story of Jacob’s ladder, I’m sure. There he was, Jacob the trickster, on his own in a strange place, with an angry brother behind and who-knows-what in front – and out of the darkness came that amazing vision of God who offered him protection and promise at what must have been the lowest point of his life. No wonder he exclaimed‘This is nothing less than God’s house – the gateway into heaven!’ No wonder he set up an altar for worship,and gave the place the name Beth-el – House of God; and no wonder that countless chapels have taken that same name, as their proclamation that God is to be found in their place of worship.
But it’s not as easy as that. Jacob met God at Bethel – but he only went back there once
(Gen.35.1-15). It was a place of great religious significance (and indeed continued to be so after the Israelites conquered Canaan), but Jacob had no need to revisit it frequently.
He knew that the God of his fathers was not limited to one place. Heaven has many gateways, many ‘thin places’ where we might meet God.
What does that tell us about being church, especially in a time when we can’t actually use our churches?We don’t have to be reminded that the church is the people of God, not the buildings – indeed, one architect designed
churches as empty shells, which only ‘became church’ when the people arrived. In this time of ‘disorientation’ (as the new President of Conference calls it), when we have little hope of meeting in church for worship and fellowship for months to come, how do we view our church buildings? Will their importance have changed once
we have the freedom to assemble again? What we do in them may change radically (and I don’t just mean social distancing and no hymns). Might we even decide that we don’t need them? Indeed, what does our church building represent for us? Is it central to how we think about ourselves (like the Welshman on the desert island, who built two chapels, and explained when he was rescued that ‘this is the one I go to, that is the one I don’t go to’)? Is it a place of security, where everything is predictable and familiar in a world of rapid change? Or is it just one of the places where we find spiritual nourishment
on our journey of discipleship – a service station on the Way?
When lockdown began, many of us asked ‘how will we manage with no churches?’
We only have to look around now, three months on, and realise that we are managing pretty well;we can take part in regular services (of a new pattern), fellowship continues in new ways through telephone calls,emails and on-line meetings, and ‘virtual’ bible study is flourishing. Indeed,there is evidence that more people are connecting with God through these new points of access than evercame to look for God in our church buildings. As we adapt to new ways of being church (or maybe reinvent
how the church originally was – small groups of believers meeting as and when they could), it would be good to thinkcarefully about how church might look post-Covid. But it should not simply be our own thoughts. As we move towards a ‘new normal’, can we be brave enough to invite the Holy Spirit to be part of our reorientation – perhaps taking us
in new directions in worship, or encouraging us to open up our churches to new uses and to invite the community in?If so, our Bethel will become truly an open gate to heaven, a place where all may meet God – but (just as Jacob found)
on His terms, not ours.

StF 478 – Thank you O God

Blessing
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace,
now and forever. Amen.

.

 

Service at Home for Sunday 12th July

Service at Home for Sunday 12th July 2020 – prepared by Rev Trish Davis.
Call to Worship:The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8)
Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Prayers:Gracious God,we thank you that all good gifts come from you.
We thank you for all you have already given us.And, as the good soil welcomes the seed,
and causes it to grow, we welcome you to take root and flourish in our lives.

Listening God,how can we possibly understand what you have to say to us,
if we don’t take time to listen.Help us to seek out moments this week where we can find a quiet corner,or even just a glance heavenward, to be with you.
Speak to us, Lord, and bless us; and make us a blessing to others.Amen.
Reading: Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’
Sermon:
This parable seems very apt for us during this time of uncertainty with some (many) still living in some form of isolation or lockdown. How do we feel when we receive church services on paper, or through the internet? Do they initially raise our spirits and bring us some joy and comfort? Do you have a Sunday routine now that involves listening to radio services, watching TV services and Songs of Praise?Perhaps for some housebound people nothing much has changed apart from seeing less people. But what happens over the week? Does our faith remain fuelled up by our Sunday experiences or are we more like some of the people mentioned in the parable today?
Do we find that what we don’t fully understand what we hear about God’s Kingdom, and is what we do hear easily snatched away from us by an enemy waiting for the first sign of weakness to come in and rob us of hope and peace and purpose?
Or do we find that the roots of our faith are in fact quite shallow – so that, although we might find ourselves fairly full of joy on a Sunday, that does not carry over to Mon, Tues, Weds…? Or maybe, whatever we hear on a Sunday cannot make much of a dent to the weight of worry and anxiety we carry around, or cannot take the place of our desire for security through material things or through people?This parable that we have heard so often, from our childhood onwards, may have become so familiar that we rarely think it is meant to speak to us today, in 2020. But speak to us is does! And what I think it could be saying to us today is: How can we build faith or Kingdom ‘resilience’?
‘Resilience’ is a bit of an ‘in’ word these days: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened:

(Cambridge English Dictionary)the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

(Dictionary.com)ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

If we are to achieve resiliency as Christians we will need to become more reliant on God. Easier said than done you might say…? But we can do it you know! We have the resources around us – we can see the splendour of God in creation – just look out of your windows. And if you don’t see so well now, or you are blind – recall wonderful sounds (music you enjoy perhaps); think of tempting smells (flowers, baking, fish and chip shops…!); remember people who have brought or do bring you comfort.
We also have God’s Word in the Bible and in hymns and songs. Many of us can recite the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or specific verses of Scripture which can build us up: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ (Matthew 6:9); ‘Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’ (Psalm 23:4); ‘God so loved the world that he gave only Son…’ (John 3:16); ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)
If we choose to immerse ourselves in God’s Word then we will become stronger, more resilient Christians. But we do have to make that choice. Ask God to give you the determination to do that – and keep on asking if you feel you don’t get God’s help straight away. Ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit to set you firmly on the good soil.
The wonderful thing about the good soil is that there is growth. As our resilience grows, our faith deepens, our love for God and God’s Kingdom increases, which means ourcare and compassion for others develops, and we find we are sowing seeds when we connect with other people. And we can still connect with others despite constraints on us – there is still the telephone, writing letters or emails or texts, speaking to our neighbours and to people who deliver things to our doors. While it might seem that our lives have closed in on us, I doubt that is how God sees it – we can always play a role in sowing seeds for the Kingdom. So I encourage you today to develop your resilience; to ask God to help you with this so that both you as individuals, and all of us as ‘the church’ can play our part. As Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear.’

Prayer of Confession:Merciful God,For the times we dash haphazardly into your presence,finding it hard to leave behind our cares and worries…forgive us, and make us new.For the times when we don’t learn from our experiences…
forgive us, and make us new.For the times when we don’t take care of ourselves,
or the people we share our lives with…forgive us, and make us new.For the times we don’t see what you want us to seeand just take things at face value…forgive us, and make us new.For the times when we want our seeds planted in neat rows,when our own plans become more important than yours,rather than letting the Holy Spirit prepare the soil of our livesand blow where the Spirit wants to…forgive us, and make us new. Amen.

Pause for a moment of silent reflection and then sing or read the next song/hymn:

Hymn: As the deer pants for the water

Prayers of Intercession:Compassionate God,We pray for all those who are vulnerable in in different ways as we continue to make our way through this Coronavirus situation: protect the elderly and those suffering from chronic disease; provide support for those with mental health challenges who feel isolated, anxious, and helpless; and give courage to all who are nervous and hesitant about re-engaging with regular life again.We pray for the young and the strong: give them the necessary caution to keep them from unwittingly spreading this disease, and inspire them to help others. Continue to equip those working in our hospitals and care homes with the mental and physical resources they most need.We pray for our seaside resorts and our countryside as visitors grow in numbers and do not always take care with social distancing or leaving places as they found them. Protect those who are trying to supervise large groups of people and those who find themselves clearing up unwantedmess. Help people to be responsible in how they treat the environment.We pray for workers in a variety of industries facing layoffs and financial hardship; for those who wonder if their businesses will ever get off the ground again; for people unsure when and how they will get paid work in the future. Help governments make wise plans and give hope to those who feel the future could be bleak.We pray for those who are sad and grieving; for people who have lost loved ones and been unable to say a proper goodbye; for all who feel unsupported and for whom the world looks to be a dark place. Help churches find ways to provide care and support and show each one of us how we can play a part in this.

We pause to pray for the wider world – for the many countries where suffering continues and recovery is slow…PAUSE
We ask that there will be hope, joy, peace and comfort, given and received, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A final word: from the prophet Isaiah linking the sower, the seed and God’s word to encourage us as we begin a new week.
Isaiah 55:10-12
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,  so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains andhills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Final Song: You shall go out with joy

Blessing:
As we move into the week ahead,
may we all have ears to hear so that we might strengthen and grow.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and forever more.  Amen.

News from Methodist Women in Britain

IMG_20190621_131034

At this time of year There would normally be a blog about our visit to the Southampton District day run by Methodist Women in Britain.  Obviously this event has not taken place this year. However MWIB are still very much involved in their work and have recently been working and campaigning on many different ethical, spiritual and poverty easing issues in the United Kingdom and abroad..  As examples at present there website contains weekly prayers, Several blogs  from the president, and information about signs of Kingdom growth.

They have started in a new initiative to serve those people who do not have access to worship material called”The Vine at home’”  Published online each Tuesday, it follows the lectionary readings for the following Sunday. This is in partnership with an online worship producer called Twelvebaskets.

a sample of this resource can be found at

https://mwib.org.uk/index.php/2020/06/22/the-vine-at-home/
For more general information about MWIB please see there website at

https://mwib.org.uk/

MWIB is affiliated to the World Federation of Methodist and Associated Church women whose website can be found at

https://wfmucw.org/

If you would like to read about previous district days the blogs on this site can be found at

Changing World – unchanging Mission

M.W.I.B. Visit to Verwood

Action For Children Sunday

Sunday 12th July is Action for Children Sunday when we often use part of the service to learn more about the charity Action for Children.

Action for Children was originally started by a Methodist Minister and two friends in 1869. It was formally known as National Children Homes. They now do not run homes but support children and families in practical ways. Last year they helped more than 387,000 people. There work can be split into three areas, Best Start in life, Good Mental Health, and a safe and loving Home.

At this time in addition to there normal work they are running a “coronavirus appeal” to ensure that those families who were already struggling before the virus hit, have access to basic supplies such as food, fuel and clothing.

If you would like to donate to Action for Children, fundraise for them, or would like to see more details about them their website can be found at

https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/

you may be interested in previous blogs on this site related to Action for Children the links are below.

Abseiling Action

Count your blessings

Sponsored Walk

Humanly Impossible

Service for home worship 5th July 2020 by Rev’d Christine Coram
Opening words – We come to worship God our King – righteous, victorious, lowly. He is present with us – wherever that is today.

StF 83 Praise my soul, the King of heaven

Reading – Zechariah 9:9-12
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!See, your king comes to you,    righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey,    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.I will take away the chariots from Ephraim    and the war-horses from Jerusalem,    and the battle-bow will be broken.He will proclaim peace to the nations.    His rule will extend from sea to sea    and from the River to the ends of the earth.As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,    I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;    even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Prayer
Meditate on these words taken from our first reading: My king – righteous, victorious, lowly.• Repeat this phrase over and over in your mind, asking God to show you what he wants to teach you today.• Now take each word and mull it over prayerfully. What does it tell you about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
• Read the full sentence again and praise God for what it has revealed to you.
• Now, tell God about your week, thanking him for the good things and asking forgiveness for the times when you have got it wrong.
• Feel the righteous, victorious and lowly God forgive and love you. Am

Reading – Matthew 11:16-19 & 25-30 
‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: ‘“We played the pipe for you,    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,    and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.”  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

StF 248 I heard the voice of Jesus say

Address
In the second Star Wars film to be made – ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ the Jedi master, teaching our hero, performs an incredible feat and the young man says: ‘I don’t believe it!’. The master replies ‘That is why you fail’.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should take faith advice from a fictional ‘religion’, but those words often ring true for us in our Christian lives. Our lack of faith means that we crumble because sometimes what God asks of is humanly impossible – but is possible for and with him.Our readings today are full of ‘impossibles’
Jesus tells us to shoulder a ‘burden’ – and then says it’s light! To describe something as a burden is to describe something that will weigh us down – make it hard for us to walk the road. But Jesus says the thing that weighs us down is easy to carry!
That’s because we are carrying it with his help – not on our own.
Zechariah’s prophesy describes a King who is both righteous and victorious (not an easy combination) but then says that this amazing ruler with absolute power comes on a donkey and in humility – not just an unlikely combination – but virtually impossible to sustain because to hold power in human terms, a leader must be seen to be strong and in complete control. Have you ever tried to control at donkey?
But Zechariah’s prophesy points towards Jesus – the Son of God – who can do what is humanly impossible – including overcoming death.
St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talks frankly about his human failings. He says:
‘For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. …For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans7:15, 19 & 24)
What is natural human nature – and what puts us at odds with God – is impossible for us to change in our own strength. The harder we try to be ‘good’ the more we seem to fail.
Have you found this in your own life? We are very good at tripping ourselves up in our efforts to ‘keep the rules’. Many of us have found this as lockdown is eased – we try to keep to one rule only to find that we seem to be in danger of breaking another. The rules are human as well as those of us trying to keep them!
But God is not interested in rigid rules so much as one over-arching principle of love – self-sacrificing, deep and unselfish love.
And guess what? That’s impossible – for humans on their own!
Well – that’s it then – we stand condemned – we cannot achieve what God calls us to do. That’s the truth. And so is this: God in Jesus longs to forgive us when we are not loving.
God through the Holy Spirit give us his love and strength to serve him.
No wonder Paul says: ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
We are quick to say ‘that’s impossible’ and ‘I can’t’.God’s response is ‘I know, but I can!’
All we have to do is say ‘Okay, God – go ahead – I’m ready to hand over to you.’
I’m not saying it’s easy – and I’m not denying the sacrifices and hard work that may well be involved. All I’m saying is that what is impossible in our own human strength is not impossible if it is God’s will.
And so, whatever you may face this week, whatever the Church must face on the journey through easing lockdown and beyond, the burdens that weight us down are light if we let Jesus help us, and the God of humility is the only one with the power to offer us eternal life.We cannot see how our churches, our communities, our world can recover and move on to be better than before. But God can.We must have the humility to accept that and the faith to say “with God, we can”. Amen

Response and prayers of intercession
God of power and control, of justice and of peace, of humility and grace, we offer you our lives once again. We ask you to show us what you want us to do and help us to serve you, whatever the cost, knowing that our reward is in your presence with us on earth and eternity with you beyond death.
Allow us to dream the impossible through your wisdom and walk tall under impossible burdens in your strength.
May the message of Jesus’ love, sacrifice and salvation flow from you through us and let us be the agents of your justice and peace in our community.
We pray for other in particular need:
…those who fight for justice, especially the Black, Asian and Minority Ethic community at this time of challenge and (we pray) change
…those who cling to white privilege – that they may understand that inclusion, equality and diversity makes us stronger and makes life better for everyone
…those who are struggling financially because of the current crisis
…those who are sick with Covid19 and those who risk their own health to care for them
…those known to us who are lonely, frustrated, sick, in pain or bereaved….
We gather all our prayers and offer them to you in Jesus’ name.
The Lord’s prayer

StF 67 This, this is the God we adore

Blessing
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you  and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.
Amen

O God our help in Ages Past

We may not be able to sing hymns together as a group at present – but we can still look at the words.  One of the most well known Hymn writers is Isaac Watts who was born in Southampton in 1674 where he attended King Edwards V1 School which is still in existence. Watts died in 1748 and is buried in Bunhill fields in Islington. Watts Park in Southampton  city centre is named after him.

He wrote thirteen of the Hymns  in the latest Methodist Hymn book “Singing the faith” which was first published in 2011.They include
” When I survey the Wondrous Cross”,
“This is the Day that the Lord has made”,
“Jesus shall reign wher’er the sun”
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

One of the most relevant of his Hymns at this moment is “O God our help in Ages Past” (STF 132)  which is based on Psalm  90. the last verse of which is
“O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.”

This Hymn is chimed by the Southampton Civic centre clock.

Keeping in Touch Online with Your Local Church Family – Worshipping together in spirit.