Worship @ Home - 10 May 2020
Now is the time to strengthen and renew faith in Jesus Christ
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Good morning and welcome to everyone on this fifth Sunday of Easter. Hallelujah! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, hallelujah!
And as we begin, let’s take a moment to be still, a moment to put to one side any ‘busyness’ that’s ahead of us in the day, any thoughts of those other things that we may want to be doing. Let’s be still and maybe just listen to the sounds around us, the birdsong, the breeze, whatever it is.
If you have a candle, light it now and allow yourself to be drawn away from every distraction and drawn nearer to Jesus, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 2)
And when you are ready, contemplate these words from Helen Lemmel’s hymn, reading them through quietly to yourself:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
And if you are looking at this online, try the following link and hear it sung by ‘SaltOfTheSound’. The link is: https://youtu.be/-dFfLt2Bd3o
When we pass through the waters - God is there with us.
When we suffer and feel hopeless - God is there with us.
When we are joyful and celebratory - God is there with us.
Whether we feel triumphant or defeated - God is there with us, always.
And so, we pray (using this prayer written by John Stott),
risen from the dead and alive for evermore:
Stand in our midst today as in the upper room;
show us your hands and your side;
speak your peace to our hearts and minds;
and send us forth into the world as your witnesses;
for the glory of your name.
Let us lift our voices in praise now. Either read the words of this great hymn by Charitie L. Bancroft or sing along (and sing it aloud!) as you listen using this link:
1. Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea,
a great High Priest whose name is Love,
whoever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
my name is written on his heart.
I know that while in heav'n he stands,
no tongue can bid me thence depart,
no tongue can bid me thence depart.
2. When Satan temps me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look and see him there,
who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God, the just, is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me,
to look on him and pardon me.
3. Behold him there, the risen Lamb,
my perfect, spotless righteousness,
the great unchangeable I AM,
the King of glory and of grace!
One with himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased with his blood!
My life is hid with Christ on high,
with Christ, my Saviour, and my God,
with Christ, my Saviour, and my God.
In the first letter of John we read this:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15 NIV).
And what is the will of God? Nothing less than that we be brought into and abide in, the fellowship of the divine life. And this begins with repentance and with forgiveness. It begins with confession. It begins with an unburdening, a letting go, with truth telling. We confess to the One we call God, our Creator, our Redeemer, we confess to the One who loves us. We confess the wrong we have done and the hurt we have caused. We confess the good we have not done, and the sin we have not claimed. We confess that we live more like ourselves and less like Christ.
Let’s do that now beginning with a moment of silent confession. You may want to use this verse from Isaiah as a focus for your thoughts:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. (Isaiah 55: 6 – 8 NRSV)
Or if you are looking at this online, try this link to ‘Take me Broken’ by SaltOfTheSound; https://youtu.be/i7KdI6Pfe1M
And now read this prayer through slowly, pausing at the end of each line to really think about the words, their meaning and what you are praying.
Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought,
in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love,
and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed,
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
forgive us all that is past;
and lead us out from darkness
to walk as children of light.
Remember these words of 1 Peter 2: 24: “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
May the Father of all mercies
cleanse us from our sins,
and restore us in his image
to the praise and glory of his name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us proclaim the Good News: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.
And so, let us praise the Lord! Read through these marvellous words, or sing aloud or listen and sing with this link: https://youtu.be/jIMhshpf0Y4
1 Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art--
thou my best thought by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
2 Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
3 Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
4 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven's joys, bright heav'n's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Please now read this passage from John’s Gospel. It is John 14: 1 – 14
Jesus Comforts His Disciples
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
I read this week that people in Britain are apparently more scared of the coronavirus than people in many other countries. At least, that is the conclusion of the first international study into fear of the disease. And you know, on the one hand, I think that that speaks rather well of us a nation. It really does. Because the researchers say that that our fear stems from the fact that we care more about our fellow citizens. That fear of ours is driven by a sense of social responsibility and that then fuels the highest levels of concern over the risk posed by Covid-19. Surely, it is that concern that is seen in the success of the “Clap for carers” campaign and such like.
But, on the other hand, this also adds to worry that fear of Covid-19 will slow down any economic recovery once the lockdown has been eased. Will folk be reluctant to return to work, to socialize, to go back to the shops until the threat from the disease is eradicated by vaccine? Or at least, until it is substantially reduced by better and more effective treatment?
The truth is, I think, that we are currently living in an age of worry. That worry is stalking the land. Worry about the virus and worry too about what the ‘new normal’ will look like post virus. There is more anxiety now, I think, than at any recent moment in history and there are many who feel a sense of turmoil, a sense of foreboding, of apprehension. So, those ‘troubled hearts’ of which Jesus speaks in John chapter 14, express exactly the mind-state of so many of us nowadays. But Jesus does not just identify the disease. Jesus also offers us the cure. Healing medicine for our heart trouble. And the only effective medicine, he says, is to have faith. We must have faith: ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me’ (John 14: 1).
‘Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me’. There it is: both condition and cure! And you know, this is a command! A command. The original Greek of these words of Jesus carry the firmness, the resolve, the conviction of a command. But I think that we need to hear them, in the way that Jesus would have offered them to his disciples, the way that he offers them to us now and in the midst of our ‘troubles’, The way that he offers them to all who will ever follow him. Because he always offers these words with love. With love and in gentleness: ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.’
You see, these are the words of someone who really cares because these are the words of someone who really understands our human fears. Yes, of course, Jesus speaks the words of God. And yes, of course, Jesus performs the acts of God. So, yes, of course, Jesus should be trusted like God: these words link Jesus with God as an object of faith. Jesus is Lord! But these words are also the words of someone who knew for himself the turmoil of a troubled human heart. And so, they are the words of someone who can readily sympathise with those who are afraid. With us.
It is why I say the command to trust was offered in love and was spoken gently, because it was informed by human experience. The experience of approaching the grave of Lazarus, the grave of a much-loved friend. The experience of contemplating betrayal by Judas, the betrayal of another friend and so the anticipation of the agony of the cross. Jesus’ words were informed by his own ‘troubled’ heart and spirit. It all informed the emotional comfort and support he gave to his disciples and which he offers to us today. ‘O, I know how it feels he says. But: ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, (just) trust in God, (and) trust also in me.’
Like the disciples we have troubled hearts, we are full of the fear that something bad might happen in a world that appears to be going mad. But the answer to trouble then is the same answer to trouble right now. Trust. To trust and to have faith in God. To trust and to have faith in Jesus. Now is the time for us to strengthen and renew our faith in Christ.
And through that faith in Christ, to find the ‘way’ back to God. Because that is what I think Jesus was also trying to do when he spoke these words to the disciples. He was turning them towards God at a time of great trouble. For me, he is saying that the ‘way’ to live whenever life falls in and whenever troubles assail us is by trusting in the ample spiritual provision the Father makes for all his children. And Jesus captures that notion of ample spiritual provision so well in that wonderful picture he gives us of the transcendent dwelling place of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God with all its rooms, its space for all (14: 2). Jesus knew that he was about to die but he also knew that his death would make it possible for the disciples, and for all who will ever be his followers, to be with him in ‘the Father’s house’ when the time comes. All that he asked of his disciples was that for now they believe in Him, that they stay calm, that they: ‘Trust in God and trust also in me.’
And just as it was for Jesus’ disciples, so it is for us. That trust needs to begin here and now. At this time of difficulty and trouble. In all the stresses and strains of the lockdown. In all our fears and apprehensions about the future and the ‘new normal’ and whatever that may be like. It needs to start now and then carry us through.
In this time of transience and uncertainty we need to find something to which we can cling to with trust. Something enduring. Lasting. Eternal. So, shouldn’t we now take Jesus at his word and trust that he is indeed: ”the way and the truth and the life”, and that “no one comes to the Father” except through him (John 14: 6)? Is not now the time for us to set aside the sort of spiritual naivety of the disciple Thomas and appreciate that Jesus is in fact the answer to his question (14: 5). Isn’t now the time for us to avoid the failure of the disciple Philip and instead grasp that in Jesus the glory and the grace and the truth of God, whom no-one has seen or can see, stands unveiled (14:8)? After all, Jesus has proved his veracity and trustworthiness by dying for us and by rising again from the dead.
In short then, he is the ‘way’, the vital link between heaven and earth. Between humankind and the God who created us. He is the way, the truth and the life. Apart from his teaching, which is the truth, and his work, which brings life, there is no salvation and no meaning. But through him God speaks his word of peace and life, making sense of whatever is going on as God himself is made known in all the joys and the troubles of our heart.
What is the answer for our troubled hearts? Assured knowledge. And where do we find this assured knowledge? Through Jesus.
Friends, do not take my word for it. Just trust in God, and trust also in Jesus.
And now let us pray to God, who alone makes us dwell in safety. Either offer your own prayers or maybe use these prayers. You may like to use these prayers as a framework within which to add your own prayers. However, you pray, let us just pray!
For all who are affected by coronavirus,
through illness or isolation or anxiety,
that they may find relief and recovery:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.
For those who are guiding our nation at this time,
and shaping national policies,
that they may make wise decisions:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.
For doctors, nurses, and medical researchers,
that through their skill and insights
many will be restored to health:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.
For the vulnerable and the fearful,
for the gravely ill and the dying,
that they may know your comfort and peace:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.
We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
And so. we praise the Lord again, reading, singing, or listening to and singing this great hymn:
1 Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided--
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
2 Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
3 Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
A final prayer
I am giving you worship with all my life,
I am giving you obedience with all my power,
I am giving you praise with all my strength,
I am giving you honour with all my speech.
I am giving you love with all my heart,
I am giving you affection with all my sense,
I am giving you my being with all my mind,
I am giving you my soul, O most high and holy God.
Praise to the Father,
Praise to the Son,
Praise to the Spirit,
The Three in One. (adapted from Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica (1900)
With my love and prayers for you all.
Bible Quotations: Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers and Liturgy: copyright © The Archbishops' Council of the Church or England