Worship at Home - Sunday 22 March 2020
Grace, mercy and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with you all.
Welcome to our first ‘Worship at Home’.
As we begin, take a moment to either read slowly through these familiar words or maybe sing them to yourself or with others! You may want to search the first line of the hymn in a web browser [Google] and let it lead you to a recorded performance of the whole hymn
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like thee His praise should sing
Praise Him ! Praise Him!
Praise the everlasting King. Henry Francis Lyte
And now, take a moment to pray these familiar words, praying them slowly, stopping after each line for a short pause. Say the prayer in this way a couple of times:
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord.
Although today, the fourth Sunday of Lent is Mothering Sunday, all of the worry and anxiety of current events has drawn my mind increasingly to these words in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and it is that I wish to reflect upon this morning.
Take a moment to read this passage slowly and carefully
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIVUK)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Just at the moment the world seems a very scary place. It seems as though all of the things that we have come to take for granted in life, all that has provided for our security, for our happiness and for our peace are under threat from an invisible enemy that is marching across the world, seemingly resistant to all that we are able to do at present to stop it. Eventually it will be stopped. Eventually a vaccine will be found. But in the meanwhile, the enemy’s advance is bringing suffering and loss and causing us all anxiety and an absence of the peace that has characterised life for as long as most of us can remember.
Frankly, I have to admit to feeling a little bit scared myself. But the depths of another’s anxiety was really brought home to me on a visit to my barber of all places. I would normally expect to spend no more than ten minutes or so in the barber’s chair nowadays. Sadly, his job, as far as my haircut is concerned, becomes easier and easier and quicker and quicker each visit! Today, however, I was still in the chair after forty minutes as the barber poured out his fears and anxieties over the corona-virus outbreak. Fears for his rented home, for his elderly relatives, for his children and his livelihood. As he waved his arms around, clutching in his hand the cut-throat razor he was supposed to be using on the back of my neck, trust me, I knew my own life-threatened fears as well!
But in all seriousness, I share his anxiety in the face of this invisible enemy. I should be leading public worship in church on a Sunday morning. I’m not. I should be able to visit people freely. I’m not. I should be going into the school next week. It is now closed. Everything has changed, and everyone is feeling some degree of anxiety.
I wanted to say to the barber that he needed to read what the Apostle Paul has to say in his letter to the Philippians: don’t be anxious about anything. Just pray. I wanted to say it, but somehow that razor in his hand demanded that I keep my mouth closed. But I should have said it. Because I’m convinced that prayer works in a way that no amount of medication will ever be able to achieve when it comes to calming our fears. Paul’s command here is an echo really of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in Matthew 6: 25 – 34. “Don’t be anxious about your life” said Jesus. “Don’t be anxious” and “don’t worry about tomorrow” he said. Paul just gets straight to the point: “Stop worrying about anything!”
Stop worrying about anything. Because the way of peace is not to be anxious about anything. Of course, that doesn’t mean being careless and flippant and dismissing the threat and cause of our anxiety, the quite natural fears we are all experiencing at the moment; they are real and they demand our attention and our action. No, what Paul means, I think, is that we need to be free from the strain which turns so easily to distrust, and instead bring every request, every worry, all that anxiety to God, by prayer and petition and with thanksgiving.
Because thanksgiving should always accompany prayer. Praise is always due to God and faith is always quickened by the thought of what God has already done. The appreciation of past mercies stimulates trust for future ones. So, true prayer should breathe thanksgiving because thankfulness is ‘the posture of grace’ (as I once heard it described), it’s the root of our prayers; thanksgiving for what God has done for us already in Christ.
So, pray. Of course, whatever we make known to God in prayer is already known by him. So why do it? Why pray? Because as we pray and as we bring our requests before God, we cast all of our cares and all of our anxieties on him and so declare our absolute dependence upon him: Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you [Psalm 55: 22] In short, have faith and don’t fear.
And this was the Apostle Paul’s way of praying. Through it he learned how it is that when prayer replaces worry, God’s gift of that peace which transcends all that we ask or think, that peace which is completely beyond our mental capacity to grasp and to appreciate, it is that peace which comes in to our lives, acting as a sentry almost to guard and to protect our hearts and our minds and our emotions ‘in Jesus Christ’. In other words, in the very place of peace.
So, in the face of our fears let’s all pray. Let’s pray that we’re not overwhelmed by the sudden onrush of fear, anxiety, or temptation. Let’s pray that God’s peace will flood over our friends and neighbours, over everyone and all of those who with thanksgiving make their requests known to him at this most difficult time.
Let’s close with a prayer.
First, in thanksgiving for all who have shown us the love of a mother.
God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
And now a prayer for these difficult times.
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Please be assured of my daily prayer for you – it is not all, but it is the best we can do for each other.
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