Archive for April, 2010

Good Friday – 2nd April (Holy Week)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

We held our service at 11am and it was well attended.

The Call to worship was Hebrews 4: 14-16

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hymn – 755- When I survey the wondrous cross

Prayer of Adoration
Almighty God, you made yourself weak that we might have life. You experienced pain, humiliation and death, that we might have joy, freedom and hope. You are the majestic, unfathomable, unapproachable, mysterious and mighty Lord of the Universe – your ways are beyond all our capacities. In heavenly splendour you reign, your will is pure love, a love that is so mighty and so overwhelming that it rescues us from all that we would do to oppose you. You slay us with your love, you submerge us in your grace. You go the cross to bring us back to you.  In your son Jesus Christ you have absorbed the very worst of us, and given back the very essence of you, pure and powerful love. We praise you for this wonderful and glorious gift.

Prayer of Confession

But we confess that we have not deserved this mercy and we have not been worthy of it. Each day you are crucified anew, as human cruelty, human lust for blood has its truly wicked way on your earth. Those who do such things are not so different from us, the same anger and pride lives in their hearts as is in ours. We confess that we cannot separate ourselves from those who nailed you to the cross, from those who mocked you, and from those who screamed for you to be crucified. They are in us and we are in them. Forgive us father that you came in peace and still we respond in war.

Declaration of forgiveness

And yet what is impossible for us is possible for you, and has been achieved. Your gentle humility is mightier than the pride of the whole world. In you love has conquered hatred and your take us into your kingdom – a place where your holy and perfect will is not frustrated, and no amount of sin, no amount of failure by humanity, no degree of cruelty is enough to keep you in the tomb. You rescue us from our folly, and you make us into your people, called to follow Jesus into your Kingdom.  Thank you father for the powerful, permanent, and gracious forgiveness that comes to us from your son on the cross. We delight in this forgiveness, we marvel at it, and we pledge ourselves to you, cleansed, refreshed and free to take your word into our heats and into the world.

Petition for the worship
We come before you now to feel your presence in our time of worship, and that sense of connection with those sitting around us.   Unite our hearts with each other and make us into the body of Christ. Take the words from our lips and make them into a hymn of praise to you and of true communion with all who call on you today. Pour out your Spirit on us as we say the words that Jesus taught us…
Our father…

Hymn -745- Were you there

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 22: 19-31

Hymn – 619 – Such Love

Message

For many years it puzzled me why Jesus said what he did before he died ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Did he think that he had failed as he died? Was he discovering that he was mistaken to think that he was God’s son as he called for help and it didn’t come?

Many people ask why, if Jesus was what he said he was, did he allow himself to be crucified? Why didn’t he rescue himself? In fact, according to the gospels  those watching him asked him exactly that question.

And if Jesus felt that it was all going wrong, and that God really had abandoned him, why did the gospel writers include these words? After all the Gospels were carefully written and we are told that there is much more that was said and done that could have been included. So why include these words on the cross?

The answer is that Jesus experienced and redeemed our total human existence and this includes the pain and fear of saying goodbye (see Mandy Thursday) and the feeling of being abandoned by God.

That bears repeating. The Son of God, who is God in Christ, fully experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by God.  This means that not only is death and grief overcome in Christ, so is an accompanying loss of faith.

So when it happens to us, that we get that phone call, that bolt out of the blue with tragic news and our instant response is ‘There can be no God!’ in fact God has already experienced and overcome this on our behalf.

These moments are real in all our lives: we suffer in such a way that not only do we feel emtional misery or physical pain – we feel like we live in a universe with no God, abandoned to senseless or cruel suffering. But it is exactly at such a moment that we need to remind ourselves that Jesus chose to experience this, and ultimately to take away its power over us.

So it is not just death that is redeemed on the cross (as if that wasn’t enough!) Fear of death, the pain of saying goodbye, and the horrible, lonely feeling of abandonment that goes with it is part of Christ’s passion, so that it can be part of his victory in resurrection too.

Let us pray
Father there are times when it seems to us that you are not there
We feel abandoned, it seems that this is a senseless world full of pain and unnecessary suffering
And when tragedy strikes us we ask where you are and in our pain and our anguish we say, or we think, or we feel, that you are not there
We thank you that in your son Jesus you have felt that same abandonment, that same loneliness in suffering,
We ask that as we think of the cross, of the way of the cross, and of this the day of the cross, that it should speak to those moments in our life when we cry out ‘my God, my God, why have you abandoned me’.
When such moments come upon us, come to us quickly Lord, may we never stay angry, come quickly to us to reassure us that you are there
Help us to learn from all our experiences in life both good and bad and when we suffer help us to know that this is just our portion of that suffering that you chose on the cross,
We think of those days in which death and disaster have come upon people in this past year, in natural disasters, in war zones, in extremes of poverty
Through the pain of Good Friday may we glimpse the joy of Easter Sunday
For us in this church, for our friends and families and for all your people show us how to take up our cross, knowing that we go there with you
Be with us in our time of trial
 By the power of your holy spirit
And in the name of Jesus Christ
Amen

Hymn -536 – On a hill far away

Blessing/Dismissal – Hebrews 10:19-23
 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful

The Grace

Maundy Thursday: 1st April 2010 (Holy Week)

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

In previous years the church has held a meal on the thursday of holy week, this year for the first time we had a full communion service, (although it was slightly shorter than our usual sunday worship). During the message I talked about bereavement, grieving and ‘saying goodbye’. The full service was as follows: 

The call to worship was  John 13:31b-35

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him,  God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Hymn – 1- A new commandment
Prayer of Adoration
Almighty, eternal God, You have given us this day, this moment, you have given us a beautiful life. Out of love you give us the breath with which we praise you and out of pure grace you give us bodies and minds with which we experience pleasure. And out of unfathomable mercy you give us souls in which we may know you and be brought into your presence. You wash our feet, you serve us with bread and wine, you put your spirit within us and you bring your kingdom to earth.

Prayer of Confession
And yet we are ungrateful. Our striving is for ourselves, our vision is for the things of this world. We store up treasure that rusts and decays, we think so little of that treasure in heaven you have called us to work for. Forgive us, Lord, for we are not worthy to be washed, cleansed and fed by you -

Declaration of forgiveness
 And yet it is so, it is a glorious fact that you have reached deep into our emptiness and filled us, you have erased our sin, you have washed us with your loving hands, and you have fed us from your bountiful table. You have abolished the separation and pain of human existence, even our grief at the loss of those we love you have chosen to share. And by sharing our grief you have ended its power over us,

Petition for the Worship

We ask you to be with us now, as you are always. In our fellowship, in our singing, in our speaking and our listening, may we perceive you spirit moving among us. In our service of communion may we feel your presence in Christ, and may we know that it is your saving grace, may we feel its power and its beauty in this time together, as we say the words that Jesus taught us
 Our Father…
 

 Old Testament Reading:  Psalm 116: 12-19

What shall I return to the LORD
   for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
   in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
   is the death of his faithful ones.
O LORD, I am your servant;
   I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.
   You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
   in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
   in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

Hymn – 465 – - Meekness and Majesty
New Testament Reading: John 13: 1-17
MESSAGE

I reflected on how on Maundy Thursday Jesus did not only institute the Lord’s Supper, he also experienced all the human feelings of knowing that you will die and saying goodbye to friends.

This is important because it’s included in the list of human suffering and joy that Jesus experienced – and because it has been experienced by God in Christ it is transformed. Returning to the idea that ‘what has not been assumed has not been redeemed’ (an old but great theological idea) we say that our humanity has been transformed by the fact that God shared our humanity and went through the whole range of human experience, transforming it in death and resurrection.

The devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness to avoid some of the messier or more unpleasant parts of being human but Jesus knows that his destiny is to experience it all – so that there can be no limits on salvation: he ‘assumes’ (takes on) it all so that there can be no limit on our redemption, no part of our existence that can’t be transformed.

We”ve always understood this to to include physical pain but it includes mental pain too.  So the grief and distress that we experience about death – knowing it’s coming, knowing we can’t avoid it, saying farewell to life – we must remind ourselves that this is part of the cross that Jesus took up. When we grieve or fear death we should know that in Christ God has experienced this too – and because it has been experienced by the divine, its power is taken away. No wonder the devil is so keen that Jesus should opt out of some or all of the suffering way of the cross.

As a nation we’re not good at dealing with the reality of death.  After two world wars we became the land of the stiff upper lip, perhaps this was a good thing, a necessary thing for our survival at the time. But the legacy is that we are now repressed about death, unable to speak of it, and unable to withstand the pain of saying goodbye.

But saying goodbye can be a privilege. Knowing that life is coming to an end can be a great mercy, giving us a chance to say everything that we’ve always wanted to, and to treasure each other while we can. Hospices are often joyful places, because people who know they are dying very often seem to discover a most beautiful way of living – with honesty, tenderness, forgiveness and laughter.

A great many atheists discover a complete joy in life once they know that death is round the corner. If this is availalbe to people who believe that death marks the complete extinction of their existence then how much more joy is there for us who believe in a life beyond death?

One theme that has developed from our Lent and Easter worship and bible studies is that of journeys. We must remember that in Jesus God is with us every step of the way – and that includes in our anticipation of death.

 Communion Hymn – 723 – We come as guests invited

Blessing/Dismissal – Psalm 116:1-2
 
I love the LORD, because he has heard
   my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
   therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

The service ended with the shared Grace

Monday 29th March – Bible Study (Holy Week)

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

This was the last Bible study of the Lent & Easter sequence so we went right to the heart of the matter and had a discussion about the resurrection.  It was an open and free ranging discussion in which we acknowledged that the resurrection is a difficult belief for many people these days.

I believe that the resurrection is a fact but not one that we can prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. I haven’t always believed that Jesus really did rise from the dead in something like the way described in the gospels even when I first became officially part of a church in the 1990s.

Back then I thought of the resurrection as ‘an experience’ that the apostles had and felt that this was probably, in itself, inspired by God – but that in the telling of it there was a certain amount of exaggeration and mythologising. I changed my mind a few years later after patient study and reflection –  and more importantly positive experience of being with well educated, modern Christians whose lives had been changed by encounters with the risen Christ. 

Then one day I was reading the way the resurrection was referred to by apostles in the espistles and it struck me that they were referring to it in plain language and going out of their way to say that this was not some imagined or  internal pscyhological experience. This seemed to be quite different from the accounts in the gospels where there is a story book feel and style to the writing – unsurprisingly since the Gospels (and Acts) were explicitly written for a wider audience in ‘story’ form, whereas the Epistles (or Letters) are much more down to earth.

This nudged me firmly towards a belief that these writers meant what they said – but still I needed this leaning towards belief to be confirmed by both spiritual experience and theological study over the next year or so.

So my journey from doubter to believer was complicated, gradual and could only have happened because I was accepted into a church without having to pass some sort of ‘test’ as to whether my beliefs were strong enough.

We talked about the fact that not everyone has personal spiritual experiences to help them believe in the resurrection, and we looked at Thomas, or rather ‘doubting Thomas’ as he has rather unfairly become known.  In this passage makes it clear that not everyone will meet him in such a clear spiritual way, and so no one should feel inadequate because of this. Spiritual experience isn’t ‘earned’, after all what was Paul up to when he met the risen Jesus?

So not only should we not feel bad about it if we haven’t ‘met’ Jesus in this way, we should not boast if we have. It’s very easy to have faith when something happens to make it so real to you – and it takes tremendous faith to commit to faith without this experience. Jesus speaks highly indeed of such people.

So while I think the resurrection is, ultimately, essential to our faith – we need to be an accepting and wide fellowship, not giving a hard time to people who struggle with this.

And it would be a real tragedy to believe in the resurrection as a fact without drawing any conclusions from it.  Perhaps it would be better to be a bit flaky on the form of the resurrection but to understand what this means for how  we live our lives.

Palm Sunday – 28th March – (1st day of Holy Week)

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

This afternoon’s service, which was well attended by all ages, featured contributions from many church members.  Usually in the ‘long prayers’ at the beginning of the service we say a prayer of adoration followed by a prayer of of confession, we then declare God’s forgiveness of us in Jesus, pray for God to be with us in the worship, and finish by saying the Lord’s prayer all together. Unsurprisingly this bit of the service has become known as the ‘long prayers’ since we run all these different prayers together into one long prayer.

But today we did things a bit differently. Keith led the prayer of adoration, Mary led our prayer of confession, I said the declaration of forgiveness, and Patricia prayed for the worship, followed by the whole church saying the Lord’s prayer together (the 1988 version). It was really great to hear all these different voices, all with slightly different approaches to prayer. We pride ourselves on being a church where the members all get involved in the life of the church, and this really came across in today’s service.

Everyone was given a laminate card with the words of the 1988 Lord’s Prayer on as most of us aren’t as familiar with the modern version. These had the words to the grace and the more traditional 1928 version of the Lord’s prayer on them as well).

Sheila gave us the Old Testament reading and Alison was due to give us the New Testament reading (the triumphal entry to Jerusalem in Luke 19:28-40) but I completely forgot to ask her to come up and read so it was missed out!  One or two people who were with us for the first time may have been a bit confused as I then spoke for ten minutes about a reading that hadn’t taken place!  So sorry for missing that out, especially sorry to Alison and anyone who was confused by it.

For my message I first of all talked about why a donkey was an appropriate animal for Jesus to ride into town on.  Its meaning actually changes during the period of history covered by the Old Testament – it starts out as a status symbol for a king at the time of Samuel (everyone else had to walk!) but by the time Zechariah is talking about a future king who will come riding an ass it is clearly meant to symbolise a king who is humble and peaceful.

I went on to talk about how the way we think of donkeys nowadays also make it a suitable animal for the story. Donkeys are mocked, (can you imagine a Rugby League team calling itself the Donkeys?) and sadly they are also abused. They carry other peoples’ loads too, and according to June Brown’s introduction to a local donkey sanctuary they are forgiving towards humans, even though they have every reason not to. All in all, the donkey still fits very well with Jesus!

I also reminded everyone that the crowd going nuts for Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem was wrong. They were waving and cheering because they misunderstood what Jesus was about. They thought he was going to lead a military uprising, they thought he was going to use his God given power to drive out the Romans, to take revenge and to slaughter their enemy occupiers. Instead he came to lay down his power, not to save his life on the cross, to take the way of the cross that the devil had tried to get him to opt out of in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.

We reflected on the fact that Jesus rode into town on a wave of adulation, knowing that he would confused, disappoint and enrage these people very shortly.  Majorities can be wrong, and recent history in Rwanda, for example, shows us that mobs can be turned to great evil. As congregationalists we give power to the majority in church meetings – and there is no higher authority in our setup than the church meeting (although strictly speaking we pray that the church meeting will be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so we say that God is the ultimate authority) Palm Sunday is a good time for us to remember that being in a majority does not always make us right – and that ultimately we must do and say what is pleasing to God not to people.

Frank

Saturday 27th March – Spring Fayre

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The church held its Spring Fayre this afternoon. Queues were already forming when the fayre opened at 2pm, with lots of books, videos, CDs  and DVDs on sale as well as bric a brac and curiousities. There were refreshments and competitions all of which were enjoyed by thirsty bargain hunters, some of whom had come from the other side of Sheffield.

It was a really good afternoon, supported by many church members and adherents who made it happen.

Mid-week service – 24th March (Fifth Week in Lent)

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Call to worship: Isaiah 43: 8-9

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
   who are deaf, yet have ears!
Let all the nations gather together,
   and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
   and foretold to us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
   and let them hear and say, ‘It is true.’

Hymn – 678  -  There’s a quiet understanding

Prayer of Adoration
Dear Lord, you have no need of us but you have given us life
You have no reason to be pleased with us, yet you love us
You have no need to forgive us, no need to share your holy being with us in Christ, no need to take from us all that worries and upsets us, you have no need to dissolve our pain and our sin, but you have done this for us in your son Jesus Christ. You have flooded our darkness with light, you have filled our emptiness with your sweet Spirit, as you usher us into your presence, into faith, and into your Kingdom
We praise you that you have done all this for us and we glorify your name, may it be honoured always.

Prayer of Confession
Father we confess that we are not worthy of this great bounty that you bestow on us. We are not the people that you have called us to be. We have not been mindful of you, rather we have separated ourselves from your love, from your presence and from your purpose.  Your love heals, creates and reconciles but we have shown so little of this to the world around us. We are sorry that we are so unlike Jesus

Declaration of forgiveness
And yet Father you are merciful to us, your love for us is so powerful, so perfect in its forgiveness that you have overcome our shortcomings
Your peace on earth is greater than all our anger, all our war, all our hatred put together
Your peace in our hearts subdues and replaces all our anxiety and unhappiness
Your power meets our weakness and your unchanging and eternal love meets our inconsistent emotion and changing moods
We thank you and marvel at this most undeserved favour
And we praise you, and thank you, and offer ourselves to you
We renounce any claim to righteousness, and take grateful possession of a righteousness that is yours and yours alone.
Thank you father for forgiving our sins
 

Petition for the Worship
We come before you now to seek out your word within the words of scripture, to speak with you and listen, to pray with our hearts and minds. Help us to let go of all that keeps us from you, tear down the curtain, break down the wall, and unite us with you in Christ in this special time of worship. We thank you that you are here with us now and we are in your presence. Pour your Spirit upon us as we say the words that Jesus taught us.
Our Father…
 
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 43: 16-21
Hymn 275 – I heard the voice of Jesus say
New Testament Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14 p.249

MESSAGE

I made the point that in this passage Paul is talking about the difference in sacraments and ceremonies between what is on the inside and the outside.  Circumcision, then baptism are the mark of being part of God’s covenant – but what we have here is a physical, material event which refers to a spiritual event that we cannot see.

In some ways couples who choose not to get married sometimes do this for good reasons – they reject the idea that an outward event, or piece of paper can really make them ‘married’ in the truest sense of the word – they might argue that there is a spiritual connection going on between them that is the real marriage, and no wedding can take its place.

I would say to such a couple that a wedding should not take the place of a pure, inner connection between two people that love each other. But it can be the outward sign of this inner love, it doesn’t need to spoil it – in fact it can relate to that intimate spiritual connection, nurturing it, delcaring it and letting the world know about it.

And I think Paul makes the same point about all our religious services. (There are only 2 sacraments for us non-conformists – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  Everything that we do in our Christian life, in our life in the church should be making that connection between the spiritual and physical realities.

And at this time of Easter when our church life will be full of rituals and symbols, let us remind ourselves that these symbols (the cross, the bread and wine, the water of baptism) have no power on their own. Lets always remember that these things are signs of genuine spiritual reality and something has to happen on the inside and the outside, something passes between us and God in Christ – and it is this spiritual reality that we symbolise in the Sacraments. Don’t confuse the sign with the thing that it is pointing at!

Prayer of Intercession
Father, may we be always conscious of that intimate, relationship that we have with you, may it never be confused with anything that is visible to human eyes
We would be poor in spirit that we might see you, we would be humble in our souls that we might filled with your holy spirit, and we would throw ourselves on your mercy that you might welcome us in love
Help us always to distinguish between the wrapping and the gift, help us never to confuse the things of the flesh with the claims of the spirit
May we never boast of anything for ourselves, that we might boast of you and what you have done in us, what you have forgiven in us, and what you have promised in us.
We praise you for those signs of redemption that you have given to your church – for the sacraments of baptism and holy communion we thank you Lord
May we view these, and all the life of the church, from a spiritual, heavenly viewpoint, and may we through them be drawn to you. You have given us signs, may we look to where the signs are pointing, not at the signs themselves.
This is the miracle of faith that you are working in us
And in Jesus’ name, Amen
 
Hymn - 551- Out of my bondage

Blessing/Dismissal – Psalm 126:6
 
Those who go out weeping,
   bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
   carrying their sheaves.

We ended the service by saying the Grace

Monday March 22nd – Bible Study (Fifth Week of Lent)

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

In this Bible study we looked particularly at John 12: 1-8, where Mary anoints Jesus with expensive balm and is criticized by Judas for wasting money that could have been given to the poor. Jesus replies that the poor will ‘always be with us’ and praises Mary for what she has done – presumably because of its significance to his coming crucifixion.

Our first impression was that Judas had a fair point, and that we would have some pretty heated discussions if we had the equivalent of a labourer’s annual pay to dispose of.  However our perception shifted when we looked at where this passage comes in the gospel.

As a general rule it’s good to look at what has just happened and what is just about to happen whenever we look at a gospel passage. The resurrection of Lazarus has just happened, and Jesus is about to embark on the mission that will inevitably lead to his torture, humiliation and death on the cross.

Given that context Mary’s extravagant gesture towards Jesus didn’t look so out of place any more. Either as a celebration of the bringing back from the dead of Lazarus, or as an anticipation of Jesus’ death the washing of Jesus’ feet in expensive perfumed oil seems much more appropriate.

We talked about how Mary responded to being in Jesus’ presence with a pure love and adoration. She didn’t want to question him but just wanted to love him.  We talked about this being a noble and proper instinct, and how perhaps sometimes we respond in a less appropriate way to the presence of Jesus that we feel. Why can’t we, like Mary, sometimes simply love Jesus, simply adore him as we would if we were in the same physical room with him?

21st March – Fifth Week of Lent – Sunday Worship

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Jonathan Youdan, who is minister at Mayfield Wesleyan Reform Chapel,  led this afternoon’s service.  His texts were Isaiah: 42:1-9 and John 13: 1-20. His text was “If I do not wash your feet you will no longer be my disciple.”

Saturday 20th March – Talk on ‘The Story of the Sheffield Blitz’

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

There was a really good turn out for this talk by Suzanne Bingham which was held in the main hall. It was a very interesting talk and was enjoyed by all.