Sunday Worship – 24th January 2021

Air from Two Trumpet Tunes and Air by Henry Purcell
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We take a moment to be still, to bring to mind those with whom we share worship and fellowship in the church, and to be aware that we are in the presence of God……………..

Call to worship
From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, says the Lord.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope held out in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

StF 13 – Hymn – Sing of a God in majestic divinity
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God of our salvation, we pour out our hearts in praise.
God of glory: God our rock: God our refuge: God of mercy:
God of loving kindness: God of power to make us whole:
God who calls ‘follow’,
by your unending grace at work in us,
grant us in this life to know and do your will.
We pour out our hearts to you in praise.

God of all mercy,
we have all failed to know and respond to the fulness of your love for us,
that love revealed in the life, death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ.
Yet we know that your purpose for us is the glory of that love flowing through our thoughts and words and deeds, bringing the joy and justice and peace that is your will for your world.
Forgive us, we pray………

Assure us of your love and forgiveness that we may know your joy and peace and worship you now in spirit and in truth.

Loving God, mighty to create and renew life in all your creatures,
whose Son Jesus Christ revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving love:
renew all your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness sustain us by your power.
Lead us by your Spirit to show to the whole earth one mind in faith and one faith for justice;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

StF 225 – Hymn – Bethlehem, of noblest cities
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1 Corinthians 7 v29 to 31
Psalm 62 v5 to 12
Mark 1 v14 to 20

The Sermon — 1 Corinthians 7 v29 to 31
Can this be good advice for the times –
treat your wives as it they don’t exist;
those of you who are in mourning, ‘Cheer up!’;
if you have reason to be joyful, just behave as if you haven’t. Button up and show your serious side?!
Perhaps most of us find Paul’s guidance to the Christians in Corinth about how the Lord Jesus would have them live, at this point sounding oddly on our twenty-first century, western ears. This is surely a recipe for mental and emotional breakdown!! Would you rate this man as a marriage guidance, or bereavement or any kind of counsellor?!
Let me remind you of the actual text. Paul writes, I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing.

He continues onto ground we may think to be more easily seen and embraced as a pattern for Christian living. ‘(Let) those who buy (be) as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. We may allow ourselves here to be led into considerations about being modest or restrained about material possessions and how we conduct business in the world at large. At least we can do something with this bit of the passage.

However, whatever direction Paul is giving to the Corinthian church about deeply personal matters of marriage and grieving and human happiness, this will be equally as demanding of their understanding and acceptance as that to do with a commercial transaction, whether the simple purchase of an item or some more complicated business. The clue to Paul’s drift is to be found in the introduction and the end of these three verses. He writes, I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short………. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Here’s what we need to know to grasp the heart of Paul’s message.

At the time he sends this letter to Corinth, perhaps around twenty years after the Resurrection, most Christians expected the final return of Jesus to rule the world as God’s Messiah. Any stress the church was under therefore was to be regarded as temporary and a prelude to God’s reign in Christ. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city and the Christian community no doubt embraced Jews and non-Jews, but their ways of understanding and responding to their experience of Jesus were still heavily determined by Jewish, religious thought of the times, including the expectation of a Messiah to restore power to the Israelites and establish God’s kingdom. They were Christians, and they thought like Jews. Jesus would come back in their lifetime, so what seemed to be so important now would soon be past, and should be viewed and coped with in that light.

It became clear by the end of Paul’s ministry and as increasing numbers of deaths among members of the church were occurring, that this was not going to happen as they had hoped and believed. Two thousand years on we ask ourselves whether the Apostle’s words here have anything to say to us.

Mourning and Rejoicing
Some of you might recall seeing a patient on a COVID hospital ward last week praying in a halting but persistent voice, with his hands together, the Lord’s Prayer. He was aware of people in the ward who had died, and he was giving thanks for his survival and those who were looking after him. Grief and thanksgiving are surely deep emotions of which we are acutely conscious in these critical times for our society and in the world. We must not lose our awareness of those in environments of care, doctors, nurses, paramedics, clinical experts, administrators, pastoral workers, chaplains, care and nursing home workers, cleaners, porters, receptionists and so many others serving in our institutions and communities who live with such intensity of engagement with these profound feelings, and with little relief. Statistics are clear and cold. People in our midst, our own humanness, mourning, rejoicing, experiencing sensations of disorientation and threatening hopelessness defy being encapsulated and controlled in tabulated numbers.

Paul’s references in this passage to mourning and rejoicing are not against any background of analytical, data-driven need to understand and control. Rather the Apostle of the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ is concerned, albeit in the religious terms of first century Judaism, to reassure his people at Corinth that God is close, weeping with them the tears that flow from their hearts both of grief and joy, but that God is also ever-living beyond all this as the creative love who breathed order and purpose over the watery chaos at the beginning and will still be when history is done. When all this is past, God is and God is creative, life-giving love.

That COVID survivor’s prayer, Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, they will be done…. might sound like fancy to some – moving and admirable maybe, yet still fancy or, as Christians proclaim, though it may be foolishness to some if salvation to others, the very foundation of the Gospel that nothing in life nor in death has the last word. God has the last Word, from whose love, as Paul says to the church in Rome, nothing in death nor in life will be able finally to separate us. (cf Romans viii 31-39)

Marriage and Possessions
We cannot now fully reconstruct the situation concerning marriages or the acquisitive activity of members of the church at Corinth, or enter into the mind of Paul, although we can go some way with a degree of confidence. But the central message is clear and unchanging. In our times, commitment between two people to love and care for each other until death will bring great joy, security and human maturity even through turbulent waters. Such marriage is a foretaste of God’s realm where God’s love makes all one in their glorious difference. Equally, the marriage relationship may be an indifferent journey, or lead to breakdown and ultimately fail. Yet God’s love can bring us knowledge of ourselves and that we are forgiven, and the hope of new life. Being successful in accumulating the material things of our world where the god of ‘the market’ constantly tells us this is what it means to be a real person, worth it as the TV ad suggests, may bring us some happiness. Perhaps many if not most of us are so blessed in this life. But above all this we are made worthy, fully human and alive, by an unconditional grace that sees us and then accepts us as we are and for all that by God’s Spirit we can be. So sit lightly, Paul teaches, to material possessions. They may bring joy in using them and sharing them, but they do not define us.

Madeleine Delbrel, the twentieth century French, Roman Catholic missioner among the city poor, theologian and author, writes:
The goodness of Christ…teaches us that this “who we are,” which has been so manhandled by the world, possesses a value that is absolutely independent of wealth, power, smarts, influence, strength, and success. The goodness of Christ works with us; even more, it hopes for something from us, from each one of us. The goodness of Christ is above all something else: an encounter which affirms for us that we exist, which makes us present to ourselves, which walks alongside us in a common life…..

That goodness, that love from first creative breath over the waters and to the last moment of creation has the final word over our lives and over life itself. Amen.

StF 250 Hymn – Jesus calls us!
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Prayers of Intercession
God, hear our prayers for the Church and for the world.

We pray for your holy Church in every place.

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ our brother; for his life of teaching and healing and for his death and rising again that we might see your likeness in him and trust you with our lives.

We pray for the leaders of our churches as they talk and pray and work together, discovering new ways of being one, and especially as they guide the church to meet the challenges of these times. We pray for the churches in our neighbourhood. Show us how we can best serve this present age as the united people of God in Christ. Make us all one, that the world may believe.

Inspire and lead all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world. We pray for the United States of America at the beginning of the presidency of Joe Biden and the vice presidency of Kamala Harris. For the healing of divisions, that all may have equal opportunity to enjoy the good things of the earth and to realise their full potential. Bring down the mighty from their thrones, and exalt the humble and the meek. Establish justice and peace among all people.

Have compassion on all who suffer from any sickness, grief or trouble. We remember before you all those whose lives have been changed by the Coronavirus pandemic, and all on the frontline of care and service in medical and other environments. We pray for all who know violence, deprivation, and fear in their lives, and who work for their relief and safety. Deliver them from their distress, and raise our voices and lives to be the heralds and bringers of your salvation in justice and peace.

Establish your realm among all people.

In the silence, and in the fellowship of the church, we offer our own prayers for those we know in need today, and for our loved ones near and far, and for ourselves, whom you accept and love without reserve…………

We praise you for all your saints who have entered your eternal glory: bring us all to share in your heavenly kingdom.

God, as you have helped us by your grace to make these prayers, so answer us now according to our needs; in this world grant that we may truly know you, and in the world to come graciously give us eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

StF 676  Christ, from whom all blessings flow
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Christ, from whom all blessings flow,
Perfecting the saints below,
Hear us who Thy nature share,
Who Thy mystic body are.

Join us, in one spirit join,
Let us still receive of thine;
Still for more on Thee we call,
Thou who fillest all in all.

Sweetly may we all agree,
Touched with loving sympathy:
Kindly for each other care;
Every member feel its share.

Love, like death, has all destroyed,
Rendered all distinctions void;
Names, and sects, and parties fall:
Thou, O Christ, art all in all.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Christ the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep, draw us and all who hear his voice to be one people within one fold, and gladden our hearts with the good news of his kingdom; and
The Blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us now and forevermore.

Fanfare by Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens
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