Prayers of Thanksgiving & Intercession God of glory and light of our salvation, we offer you thanks and praise. By your living Word you called all things into being, breathed into life the desire of our heart and shaped us in your own likeness. Though we rejected your love, you did not give us up or cease to fashion our salvation. You made a covenant to be our God, spoke to us through the prophets, and prepared the way for our redemption. We praise you that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son Jesus Christ. The Lord of eternity, announced by angels and born of Mary, he became incarnate, fulfilling the promise of your salvation. And so we offer you our praise and thanks with all your people on earth and in heaven. Awaiting Christ’s coming to reign we pray to our Lord saying; Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. Come to a troubled and divided world, bring peace and justice to….... Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. Come to your Church, in…and all the world; stir us up, bring new life and growth…. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. Come to those suffering this day, to the sick, persecuted, oppressed, anxious, lonely and bereaved….. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. Come us as we remember those we have shared fellowship with here on earth who have gone from among us especially….help us to be thankful for the lives of those who have influenced us until we come to share with them and all the saints in the fulness of your kingdom in heaven. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. Come to us and help us to honour your name by the choices we make, the priorities we have, the words we speak, the deeds we perform and the attitudes we display. As we journey onward help us to shape our lives and our world in accordance with your kingdom values. Maranatha Come Lord Jesus. Amen. The Lord’s Prayer Hymn StF 177/ H&P 241 Lo he come with clouds descending. Dismissal: May Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon us and prepare our hearts and souls to meet him when he comes in glory, and the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be ours, now and always. Amen Darlington District Worship at Home Sunday 29th November 2020 Call to Worship Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who will come from east and west, from north and south to feast in the kingdom of God. Hymn StF 180 / H&P 85 O come, o come Immanuel Prayers God of all glory, you brought the universe into existence, and raised up witnesses to your greatness and love. We praise and adore you. Grant that by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit we may worship and serve you, and praise your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen Our Lord Jesus Christ said “The first commandment is “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God , the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul ,and with all your mind, and with all your strength”. The second is this “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. There is no other commandment greater than these. “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. Amen. Lord have mercy. Let us confess our sin to God trusting his mercy and forgiveness. Holy and forgiving God, we have sinned against you and against each other in thought and word and deed. We have turned from your life-giving word, and ignored the message of those you sent. We are unprepared for the coming of your Son. Have mercy upon us and forgive us, that strengthened by your love we may serve you more faithfully; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. “I am making all things new” says the Lord. This is Christ’s gracious word: “Your sins are forgiven”. Amen. Thanks be to God. Old Testament Reading Isaiah 64.1-9 Reading together: Benedictus – StF 792 Hymn StF 183 Praise to the God who clears the way New Testament Reading: Mark 13. 24-37 Reflection “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….to make known your name” (Isaiah 64.1-2) What’s in a name? In past times, far more than nowadays, a person’s name was really important. It was chosen carefully. It may be that your name was chosen because of a relative who was significant. More common in past times than now, children were often called after previous generations of their family; it is not uncommon for the child to take their parent’s name as their middle name, as I was given. Sometimes it can be more convoluted than that and we might be called after a relative from further back in history - both my grandfathers were named after their great grandfathers, because their mothers held these men in very high esteem. Sometimes children are named after footballers (sometimes the whole team!) or other famous people or even battles. I smiled recently as I noticed a nineteenth century gravestone in a cemetery - the child was called Horatio Nelson followed by the family surname. I wonder what teasing the boy received at school! The one for whom we watch and wait in the season of Advent is of course Jesus Christ. His name was announced by an angel according to Luke 1.31 who tells Mary that he is to be named Jesus. She did not get to choose the name herself! And so, when he is named on the eighth day at his circumcision according to Luke 2.21, he is called Jesus and reference is made again to this name being given by the angel Gabriel. When John the Baptist was born there is a dispute about what he is to be called because Elizabeth says his name is to be John and the people are struck by consternation because no one in the family goes by this name, it is breaking with tradition. Zechariah who has been struck dumb is called for and he writes “his name is John” Luke 1. 59-66. This naming unlocked Zechariah’s tongue and caused amazement to be spread abroad. In an age when being a number, a statistic, is often how people feel about the systems that control our lives, people knowing our names and calling us by name is important. The Methodist Church’s membership guide is entitled “Called by name” referring back to Isaiah 43. (For a reflection on the theme of the Name of our Salvation see H&P 80 / MHB 93) Simon, the outspoken disciple of Jesus, after his confession of Jesus’ identity at Ceasara Philippi is given a new name of Peter, the rock, (Matthew 16.18) with the promise that the Church will be built on this rock. Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul from Acts 13 onwards. Our diverse Christian Tradition includes some traditions where people are given a new name at Confirmation and the tradition of monks and nuns taking new names when they make their final vows. Often these names are to do with saints who have particularly inspired them or it may be simply because someone else already has their name, so they have to choose another! In a more significant sense, anyone baptised in the name of Trinity, is enrolled into a company of disciples of Christ. In a very real sense, we bear his name. So, as we journey through these days of Advent may we fulfil our high calling as followers of Christ, bearers of his name, witnesses to his life and light in our daily lives. Isaiah desires that God will tear open the heavens and come down. This is exactly what we proclaim happens in the mystery of the incarnation that we are preparing to celebrate “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14). God comes down to be among us in the form of a human being as a vulnerable baby. For a reflection on this mystery see StF 512/ H&P 462 “Stupendous height of heavenly love, of pitying tenderness divine, it brought the Saviour from above…” And so with Isaiah and people of faith down the ages we cry “ everlasting God come down” (Charles Wesley StF 177). So, I wonder what sort of a name we are known by or what sort of name our church community has within the local neighbourhood? Hymn 512 StF/ H&P 462 Stupendous height of heavenly love ___________________________________________________ Our worship sheet this week was compiled by Rev Christopher Humble.
Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30 (The Parable of the Talents) At college, in a module entitled The Prophets in Context, we were encouraged to sit and read Amos outside one of the large houses nearby. I remember how distinctly uncomfortable this made me feel – reading Amos’ critique of the wealth of Israel’s elite sat beside electronic gates behind which a gravelled drive led to a double garage. It powerfully demonstrated to me the ability of context – where or when we read a text – to inform our understanding of it. I want to encourage you to read today’s parable alongside the Reset the Debt Report.* The report, by the Methodist Church and others, describes one aspect of the effect of Coronavirus; that an estimated six million people in the UK have been swept into debt as a result of Covid-19. Yet these effects have not been felt equally. The impact has fallen hardest on those with the lowest incomes, pushing them into debt as they borrow to pay rent, keep utilities connected, and buy food, whilst many on higher incomes have actually seen their savings increase, as their expenditure on holidays, social activities or meals out has been curtailed. Perhaps the report helps us to read the parable not as an encouragement to use the gifts we have been given (as is so often the case), but an accurate description of the economic systems of society and a withering condemnation of them: “For to all those who have, more will be given… but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” When we read Jesus’ parables we naturally wonder which character might represent God. What if this is the third servant? The one who refuses to join in a system where those with wealth can exploit it for their own ends. The one who dares to speak truth to power (note the master does not deny the servant’s description of him). The one who does not bow to fear, even though he is afraid. The one who is willing to bear himself the consequences of doing what is right. Who at the end also finds himself vulnerable and among those who weep as a result of injustice and whose teeth gnash because they are hungry. The one whose life is judged by those in power to be worthless and expendable. This to me seems like good news, like gospel living. Not that we are rewarded for the effort we put in, but that God challenges injustice. This to me seems closer to the God I see and know in Jesus. How might we follow in this way? Inspired by the Biblical principle of Jubilee, which periodically enabled debts to be cancelled, protecting the poor and re-establishing equitable relationships, Reset the Debt calls for the unavoidable debt incurred as a result of Coronavirus by those on low incomes to be cancelled by the government. Are we willing to add our voice to the tradition of the prophets and to that of the third servant? Will you confront unjust economic and political power? Will you call for the cancellation of debt for the poorest? *You can download the report and find suggestions for contacting your MP via https://resetthedebt.uk/ . Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Remove not the ancient landmarks” Proverbs 22.28 By the phrase “ancient landmarks”, I guess the author of the Book of Proverbs was referring to stone markers like cairns which may have marked out ways for journeying through rough terrain, or markers erected to denote boundaries showing the demarcation lines between different people’s lands. We still have some ancient landmarks of crosses in some moorland landscapes. However, we use the word “landmark” to refer more commonly nowadays to events, as well asstructures, buildings, monuments. So, Remembrance Sunday is a landmark. A significant day in the life of our nation. The war memorial is a landmark in many of our towns and villages, and church buildings remain so, for example. So, we might give directions to a traveller by reference to such landmarks. And 12 months ago no one among us would have even heard of the new landmark Coronavirus or Covid19. “Remove not the ancient landmarks” sounds like something someone passionate about history might say. Well 37 years ago this Autumn I headed off to University to read History. So, I might be a little biased about such things. The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of corona virus. A landmark year and that is before we know the election result from the US Presidential election. As a boy I remember some old men who had served in the First World War. I remember one particular chap who used to frequently complain to my grandad about his feet and his lack of funds (both were retired ironstone miners) “No wonder he has bad feet”, my grandad would say, “he fought in the water-logged muddy trenches of Flanders field!” This reminds me of the poem by Wilfred Owen “Dulce et decorum est” which mentions the bootless soldiers marching towards rest, and the horrendous conditions in the trenches. “many had lost their boots but limped on, bloodshod. All went lame…”. My connection with past conflicts is slim but I remember with pride taking the funerals of some old men in their 90’s when I first began as a minister 29 years ago including one who had fought in a Cavalry Regiment in the First World War because they still fought with horses in WW1. My own grandfathers did not see active service, either too young and still at school, or too old and both in any case in reserved occupations as a miner and farmer. My maternal grandfather did send a Cleveland Bay horse he had bred and trained from a foal to the western front that he sold to the army in 1916. There is a photograph in the family album to prove it! I had great uncles who served in WW1 (one was gassed and never was a well man afterwards) and uncles who served in WW2. Others served in the Home Guard whilst at home in reserved occupations of farming. One served in what was called the WarAg (County War Agriculatural Committee) . My father did his National Service beginning in 1949 with the East Yorkshire Regiment and was stationed in Graz in Austria at the time of the Cold War with British troops tasked with keeping a close eye on the Russians. My son has just gone earlier this year as a recruit in the Royal Corps of Signals and is undertaking training at Blandford Forum at the moment. Today we remember and salute those who served in conflicts past and especially those who made the supreme sacrifice and did not return but gave their all is the service of freedom whose memories we cherish and whose names are recorded on our war memorials here in our towns and villages who served in the British Army, RAF and Royal Navy. I have had the privilege of conducting funerals of some who served in conflicts past. Landmarks, however, are about other challenges too. We live in a world where coming into sharp focus this year have been the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, the deaths of George Floyd and others, the deep divisions in our world and not just in the US with whom we watch and wait for what the next political chapter might bring. The stories of Black History Month and the struggle here in Britain for people of colour to be truly welcomed and feel they truly belong is a work still in progress. All that has been experienced has not been good. And the beheading of French Teacher Samuel Paty as an act of terrorism sparked by a history lesson on tolerance and freedom of expression. And last week three people stabbed in a Church in Nice in France, just because they were Christian. And this week in Vienna, Austria another terrorist attack with a man with Islamic State sympathies killing people at random as they went about their ordinary daily life. As human beings we do not always deal well with those we perceive as different from ourselves be that in colour, race, religion, sexuality, identity. And we have seen landmarks torn down this year of memorials to characters from the past whose stories we are now seeing in a different light. So, Edward Colson’s statue was torn down in Bristol because of his links with slavery and Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College Oxford is under review. His future looks a bit trepidatious. And the latest domestic issue of free school meals in school holidays has brought to the surface some passionate expressions by footballers, authors, actors as well as politicians. Views on the free school meal children’s food in holidays may yet prove to be a landmark. The issues of north-south divide in England seem also to be raising their heads again. The landmarks of peace and justice, of respect for every human life, for life itself and the life of our fragile planet and the causes of climate change calamity brought to our attention by people like Greta Thunberg addressing the UN and other voices like Sir David Attenborough and Lord Sumption on issues in British society too are landmark events. We need to fight for a greener, cleaner, more sustainable planet that we and future generations can enjoy and thrive on and in. We need to make a stand for the landmark values of tolerance, freedom and democracy. Covid19 has brought into sharp focus how vulnerable we are as human beings and how dependent we are on others who offer care and support to us in our need. The creation of the NHS was a landmark event and we rightly have saluted NHS workers this year in a way we have perhaps taken them so much for granted in the past. No more needing to pay the doctor if we are sick and worrying about the cost of contacting the doctor when we feel ill. So, I wonder what ancient landmarks you might not want to see removed from our societies, and what we are going to do to preserve those landmarks, to value them, cherish them, protect them and teach them to the next generation? For this is a work for every single one of us, of passing on the values and guiding principles that really matter. May the landmarks we set down guide our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren into a better world.
Hebs 12 1 “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”
The Bible is full of corporate, communal images. It has lots of stories of individuals but essentially God makes a covenant with a people. Jesus deals with individuals in their various needs but he gathers together a community of disciples. It is that little word we that I want us to focus on. Today is All Saints’ Day , a day set aside for the Church to remember a much neglected doctrine of the communion of saints, something affirmed in the words of the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes when I hear some Christians speak about a loved one who has died they often give them impression that they have gone to be with the Lord, which is correct of course, but they speak of it as if no one else will be there, just them and the Lord. This seems a far cry from those Biblical images of how well populated heaven might be. Or take Jesus’ words like those recorded in John 14 “in my father’s house are many rooms”. The fact that there are many rooms does of course suggest there are other guests there. Our loved one’s don’t go there to be alone. Like a guest house or hotel or hostel with many residents. So, I offer a bit of a corrective to some people’s thinking. The reality might be that there are those there we are not expecting. Just think of those famous words of Psalm 23- “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. Just think of it in this way for a minute. You get to heaven to find you are sat next to your most bitter enemy- for all eternity! It is a sobering thought.
“Since we are surrounded by do great a cloud of witnesses”, notice the plural word “we”, the corporate communal subject, “we” are surrounded not “I”. The Methodist minister and writer of numerous spiritual books, J Neville Ward, once said “you can’t have Christ without the whole catholic Church”. For as Charles Wesley wrote Christ and his members are one. I am, of course, well aware that some Christians can irritate other Christians, but such brothers and sisters are as much a part of Christ’s flock as those we find it easy to get along with because they share our views. To be a Christian is about being part of a corporate group of followers, journeying together. It is not to a solitary vocation that Christ calls us, but to live in community both here on earth and continuing in heaven. By baptism we become part of the Body of Christ, the Church and this never ends. As we used to say in the 1936 Book of Offices Service from BCP “we are very members incorporate of the mystical body of thy son which is the blessed company of all faithful people”. Not a random collection of individuals, a company, wielded together into a body. This is part of the reason why not being able to share in fellowship, as we have previously known, is so hard for many of our folk. We are a communion of saints. Some of us may recall those memorable words of Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society” which sounded quite odd, given she was raised a Methodist where up to 1976 we used to call our congregations societies with the society meeting and society stewards elected from it. She can’t have been paying much attention at Finkin Street in Grantham in the days of her youth!
So here we are All Saint’s Day 2020. And it is not quite like any other. For this particular year we have experienced mass deaths from the Covid 19 virus, the like of which none of us have seen before. Not since the 1918 influenza epidemic which claimed thousands of lives, this epidemic has claimed millions and over 45,000 deaths in this country so far. Most of us will have known people who have died from it or being affected by it. Other loved ones we may have lost, and we have been unable to attend funerals as we would have wished, with restricted numbers permitted. I lost an aunt in April and we could not go to her funeral. Many people will be grieving without the usual opportunities to grieve with a down-sized farewell of a funeral and no gathering for refreshments and conversations with family and friends, with no chance of the local community gathering to bid farewell as in more normal times.
Even for ministers the need to undertake the gleaning of information over the telephone rather than a physical visit to a family has been part of the new arrangement.
And we are not immune from loss of loved ones too. On the days around this season many churches have special services where those who have lost loved ones are invited back to remember them with thanksgiving. I have lost two aunts and one uncle this last year and a very dear friend. I miss them all, of course. And yet the text I chose reminds us that we are surrounded by such as they, as we journey onward. The imagery of the great cloud suggests something of a presence which is different from physical presence of family on friends on terra ferme but has some similarities. You might not like crowds but most of us will have been part of one at some stage. Perhaps as part of a crowd at a sporting fixture or a concert or other big event. I remember going to a Sixth Round FA Cup Replay as a schoolboy when Middlesbrough played Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux- part of a crowd of 41000. And I have been at Test Matches at Headingley when England played the West Indies with that an even larger of number and Murrayfield when England played and beat Scotland. But the biggest crowd of a non- sporting variety I remember being part of was the Papal Mass for the Beatification of John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict XV1 at Cofton Park in Birmingham. It was even bigger than the top tent at Cliff College on Whit Monday or the first Methodist Ordination I attended at The Avenue, Middlesbrough in 1983 whilst still in the sixth form, when the organist played a wrong metred tune to a hymn that didn’t fit. We had no tickets and only got in because my mother challenged the door steward with how many time’s he had enjoyed a dinner at her parent’s farm when grandad was society steward at Lealholm and he had come as a visiting preacher.
For me it is in worship that I feel closest to that cloud of witnesses that surround us. And particularly when in celebrations of Holy Communion when the communion of saints is most real to be, when the gossamer veil is removed and the thinness of the distance between heaven and earth is shortest. When we recite the Nicene Creed we begin with the words “we believe” and are one with all who profess the faith.
So, as we celebrate All Saints day today and All Soul’s day tomorrow. As we remember all those who have gone before us and cheer us on our way, like the roar of the crowd of home fans at a sports match. Like the swell of the organ and the great alleluia sounding forth from a congregation of joyful worshippers. As we used to sing from MHB “Sing alleluia forth in duteous praise, O citizens of heaven and sweetly raise, an endless alleluia”.