Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 8 May 2022

by Neil Clarke 8 May 2022

Welcome to worship. The service below reflects the one taking place in our church today. 

If we wanted a title for today’s act of worship, it could be ‘Perseverance’ or ‘exploring how Jesus guides us through life’s ups and downs’.

A prayer of approach
Let us come before the God of our salvation, offering him all praise and glory.
Let us join the angels standing around the throne,
as we offer ourselves in worship to God, saying:
Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks
and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.

So let us grasp a glimpse of worship of Jesus as we sing our first hymn - Be thou my vision.

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We now come to our prayers of Adoration and Confession followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

Awesome God, full of glory, you fill our hearts with your love.
Awesome God, full of blessings, you fill our lives with your wisdom.
Awesome God, full of riches, you enrich us with power and strength
for all the ups and downs of life.
Awesome God, full of Grace, we love you and glorify your mighty name.

Lamb of God, we thank you for your loving sacrifice. Thank you for washing us clean, for putting purpose, light and colour into our dark empty lives.
Thank you for your perseverance with us, your never-ending provision of wisdom and strength that helps guide us through all life’s circumstances. To you, be thanks and praise.  Amen.

Lord, you walk with us through all kinds of terrains in life:
mountains, mole hills, valleys, clifftops, deserts, woods, town centres, playing fields.

When the going gets tough and life takes on a dark hue black, blue – we sometimes attempt to push through it on our own, only to find ourselves weighed down and getting nowhere fast. We may despair of ever being rid of our burdens and seeing life in colour again. Forgive us for these times, for not resting in you, for not trusting in the light of your promises, for not persevering in faith.  Merciful Lord, forgive us, we pray.
When things are going well and we’re galloping on enjoying life in colourful detail – yellow, crimson – we often take you and others for granted. Forgive us for not being more aware and appreciative of your company, for not recognising or acknowledging your blessings and guidance. Forgive us our self-absorption.
Merciful Lord, forgive us, we pray. Amen

The Lord is our shepherd, who restores our soul.  He washes us clean and anoints us with the oil of forgiveness.  Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Let us share together in the prayer that Jesus taught His first disciples, the Lord’s Prayer.

During our service, we will be thinking about Psalm 23 but not hearing it read.  So, we are going to sing a modern version of it. The Lord’s my shepherd.

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Now we are going to have the gospel reading, John 10 V22-30

Talk 1
The start of the gospel reading needs a bit of explanation.  It talks about the feast of dedication or to give it its Jewish title ‘Hanukkah’.  So, I looked in Tom Wright’s book ‘John for Everyone’.  In 167 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes a Greek tyrant king, was a vicious enemy of the Jewish people, outlawing Judaism and desecrating the sacred Hebrew temple by sacrificing a pig in it.  He was opposed by local boy Judas Maccabaeus.  Antiochus died in 165 BC and was succeeded by Judas who then purified the temple and became king.  They Jewish people offered the proper sacrifices and prayed.  Judas also commanded that every year a festival should be kept commemorating the occasion.  This is the feast of dedication or Hanukkah.  It falls on the 25th day of the Jewish month ‘Chislev’ roughly the equivalent of our December and near to our Christmas Day.

So every time the Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah, they thought about God and the liberation of the temple.  They not only thanked God for having the temple back again.  They thought about kings and how they had become kings.  No doubt, David, the shepherd king would have been foremost in their minds.

If we consider Psalm 23, we today probably think of Jesus. Depending totally on God, he lacked nothing in the wilderness and feared no evil. He is himself ‘the good shepherd’ who ‘lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10.11). God had promised, ‘I will be the shepherd of my sheep’ (Ezekiel 34.15), and Jesus says, ‘The Father and I are one’ (v.30). He is asked if he is the Messiah and responds that unlike the false shepherds, the leaders who let their lost sheep be devoured, ‘No one will snatch them out of my hand’ (v.28). Only those with ears to hear his voice and eyes to follow him recognise him as like David, who saved his threatened lambs (1 Samuel 17.34-35). His sheep know who Jesus is because they know how much he loves them: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15.13).

Do we romanticise the life and role of the shepherd, as if it exists only in some kind of pastoral idyll? Real shepherding needs strength of mind and heart to do difficult work, day after day. Real shepherds are tough in body and mind. They work to a clear plan and coordinate the overall movement of a large group of easily distracted animals. They are ready to intervene at a moment’s notice when a problem arises, and their life is one of nearly constant vigilance.

We sometimes behave as if caring for the sheep is enough, and anything beyond that it is someone else’s problem. Or, to put it another way, do we work to challenge and change unjust structures, or respond only to the pastoral issues that they cause? Caring for sheep is more than ‘search and rescue’; it also requires mending fences, rebuilding walls and anticipating problems so that the sheep do not face the same risks again.  This is part of our Christian purpose today.

Let’s sing once more.  Maybe this song of dedication could be our Hanukkah. Lord for the church, we pray for our renewing.

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We do not often hear from the book of Revelation, but today this reading is part of the Lectionary, Revelation 7 v9-17.

Talk 2
Before coming to this passage, we need to understand the context within the book of Revelation. Following his vision of the worship of God and the Lamb (chapters 4 and 5), John sees the Lamb opening the first six of the seven seals on the scroll representing God’s purposes (chapter 6). Past, present, and future interweave in these visions. The slaughtered Lamb raised to God’s throne has already accomplished God’s purposes; that is, Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and announced, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled‘ at the beginning of his earthly ministry (Luke 4.16-21). However, God’s purposes are not yet fully accomplished, and there is ‘an eternal gospel’ to proclaim, ‘to every nation and tribe and language and people’ (Revelation 14.6). The opening of the first six seals revealed the ways in which human beings will slaughter one another and how the souls of faithful cry out, ‘how long will it be before you judge?’ (Revelation 6.8-11).

Now, here in chapter 7, there is another vision of the worship of God and the Lamb. In it those who have been faithful to death are no longer crying out ‘How long?’ but are before God’s throne, worshipping night and day. This divine throne room is eternal in heaven but yet to come on earth. It is more enduring than the throne of Rome, or any ruler since. John’s images recall worship in the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by Emperor Vespasian’s son Titus: The Lamb and the palm branches (v.9) suggest the Passover festival.

There are remarkable paradoxes here: The slaughtered Lamb is also the Lord, the shepherd who leads to life (v.17; and, of course, Psalm 23). As in the Book of Hebrews, Jesus is both the sacrifice and the high priest. And the white robes representing God’s approval are washed in red blood, a symbolic nod to the testimony that both blood and water flowed from Jesus pierced side (John 19.34; 1 John 5.6-8).

Today is the 8th of May.  On 8 May 1373, a young woman aged 30, who was suffering from a serious illness, received a series of 16 visions. ‘Our Lord showed me spiritually how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that we know to be good and helpful.’ Julian of Norwich became an anchoress at St Julian’s Church in Norwich where she was sought after as a spiritual guide in a time of great social upheaval. After reflecting on her visions for 20 years, she wrote Revelations of Divine Love, the first book known to be written in English by a woman. Like the author of Revelation, her visions see everything in the light of Christ. ‘How loyally he waits for us, with unvarying affection: he wants us to turn to him, uniting with him in love, as he is with us.’

The compelling visions of Revelation set the everyday events of our lives within the great drama of the victory of the Lamb of God over ‘the deceiver of the whole world’ (Revelation 12.9). In this light – which is that of Jesus himself – we can see that every decision we make, as individuals and as church communities, is caught up in this struggle. We choose either to worship the Lamb, serving those who hunger and thirst, or to worship the deceiver, subtly serving our own self-interest and the idols, perhaps, of comfort and money, prestige and success, to which we are all too attached.

As we seek to live out the message and implications of Easter, may we be reminded of the endurance we need to live in the light of the kingdom, facing life’s struggles in the company of the Good Shepherd, who is also the crucified and risen Christ.  May we be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit as we seek to serve him.  Amen.

We now come to our Prayers of Intercession
God of all nations, in faith and with trusting perseverance, we pray for those recently elected to serve our local communities, we pray for those suffering as a consequence of the policies and decisions of their leaders; for those living in war zones, particularly in Ukraine; for those fleeing their countries; for those battling with the effects of climate change; for those left with less than they need to survive; for those whose daily lives are controlled by others.
Lord Jesus, be with them through their ups and downs, and wipe every tear from their eyes

We pray for those who work in caring professions; those suffering from exhaustion; for those feeling demoralised; for those they aim to support and minister to; for those waiting for help and treatment; for those in the last stages of their life.
Lord Jesus, be with them through their ups and downs, and wipe every tear from their eyes

We pray for the church throughout the world; for leaders who have lost their way; for those ministering in divided communities; for those in places where the church is marginalised, persecuted or simple deemed irrelevant.
Lord Jesus, be with them through their ups and downs, and wipe every tear from their eyes

We pray for the young people of our world; for children traumatised by war and violence; for those whose abuse goes unreported; for those sitting exams; for those seeking employment and struggling to find their way in the world.
Lord Jesus, be with them through their ups and downs, and wipe every tear from their eyes

And we pray for one another; and entrust to you those things that worry us; those situations we feel helpless in; those decisions that burden us; those losses that overwhelm us. Lord Jesus, be with us through our ups and downs, and wipe every tear from their eyes. 

So, are we there for one another, how do we respond to God’s call on our lives?

We sing together I the Lord of sea and sky.

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A sending out prayer before we share the grace together.
God of all our coming in and our going out, of our past, present and our future,
of all the ups and downs of life, give us bright hope that all shall be well.
Help us to trust in your promises, to find springs of the water of life,
and to share that with others, that tears may be wiped from every eye.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!  Amen.

The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen