Didsbury URC – Service for 25th October 2020

Today’s Service has been provided by Mrs. Margaret Dexter-Brown

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Lord Jesus Christ, speak your word now in the turmoil of our world, in the confusion of life, and especially in the hearts of those present today who find themselves all at sea, tossed about in storms of sorrow, suffering, anxiety and despair.

Bring order out of chaos, confidence out of fear, faith out of doubt and peace out of unrest – the certain knowledge that nothing, not even death itself, can finally overwhelm us. In your name we pray. Amen.

HYMN: Be still for the presence of the Lord

Be still for the presence of the Lord

The holy one is here

Come bow before him now

With reverence and fear

In him no sin is found

We stand on holy ground

Be still for the presence of the Lord

The holy one is here


Be still for the glory of the Lord

Is shining all around

He burns with holy fire

With splendour he is crowned

How awesome is the sight

Our radiant king of light

Be still for the glory of the Lord

Is shining all around

 

Be still for the power of the Lord

Is moving in this place

He comes to cleanse and heal

To minister his grace

No work to hard for him

In faith receive from him

Be still for the power of the Lord

Is moving in this place

 

PRAYERS: Adoration and Confession

Lord, we experience you like the sea. At times we feel you close; lapping around our lives, cooling and cleansing. At other times, you seem far away; there are spans of sand to cross before we feel your forgiveness.

When we tread with painful feet, struggling to find you; wash our feet, remove the gritty sand of life: the mistakes which irritate; the frustrations that rub away at us; the sins that wear us down, making the walk ahead more difficult.

Cleanse us from the past for service in the future.

Lord, we experience you like the sea. At times we are afraid of the power of your waves, and we paddle on the edges of faith, not wanting to be too deeply committed. We fear we might be submerged in the undercurrent of needs around us, or lose control if we get out of our depth.

Lord, help us to discover the buoyant freedom which faith can give. Help us in this worship to strike out, supported by your love. Be with us in the storms of life, calming our fears, assuring us of a safe harbour. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

READINGS:

Psalm 85:8-13

I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly.  Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

Matthew 14.22-33

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

REFLECTION (PART 1)

Our reading from Matthew’s gospel today gives us the opportunity to grapple with our faith and doubt, and then to take the risk.

Many of you may relish the prospect of a cruise…. Well at some time in the future…. For myself, I can’t think of a holiday I would like less. I’m not good on board a large boat. Put me in a speedboat and I’m fine – open to the elements, loving every moment of it, ploughing through the waves on a shimmering sea of blue under a clear sky, the wind through my hair and the taste of salt water on my tongue. Don’t ask me why I’m afraid of one and not the other!!

Years later, when I had just met my husband Chris, we went to visit his relatives in Tenby and he suggested we took a trip over to Caldey Island… a place he had visited many times in his youth. A small rowing boat… you must be joking!! Don’t worry he said, I’ll be with you. I gulped hard, knowing deep down I wanted to take the risk, to show how brave I was, but the fear was almost overwhelming. I kept listening to the news for the latest updates of the weather forecast – fortunately the sea was quite calm, unlike myself.

However, the presence of God which I felt on Caldey Island gave me inner calm and on the return journey I felt much more relaxed and refreshed and hardly noticed the voyage back to the mainland.

In the book ‘Wind in the Willows’ Mole had to take a risk to face his fears as Ratty insisted “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. Seriously, we are all called to test the water at some time.

The story about Peter graphically depicts what it means to be a Christian caught midway between faith and doubt. Peter represents all who dare to believe that Jesus is Saviour, take their first steps in confidence that he is able to sustain them, and then forget to keep their gaze fixed on him instead of on the towering waves that threaten to engulf them. In the depth of crisis, when all seems lost, they remember to call on the Saviour, and find his grace sufficient for their needs, whose power is made perfect in weakness.

While Jesus’ stilling of the storm is miraculous, Matthew adds to the drama by including this account of how Peter is saved from drowning. Is this one more instance of Peter telling a story of his failings against himself, to emphasise how much his salvation relies utterly on Jesus? He does nothing in his own strength but constantly needs to be rescued.

Peter has doubts, but he is often considered to be the greatest of ‘the twelve’. Does his question to Jesus help us to go on in faith despite our own doubts? His getting out of the boat is as symbolic as his leaving the life of a fisherman and going to become a disciple of Jesus. He leaves security behind. Can we?

If we are always careful to stay within our comfort zone, do we avoid stepping out in faith?

However this text is not just about the disciples, but about the early church. If we take the boat to symbolise the church, then the sea, as it often does, can symbolise chaos… something that occasionally creeps into congregations.

The Early Church, especially in Rome, faced persecution at the time that the Gospels were being written, and these stories of a hostile sea, the danger of perishing, and indeed, Peter drowning, would strengthen the resolve of the Christian community. Today the story has resonances not only of the challenges being faced by Covid-19 but also with refugees who risk everything by trusting themselves to the waves, so often seen in our news items.

HYMN: Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

When you walk through the waters I’ll be with you,

You will never have to sink beneath the waves.

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

When the fire is burning all around you,

You will never be consumed by the flames.

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

When the fear of loneliness is looming,

Then remember I am at your side.

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

When you dwell in the exile of a Stranger,

Remember you are precious in my eyes.

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

You are mine, oh my child; I am your father,

And I love you with a perfect love.

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

REFLECTION (PART 2): Bridge over troubled water (Monologue)

We can apply the story of Jesus walking on the water to an individual or a church experiencing suffering and trials, uncertainty, doubt and the prospect of church developing in a new and unexpected way.

We’ve all known suffering. Sometimes I, like you perhaps, dream I am in that boat. Tired, tossed about by troubles, wondering where Jesus is in all of this chaos and confusion.

Jesus, where are you in all this pandemic, come, come walking towards us as individuals, as a church, over these waters, let us see you. Where are you, we cry, you’re late, so late, where are you? We are waiting. Why the silence? We’re going to capsize, we are possibly peering into the abyss.

What good will it do to be swallowed up by the tumultuous wave of virus.

Then I faintly hear the words of a song I know so well.

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all. I’m on your side when times gets rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.

Then, as I think of this story in the middle of the night, unexpectedly I think I see your shadow come, walking on those waves which disturb me so, the liquid surface holding up your feet like a rock. I dare think if you command your creation, you can command mine and others circumstances. Rescue us or help us to endure.

I feel my heart begin to stir. Where you go I might follow. Keep my head above water. But for you to walk on the sea is one thing, to expect a poor weak disciple like me…. Yet I hear a voice. I want to try.

I walk boldly a little way, I prepare a risk assessment, I talk with others. Yes, I do, a little way. You actually help me walk a few steps. Then I walk boldly a little further, baby steps, towards reopening your church..

Yes, I do, a little way. You actually help me walk a few steps. In my childish/ simple mind I’m celebrating, telling everybody about it, what a story! Now I’m closer to you than when I was in the boat, it should get easier. Then I feel the boisterous wind, and the waves so mesmerising. I forget my first tentative steps, past proofs of your goodness and power. I’m swept away by waves of emotions and thoughts and fears. I give way to the substantial presence of pain and fear. Like Peter, I take fright, stop looking at you and begin to sink. I’ve failed, you’ve abandoned me and I’m back looking into the depths.

Then the song returns… playing through my emotions…

When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street, when evening falls so hard I will comfort you. I’ll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.

In the story you deal with Peter so gently, not like the violence of the elements. At once you stretch out your hand to save him, with a motherly reproof. Doubting doesn’t prove I have no faith, only that my faith is small. But I’m touched by your mildness and I learn not healing or composure but an unexpected truth. Tomorrow I’ll remember your gentleness with my failure. And I’ll try again.

Just a story…. But it has meaning. I ponder it in the watches of the night.

The song returns to my mind…. Sail on church, sail into the future… your time has come to shine and some of your dreams are on their way. See how they shine. Never forget; if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind, like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.

As fellow Christians, we are fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

Amen.

PRAYERS Intercession, Lord’s Prayer

Loving God,

we pray for those reaching out to you this morning,

for those longing for you to catch hold of them:

for those longing to be freed from abusive relationships;

for those longing for an end to violence;

for those longing for release from suffering;

for those longing for companionship;

for those longing to be free of old hatreds;

for those longing for forgiveness;

for those who cannot name their longing,

for those afraid to reach out.

For one another, and for all creation we pray:

reach out to us, Lord Jesus,

hear our prayer and give us your peace.

Let us now join together in the prayer Jesus taught us…

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.

 

HYMN: Go forth and tell

1 Go forth and tell! O church of God, awake!

God’s saving news to all the nations take;

proclaim Christ Jesus, saviour, Lord, and king,

that all the world his worthy praise may sing.

 

2 Go forth and tell! God’s love embraces all;

he will in grace respond to all who call:

how shall they call if they have never heard

the gracious invitation of his word?

 

3 Go forth and tell where still the darkness lies;

in wealth or want, the sinner surely dies:

give us, O Lord, concern of heart and mind,

a love like yours which cares for all mankind.

 

4 Go forth and tell! The doors are open wide:

share God’s good gifts let no one be denied;

live out your life as Christ your Lord shall choose,

your ransomed powers for his sole glory use.

 

5 Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!

go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;

go till all nations his great name adore

and serve him, Lord and king for evermore

 

James Seddon (1915 – 1983)

© The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group

10 10 10 10 Iambic

 

BLESSING:

Go now in peace, never be afraid, God will go with you each hour of every day.

Go now in faith steadfast, strong and true,  know He will guide you in all you do.

Go now in love and show you believe, reach out to others so all the world can see.

God will be there watching from above. Go now in peace in faith, and in love.

Amen.