Didsbury URC – Service for 8th November 2020

This service has been provided by Rev. Dr. Rosalind Selby for All Saints Day (Sunday 1st November). If you would like music for the hymns, please look on YouTube….thanks

Gathering (based on 1 Corinthians 1:2-3)

To all God’s beloved who are gathered here, and those who belong amongst us but who are sharing in their own homes: “Called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

Hymn: Glorious things of thee are spoken  (R & S no. 560 – Abbott’s Leigh)

 Glorious things of thee are spoken,

      Zion, city of our God;

he whose word cannot be broken

   formed thee for his own abode.

On the Rock of Ages founded,

   what can shake thy sure repose.

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

   thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

 

See! The streams of living waters,

   springing from eternal love,

well supply thy sons and daughters,

   and all fear of want remove;

who can faint, while such a river

   ever flows, their thirst to assuage –

grace, which, like the Lord, the giver,

   never fails from age to age.

 

Saviour, if of Zion’s city

   I, through grace, a member am,

let the world deride or pity,

   I will glory in thy name.

Fading are our worldly pleasures,

   all their boasted pomp and show;

solid joys and lasting treasures

   none but Zion’s children know.

John Newton (1725-1807)

 

Prayers – these are themed around our thankfulness for all God’s people whose faithful lives are shared with us through Scripture.

            Let us pray

With the history writers we look back over all that You have done amongst Your people, and we are thankful, filled with wonder.

With the priests of old, we seek to live our lives in obedience to Your will, and to draw close to You with our praise and worship.

With the psalmist, we share with you our worship and our lament in the joyful knowledge that you hear all our prayers.

With the prophets, we listen to Your voice, knowing that it is always just, always true, always relevant in our lives – and we praise You for your continued speaking.

With the gospel writers, we rejoice in the good news of Your coming to us in your Son, Jesus Christ – our Lord, who died and was raised that we might live in Your gracious presence for ever – whom we worship with You and Your Holy Spirit.

With the letter writers we seek to spread the good news of all that we have learned and experienced and know of you.

With the law-writer we reflect on the command to love You, our God, with all our heart, soul and strength and our neighbour as ourselves … and as we reflect, we also confess that there are times when we get things wrong –

forgive us, we pray, if we have put other things before You, our Lord God, who is One and before whom none should be worshipped …

forgive us, if, in the tiredness of our bodies, in the anxiety of our minds, or amongst the other loves of our lives we do not love You with every part of our being …

forgive us, if, in the rush of the day, or in our cares for ourselves and our friends and families, we have omitted to love our neighbours near and far …

and forgive us if we forget how precious we are to You, how much You love us, and fail to love ourselves as the ones Christ came to die for.

Lift us up once more into the light of Your glorious forgiveness, mercy and grace. … … …

Here is the truth of the Gospel – all that we have done and said and thought that is less than worthy, when we repent, it is forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord … you are a merciful and gracious God – and we offer you our grateful thanks and praise as we join together in the words that Jesus taught us:

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.

 

The People of God

Our prayers held before us some of the sorts of people whose response to God in faith are encapsulated in Scripture. I thought we’d just remember a few in a little bit further as we reflect, today, All Saints Day, on what it means to be a part of the gathered-in people of God.

Moses had a tough start in life, and only just escaped being killed. But, he himself committed manslaughter and had to escape into a sort of exile. There, as a shepherd, he  met God and was called to a momentous purpose. He was nervous about it, and tried to wriggle out of it, but finally he took on a huge responsibility. He led a grumbling people and, at times, unfaithful people. He  tried to do it all himself until his father-in-law came and taught him better and he appointed elders. His life had this overwhelming purpose … and then he discovered he wasn’t going to be the one to see it through. He died before the people entered the promised land with Joshua leading them.

He was flawed, not always willing, not a great delegator, had a lot to deal with including ultimate disappointment … still, he was faithful to the One he met at the burning bush.

Anna was married for just 7 years and lived to a great age in her widow-hood and aloneness. She was faithful to the vision God had given her to be prayerful and worshipful in the Temple day and night and waited patiently. She was a prophet in her own right, speaking truth at the age of 84 as she held the son of God in her arms as a tiny baby.

A quiet and unassuming life, hopeful, patient, prayerful, full of worship – a faithful daughter of God.

Peter (Simon to begin with) left his fisherman’s living that would have supported his wife and mother-in-law if not also other members of the family (we don’t know) to follow Jesus. He got called “the Rock”, but was pretty wobbly at times: he tended to speak without thinking – blurting out some things that were foolish and sometimes wrong; he protested his willingness to go to the end with Jesus, but failed him … running away and then denying he even knew him. Still, in the early church, Peter needed God to tell him (three times) to “get up and eat” the unclean animals he saw in the sheet from heaven in a dream and finally ‘got it’ that the Gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

He was the first Bishop of Rome, the first Pope (though married), and he was killed under Nero’s persecution (in 64 CE). Tradition has it that, believing himself to be unworthy to die the same death as his Lord, he had the cross of his crucifixion turned upside down.

Foolish … human … fallible … but a servant, and faithful to the end of his life.

Our lives are not recorded in Scripture as these examples of God’s people are … but we can see aspects of our own lives in theirs. We can see how God calls and uses and accepts and equips us all as fallible human beings. We can see how God values the quiet and faithful life just as much as the much-vaunted life. We too can rest assured that God is drawing us on to the purposes he has for us and for his Kingdom.

We give thanks for our place amongst all God’s people, knowing ourselves to be loved and accepted. AMEN

 

 

Reading: I John 3:1-3

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 

The Saints of God

If you asked a church congregation the question, “What is a saint?” … the answers, I think, would very much depend upon the denomination of that church. The Greek Orthodox Church have so many named saints that there are several on every day of the year – by a Saint, they would mean a person whose life had showed certain characteristics and in whose death prayers to whom, or connection with their bones or relics that had belonged to them, had been efficacious in the performing of (I think it’s 3) miracles.  Catholics would be in a not dissimilar place.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with that notion of a saint … thinking that touching a container that had the bones of a dead Christian in it would lead to miracles being performed? That wouldn’t be my personal opinion – but then I wasn’t brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church.

If you’d pushed me, when I was younger, to say what a saint was, I might have said, ‘someone who has died and has been accepted by God and is in heaven now.’ Bit naïve and not-thought-out theology … but I imagine there are people who think that saints have to be people who have died.

There are 9 letters in the NT in which we are told Paul is writing to churches (as distinct from individuals). 6 of those letters are addressed to “the saints who are in” … Rome, or Corinth, or Ephesus and so on.

Paul, writing to the young churches calls those who belong in the Body of Christ “saints” … the word means ‘made holy’, or ‘sanctified’. Put like that, then absolutely we are all saints  because, THROUGH GRACE, as Paul also keeps affirming, it is God who makes us forgiven and worthy and “sanctified” … not something we earn … and certainly not by having to perform miracles.

I’m going to take the example of the 1st letter to the Corinthian church … Paul begins, as we began our worship today: “Paul … to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints …”. Paul then proceeds to give these “saints” a real ticking off … they are not behaving as those IN CHRIST ought to behave. There is disunity, boasting, sexual immorality and lacking of understanding of marriage, they are suing each other, arguing about the source of their food and whether and what head coverings women should wear in church, they are misusing the Lord’s Supper and some of the members of the church who are demonstrating the more charismatic gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying (for example) are considering themselves more important than others in the church, and then they are pretty much misunderstanding the Resurrection.

Saints?!

But on the other hand, I find that oddly comforting … to know that churches are made up of fallible human beings … and that it has ever been thus!

I’ve chaired church meetings (not at Didsbury) where there have been unpleasant words spoken and arguments. I’ve chaired an Elders’ meeting (again not Didsbury) where an elder got angry and stormed out and went home.

Saints?!

Yes, saints, all of us, because, by the Grace of God, we are forgiven in Christ Jesus when we bring our failings to the foot of the cross.

But Paul, in this letter, having gone through most of his admonishments of the church members, explains to them what it really ought to look like to be a saint … having told them all that they are part of the Body of Christ where all gifts are to be equally valued and some were not more important than others he says this … ok, (I’m paraphrasing!) … ok, you can have a go at the greater gifts … but actually, “I will show you a still more excellent way.”

Do you know what comes next? I think you probably do.

“I will show you a still more excellent way … If I … do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 12:31 and 13:3)

What is asked of us, who have already been set apart and are being sanctified is that we should love … patiently, kindly … rejoicing in the truth … bearing and hoping and enduring …

… as we look to the coming kingdom where we shall gather as all the saints who from their labours rest.

For the times we reflect on our lives and consider ourselves falling so far short of sainthood … giving all that to God, seeking God’s strength to love God and neighbour as Christ himself told us was the greatest commandment, and then resting in the knowledge of God’s grace … isn’t that what we celebrate on ‘All Saints Day’?

I think so. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Prayers of Intercession (the words are prompts for your own prayers)

        Let’s pray:

O God, our God, we pray for one another in this local church – for healing for those on the journey from sickness to health – for comfort for those on the journey from sadness to joy – for wholeness of life for those on the journey from isolation into your great future.

We pray for the other churches in this area … and for the wider URC as a denomination … for the church’s leaders … preachers … teachers … and all who take up the task they are called to as you guide us to be your servants amongst your suffering children.

We pray for the world-wide church … for mutuality of understanding … for sharing wherever possible … for respect of differences … for your guiding Spirit to walk ahead of us all.

We pray for the suffering church … for your followers who are persecuted … for all who seek to be faithful disciples in places of violence … for all of us who long for the ending of pandemic and the opportunities to meet and rejoice together as the Body of Christ.

We pray for all God’s people of other faiths and none … for all those who, in unacknowledged ways, are playing their part in bringing in your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

We offer our prayers for all affected by the Covid-19 virus, for the health-care workers and all on the front line, and for all those who are suffering from the worst symptoms.

We pray for the people of France experiencing religious violence, for all affected by the Turkish/Greek earthquake and the typhoon in the Philippines. We pray also for the people of the USA as they elect their president; whatever the outcome, may there be an ending of division.

As we offer these prayers in Jesus’ name, we look forward to the time when we shall join our prayers with His at the throne of God. 

Amen

 

Hymn:: Let us recall … (tune Epiphany Hymn )

Let us recall how this God has walked with us,

faithful through struggles, through joy and despair.

Let us rejoice in this glorious friendship –

God who has rescued us, God always there.

 

Let us embrace all God offers as future,

trusting that, somehow, our way will be clear;

only this God can defend and sustain us,

guiding our footsteps and quelling our fear.

 

Let us depend on God’s marvellous future,

though it remains largely hidden from sight;

trusting our Saviour to bring to completion

wonders untold ‘til each wrong is put right.

 

So, let us choose to be faithful and thankful,

looking to God as our helper each day,

daily depend on the gifts of God’s goodness,

giving us strength as we follow God’s way!

(John Campbell © 2016 Kevin Mayhew)

CCL Lic No 293964

 

 

 Blessing

O God, bless us and keep us in your love until your kingdom comes and we take our places amongst all the saints to worship you for ever.

Bless the paths we walk.

Bless to us a light that leads us onwards.

Bless us in our homes and in all the places we seek to serve you.

In Christ’s name. 

Amen