Greetings to all our friends and members of St James Road Methodist Church. In these difficult days, the Southampton Methodist Circuit offers the following service for you to read and reflect on at home. We intend to produce a service every week until we are able to meet together again. Please continue to pray for one another, for our government and our health service workers as well our those known to you. God bless you.
Christine, Brian and the Circuit Staff
This week’s service has been prepared by Trish Davis – Apologies that I haven’t focused on Mothering Sunday – I felt led in a different direction!
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want. He makes us lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. Come let us worship the Lord, the Holy God, and let our souls be restored.’
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Prayer of Praise and Adoration (based on Psalm 23)
Thank you, Lord, for the good gifts that you have given us.
We praise you because you have prepared a banquet for us:
you have anointed us with oil and our cup overflows.
Thank you that your goodness and mercy
follows us all the days of our lives,
and we will dwell in your house our whole life long.
We give you thanks and praise that when we are far off,
when we are blind to everything around us,
you do not abandon us,
but you come and find us, you seek us out.
As we come before your throne, take away our blindness Lord.
Open our eyes that we may truly see you:
our shepherd, our comforter, our redeemer.
Thank you, Lord. Amen.
Ephesians 5: 8-14
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’
What do we think when we hear the words ‘light’ and ‘darkness’?
Do we have a sense of ourselves having lived in ‘darkness’ before we really came to know Christ? Do we think of people who do not know Christ as people who are living in ‘darkness’?
This passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church – made up of mainly Gentiles – non-Jewish people – certainly suggests that Paul sees spiritual things in terms of light and darkness. ‘For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.’ Eph 5:1.
Maybe we have the sense of certain behaviours and attitudes being part of the ‘darkness’. For Paul this ‘darkness’ is quite wide. In the previous chapter (earlier in the letter to the Ephesians) Paul mentions that ‘darkness’ stands for ignorance, greed, impure thoughts and actions, hard-heartedness, – which are bad for individuals but also for communities. He goes on to say that ‘darkness’ also includes deceitful desires, anger, lies, stealing; and there is more! Paul mentions unwholesome talk, bitterness, rage, slander, malice.
The more I made my way through that list – the more I drooped! At times, not all the time, praise God, my behaviour and attitudes can lean more towards the ‘darkness’ than the ‘light’… Presumably I’m not alone in this!
Paul encourages the Ephesians – he says: ‘Live as children of the light…and find out what pleases the Lord.’ Eph 5:8, 10. He clarifies this by saying: ‘for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.’ Eph 5:9. (the good, the right, the true – says the Message Bible)
I think that is helpful to us in several ways – there is something we can do – we can ‘find out what pleases the Lord’ – that means asking God about it; having a conversation with God – not just telling God what we want, but finding out what God wants.
We will know if we are hearing God right because what pleases God will reflect goodness, righteousness and truth… I guess we all know whether a certain behaviour, habit, action or thought is good, right or true! What if we are not sure? How can we be sure? One way might be to imagine Jesus, in person, right there with you – would you feel comfortable about what you are doing, saying, or thinking then?
Another way is to ask yourself the question ‘What would Jesus do? WWJD – many folk wear, or have worn, bracelets with those letters on to remind them to check out the way they act speak, think. (There is a banner with it on in our church!).
Things are not always black and white though are they? (or are they?!) For instance, we are facing various dilemmas because of the coronavirus just now aren’t we? Earlier in the week we were asking: ‘Do we meet as church?’ ‘Do we go out to social events?’ ‘Do we travel on the bus/train?’. Some of those questions have been answered for us, but there remain other questions: ‘Do we visit a frail person?’ ‘Do we go out at all if we are vulnerable or elderly or both?!’ ‘Do we stock up with baked beans!?’
Our Bible passage helps us I think – we read: But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’
Light is life-giving – so the decisions we make need to be that – life-giving.
Let’s trust that our God, who created light out of darkness, will shine light on us so that we can reflect that light to others (even from the security of our own homes). Let’s continue to ask God for light in our personal darknesses (probably no such word!), and in the darkness covering our communities. Let’s do that – keeping a real awareness of Jesus presence with us. There is a hymn that ends with a line about us always keeping just behind Jesus so we can follow him – I had always imagined being alongside Jesus, walking with him, but maybe keeping very close…, but nevertheless following, is the place to be.
I would like us to look at that hymn today: I think it is very relevant to our need to reflect the light of Jesus to the many people suffering who do not know the Lord, and so often live in darkness. Look out for the last verse…
Jesus Christ is Waiting
Prayer of lament and resistance
(written by The Revd David Warbrick, Vicar of All Saints, Kings Heath in Birmingham)
We grieve with the lonely, friendly visits, safe social spaces, lunch club lifelines now out of reach.
We grieve with one another when our mental health feels fragile and the very contact that would help is prohibited.
We lament with those suddenly needing benefits, frustrated by pernicious delays.
We lament with leaders wishing they could solve things, fix things.
We grieve for those who have died because of Corona Virus and other more prevalent, more preventable disease.
We lament any arrogant carelessness that has under resourced health and social care, while praying, too for countries less well served.
We grieve with one another wanting a Mothering Sunday kiss.
We lament with those whose wedding plans are in tatters.
We grieve with those whose bereavement is surely enough to bear without having difficult decisions about funeral gatherings.
We grieve with musicians and sports men and women who so enrich our lives but whose livelihood is threatened.
We long to forget this preoccupation with contagion.
We long to get back to meaningful work.
We long for a pint with a mate, coffee with another new parent, a swim, or a great concert.
We long to go out and play.
We long for carefree hugs.
As we do so, God, deepen our respect and sympathy for the people for whom isolation, poor sanitation, lack of safe space to play, or economic deprivation have been the norm for ever.
Defiant and determined to learn, we dare to thank you that a virus ignores social class, does not notice ethnicity, does not obey national borders. As we put huge energy and ingenuity into making a vaccine, in the meantime may your Spirit begin to heal our prejudices. Work on our hearts to recalibrate our priorities as a church and as a nation. Match resistance to disease with openness to each other. In the hurt of enforced isolation, in the longing for freedom to interact, in the ache of imposed solitude, reveal to us the foolishness of isolationism and individualism, so little questioned when all seems well.
Refresh our confidence that every human being is your precious child;
Help us to see the brothers and sisters you have given us to care for.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and for ever more. Amen.