Service at Home on 23rd August 2020
for Christ Church Ramsbottom, Edenfield Methodist Church and Bolton Road Methodist Church
YouTube playlist: Service at Home 23-08-2020
As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you can still use these sheets if you prefer, especially if you want to read the prayers.
Welcome and Introduction
Watch: Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home. This week we’re going to look at two Bible passages that help us to understand what the Church is and what worship is. These are important questions to answer as we discern when and how best to emerge from Lockdown and start to meet again in our buildings.
Watch: Opening prayers
Lord God, you are the ruler of the universe, even while the earth was without form you were King
And you will still reign when all things are brought to an end.
You are supreme and you will never be equalled.
You are power and might;
There is neither beginning nor end in you.
Lord, your love is as great as your power. You showed your amazing love for us through the gift of your Son, Jesus. We praise you and we thank you. Amen.
Father God, we are only too well aware that we are not the people you meant us to be. We are not living the kind of lives that you created us to live, and our words and thoughts and deeds are not bringing you the glory they were designed to do. Forgive us, Father, for the way that through our plans and dreams and choices we damage your world, we hurt each other and we create a barrier between ourselves and you. (we take a moment of quiet to call to mind the things we’ve done wrong) We ask that you will not only forgive us, but that by the power of your Holy Spirit you will cleanse and renew us. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
And now say the prayer that 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 that 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.
Prayers of intercession
Watch: Prayers of intercession
As disciples of Jesus, we join together to pray for the needs of the world.
Loving God, your suffering world needs your healing power. We pray that you will come swiftly to our rescue and turn the coronavirus away from its harmful path. We pray particularly for those who do not have access to good healthcare and government aid.
Lord, we ask you to strengthen, inspire and resource all those who are working with disadvantaged people in our nation and across the world.
Help us to be more aware of the injustices that are perpetrated in our name and to act to put things right.
We pray for those who are so desperate to make a new life in this country that they undertake dangerous journeys to reach our shores. Lord, we pray that a safe and compassionate way can be swiftly found to process asylum claims fairly and welcome those who need to come here.
We pray for those migrant workers in our country who, even during this pandemic, are denied access to public funds when they lose their jobs or fall sick. Forgive us for condemning them and their families to poverty and help us to put this injustice right.
We pray against all forms of prejudice. Help us to reflect your love and care for all people in what we say and do.
We pray for the young people of our nation. Please protect them and reassure them of your wonderful plans for their future. We ask that any young people who have been denied the university or college place or apprenticeship that they were hoping for will be provided with a good way forward.
We pray for our town. Lord, pour out your Spirit, renew your Church and turn everyone’s eyes and hearts to you.
Lord, we pray that you will use us, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, to bring your light, hope and love into the situations you guide us to.
We ask our prayers in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Readings and Sermon
Watch: Readings and Sermon
As we continue to discern when and how to best emerge from Lockdown and start meeting together again in our buildings, we’re forced to ask the questions “what is church” and “what is worship”? Therefore, when I read those two passages that we’ve just heard (the lectionary readings for today) two things jumped out at me. First, in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes the church that he has built. And second, in the letter to the Romans, Paul describes what is “true and proper worship”. Therefore, these passages provide us with some very topical and timely advice.
So let’s first look at what the passage from Matthew’s Gospel tells us about the Church. Jesus said that Peter was the rock on which his church would be built. This reminds us yet again that the Church is not a physical thing, like a building, and that the Church is the people. This is something that’s said a lot but I think Lockdown has really shown us how true this is. This is because we’ve continued as a church, even though our buildings have been closed. Perhaps this has even been a surprise for some people, to discover that we don’t actually need a building to be a church. Although it shouldn’t be a surprise as a lot of the fastest growing churches in the world don’t have buildings. This is something that we must bear in mind over the coming weeks as we start to use our buildings again. We mustn’t think that it’s all or nothing, that we either start using our buildings again exactly as we did before or keep them closed. We need to look at how our churches can best use their buildings and not let our buildings dictate what church is.
A small but very important detail in the conversation between Jesus and Peter is that Jesus said it is his church. It’s not the Circuit’s, it’s not the members’, it’s not the church council’s and it’s not the church leaders’: it belongs to Jesus. This means that the church must do what Jesus wants, and not we want. This reminds us that in the coming weeks, as we decide what to do as we come out of Lockdown, we must listen to what Jesus wants his church to do. It reminds us that we mustn’t think about what we want from church because it’s not our church. In the coming weeks, this might mean delaying things that we enjoy at church, and instead prioritise activities that serve others.
Also in that passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told Peter that he was the rock on which he would build his church. But Jesus didn’t just build his church on Peter: all disciples of Jesus throughout history have been the foundations of his church. Today, ordinary people like you and me are the foundations of his church. A church needs solid foundations if it is to grow and do the work of Jesus and be able to survive a storm like we’re in now. So how can we be solid foundations for our church? To answer this question, look at what Peter said immediately before Jesus described him as a rock. Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By calling him Christ, Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah sent by God to save us. This is what we need to do as well to make the church strong, we must proclaim Jesus as the saviour of the world! A church that boldly proclaims Jesus as Saviour is a strong church as it has solid foundations. A church that neglects to proclaim Jesus as Saviour becomes weak as its foundations begin to crumble. So over the coming weeks, as we continue to look at how best to be church in the current situation, make sure that proclaiming Jesus as our Saviour remains the top priority, so that the church remains strong.
In the final part of the passage from Matthew’s Gospel that we heard, Jesus tells Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In the context of Peter being the foundation of the church, it seems clear that Jesus was talking about the whole church, not just Peter personally. This tells us that the church, people like you and me, have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. This means that our churches are responsible for enabling others to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Isn’t that a massive responsibility?! We must not neglect this responsibility in the coming weeks.
Jesus also tells us that what the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever the church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. The words ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ were used at the time of Jesus to describe what was forbidden and permitted by Rabbis interpreting the Jewish laws. I think The Message translation of this verse is clearer: “A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.” This therefore tells us what the church decides is what is then decided in the Kingdom of Heaven. Does this mean that what we decide at a church council meeting is automatically agreed with by God? Does God think “well I wouldn’t have done that but if that’s what they’ve decided then I’ll have to along with it”? No of course not! The key thing to remember when understanding this verse is what we looked at just now: the church belongs to Jesus. Therefore, the church will only do what Jesus wants, and in that case the church and the Kingdom of Heaven become as one, and decisions made in one become the same as those made in the other. The church and the Kingdom of Heaven is in complete agreement. It reminds us that Jesus has given his church incredible authority to be God’s agents in this world, to act on His behalf. Over the coming weeks, as we discern how to be church, we need to remember this incredible authority that we’ve been given to act on God’s behalf in this world. When we act as the church of Jesus and do what he knows is best, then we can be certain that our decisions are right and we have the full support of our Father in Heaven. And if we have God on our side then we cannot fail! But we also need to remember that with this authority comes massive responsibility. Are you willing to accept that responsibility?
One of the decisions that we’re going to have to make in the coming weeks is when and how we start to worship in our buildings again. In particular, we need to decide how we’ll worship when we’re not allowed to sing or interact with each other. So let’s now look at what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans about what ‘true and proper’ worship is. Paul wrote: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship”.
What do you think of when people talk about worship? I think it’s common to think of worship as singing. This isn’t surprising as churches have a ‘worship time’ when we sing ‘worship songs’. But Paul doesn’t mention singing does he? Nor does he mention praying or sermons. No – Paul writes that worship is offering ourselves to God as a ‘living sacrifice’. What does Paul mean by this? He means we worship with our abilities and skills, some examples of which he lists in the passage, such as serving, teaching, prophesying, encouraging and giving. So when we do these things, we’re worshiping. We worship with our whole lives, with what we do and say, doing God’s work. Pertinently to our current situation, this tells us that we don’t actually need to step inside a church building at all to worship God, as we can offer ourselves to God wherever we are!
The passage from Romans also tells us what should motivate us to worship: it tells us that true and proper worship is motivated by God’s mercy for us. This means that true and proper worship isn’t for us to have a good time, singing our favourite hymns and hearing amusing anecdotes and chatting with our friends afterwards over a coffee. No - true and proper worship is our response to God sending us his son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, so that we can have an eternal life in His Kingdom.
It’s very important to remember why we worship, so that we can make sure that our worship is an expression of our love for God. It’s particularly important to remember why we worship at this time, when we’re faced with worshiping in new and different way ways that we’re not used to. For example, as you know, we’re not currently allowed to sing in church. Worship without singing seems very odd as singing is one of the best ways to express our love for God. So what do we do if we can’t sing? We simply need to find other ways to express how much we love God.
Finally, let’s look at something else that Jesus says in that passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus tells us something very reassuring about his Church. Jesus says that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it”. In these times of change and uncertainty, we’re obviously concerned about whether our churches will fully recover following Lockdown. And this is against a backdrop of general decline in church attendance in mainstream churches in this country. When we feel anxious about the church we need to remember that Jesus has promised us that his church will never fall. Jesus’ promise is of course for his whole world-wide church and individual churches and even whole denominations will inevitably come and go, but we can be certain that nothing, not even the powers of evil, will ever bring the Church down. World-wide, the church continues to grow and it will always continue to grow.
I’m going to finish now by summarising what those two passages from the Bible have taught us this morning about church and worship:
- The church is not the building and the building is just there to be used by the church.
- The church belongs to Jesus and therefore we need to listen to him and do what he wants and not what we want.
- A church has a solid foundation when it proclaims the truth about Jesus.
- God has given the church authority to act on His behalf in this world, which is a massive responsibility that we cannot ignore.
- Worship is an expression of our love for God and our gratitude for His mercy, and we can express this in many ways.
We need to keep these points in mind when we’re deciding when and how to start using our Church buildings again.
Prayer for the Church
Dear Lord, help us to never forget the authority that you’ve given us and the enormous responsibility that this entails. Help us to accept this responsibility and not neglect it.
Lord, help us to never forget that the church is yours and therefore help us to listen to you and discern what you want your church to do. Help us to remember that the church is there for you and not for us. Help us to put aside all selfish desires and pride and strive only for what you want your church to do. Help us to find new and effective ways to proclaim the Gospel.
So Lord, over the coming weeks, as we decide how to start using our buildings again, help us to hear you clearly. Remind us to stop and listen to you before rushing into things based on our own ideas. Give us discernment and wisdom through your Spirit living in us.
Remind us as well, Lord, over the coming weeks why we worship you, so that our worship is always pleasing to you, regardless of where or how we do it.
Lord, we know that our true and proper worship includes offering all that we are and have to you. We know that we worship you when we use our gifts and abilities to do your work. Lord, in a moment of quiet tell us the gifts and abilities that we have that you want us to use to do your work…….
And Lord, at this time of change, trouble and uncertainty, reassure us that you’re always there for us. Reassure us that nothing will ever stop your church proclaiming the Gospel and that your church will never fail…..