for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church
YouTube playlist: Service at Home 17-01-2021
As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you may want to use these sheets if you prefer to read the words.
Welcome and Introduction
Watch: Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home. Today we’re going to look at how God knows each one of us personally, and that He’s always with us, giving us strength. As I’m sure you agree, this is especially reassuring at this difficult time. We’ll also look at how we can use this to lead other people to Jesus.
Watch: Reckless love
Opening Prayer written by Revd Dr Christine Jones
Watch: Opening Prayer
Loving, gracious God, you know what I want to say even before I speak the words, and for that I am so thankful. Even when I struggle to find the words to worship you, you know what is in my heart. So, knowing your presence will surround me, and your love sustain me, may I have the assurance you will hear and accept my spoken and unspoken words, for wherever I go, you will be there. Amen
Loving, gracious God, I confess before you the things I’ve done wrong and the times I’ve turned away from your loving care, trusting in my own strength instead.
(Take time to talk to God in the quiet of your own heart)
Thank you that because of your great love for me, you have paid for my wrongdoing and I am forgiven. 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 & Psalm
Prayers of intercession
In faith let us pray to God our Father, in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God of love, we pray for the life of your Church throughout the world. May every congregation be a community of love and every Christian a witness to your grace. We pray that you will renew us and shape us so that we may be a living fellowship in your Spirit and serve our neighbourhood.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
God of mercy, we pray for the life of the world. We pray for everyone affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. We pray for all NHS workers that you will sustain and resource them at this difficult time. We pray for those in other countries who don’t have access to the medical care they need and for healthcare workers who lack the resources they need to save lives. We pray for a fairer world in which resources are shared and nations cooperate with each other for good.
We thank you for the vaccines that have been developed and we pray that these will be available to those throughout the world who need them.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
We pray for those who exercise power. We ask you to guide and inspire them in the difficult decisions they need to make for the safety of their people.
We pray for the USA as they prepare for the transition to a new regime. We pray against hate speech and division and we ask you for a peaceful new beginning filled with your hope and blessing.
Show us how to live as members of the human family; to reject the ways of war; to bear each other’s burdens and to work together for justice and peace.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
God of compassion, we pray for those who are ill or anxious at home or in hospital. We pray for Edna, Albert, Marjorie and Norma.
We pray for those who have lost loved ones. We ask you to comfort and protect Ros and her family.
We pray for those whose lives are filled with fear and despair. Draw near with your saving love and bring healing and hope.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
Merciful God, we ask our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Watch: He will hold me fast
Gospel reading and sermon
Watch: Gospel reading and sermon
The two readings that we heard have something important in common: they both tell us that God knows each one of us personally and that He’s always with us and knows what we’re thinking.
Looking at the passage from John’s Gospel first, as Nathanael approached, Jesus said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. Jesus described his character and what he thought. Nathanael replied “How do you know me?”, which tells us two things: first, that Jesus’ statement about hm was correct; and second that they hadn’t met before and so there was no way that Jesus should have been able to know that about him. But Jesus then takes things to another level when he tells Nathanael that he’d seen him sat under the fig tree just before Philip had found him. And it’s obvious from Nathanael’s reaction, proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God, that it was true that he had been sitting under a fig tree.
Now, if God knew Nathanael’s nature and what he’d been doing, then we can be certain that He knows each one of us too and what we’re thinking, and he knows what we do and say. Nathanael, from his reaction, was clearly freaked out by Jesus knowing what he’d been doing. And perhaps he was embarrassed that Jesus had heard him suggest that nothing good could come from Nazareth! (Jesus came from Nazareth, of course). It would be easy for us to feel uncomfortable when we think about God being able to see us every second of every day. And it would be easy to imagine that God is watching us to make sure that we don’t misbehave, like the police watching us with CCTV cameras in a town centre.
But that’s not what God is doing at all, and Psalm 139 makes it much clearer. So let’s now look at Psalm 139 and see what it tells us.
It starts by telling us that, as Nathanael discovered, God knows each one of us personally, and He knows our thoughts and what we say even before we’ve said it. And God knows what we do, when we sit and we rise, when we go out and when we lie down. God sees everything that we do. But the psalmist, probably King David, isn’t worried about this apparent intrusion into his privacy. In fact, quite the opposite, he regards it as a very good thing, a great blessing. Listen to what the psalmist sings to God in verses 5 and 6, from the New Living Translation: “You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” So don’t think of it as God watching you to catch you doing something wrong, think of it as God being with each one us, surrounding us with love and taking care of us. That really is so wonderful to know, isn’t it?!
It’s a bit like when Kathy and I are looking after our grandchildren (which we’re allowed to because we’re in a childcare bubble, in case you wonder). We constantly watch them and stay close to them. We don’t do this because we’re trying to catch them doing something naughty so that we can tell them off, we do it to keep them safe and to encourage them and help them to have a good time. We do it to show that we love them. This is the same reason that God watches over us, to keep us safe, to encourage us, to make sure that we have as good a time as possible and to show that He loves us.
Psalm 139 also makes it clear that God knows each one of us personally. He knows your character, what you’re thinking, what you’re worried about and what your hopes are. Think how wonderful it is that God, the all-powerful creator or the universe, knows you, as an individual, even better than you know yourself.
How does God know you so well? God knows you because he made you. God knows you like an artist knows a picture he has painted. God knows you like an architect knows a building that he’s designed. God knows you like a programmer knows the software he’s developed. And this tells us that God made us as He meant us to be. Whether you’re strong or weak, good at exams or academically challenged, able or with disabilities, you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God, as the psalmist sung. Be assured that You are a perfect creation in God’s sight. We often don’t feel like we’re a perfect creation do we? But always remember that if God sees you as a perfect creation, then you should see yourself as a perfect creation too.
The psalmist also sings that God is with him wherever he is. At first, the psalmist makes it sound a bit menacing, as if he’s trying to get away from God but wherever he goes, God finds him. But then when we get to verse 10, which says “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. It’s then clear that the psalmist is praising God for always being with him, wherever he is. So always remember that wherever you are, at home or on the other side of the world, God is with you. Even when you’re in a dark place, surrounded by threats or in a dark place mentally, then God is there with you. No amount of darkness can hide you from God, God’s light shines into any darkness and can find you. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, then God’s hand will guide you and hold you fast. Or as it’s put in the New Living Translation, God’s strength will support you. At this time in particular, when we’re surrounded by fear, suffering and sadness, isn’t it wonderful to know that God is with us: before us and behind us, leading us on and giving us strength. Isn’t it wonderful to know that God has his hand upon you, blessing you?
We’re now going to look at the passage from John’s Gospel again but from a different point of view. We heard that Philip believed that Jesus is the Son of God and he led Nathanael to believe as well. Isn’t this what we want to do as well – to lead our friends into a relationship with Jesus? So let’s see what we can learn from what happened.
It didn’t start well. Philip put up a good argument for Jesus being the Son of God, pointing to what the prophets had foretold. But what did Nathanael say: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael obviously didn’t believe what Philip had told him. Isn’t this what happens so often when we tell our friends about Jesus? Like Philip, we put forward a great argument for there being a God who loves them and wants to save them, but then our friend, like Nathanael, makes a flippant remark and clearly doesn’t believe. It’s because they’ve been blinded by the things of the world and so cannot see the truth, even though the truth is so clear to us.
But then Nathanael very quickly changed his mind and proclaimed that Jesus is the Son of God. He changed his mind simply because Jesus described his character and said he’d seen him under a fig tree. As Jesus himself put it, in verse 50, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.” I imagine that Jesus was smiling when he said that, amused because he knew that if Nathanael had been impressed by that, he was going to be absolutely amazed by what he’d see over the next few years.
What does this teach us today about leading people to Jesus? It teaches us that if we tell them something about themselves that we couldn’t possibly have known except by a supernatural method, then they’ll very quickly believe that there is a God and they’ll believe the truth about Jesus. Now, you might be thinking that just because Jesus did that 2000 years ago in the Holy Land, how can you be expected to do it today, in Greater Manchester? What we need to remember is that Jesus was, at that time, a man, so he could not have seen Nathanael under the fig tree. But our Father in Heaven could see Nathanael and He told Jesus, through His Spirit, so that Jesus could tell Nathanael so that he’d believe. And we also need to remember that God hasn’t changed. Our Father in Heaven, who knows each one of us and sees what every single person does, says and thinks, still speaks to each of us through His Spirit, just as He spoke to His Son that day.
And if you’re still struggling to believe that you could do this sort of thing, remember the words of Jesus in John 14 verse 12: “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”. Which means that we can do whatever Jesus did and more, as incredible as this seems.
Using what God tells us about someone really is a very effective way of leading people to Jesus. It’s even got a name – it’s called prophetic evangelism. I’ve read books and heard people talking about it and it’s wonderful how just the smallest bit of detail about someone can open up a conversation and end with that person turning to Jesus. But, of course, we need to do our bit.
First, we need to listen to God speaking to us through His Spirit living in us. How often have I said that over the last weeks? It keeps coming up! But perhaps it’s not a coincidence, perhaps God’s trying to tell us that we need to listen to Him!
Second, we need to recognise God’s voice. This can often be the difficult bit! How do we know it’s God voice and not just our own thought that pops into our head or our imagination? In my experience, God’s words tend to come from out of the blue, not part of a train of thought. And I seem to be able to remember God’s words better than my own thoughts, as if someone said it to me, which of course He did! Like most things, it takes practice. The more often you recognise God’s voice, the easier it becomes.
Third, you need to use the information that God has given you. It can take a lot of courage to go up to a stranger and tell them something personal about themselves and then start talking to them about Jesus. But don’t worry because, as we heard in the words of the Psalm: “God’s strength will support you”. Just be obedient to God and trust that He will give you courage and the right words to say, and leave the rest to Him.
Just a word of warning though, God will never give you something to say that’s judgemental or unloving. We’re just talking about a very small piece of information, maybe an illness they have, the reason that they’re upset or someone’s name.
So, will you do your bit? Will you listen to God and use what He tells you to lead people to Him? So that they too will understand that He knows them personally, and is always with them, giving them strength and blessing them.
Watch: You Never Let Go
Closing Prayer based on Psalm 139
Watch: Closing Prayer
Dear Lord, our Father in Heaven, you know me even better than I know myself. You know everything about me, including what I’m like, what I do and what I think. You know my hopes and fears even better than I can describe them to myself. Lord I thank you that you, the creator of the universe, know me personally and take so much interest in me.
Lord, wherever I am, you are there with me, in front of me and behind me. Leading me and protecting me, with your hand upon me to bless me. Lord, even when fear and worry become overwhelming and darkness closes in around me, I know that you are with me. I know that no darkness can ever hide me from you and that your light will always shine into the darkness. I know that whatever happens, your hand will hold me fast and your strength will support me.
Lord, in a moment of quiet, help me to feel you with me, with your hand upon me to bless me………….
Lord, help me to never forget that you created me as you wanted me to be, that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, perfect in your sight. Lord, help me to always see myself and others as your perfect creation.
Lord, help me to never forget the very many people who don’t know of your love, who are living in darkness blind to your light shining around them. Lord, give me the words I need to open their minds to you, so that they turn to you and become aware of your love and care surrounding them. Help me to hear you clearly and to recognise your voice. Help me to always have courage and to be obedient. Help me to trust that I can do what doesn’t seem possible when I do it in your name, in the power of your Spirit.
Lord, in a moment of quiet, fill me afresh with your Spirit so that I can hear you and recognise your voice, so that you can use me to make new disciples……..
Thank you, Lord. Amen.
Watch: Who you say I am