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Service at Home – 7th February 2021

for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church

YouTube playlist: Service at Home 07-02-2021

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 look at when Jesus went to pray in a solitary place and Peter’s vision when he was in Joppa. We’ll see why these events show us how important it is for us to listen to God and how we can hear God clearly.

Watch: You're the Word of God the Father

Watch: Way Maker Miracle Worker (that is who You are)

Opening prayers

Watch: Opening prayers

Dear Lord, help us to be still now in your awesome and holy presence.  Help us to trust you more completely. Help us to remember that you are always ready to guide us, that nothing is impossible for you and that you always keep your promises.  You are constantly working for our good, even when we aren’t aware of it.  We thank you and we praise you.  Draw us close to you and help us to learn your ways and to live in them.

As we come into your holy presence, we are conscious of the many ways in which we’ve fallen short of the way you want us to live our lives.  We thank you that your love for us is unconditional, you always welcome us with joy, whatever we have done.  In a moment of quiet we remember the things we’ve done wrong and we say sorry.

Lord, we thank you that when we are truly sorry, we are always forgiven.  Grant us your help to live our lives.  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.

Watch: In Christ Alone

Prayers of intercession, Gospel reading and Narrative

Watch: Prayers of intercession, Gospel reading and Narrative

Prayers of intercession by Pete from Bolton Road

Lord God, Heavenly Father,

We come into your presence to kneel at your feet, in confidence, assured that when two or three are gathered in your name you will grant their requests. We praise you that despite our sinful nature, you don’t turn your face from us, rather you delight in our prayer.

We pray for the whole world, Lord, and for governments throughout the world, that you would give them the wisdom to make the right decisions to bring the pandemic to an end.  We thank you for the advances in science and medicine, and for the speedy development of the vaccines. We ask that you would inspire governments to work together to ensure that poorer, less powerful countries would not be left out as the vaccines are distributed.

We think of so many lives turned upside down because of the pandemic:  jobs lost, businesses closing down, children having to adapt to new daily routines, many services we usually take for granted now unavailable.  Father, we pray that where there are psychological impacts on people, the support will be available.

We pray for families, Lord, having to stay at home together, with nowhere to go, and we pray for relationships under strain. We pray for all young people growing up in institutions, not knowing the love of a family. And we bring before you all those struggling to get through each day because of loneliness, anxiety and depression, those living in fear, those scarred by abuse or being bullied, and those who feel they just don’t fit in. We also pray for the hungry and homeless, that provision would be made for them.

We continue to pray for all medical professionals working under so much pressure that many are getting burnt out.

And we think about our own church fellowship, minister and stewards, and we look forward to the time when we might come together face to face to worship you. We ask, Lord, that you would bring your healing touch to those known to us who are ill or mourning the loss of a loved one.

We know you can change any situation, Lord, and we need to be available when you call us to do your work, in the knowledge that you will equip and prepare us.  So we ask that through the power of your Holy Spirit, you would use the gifts you have bestowed on us.

And lastly, we pray for all those who, because of a lack of proper fellowship, may feel that their relationship with you has stagnated, that you would wake us from our slumbers and stir us.

We come boldly in the precious name of Jesus.

Amen

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:29-39 (Jesus prays in a solitary place)

Narrative: ‘What made him decide to do that?’

When we got up in the morning, Jesus had gone. Where’d he gone?  Why had he left the house so early in the morning?

I’d gone to bed thinking how well things were going. Jesus had been amazing everybody in the synagogue with his teaching.  He’d been healing the sick.  He’d been driving out demons.  Everybody in Capernaum had come to the house to hear him speak.

But then, in the morning, he’d gone. Was he going to come back?  Was it something we’d said?  Had he gone to find some better disciples?

Very soon, people started gathering outside the house again, all wanting to see Jesus.  The crowd started to get impatient when Jesus didn’t appear and to be honest it was starting to get a bit awkward. What were we supposed to do?  We were too embarrassed to go out to tell them that Jesus had gone and we didn’t know where he was.  I mean, we were supposed to be his disciples!

So we thought we’d better go and look for him.  At least it would get us away from the increasingly restless crowd!  So we went out, shouted “we’ll be back soon” and walked away briskly, trying to look as if we knew where we were going!

Luckily, we soon saw Jesus in the distance.  He was sitting on the top of a small hill just outside the town, silhouetted against the morning sky.  That hill is one of my favourite places.  It’s quiet and peaceful up there, with only the sounds of birds singing, insects humming and sheep bleating.  There’s a wonderful view out over the Sea of Galilee and in the morning the rising sun is reflected in the lake, making the surface of the water look like shimmering gold.

When we reached Jesus I quickly told him that everyone was looking for him.  Actually, I was feeling rather pleased with myself. I expected Jesus to jump to his feet, thank me for telling him, and quickly head back to the house.  I mean, surely he’d want to continue teaching and healing the crowds, wouldn’t he?

He looked up at me and said quietly, “let’s go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so that I can preach there as well.  That’s why I’ve come.”

I just stood there, open mouthed and looked at him in disbelief.  I couldn’t understand why he wanted to leave behind the crowds in Capernaum that were waiting for him.  I couldn’t understand why he wanted to go to villages where we weren’t known and a long way from our homes.  I couldn’t understand why he was going to turn his back on what was going so well and take such a big risk.

It left me wondering why Jesus had made what seemed such a strange decision. What had happened when Jesus was there by himself in that place that morning?

Watch: Lord you have my heart

Epistle reading and Sermon

Watch: Epistle reading and Sermon

Epistle Reading: Acts 10:1-23 (Peter’s vision)

Sermon

As we imagined in the narrative just now, the disciples must have been very surprised when Jesus suddenly announced that they were moving on from Capernaum. It must have seemed completely illogical to them as things were going really well in Capernaum. Mark tells us that the whole town had gone to see him the previous day and there was already a crowd waiting to see him that morning. So why leave? Surely Jesus still had a lot to do there.

Peter’s friends must have been even more surprised when he suddenly decided to travel to Caesarea to meet with a Roman soldier, called Cornelius. This is because up until then, Peter and the other apostles thought that Jesus had come only for the Jews, who they believed to be God’s one and only chosen people. And more than that, Jews at that time, including Peter, regarded people who weren’t Jews as unclean and unacceptable to God, and so they wouldn’t associate with them and wouldn’t go into their homes. So think how surprised Peter’s friends must have been when he coolly stated that he was going off to stay with a Roman. Again, it seemed completely illogical to them.

These two seemingly illogical decisions, made by Jesus and Peter, have something in common. It’s easy to see now, looking back, that both decisions were absolutely the correct one and were pivotal in the ministry of Jesus and Peter respectively. And both decisions were made after they’d been praying somewhere quiet by themselves. In Jesus’ case he got up very early in the morning, when it was still dark, and went by himself to pray in what’s described as a solitary place. I imagine it as being on top of a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, but it doesn’t matter where it was, other than it was solitary.

In Peter’s case it was on the roof of a friend’s house. You might think it’s a bit strange to climb on to a roof to pray but, of course, houses in that part of world at that time had flat rooves, in fact they often still do, which had stairs up to them. So for Peter, sitting on the roof was a bit like us sitting in our garden. He didn’t have to climb a ladder or balance precariously on sloping tiles! So please don’t take this passage too literally and start climbing on to the roof of your house to pray, especially not at this time of year. I don’t want to hear about any roof related injuries or the fire brigade having to be called out to get you back down.

So, what does all this tell us today? It tells us five things:

First, it tells us that we need to pray so that God can make sure that we make the right decisions and get involved in His work. We must remember that if Jesus – the Son of God - needed to pray then we can be absolutely certain that we need to as well! And similarly, if Peter, who was the rock on which the church was built and had been filled with the Spirit at Pentecost needed to pray, then so do we. It would be stupid and arrogant to think that we can do God’s work without bothering to listen to Him, when Jesus and Peter, and the countless great men and women of God through the generations, have needed to pray.

Second, we need to set aside reasonable lengths of time to pray. Jesus got up while it was still dark to have plenty of time and Peter was on the roof long enough for him to get hungry. So Jesus and Peter obviously set aside quite a bit of time to pray. I realise that it can be difficult to set aside time to pray, because we’re in the habit of being busy and not having any spare time, but that’s no excuse as we need to create time by making it a priority. There’s nothing wrong with snatching just a few minutes, or even seconds, to pray in response to something that’s just happened or that you’ve just heard about, or when you suddenly need help from God (like when I’m writing a sermon). But you need much longer than that to properly listen to what God is saying to you. At least half an hour and preferably several hours. A whole day in a retreat centre is ideal. Perhaps if you’ve got more spare time than usual during the Lockdown, now would be a good time to get into the habit of spending time listening to God.

Third, we need to get rid of distractions so that we can hear God clearly. This is why Jesus and Peter went off by themselves to somewhere quiet, where they wouldn’t be distracted. And it’s not just being somewhere quiet that’s important. It’s even more important that we have quiet in our heads, free from distracting thoughts. It’s no good going off and spending a day in a retreat centre, for example, and then worry about all the things you need to do when you get home. Many of us aren’t good with silence and we put on the radio when we’re driving or working. And many people find silence in a conversation embarrassing and combat this by talking non-stop. But silence when we’re praying is a good thing as it gives God a chance to get a word in!

Fourth, we must be open to the various ways that God can communicate with us. We heard that God spoke to Cornelius through an angel, and there are several other times in the New Testament when an angel passes on a message. Just think of Mary and the shepherds, which we heard about over Christmas. And it still happens today: I’ve heard of a few people who’ve been given a message by an angel. We also heard that Peter was given a vision, or a picture, by God and heard God describing it in what to Peter was an audible voice. In my experience, God often tells us things through pictures. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s true. And it’s easy to remember a picture - I can still vividly recall pictures that God gave me many years ago. And sometimes, as in Peter’s case, the picture develops and God explains what it means. And then we’re told that the Spirit spoke to Peter, which from the different description suggests that it wasn’t the same as the voice he’d heard before. So it was probably a thought that came into his head, which Peter recognised as being from God. And sometimes the Spirit speaks to us through what other people say to us and through what we see happening.

And fifth, it tells us that when we listen to God we must be prepared to hear Him tell us to do something unexpected. Jesus probably wasn’t expecting what he heard that morning. Why move on when things were going so well in Capernaum, with a crowd waiting for him? And why move on when it was much more convenient to stay at Peter’s house? And for Peter, what he heard was even more surprising, as it was contrary to his Jewish beliefs and traditions. The vision of the animals and God’s accompanying instructions told Peter that he must leave behind his Jewish customs and go with the three men to Caesarea, to take the Good News to the Gentiles. As strange as it seemed at Peter at that time.

So, when we listen to God, we must be prepared for to hear Him telling us to do things that seem strange: things that challenge our pre-conceived ideas or don’t even seem possible. We should especially expect this at the moment, during the COVID-19 crisis, at a time when we can’t do what we’ve done before, but when there are new opportunities to do God’s work and build His Kingdom. Perhaps God is challenging you, like Peter, to start working with people you wouldn’t normally associate with. But conversely, don’t expect to always hear God telling you to do something new and exciting. When I was on my last retreat before I took early retirement, when I was still expecting to work for quite a few more years, I was badgering God about what he wanted me to do. God simply told me that it would be obvious at the time. To be honest, I didn’t find that very helpful and was a bit disappointed, but 6 months later, after I’d left work, it made perfect sense. I think most of us would like to know in advance what God’s plans for us are but that’s not the way God works. Think about Peter in Joppa. God didn’t tell him that he was going to take the Good News to the Gentiles until a couple of minutes before he needed to know. This is why it’s important to keep listening to God. We need to keep giving God an opportunity to speak to us and guide us, when the time is right.

Finally, remember that if you do these 5 things:

  1. Recognise the need to pray;
  2. Set aside decent amounts of time to pray;
  3. Get rid of distractions when you pray;
  4. Be open to the various ways that God can communicate with us; and
  5. Be prepared to hear God tell us to do something unexpected.

…then God will speak to you.

You are God’s precious child who He loves very much, and God wants to get you involved in what He’s doing, so of course He wants to speak to you. You just need to make the effort to listen.

Watch: Speak, O Lord, as we come to you

Meditative Prayer

Watch: Meditative Prayer

As I said, we’re now going to have a meditative prayer for us to listen to what God is saying to us. To help you to listen, I’m going to invite you to imagine that you’re in a solitary place - like Jesus was.  Somewhere outside that’s nice, quiet and warm.  Somewhere where you can be by yourself, alone with God.

Think about where it might be. It could be a place in the country that you know or even in your back garden.  It could be somewhere that you remember from your childhood.   It could be somewhere you’ve been while on holiday.  Or it could be somewhere in your imagination – perhaps somewhere like the solitary place where we imagined Jesus prayed, on top of a small grassy hill, watching the sun rise over a beautiful lake.

Please get comfortable and close your eyes………….

Think about your special, solitary place.  Imagine yourself being there now…….

In your imagination, have a look around you.  What do you see?

What can you hear?  Perhaps the sound of birds singing?

Feel the warm sun shining on you.

Enjoy the feeling of peaceful solitude……….

But you’re not alone because God is with you.  God is everywhere.  God created everything.  In your imagination, look at the beauty around you and see God in its creation………..

God is in you.  God’s love is in your heart.  God loves you more than you can possibly imagine.  He loves you exactly as you are.  He knows all your faults and all the things that you’ve done wrong and he doesn’t love you any less.  You are his precious child.

Now think about anything that’s upsetting you at the moment.

Are you unwell?  If so, ask God to heal you ……….

Are you feeling unhappy or worried about anything else?  Think about what it is…..

Now give everything that’s upsetting you to God.  Ask God now to take away all your worries and to give you peace.

Empty your mind of any distracting thoughts. Feel God’s love and peace surrounding you now in the stillness……..

God is with you, wanting to talk to you.  Listen now to what God says to you or shows you…………

Thank you Lord for speaking to us.

Lord, we pray that you’ll keep each one of us safe from harm and close to you in the coming days and weeks.

Amen.

Watch: Take my life and let it be