Service of worship
“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:6 NIV)
We join together, wherever we are, to sing the Lord’s praise, to listen for the Lord’s word, and to pray for the Lord’s world.
Wherever we are, let us take time to appreciate God’s goodness to us, the wonders of creation, and most especially, the love shown in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We come to you in awe of you, and adore you,
in awe of your glory, your power, and most all, your love.
As we come to know your presence in this world and in our lives
We marvel at the depth of your love.
We wonder at the power of your grace.
We are amazed by your glorious creation:
In its microscopic details, and in its vastness.
We realise the privilege it is to be called your children,
accepted and forgiven and embraced.
You are almighty, above and beyond all the things of the earth.
You are victorious over darkness, sin and death.
You are holy, beautiful and full of love.
Your glory is everlasting!
We come to you in awe of you, and adore you,
in awe of your glory, your power, and most all, your love.
Most gracious God,
As we come to you in awe, we are aware of the failings of our lives.
We fail to see your presence in our day to day lives, and fail to appreciate your love.
We let the demands of our lives and our concerns for the things of this world, get in the way of our trust in you.
We cry out “How long?” but we fail to listen for your answer.
We get caught up in conflict and frustration with one another, and in frustration with ourselves.
We put ourselves first, and we resent what others have.
We show pride and not forgiveness, greed and not compassion.
We rely on the wisdom of the world, rather than your wisdom.
We seek the peace of the world, rather than your peace.
We seek security in worldly things, rather than in the grace of your Son.
Forgive us, gracious God, all of these things.
Open our hearts by your Holy Spirit so that we may know your grace, and live forgiven lives to you glory,
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Assurance of forgiveness
The apostle Peter assures us:
“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish... You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:18-19,23)
Friends, in Christ, our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Sin, forgiveness and consequence
Prayers of Intercession
Last week I commenced our prayers with a prayer prepared by the Jesuits in America, a country perhaps more than any other, at this time, in need of our prayers. Today, I am sharing a “Pandemic Prayer” prepared by Rev Margaret Reeson, of Gungahlin Uniting Church in the ACT. It is offered as it was written, in the first person tense.
Lord, I have never travelled this way before.
I don’t recognise this track at all.
Road signs are twisted and unreadable.
I have no idea where it is leading.
Please shine some light on my path and if that is not possible just now, please hold my hand in the dark.
Lord, my friends have never travelled this way before.
They are stumbling along just as I am.
They ask a neighbour for directions, but
‘Sorry, I am a stranger here myself’, they say.
Please hold my friends and this community in your safe embrace, even when I cannot offer a hug.
Lord, our church leaders have never travelled this way before.
There is no simple roadmap, no precedent to follow.
They long to give reassurance and a word from you
But the familiar ways of connecting are being taken away each day.
Please give our church leaders hearts of love, spirits of grace and minds of deep wisdom.
Lord, our national leaders and decision makers have never travelled this way before.
Crushing responsibilities have suddenly landed on them without warning.
Everywhere they turn they are faced with another crisis, another catastrophe.
They are isolated from international support as every nation is struggling.
Please give all those in authority the wisdom to listen to the very best advice and to act responsibly for the wellbeing of this whole besieged nation.
Lord, as we all blunder along in uncertainty and anxiety,
We give thanks for beautiful autumn weather, for clean air, for water in our taps, a roof over our head, the benefits of electricity, telephones and the internet, for food on our table.
We give thanks for time to read, and listen to music, and create craft and quilts and books and photography, and to make art.
Speak to our hearts in this strangest period we have ever lived.
At this time of upheaval and distress for nations and people across our world, may your love hold us together.
May your love be the lens through which we see each other and your world.
May we all be encouraged to use this special season as an opportunity to invite those who are not regular attenders at church to link into our website, or that of some other church. Encourage us!
Within our congregation, we give you thanks that we have not experienced any members succumbing to the virus. Keep us, and those at risk in our families, safe we pray.
We pray for those who need healing and comfort in these uncertain times, especially those who have lost their jobs.
We pray for all our members who are confronted with major lifestyle decisions that they will experience wisdom as they assess the options before them.
We pray for those members undergoing medical tests and treatments as they continue their respective medical interventions.
We uphold before you your servant Richie as he provides leadership during these times of unprecedented challenges to our health, mental stability and economic circumstances.
Holy God, you encourage us when doubtful to draw closer to you.
Allow us to recognise your Holy Spirit as our guide, comforter, and companion.
And so we offer these prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray, to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Psalm 13 (NIV)
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
1 Peter 1:17-23 (NIV)
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
It’s May 1975, and seven-year-old me is ready to go on holidays. It’s six o’clock in the morning, and I’m in the backseat of the family car, ready to go on holidays. I’ve got everything I need: some lollies to keep me going, a notepad to record the journey, a puzzle book to keep me occupied and a pillow so I can have a bit of a doze. My sister, similarly equipped, sitting on the opposite side of the flat vinyl bench seat – all set… Noosa Heads, here we come! Only 1,100 odd kilometres to go! That was the record for my childhood road trips – it was a day and a half of constant travel… Of course, this was 1975: none of this take a break every two hours that we have today, no cds or casettes in those days either… and air conditioning wouldn’t arrive in our family car for a few years yet.
And after about an hour of travel, we’d crossed the Hawkesbury, about half the lollies were eaten, I was feeling slightly car sick from doing some of my puzzle book, and there was still more than a thousand km to go. At which point, I’m pretty sure I asked my parents – as millions of children had done before and have done since, “Are we there yet?”
And not too long after, I’m fairly certain my sister asked, ‘How long to go?’
I’m sure that most of us can relate to those questions – if not the whole family road trip – whether as children or parents (or both). We’ve started on a journey, and we have our hearts and minds set on the destination, and we just want to get there. “How long?” we ask.
The lollies and the puzzle books can be distractions along the way, but really, we don’t want to be in that car – we want to get where we’re going. “Are we there yet?”, we ask.
And of course, we ask those questions about all kinds of things, not just long and boring car trips. We want to get through the tedium, the hard work, sometimes even the pain, and get to the good part. And yes, sometimes there are distractions along the way, but we are, so often, focused on what’s next.
When we stopped meeting in our church building, and went to putting our services on-line and in-the-mail, the most common question I was asked was “How long will we be doing that for?”
And that question expressed not only a desire for information, but also a desire to be back doing church in church together again.
Unfortunately though, we don’t know for how long we’ll be doing it this way. We’ll be doing it for as long as we have to, and while we may all understand that, it doesn’t stop us asking each other “How long?”. And neither does it stop us asking God, “How long?”
In fact it’s the question that the Psalmist – David – asks God in today’s Old Testament reading – in fact he goes further than simply asking how long:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Ps 13:1-2a)
That’s not the sort of language we expect from the Psalms, is it? We’re much more used to ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the ungodly’ for instance, from Psalm 1, or ‘As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after God’ from Psalm 42 and most famously of all: that ‘The Lord is my shepherd and I will want for nothing’ from Psalm 23.
But of the 150 psalms, more than a third of them are generally considered to be laments – and if you like you can substitute the word ‘complaint’ for ‘lament’. In fact, they’re the single largest grouping of psalms we have.
Psalm 13, and the other Psalms of lament, were considered important enough not only to be written down, but to form part of what was effectively the hymn book of the nation of Israel. Ancient Israel was a tough place to be, and people, from the King down, had a hard time. And they shared that with God.
If we think of the book of Psalms as the hymn book of the nation of Israel, it makes sense that we know the psalms of wisdom, of praise and the thanksgiving better than the laments, just like we know some our modern hymns better than others. After all, our hymns cover a range of occasions, a range of needs and a range of emotions. Some are used frequently, others not. “Abide with me” is a great hymn, but doesn’t get used much other than at funerals…
The psalms of lament are a part of our scriptures, and one of the great lessons of the psalms is that it is okay to be honest with God about how we feel. Of course, God already knows and so it doesn’t really make sense to try to hide that from God. When we pray, we need to open our hearts to God: It is okay to share our feelings with God, even the ones we might be embarrassed about, or those we have over and over again. We need to bring God our biggest concerns - and if we’re frustrated or angry with God then we shouldn’t pretend otherwise
And I think that, at the moment, most of us will be asking God “How long?”. Not just about what’s happening at church, but about what’s happening in our world, our society and our own lives. And It’s okay to ask.
As we read Psalm 13, we see that David moves on from simply asking “How long?” – he writes “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” (Ps 13:3-4)
He moves on from complaining to God, to asking for God’s help. “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God”. Remember me. “Give light to my eyes”. Help me to see what is going on.
So, as we all ask God “How long?” we need to ask God to give light to our eyes too. To see what’s going on in the world and in our church – and indeed to guide us in what we can do to help.
In his letter to the Philippians (4:6-7), Paul writes: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Having asked God “how long?”, and then asked God for help, David models what Paul writes about and moves on to declaring his faith in God, and his thanksgiving to God:
“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Ps 13:5-6)
Our prayers are so often requests to God, petitions for particular things, but we need to remember that our prayers should not simply be petitions, but conversations with God – we need to, as David did, bring our requests before God with thanksgiving. And, as we do that, we receive the peace of God.
David’s prayer is not based on some vague hope in the future, but is based on the love that God has already shown him, love that never fails, even if David did the wrong thing (and he did!). “I will sing to the Lord,” says David, “because he has dealt bountifully with me” or, more simply in other translations “…because he has been good to me.” David knew, as we should know, If God has been good, then God will be good. No matter what our circumstances may look like today.
And that’s what Peter is telling us in our New Testament reading when he says “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” (1 Peter 1:18). He says you were ransomed – it’s been done. The price has been paid. When Jesus gave himself up on the cross, for us, all that was necessary for our salvation was accomplished.
And that was just as God had planned. As Peter wrote: “He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.”
When my family set out for Noosa Heads in 1975, we looked forward to arriving there… but it was necessary to travel for a day and a half to get there. And it wasn’t a day and a half of fun. It was boring and it was uncomfortable. And yes, we said “Are we there yet?” and “How long?” many, many times – and I’m sure much to my parents’ frustration.
But you know what? When we got there, it was great. There was the beach, and the river, and the Big Pineapple, the Ginger factory, we even went to a rodeo. Never did we say “How long?” or “Is it time to go home yet?”. Because when things are going well, we tend not to ask those questions.
Once we started out for home, though, “How long?” was asked again pretty quickly.
And so it will be with our current situation. We wonder how long it will be until Coronavirus restrictions are lifted – or at least eased. How long it will be until we can visit friends again. How long before we can go out for dinner again. How long before we can go on holidays. How long it will be before we can gather for worship together in our church building.
When the restrictions are eased or lifted, we will celebrate: We will greet each other at church with renewed passion and enthusiasm. We will sing more loudly, and be more grateful for our musicians. The fellowship at morning tea with be stronger than ever. We won’t be asking God “How long?”
Except, soon enough, we will: because things won’t be perfect. While we won’t be asking God “How long before we can gather together”, it’ll be “How long before we can call a new Minister of the Word?” or “How long before grow our congregation?”, “how long before we can financially recover from the effects of the coronavirus restrictions” and so on.
And that’s okay. Because they will be – they are – our concerns. They are the things we worry about, and we should be sharing our worries with God. Just as Peter urged us to do, and just as David did.
And when we hear others cry out “how long” we should be sympathetic. It’s okay for others to pray and express those emotions, to cry out to God when they are in need. Or in despair. And some people will be in desperate circumstances after coronavirus. Out of work. In greater debt. With retirement investments greatly devalued.
When we see others in despair we should be acknowledging that and I think we should not only acknowledge their despair, but we should be praying for them and with them too.
It’s easy to fall into thinking that the Good News leads to joy, and that if people are not joyful and happy, if they are disappointed in things, or even if they are depressed, that there is something wrong with their relationship with God – and it’s their fault.
But I’m always struck in the Easter story by the anguish of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – Jesus is crying out to God the Father – “if there is any other way...” Crying out to God isn’t a sign of a failed relationship with God, it’s a sign of being human.
And while joy is one of the fruits of spirit, Jesus makes it clear that his followers won’t be free of suffering, or as Paul comments in 2 Corinthians “we commend ourselves… in great endurance, in troubles, hardships and distresses”.
Even as we cry out “How long?” individually and collectively today, we can be sure of God’s steadfast love and we can rejoice in his salvation. And we do it as the people of God; sisters and brothers in Christ, ransomed by Jesus’ blood.
Peter tells us “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23).
Know that assurance today, even as you cry “How long?”
Even as we are unable to meet together,
Even as we face an uncertain future,
Even as we cry out to God, “How long?”
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 know that wherever you are, whatever you are facing, and however you are feeling,
you are blessed by God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Nothing’s working, right?
Next Sunday: 3 May, 2020
Theme: “The sheep and the shepherd”
Reading: Psalm 23, John 10:1-10, 1 Peter 2:21-25
Lectionary Readings for Next Week:
Psalm 23, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10