Welcome to the Church
Call to Worship:
Hold us close, Creator God, and whisper your word of love and transformation into our hearts. Reveal your Christ at work in the world among us, and give us the courage to listen and follow.
Let us pray:
God of variety and wonder, we come before you as people bound by our own customs and beliefs. Yet we know you are far greater than anything we can imagine. Give us the vision to see and know the presence of your Holy Spirit in all things. One God, now and forever.
Theme for the Day – New:
It’s the first Sunday of 2021. Happy New Year!
As you listen to the Bible readings this morning, you will notice a recurring theme. Two of the readings are from the Old Testament; the third from the New Testament.
Throughout the Bible we read stories of renewal, of new relationships, of new beginnings. These relationships, renewals and new beginnings are often associated with covenants made by God, with His people. By God, with His people. Note that the initiative was with God. It is not us humans who initiate these arrangements with God. In fact, it would be somewhat presumptuous on our part to think we could do a deal with God.
The thrust of my thoughts rotate around the reading from Revelation and the new world and life that God promises. As we know from the first chapter of Genesis, God created his masterpiece, the world. Rather than interpreting the words from Revelation in an “end-of-the-world” perspective, I want to suggest that this new world centres not only on the undoing of the original physical Creation but the establishment of a new relationship between God and His people built on the caring, intimacy God has for His people as He moves amongst us. Central to this thought is the role we play – our obligation to care for God’s creation and to be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Hymn: TiS 322 - North Wind
Prayer of Confession:
We confess to you Lord that we have failed to live as you would have us live.
We have sought the approval and pleasures of the world,
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves,
And we have not loved you with our whole heart.
Whether we have intended to or not, we have hurt others, put ourselves first, and failed to reflect your grace in our lives.
So, as we call on your mercies revealed to all in Jesus Christ, we ask you to forgive us and to create in us clean hearts, so that as we enter into 2021 we may live our lives in true peace with you and with one another.
Assurance of forgiveness
Sisters and brothers in Christ: God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life. It was not to judge the world that God sent his Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved.…
hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: TiS 231 - At The name of Jesus
Prayers of Intercession
22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’
27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
7 This is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,”
declares the Lord.
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
A new year and a new decade has commenced. So, Sue and I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2021. This is a time of holidays and a time of rejoicing (except, perhaps, for those frontline employees who have to work!).
New Year celebrations usually involve time away from our regular activities irrespective of whether we are retired or still working, perhaps a holiday, usually plenty of food, perhaps a backyard game of cricket or a swim in the pool, definitely watching the Boxing Day test cricket on the TV, a surf – in general, things we do not usually do in the rest of the year. It is the opportunity for new beginnings as we put aside the last year and all the events that impacted our life and year. It is an opportunity to focus on what is ahead, not what has been.
On Christmas Eve, Sue and I travelled to our daughter’s family home in Newcastle. It was a lovely time which included a family tradition of reading the book “The Night Before Christmas” before the children went to bed. During the reading, Ben, our 11 year old grandson, had a revelation. Santa smoked!
There are two lines which say:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
This was a point of some consternation to Ben as he had never considered this possibility before. To put his mind at ease, Santa left him a note on the partially eaten tray of milk, cookie and carrots, to reassure him that since the book had been written, he had reconsidered this practice and had given up all forms of smoking! This was such a relief to Ben who found considerable comfort in this personally delivered, hand-written note. Ben had experienced a revelation!
Did you notice that our reading from Revelation, brought to us by Gillian, uses the word “new” four times:
This passage talks of newness, of freshness, of change, of transformation. It is a passage of leaving possessions, attitudes and contrary behaviours behind. Balancing the “new” phrases, we note that phrases like “passed away”, “no more” and “it is done” punctuate the reading.
As we move from 2020 to 2021, doesn’t the idea of a new world sound attractive? It doesn’t take much to remember the heartache and pain experienced by our communities in 2020. 2020 was a year that seemed to roll from one catastrophic event to another. For many it was a year full of heartache and pain.
It doesn’t take much to remember the:
The disasters never seemed to stop and in some ways, 2020 might be described as Australia’s “annus horribilis”. Hopefully 2021 will be a year of change, a time for life to take a turn for the better.
The two Old Testament readings brought to us this morning tell stories of change.
Our reading from Numbers tells us of an event that occurred during the Israelites exodus from Egypt. After all the shenanigans of the people whilst Moses was up on Mt Sinai, what with their building the golden calf to worship etc, one would not have been surprised if God walked away from these ungrateful, narrow-minded, self-centred, indifferent people. But no, God enters into a new relationship with them and offers this blessing indicating His care for them. With these few words, God promises them safety and shelter in a loving, intimate relationship. With these words, the Israelites and God will be bound together.
We tend to use these words today as a blessing sung over a newly-baptised infant. As such, they are a reminder to the parents and the congregation of God’s constant love for the child and His desire for the child to enjoy God’s peace in their life. As such, it still applies to us who are much older.
In Jeremiah, the exiled Israelites, after many years in captivity, are offered words of hope as they embark on their joyful journey from Babylon to their homeland. They are given words of comfort and encouragement.
Many people caught up in the current Covid lockdowns have had similar experiences of separation. They have lived with uncertainty and constantly changing guidelines as to what can, or cannot, be done. Many have experienced grief, stress and anxiety. Reflecting on these words in Jeremiah can provide comfort and encouragement to us today, reminding us of God’s continual presence in our lives; a personal relationship; an intimate relationship.
These events are one way God helps us to think of “newness”. They record and represent a new chapter in the relationship between God and His chosen people.
As humans, we are used to making and breaking deals, promises and appointments. This contrasts with how God looks at promises. For God, His promises is for good, forever. They are unconditional.
His quality can be compared to the ties of a parent to their child and a doctor’s appointment. If the kid doesn’t show up for dinner, the parent’s obligation, unlike the doctor’s appointment, isn’t cancelled. The parent finds the child and makes sure they are cared for.
In like manner, God’s promises put no conditions on faithfulness. It is an unconditional commitment to love and serve.
So, WHAT IS NEW?
What has changed in our world? If I asked you to write a list of what you believe has changed in the world during 2020, I am sure we would find a lot of variation.
But in the last few years we have seen an acceleration in the breakdown of societal norms. If it is traditional, it must go. If it is respectful of Christianity, it’s religiously intolerant. We have seen a breakdown in societal norms, particularly in regard to respect for all other people.
These are just a few of the things that are new in some way in our country.
AND WHAT IS OLD THAT REMAINS NEW?
At the outset, let me say that not everything old is bad; old can be good!
Conversely, let me say that not everything new is good.
Yes, there has been faithful witness to the local area for 44 years but there is turbulence and challenges ahead as we address the changing demographic of our local area and declining membership. Significant amongst these is the bald fact that our church does not reflect the local community and as a consequence, the traditional catchment group (white, Anglo Saxons) is not living in the area anymore.
Whilst I expect CUC to be here in 2021, it needs to make dramatic changes that will require it to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to identify what form the church will adopt.
WHO WILL I BE?
Will I be the same in 2021 as I was in 2020?
And you? Will you be the same in 2021 as you were in 2020?
For me, I wish I could say that peace will come to our world.
For me, I wish I could say:
But I am not in control of those things, and neither are you.
So, what do I control?
Charles Wesley penned the following words in verse two of his hymn “A Charge to Keep I Have”:
To serve the present age
My calling to fulfil:
Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage
To do my Master’s will!
“To serve the present age” and “To do my Master’s will” – these are in our control. It is up to us to decide if that is what we will do.
So, as we conclude, let us return to Revelation Chapter 21.
Here at the end of the New Testament, the end of time is in view for the readers.
Rather than focus on the possible destruction of the world as some second-comers of Christ forecast, I would prefer to see the vision of Revelation as something relevant to our lives right now. Rather than a physical event, I would like us to think of the second-coming as the introduction of a new relationship between God and His people, the return of a new intimacy where we live in close harmony with our God who has created us, provided for us and died on the cross for us as our Redeemer.
The world as we know it, as we live it, should end right now.
We should repent and be transformed right now.
We should be getting on board with the eternal purpose of God right now, rather than waiting for some time in the future.
We should be embracing the new life that God is bringing to pass right now.
We should be living for Christ right now.
So, as this 2021 commences, let us be open to the leading of the Spirit to embrace the new life God is calling us to, right now!
Lord Jesus Christ, you were rich,
Yet for our sake you became poor,
So that through your poverty we might become rich.
Accept this offering as a token of our gratitude
For all you have done.
Hymn: TiS 573 - Charge to Keep I Have
Only with a child-like faith can we ever know you.
Only in wonder-filled trust can we ever approach you.
Give us such faith, we pray.
Give us such trust.
Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
For next week (10 Jan 2021):
For worship (holy communion):
Theme: ‘A renewed hope’