Written Service for Rugby and Daventry Circuit on 11th April 2021

It is good to gather in spirit again, if not in body yet, with you. This is low Sunday, once also used as Local Preachers Sunday, again perhaps as most ministers were taking a break after a very exhausting Holy week! However it really was to empathize how great on Easter Sunday should have been our praising, rejoicing, and gratitude for the glorious message to us of Jesus Christ our Lord raised to life despite all human endeavor to kill him.


Both these thoughts combine to give us today a moment of personal reflection. The day should be given over not only to thinking about the real meaning and impact of Easter for all of us, but what has been the effect for each one of us from the presence of the risen Christ in our own lives, and in the life of the congregation to which we belong.


Into that reflection shall we gather what as a result of His presence in our lives we have seen, heard, and done, and then whom have we told?
John whose testimonies we will treasure today begins his Gospel, his good news,with the words:

'Out of his full store we have received grace (unmerited favour) upon grace, for while the Law was given by Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God: but God's only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, he has made him known.' ( John 1 v16-18)

We sing

StF 14
1 Sing to him in whom creation
found its shape and origin;
Spirit, moving on the waters
troubled by the God within;
source of breath to all things breathing,
life in whom all lives begin.

2 Sing to God, the close companion
of our inmost thoughts and ways;
who, in showing us his wonders,
is himself the power to gaze,
and his will, to those who listen,
by a still small voice conveys.

3 Holy people, priests and prophets
caught his accents, spoke his word;
his the truth behind the wisdoms
which as yet know not our Lord;
he the love of God eternal,
which in Christ was seen and heard.
4 Tell of how the ascended Jesus
armed a people for his own;
how a hundred men and women
turned the known world upside down,
to its dark and farthest corners
by the wind of Whitsun blown.

5 Pray we, then, O Lord the Spirit,
on our lives descend in might;
let your flame break out within us,
fire our hearts and clear our sight,
till, white-hot in your possession,
we, too, set the world alight.

6 Praise, O praise the Holy Spirit,
praise the Father, praise the Word,
source, and truth, and inspiration,
Trinity in deep accord;
through your voice which speaks within us
we your creatures own you Lord.
Michael Hewlett (1916-2000) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition
Words: © Michael Hewlett / Oxford University Press. From English Praise, 1975, Oxford University Press.


Prayers of Adoration, Thanksgiving and Forgiveness
.
Creator God we come to worship you, to marvel at your creation, a thing of so many elements, of so much beauty, of related complexity, of checks and balances, that even now after millennia we are still becoming more fully aware of its workings, even though you have placed us in charge- a little lower than the angels, as the psalmist put it. As we learn of its wonders we realise you are testing our natures and our motives, and our destructive forces threaten the existence of ourselves and your planet.

Yet in your mercy you have not left us devoid of knowledge of you, and of your purposes. You have given us a need to seek to understand, to feel care and concern for others, and the witnesses through the ages that have sought to make you and your ways known. So as your sons and daughters we come to thank you for your greatest gift- the living testimony, exemplar, to who you are, your son our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we as humankind sought to destroy. For us you raised him to life from death that we might know new life, hope, and joy, for whatever our lives experience, and with it a sense of your continued care and presence. In this moment we would bring into our prayers our present frustrations, trials and difficulties, knowing you want us to share them with you alongside our blessings.

Accept our awe and wonder as we reflect both upon what we have learnt of you in both the Easters in our lives, and from the Good Fridays of our days. In those we know we have felt victims, and been persecutors, or silent bystanders of what should not be. We seek reassurances of your forgiveness, urged by your tortured son, a new vision of your beautiful creation, and in that your purpose for us, praying earnestly for the courage to join in chorus with that great cloud of witnesses to which you have called us through our risen Lord. Amen

So let's offer the prayer your Son taught all his disciples to off- Our Father

Our Father in heaven hallowed be your Name
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us
Save us from a time of trial
and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours now and forever.
Amen.

Our two readings are taken from John's testimonies
His first Letter to the churches in Asia Minor- 1 John 1 -2v2
1 John 1 v1 - 2 v2 NIV

The Incarnation of the Word of Life
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our[a] joy complete.

Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
2-1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

The conclusion of his Gospel- John 20 v19-31

John 20 v 14-31 NIV
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary."
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher").

17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"

But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

The Purpose of John's Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Lets declare the Easter Greeting:
Alleluia Christ is risen: He is risen indeed

In that certainty we rehearse a modern hymn I first sang as the Methodist Conference in 2013 with 300 fellow Methodists that underlines the significance of what we have just heard and confirmed.

StF 309
1 See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
with the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
folded the graveclothes, tomb filled with light,
as the angels announce Christ is risen!
See God's salvation plan,
wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
for he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

2 See Mary weeping, 'Where is he laid?'
as in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
it's the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
will sound till he appears,
for he lives: Christ is risen from thedead!

3 One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty;
honour and blessing, glory and praise
to the King crowned with power and authority!
And we are raised with him,
death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
and we shall reign with him,
for he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
Stuart Townend (b.1963) and Keith Getty (b.1974)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition
Words and Music: © 2003, Thankyou Music. Used by permission.

 

A Reflection:
two thoughts with which to begin to look at John's writings to us about what happened post Easter.

'The truth is we have all faced different tests in our lives that God has brought us out of. The other flip side of that is the true meaning of testimony- to be a witness or give a report.'

'I chose to let my scars tell a beautiful story instead of a tragic one. I needed to experience the dark to truly appreciate and understand the light.'
Are these in any way true for you in your journey of Faith?
Our readings from John's letter and his Gospel- his Good news speak to me so profoundly of the effect Christ's victory over death on him and on those others in that upper room. An upper room where they were huddled, hoping the world, its authorities in particular, but also its roused mob, would not notice them, or if they sought them not find them. Can we begin to imagine what His sudden appearance amongst them did to and for them? If we can begin to feel their amazement, perhaps genuine thankfulness too, would we be also surprised if the implications of His return for each one of them may have also begun to frighten them? His twice uttered wish for peace for them may well have been much needed. Especially as He began to explore for them their ongoing commission to change the world!

Of course one wasn't there-missed it all- perhaps you may have real sympathy for Thomas -even identify with him - that anytime something really wonderful or significant happens, you are somewhere else? Had they (or those who talk of Christ's presence in their lives to you) as a modern hymn puts it 'sown a wish to reap a dream'? We know from two previous references John makes about Thomas that we are dealing with someone solid -down to earth- loyal and dependable -if perhaps a little pessimistic- ring any bells?

After Lazarus had been raised to life again by Jesus, and despite protests of the disciples about being dangerous to go to Jerusalem again, it was Thomas when Jesus had said he would go, who first said he would go too and die with him! It was Thomas who asked Jesus to be shown the way to the place Jesus was going ahead to prepare for them-his beloved 12. I am the away, the truth, and the life was the answer he (and we receive). Now Thomas was again to want a real answer to this sighting of Jesus if he was going to believe. Then Jesus came, and aware of what Thomas had said was the proof he would need, offered that exactly to Him! At this point Thomas the Jew recognized Jesus's risen divinity- My Lord and My God- the first to do so.

Yes I hear myself and you say, but we know the story and wonder at it still. But how does that translate for us in our Covid world? It is not the exact threat that left this little fellowship frightened in an upper room- but it has left us ( not for the first time of course) with a real fear that has changed our world. The question at such times for us, His followers, entrusted with His truth that in giving our lives away we will find it, is what are we to do now for such a world? The answer I see increasingly in New Testament Terms- indeed biblical terms. As of old we must give our testimonies to a world where many want to know who is ultimately in charge. Not just what the bible says, or Jesus, as handed down to us, said, but what as the risen Lord he has said to us through our journey with him. The whole Bible could be read and seen to be a book of testimonies responding to current situations but much of eternal value and wisdom.

But for it to be real for our generation, meaningful and powerful its needs our testimonies also to speak ofour experience not only of uplifting moments, but also our failures, and of our scars that tell a beautiful story where darkness leads to Light.

What have you and I to say about the living God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our own lives, and about the pressing needs of our world today in 2021? Have we written it down and have we told others?

In posing this question to myself I found I wanted to say things in my own journey. I did write much of it down in a 70 page autobiography when I got to 70- in case I forgot! However recently I had three different situations besides this sermon to do just that. In my house group we have been looking at Acts- what did those upper room disciples do with the challenge Jesus gave them. We have had to answer whether we had ever taken on a simple task for our Lord that had led to great challenge. Where to start I thought? Well how about a phone call to run a Christmas Party for 30 youngsters 7-11? It changed my life and my future career came from it. Perhaps I should say the request was from the author of Born in the night, and the area Notting Hill in the 60's. Then our Street Pastors in Daventry held an AGM to disband after 10 years of walking the streets for and with our Lord. It took me only a little time to recount 5 A4 pages of incidents where He has led us to meet need and talk of our Faith as the reason for being there. Then Anthea and I had a zoom with a number, who were members of the same Meth SOC university discussion group over a 10 year period, in which we were asked to update our Biogs. from 2012 when we last met. 13 A4 pages was the result from 17 of us with many references to service in Methodism and the wider world detailing where God had called us.

I want to finish on an important lesson I learnt from one of those biogs. It was from a member, I did not know, whose beloved husband now had character changing Alzheimer's. I wrote to her afterwards moved by what she was going through, and in reply she said probably many of us like her had had difficulties too. Of course she was right- I know a number well, who have had real difficulties, some still ongoing. Ourselves included had not mentioned them, and yet I could have because in these God had not left us - but with an act of love so unexpected and unrelated, relatives were moved to be there for our loved ones. It is important in our testimonies the scars are allowed to tell a beautiful God incidence when 'It's Friday but Sunday is coming' has actually come. That is the Easter story for all of us and it is for us to tell it.

Thanks be to God our Father Amen.

We note a modern Hymn a testimony to what the writer makes of the Faith

Christ has risen while earth slumbers
Christ has risen where hope died….
Christ has risen and for ever
Lives to challenge and to change

Singing the Faith 296
Christ has risen while earth slumbers,
Christ has risen where hope died,
as he said and as he promised,
as we doubted and denied.
Let the moon embrace the blessing;
let the sun sustain the cheer;
let the world confirm the rumour.
Christ is risen, God is here!

Christ has risen for the people
whom he loved and died to save;
Christ has risen for the women
bringing flowers to grace his grave
Christ has risen for disciples
huddled in an upstairs room.
He whose word inspired creation
Is not silenced by the tomb.

Christ has risen to companion
former friends who fear the night,
sensing loss and limitation
where their faith had once burned bright.
They bemoan what is no longer,
they expect no hopeful sign
till Christ ends their conversation,
breaking bread and sharing wine.

Christ has risen and forever
lives to challenge and to change
all whose lives are messed or mangled,
all who find religion strange.
Christ is risen. Christ is present
making us what he has been
-evidence of transformation
in which God is known and seen.

Reproduced by permission. Words by John L. Bell & Graham Maule © 1988 WGRG, c/o Iona Community, Glasgow CCLI No. 5310

Lets make our intercessions for a world including ourselves that needs His challenge to change.

When we say Lord: let our hearts respond 'let your voice be heard'.

Lord we bring to you our world beset with many voices, many insecurities, many tragedies

In the din Lord: let your voice be heard.

We pray for those are lost or confused in their thoughts by the many voices that seek to persuade them what they should think, or be, or do:
Voices that shout at them to believe this or that
Voices that undermine their sense of wellbeing or self value- through divisive issues of
gender, race, colour, disability, or religion
Voices that seek to inflate or belittle who they are
Voices that exploit their fears for personal advantage or gain
We are mindful as your people you have given us to be lights to the way, the truth, and life

In these mind games Lord: Let your voice be heard.

We pray for those who are in extremis as we sit here- in war zones, on the road or seas as refugees
Or banished to camps or islands, or locked away in prisons, those caught up in violent protests, or persecuted as a unwanted minority.
These we know are your children too, of equal concern to you.
Make us mindful of the proclamation and responsibilities you have given us in our actions.
In these calamities Lord: Let your voice be heard.
So we pray for those in positions of power over what happens to others:
Governments, officials, law enforcers, financiers, employers, leaders of communities, charities, and in families.
May they be mindful of their responsibilities, duties of care, and the fall out from what they decide and do. May they seek not self interest but a sense of justice, fairness, and equality modeled on your loving forgiving relationship with us.

In such forums Lord: let your voice be heard.

Father God as we enter a new phase of this pandemic we would bring to you those whose are suffering from covid, long covid, and now delays for many other conditions in operations and treatments or supplies or former reliefs- shared care, meetings for sharing and support, and sustaining human contact. With them we bring to mind their carers, nurses, doctors. We thank for all those who continue caring at great cost to themselves, and those who in these situations have not been able to mourn the loss of loved ones or come to terms with what now cannot be.

We would particularly think before you of …….

In all this sea of pain Lord: Let your voice be heard.

Finally for ourselves- sometimes bewildered at the twists and turns in our lives and those we especially hold dear, when doubts spring up and answers/understanding/ elude us as events moves us towards despair rather than the joys and certainties of an Easter day. For these times give us fresh visions and experiences of your presence and continued care for us and others that we can feed in to a puzzled world as true witnesses to our joys as 'Resurrection People able to shout Alleluia as your true voice in this world.

This we ask through our risen Lord Jesus. Amen.

We sing a song of hope for the world:
This joyful Eastertide what need is there for grieving?

StF 314
1 This joyful Eastertide,
what need is there for grieving?
Cast all your cares aside
and be not unbelieving:
Come, share our Easter joy
that death could not imprison,
nor any power destroy,
our Christ, who is arisen!

2 No work for him is vain,
no faith in him mistaken,
for Easter makes it plain
his kingdom is not shaken:

3 Then put your trust in Christ,
in waking and in sleeping.
His grace on earth sufficed;
he'll never quit his keeping:
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition
Words: © 1969, Stainer & Bell Ltd.


Benediction:

God of power may the boldness of your Spirit transform us
May the testimonies of witnesses encourage us
May their spirit and our experiences of their truths give us conviction to confess
that Jesus Christ is our risen Lord, and
to proclaim the word and works of God to all in what we say and do

And may the blessing of God, Son, and Holy Spirit remain with us always.

Amen

Keith Hiscock