Written Service for Rugby and Daventry on 17th January 2021

In this still new year of Grace 2021 we gather together in the Spirit to praise the living God who has in Christ our Lord made real his concern and the extent he will go to know each one of us in order to be central to our lives, as the ancient leaders and prophets of the Jews proclaimed in their story and scriptures.

Our opening modern hymn underlines this:

The silent stars shine down on us…
In Christ you spoke a Word that broke the silences of Space
Still through that Word you call our hearts
To know that we are known,
To trust we do not walk through time
Unvalued and unknown

StF 231

The silent stars shine down on us with bright but sightless eye,
Unmindful of our little earth, of us who live and die.
Are we but grains of stranded sand beside a cosmic sea
That lie unvalued and unseen in such immensity?

Creator of all stars you came to grace our transient race.
In Christ you spoke a word that broke the silences of space.
Still through that word you call our hearts to know that we are known,
To trust we do not walk through time unvalued and alone.

We see the star the wise men saw and hope again is stirred.
We track the footprints left in time by your incarnate Word.
We see them climb a lonely hill where Love is left to die -
The Love that formed the farthest star and hears the faintest cry.

O Christ, the bright and morning Star whose radiance does not fade,
Whose glory filled the universe before the planets played:
Come, heal our hearts of blinding doubt till faith shall end in sight.
Shine down upon our darkened earth and conquer sin's long night.

Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr.

So we pray together:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

As God's people we say the prayer Jesus taught us to say:
Our Father who art 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, and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Put us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen

Our scriptures expand the theme of our God and Father seeking to encounter and indeed use us.

1 Samuel 3 Good News Translation
The Lord Appears to Samuel
In those days, when the boy Samuel was serving the LORD under the direction of Eli, there were very few messages from the LORD, and visions from him were quite rare. 2 One night Eli, who was now almost blind, was sleeping in his own room; 3 Samuel was sleeping in the sanctuary, where the sacred Covenant Box was. Before dawn, while the lamp was still burning, 4 the LORD called Samuel. He answered, "Yes, sir!" 5 and ran to Eli and said, "You called me, and here I am."
But Eli answered, "I didn't call you; go back to bed." So Samuel went back to bed.
6-7 The LORD called Samuel again. The boy did not know that it was the LORD, because the LORD had never spoken to him before. So he got up, went to Eli, and said, "You called me, and here I am."
But Eli answered, "My son, I didn't call you; go back to bed."
8 The LORD called Samuel a third time; he got up, went to Eli, and said, "You called me, and here I am."
Then Eli realized that it was the LORD who was calling the boy, 9 so he said to him, "Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, 'Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went back to bed.
10 The LORD came and stood there, and called as he had before, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Samuel answered, "Speak; your servant is listening."

John 1 v43-51 Good News Translation
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Come with me!" (44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the town where Andrew and Peter lived.) 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one whom Moses wrote about in the book of the Law and whom the prophets also wrote about. He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth."
46 "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Nathanael asked.
"Come and see," answered Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him, "Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!"
48 Nathanael asked him, "How do you know me?"
Jesus answered, "I saw you when you were under the fig tree before Philip called you."
49 "Teacher," answered Nathanael, "you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
50 Jesus said, "Do you believe just because I told you I saw you when you were under the fig tree? You will see much greater things than this!" 51 And he said to them, "I am telling you the truth: you will see heaven open and God's angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man."
This was a central truth also known to the Psalmist (139) adopted into a modern hymn:

StF 728

1 O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down you are before me:
ever the maker and keeper of my days

2 You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
and with love everlasting you besiege me:
in every moment of life or death, you are.

3 Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
you have known its meaning through and through.
You are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future, too.

4 Although your Spirit is upon me,
still I search for shelter from your light.
There is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
even the darkness is radiant in your sight.

5 For you created me and shaped me,
gave me life within my mother's womb.
For the wonder of who I am, I praise you:
safe in your hands, all creation is made new.

Bernadette Farrell (b.1957)
based on psalm 139
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition
Words and Music: © 1992 Bernadette Farrell.

You believe because I told you I saw you but you will see greater things than that.

A Reflection:In these rather bleak winter evenings I am finding a newmuch reduced pace of life, as perhaps you are, where what's on BBC i player seems to play a greater part in my life! Recently Anthea and I thinking we wanted something relevant but lighter than the news, watched Ian Hislop, yes he of 'Private Eye', take us through the 'History of Fake News'. It seemed to have a relevancy greater than any previous time in our lives.

In this he gave us many examples of the strange things to my mind people have come to believe, yet these had shaped their lives and in many cases the history of so many around them. Fake news is as old as humankind. His explanation and that of the contributors was that it was either because deep down they wanted to believe it, or they were being manipulated to discount all news as untrue bias, or at least debatable, leaving them unsure what to believe or do as a result. Pilot was not the first politician, and certainly not the last, who when asked to try Jesus, to pose the get out question-'What is Truth'? Nor to have a bowl of water standing by for dissociating himself from the consequences of his actions.
With this a background I was led to ask from this week's readings for the day what distinguishes the call Jesus makes in his Good News from Fake News. John in his opening Chapter of his account of the Good News makes it clear that it was consistent with all Jewish experience of God's call before, including that of the latest prophet- John the Baptist.

Indeed the early disciples clearly had been to hear him if not actually one of his followers.
But two very important other elements are there. It is people who have met Jesus that invite others to meet him personally. I once heard a minister in a country church with just two or three of us there emphasized the point that without Andrew there would have been no Peter, and here in our reading it is Phillip who makes the invitation and indeed introduction to Jesus. Much has been written about whether Nathaniel was one of the 12, and if so which one, all irrelevant to the fact an invitation was given. Our first reading makes a similar point despite Samuel having been from an early age raised with the Ark and with the history of his people's commitment to this God with no Name, Eli had to tell him God wanted to speak with him for real. Before we move on to that encounter we have to ask ourselves whether we know God calls us often through others not History or scriptures to have a personal relationship with him. If we know that have we told others? Are we still in these difficult times doing so. It may be the key to another's life.

The second important point Nathaniel, and indeed Samuel, discover in that encounter is it is not a one off 'interview' but an invitation to a journey for the rest of their lives that will transform who they are and what they can achieve for this their Lord and for humankind. Not often on a national scale, like Samuel, but on a personal enriching way for the traveler as well as those they come close to with their message and insight. It is here that my commentary emphasized again how important it is, if we want the proper understanding of what God is showing us, to know the scriptures and above all have taken hold of our Lord's values and way of doing things. It makes the point that, while just possibly Nathaniel was sitting under a fig tree, Jesus recognized in him a true student of the Torah- the Jewish Law which the fig tree represented. ( Think of the later example of whether the fig tree should be cut down?) It was this recognition of who he was and what his concerns were to which he responds. As we look at Jesus' approach to many people it is a recognition of them as individuals with needs and values that engages them. Jesus then refers Nathaniel to what his invitation would mean by reference to Jacob's dream as he fled from his brother of seeing angels (messengers) ascending to and coming down from God. So more than a recognition of Nathaniel as a religious person but an invitation to meeting with the messengers of God as he journeyed on with Him.

The call of Nathaniel then is a prime example of what John wrote at the end of Chapter2- That Jesus knew what was in a person and did not need anyone to tell him. What is true for him is, or can be, true for us? Well I reflect, as I write this, on my experience that this is true. My call came while listening to the ancient scriptures rendered by Handel's Messiah in my parent's front room. But the real relevance of the call was not that, but 24 hours later my Youth Fellowship Leader coming to ask me for the first time to lead the Easter session as he had to go to his sick mother in Manchester. From the call for the very first time I had something worth saying about what Jesus was doing on His cross for all of us. Giving His life away that we might find ours. Since beginning that journey with Him of course I have met so many 'angels' going (some with me) to our Father, or coming back from him with messages of how I am to be involved further in His Kingdom building, even though like Jacob I am far from perfect.

So where does that leave us with sorting Good News from Fake News. We have to acknowledge that the Church in its story has had its share of Fake news as the Jewish scripture made it clear they did. Hence the importance of the coming of Jesus as God's illustration to us what his intentions, values, and approach to our imperfect selves was and is.

Fake news is full of irreconcilable actions inconsistent with honouring the 10 commandments, Jesus's summary of them, or his personal approaches and actions to those who encountered Him. He encompassed these in His summary, ' inas much as you did it of did it not to the least of these you did it to me'. For Him the love of power was totally replaced by the power of love. A love that was prepared to show us Jew and Gentile alike that the religious, the mob, the occupying soldiers, as its governor, would all in vain seek to destroy the love of God. As sadly they still do. May we as the year enfolds be worthy 'messengers' to a desperate hungry and angry world in His name.

Our Hymn makes clear what was being offered to Nathaniel and indeed to us
Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know
And never be the same.

STF 673

1 Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

2 Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

3 Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

4 Will you love the 'you' you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

5 Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I'll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

John L. Bell(b.1949) and Graham Maule(b.1958)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition.
Words: © 1987, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow.

Prayers for a world so often deaf to your word and blind to your presence and yet seeking miracles
Father as the words of the hymn fade in our minds we ask that in your grace we bring to you the concerns on our hearts- not because you don't know them but because you want us to know you are already engaged in them and seeking to help us discover the way forward for ourselves, our loved ones and this troubled world you love so much. Help us to listen.
We would share what this pandemic has done to our ways of seeing and being, of thinking and doing, of feeling and acting. The strains it has imposed. The fears it has exposed in us and in others. The new uncertainties and insecurities it has unleashed. As we do so we reflect on the characters we have thought about-Samuel called to greatness, Phillip and Nathaniel, Andrew and Peter called to follow they knew not where, or how they would get there. They had no idea they were going to be seen as those who in Jesus's name turned both the Jewish and Gentle worlds upside down. And they were going to do it not by loving power but by the power of love. As we look at the many needs this Pandemic has amplified so they cannot be ignored anymore- destruction of your creation, the pursuit of wealth at the cost of destruction of other people's world, help us to be your voice and body in bringing health, peace, and true sharing of love and compassion.

We pray for strength and courage to face down bigotry, division, hatred and persecution not just in big things but in the day to day meetings of our lives, to challenge Fake News that represents priviledge for some, or demonization of others.

As we bring the peoples of the world before you- many in war zones, many as refugees, or migrants in camps or at sea we thank you for those who witness to our common humanity there. In the events of this week we would pray for awareness of fake news amongst those making life changing decisions for others. Governments everywhere, our own and law makers in America, just now, financiers, employers, charities, and educators may they see the truth enshrined in the life of our Lord as a way forward amidst the uncertainties and indifferences being experienced.

Finally we pray for this Circuit, its ministers and members that we may be true to the calling you gave John Wesley to follow you wherever it may lead- through pain to new life in You. Help us as individuals to support in word, deed, and prayer those thrust into the frontline of this pandemic-in health, social care, education, food distribution, transportation, and scientific exploration, that a new world filled with your knowledge and compassion for us all as the waters cover the sea comes to be.

Through Jesus our lord, your living proof to us we ask it

Charles Wesley wrote: Give me the Faith which can remove and sink the mountains to a plain.

StF 661

1 Give me the faith which can remove
and sink the mountain to a plain;
give me the childlike praying love,
which longs to build thy house again;
thy love, let it my heart o'erpower,
and all my simple soul devour.

2 I would the precious time redeem,
and longer live for this alone:
to spend, and to be spent, for them
who have not yet my Saviour known;
fully on these my mission prove,
and only breathe, to breathe thy love.

3 My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord,
into thy blessèd hands receive;
and let me live to preach thy word,
and let me to thy glory live;
my every sacred moment spend
in publishing the sinners' friend.

4 Enlarge, inflame, and fill my heart
with boundless charity divine:
so shall I all my strength exert,
and love them with a zeal like thine;
and lead them to thy open side,
the sheep for whom their Shepherd died.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition

The Lord bless us and keep us, May his face ever be before us to give us His peace. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus, the Love of God the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit ever be ours.


Keith Hiscock 09.01. 21.