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Order of Service
Hello and welcome, my name is Alex Walker and I the elder in lay leadership at the URC in South Leeds. It is a pleasure to be back to lead this podcast service on behalf of the church and community at Headingley St. Columba’s and I hope that, despite all the restrictions, you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year.
I bring with me and offer the hand of fellowship from my home church in Belle Isle, and indeed say hello to any of you who are listening, wherever and whenever you are listening.
Call to Worship
Our call to worship is taken from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 9, verses 5 and 6:
Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.
Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea
Text: Cecil Frances Alexander (1818 – 95) altd.
Tune: Cross of Jesus – John Stainer (1840 – 1901)
Opening Prayer and the Lord’s prayer
Heavenly Father, we come to you at this time to hear your word and renew our spirits. We give you thanks that we can do that freely and openly, away from oppression and judgement in our faith in you. We praise you for the goodness you have bestowed on us this week as we have lived in your world in our communities and that you have shown and given us many blessings and good things. We pray that we may be encouraged and strengthened in these blessings and be a blessing to you in return.
Lord God, we acknowledge now that we are not the disciples you call us to be. That we often let the side down in how we act, how we think and what we say to each other and about each other. We offer you our confessions as we pray for forgiveness.
When we confess our sins, you forgive us. When we repent form our old ways, you bless us. We thank you for that forgiveness, forgiveness ultimately offered through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. We pray that we may have the courage and the strength to forgive as you do and the will to not repeat the easy ways of sin, but to walk firmly with you.
Lord God we offer these prayers in your name.
We say the words Jesus taught his disciples . . .
Introduction to the first reading
Our first reading this morning is our gospel reading. From Mark chapter one this is a passage that describes the scene as Jesus called his first disciples.
Reading – Mark 1: 14 – 20
Organ interlude: Divertimento – Christian Heinrich Rinck (1770 – 1846)
Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading is taken from Jonah chapter 3. Not mentioning any seabound creatures, this reading tells us what happens when we listen and respond to messages from God.
Reading – Jonah 3: 1 – 5, 10
The Gospel of Mark begins with the words: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark introduces this message as being grounded in the prophets and initiated by the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judaea. John preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. His message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.” (Matthew 3:2) He also proclaimed that someone far greater than himself was about to follow him in the scene. John’s baptism was with water, but his would be a baptism of the Holy Spirit, and with fire.
When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus with the words of affirmation. Then the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Luke tells us that he returned from the temptation in the power of the Spirit to Galilee. Jesus’ ministry would be affirmed by works of healing as well as acts of power in driving out demons from people. We tend to concentrate upon these works. But Jesus was far more interested in the message than the signs. He was a teacher first. All the powerful works did was to affirm the authority of his message; it was proof that he had been sent by God. Without the understanding of the message, the works become distorted. Some of the people of Jesus’ day thought that Jesus did these works by the power of Satan. One could think of no greater blasphemy against God than to claim that Satan was more concerned about the welfare of people than God. The Gospel of Mark presents the authority of Jesus Christ over nature, people, and devils. Jesus was empowered by the Spirit in all of his ministry.
This morning’s text begins with the notification that John the Baptist had been cast into prison. The other gospels indicate some overlap of the ministry of Jesus and that of John after Jesus returned from the temptation. We are not sure how long this period was, but it was probably short. Jesus had to increase and John decrease as the Baptist himself acknowledged. John would languish in prison for a while before he was executed. John was being silenced but not his message. Jesus himself took on proclaiming the message of John the Baptist. The time had arrived, and people needed to repent and believe the Gospel. It is not that the message had originated with John the Baptist. It was God who gave John the message to proclaim. As God’s eternal Son, he along with the Father and Holy Spirit, was the author of the message. The message he preached was his own.
John had been silenced, but now the Greater One lifted up his voice. Those in Jerusalem and in Caesarea where Herod Phillip lived and where John was imprisoned had thought themselves rid of this message to repent and believe the Good News. How wrong they were! There are no recorded miracles done by John the Baptist. But Jesus performed many miracles. But his message was the same, but now it was even more powerfully proclaimed.
Not only this, but Jesus made disciples who would proclaim this exact same message. Here in the text of Mark, Jesus calls four fishermen to follow him into the ministry. The Gospels record that all four of them had had some previous acquaintance with Jesus. Some of them had been disciples of John the Baptist and had heard John proclaim: “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” Two of them followed Jesus and spent some time with Jesus. Andrew and John invited others. Discipleship can be a messy process. We are not very inclined to obedience. Here Jesus comes to the shore of the lake and calls them again. This time they leave all and follow him. But the time would come that Jesus would have to re-summon them to the work of the ministry after the resurrection, again at the shore of this same lake.
Mark leaves out a lot of detail in the account that Luke brings out. The miracle of the catch of the fish after they had toiled all night and caught nothing. Peter’s asking Jesus to depart as Peter confesses, he was but a sinner is left out. It would seem that Jesus’ authority over nature by having the fish come into a net thrown over the wrong side of the boat would have fit in well with Mark’s theology. Why Mark just contains the basics is a mystery other than this is typically done by Mark. The Holy Spirit would have these other witnesses fill in the blanks. So, we are not at a loss for this. This brevity puts extra emphasis upon Jesus’ words: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The gospel then says they forsook all and followed him. They obeyed the call.
We see here that not only is the message of God not silenced by adversity, such as that which happened to John the Baptist. It grows in both power and number. Now there would be many more who would proclaim the message to the world to “Repent and believe the Good News.” John’s message reached out to Judaea and Jerusalem for the most part, although it did spread from there to other places as well. There were some even in Ephesus who had heard of the Baptism of John (Acts 19). Jesus would proclaim this message in Galilee in addition to Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, Syrophonecia, and Caesarea Philippi. Jesus would continue making disciples to proclaim the good news. He had a group of twelve and a larger group of seventy.
The message of God is unstoppable. The rulers of Israel in cahoots with the Roman government had Jesus arrested and crucified. Jesus was safely silenced. After all, dead men tell no tales. But how wrong they were! Jesus was raised by God on the third day. He showed himself alive to the disciples and other chosen persons for forty days. He told them before he ascended that the Holy Spirit would come upon them as it had come upon him. Soon there would be 120 preachers of the message on Pentecost. Soon, the disciples of Jesus would number in the thousands and eventually millions. The Sanhedrin tried to nip this in the bud. They had Peter and John arrested on several occasions. They were forbidden to preach or teach in the name of Jesus. They thought they could silence the message to repent and believe the Good News. They stoned Stephen. They commissioned Saul of Tarsus to hunt the believers down. But it was to no avail. Even Saul was converted by Jesus on the way to Damascus.
The church has faced many obstacles to the preaching of the Gospel, but the message continues in spite of fire, dungeon, or sword. When the printing press presented the opportunity to present the Gospel, the enemy tried to stop it by burning the books and persecuting those who printed them. But it was all for naught. Someone thought they could stop Tyndale from distributing the English Bible by buying up all the books. But that also failed. Tyndale used the profits to print even more bibles. Today, the Internet and social media present opportunities to share the Good News. The enemies of the Gospel are filled with rage and are trying to ban the message and messengers from these platforms. They should realize that this attempt to stifle the message will serve more to promote it.
What God wants is for his people to be bold in proclaiming the message in spite of the dangers. What God wants is people who will stick to the message and not try to alter it in order to remove the offense of the cross. The message from the beginning is to repent and believe the Good News. The word “repent” is not a suggestion but is an imperative in Greek. This message originates from the Sovereign God and King of the Universe and not from any human source. Commands from the King are meant to be obeyed. Disobeying the King has severe repercussions. If people fear the edicts of earthly leaders, how much more those which come from God! God has not suggested that the church preach this message of repentance either. Rather, God commands us to witness. The command to make disciples is an imperative and meant to be obeyed. The church must follow the example of Jesus’ first disciples. We must leave all else behind and follow him. The world is in darkness. The world is in severe trouble. But more severe than the earthly problems the world now faces, of its own making, is the danger of being unprepared to meet God. People need to know what the real problem is. People have turned their backs on God and his word. They need to repent. This is their only hope. Scientists only have some of the answers. Politicians are not the answer either. The only hope is Jesus. Be bold to tell them.
Lord of the Dance
Text: Sydney Carter (1915 – 2004)
Tune: Simple Gifts – Joseph Brackett (1797 – 1882)
Prayers of Intercession.
Lord God give us the courage to be willing to follow you. Even when the road is tough and our destination is unclear, keep us on the path that leads to your glory. We pray that when it is our time to witness, we may serve not just you, but our families and communities that you call us to serve. We remember those we miss from church. As the old ways start to become memories of easier and happier times we pray for our friends, many we have known for a number of years and love dearly, who we miss. The people who have kept your kingdom alive in your buildings for so long. We pray that as we hear these words know, that they are blessed by your spirit. That as we think of them you may comfort them. That as we are secure with you, you are keeping them safe too.
We pray for the vaccine as it continues to be rolled out. That the people who need it can have it, and that there is enough to go around. We praise you for the scientific marvel that is medicine and give thanks to all those who keep us well and safe. We remember the key workers, working hard to keep our communities running, and those desperate to work but can’t through no fault of their own. We pray for our school children. Many having to learn at home with many different methods of doing so. We pray for their teachers, often split between educating their own children and others. We pray that soon we may hear the laughter from the local playgrounds again, and that the task of growing up may be continued together.
We pray for our city. A complicated, multifaceted city that thrives and buzzes through the interaction of people. We pray for our city’s sick and lonely, for the homeless and the grieving. We remember those in our communities who feel trapped and scarred, people living in abusive situations and cannot find a way out. We pray for all our support workers, overburdened as they are, that they may feel encouraged to carry on with the difficult tasks ahead.
We pray for our nation. A nation still divided by Brexit and now feeling its full effects. A nation divided by politics and policy, by ideology and morals. We pray that this year may be one of renewal, renewal in what’s important. Togetherness, fellowship, and love. We pray for our leaders and influencers, that they have wisdom, kindness, and compassion. That they may have good intentions and may be drawn to justice for the many in their decision making.
We pray for our world. For the people in it who face fear every day. Those who are victims of hate, greed, and corruption. We pray that Your light may shine in through their windows, that your goodness may be cast upon them. That they may find the security we often take for granted. We give you thanks for the peaceful handover of governance in America, that the inauguration happened without the threat of violence being realised. We pray that they may become the embodiment of democracy they claim to be and that they may be moral leaders in our world.
Heavenly Father, we also remember those who are victims of climate change and environmental disasters. We pray for those who have lost their homes and lives through fire, water, heat and cold. We pray that we be better custodians of your world and that we may be called to do our part in keeping it safe.
Lord God, we now offer up the people, the places, the stories, and the faces that are on our minds at this time. We offer all that is important to us now.
Heavenly Father hear our prayers this day and grant us that we may see them answered and in then feel the blessing that comes with it. In your name we pray,
God’s spirit is deep in my heart
Text: Hubert J. Richards (1921 – 2010) and Alan Dale (1902 – 79)
Tune: Go tell everyone – Hubert J. Richards (1921 – 2010); arr. Betty Pulkingham (b. 1928), Paul Bateman (b. 1954)
All that is left for me to do I to thank you for listening, and to express my gratitude to all those who have contributed to this service. It is appreciated. Thank you.
So, go into your world, your communities and declare that yours and my stories are God’s stories, and it is all the better for it. And may the blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain in you.
Organ voluntary: A Trumpet Minuet – Alfred Hollins (1865 – 1942)