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Order of Service
Call to Worship (based on Psalm 147)
How good it is to sing psalms to our God! How pleasant and right to praise him! It is he who heals the broken in spirit and binds up their wounds, who numbers the stars one by one and calls each by name.
Sing to the Lord a song of thanksgiving, sing hymns to the organ in honour of our God. His pleasure is in those who fear him, who wait for his steadfast love. Praise the Lord!
A Gathering Prayer
We gather in separate places yet with one heart, mind and soul to sing praises to our God. How pleasant and fitting it is to praise him. Let us sing to the Lord with thanksgiving and make joyful music to our God. May our worship rise high on the wings of praise and adoration. Amen.
God moves in a mysterious way
Text: William Cowper (1731 – 1800)
Tune: London New – from the Scottish Psalter (1635)
A Prayer of Approach
God of love and compassion, we gather to hear your word, that it might reveal fresh truths to encourage us in your way. May it help us to worship and praise your holy name in all things.
God of love and compassion, we come to lift up our voice in that unending hymn of praise which links heaven and earth as one in their worship of your holy name.
God of love and compassion, we come to turn our thoughts to you and your presence amongst us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, doing so in the knowledge of your steadfast love towards us and all your people everywhere.
God of love and compassion, great is your name, and abundant is your power; your understanding is beyond measure. May we worship you this day in spirit and in truth.
Prayer of Confession
God our Heavenly Father, we acknowledge before your almighty throne that we have sinned against you and against one another – in thought, word and deed; we have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. But you have kept faith with us. In your great mercy, forgive us our sins, renew, refresh and restore us to newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord we ask.
Assurance of Pardon
‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not perish but have eternal life’. To all who truly repent and believe I declare in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, God grants us the forgiveness of our sins. Let us therefore bless the Lord: thanks be to God.
The Lord’s Prayer
Introduction to the first reading
Our first reading from Isaiah recalls how the people of God have seen Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians, and they feel that the Lord has forgotten about them. Isaiah paints them a picture of the all-embracing power and majesty of God, who sweeps princes away like the waste of harvest, but who lifts up those who are weary so that they can soar like eagles. These are words and pictures that lift the heart and enable a renewed hope in God.
Reading – Isaiah 40: 21 – 26; 28 – 31
Organ interlude: Voluntary in F – Lento – William Hine (1687 – 1730)
Introduction to the second reading
Our Gospel reading recalls the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, where he immediately makes a name for himself through his healing ministry. We are reminded how Jesus, having given of himself so generously needs to address his own needs by heading off to a quiet place and there commune with his heavenly Father.
Reading – Mark 1: 29 – 39
Reflecting on the Word
‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark,
Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’
[Mark 1: 35]
I’m a great believer in getting away from it all when the opportunity arises to find refreshment and renewal in my faith journey and personal growth. I’ve been to such places as Taizé, Iona, Walsingham, Holy Island, St. Michael’s Mount – to mention but a few! All are places that have offered the space to ‘escape’ from the pressures of daily living and there find peace, refreshment and renewal. Sometimes these holy places have provided opportunities to engage in worship with others – often through a different tradition – and others have enabled me to be alone with my God. These times have been important in allowing me space to reflect on how far God has brought me and blessed me – and to use it as a preparation for that which is to come. By far my favourite place is Iona, that tiny island off the west coast of Scotland steeped in Christian history, where it is said: ‘The distance between Heaven and earth is tissue paper thin’.
The Northumbrian Community describes ‘Retreat’ as ‘an important part of spiritual formation’ where time is consciously set aside for God. It is a deliberate act of stepping outside of normal routine by withdrawing (not running away) from the noise and pressures of daily life, which may, in turn, result in a change of focus. It is the seeking of a quiet place where all our senses are open and ready to listen to God. This tradition seeks to follow the example of Jesus, who would often go off to a quiet, isolated place, just as we discovered in today’s reading from St. Mark’s Gospel,. We know that, after a demanding day, he often felt the need to be alone with his heavenly Father and commune with little distractions. Evelyn Underhill spoke of this as ‘loitering with intent with our God.’
One of the key elements of ‘getting away from it all’ is opening ourselves completely before our Maker, which is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane as a preparation for his own suffering and death. Then, having shared his pain, grief and anxiety, he had the ability to wait on God’s still small voice, so that he could then affirm: ‘Not my way, but yours, O Lord’, thus seeking to know and do God’s greater purpose in the midst of life’s sometimes frightening demands. It’s not easy, but there is a purpose in stopping, putting words to one side, and simply being open to God’s prompting and guidance. This stillness is affirmed in the hymn from the Iona Community: ‘Be still and know that I am God, and there is none beside me’ (R&S 347). Thus, in keeping company with God he enables us to lay our lives before him and there be restored to further the work of the Kingdom.
Henri Nouwen knew the importance of setting aside time to be with God, and has written some wonderful books about his own experience. In one he states: ‘we can be too preoccupied with being occupied.’ In other words, to be so busy that we are unable to be open to God’s prompting. Retreat, or finding a quiet place, is an opportunity to look honestly at ourselves in relation to God. To find space for rest, healing, refreshment and restoration, and be aware of the continuing love and goodness of God in our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The bottom line is this – God is worthy of our time – and we need to constantly remember that we are totally dependent upon his goodness and mercy at all times. It’s not about success, achievement or anything else other than being open to God, and there discover a God of surprises who reveals himself in the still small voice of silence. It’s why I love the hymn by Sister Estelle White: ‘Oh the love of my Lord is the essence, of all that I love here on earth. All the beauty I see he has given to me, and his giving is as gentle as silence. [Estelle White; publishers, Mayhew-McCrimmon, Great Wakering, Essex]
I know only too well that getting away has proved difficult this last twelve months, yet I’ve been fortunate to visit parks and woodland as well as go on countryside walks in my local area, and immersed myself in the quiet of these places and found great beauty in my neighbourhood that I hadn’t previously appreciated. But for those confined to their own homes during these uncertain times, I want to take a leaf out of the book of the late Rev Bill Peters, who’d kindly introduced me to the value of three day silent retreats during his ministry. He was confined to his room in a nursing home in the latter part of his life because of health and mobility issues. On calling one day to see him I asked how he filled his days. He told me that he used the time to look back and reflect on a different experience in his life, and particularly focus on the people around at that time as well as remember the many blessings they offered. Then he gave thanks within the silence of his room for the richness of his life in Christ Jesus. To him, such time of confinement was not a hindrance but an opportunity to commune with his God each and every day and to seek his continuing blessing and renewal.
I believe that, however we seek out a quiet place we should expect to know ourselves better as we encounter the Lord our God ‘who knows everything there is to know about us’ [Psalm 139]; we ought to expect to be more aware and sensitive of the world around us; expect to be changed from the inside out, and to discover what it means to be refreshed and renewed in the things that are of God. This can enable us to meet the challenges and changes that inevitably come our way, knowing that we are following in the footsteps of Christ who has gone this way before us and who knew the value of setting aside time and space to commune with his heavenly Father. Amen.
O God of Bethel, by whose hand thy children still are fed
Text: Philip Doddridge (1702 – 51) altd.
Tune: Martyrdom – H. Wilson (1766 – 1824), R. A. Smith (1780 – 1829)
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that, in your love, you have created the world and revealed yourself in it. We thank you that, in your love, you have helped us to receive and understand your Gospel and to know Jesus as our Lord, Saviour and Friend.
We thank you that, in your love, you have brought us to faith and filled our hearts with love for others.
Help us, day by day, to grow in faith, love and understanding and, by the strength which your Spirit gives, to be confirmed in your service. May we never grow weary on our Christian journey but have the energy of eagles on soaring wings. May we, with all your Church, reveal your glory, in our fellowship and the community You call us to serve.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray for our world, bringing to mind places and peoples in need . . . asking that our God, who is actively involved in our world, might bring his comfort and healing care.
Let us pray for our country, bringing to mind those in power and who influence the lives of others . . . and with them let us remember those who are homeless, powerless and have no voice . . . asking that our God, who is actively involved in our world, might bring his comfort and healing care.
Let us pray for our fellowship and those within this community whom we are called to serve, bringing to mind those who are ill or bereaved, those who face uncertainties, and those who have lost all hope . . . asking that our God, who is actively involved in our world, might bring his comfort and healing care.
Let us pray for ourselves, that the faith we have in Christ Jesus may be refreshed and renewed this day, so that we might be his servants in all that we think, say or do – that his Kingdom might be revealed in and through us, all to the greater glory and praise of our God.
Lord, we remember those who feel isolated during this time of lock-down, those suffering from this awful virus, and those concerned about the health of a loved one, asking that they might sense your healing touch within them and around them.
We bring before the Lord’s eternal throne those whom we know in need of our prayers this day, and we do so in the quiet of our hearts and minds:
[a time of silence]
Lord, make us channels of your peace so that where there is hatred we may bring your love; where there is injury, we may offer your pardon; and where there is doubt, we may reveal true faith in you.
For all the saints, who from their labours rest
Text: W. W. How. (1823 – 1897)
Tune: Sine nomine – R. Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)
Reading (based on 1 Corinthians 9: 16 – 23)
Even when I share the Good News of Jesus Christ I can claim no credit for it; I cannot help myself; it would be agony for me not to share what I have received. I expect no pay, but knowing the satisfaction of sharing God’s love with others. I have made myself everyone’s servant, to win over as many as possible.
For instance, to the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To them all I have become everything in turn, so that in one way or another I may save some. All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, to have a share in its blessings.
A Closing Prayer
Lord God Almighty, as we return to the daily duties that await, be with us in every moment of this week. Help us to remain focused upon you and to make your priorities our priorities in all that we think, say and do. All to your great glory, honour and praise.
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
may the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you;
may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and grant you his peace,
this day and for ever more.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Organ voluntary: Fugue in G (Gigue) – J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)