Order of Service
Organ prelude: Scherzetto – William Walton (1902 – 83)
Call to Worship From Psalm 149:
‘Praise the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor.’
Wherever you are and whoever you be, know that the Lord is here and worthy to be praised. we come together to praise and glorify his name. We sing together our opening hymn, Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it, a hymn of celebration it all things of earth and of heaven, join us now as we sing.
Jesus is Lord
Text and music: David Mansell (b. 1936)
We come to a time of prayer, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for this time we are able to spend with you and though we may wish that we are in your building we thank you that we can still hear your word and feel your presence in our lives. We thank you for all that you have done for us this week and for all the people we have met and all the times we have felt your spirit. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who we are missing whilst not in church that they too may feel your loving and guiding hand over their lives where they are.
Heavenly Father, we know that sometimes we fail to reach your expectations and the heights of your Kingdom and we pray now and as we pray now we offer you our confessions of the times when we have sinned against our fellow human and the world in our thoughts our words and our deeds.
Lord God when we confess our sins you forgive them and you forget them, we give you thanks for that pardon from our sins and that they are now forgotten. We pray that you may give us the same courage to forgive and the same strength to forget as people sin against us. Heavenly father we pray that you bless our lives this week and that you make us stronger to your will in your name we pray. Amen.
And now we will say together the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to say.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Introduction to the first reading
We will now hear our first reading of the day. This comes from the book of Romans chapter 10 verses 5 to 15. In these verses we are offered valuable advice about how we preach the gospel in our own lives. I now hand over to Susan Bollon who will share this with us.
Reading – Romans 10: 5 – 15
Organ interlude: Chorale Improvisation on Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele – Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877 – 1933)
Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading comes from the book of Matthew chapter 14 verses 22 through to 33, the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling out his disciples to join him. This will be read by Francis Byrn.
Reading – Matthew 14: 22 – 33
As a teacher I have expectations of my students. They include turning up on time, with the right equipment and ready to do the work I have set. As the school training officer and professional development mentor I have expectations of my fellow staff. These include being willing to be better at their job and accepting any training and assessment I advise or offer. These expectations are often not met, and I find myself regularly banging my head on the proverbial table in frustration.
The gambling industry works on people betting against what is expected or natural and the results of something unexpected happening. The more unlikely or improbable, the more money you can win, or indeed lose. Our gospel reading shows the disciples in the middle of what would be a streak of improbable and impossible outcomes during their time with Jesus.
Last week we heard about Jesus feeding the five thousand, though this is just the men and wouldn’t include women and children, as was the culture, and in the coming weeks we will hear about more of Jesus’ miracles and works whilst the disciples watched. But all of this happens in the shadow of John the Baptist’s murder, in a cruel and barbaric way.
After healing, preaching, and feeding the crowds, Jesus and the disciples take a boat and try to escape for some downtime, a bit of rest and reflection. In the morning the disciples wake and find Jesus walking on the lake. At this point I find myself giggling because the disciples see this image and come up with the only earthly conclusion they can. It’s a Ghost – and they panic!
Instead Jesus reassures them and invites them to join him. Peter does but finds himself not quite as faithful as he thought he was.
I often find myself lacking faith in my own abilities and talents. Being a lead singer and guitarist in a noisy rock band but having often crippling self-awareness can be hard going. I look at other parents whose children can ride bikes or do keepie-uppies with a football and I get concerned that I am not a good parent because my son can’t do those things. Then my son reads the Hobbit by himself and recognizes aspects of his own life in it, and I am reassured, he’s not doing too badly is he really?
Here we have Christ showing that he is the master of all things natural. That as a people we can try to control and harness that natural order, but Jesus is above it – beyond it. He is of heaven and therefore can move the earth. I wonder if this is part of his long-term plan to show how he will conquer death? Is this the first real sign of his power compared to our expectations and natural laws.
However, power through faith can be a slippery journey. I’m sure we’ve all seen on our TV’s and read in our papers the charlatans who claim to be able to heal when all they are doing is using psychology tricks to fool people into believing, then they ask for signs of gratitude, particularly folding $10 ones. I remember going to a healing service as a teenager and being mortified by the experience. It was being led by a more charismatic member of the clergy in Worcestershire and people were speaking in tongues, rolling across the floor and declaring themselves healed. Apparently, a month later when the same service was offered again the same people were healed of the same ailments and spoke in the same tongues. Something didn’t sit right with me, and still does not. Not that the power of Christ cannot do it, just that some people who claim to be able to are sometimes perhaps not as tuned in as others might see or perceive.
After all, let’s not forget that the disciples themselves often failed to heal and serve even with Jesus as a mentor. When Jesus comes down for the mountain after his transfiguration he finds a chaotic scene where the disciples have been unable to do the things Jesus can because they have a lack of faith and as such haven’t passed that faith on to others. And this is the crux of the issue.
When Peter joins Jesus on the water he is amazed that he is walking on the lake, but then the wind catches him and he is reminded that people don’t float on water and he panics because the natural order of life is broken and he needs Jesus to help him.
I find it strange that we as Christians will declare that Jesus is the master of death, that he passed on his power through the Holy Spirit yet we doubt when we see something that at best looks improbable if not impossible. I have seen churches that have run out of faith in Jesus. Too many times they have tried something, and the same people are the only ones who turn up, too many times they have opened their doors for no one to walk in and see the light. The problem is often that they won’t step out of the boat and keep their gaze on Jesus.
Peter would not have sunk if he stayed in the boat. The other disciples did not sink because they stayed in the boat. We will not sink if we stay in the boat but stepping out of the boat means risking not just sinking but also being seen as fakes, as magicians, as not of God but tricking the natural world. Jesus wants us to step out the boat and join him in glory. To show what life with Christ can be, full of blessings, full of the impossible made possible, full of the true power of God and heaven.
I have come to the conclusion that these miracles are in direct response to John’s death. That the more people try to repress the kingdom of heaven, the more it shows its glory. This is one example, but the best is of course the Easter Sunday resurrection. Are we ready to fulfil the same calling and stand against death? Are we ready to prove that there is more to life than the agreed natural order? Are we ready to let Jesus invite us out of the boat?
I look forward to hearing about your ongoing and future mission as the URC churches in Leeds embark on a working partnership and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.
With Blessings of Christ,
Our next hymn, before our intercessions, is one of my favourites and as such I have recorded it on my guitar. It is a prayerful hymn about focussing on God and His mission in our lives. The hymn is Be thou my vision.
Be thou my vision
Text: An ancient Irish poem, translated by Mary E. Byrne (1880 – 1931)
and Eleanor H. Hull (1860 – 1935)
Tune: Slane – Traditional Irish melody
Prayers of intercession
We come to a time where we will pray for our world. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father we pray this today, that you may give us the courage to step out of the boat and the conviction to keep our eyes on you. We pray that though the world may scorn or maybe just not understand you guide us the way you want us to go. We pray that even though the world around us may have expectations of their own that we aim to serve you and meet your expectations in us. We pray that you may bless us as we show the faith and conviction to follow your lead, however improbable and unlikely the result may look and we ask that you keep us focussed on you and your teachings.
Heavenly Father, we, through our Easter celebrations, profess that you are the master of death and we pray now that you may be the master of our lives and the lives of those around us. We think of our church of the people we miss while we are still locked down and trying to work out the best way to reopen. For the people who may still be too vulnerable or too scared to come out when we do and those who we have lost whilst we’ve been away from our buildings. We pray for the communities that we serve for the one in Headingley which though may primarily be seen as a student population has many different people involved from all ages and from all backgrounds. We pray for our city of Leeds; we remember the council as they aim to make up the loss of money lost during this pandemic and for the people whose jobs are on the line. We pray that those in our cities who need to help may receive it and we especially pray that those who needed it before don’t get forgotten.
Heavenly Father, we pray for our country, a country still divided by how people vote, by how people think rather than how people act. We ask for kindness and understanding at this time, we pray that our leaders may govern with wisdom and compassion, that though keeping hold of the purse strings is important they don’t forget the human cost in financial decisions, and we pray those who disagree may disagree well, that the bitter and angry conversations may perhaps become more peaceful and more fruitful. We remember all the people who strive to help their communities. The doctors, nurses, our key workers who continue to work hard. We remember our teachers and their students as they aim to enjoy their summer break. We hold up those who are mourning and those who comfort them.
We pray for our world, thinking especially today of the explosion in Lebanon and the many people who have lost their lives or face life changing injuries through no fault of their own. We pray for all those affected by the COVID-19 virus and those who mourn, those who weep, those who hide. We pray for the many people still displaced through either political upheaval, a lack of work, a lack of food or lack of money and we pray that wherever they end up they may find peace in their hearts and in their minds.
Heavenly Father, every time we turn on our TVs, every time we open our newspapers or flick through our social media, there is something else telling us what is wrong, so we pray that this week we may see a sign of your goodness through which we may be blessed in our lives.
Heavenly Father, in the quiet now we will offer those prayers and situations which are on our minds and we offer our lives in quiet contemplation to you again.
Lord God we pray these prayers in your name.
Our final hymn today is one of my favourites: Immortal, invisible, God only wise. It has been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager who, through school work in other such situations, found themselves not frequenting church terribly often but then one day returned back to their little Methodist Church in Worcestershire. This was the opening hymn we sang and something resonated with me and this hymn which led to me to truly feel the presence of God; and as such whenever I hear this and sing this, I feel a little bit of that same feeling again. As we sing together, I pray that you too may feel the blessings of God in your lives through the hymns we sing, not together but also together in a weird roundabout kind of way. So our final hymn this morning, Immortal, invisible.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Text: Walter Chalmers Smith (1824 – 1908)
Tune: St Denio – Welsh traditional melody. Last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)
May the blessing of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be upon you now and always, whoever, wherever and whenever you hear this, in God’s name we pray.
Organ voluntary: Tuba Tune – C. S. Lang (1891 – 1971)