Good morning everyone. I’m sorry that given the current circumstances around Covid 19, that we are unable to meet together in church this morning. All our services, activities and meetings will be suspended until 29th March after which new guidelines will be issued. This is in response to the announcement of our Taoiseach on Thursday in the hope that together as a community we can stop the spread of the Corona virus.
If you go on to the church website you will find some useful information on how best to keep yourself and your family safe and also a very helpful article if you are feeling afraid personally or are anxious about a friend or family member.
If myself, or the elders can be of help in any way please don’t hesitate to contact us. My number is on the announcement sheet and website.
Please do continue to keep everyone in your prayers especially those who are most vulnerable in our community.
But for now I’m thankful for the benefits of modern technology that enable us to stream this recording. In it I will lead you in some prayers and in a short reflection. It is my prayer that you will find this encouraging and comforting at this very difficult time for many in our world.
Call At the beginning of Psalm 46 we read these beautiful words,
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging, we will not be afraid”
With those words in our minds let us join together in prayer…
Loving God, in all the changes and chances of our lives, all the many uncertainties we face, we thank you that you are a God we can depend on, always good, always loving, always merciful and always faithful.
We thank you for the assurance that whatever we may be confronted with, your love will go on reaching out, your hand go on supporting, and your purpose go on being fulfilled.
Help us to truly believe that, not just in our minds but in our hearts, to put our trust wholly in you, confident that you will never fail us.
Help us to let go of the fears and anxieties that weigh us down, that hold us back, that destroy our peace and undermine our happiness.
Help us to receive the freedom you offer, the freedom that comes form knowing that you hold all things in your hands and that nothing can finally separate us from your love.
Give us the peace that Jesus promised to all who follow Him, the knowledge that we need neither be troubled or afraid, for you are with us, watching over us now and always.
Join with me now in the words that Jesus taught us to say together…
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, which 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.
Reflection “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow…”
On Thursday morning, I was finishing my background reading on the story of the woman at the well. I was just about to put pen to paper when the breaking news came through from our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar- “From 6pm tonight all universities and schools will be closed, and all gatherings of 100 people or more should be cancelled.”
I had been waiting for this announcement for weeks now but when I heard it I could still hardly believe it. I rang my mum and dad to see how they, my sister and her family were, and to reassure them that we were all ok. I rang my wife to reassure her and my daughter. Then I texted the boys to let them know what was happening and to find out if the parent teachers meeting this afternoon had been cancelled.
Then I met a friend for lunch. It was a wonderful window of normality in the chaos of the governments’ decision to lock down the country in the hope of stopping the further spread of Covid 19.
I’m sure like me you don’t know quite how you feel about the pandemic that has struck our world since January and now our little Island of Ireland over these last few weeks. On the one hand, we have reassured ourselves that only 2% of those who contract this flu-like virus are likely to die. The majority of people will have symptoms that are extremely mild. Only those who are elderly and have underlying health conditions are at major risk. Providing we wash our hands, don’t touch our faces, cough into our elbows and keep our distance from our work colleagues we’ll be grand. So we’ve gone about our work, our shopping and our sporting activities as usual. We’ve even shared the odd joke on the internet like the man who strapped an anti-virus CD to his face and asked – “will this protect me?”
But today the joke wore off, today we realised that nothing has been experienced like this in our world since the Spanish flu of 1918. That killed possibly between 20 and 50 million people. Today we realised that we all have elderly parents, or friends or family members who have underlying health conditions. People who are genuinely at risk of losing their lives if they get this virus. My sister who is a senior dietician comforted me in the knowledge that in Italy the average age of those people who have had to be ventilated in an attempt to save their lives is 49. Phew, I missed it by one! Ah, but then there’s my asthma!...mmmh…
Then it dawned on me – I need to phone round the leaders of the church and see what they think about whether we should hold our service on Sunday or whether we should shut down like the schools until the 29th of March. As a small church our average service attendance would be slightly below the magic 100 person mark set by the government as an automatic cancellation. But would 78 or 86 be safe, especially when there would likely be such a range of ages? And how could we arrange the seats so that people would be sitting at least 2m away from their nearest neighbour?
The unanimous view of our elders was that in light of the government’s announcement, we had a moral responsibility to play our part in keeping our own people and our wider community as safe as possible. We would cancel services and all weekly activities at the church premises over the next few weeks until we received a new directive. Now all we had to do was try and get the message out there to all our regular members and to the newcomers who have been attending over the last number of weeks. Huge thanks to Aleida for that.
Job done, or was it? I’ve realised that even though we can’t meet in church, God is still with us and it is still my job to look after his sheep.
So I’ve decided to put a few thoughts and prayers together each week to keep you going over this next number of weeks while we wait and pray for a change in the circumstances of our community and our world. You can listen to these online or you can just click on the link on our website and read my notes if you prefer.
Like our own conversations and activities, I think a balance is called for – we can’t bury our heads in the sand and just hope that if we laugh at enough online images of people filling their shopping trolleys that it will all go away. In light of that, I’ve decided that the story of the woman at the well will have to take a back seat this week as I try to bring some words of hope for those of you who are genuinely and understandably afraid. And since we could all do with a bit of normality and cheering up, next week I think it’s appropriate that a reflection on Mothering Sunday still goes ahead, providing the flowers haven’t all been snaffled! (1 bunch per person please!).
As I thought and prayed about what to say this week, (what do you say in such circumstances?) my mind was drawn to the 23rd Psalm. Here the writer reminds themselves and us, that God is both a shepherd and a host to those who will care to stop and contemplate Him. Listen to what he says… (on next page)
Bible Reading Psalm 23 The Message (MSG)
1-3 God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
So on this day that will be ‘locked down’ in our memories forever, let me try to bring you a few rays of hope as we reflect on one short verse of this beautiful poem that we find in the ancient text. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23 v 4)
On route to the places of food and water, the shepherd would carefully choose the right path where his beloved flock would not be in danger of falling and injuring themselves. So the Psalmist writes, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)
Despite this careful choice of path, sometimes the shepherd had no alternative but to take his troops through one of the deep, rugged ‘Wadis.’ These were dry stream beds cut through the hills by the winter floods. These ‘wadis’ were clothed in darkness from the shadows of the surrounding cliffs and the air inside was heavy and stiflingly hot. It was a difficult and treacherous journey to scale their steep sides. A fatal fall or dehydration was a constant threat. Another threat was the danger of wild animals. Once again, the loving shepherd was adequately prepared with a short club or ‘rod’ for striking these unwelcome enemies. If a sheep did wander from the path or was in danger of such a fate, the shepherd could also use his staff to redirect them to a safer route. So the Psalmist writes, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for your rod and staff they comfort me.” (Verse 4)
Like the path chosen by the shepherd, there are times when we too cannot avoid the darkest valleys of life. The Covid 19 pandemic is one of those. But even before the Covid 19 outbreak, people around our world have been walking through the valley of the shadow…Even today in the midst of Covid 19 people still walk through these same valleys…
A chronic illness, the death of a young child or a life-long companion, the day he turns to you out of the blue and says, “I don’t love you anymore.” Experiencing the reality of war and immigration, being sold as an object for sex, being bullied on snapchat or beaten at home, struggling with addiction, when you’re in a dark place mentally or hearing the words, “It’s cancer…” and so the list goes on. It’s at times like these we realise that often in life our greatest enemies are not just people, but the effect that disappointments and difficulties can have upon our souls.
When we enter the valley and darkness covers our spirit, we are vulnerable to many enemies; fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, disillusionment, bitterness and hatred. All have the potential to destroy our faith in people, in life and in God and cause us to lose our way. Some, like Covid 19 or another illness, could potentially pose a threat to our lives. So how can we come through these valleys? How can we continue to experience a deep and genuine hope and peace even when the way is dark, scary and uncertain?
Well, in this song the Psalmist encourages us not to try to do life in our own strength or simply try to follow our own path or wisdom. He or she challenges us with the idea that it is only as we somehow keep our eyes on the God who made us – our true shepherd, and only as we think about His character that we are enabled to keep on track. For when we think about God’s character, we remember that He understands, He cares, He knows the beginning from the end, He can somehow work out everything for our good in the mystery of time. Above all, He loves us with an everlasting love- a love that nothing, not the Corona virus, nor even death itself, can ever separate us from. God is also all-powerful and by His Holy Spirit who lives in us, He is able to give us the grace, strength and perseverance to carry us through even when the way is desperately tough. As the enemies of fear, anxiety, bitterness, anger, guilt and disillusionment strike at our hearts, threatening to destroy our faith, we can take comfort knowing that when we cry to the Lord in prayer he will strike our enemies with his rod. The Holy Spirit is able to help us overcome our fear and worry, he is able to bring forgiveness for our guilt, to bring hope for our disillusionment and to give us the grace to forgive those who have hurt us.
Recently I asked a young person how they felt about the Corona virus. “I’m afraid, obviously” they said. “Why are you afraid?” I inquired. “Because I could die and my dad who has asthma could die.”
I tried to reassure them that it was extremely unlikely for anyone under 20 to die from this disease and that the majority of people who were at risk were only those who were very elderly and had serious underlying health problems.
I didn’t say too much. But in the silence I was thinking… “There are no guarantees when it comes to health, but for someone who has a relationship with Jesus Christ, even if death comes, it is not the end. It is simply the doorway to an even better and more beautiful life in heaven, (wherever that currently is), and in the future they will enjoy everything we already enjoy about this world without the bad stuff like Corona, in the new heaven and earth that God will create.”
Are you passing through the valley? You are not alone. Jesus, the Good Shepherd is near. He loves you. Talk to him. Be honest. He will listen. He will carry you through. He will give you the wisdom, the guidance and the comfort that you need. He will provide for all of your needs.
Remember, God is your shepherd, when you walk through the valley, He will be with you.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow I will fear no evil, for the Lord is with me, and He will comfort me…” Psalm 23 v 4
“Cast your anxieties on the Lord for He cares for you…” 1 Peter 5 v 7
And may God bless this reading and reflection on his word to our hearts, Amen.
Introduction to prayers for others
We are going to spend a few moments now praying for others. Our focus will be particularly for those who are ill, those who are carers and all those impacted by the outbreak of Covid 19. Please feel free to include those people who you are particularly concerned about….Let us pray…
Prayer – ‘For the sick and those who care for them’ (Nick Fawcett)
Loving God we bring before you the sick and suffering of our world, all those wrestling with illness in body, mind or spirit.
We pray for those afflicted in body – enduring physical pain, overwhelmed by disabling disease, waiting for an operation or further treatment and fearful of what the future may hold, or living with the knowledge of terminal illness,
We pray for those disturbed or troubled in mind – those whose confidence has broken down, those unable to cope with the pressures of daily life, those oppressed by false terrors of the imagination, those facing the dark despair of clinical depression,
We pray for those afflicted in spirit – those who feel their lives to be empty, or whose beliefs are threatened or who have lost their faith, or who worship gods of their own making with no power to satisfy, or whose hearts have become bitter and twisted and their minds dark.
Living God, we thank you for all who work to bring help, wholeness and healing to the sick – doctors and nurses, surgeons and medical staff, psychiatrists, counsellors, clergy and therapists. Support and strengthen all those who share in the work of healing, all who strive to bring relief, all who minister to others.
Grant them your wisdom and guidance, your care and compassion, your strength and support. Equip them in all they do, and bring wholeness through them.
Finally we pray for your church in the healing ministry you have called her to exercise, an inner healing of body, mind and soul which only you can offer. Grant that your people everywhere may be so filled with your holy spirit and so touched by the grace of Christ, that they may share effectively in the wider work of healing, through their life and witness bringing wholeness to broken people and a broken world.
This we ask in the name of Christ, the Good Shepherd, Amen.
A Prayer for all who are impacted by Covid 19
Lord, in your mercy you healed those suffering in body, mind or spirit. We cry out to you now on behalf of those infected by the coronavirus. Heal the sick, and bind up the broken-hearted who grieve those felled by this illness.
As both infection and fear spread, we ask for courage and protection for healthcare workers risking their own well-being for the sake of others. We pray wisdom for government officials and those in decision-making positions. May they rightly discern what needs to be done to treat those already infected and prevent others from falling sick.
We know there are those in quarantine, afraid they might be exposed to illness, wondering when they will return to their normal lives, anxious about what might happen next. Comfort them with your peace that passes understanding and grant them patience during this liminal (transitional) and frightening season.
Lord of all, we are intimately connected to one another no matter where we reside on the earth, and so we plead for healing, good healthcare, relief and wholeness for our siblings in all the places where this virus has made its appearance. May our collective care, effort, resources and love bring an end to this epidemic. Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share in worship with you this morning. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it to be helpful. Don’t forget to look online for latest information and to log on to listen to another broadcast next Sunday when we will be giving thanks to God for the particular blessing that women bring to our world and reflecting on what the tradition of Mothering Sunday really means…
Perhaps you would join me in saying the words of the grace to close…
So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.
picture courtesy never thirsty.com
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