APC 21st April 2021 Pandemic Praise – ‘Chosen by God’.
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome back to our Wednesday morning worship. Today I want to begin a new series which I’m hoping will take us right up to when we can actually meet together again in church. It’s a series I’ve called ‘Pandemic Praise’ because I want to help us reflect on some of the spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ. These are things that we can give thanks for and that I hope will lift our spirits no matter how weary, impatient or frustrated we are currently feeling. But as always let’s begin by stilling our hearts and talking to God, let’s pray…
Lord Jesus we thank you for all those who have heard your call across the ages – all those from different walks of life who have come together, at different times, in different ways and in different places to be your people. Lord Jesus, for your surprising call, receive our thanks.
We thank you for the way you have consistently brought together the most unlikely of individuals – from different races, different cultures with different characters and different gifts to become your church. Lord Jesus, for your surprising call, receive our thanks.
And above all we thank you that you have called us here, with our different outlooks, contrasting temperaments, diverging backgrounds and variety of experiences to be your church in this place. Lord Jesus, for your surprising call, receive our thanks.
Lord Jesus Christ, teach us that whoever we are you can use us- you can use anyone and everyone for your Kingdom. Help us to accept one another and ourselves as we really are- united in our diversity by one common cause. Take us and use us just as we are, to demonstrate your transforming love and to work for the coming of your Kingdom. Lord Jesus, for your surprising call, receive our thanks.
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 Pandemic Praise – ‘Chosen by God’.
I’m going to be honest with you – as I walked into my office on Monday morning I was thinking to myself – “Lord what on earth am I going to say to people over this next few weeks? What can I say that will bring some hope and encouragement despite the weariness and frustration that most of us are feeling?”
As I prayed and listened, I sensed that God was saying to me – “Michael, remind people of the spiritual blessings I have given them, gifts that they can enjoy at all times, in all circumstances.”
So that’s what I want to do. Over the next few weeks on Wednesday mornings I want to help us reflect on some of the spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ. These are gifts that we have now and that will last for ever. No restrictions, no pandemic, not even death itself can take these blessings from us or spoil our enjoyment of them. What’s more, as we reflect upon these spiritual blessings they can give us immense hope and encouragement on a daily basis.
To direct our thoughts, I want to use a letter that Paul wrote while he too was in lockdown, in a Roman prison. The letter is addressed to a church in Ephesus, although most people believe it was a circular letter that Paul wanted to be read by all the Christian churches.
Whatever the original intended audience, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has since been widely circulated throughout the world. It has been called the “Queen of the Epistles” because it is so full of spiritual wisdom, insight and encouragement. Over the next few Wednesdays I want to focus on the opening paragraph of this letter. Let’s read it together now…
Ephesians Chapter 1 v 1-14
”Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
In this letter, after his usual introduction where he sets out his credentials as an apostle, Paul immediately bursts into a spontaneous outpouring of joy as he reflects on all the spiritual blessings that He has experienced in Christ. The wonder of these things gives Paul such excitement and happiness that he shouts aloud, “Praise God!”
It’s my hope that if these things could lift the spirits of a man on death row in prison, they will be able to lift our spirits in the middle of our own lockdown!
So what is Paul getting so excited about? Well for today, let’s just think about the first thing that he shares. He writes this,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
I wonder do you realize that you have been chosen by God? The Creator of the universe has picked you to be part of his team! It sounds too good to be true. In one sense, it is. You know yourself. You know the thoughts and feelings inside that no one else sees. You know the things you’ve done or said or the things you should have done or said but didn’t, that no-one else knows about. You know all the things that make you feel guilty, that make you feel bad about yourself. And God knows about them too! The truth is, you and I don’t deserve to be on God’s team. We don’t deserve His love and attention! In fact, the only thing we deserve is God’s judgement – and that means so much more than a good telling off or a lunchtime detention! The reality is, God is so holy, so perfect, that we don’t deserve to be anywhere near His presence.
But the amazing and almost unbelievable thing is that despite all that God already knows about us, He has still chosen to send His Son to die for us so that we could become His closest friends. God didn’t have to do this. But He has chosen to do this out of His goodness and mercy.
You know, every time I sit in my car at the church gates I’m reminded about this. I’m there in my white car with my indicator on to turn right. There’s even a bump in the road to help people slow down. It’s a busy road. Often the times I’m coming out, people are rushing home from work. At those times I’m utterly dependent on someone out of the kindness of their heart stopping and letting me out into the traffic. They don’t have to. Many don’t! But I am so thankful when eventually someone kindly stops and waves me out. In fact, I’m so grateful that just a hundred yards later I automatically stop to let any person coming from the Sea Road out onto the Dublin Road.
This act of kindness on my part is simply a reflection of the kindness I have been shown by a complete stranger just a few minutes earlier.
Paul says God has ‘chosen us in Christ… to be Holy and Blameless in His sight’. You see, that’s what an understanding of God’s undeserved kindness to us does. It makes us want to live right, to be loving and kind and generous to other people, in the same way that God has been kind to us.
So this week I want to encourage you to make time to reflect on the amazing spiritual blessing that God has chosen you in Christ. Don’t rush this process. Take a good look at yourself in the light of who God is and what His standards are. Reflect deeply on what it would be like if God only treated you as you deserve. Then think about how instead, God deliberately chose to send His Son to take the judgement that you deserve. And since God has chosen to let you out when He could so easily have driven past, take time to reflect on how you can show your gratitude to Him in all you say and do. Let’s pray…
Prayers for others
Lord today we remember all those who are sick, in hospital, waiting for appointments or struggling emotionally with the continued restrictions. Loving Father, bring them your help and healing through the health care system and the support of family and friends.
We pray too for all those who have been bereaved in recent days. We think especially of Mary Walker, Alison Crammond and Robert Holden. Draw near to them and to their wider family with your deep comfort and strengthening grace.
Lord, all of us are finding it increasingly difficult in these days. So give us the courage, strength and perseverance we need. Help us to look out for one another and give us wisdom to know how best to support and encourage one another.
We thank you that all our young people are back at school. Thank you for all the staff in our schools. Please continue to motivate them and give them energy and enthusiasm to make it a positive and effective learning environment for all our children. Help us to encourage and support all teachers in every way we can.
Father we remember especially those in third level education and for all those in jobs who have not yet been permitted to return to work. God, while many enjoy working from home, many are finding it increasingly stressful, many are missing the social interaction of the college life and the office. Father for all who are struggling we pray that you would provide them with little encouragements each day to keep them going.
We thank you for the vaccine rollouts throughout the world. Lord, please enable this process to be done fairly and grant that the poorest areas of our world will not be neglected. We pray especially for the situations in places like India and Brazil and ask that in your mercy that soon they will be able to get recent outbreaks of Covid under control.
Lord, in your mercy please enable every country to begin to see real and lasting progress in the fight against this disease.
Father, we remember all clergy and church leaders struggling to keep online services going and to pastorally acre for people in these days. Give each one energy and perseverance and fill them with hope and joy. We pray that the government will listen seriously to church leaders as they try to explain how important worship is for people of religious belief. We ask that very soon we will be allowed to return to worship together.
We pray also for all the leaders of the EU, the UK and Ireland as they seek to understand the concerns of certain sections of the community in Northern Ireland and as they try to fine tune some of the issues around the movement of goods between different regions. We ask that you will give them great sensitivity, great wisdom and understanding and that tensions and fears may be enabled to be eased particularly in areas where there have been outbreaks of unrest in recent days. We pray long term for good relationships and for peaceful and pragmatic solutions to these complex and difficult situations.
Take a few moments now to bring your own prayers for others to God at this time….
All these prayers we offer in the name of the one who has set His love upon us and who is always for us and not against us. Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share in worship with you this morning. Thanks for logging on. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it to be encouraging.
I’ve still no further confirmation of when our church can reopen for services but I’m hoping that it will be in the first half of May.
I want to remind you to take your time and carefully complete the GDPR form that we have sent you out. Please make any amendments to any of the details that you would like us to hold for you and your family. And do ask all the relevant people in your household to sign the form. If you require any additional forms for a young adult in your household for example, then please just ask and we will happily send it out. Once you’ve completed please do drop it into Aleida or into me at the church in a sealed envelope.
I’m conscious that many of us are weary and really struggling the longer the lockdown restrictions continue, so please do continue to keep in touch with one another and encourage one another.
But for now, as always, let me lead you in a Benediction after which I invite you to say the grace together…
You are the people of God. So go forth to live in such ways that by your actions and words others will see in you the life of Jesus and want to follow in his way. And
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.