“Due to the Covid 19 outbreak unfortunately our services and activities must remain cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Rev Michael and the elders have been keeping in touch with everyone by phone call.
Currently everyone in our church family and their wider family circles are all keeping safe and well.
Reflections and prayers are being prepared each week by Michael and posted online by Dave Hendry.
Aleida has received several enquiries from congregational members about how they might continue to contribute to our church finances during this period of closure.
We are conscious that this is a particularly sensitive issue in the current climate because some people have seen work colleagues made redundant, some have been made temporarily redundant themselves and others are afraid of what the future might hold.
In light of this, we would like to stress that no one should feel under obligation to contribute, especially if you are concerned about your own circumstances.
If you are worried about your own financial situation or know of anyone in this position, please do let us know, as we may be able to provide some assistance through our Benevolent Fund.
Having said this, on balance, the elders felt we would publish our IBAN number for anyone who would wish and are still able to contribute. Several people already contribute in this way through Standing Orders rather than using Free will offering envelopes. The details are listed below..
If you are worried in any other way, please don’t hesitate to phone Michael or your church elder to receive assistance and pastoral care.
In the meantime please continue to pray for each other, especially those who work in our hospitals and care homes, and keep looking out for each other particularly those who are most vulnerable.”
For those wishing to Contribute, the Church Bank details are as follows:
Account Number 11410697
IBAN IE66 BOFI 9064 5111 4106 97
Sunday 29th March 2020
“The Woman at the Well”
Introduction and Welcome
Good morning everyone, it’s hard to believe it’s just over two weeks since Leo Varadkar announced that schools were closing and gatherings of more than 100 people should be suspended. So much has changed in such a short period. And yet for many of us with our social distancing, I’m sure the time seems to be passing very slowly and his announcement feels like it was months ago. So I hope that our service this morning will be a welcome distraction, bring a sense of normal routine, and help you to feel connected to one another, to God and to our world.
When our Taoiseach made his announcement, I was sitting in the church office preparing my sermon about an unexpected encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Given the circumstances, I immediately changed tack and prepared some thoughts on Psalm 23 that I thought were more appropriate.
Two weeks later, I think it’s time to revisit this wonderful story of the woman at the well. But before we do, let’s pause for a moment in prayer…Let us pray…
Gracious God, once more we meet together during this season of lent. We come in the name of Christ, remembering again those lonely and testing days he endured in the wilderness. We come recalling how he deliberately spent time there alone, reflecting on who he was and what you wanted of him. We come reminded of the courage, the faith, and the commitment he showed during that time - qualities that were to characterise the rest of his ministry.
Gracious God, at this time of our wilderness, caused by the Covid 19 virus, help us to use our time wisely. May we draw closer to you through it, understanding more of your nature and our own. May it deepen our faith, strengthen our commitment and confirm our sense of calling. May we learn what it means to follow Christ and what it means to serve you. May we recognise more clearly the true cost of discipleship but equally the rewards. May we understand more fully why you have put us here, what you would have us do, who you would have us be, how you would have us live, and where you would have us go.
Gracious God, prepare us through this time of worship, this day and this difficult season, to understand and celebrate more fully all you have done for us in Christ. And so may we love you more truly and serve you more faithfully, to the glory of your name, Amen.
Join with me now as we thoughtfully and sincerely say the Lord’s prayer together. And so we say…
The Lord’s Prayer:
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 Reflection
This morning, rather than separating the bible reading from my reflection, I would like to weave the reading through my thoughts. If you wish to follow the entire reading you can find it in John’s gospel Chapter 4 and reading from verse 1 through to verse 26. This is the account of an unexpected encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. John introduces the encounter by explaining to us why Jesus left the Southern region of Judea where he was ministering to travel further North towards Galilee.
“So when the Lord learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptising more disciples than John ( although it was not Jesus himself who was in the habit of baptising but his disciples) He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the Sixth hour (Noon).”
Reflection Encounters with Jesus – ‘The woman at the well.’
Due to his thought-provoking speeches and the miraculous ways he was transforming lives, large numbers of people were flocking to Jesus and his followers and asking to be baptised. Naturally this had caused the Jewish religious leaders to become worried and a little jealous. So in order to stir up trouble they had begun to question Jesus about his understanding of baptism. Anxious to avoid unnecessary controversy and debate at this stage in his ministry, Jesus took the decision to move on further North to Galilee.
In his gospel, John describes this unexpected journey with the one liner- “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.” In actual fact, there were two ways of getting to Galilee from Judea in the South. Yes, the quickest route was through Samaria. But since the Jews and Samaritans despised each other, Jews travelling Northwards would always take the longer route, by-passing Samaria entirely. Unless there was some sort of road block that we are unaware of, the only reason Jesus ‘had to pass through Samaria’ was because God the Father had told him to – As always, Jesus had that sense of Divine purpose.
I wonder do we? Do we realise that God is very real. That He loves us? Do we understand that our birth was no accident, that our lives are of deep worth and significance? Do we know that God has a purpose for us? That life is a journey of discovery?
In his book, ‘Man’s Search for meaning’, the famous Jewish Psychologist Victor Frankyl describes his experience of the holocaust. In that book Frankyl suggests that the main thing that kept him alive while so many around him were dying, was his mental determination to somehow find purpose within this darkest of situations. The purpose that Frankyl discovered was this – “I am going to survive this because when I do, I will be able to help people through their own traumatic life experiences.” It was that necessity to find purpose in suffering that formed the basis for the rest of Frankyl’s work. Frankyl spent the rest of his life encouraging people that they did not have to be a victim of their past but that in finding purpose for their lives they could move beyond their past and find fulfilment in the present.
So let me ask you, in the midst of our current circumstances what is your purpose for today? What does God want you to do today?
The purpose in bringing Jesus through Samaria would shortly be revealed but for now, tired and thirsty, he sits down at a famous landmark called ‘Jacob’s well’ situated in the fork of the road leading to Samaria. The disciples had gone into town for provisions.
The writer of Genesis records that their Jewish forefather Jacob had bought this piece of ground, bequeathed it to Joseph on his deathbed and that Joseph had requested to be buried there. The well that had been dug here was 100 feet deep. It was fed by an underground stream and a leather traveller’s bucket would have been essential to draw water from it.
It was midday, the hottest part of the day, and Jesus sat down to rest for he was weary from his ministry and their travelling. After a short while, unexpectedly a woman arrived to draw water from the well. A clay pot was cradled in her elbow, its weight on her hip. In her other hand she carried a coiled rope and a leather bucket. Why she would come to that well was something of a mystery for it was more than half a mile from Sychar where she must have stayed and there was water there. It was also midday. Women would only come to the well in the morning or the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. As they drew water they exchanged news. There was talk of the weather, the harvest, the latest marriages, births and deaths. Why did she avoid the company of the other women?
There are few stories in the gospel record which show us so much about the character of Jesus as this story does…
John is the writer who emphasises the deity of Jesus more than any other gospel writer. Yet here he stresses the deep reality of Jesus’ humanity. We might have expected John not to mention that Jesus was tired and thirsty. But in including these details, John is deliberately highlighting for us that Jesus was as much human as you and me. Life was as much of a struggle for him as it is for us. He too experienced times when he was exhausted and overwhelmed but when he knew that he had to carry on.
I hope that’s an encouragement to all of us in the present circumstances especially to those of us who are shouldering the burden of working in our hospitals and care homes, our supermarkets or who are deeply concerned about the impact the current crisis will have on our jobs or family finances.
In Christ, God took on human flesh. That means he understands every human experience of life. He knows what it’s like to weep, to be afraid, to laugh and cry, to be in pain, to feel exhausted and thirsty, to feel angry and confused.
I can’t promise you that everything will turn out rosy. That’s certainly not been the experience of those who have already lost their jobs or their lives or family members because of Covid 19. But what I can promise you is that whatever your experience, however anxious or exhausted or angry or frustrated you feel, God understands and through His Holy Spirit, God comes near.
God is not the author of this virus. But God is the one who is beside you and who will give you the grace that you need for each unfolding day. Let me encourage you to let Him help you.
As she approached the well, the Samaritan woman would never have dreamed how this strange man, already seated, would help her. In his book ‘Unexpected Journeys,’ Eddie Askey describes her well, he writes,
“I wish I knew her name. It’s so impersonal to keep calling her woman or ‘she’… She comes into the picture preoccupied with her own troubles. Life hasn’t been good to her. She’s carrying burdens, not just a bucket. She’s had difficulties with relationships particularly with men. Sometimes there’d been a wedding ceremony at other times not. That’s according to Jesus’ words later on, and she never denied them. Why so many problems? The easiest and simplest answer is to dismiss her as immoral, a woman who despised convention and went wherever her emotions led her. In other words, to blame her. But that’s too facile, quick judgements often are. Prejudice is a weed with deep roots…”
She sat down. Whether she and Jesus exchanged a glance we’ll never know. But after a short silence he spoke, “Would you give me a drink?”
Astonished she turns to him in response, “I’m a Samaritan woman, you are a Jewish man. How is it that you ask me for a drink?”
This whole incident breaks every social taboo of the day and is pregnant with suspicion and suggestion.
In the A.N.E. a man should never have approached or spoken to a woman in public, nor a woman a man. After hundreds of years of animosity Jews and Samaritan’s hated each other. For a Jew to accept food or drink from a Samaritan would make them ceremonially unclean. Given the woman’s background, Jesus risked losing his reputation entirely, but equally in the circumstances, she was curious about his intentions.
Reading the story with the hindsight of our Christian experience, we know that Jesus deliberately broke all the rules of the day because he cared deeply and purely for this woman. He longed to see her find inner peace and healing through a new found relationship with God.
As I reflected on this story again this week I wrote down 2 questions that came to mind…Who are my Samaritans and what are my prejudices?
I want to encourage you to write those 2 questions down this week and to honestly reflect upon them in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Like me, I think you’ll be unpleasantly surprised…
In his book ‘Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes’ I found these conclusions from Kenneth Bailey particularly interesting…
“The new movement centred around Jesus, elevates the position of all women. Jesus talks directly to the Samaritan woman and chooses her as an appropriate audience for profound expositions of the nature of God and the nature of true worship. She becomes an evangelist to her own community and foreshadows the women who witness to the men regarding the resurrection…”
“A Samaritan woman and her community are sought out and welcomed by Jesus. In the process, ancient racial, theological and historical barriers are breached. His message and community are for all.”
Jesus cared deeply for this woman. He knew that her greatest problem was a spiritual one that only he could meet. So he says, “If you knew the free gift that God offers and who it is that’s talking to you, you would have asked and I would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir you have no bucket to draw water and the well is deep. Where does this living water that you have come from? Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well and who drank form it himself with his children and cattle?”
To a Jew the term ‘living water’ was brimming with meaning. It was used figuratively to describe a flowing stream. It was also used spiritually to describe how only God could quench the thirsty soul or spirit.
Jesus is trying to use imagery to teach this lady a spiritual lesson. But like Nicodemus the lady misses the point because she is trying to understand Jesus’ words literally.
She knows the only water around is at the bottom of Jacob’s well. It wasn’t flowing water, and he had no bucket. Was he just trying to poke fun or make out that he was somehow better than the Samaritan’s beloved ancestor, Jacob?
Jesus presses the point further. He replies, “Everyone who drinks of this well water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water I give them will never thirst again. The water I give them will become like an internal well, springing up to give them eternal life.”
“If that’s true,” she says, “Them give me this water so that I won’t be thirsty and won’t have to come back to this well ever again.”
I’m not sure if the woman is really beginning to understand what Jesus is trying to say or if she is just being sarcastic at this point.
Suddenly, yet gently, like a loving parent, Jesus cuts to the chase and points out where the woman has a problem. This issue had caused this woman untold sorrow and yet she still clung to it like a limpet. “Go and call your husband, then come back.” He said. “I’m not married” she replies. “That’s right” he says, “You’ve had 5 husbands and you’re not married to the man you’re currently with.”
Being fully God as well as being completely human, Jesus knew every detail of this woman’s life. He knew her relationships with men were spoiling her life and affecting her spiritually. Like a prophet he was pointing this out, to help her, not to condemn her. This was an opportunity for her life to be turned around…
The Covid 19 virus has already proved devastating for many people in different ways. But in a strange, almost prophetic way, it has also provided many of us with invaluable opportunities. Opportunity to get some jobs done that we might otherwise not have had time to do. Opportunity to spend time with our families. Opportunity to think of others rather than just ourselves. Opportunity to step off the treadmill of our manic schedules and reflect on what really matters most. Opportunity to see the issues and that going forward perhaps there is a different and better way to live….
So they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can hear the birds again.
Satellite images show huge areas of our atmosphere now clear of smog and the waters of Venus are running clear.
Hotels are offering free meals and a delivery to the housebound and people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
Crime rates are down to unprecedented levels.
Take time to reflect on your life, how you have been living, where your priorities lie and the impact your choices and actions are having on the world around you.
You may not get this time to reflect again. So make it count, not just for the next number of weeks, but for the remainder of your life. That way, you will leave a footprint that future generations will be proud to follow.
Uncomfortable at the moral inadequacies Jesus has confronted her with, the woman cleverly tries to change the subject even though she realises there is something especially holy about the man to whom she is speaking.
“I see you are a prophet,” she says. “Our ancestors said Mt Gerazim is where we should worship but you Jews say Jerusalem is the place.”
Whether she was really wanting to know where she should go to offer sacrifice for her sins or whether she was just raising a new topic of religious controversy to distract Jesus form her promiscuous lifestyle we ‘ll never know.
But in response, again Jesus cuts to the chase and redirects her to the main point.
He says, “A day is coming when we won’t worship God in Gerazim or Jerusalem. The day will come when we will worship God in spirit and in truth. For those are the sort of worshippers that God is looking for.”
Here Jesus emphasises that not only can God be worshipped anywhere because He is everywhere, but above all he is looking for honesty and sincerity of heart.
Squirming at the thought of the all seeing eye of God, the woman grabs at one last straw of hope that Jews and Samaritans held in common. That one day the Messiah would come.
“I know that one day the Messiah is coming,” she says. “I know that on that day he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus replies, “I myself am, him.”
The words that Jesus uses here are literally translated “I, myself, am.” In Greek these are the very same words that are used in the Greek translation of Exodus Ch 2 and Ch 6 where God reveals His divine name to Moses. In other words Jesus is saying – “I am Divine, I am the Messiah!”
You know all of life is spiritual, all of life is a gift from God and to be enjoyed. Our work, our family, our pets, our hobbies, our holidays, the environment. But in all of this for all of us there is one inherent danger. We can be so busy living the life that we forget the God who gives us life. We forget to talk to Him, to thank Him, to respect Him, to ask Him for help and in doing so, the things of life fail to satisfy us the way they should. That’s because deep down inside we all have a soul or spirit. As well as being physical we are spiritual beings. That means we were created to have a relationship with God. Until we find that relationship or if we neglect it after we have discovered it, there will always be something missing. We will always feel thirsty, aware of a gap in our lives. One rock singer described it as an emptiness deep inside, a woman described it as a deep, deep void and a young person spoke of a chunk missing in their soul. Whatever else we try to fill it with –money, drugs, sex, hard work, music, sport, success, sooner or later we will find that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger that exists deep inside every one of us. Until that hunger is satisfied, until that thirst is quenched, we will never find true happiness or true contentment in all of the things that we are supposed to enjoy in life.
That’s why Jesus came. He is the living water and the bread of life. He died and came back to life so that we could have the wrong things in our lives forgiven and our relationship with God restored. It is only as we maintain our friendship with Him each day by talking to Him and reflecting on His words that the rest of life falls into place and becomes truly satisfying.
So let me ask you, how is your relationship with God? Do you know Him? Have you allowed the worries and disappointments of life to cloud your friendship.
Then let me encourage you to use this time of social distancing to bring you closer again to God.
If you do that and continue to keep coming regularly to the well, I promise you that like the Samaritan woman, you will be able to share with anyone who cares to listen what a difference Christ is making to every aspect of your living.
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 mourn and for those who are sacrificing so much, to serve us in these days. Please feel free to include those people who you are particularly concerned about….Let us pray…
Prayers for Others
A Prayer for those who mourn – Loving God, you have promised your special blessing to those who mourn, your comfort to those overwhelmed by grief, your joy to those enduring sorrow. So now we pray for all those facing sadness, those burdened by misery, those weighed down by despair, those who have lost loved ones and who are striving to come to terms with the emptiness and heartbreak they feel. We think particularly of those who have lost family members to the Corona virus.
Loving God, grant to all who grieve your special blessing. May they know that your hand is upon them, your arms encircling them and your heart reaching out to them.
May all who mourn, discover the comfort you have promised and find strength to face tomorrow, until that time comes when light shall dawn again and hope be born anew.
A Prayer for those who serve – Lord of all, we pray for those who in different ways spend much of their lives in the service of others, those whose work offers us the care, the security, the opportunities and the support that we often take for granted in society. We think of those in hospitals, hospices and care homes, in the Gardai and police, the armed forces or emergency services, In voluntary services and charities, supermarkets, welfare offices, aid agencies, in social and community work, in schools, colleges and universities, in the church or mission field, in local, national and international government.
Lord God, we thank you for those who provide service in so many different ways especially all those who are working night and day to help us during this period of pandemic.
Strengthen and encourage them in their work. Keep them safe and in good health. Give them all the support, inspiration and resources they need and work through them to express your love for the world. In all their work, Lord, uphold them, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Again it’s been my joy and privilege to serve you by leading you in worship this morning. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it to be encouraging. Please do take time during the week ahead to reflect more deeply on those things that we have considered this morning. Like our food, it’s often only when we take time to really digest that we get the benefit of the spiritual truths that we hear or read. Don’t forget to look at our church website or on facebook for latest information and to log on to listen to another broadcast next Sunday. Amidst the chaos, I hope to restore a bit of structure and normality to our lives as we reflect on Palm Sunday that leads us into Holy Week. Easter Sunday and the resurrection are only around the corner. May that be true for our current situation also. So let me close with a benediction after which, as always, I invite you to join me in saying the grace together…
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and may God's love, grace and truth, be poured out endlessly upon you, may they well up in you like a stream and flow from your life like a river. So may you bring blessing to all you meet and praise and glory to God’s everlasting name…..
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.
CLICK THE LINK ABOVE TO HEAR THE SERVICE - TEXT IS BELOW
Sunday 22nd March 2020 “Mothering Sunday”
Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to our Mothering Sunday Service. Today is a special time to thank God for mothers and all who help our families to flourish and grow well. It’s also a time to celebrate our church family where we are all united together as brothers and sisters in Christ, with God as our perfect heavenly parent.
Call to Worship
We gather together to worship
our loving, nurturing God,
who, like a mother,
knows us intimately,
loves us unconditionally,
teaches us the way we should go,
and comforts us in times of need.
This is our God… Let us pray…
Loving God, on this special day we thank you for our own mothers and mothers everywhere.
We thank you for all they do or once did, all they give or once gave, all they mean and will always mean.
Grant to all mothers your wisdom, your guidance, your patience and your support.
We thank you for all the people in our lives, men and women young and old who have cared for us and helped us to be who we are today.
We thank you for all the people who are presently caring for us in all of the disruption and isolation that the Covid 19 outbreak has brought to our lives.
We thank you that you love us like a perfect mother and that you watch over us every moment of every day, seeking our best, concerned about our progress, equipping us for the journey of life.
Thank you that you are always there when we need you, ready to comfort, encourage and reassure, slow to punish and swift to bless.
Gracious God, we call you “Our Father” but equally you are “Our Mother”. Help us to learn what that means and to rejoice in that truth.
Lord of love, hear our prayer, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Join with me now as we thoughtfully and sincerely say the Lord’s prayer together. And so we say…
The Lord’s Prayer:
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 bible readings
In light of the day that’s in it, I thought I would read you two passages of scripture which demonstrate for us what the spirit of mothering Sunday is all about. In the first passage from Exodus we see how the amazing compassion, courage and unselfishness of Pharaoh’s daughter causes her to rescue an abandoned Hebrew baby from the river to care for it as her own. She knew in doing so she would be going against the express wish of her father. What she didn’t know was that she would also be answering the prayers of the child’s mother and that one day this child would become a mighty leader of the nation of Israel.
In the second reading we see the care and compassion shown by the women in Jesus life along with his dear friend John. They all supported him right up until the end even when many of his oher followers had deserted him out of fear.
Bible Readings – Two Examples of Motherly Care
Exodus 2 v 1-10 The Birth of Moses
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female servant to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
John 19 v 25b -27 Care for Jesus at the Cross
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Reflection- What’s in a name?
Today is widely known in society as ‘Mother’s Day’. Having said that, within the Christian church, historically it is really supposed to be called ‘Mothering Sunday’. Now in one sense I personally don’t mind if we call it ‘mother’s day’ or ‘mothering Sunday’ as long as we remember that within the Christian church this day was never meant to be solely about mothers. The original meaning of mothering Sunday was to celebrate and remind ourselves of our privilege and duty of ‘mothering’ or caring for one another.
The day itself evolved from the medieval tradition of visiting your home congregation or mother-church and taking an offering for presentation at the altar there. This ‘Mothering Sunday’ was always celebrated half way through Lent and so it was also called ‘Mid-Lenting Day’. It was a special day off from fasting and so was known by a third title of ‘Refreshment Sunday’ or ‘Laetare Sunday’ from the Latin word for “Rejoice”. It was only in Victorian times that this evolved into the tradition where sons and daughters who lived and worked away from home visited their families for the day, and brought small gifts for their mothers.
Despite all that’s good about mothering Sunday it’s important for us to acknowledge that this is a day on which some people find coming to church at all very difficult. For some women and men this day will resurrect deep seated personal griefs and sorrows. Quiet tears will be shed by many today. Tears of those who never knew their mothers, tears for children who have died, tears of parents who have been rejected by their children, tears of children who were treated badly by their parents, tears for the relationships that never happened, tears for the children that never were. All in all, Mothering Sunday is always a day of mixed emotions.
Despite this, Mothering Sunday is a unique day in the church year when we celebrate and thank God for our mothers, for the churches we grew up in, and when we celebrate even more the huge army of people who have cared for and continue to ‘mother’ us.
There is an old African proverb which says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Certainly this was the experience of the OT hero Moses. In our OT reading we see a picture of the infant Moses receiving love, care and nurture from not one, but three mother figures – All of us can relate to that as we think back over our lives. Each one of us needs so much love, care and encouragement. We are grateful for all the family members, friends, teachers and mentors who have helped us to become the people we are today. And I know, as a father, even though I do my best, my children would have a raw deal in life if they were solely relying on me. So it’s right to thank God for their mum, their grandparents, their friends, their Sunday school teachers and youth leader, coaches and teachers for all the ways they have helped in their development.
So much mothering given and received, - and that's just how it should be. Life is often messy, never perfect, - and families are just the same ...whatever the greetings card industry might like us to believe.
But the message today is that family exists where people are loving towards one another – not just where there are mum, dad and children.
Our gospel reading shows us how that sort of family can be created...as Jesus asks his mother to look after his best friend, and that friend to look after his mother.
He knows that he won't be there to care for either of them but wants the best for both of them...so here, even while he's telling John that Mary is now his mum, and Mary that John is to be her son, it's mostly Jesus that does the mothering.
You see, you really don't have to be a woman, let alone a mother, to share in this important work of caring and creating family and community. It's something we can all do...
Jesus brings a new family to birth through his loving care and the family he establishes is the family that's here today...the Church.
In this family, we can and should share in the work of mothering...
That is what we celebrate today.
Mothering Sunday is about all those who mother us, women, men and children – those who care for us, who teach us and help us to grow. We go on needing people like that whether we're 5 or 50 or 85.
So let's ask God to help us to share his work of mothering, of loving and caring for one another, especially at this time of worldwide upheaval that has been caused by the Corona virus.
Of course we have to keep our social distance to prevent the further spread of this virus and to ensure that those who are most vulnerable are kept safe.
But at the same time, there will be people who may be in particular need who may need some shopping done for them or who may be lonely or in self isolation and would appreciate a phone call.
On this mothering Sunday, thank God for all those who care for us and take a moment in prayer to ask, “Lord who are you calling me to care for at this time and how best might I do that given the circumstances and the restrictions that have been advised.”
If you are in particular need please don’t hesitate to contact me – my number is on the church website.
Let's make our church and our community a true family where all are welcome and all are cared for.
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 mothers, for those who have lost their mothers or have been separated from their children and for all of us to continue to show motherly care to each other particularly at this very difficult time of social distancing. Please feel free to include those people who you are particularly concerned about….Let us pray…
Prayers for Others
Gracious God, you know what it is to love your children – to watch over them tenderly, anxiously, proudly and constantly. You know what this means, for you have called us your children, and you care for each of us as deeply as a mother cares for her child. So now we pray for those entrusted with the responsibility of motherhood – all those who watch over their children in the same way, with the same feelings and intensity. Grant to each one your wisdom, guidance and strength. Lord of love, hear our prayer
We pray especially for single mothers – those faced with the challenge of raising a child or children on their own, with no one else to share the demands or joys of parenthood. Give to each of them patience, devotion and dedication. Lord of love, hear our prayer
We pray for those who have lost their mothers or never known them, those orphaned as children or given up for adoption, those whose mothers have died, or for whom this day brings pain rather than pleasure. Grant them your comfort, your support and the assurance of your love always with them. Lord of love, hear our prayer
We pray for those who are separated from their children – those whose children have moved far from home, those who have suffered a miscarriage or been through an abortion, those who have endured the agony of a child’s death. Give to them your help, your solace and a hope for the future. Lord of love, hear our prayer.
We pray too for all those who wish to be mothers or fathers but who have not been able to conceive. Heal their pain and comfort their sorrow. Give them grace, and show them a way forward.
Gracious God, you understand what mothers face, what they give, what they feel. Accept our thanks for them this day, and grant them your special blessing.
And on this day, inspired by the example of mothers throughout our world, we are reminded that we are all called to care for each other. So we ask that at this time of crisis, you will give us all wisdom to know how best to support, encourage and care not just for our families but also our neighbours, especially those who are most vulnerable.
We pray that you will give courage, protection and strength to everyone working within our GPs surgeries, our hospitals and in our care homes. Thank you so much for all that these people are doing and the great sacrifices that they are making on our behalf.
We think too of all those who are most vulnerable and who are fearful. Grant us wisdom to know what part we can play in bringing your comfort and help to those who need it most.
Continue to guide our government and senior health advisers in all the decisions they must make.
Give wisdom and special insight to those who are currently working to produce a vaccine for this virus.
What we pray for ourselves and our country, we pray for everyone throughout our world especially all who are anxious, vulnerable, grieving or sick at this time.
Lord of love, hear our prayers,
In the name of Christ. 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 encouraging. If you’re a mum may I wish you a very happy mother’s day. Don’t forget to look at our church website or on facebook for latest information and to log on to listen to another broadcast next Sunday when we will be eavesdropping on another amazing encounter in the life of our Lord Jesus. So let me close with a benediction after which I invote you to join me in saying the grace together…
Let us leave this time of quiet contemplation rejoicing in our family on earth and our family the church. As the children of God let us take his love into our world that others may also rejoice and be part of his family….
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.
The link below is very helpful especially if someone in your Congregation needs to claim due to loss of employment due to COVID-19
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
Click the link below to listen to today's service
Kids Talk – Jesus gives us Power to Change
Michael introduced his presentation to the children with this question
" Is there anything that you ever do or say that’s wrong that you wish you could change?"
He showed them the principle using a torch and its requirements as examples.
In conclusion he asked them that:
The next time you find something that you know you should do but are finding it really difficult to do – pray and ask God to help you.
Dear God, when I find it hard to do what’s right, give me your power to obey. Help me to live more like you every day. Amen.
MAIN SERVICE FOLLOWED -
Encounters with Christ- Nicodemus
Spring is in the air. The daffodils and crocuses are beginning to show their faces. The nights are getting longer and the mornings getting brighter. St Patrick’s day and Easter are fast approaching. We are moving from the rugby to the GAA season. It’s a time of change.
There are many other examples of change in our lives. Change can be exciting. But it can also be stressful. The older we get, the more we like things to stay the same. Even in the church we can find the prospect of change too scary to even contemplate.
Nicodemus was a man who was both excited and fearful about the prospect of change. He was a Pharisee. That means that he was someone who for years had spent many hours each day just reading the law- the Old Testament Scriptures with a particular focus on the first 5 books. Not only were the Pharisees experts in God’s law, they also believed that God’s law contained everything that we need to know to please God in all areas of life.
When we read God’s law we find that it gives us general principles to live in ways that will benefit ourselves and other people and in so doing please God. So we are told, “Do not steal.” God then gives us the freedom to work that principle out in the practical details of life.
The Pharisees were so determined to obey God’s laws in every detail of life that they spent years figuring out exactly what it would mean to keep God’s law in the tiniest detail of every day life. Their pursuit of perfection became so obsessive that they ended up turning the great guiding principles of God’s law into a huge list of rules and regulations which made life an impossible burden.
Let me give you an example-
In God’s law we are simply told not to do non-essential work on the day we worship God, for a Jew that was a Saturday. Not content with this simple principle the Pharisees tried to define what ‘work’ would mean in every detail. So they asked things like- “Would it be work to tie a knot on the Sabbath?” In answer they said it if camel drivers and sailors tied knots it would be work but if a woman tied a knot to repair a tear in her dress or the straps in her shoes that would be ok. So if you tied a knot in a rope and attached a bucket to get water from a well that would be ‘work’ and you would have sinned. But if you took a pair of tights, tied a knot in them attached a bucket and drew up water that would be ok. Although you’d have to have pretty long legs for that to work!
This all seems nonsense to us but it was not nonsense for the 6,000 people in the world like Nicodemus who had attained the honour of becoming a Pharisee. He had publicly vowed to spend his life studying every detail of God’s law and trying to obey it in every tiny detail of everyday life. Literally this meant reading, memorising and obeying thousands of intricate details.
Nicodemus was no fool. He was someone who had sincerely dedicated his life to following God.
Over the course of the last few years Nicodemus had listened to Jesus. As he sat in the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, he and the other 74 members had listened to reports about the teaching of Jesus. Perhaps he had heard Jesus telling people that He was God’s chosen King, the one who had come to help people live in obedience to God in a much more effective way. He had certainly seen him do things that were miraculous like healing people who were sick or bringing dead people back to life.
As a religious leader with the responsibility for guiding the whole nation of Israel in the right path, Nicodemus probably felt uneasy about this new message! He was fearful of allowing Jesus to make change! What if He was really just a showman like so many others who was really only interested in money or popularity and who would actually lead the people away from God? Nicodemus was fearful of change.
But at the same time I think he was a person who would have been interested in change. Although I’m reading between the lines here, I think that deep down despite his sincere desire to live a life in perfect obedience to God, I think Nicodemus must have been frustrated that despite all his efforts there were many times when he failed to live up to those standards. I’m sure at times he must have cried out to God, “Why can’t I be the person I want to be?”
I wonder are there things in your life that you’d love to change?
I wonder are you frustrated about things in your life that you know are wrong but despite all your efforts you still can’t seem to shake off?
Perhaps it’s a habit of drinking too much. Perhaps it’s an addiction to pornography. Maybe it’s an inability to control your temper or a tendency to gossip about others. Perhaps you can’t motivate yourself to study or you can’t bring yourself to forgive someone who has hurt you.
If that’s the case, then I have good news for you this morning- Jesus Christ the Son of God can give you the power to change…
I can’t be certain, but that’s one reason why I think that Nicodemus asked Jesus to meet up with him. He met him secretly and under the cover of darkness. He was fearful of being associated with a possible maverick whose changes might be bad. Yet he had heard Jesus teach and seen the miracles. This excited him. Here was someone who obviously had been sent by God. Could Jesus’ message bring him the ability to change, not only in his own life but also in the lives of everyone who was a Jew so that they could consistently please God?
“Rabbi,” he said. “I know you are a teacher who has come from God for no-one could do the miracles you do unless God was with them.”
Nicodemus only understood a little about who Jesus was. From the miracles he had performed he realised he must be a person who was close to God, someone through whom God’s healing power flowed to others. On the other hand, Jesus understood everything about Nicodemus. Because He is God, Jesus knew that Nicodemus was someone who sincerely wanted to love and obey God in every detail of his life. He also knew that Nicodemus must have been frustrated at his personal failure to always live up to those standards. He knew there was a part of the jigsaw that Nicodemus failed to understand. But He loved him and wanted to help him. So in response he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is born again they cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
In a nutshell, what Jesus was trying to tell him was, “If you want to be a friend of God, if you want to live a life pleasing to God, if you want to go to be with God forever one day, then you need to be changed from the inside out.”
Nicodemus didn’t understand this. He thought Jesus was saying that for this change to happen in his life he would somehow have to get back inside his mother’s body so that she could give birth to him a second time. “How can a man be born when he is already old?” said Nicodemus. “Surely he can’t enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”
You can hear the desperation in his voice. You can feel the frustration in his enquiry. Nicodemus wanted so much to be God’s friend, to please God in every detail of his life and to be sure of going to be with God when he died. He was frustrated by the failures in his life, an inability to change in certain areas. But he still believed that all he had to do was try harder or find another rule to obey. Surely eventually this would enable him to live perfectly before God.
I wonder is that what you believe? Do you sincerely think that the way to knowing God and living a good life is by reading and memorising a list of rules and regulations? Do you believe that once you’ve done this the only way to be a better person is to read these rules every day and try even harder to put them into practice? If you do, I want to tell you that God respects your sincerity. But I also want to tell you that God wants to help you to realise that, like Nicodemus, unfortunately that belief system will not solve your problem. Trying really hard to learn a list of rules and trying really hard to put them into practice is admirable, but at the end of the day, like Nicodemus, it will leave you frustrated because it will not enable you to consistently live the sort of life that God wants or that you will be pleased with.
So how can we become God’s friend? Where can we find the power in our lives to change the things we don’t like about ourselves? Jesus is about to tell Nicodemus the answer.
He turns to Nicodemus and says, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Do not be surprised that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it will and you hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it came from or where it is going. That’s how it is with every person that is born of the Spirit.”
In a nutshell, what Jesus says to Nicodemus is “This change I am talking about isn’t a physical one. It’s a spiritual one. It’s a change that has to happen from the inside. It’s a change that only God can bring about in your life. It’s a change that can only happen when a person finds forgiveness for their guilt and when God’s Spirit comes to live inside them. We can’t see God’s Spirit. We don’t know which person in our street he is going to come to. But when he comes to live in someone he will give them the power to change! He’ll enable them to control their anger, and to stop getting drunk. He’ll enable them to gossip less and not to cheat on their wife any more. It’s just like the wind. You can’t see it but you see the change it makes like causing the branches on a tree to bend. That’s what it’s like when God’s Spirit comes to live inside someone. You can’t see God’s Spirit but you will be able to see the positive changes that he makes in a person’s life.”
You know like Nicodemus, there are things in all of our lives that need to change and that we want to change. Maybe you want to be a better husband or a better parent. Maybe you want to be able to control your tongue a bit more. Maybe you want to be able to be more generous to others and less focused on yourself. But maybe like Nicodemus you also know the frustration of knowing that no matter how hard you try, in your own strength you can’t change. At least, not consistently, in a way that you want. Maybe like Nicodemus you know the awful feeling of guilt that goes along with every time you fail. If that’s how you feel this morning, then let me say to you what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Only God can take away that guilt. Only having God’s Spirit in your life will give you the power to change consistently so that you can live in a way that pleases God and that you are satisfied with.”
And if you don’t believe me, then let me encourage you to look at the lives of someone you know who is a Christian. Let me encourage you to ask them about how Jesus has enabled them to change and become a better person.
The story is told of a man who was constantly getting drunk and whose family had nothing because he spent most of his weekly wages on alcohol. Then one day he asked Jesus to enter his life and help him to change. His work mates made fun of him and said things like, “Surely you don’t believe in miracles and things like that. Surely you don’t believe Jesus turned water into wine and all that rubbish?!”
“I don’t know whether Jesus turned water into wine when he was in Palestine” said the man. “All I know is that in my house he has turned beer into furniture!”
That is my experience and it is the experience of billions of people who believe in Jesus all over the world. Our experience is that Jesus Christ has the power to take away our guilt and to give us the power to change for the better.
By this stage in the conversation, it seems as if Nicodemus is in two minds. On the one hand he may be thinking “that sounds exactly what I need but how do I get it, how do I receive God’s Spirit inside me so that I will have the power to change?” On the other hand he may be thinking, “That sounds far too good to be true.”
So he turns to Jesus and says, “How can these things happen?”
Jesus answers, “You’re the teacher of Israel, don’t you understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak what we know and we bear witness to what we have seen, but you don’t accept our witness. If I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe me, how will you believe me if I tell you about heavenly things?
Jesus seems frustrated with Nicodemus that despite all his study of the Old Testament bible he still doesn’t understand the principle that He’s been trying to teach him. He knows that Nicodemus would be familiar with Chapters 36 and 37 in Ezekiel for example. There the prophet says that a day will come when God will put His Spirit inside people. When that happens, those people will be able to obey God in a new and better way. They will be able to live more consistently doing good by relying on God’s spirit and power rather than just trying to keep a list of rules and regulations, good as those may be.
But despite his frustration with this old Pharisee, in grace and mercy Jesus gives Nicodemus one final insight. He tells him how he can receive God’s Spirit and how he can know God and live a life pleasing to God that will bring eventually into God’s very presence forever.
Jesus says, “No one has gone up to heaven except He who came from heaven, I mean the Son of Man who is in heaven. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
This may not make much sense to us if we haven’t read certain parts of the Old Testament. But Nicodemus would have known those parts of the bible inside out. Here Jesus reminds him of a time in the history of the nation of Israel when they were travelling across the desert with Moses as their leader. Along the way, the people forgot about God and started to do their own thing and rebel against God. As a punishment God sent a plague of snakes. Anyone who was bitten by these poisonous snakes could be healed by obeying God’s command to look at a bronze snake statue that Moses held up in the air. It was all very dramatic for a good reason. God wanted the people to realise that they needed to listen to him and to follow his appointed leader if they wanted to live life happily and in harmony with each other.
Just like that story, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “the Son of Man will be lifted up into the air and every person who looks up and believes in him will receive God’s Spirit.” In telling Nicodemus this, Jesus was hinting that in the future He would be lifted up into the air and be crucified by the Romans on a cross of wood. Spiritually when that happened Jesus would die taking the punishment for all the wrong things that people ever think and do.
If people understood that through His death on the cross Jesus had taken the punishment they deserved for all the wrong things they had done then they could be forgiven by God and find His power to live good lives. If people had faith to talk to Jesus asking him to forgive them and trusting that He died to take the punishment they deserved, then God would forgive them and put His Spirit inside them. Then they would know freedom from their guilt. Then they would have God living inside them to help them to live better lives pleasing to God.
To be fair to Nicodemus, he could not have understood all that I’ve just said at this point. As we leave this part of the story we are left wondering if Nicodemus was changed in any way by this encounter with Jesus. The good news that in chapter 7 and chapter 19 of John’s gospel we realise this encounter did change him. We hear Nicodemus defending Jesus’ integrity at a meeting of the Jewish leaders. But most amazingly of all is where we read that after Jesus had died on the cross, Nicodemus publicly and unashamedly identified himself as someone who believed and followed Jesus by helping to carry his body to the tomb. We’ll never know, but perhaps it was as he watched Jesus die on the cross that the words of his conversation with Jesus came back- And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” And in that moment Nicodemus understood- Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He has died to forgive me for all the wrong things in my life. I believe in Him. I want to follow Him. And in that moment a miracle happened- The Spirit of God entered the heart of Nicodemus and he was changed from the inside out. He was born again!
Perhaps you are here this morning and you long to be free from your guilt. Perhaps you are here today and you want to be able to change and become a person who is able to consistently live in ways that are good, ways that will please God.
Then let me encourage you to learn the lessons of Nicodemus. Don’t think that just trying your hardest to follow a set of rules will help you to change or take away your guilt.
Instead look to Jesus. Believe that when He died on the cross He was dying to take the judgement you deserve for all the wrong things you can ever say or think or do. Ask Him to forgive you and to take away your guilt. Ask Him to send His Spirit, the Holy Spirit,. The Spirit of God into your life, to come and live within you so that through His help each day you will be able to live a consistently good life. Not a perfect life. Not a life without struggle. But a life where you will have the power to change….
Maybe you’re here and you’ve wandered away from God like the Israelites in the desert. Then let me encourage you to come again to the cross. Confess what you know to be wrong. Jesus stands with open arms ready to forgive you and to restore your relationship.
Maybe there is an area of your life that you are still finding it hard to obey God in. Then come to Him again and ask Him to give you the power to change.
Alison is going to play some music now. During that time I want to give you time to bow your head and talk to God about any of these things. The great thing is that Jesus is here by His Spirit, you can have an encounter with Him…
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…”
“I know I shouldn’t say this but…”
“Officer, it was only a short text and I never took my eyes off the road…”
“Sure they’ll never miss a few reams of paper…”
“Why don’t you just call in sick?...”
“Go on, just tell them you’re 18!...”
Whether it’s gossip, texting while driving, stealing office stationery, taking a day off work or buying alcohol when you are under age, life is full of temptations. Temptation is normal; it’s not something we can avoid. It’s also probably true that the more seriously we start to follow Christ, the greater our temptations will become. That’s because when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, He makes us more sensitive to what is right and what is wrong. It’s also really important to realise that temptation is something that we’ll have to face on a regular basis until we reach heaven. Sometimes when we have resisted a particular temptation we think, “Great, thank you Lord, I’ll not have to face that again!” But the reality is that even when we’ve resisted one temptation, there will always be another one waiting for us around the corner.
It’s also important to remember that temptation can be potentially serious. Yielding to certain temptations can damage our reputation, it can destroy our relationships, it can lead to serious injury, it can cost someone their job, it can result in a court appearance or a prison sentence. Even when no-one else but us knows that we have given in to a particular temptation, this still has the potential of grieving God and slowly but surely causing us to drift away from His presence and blessing. Temptation is a serious business; it is not something to be treated lightly. That’s the bad news if you like. But the good news is that it is perfectly o.k. to be tempted! Temptation isn’t wrong no matter how strong it feels or how difficult it might be to say, “No!” But perhaps the most encouraging news of all is that God has provided everything that we need to be able to resist temptation no matter when or how it comes. That’s why St. Paul encouraged the Christians living in the notoriously wicked city of Corinth with these words,
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide you with a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
So what are these practical ways that God has given us in the bible by which we can overcome temptation when it inevitably comes? Well this morning I want to draw your attention to 3 of them:
1:Reading and memorising Holy Scripture:
This was the strategy used by our Lord Himself when He was tempted during His 40 days of spiritual reflection in the wilderness. On 4 different occasions the devil tempted Jesus and each time He resisted by saying, “It is written…” and then quoting a verse of scripture that he had remembered from his days growing up in the synagogue.
If this method of memorising scripture worked for Jesus, then you can be sure that it will pay dividends for us. That’s why I want to encourage you to keep reading your bible. That’s why I want to encourage you to keep making Sunday morning church a priority in your week. That’s why I want to encourage you to keep coming to the midweek bible study or to start coming if you’ve never been. That’s why I want to encourage you to buy and read good Christian books. The more we read the bible, the more its message will stick in our minds. Then when we are tempted, the Holy Spirit will be able to bring to our mind a few verses or a passage of scripture which will empower us to resist that temptation. Let me give you a few examples of how I have found this to work in my own life:
There is a verse in Proverbs that says, “A quiet word turns away wrath.” On a number of occasions that verse has come into my mind and stopped me from overreacting when someone has spoken aggressively to me.
Every Sunday when we say the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Just recently something happened that really annoyed me, and I found myself thinking angry thoughts about someone. As we prayed these words in church, God said to me loud and clear- “Michael if you want me to forgive you then you have got to let go of those thoughts.” In the middle of the service I did that and I gradually felt the anger inside me disappear. It was the voice of God in Holy Scripture that gave me the power to resist the temptation to continue thinking those thoughts about someone else.
There are times in all of our lives when we think, “I couldn’t do that. I don’t have enough experience. I’m just not clever enough.” In those times we are tempted to give up or not to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. There are lots of times in my life when God has asked me to do something and I’ve felt exactly like that. At those times, a particular phrase from Psalm 18 has given me the courage to give it a go. The reason these words have stuck in my mind is because I learned them in German from a good friend who lived there for a year. They are, “Mit meinem Gott kann Ich uber mauern springen,” which translated means, “With my God I can leap over a high wall.”
This verse has often given me the courage to attempt things that otherwise I would not have the self-confidence to do. These are just a few examples of how learning bible verses will allow the Holy Spirit to bring it into our minds and enable us to respond like Jesus in our moments of temptation. This is one escape route against temptation that God has provided for us. The question for us is, “What steps am I taking to familiarise myself with the bible so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to my mind?”
A second piece of advice that God gives us in the bible for how we can overcome temptation is the reminder that we need to be aware of the way our enemy works and which direction his threats are likely to come from.
2: We need to know the devil’s tactics:
Often I keep Emma going that anytime we go for a holiday she seems to bring the entire house with her. As a result, it’s usually a bit of a squeeze in the car and I have to leave the parcel shelf at home. But the truth is if it wasn’t for Emma we would be lost and we’d probably all spend most of the holiday complaining. That’s because Emma literally does think of everything and sure enough, no matter what the emergency or the eventuality on holiday, when the kids look at me, I look at Emma, and she simply reaches into a bag or a cupboard and says “Is this what you’re looking for?” It really is amazing.
In a similar way, one of the ways reading the bible helps us is that it enables us to understand all the different tactics that the devil is likely to try and trip us up so that we can be ready for any eventuality. Sometimes, the devil is mentioned specifically. But more often than not, we see how he tempts people in the stories we read about real people who loved God, who were tempted just like us and who at times like us gave in to those temptations. These examples were included in the bible so that we might learn from their mistakes and discover more about the tactics of our enemy.
When we put all these pieces of the jigsaw together we discover that the devil attacks us from two main directions. He tempts us from within and he tempts us from without. There are a number of important principles here. The first is simply that it is the devil, not God, who tempts us. When Jesus teaches us to pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” He is not saying that God tempts us. The bible is very clear that God never tempts us. It is the enemy of God, a beautiful angel called, “Satan” who tempts us to ignore God and to do what is wrong. Having said that, it is true to say that just as God allowed the devil to test Job and just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, so God may allow the devil to tempt us in order that our faith and character may be strengthened just as steal is hardened in the fire. But even when God allows this in our lives, we must always remember that it is the devil who does the tempting, not God and it is God who provides the way of escape.
The second principle that’s really important to think about when the devil tempts us is this. He attacks us in two directions. The first direction is the most obvious. He attacks us from outside influences like the colleague at work who turns to us over lunch and says, “Angela is such an idiot, although that’s not surprising from where she’s from. I can’t stand her…” The school friend who hands you the cigarette or a tablet and says, “Go on, just try it, one’s not going to do you any harm.” The loving family member who in all sincerity says, “But there’s really no prospects in going out to Africa to be a missionary, sure you can serve God just as well at home and be far better paid in the process.” The pop up advertisement on your computer screen inviting you to an adult site.
Since we know that the devil will tempt us from outside influences, it’s essential that we are always on our guard. It’s important that we watch out for temptation and that we don’t put ourselves in situations that we may not be able to resist. It’s important that we are careful about what we watch, what we read and what we listen to. We must never be proud and think, “I would never do that or that would never happen to me!” As the old proverb says, “Pride comes before a fall!” or as St Paul puts it in his letter to the Corinthians, “Let those who think they are on safe ground be careful in case they have a fall!” Just like when we prepare to go on holiday, so too we need to try and be prepared for every eventuality. Sometimes, like the time Joseph ran away from Potiphar’s wife, this may even mean that we have to actually remove ourselves from a particular situation, if not permanently, then perhaps for a time. That’s why a recovering alcoholic can never go into a bar. It’s why a sex offender must never be allowed in a situation where they are with children. We might find that we have to avoid a certain shop if we’ve discovered that we can’t control our desire to buy new shoes. We might find that we need to avoid going down a certain isle in the supermarket until we have been able to lose the weight the doctor says. We might find that we need to curtail a particular association. Outside temptation comes in all sorts of ways. What’s important is that we look out for it and we take the necessary steps to resist its attraction. We must resist the temptation of proudly thinking that because we are Christians we are invincible. We must never be so foolish to think that we can put our fingers in the fire and pray not to get burned. Sometimes the only way for us to overcome temptation may be to remove ourselves from a particular situation altogether.
But there’s another way that the devil tempts us and because it is hidden we are often unaware of it and as a result it is much more difficult to anticipate and resist. St. James tells us about this in his letter. He says that the devil tempts us from within because of the sinful nature of our hearts. He writes, “Each one is tempted when by their own evil desire, they are dragged away and enticed.” What I think that means is this: When we become a Christian the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. In that sense, the devil is removed from the throne of our lives and Jesus Christ comes to reign and take control. We become new creatures in Christ with new motives and a new power to obey God that we never had before. That is fantastic. But what we sometimes fail to remember is that our sinful nature is not completely removed and the devil does not completely go away. Rather, like a defeated enemy, the devil adopts guerrilla warfare tactics and he uses the remaining sinful nature that is within us to tempt us to do or say or think what is wrong. In other words, we must never forget that we have a hidden enemy within us. That is why Jeremiah could say, “The heart is deceitful and deceptively wicked who can know it?”
The truth is, we don’t know our own hearts. There are recesses of sin and intrigues of our being that we are simply not even aware of. That is why we are still sometimes surprised by something we say, or by something we do or by thoughts that enter our minds. James also tells us that this sinful nature that remains within us works through our desires. That means that we can be tempted without any outside influence, even in those times when we think we are safe. Isn’t that what many of the monks found in the 16th Century? In an attempt to live pure lives many of them hid themselves away from the influences of the outside world. But even those who lived lives of complete isolation discovered that they could not escape the enemy that lay within. This doesn’t mean that all desires are wrong. Many of our desires are good and God often gives us the desires of our hearts. But it does mean that we need to watch our desires and to be careful about our inner strengths and weaknesses. These are all things by which we can be tempted to disobey God even when there is no outside influence.
Think for a moment of the particular temptations that you are vulnerable to. Now think about how often those temptations arise simply because of your inner desires or your natural strengths or weaknesses. I love cricket. Growing up I wanted to be a professional cricketer. I practiced for hours and I had the privilege of playing cricket at a high level. But I reached a point in my life when I realised that cricket was more important to me than God. The only way I could resist that temptation was to practice less and accept the fact that meant I could not play for the First Eleven or ever be selected for County or International level. I’m not saying you can’t play sport professionally and remain true to God. I’m simply giving you another example of how our inner desires if left unchecked can easily lead us away from God. If we are going to overcome temptation, we need to remember that the devil will not only tempt us from outside but he will also tempt us from within.
This brings us nicely to my final point:
If we are going to resist temptation not only do we need to read and memorise scripture, not only do we need to be aware of the devil’s tactics, above all we need to pray for God’s deliverance.
3: We need to pray for God’s help:
This is why I believe Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I don’t think Jesus is telling us here to pray, “Lord, don’t let it happen!” That’s because we have already seen that temptation and testing can be a way of strengthening our faith and character. It was through the many trials and temptations that Joseph faced that God prepared him for the day when eventually he would have the responsibility of being the Prime minister of Egypt.
Rather, I think what Jesus is saying here is, “When temptation comes, help me to overcome it.”
You know, learning to pray that prayer every day is probably the most important lesson we can learn about how we can overcome temptation. That’s because at the end of the day, whether we realise it or not, the devil is real and he is a much more powerful force than we are. We cannot and we dare not try to resist them in our own strength.
I’ll never forget the day that a bush caught fire outside a friend’s house. We tried our best to beat it out but the weather had been dry for weeks and no sooner had we extinguished one bit than another piece of hedge caught light. Eventually in a mad panic, my friend ran into the neighbour’s house to get help. Thankfully with more assistance we were eventually able to beat out all the flames.
Overcoming the temptations of the enemy on our own is like trying to put out a forest fire. We just can’t do it. Eventually we will be overcome. The only way we can consistently resist, is to call in reinforcements. That means we must take time regularly to pray and ask God to give us His strength and His ability to overcome temptation. We must ask God to search our hearts as we read His word and to show us whole areas of our lives that we are blind to. We must allow God to show us our weaknesses and strengths because these are often the places where we are most vulnerable to attack. And wherever or whenever the temptation comes we must send up a silent prayer for God’s strength and courage to resist. The great news is that God will hear that prayer. He will answer and He will give us the ability to overcome.
The other great news is that even if we’ve failed to memorise scripture, even if we’ve forgotten to keep watch outside and within, even if we’ve neglected the place of prayer and as a result we have fallen and fallen badly, God never folds His arms and says, “I told you so!” Rather, he stands with open arms just waiting for us to come back. So if you’re here today and all this brings back memories of something you’ve said or done which you feel has ruined your reputation or ruined your relationship with God then resist the temptation to listen to the devil any longer. When he tells you that there’s no way back, he is lying! They say that those who never make mistakes, never make anything! Come back to God! Confess whatever it was at the foot of the cross and know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sins that we repent of, no matter what they are, or no matter what the consequences have been for us or for others! You may have had a major fall, but God doesn’t want you to lie there forever! Get up and go on! The years you have left may be the greatest yet for God and for His glory.
Temptation- it’s something we will always face. It’s something that has the potential to strengthen us or to cause us great harm. It’s something that God has provided ways for us to overcome. One of those ways is learning scripture so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to our minds when temptation comes. Another is bible stories which teach us how the devil works. We need to remember that he attacks us from two directions, both outside and from within. The third way is perhaps the most important. Jesus teaches us to pray regularly for God’s strength to say “No!” That’s a prayer we must pray for the devil is stronger than we are. Only with God’s help can we resist his advances. And lastly, we’ve been reminded that even if we’ve given in and fallen badly, God forgives us when we repent, sets us back on our feet and whispers in our ear, “I love you, now go out and make me proud.”