Please join me in reading the call to worship as printed in your bulletins:
ONE: Listen up, everyone! God has given us work to do.
ALL: God has called each of us before we were even born.
ONE: It was God who named us.
ALL: It is God who claims us.
ONE: The light of God’s love shines in us.
ALL: Let’s shine God’s love into all the world! Let us worship God. Amen.
Let us pray…..God of amazing patience….Christmas has gone and the New Year has begun….resolutions have been made and perhaps forgotten….the cold weather envelops us…..be patient with us Lord….help us to be attentive and to listen for your word….help us to be brave and bold as we answer your call to come and see….fill us with your peace and joy and grace as we follow your way, to be your light to the world. Amen.
Good morning. I am truly honored to have been invited here this morning to lead you in worship. This is my first time here so please bear with me if I do things differently or screw them up completely!! I am happy to see some of my own Boyd Settlement neighbours, many friends from my days of store keeping in Huntingdon and other people that I know by face if not by name…..a very warm welcome to all who have gathered here today.
Please bow your heads in prayer……God of Isaiah, you are our God, too. You spoke to the prophets, but your message did not end with them. There is still work to be done, and we pray to hear your call afresh. Help us joyfully claim our role as your beloved servants, knowing that you provide all that we need to do our work. You walked with us before we were even born, and you continue to hold us by the hand each and every day of our lives. We pray with the confidence of those who have been filled with your light. We pray with the assurance of those who have been called into fellowship with your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray now together as Jesus taught us...saying... 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 debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Generous God…Help us trust your continued care, that we may share with others the abundance of your blessings. Strengthen us for service, and remind us of the great joy that awaits those who answer your call. Accept our gifts and give us new songs of praise as we celebrate the opportunity to be in ministry in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Holy God, from age to age you have blessed your people with wisdom. We come seeking learning and insight from your scriptures. Let your Spirit guide and inspire us so we might hear and see you in the words we read and hear this day. Amen.
Our first reading this morning is from the book of Isaiah chapter 49 verses 1 to 7
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord and my reward with my God.”
And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength--
he says, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Our second reading is first Corinthians chapter 1 verses 1 to 9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our final reading is from the book of John chapter 1 verses 29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”. He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas, which is translated Peter.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God
It seems to me that following Jesus is often like banging your head against a brick wall. Your best equipment is repeatedly hurt and you don't make an impact on the object you wish to move or remodel.
I find that I love my enemy and they don't change.
I give to the poor and there are still more poor.
I seek to change my behaviour, and another destructive one emerges.
I strive to make a difference and there is no noticeable result.
I strive to just mind my own business….. and I can't even do that.
I am a failure.
You can imagine the reference that God would have to give me as he terminates my employment and sends me off to some other religion:
"Gail was in my employ for twenty nine years. She worked hard. Unfortunately she was not skilled enough nor had the stamina for the position and I have had to replace her. I wish her luck."
In our Isaiah passage, there is a servant who is called and chosen from before birth - God forms them for the job of bringing Israel back to their creator. He gives them a mouth that is sharp and words that are pointed, like a sword, an arrow-head. It's funny that when we talk about someone who wounds with their words we talk about how blunt they are. Isaiah uses the imagery of being too sharp. Their words cut. The impact they made I imagine was to turn people against the servant, in indignation and stubbornness.
The result was that not only did the servant fail to make much impact on others' behaviour, he got in big trouble - kicked around, despised, abhorred. The description of this person is classic burnout: "I'm spent, I have laboured in vain and for no purpose."
Now, I have to ask: What on earth does God think he's doing? In response to this poor, weary, person who has not seen any positive result of their efforts, God tells them their job was really quite small, and they now have to step up to the plate in a much bigger game. So much for Israel, let’s move onto the rest of the world. Let's go for a global approach! The task was too small, you poor, beaten, dimwit - let’s make you do something much more difficult! What kind of God is
this? Is God cruel? Is God just crazy? Does God not have an accurate assessment of what is going on?
Does God think the prophet is kidding and just a bit of a whiner who needs to be pushed to find his extra inner resources?
If you turn a blind eye to the hope in the text, yes. God could be any of those things. But that's not the case.
The drained servant says that God is his strength, and he'll trust God's assessment of the situation. God is his maker, the one who wired him for the task. God knows his strengths and weaknesses, and knows the servant is at breaking point. By all worldly standards, the servant is a failure - there is no great indent to the brick wall. To God, the effort has not come to nothing - this episode was only part of the vision and all is not lost. And the beauty about the partnership between God and this servant is that it is not the servant who has to stand on their own, looking strong and brave and conquering. It is God's glory that shines through the servant, and it is God's strength that sustains the servant. Superheroes often do both all by themselves. Superman leaps tall buildings in a single bound, is faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than steel, and after he's leapt the skyscraper, raced a Winchester and wrestled Hulk Hogan, he looks as shiny and handsome as ever. He achieves everything and he's still standing. Disappointingly, Superman is not real. However, the servant is real - gritty, human, finite.
The servant struggles to achieve, but God's glory shines through. The servant is spent and has no strength, but God's strength is the power that sustains. If the whole task were up to the servant alone, then we have reason to despair; but it is God who is initiating this work before the servant was even born. It is God who is calling the people back, it is God who is the very Salvation for the whole world. Essentially it is God's work and the invitation is to join in with the moving of the Spirit as we are created to do. We are not Supermen and Superwomen valiantly saving the world. We are humble servants who are strengthened and empowered by the Spirit to enter into the redeeming work of God.
God expects us to mess up….he knows that we will fail….in the failure is the lesson and the drive. If something isn’t working then perhaps it is time to change, to try something different. Some of the true geniuses, inventors and scholars and business people of the world….Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Mozart to name a few, were afflicted with either learning disorders or mental or physical disabilities… they suffered ridicule and embarrassment and shame….not to mention hundreds and thousands of failures before they went on to become the most influential and inspiring of people. The only failure is in failing to try again.
A little boy was trying to move a fairly large stone on a hot day. The little fellow’s face was flushed and streaked with sweat as he tugged at the stone which wouldn’t budge. His father came along, paused, then asked….Son, are you doing the best you can? The boy stood in surprise. Of course I am father. This is a big stone. Can”t you see how hard I’m trying to move it. His father persisted. But are you sure you are doing your best? Without a word the boy got a new hold on the rock and pushed with another mighty effort. But the stone was simply too big. See Dad, he said, showing he had done his best without success. But you still aren’t doing the best you can, his father insisted. You haven’t asked me to help you – and I’m big enough to lift that stone. There is always someone higher up.
All of the scriptures today have a similar theme….God knows us….God strengthens us…God reassures us that we are well equipped to do his work….. God calls us to change and to move forward…..to be his hands or feet or voice as we serve his kingdom here on earth.
I can't help but feel that as we struggle with the task of being God's people, it helps to know this. As we swing into a new year and gear up for what awaits us, some of us hoping it's not half as tricky as last year…As we turn to the people that surround us, our family, our friends, and contemplate how we are to be good news to them…as we look at the weather around the world…the floods and fires and earthquakes and wonder how these people will ever rebuild and start again….As we see the directions our country takes and wonder how we can make our voices influence the decision-makers…It helps to know that it is God who restores, strengthens and forms us for the task. It is Christ who was spent, despised, and laboured for no obvious gain, until being raised to be light that shines for the Gentiles, who walks this journey with us. It is the Spirit who breathes life, fires us up and gives us visions and dreams of great things.
May God provide us with food for the journey and grace for the road as we pick up and set off again, proclaiming the truth that we know. Amen.
Please bow your heads in prayer…….
God of community and family, we come together in prayer for your people and for the unfolding of your kingdom. We thank you for the grace and freedom we have found while living life faithfully. With the same enthusiasm that Andrew shared the news with his brother that the Messiah had finally come, we too declare Jesus as the Messiah and commit ourselves to be your children and followers of Christ Jesus.
Loving God, you care for all people around the globe. We pray that you bind us together in one community; united and uniting in the pursuit of peace and justice.
As we go about your work in the world, be with us in your church and be with those whom we serve. Help us to help others who lack the basic necessities of life; may we bring them your grace, mercy and peace.
When we struggle or are feeling down…help us to reach out to others for reassurance or a helping hand….in so doing we provide an opportunity for them to be a light to us….often that is the start they need to gain confidence and move forward. Help us understand that in our weakness is also our strength.
We pray for those who are ill or in pain; give them comfort. Give solace and the comfort of memories to those who mourn lost loved ones. Help us to reach out to them in their time of need.
We pray for the community and especially for the families of those men gunned down last week in Quebec City. May they find comfort as the people of this country stand unified against the forces of evil in this world. Help us live in ways that uphold respect and dignity for all people; empower us to bring justice and freedom and equality to all.
We pray not for easy lives, but to be stronger men and women. We pray not for tasks equal to our power, but for power equal to your tasks God. May our work be no miracle…but may Christ be the miracle in our work. Amen.
Go in the love of the One who strengthens us for the work to which we are called.
Go in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, who claims us as sisters and brothers.
Go in the community of the Holy Spirit, who binds us together with all the saints.
Go with grace to shine God’s love into all the world. Amen.