29th November 2020 – Sunday Worship

St Luke's Church in Hedge End

Welcome

Focus verse: "What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!"

Lighting of the Advent Candle

Light of the World

Here I Am to Worship

Confession

Lord God, our maker and our redeemer, this is your world and we are your people: come among us and save us. We have wilfully misused your gifts of creation;
Lord, be merciful and forgive us our sin.

We have seen the ill-treatment of others and have not gone to their aid;
Lord, be merciful and forgive us our sin.

We have condoned evil and dishonesty and failed to strive for justice;
Lord, be merciful and forgive us our sin.

We have heard the good news of Christ, but have failed to share it with others;
Lord, be merciful and forgive us our sin.

We have not loved you with all our heart, nor our neighbours as ourselves;
Lord, be merciful and forgive us our sin.

Amen.

Reading

Talk

” Hold on with two hands all the time! Hold on with two hands all the time! Hold on with two hands all the time”. These were my repeated words not so long ago to my grandson, who in a moment of distraction took one hand off his swing and fell from a height onto the ground, fortunately without sustaining major injury. If we have dealt with children, we know that constant repetition is the key to learning. And so it is with us as God’s children! The trouble is that we often don’t have so much of a memory as a “forgetery”, and so it is that yet again I find myself preaching about the Second Coming of Jesus, not reflecting any obsession of mine, but rather following the lectionary of the Church of England!

There is a warning! And we need to read today’s passage in the context of the verses that precede it. Here Jesus has spoken about the trials and tribulations that must foreshadow His return : wars, rumours of wars, nations rising against nations, earthquakes, persecution of believers, the Gospel being preached to all nations, and even cosmic disturbances, quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Luke’s Gospel also includes pestilences! But when Jesus does return, it will be totally different from His obscure birth in Bethlehem. As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King today in the church’s year, we do well to note that He will come “with power and great glory,” and that he “will send His angels to gather the elect”. As part of this warning we also need to recognise the certainty of all this happening. This is not about might or maybe, conjecture or hypothesis. It will happen! Verse 26 “people will see”,” He will send His angels”, verse 31 ” heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. And there is an added dimension to the warning : no-one will know the hour or day of His return.

There is a watching! Throughout today’s reading there is an emphasis on watching. Mark’s Gospel is in any case characterised by its sense of urgency, but let us notice the repetition of watching at the end of the passage: verse 33 “be on guard! be alert! verse 35 ” keep watch!” verse 36 “watch!”. And this advice is echoed in the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 2 “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” A watchman needs to avoid distractions and to maintain focus. And as we watch in these days, we need to observe what is happening elsewhere in the world, where there is ample evidence for the “birth-pangs ” to which Jesus refers. Last week we heard about the work of Release International, an organisation which works alongside persecuted believers in Islamic states and other countries of oppression. And we could do worse than to keep an eye on the middle east, which is seldom out of the news. Are prophecies also being fulfilled there? For example in Ezekiel 36 verse 24 we read this: “for I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you out of all the countries and bring you back into your own land” This is precisely what happened to the Jewish people prior to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and is still happening today. But as we seek to avoid distractions, it is surely important to identify what these might be. The first is despair.”Things are so awful; Jesus has been so long in returning; it isn’t going to happen”. The second is misplaced, illusory hope. “When we get a vaccine against Covid 19, all will be right with the world”. Probably not! Let us beware of these siren voices!

Then there is a waiting. Within many of us there is the feeling that there must be more than this, that some things are going to have to change. And we surely have to recognise that much, if not all, of what we perceive as permanent is in fact temporary. Paul writing to the Philippians reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, and likewise the writer to the Hebrews states: “for here we do not have an abiding city, but we are looking for the city that is to come”(Hebrews 13 verse 14). As we wait, we need to hold on to the words of Jesus: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” These words are beautifully mirrored, reflected back to us in Revelation chapter 21 “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” And this is a place where “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain” . There is so much that is worth waiting for! And in many of the Psalms the importance of waiting is emphasised: “be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37 verse 7)

But now there are three questions, if not more, for us to consider!

What about warning? There are two things we can do with a warning. We can heed it or ignore it. And if we ignore some warnings, there can be fatal consequences, if we decide to go for a dip in rough seas for example. Our failure to heed the warnings of Jesus can likewise have fatal, spiritual consequences. And if we have been warned, surely we then have a responsibility to pass the warning on, not least to those who are nearest and dearest to us. But how do we do this with regard to the return of Jesus, without incurring the risk of being considered religious cranks? In these days of unprecedented uncertainty, the Lord will give us the opportunity to express the hope that we have within us. There will be opportunities to say; “well, I know where I am going”, or “I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future”, or even “my times are in His hands” (Psalm 31 verse 15).

What about watching? We are currently being given a unique opportunity to watch. Might we look upon lockdown as a gift from God? Many of our usual activities and distractions have been removed. And as we heard last week, in being locked down and not permitted to worship publicly, we are able better to empathise with and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters across the world, for whom this is the norm. As we watch, we have the opportunity to engage and wrestle with some important issues. What ultimately matters? Where are we going? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? On what have we been wasting our time, energy and money? It is a time to regain and to refine focus, to set our hearts on things that are above. (Colossians 3 verse 1)

What about waiting? We are not good at it, are we? Whilst waiting we lose focus, we lose interest, we lose patience, we sometimes even lose our tempers! In our culture and society to wait is perceived as being negative, rather than positive, and as a time rich in opportunities. We find ourselves challenged by those from other cultures. I have heard African Christians say “you have the watches; we have the time”! And yet as we wait for the return of Jesus, we are being called, challenged to wait, to be waiters and waitresses for Jesus. And there are opportunities: to encounter God afresh, to learn more about Him, about ourselves and about one another. And this will certainly increase our longing for the One, for whom we are waiting. In the Soviet Union basic foodstuffs were often scarce, and women would often join a queue not necessarily knowing what they were queuing for! We don’t just know what we are waiting for; we also know who we are waiting for: Jesus, who died for us on the Cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and has promised to return. We are waiting for Him!

So warning, watching and waiting are supremely relevant in these days. But we don’t just warn, watch and wait as individuals, we are being called to warn, watch and wait as a church, in community. We are waiting for lockdown to end, we are waiting for a new Vicar to come, we are waiting for Jesus to return. And a final thought: if Jesus returns soon, very soon, all those other things, for which we have been waiting will suddenly become irrelevant!

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The Lion and the Lamb

Prayers

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come;
your will be done;
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.  Amen.

O Praise the Name

Closing Words

Let us all go in love and peace to serve the world.

In the name of Christ. Amen

Days of Elijah

Verse 1
These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the word of the Lord;
And these are the days of your servant Moses,
Righteousness being restored.
And though these are days of great trial,
Of famine and darkness and sword,
Still we are a voice in the desert crying
‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’

Chorus
Behold He comes, riding on the clouds,
Shining like the sun at the trumpet’s call;
So, lift your voice, it’s the year of Jubilee,
Out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes.

Verse 2
These are the days of Ezekiel,
The dry bones becoming as flesh;
And these are the days of your servant, David,
Rebuilding the temple of praise.
These are the days of the harvest,
The fields are as white in the world,
And we are the laborers in the vineyard,
Declaring the word of the Lord.

Chorus x3

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