Jesus in His last lengthy conversations with the twelve closest disciples prior to His death made it very plain to them that they would soon no longer have Him with them. He sought to provide support to them to enable them to carry on the work He had begun over the previous three and a half years.
John14:25-27 states:All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
There was a ‘P’ word that described the feelings of the first disciples that evening but it certainly wasn’t peace! It was panic! They had enjoyed the security of the same daily routines for several years as they travelled around the country with Jesus. Of course, there were unpredictable events that intruded into their days. Some of these turned into extraordinary opportunities for Jesus to perform miracles of healing or feeding multitudes that were hungry. On such occasions they carried out stewarding duties or other modest practical tasks, but were certainly not in charge. Whatever problems arose they had been able to turn as a first or last resort to Jesus to fix. But now they have grasped that He is going away for an indefinite period of time and they have to take responsibility for carrying on the work.
The questions flowed swiftly through their minds, what if….? How can we do….? Plenty of questions but precious few convincing answers; Help! As they began to feel emotionally overwhelmed at the responsibilities now laid firmly at their feet. Is it possible to carry on? Can we work in the new ways that this situation will demand?
Does it sound familiar? Or should I put it another way –is there anyone out there whose routines have not been changed or whose responsibilities are exactly the same as only a few weeks ago. Leaving aside those living in full-time residential care homes that are rightly cared for by those set apart to fulfil those responsibilities, everyone else has had to make majoradjustments as to how they operate on a daily basis.
For some of us ‘working from home’ has become the new normal with probably varying degrees of success. But when there are young children or pets around who do not adapt very easily to new social arrangements during the day there will be times when little work is accomplished.
For others, work will be juggled with assisting family members, friends or neighbours who are self-isolating. Of course there are others unable to go to work due to current restrictions and the extra free time may quickly become a burden when the DIY jobs around the house or garden are all completed. In such cases, anxiety about how long this crisis will continue and concerns about being able to restart work will become a growing concern. What was Jesus offering to help His followers then and now through this time that was for them about to commence?
First of all the Holy Spirit would give them the necessary strength and resilience to carry on. All they had to do was pray from their hearts for God to intervene in their lives and their prayers would be answered. We must be very careful here to say that God’s answers to our prayers can be ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ when we request things. Most of the time it is us not our circumstances that are changed; He enables us to adapt to our new situations then and now. We have to deal with the reality we experience, but with God’s help we can survive and sometimes even thrive when given new ways of working.
Secondly, Jesus said: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Peace is not merely an absence of conflict or war or silence instead of constant noise. It is something much more significant He is offering to us. It is a sense of well-being or wholeness in the midst of the current crisis. Being paralysed by fear at what cannot be done doesn’t help anyone.
By contrast, Jesus promises to help us calmly see things in perspective to work out what we can do in a situation and leave the rest to Him. It is remarkable how often when we do what we can and other people do what they can, how much has been accomplished. This current crisis is likely to continue for some time, so ask God one day at a time for the strength to do all you need to do that day and trust Him to take care of the rest.
Jesus spoke some amazing words to His followers at the Last Supper the night before His crucifixion two thousand years ago. He said: 9‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command (John 15:9-14).
We come to this passage today in our own context of concerns over the spread of Covid-19 virus around the world and its impact on the health systems of the various countries. In addition to the many people who have needed some kind of medical assistance, there have been a rising number of individuals who have sadly died. In the United Kingdom this included last week a doctor, Dr Adil El Tayar, an organ transplant consultant from London.
However there is one doctor I particularly want to highlight today Dr Li Wen Liang, who raised the alarm about this new deadly virus on 30 December 2019. Unfortunately at first, the police in Wuhan harassed him and seven doctor colleagues who sought to raise the alarm within the medical profession in that city. Dr Li courageously continued the fight against this disease despite knowing the risks to himself and his family and sadly died on 7 February 2020. Thankfully the other infected members of his family regained their health and strength.
Jesus’s words here from John’s Gospel were a personal testimony of His own dedication to serving God and serving others that included His willingness to die in our place on the cross. He challenged these first followers to live their lives dedicated to serving God and other people as He had done. Will you and I say ‘yes’, I will commit my life to following Him? Take time to reflect today on this question: What might this mean in practice if I follow Jesus and live this way?
I want to finish by allowing Dr Li to speak to us through the poem and Bible verse he wrote down shortly before his death to allow us to get some insight into the convictions of this courageous medical doctor.
“The Hero Who Told The Truth”
“I don’t want to be a hero. I still have my parents, And my children, My pregnant wife who’s about to give birth, And many of my patients in the ward. Though my integrity cannot be exchanged for the goodness of others, Despite my loss and confusion, I should proceed anyway. Who let me choose this country and this family? How many grievances do I have? When this battle is over, I will look up to the sky, With tears like rain.
I don’t want to be a hero. But as a doctor, I cannot just see this unknown virus Hurting my peers And so many innocent people. Though they are dying, They are always looking at me in their eyes, With their hope of life.
Who would have ever realised that I was going to die? My soul is in heaven, Looking at the white bed, On which lies my own body, With the same familiar face. Where are my parents? And my dear wife, The lady I once had a hard time chasing?
There is a light in the sky! At the end of that light is the heaven that people often talk about. But I’d rather not go there. I’d rather go back to my hometown in Wuhan. I have my new house there, For which I still have to pay off the loan every month. How can I give up? How can I give up? For my parents without their son, How sad must it be? For my sweetheart without her husband, How can she face the vicissitudes in her future?
I am already gone. I see them taking my body, Putting it into a bag, With which lie many compatriots Gone like me, Being pushed into the fire in the hearth At dawn.
Goodbye, my dear ones. Farewell, Wuhan, my hometown. Hopefully, after the disaster, You’ll remember someone once Tried to let you know the truth as soon as possible. Hopefully, after the disaster, You’ll learn what it means to be righteous. No more good people Should suffer from endless fear, And helpless sadness.
‘I have fought the good fight. And I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.’ 2 Timothy 4:7, Holy Bible.”
Welcome to Broughty Ferry Baptist Church online on Sunday morning 29 March, the second Sunday of our temporary way of life that we share with billions of other people around the globe, of which normally around two billion share in some form of act of Christian worship. We may feel isolated in our homes but rest assured you are part of the biggest family on earth – the follower of Jesus Christ –our Lord and Saviour.
Another resource you might want to take a look at for use at home is Engage Worship.
This evening join with Christians from other churches around the country in a 20-30 minute prayer service. You need to be on Facebook to join in.
Over 700 people joined together for last Sunday’s Prayer Livestream, gathering from all corners of Scotland in the midst of the present crisis. This gathering will now take place every Sunday at 7.00pm. To join in, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/scottishbaptist/live/
This Sunday will include live contributions from the Isle of Tiree and the Borders and we will be joined by Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director for the Scottish Government and a member of Airdrie Baptist Church.
Call to worship: Let us stop and be still in the presence of our amazing God who is with us as we gather to worship in His name. Let us read in our own context these words from Psalm 91:1-2:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
We are grateful to Kevin for choosing our praise songs for today.
Dear Heavenly Father, What an amazing God You are. We have just sung: ‘My Jesus My Saviour, Lord there is none like You’. We thank You that You are ‘My comfort, my shelter, tower of refuge and strength’. In the light of who You are, our natural response is to ‘sing for joy at the work of Your hands, for ever I’ll love You, for ever I’ll stand. Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.’
We come into Your holy presence today deeply thankful for all the many blessings we have of families and friends, of food on our dinner tables and for most of all good health.
Forgive us for the times when we forget so many of our blessings and only remember to ask for lesser things we would like. We come once more asking for the forgiveness of our sins knowing through the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus on the cross in our place we can receive Your forgiveness of our sins and receive the fresh empowering to live each new day through the enabling grace supplied to us by the Holy Spirit.
At a time when we are acutely aware of our inability to meet in person with fellow Christians in church today and at other times with family and friends, we want to express our appreciation for the people precious to us who are still able to keep in touch by phone or various forms of social media.
Thank You for all Your kindness to us over the past week in providing for our needs. We are deeply humbled by the blessings received and look forward in anticipation for Your help in the week to come. As we come to look later at the Bible we ask that You would speak to us into our lives what we need to hear from You. We ask our prayer in the name of Your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen.
us say together the words Jesus taught His disciples when He said:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'” For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever Amen.
Let us remember those serving on our behalf – listen to some fellow Christians sharing about their daily experiences. Please listen to their stories:
This next song is also a prayer based on Paul’s words in Philippians chapter 3
JAM Kids’ focus
There is the second of a series of Bible based activities for children on the Out of the Box website. This series looks at the Armour of God from Ephesians 6. Click the link below to view
A second JAM Kids resource worth visiting:Virtual Sunday School videos produced by 4Front Theatre Company
JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme on the Zoom platform –parents of teenagers can get a link code by contacting Gary Torbet on firstname.lastname@example.org
Our next song is a new one to many of us: Be strong and Courageous
Bible reading for today is Psalm 91:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 14 ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
Prayers for Others
Thank you Father for the privilege of bringing our
prayers to You today.
Let us continue to remember:
Our governments in Edinburgh and London and our city
council here in Dundee as they continues their planning to provide essential
services for everyone in this time of crisis.
Our National Health Service once again as the
pressures have increased on those serving the general public due to the further
spread of this virus, on top of other medical conditions.
Our Social Care system We pray for guidance for those
handling care in the community for the most vulnerable members of society. In particular for the staff and residents of
our many care homes who are so vulnerable because of the necessary close
contact between them on a daily basis. We pray for your comfort for residents
as well as patients in hospital who are unable to receive visitors at this time
due to the risks of additional infection.
For Churches and other charitable bodies seeking to
support many people in their local communities so that we can come through this
difficult time together with stronger social bonds between us.
For Eloise Pearson and her family through the death
last week of her brother; we pray for your comfort for his widow and other
members of that family at this time
For ourselves and other people we want to mention
personally to You as we seek to carry out our daily lives this week.
Thank you God that You hear and answer our prayers, in Jesus Name, Amen.
Our next song is special to many of us – Faithful One
A filmed Version of a message on Psalm 91 is available at the following link: Google Drive link
Psalm 91 A Psalm
The are many images of God in the Bible that convey aspects of His character of which some are very familiar to us, for example, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here there is an image of the heart of God for His people using the imagery of a mother hen caring for hr young chickens. The chicks are frightened overwhelmed by the world around them and all that is going on, the mother hen gathers the chicks and shelters them under her wings. The chicks are assured that all is under control because their mother cuddles them close.
Here Psalm 91:4 states: He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; Do you feel like the chicks in this image overwhelmed with what is going on around you? Do you fear what the future may bring if some of the worst-case scenarios presented on our TV screens about the spread of the Covid-19 virus come to pass? You are not alone. A lot of people have similar concerns. The reality of some of the challenges we face in life cannot be evaded. It makes us realise at other times how fortunate we really are to have avoided this kind of health crisis for so long. We have no idea what kind of crisis the anonymous author of this Psalm was facing, but the guidance he gives us has been a great blessing to so many people down the centuries. What do we see here?
1.The personal testimony of the Psalmist
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Whom do you trust? Is this statement or declaration something you share with the author? Can you say these words as a statement of your convictions? I hope you can. However, if you are thinking ‘no’ I have never done so, but I would like to now then these are some steps you can follow to invite God into your life as your Lord and Saviour.
‘God I want you in charge of my life. I confess the wrong thoughts words and deeds I have done in my life. I thank you that your son Jesus died in my place on the cross, 2,000 years ago to take the punishment for my sins, so that I might be forgiven. Lord Jesus I invite you to take charge of my life from this day onwards until the day I leave this life and enter eternity. Amen.
If from the bottom of your heart you genuinely commit your life to God you become part of His family –in other words a Christian. If you have done that today- welcome to God’s family.
How does our author explain the difference having
God in our life can make?
commendation of the Lord by the Psalmist to the reader (Psalm 91:3-13)
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling,10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
The use of the singular you repeatedly here is a personal message: What is it saying and not saying? It is not saying the first Jewish recipients or Christians today are exempt from any troubles. Take for example a sixteenth century church meeting at St Peters Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. Church members were dying of the plague. The issue under debate was who should visit them as it was highly infectious and contact would probably be fatal.
There were two pastors the senior pastor John Calvin and a young assistant pastor. Both men to their credit volunteered to do the visiting. The congregation voted for the younger man to do it as they ‘couldn’t spare Calvin’. All concerned present knew that the individual would be dead in less than a year as a consequence.
So what are these verses saying to us? They are an assurance that we need not be paralysed by fear of the trials of life. Suffering, troubles, ultimately death come to us all. Our lives are in God’s hands: that is the key fact to note –our anchor here.
In the fifteenth century in England a Christian nobleman Lord Craven was deeply concerned about the spread of the plague in his home city of London. He ordered his servants to prepare his carriage to go to his country home to avoid it. As he was walking to his carriage to depart, he overheard one of his servants say to another: ‘I suppose by my Lord’s quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country not in the town. It was a straightforward and innocent remark, but it stuck Lord Craven so deeply that he cancelled his journey saying: ‘My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am. He stayed in London and helped plague victims without catching the disease. (C.H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol 2, pp.241-242)
A similar story was told of Charles Spurgeon, then a very young Baptist minister in London in 1854. The area where most of his congregation lived was afflicted by cholera. Many families had members who caught the disease and the young minister spent much of his time visiting the sick and the dying with many funerals to be conducted as a result.
One day completely exhausted in every respect, he walked home from conducting a funeral. He walked past a shoemaker’s shop on Dover Road London. In the owners handwriting was an inscription. It was Psalm 91:9-10 from the King James version: Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; 10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. The power of reading those words lifted Spurgeon’s spirits and with a renewed sense of God’s presence in his heart he continued with his ministry in that health crisis. (C.H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol 2, p.235)
Take time to reflect on the image in verse four of the mother hen caring for her chicks.
It is a beautiful picture of God’s care for us- is that what you need to grasp
today? That verse continues with encouraging words: His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. God will
be there for you to give you the strength to keep going through the crisis. God
never promises to give us an exemption from difficulties – instead He provides
the strength to come through them. The rest of the verses in this section Psalm
91:3-13 reinforce this point.
3. God’s promises for the
people who trust in Him (Psalm 91:14-16)
Because he loves Me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name. 15 He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
What promises does God give us here?
(a)God’s protection (Psalm 91:14)
he / she loves Me,’ says the
Lord, ‘I will rescue him / her; I will protect him, for he
acknowledges My name. Things are bad but without His presence and
protection they could be immeasurably worse sometimes. However, in a world of
many problems and difficulties, He assures of His protection through the storms
to bring us through. God will be with you this week.
(b) God will answer our prayers (Psalm 91:15) He / She will call on Me, and I will answer him /
her; I will be with him / her in trouble, I will deliver him / her and honour
him / her We are not speaking to an empty heaven. God’s silence is not His absence. Paul wrote
in Romans 5:3-5: And weboast in the hope of the glory of
God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our
sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance,
character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not
put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through
the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Events in life are not without meaning or purpose, even if we
never find answers to our ‘Why’ questions. God’s unmerited kindness to us will
bring us through. Praise God for that!
(c) God’s future blessings prepared for us (Psalm
long life I will satisfy himand show him my salvation.’ In the early Old Testament period in particular
there were specific material blessings promised (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy
30:1-20, for examples); however, in the fuller New Testament revelation given
to us through Jesus, it is clearly the quality of our relationship with the
Lord Jesus and not just a longer existence in this life that is being promised.
What is much clearer, for example, from Romans 8:28 is this: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have
been called according to His purpose. Is this an
assurance you can claim today? Is this a faith declaration you might make?
The little chick has no idea about how to handle the dangers around it. God pictured as the mother hen is protecting and being there for us, to bring us through life’s trials for our good and for His glory, Amen
Our closing song is Before the throne of God above.
Adults have a lot to learn from children as well as the other way round. One of the most obvious things is that we can easily make things too complicated. In many situations simply doing what needs to be done is quite obvious and not too difficult. This is what happened in the account recorded in John chapter 13 of Jesus’ actions at the special meal he had with his followers the night before his arrest, trial and subsequent crucifixion. This is what happened:
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.
. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ 9 ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’10 Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’
11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Wealthy citizens would have employed a servant to wash people’s feet prior to dinner at such an event. This was out of the question here. None of the disciples would have considered offering because it was a task for those of lower social status. Jesus taught them a lesson that his followers were challenged to obey. Do what needs to be done –don’t look for praise or for someone else to do it – if you can, then do – it can really be that simple. It was a pattern that the Early Christian Church would follow. Sociologist Rodney Stark in his excellent book The Rise of Christianity described how these Christians operated in the time of the plague in the Roman Empire in AD250 where the death rate was about 5,000 per day in a much smaller total population than today.
The small Christian community less than two per cent of the total responded magnificently to the challenge before them. A second plague in AD 260 saw a similar response. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, reported: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.
Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy. … Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.” (Stark, pp. 76-94) What was at the heart of their vision for their communities? It was because of their strong sense of community, their refusal to submit to despair, their commitments to care for each other and their robust hope in the face of death. In other words, through their willingness to embrace death, they found life.
In essence, they trusted God to take care of the bigger picture. They acted wisely together to serve their communities – doing the simple things well. Their lived convictions and values were attractive to others. Our situation in some respects is different – not least an excellent health service and system of communications. However, in other respects it is no different, in being willing to serve others where we can in practical ways. In this context today, Jesus speaks to us too: Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
We are living in extraordinary times that have not been experienced in the Western world for several generations. We have been used to a broadly unlimited supply of food and the basic necessities of life. The extreme situations, for example, of famine in Ethiopia that resulted in the huge public response to aid agencies in this country in 1984 was a turning point as modern media could now convey images of suffering and disaster around the world. Humankind now lives in a global village and could not be unaware of what was happening in other parts of the planet.
In former centuries governments and other major institutions made little or no attempts to address these crises. In part due to a lack of resources to do anything. It was a Welsh Baptist missionary in China, Timothy Richard, who in 1876-1878 appealed to anyone who would listen to his cries for aid for vast numbers of starving Chinese. The accounts of the suffering are easily as bad as Ethiopia in the 1980s. With limited means and volunteers and a complete absence of modern technology Richard and his team were credited with saving nearly 160,000 lives (B. Reeve, Timothy Richard D.D. China Missionary Statesman and Reformer, p. 53).
Millions of other lives had been lost but Richard demonstrated to governments and other agencies that decisive collective action can avert appalling tragedies (William E. Soothill, Timothy Richard of China, pp, 99-105). His name is largely forgotten today, but because of his vision others grasped what could be done to ensure suffering was minimised when ‘natural disasters’ occur. Humanity owes a debt of gratitude to Timothy Richard.
Our Bible passage today is Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. What does it teach us today?
1.Individuals missing the point (Luke 22:24) A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. It is the Last Supper the night before Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus has told His closest disciples that this would be their last meal together as a ministry team and then lead them in the first service of communion as they broke bread and drank wine together. This had to be a most solemn occasion. Did they all get it that they needed to work together to stand with Jesus? It is hard to believe that some of those grown men were arguing as to which of them was considered to be greatest. It is easy to see the mistakes of other people. Under pressure sometimes people do crazy things so out of character. We can all be tempted to act inappropriately at times. In our current crisis – how are you and I handling the pressure? Am I focussed on what is most important or am I distracted by some unimportant things?
2. A model not to be followed (Luke 22: 25) Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.Jesus highlighted that there are always people who think of themselves and forget about others in a time of need. In moments of crisis there are always ordinary people who rise magnificently to the challenge and do a great job in assisting those in need; and others who reveal the less appealing side of human nature. The important thing when we want to criticise others for their choices is to look honestly into our own hearts and ask what would I have done and how can I be better in my conduct than the behavioural choices I reject? Other people may agree or disagree with the choices we make. Their opinions may be ill-informed or well-grounded, but what matters most is our heart motivation which God sees.
3. An example to imitate (Luke 22:26-27) But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like
the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table
or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. Our calling is to have a servant heart and
to think of the needs of others not just ourselves. I want to thank God for the
many examples I have seen in this congregation of people serving others in so
many different ways. It is one of my
greatest joys as the pastor to be so proud of individuals who have served with
distinction in care for others. I want to say from my heart a big thank you
even now for what has been done in this crisis so far and in anticipation of
further acts of generosity and kindness to those in need in the coming days.
What is it that matters most in life? Is it passing exams at school or university? Is it getting good feedback in an appraisal at work? Is it getting all the groceries when you go to the shops? Is it for those more familiar with social media the number of ‘likes’ we get to our posts? I could go on and list many more things here but you get the point very quickly that these incredibly important things amongst others in our lives that really do matter to us – but they are not at the top of our list of what matters most in life. What is currently at the top of your list? Or maybe second or third in line? It may even be a worthwhile exercise to write down on paper what comes to mind.
I want to suggest that the top of our list is being loved. I mean that our existence actually really matters to another person or some other people on this planet. All of us at one time or other will have experienced that horrible feeling of intense loneliness despite being present amongst other people. For most of us as we get our bearings and relate to the people present our feelings can change, but the thought of spending our whole lives without anyone else noticing or caring for us is a sobering prospect. Thank God today for the precious people in your life who love and care for you. Thank God for the family members and friends who have encouraged and supported you through tough times and good. Maybe even in these difficult times at present you have someone or some people to thank for blessing you with some acts of kindness. And in turn you may have been an encouragement to another person or people as well.
The apostle John, one of the closest followers of Jesus and the only one to die naturally of old age reflected in his later years quite a lot on the amazing love of God, in particular in I John chapter four. I want very briefly to reflect on a small part of that chapter today. It states:
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:16b-18)
What point or points is John making here?
God is love At the heart of who God is and central to His essential being is perfect love. His attitude towards His creation and in particular humanity is of the purest and highest affection. Our love or practical care for others can sometimes be motivated by self-interest as well as by a desire to bless another person in some way. In all His thoughts and actions towards us, God has the highest motives and seeks the very best for us. Everything He says and does is infused by love. Is that not totally amazing?
Hiscalling for usThis is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. One day we will stand before God to give an account of our lives. This is deadly serious. What is the pointer He gives us as to the best way to live? It is to be like Jesus. Jesus who died on the cross 2,000 years ago to pay the penalty for our sins and to bring us into God’s family when by faith we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour, also sought to model for us a way of life.
Years ago some Christians used to wear a wrist band with WWJD? inscribed on it (What would Jesus do?). Sometimes the honest answer is that we do not know what choice He would make in our position. But much more often we are challenged to act in a particular way because we ‘know’ what we should say or do!
The blessing of living this wayperfect love drives out fear … If in my attitudes, words and actions as a follower of Jesus I genuinely seek to do what is loving towards God and other people, the fear of getting or keeping the approval of others will diminish. The Christian will want to say: My main aim in life is to please Him. If we live this way in practice then we will also be a blessing to other people because everyone benefits from a person living this way. It has been great to see so many people in our communities offering to help others in this time of crisis – is it just possible to dream that some of the benefits of the love and kindness shown to others might be continued when some sort of ‘normality’ returns?
It is good in the middle of the week to stop and take stock of how we are getting on. Our country and our world has changed beyond recognition in the last two weeks. There are genuine and natural anxieties about what will happen in the future.
The truth is that no-one knows how the Covid-19 crisis will develop in the United Kingdom –if we as a nation are careful and follow the guidance issued to us. We can only be certain what will happen if we do nothing to avert the crisis growing and that is a reality we want to avoid.
I am deeply grateful to all those who are reaching out and taking care of others. In the last few days I have heard some accounts of beautiful acts of kindness by individuals seeking to encourage others at such a difficult time.
We hear many stories in the media of extreme greed and hoarding of goods by a minority of people, but instead they ought to focus more on other people who of all faiths and none are seeking to support and assist others.
I want to say a huge thank you to each one of you who have encouraged others at this time in a whole host of different practical ways. I hope in the near future to report on some important community developments in our city to assist those particularly hard hit by this crisis, but at the moment all I can say is that there are a lot of planning meetings being held by the City Council to prepare for the coming months. This will be a similar pattern in cities across our country and indeed around the world.
Last week I encouraged us to set aside an hour on Wednesdays for prayer and Bible reflection (possibly 7:30-8:30pm or some other convenient time) and I provided a Bible passage with some comments and questions to follow before we turned to pray for each other and for those in our wider community and indeed in wider world.
Our passage today is from Joshua 1:1-9:
After the death of Moses the servant of theLord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.7 ‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
1.The context of Joshua’s calling (Joshua 1:1-2a) After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 ‘Moses my servant is dead…’
It was an earthshattering moment in the Israelite community. The nation formed out of a loose collection of tribal groups forty years earlier had been rescued from a life of traumatic enslavement and given an opportunity to work out how to relate together as free people.
The books of Exodus and Numbers record the less than satisfactory relationships within their ranks as they struggled to adapt to their new situation. However, eventually, their new identity as the nation of Israel took shape and they prepared themselves for the next step of faith. But once more in a very different place the new reality began with some unpleasant news: ‘Moses my servant is dead…’
In the same way as we gather to reflect on this passage in our own homes we come with our sense of loss – loss of the security of a routine we had come to value; loss of the certainty of knowing what a day let alone a week may bring; loss for some of jobs and income; for others a loss of health – whatever it may be none of us today is in a comfortable place.
2. The nature of Joshua’s calling (Joshua 1:2b-5)
(a)The necessity of action (Joshua 1:2b-3) Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. They had to prepare as well as they could for the next stage of their journey: get ready to cross… I will give you every place where you set your foot… They had plenty of work to do to make a success of their new situation.
I thank God for those who have worked hard in our congregation in all manner of ways to help each other prepare for the next few months of our lives together. Many of us have had to learn how to join and use new forms of technology, for many like me this is a work in (slow) progress! Others will already have been more comfortable with it.
I want to say a big thank you to those who have helped others with technology. I am thankful too for those who have taken time to check on the needs of others in our communities and ensured that everyone is taken care of. There is still work to do, but we are trying to get ready.
(b) The assurance of God’s presence (Joshua 1:5) No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. If you have had moments of feeling overwhelmed with the scale of what needs to be done –‘join the club’. We feel acutely aware of NHS staff preparing to the best of their abilities for demands on their services beyond any previous year since the NHS began. However, in other ways each of us will have our moments of tears, of panic, exhaustion – in such a time as this remember this wonderful assurance from the Lord I will be with you…
3. The resources for Joshua’s calling (Joshua 1:6-9)
‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
What is required? Character it will be tough, it will take real courage to keep going – for some of us it may be the toughest time of our lives so far.
Bible-based The principles of God’s Word on which we reflect are the foundations on which we live. Despite some severe pressures we will resolve to be men and women, young and old, who are people of integrity who will honour God in the carrying out of our duties, maintaining the faith convictions we profess and nourishing our lives through what God says to us through the Bible. Don’t neglect to spend some time –even if it is only a few minutes some days to keep a sense of perspective through meditating on God’s Word.
Personal Reflection: What am I most afraid of at this time? Name it in your prayers to God
What attempts will I make this week to encourage some one else?
Points for Prayer
I am thankful to Gary our Youth Pastor for providing the Prayer points for today
• Pray particularly for the Governments; Boris Johnson & Nicola Sturgeon, for much wisdom & courage. For all the various government departments – financial, medical, scientific, social – in coping with the pandemic.
• Pray for everyone so affected – in particular those bereaved and in self-isolation. Also for all of us as we come to terms with social isolation the “new normal”
• Pray for families struggling to cope with home schooling, enable them to see what is important in terms of family cohesion.
• Pray for the strain on marriage relationships.• Pray for families who are really struggling financially. We think in particular of those self-employed, like some of our families in our church – that you will be their provider.
• Pray and give thanks for our NHS – at last, a time to stop bashing them – but instead appreciating them. Pray protection over all NHS Staff – in particular we remember those in our church fellowship in various health and social care roles.
• Pray for us as church – that we will all be “Looking to Christ”, pray for wisdom for Brian & the Deacons, for Claire as she helps and supports the pastoral care, in particular for the most vulnerable in our church.
• Pray for Gary and the Youth Ministry Team in keeping the young people connected with each other and with God.
• Pray for our young people – coming to terms with “social distancing”, and many facing uncertainty with schooling, exams and higher education – that through our “iGnite Live!” groups, they can support each other, build their faith and reach out to their friends.
• Pray for us as a church, that “as the world grows darker the light of Jesus will shine brightly” through us.
• Pray for God to bring revival, and that people will see their need of God and salvation.
Our nation once more has stepped into a place it has never been before in its history in terms of the restrictions imposed by the British Government and the devolved administrations in the United Kingdom on Monday 23 March this year.
Although we were aware of the very real possibility of much stricter regulations concerning our conduct, I am sure we were all hoping that it would not have been necessary to have imposed them, changing our way of life so significantly for the foreseeable future.
In a medical crisis, as this undoubtedly is, it is our duty as citizens to give our full support to those seeking to lead us through it as citizens. We hope and pray that they make the right choices on our behalf. The pressures they must be under to get it right are immense. It is most appropriate that we are praying for them at this time.
The events mentioned in this passage took place more than three thousand years ago. We can read a fuller account of what happened in the book of Joshua in the Old Testament.Here are a few verses telling part of the story: Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.5 Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ (Joshua 3:1-5) You have never been this way before (Joshua 3:4);
It was a step into the unknown for this community of people. They were to face challenges outside their comfort zone in obeying what God had commanded them. They were urged to trust God to go with them into an uncertain future. What particular things do we note here?
1. They prepared as well as they could for what lay ahead(Joshua 3 v1). They made an early start eager to be in the place where God wanted them to be. Then and now the people of God rarely choose the social context in which we live, but may each of us be eager to seek to live for God in the right way at this time in history. This means that our heart as well as our head is committed to it. Living in disturbing and deeply challenging times may we stand firm through the difficulties but also embrace the new opportunities that may open up as we go into the future.
2. They waited on God to direct their pathway There can be impatience about the speed at which God answers our prayers. We can pray something for years and still lack any evidence sometimes that God is going to answer it in the way we have desired. There can be many reasons – good ones – why our prayers are not always answered in the way we would have liked. The Israelites here were a good example of trusting God in the timing of their lives. Despite it being so hard just now may we be willing to follow in their footsteps of waiting for God to direct their pathway.
3.The blessing promised to God’s people as we trust Him with our futures Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’(Joshua 3:5) It was a monumental step of faith crossing over the river Jordan without the option of going back. God would honour their choice. We too cannot go back into a former era to live in a place more comfortable than it is just now. We must go forward with a resolute trust in God to provide for us. Many of us feel deeply anxious about what is happening in the world just now, but like those ancient Israelites may we trust God’s Word to guide and direct us through the challenges we face in the coming days.
There are people who love change and innovation. Some of our country’s most successful entrepreneurs and business people have been excellent practitioners of this process. They can see what people might need years ahead of the rest of us and what they accomplish can be of great benefit for us all.
Sometimes, though, these pioneers were not recognised for what they were worth to society at the time. What did Jonathan Fletcher a lecturer at the University of Stirling invent in 1993? The internet search engine! Here is the link to the detailed story on the BBC News website. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23945326 If you search the internet for details of his work it is far less prominent than later innovators in this field.
Yet in 1993, in a computer lab at the University of Stirling in Scotland, Mr Fletcher invented the world’s first web-crawling search engine – the very technology that powers Google, Bing, Yahoo and all the major search tools on the web today. Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are household names in this field yet their pioneering work appeared a full five years later in 1998. Sadly what Jonathan Fletcher was doing at the University of Stirling was not recognised for the remarkable achievement it was that changed all our lives for good.
Our verses for today come from Isaiah 43:16-19: This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
It was a time of crisis and had the appearance of being an absolute disaster for the Jewish people. They could not see any hope for the future. So how did Isaiah the prophet convince them in this message from God to have confidence in God to give them hope in the months and years to come?
Look back first to past blessings (Isaiah 43:16-17) This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
This is a reference to the Israelites under Moses coming to freedom from enslavement in Egypt and God’s miraculous provision of a pathway through the Red Sea to enable their escape. The mighty Egyptian army cavalry regiment sent to slaughter them was destroyed (See Exodus 14). God found a way through the crisis and delivered them. God has not changed, says Isaiah, God is a Way-maker through the most unlikely situations.
What past answered prayers so encouraged you? Take a few moments today to thank God for these blessings. Declare your conviction that God is still the same today and can be a Way-maker at this time in history as well.
Look forward by faith to future blessings (Isaiah 43:18-19)‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Is this a prophetic word for our generation? Does this time of crisis in 2020 seem like a wilderness or a wasteland? What hope do we have of things turning out well? If the church leaders I have spoken to are representative of what happened yesterday in our land then more people engaged with acts of worship in faith communities than in the previous week.
There are serious challenges to come in our land –we must not minimise it. However, it is not the whole story. I believe God is saying to His Church to rise up by faith with confidence in Him to serve their communities with genuine expectancy of the transforming power of God at work in this land and other countries in the coming days.
I think this is something that can give us a quiet confidence – Our God reigns! Amen
Welcome to Sunday worship in a format no previous generation of Christians has experienced in this land when no physically gathered congregations are meeting. However, in homes around the land, small or larger groups will meet on-line to participate in a shared experience of worship.
On Sunday evening there is a National Prayer service at 7pm that churches across the country are welcome to attend on-line. National leaders of different networks of churches are sharingin this event. Please check on the Baptist Union Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/157011591021372/ for the link to join the service on Sunday.
As we gather on a Sunday morning we do so mindful that we meet in the presence of the Lord Jesus through His Holy Spirit who is here to bless and encourage and equip us for the week to come.
Let us read together in our own contexts aloud the words from Psalm 67:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine on us – 2 so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You. 4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. 5 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You.
6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. 7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear Him.
It is good to praise the Lord in song. In future weeks we hope to have a more polished order of service, but I am grateful to Kevin for choosing some songs that you can use to sing God’s praises. Please click the videos to access the songs. Apologies that you may need to click tabs to avoid adverts coming up
Father we thank You and praise You for the privilege of gathering together in Your name to worship You. We recognise around the globe around two billion people in their own way will typically gather to worship You.
In our small gatherings today we rejoice that nothing can prevent us joining with others in honouring Your holy and majestic name. We come in the wonderful name of Your Son our Saviour who died in our place on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and to give us new life in its fullness. Thank You for the wonderful gift of salvation.
We come confessing our sins of the past week, asking afresh for Your forgiveness, knowing that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us purifies us from everything we said and did that was wrong. Fill us afresh we pray by the power of Your Holy Spirit to equip us for the new week that lies ahead of us, for Jesus sake, Amen.
Let us say together the words Jesus taught His disciples when He said:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'”
For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever Amen.
Let us sing:
Please listen to this declaration – Who is Jesus?
Special links for children and young adult activities
JAM Kids’ focus: There is the first of a series of Bible based activities for children on the Out of the Box website. This series looks at the Armour of God from Ephesians 6
JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programmeon the Zoom platform –parents of teenagers can get a link code by contacting Gary Torbet on email@example.com
Our Bible passage for reflection is Lamentations 3:1-33:Please take time to read through these heartfelt words from the prophet Jeremiah.
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. 2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; 3 indeed, He has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. 7 He has walled me in so that I cannot escape; He has weighed me down with chains. 8
Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. 9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; He has made my paths crooked. 10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, 11 He dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughing-stock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink. 16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust.17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, ‘My splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. 31 For no one is cast off by the Lord for ever. 32 Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. 33 For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. [Amen]
Prayers for Others:
1. Pray for our Governments in Edinburgh and London for wisdom in all their decisions
2. Our National Health Service staff as they serve our communities so effectively especially at these critical times
3. Pray for Christian Churches across our land, and across the world, that we may effectively adapt to the new digital environment for our worship and witness, but also that we may serve our communities appropriately at a time of great practical and spiritual needs.
4. Pray for specific people and families in need of our prayers
5. Pray for ourselves as we seek to live through these difficult times
There is the option of a filmed short message on this theme. Please click this link to access:
Disorientated! Confused! Stunned! Submit your own adjectives to describe your feeling after what we have been through last week as a country, and unusually, what we have been through together as a world family in country after country.
One of the remarkable things I have found encouraging this week –there have been a few things! – was the solidarity with Christians friends on different continents who got in touch to share their experiences of restricted living due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus. What is more Christian friends in a variety of locations are sharing this service with us today. Instead of our regular-sized congregation, the numbers participating virtually today will be substantially higher than that and I would expect both here and around the world the numbers participating would be higher than might normally gather in church buildings.
The world has changed for ever. We will never go back in three, six or twelve months’ time to the world we left behind. There will of course be many similarities when this crisis is finally over, but other things like our relationships with other people will be different. We will treasure the freedom to associate in the same physical location once more with family and friends and church families, but we will also retain new ties of friendship with newer friends across the world. The global family of people who have gone through this time together in our respective countries will to some degree acknowledge our common human solidarity better than they did even a few weeks ago.
I have already used Lamentations chapter three for our reflections last week, but I felt it right to remain here for our first Sunday as a virtual congregation. To a degree greater than before we can sit with Jeremiah in his confused and emotional state, wondering what does the future hold for me? What might happen in coming days to my family and friends?
Asking questions is good, but sometimes there is no-one who is going to give us the answer. Sometimes we have to live in that uncomfortable place between the past and the future, a borderland that seems to lack promise and certainly doesn’t fill us with joy and confidence for the journey we must now take. Let us sit with Jeremiah in his shoes as well as our own and very briefly reflect on his heart cries as well as his wonderful testimony of faith.
1. God where are you when I need You?(Lamentations 3:1-18)
(a)God is against me (Lamentations 3:1-6) I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. 2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;3 indeed, He has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. 6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
Jeremiah is articulating here not only his own feelings but those of his fellow citizens in a similar situation, that included people of faith and those who had not had space for God in their daily experiences; had they been abandoned by God in their time of need? The list we could give of people struggling today is lengthy: to name but a few – those wondering will I still have a job or career at the end of this crisis, or even sooner? What about my university options when I couldn’t sit my examinations? What about even my survival if I catch the virus given that I have underlying health conditions that make me vulnerable to serious struggles with covid-19 should I contract it?
How does Jeremiah express his current feelings or those of many of his fellow Jews all those centuries ago? He made me walk in darkness rather than light(Lamentations 3:2b); is that how you are feeling today? In his large book, Jeremiah expressed his feelings this way: Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me (Jeremiah 8:21).
You cannot read these words in verses 1-6 of Lamentations 3 without grasping a window into his anguish of heart. It is okay to be honest with God about how you are feeling today. He knows exactly what is going on in your inner being so there is no point in not being honest with him with our struggles as well as with our joys. Life has both – this week in our congregation I rejoiced with someone who has got more work when they feared not being able to continue.
On the other hand I was saddened to listen to others who had to stop work or lost employment as a result of covid-19. Today as every Sunday as God’s people gather together, our experiences of the past week are decidedly mixed, although at a time like this far more of us will be struggling to make sense of what is going on
(b) God has taken away my sense of hope (Lamentations 3:7-18)He has walled me in so that I cannot escape; He has weighed me down with chains. 8 Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. 9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; He has made my paths crooked. 10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, 11 He dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. 14 I became the laughing-stock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink. 16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, ‘My splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’
No exit! If that is the road sign visible on the highway where you are driving your car, it is time to take some drastic action and make a U-Turn and go in a different direction.
For Jeremiah it seemed like every way he turned to go there were ‘no exit’ signs popping up time after time. But most seriously of all, what happened when he tried to pray? Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. 9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; He has made my paths crooked(Lamentations 3:8-9). Here is a God-honouring person experiencing a ‘dark night of the soul’ when it appeared even God has gone silent on him.
It gets worse further on in this passage: He dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.(Lamentations 3:11-12). And then to make matters worse, he declares: He has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, ‘My splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord (Lamentations 3: 16b-18).
Do you feel hopeless today? Do you despair of any resolution of what you are going through? Then you are sitting with Jeremiah and his fellow citizens of Jerusalem in need of assistance. Is our situation hopeless or are there some blue skies of hope hidden behind the dark clouds that hang so heavy over us?
2. Experiencing the wonderful love of God (Lamentations 3:19-33)
(a)Compare and contrast (Lamentations 3:19-21) 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: When you go through really difficult times you will never forget that experience. It is real. At the moment for many of us the current restrictions feel a bit unreal but our television screens displaying scenes in Italy at the present time show just how serious is this health crisis.
When we feel overwhelmed we imagine our trials lasting ‘for ever’. This perception is too much for anyone to bear for any length of time. However, there is an incredible contrast that floods his consciousness that transforms his understanding of the bigger picture. The problems are still there. The consequences of what happened in Jerusalem, in terms of the death and destruction was very real. But, something prompted him to see in afresh way that God was there with him in this situation. In effect, that Emmanuel (which means ‘God with us’) really was with him. God had not left him to cope on his own. Are you feeling alone and struggling to cope with what you are facing just now- please turn and ask the Lord to uphold and support you and walk with you through this time.
(b) The faithfulness of God (Lamentations 3:22-26) 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for Him.’ 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Jeremiah experienced what the Psalmist in Psalm 103:11-13 stated: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
God is entirely trustworthy. He stands alongside us through the hard times of life whether we can sense His presence or not. This does not mean we have instant answers miraculously to all our prayers. By contrast, it means we trust that God will do the right thing for His people because of His great love for us. There are a lot of things we can do without if we know someone unconditionally loves us. God’s children on earth who have put their faith and trust in Him can have that wonderful assurance of His amazing love to us – even in the midst of the storms of life. Do you need to hear that today?
(c) The humble submission of His people (Lamentations 3:27-33) 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope.30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. 31 For no one is cast off by the Lord for ever. 32 Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. 33 For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
Years ago I sat with a wonderful Christian who told me of the earth shattering news they had recently received of a terminal medical diagnosis. It was what they said next that stands out: ‘Why not me; I have no right to be exempt from what others go through because of my Christian faith!’
When we refuse to give in to our trials, but instead endeavour to stand firm in the storms of our lives –God is glorified and His people are enabled by His supernatural power to bear witness to the wonderful grace of God. Jeremiah’s closing words here are inspirational: Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. 33 For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone (Lamentations 3:32-33).
Some people have been asking –why did God permit Covid-19 to appear? I and we will never know answers to so many ‘why’ questions. What we do know of God and His attitude towards us at this time is given here in Lamentations 3:32: Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. God wants to work for good in this and every situation- so be encouraged that God knows what you are going through and will walk with us each step of the way, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Here are some inspiring songs to sing declaring the greatness of God and our calling to go forward as people who have faith in our amazing God.
Benediction: The Grace
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
Remember tonight the national online prayer service at 7pm in Scotland