Text for the Week: Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20)
Welcome to our services today … and a special welcome to any worshiping with us for the first time.
It’s Sunday Special so our younger members are starting in the hall and will join us at the end of the service. Faith is something very personal.
As our text for the week reminds us it can be as tiny as a grain of mustard seed and still make a world of difference. Faith needs to be alive and growing, otherwise it will wither away. That’s where ‘church’ comes in. It is as we get together that we can support one another and help that faith to grow. Since September we have been following the GIFT Course material. A ‘gift’ from our Congregational Federation, the word ‘GIFT’ in our GIFT course stands for Growing in Faith Together.
The Life of Faith is the subject of the next short course we will run at Explore on Tuesday evenings – it will explore the basics of our faith in a way that will be helpful for people starting out on a journey of faith or at any point on that journey. That will be in the six weeks or so leading up to Easter. There’s also the opportunity to share with people from other churches in a day together at North Nibley on Saturday, 28th January looking at that Life of Faith.
On Sundays for the next couple of months we are going to draw on another part of the GIFT Course and ask what it takes to be church in our Congregational way of being church. We have already made a start on that material through Advent and over Christmas as we have been looking at being a Christ-centred church. We will be exploring the call to be Spirit-filled, Inclusive, Worshipful, Missional … and well managed! And today we start by reflecting on the need to be rooted in the Scriptures and Bible Based.
We are once again using Fresh from the Word – you can still order copies of our Bible reading notes or look out for the Bible reading plan. Turning to some of the great passages in Matthew’s Gospel we will take a leaf out of J John’s forward and “let God’s Word save us, steer us and strengthen us”.
Welcome and Call to Worship
7 Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Rooted in the Bible
The Faith We Share – the Beatitudes
We come from very many different backgrounds.
Each of us has a family history that is different from everyone else’s.
The week that is past has been different for each one of us.
The week that is to come will be just as different.
For some of us this is a time of great excitement, joy and anticipation.
For others of us this is a time of great anxiety, sadness and even foreboding.
For others of us we are somewhere in between.
But something has drawn us to this place, at this time.
Here we seek something beyond ourselves,
something beyond the everyday world of the week that is past
something beyond the everyday world of the week that is to come.
This place, this time we spend together has something to offer.
a warm welcome, good company, a nice time together … and much more.
This place, this time we spend together has something to offer from beyond ourselves.
That something has been passed on by all the people who have gathered in this place and at this time for generations …
It is something to be explored with our minds and experienced in our hearts.
It is a faith that finds its focus in Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Bible.
It is in the Bible that we can discover the way of life Jesus invites us to follow, a way of love for God, love for neighbour and love for enemy too.
It is in the Bible that we find the Jesus who lived and died and rose again.
It is in Jesus that we find that God is love and that all the wrong we have done, all the wrong we have contemplated is forgiven.
It is in Jesus that we share in that resurrection victory and experience life in all its fullness, life that goes beyond death into the glory of God’s eternal love.
It is in Jesus that we find a strengthening in that unseen yet very real presence of God’s Spirit that is nothing less than the very breath of life as it renews and strengthens and sustains us.
Here in this place and at this time we share a faith and seek a presence that restores and renews the week that is past.
Here in this place and at this time we share a faith and seek a presence that prepares us for the week that is to come.
In our church we do not express that faith in the words of a creed.
The faith we share here in this place and at this time is expressed in the simplest of words
I believe in God and in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.
That faith then finds expression in lives we lead, the words we sing, the prayers we pray and supremely for us in the words of Scripture that are for us the Word of God.
And so as an expression of that faith that renews and restores the week that is past and prepares us for the week that is to come we join in sharing together the words of Jesus as recorded in The Gospel according to Matthew chapter 5.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Such a faith as that makes you think again about what’s important and what’s unimportant in the week that’s past and the week that is to come.
In those words is an invitation to think differently, in the words of Acts 17:6 it is an invitation to ‘turn the world upside down’.
STL 47 O Lord, all the world belongs to you
Faith is something very personal.
As our text for the week reminds us it can be as tiny as a grain of mustard seed and still make a world of difference.
In a world of so many pressures, in a world that is tough at times, Faith can be difficult to come by and difficult to sustain.
Faith is not something static.
Faith needs to be alive and growing, otherwise it will wither away. It is part of the inspiration of Jesus that he draws people together to follow him. Faith focused on Jesus is not faith lived in isolation. It’s faith that needs nurturing, it needs strengthening, it needs growing.
That’s where ‘church’ comes in.
It is as we get together that we can support one another and help that faith to grow.
Since September we have been following the GIFT Course material. A ‘gift’ from our Congregational Federation, the word ‘GIFT’ in our GIFT course stands for Growing in Faith Together.
The Life of Faith is the subject of the next short course we will run at Explore on Tuesday evenings – it will explore the basics of our faith in a way that will be helpful for people starting out on a journey of faith or at any point on that journey. That will be in the six weeks or so leading up to Easter.
There’s going to be an opportunity to share with people from other churches in a day together at North Nibley on Saturday, 28th January looking at that Life of Faith.
For the next few Sundays we are going to draw on another part of the GIFT Course and ask what it takes to be church in our Congregational way of being church. We have already made a start on that material through Advent and over Christmas as we have been looking at being a Christ-centred church. Over the next few Sundays we will be exploring the call to be Spirit-filled, Inclusive, Worshipful, Missional … and as we approach our Annual Meeting and reflect on the first three years of our new way of doing things … well managed!
Today we start by reflecting on the need to be rooted in the Scriptures and Bible Based. We are once again using Fresh from the Word – you can still order copies of our Bible reading notes or look out for the Bible reading plan.
Do you read the small print in books?
It looks just the same only a different colour .. but something is different this year.
Last year it was published in house by the International Bible Reading Assocation that goes back to 1882 when its founding vision “was not just reading the Bible, but reading it together in small groups.” That’s something we seek to do 145 years on as we reflect together on what we have been reading individually.
This year it has been published for IBRA by Monarch Books, a Christian publishing house that’s part of Lion Hudson and based in Oxford and Grand Rapids in the USA. There’s a statement of intent on pave iv in the small print about the publication that explains in large measure what has drawn me to the IBRA Bible reading notes for more than a third of its history … and when I have invited the church family to join me in reading the Bible using these notes.
This is what it says:
“Fresh from the Word aims to build understanding and respect for different Christian perspectives through the provision of a range of biblical interpretations.”
That’s so important to me. For me church is rooted in the Bible … but it is not rooted in a specific way of reading the Bible that is hedged around with creedal statements that make sure you read it the ‘proper way’. The Bible is inspired as the word of God and we need to be open to reading its words in unexpected ways. It is good, therefore, to meet with people who read it – not just anyone. Nathan Eddy is a URC minister, a university chaplain, studying at Northern College where our Graham Adams who grew up here at Highbury is a tutor. It is as if we are in conversation with a whole range of people as we read the Bible – but it is the Bible itself that we need to heed.
This year’s foreword is by J.John,, speaker and evangelist. He speaks of the Bible as “an incredibly personal and intimate word and way of life.”
“The Bible,” he suggests is a source of huge joy and power, but reading it takes effort and commitment.”
That’s the value, he suggests of notes such as Fresh from the Word. “Here you will find daily reflections from a variety of writers, fresh perspectives, moving prayers and themes to make you think.”
But … there’s always a but!
“But it’s not just about good habits. How can the Bible make a difference in our lives?”
That’s the key question.
It’s a book to make a difference … to you and to me. It’s a book to make a difference in the living of our lives 24/7.
How can the Bible make a difference in our lives?
He suggests three things.
“First, we need to let God’s Word SAVE us.
Second we need to let God’s Word STEER us.
Third, we need to let God’s Word STRENGTHEN us.
What I want to do this morning is to take chapters 17 and 18 of Matthew’s Gospel that we are going to be reading this coming week and see how in these words we can let God’s Word save us, steer us and strengthen us.
“First,” says J.John, “we need to let God’s Word SAVE us. It’s easy to think that the Bible simply gives moral guidance,” J.John, goes on to say, “But we need more than the gentle physiotherapy of morality and ethics; we need desperate heart surgery. It is in reading the Bible that we see our situation revealed; and at the same time it holds out God’s love to us in Jesus Christ. If there is a devastating judgement here for us in the Bible there is also the most wonderful good news: God loves us and in Christ has forgiven us.”
We start with part of today’s reading:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. Matthew 17:1-8
Whether it’s in the magisterial opening words of John’s Gospel, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word became flesh or the glorious triumph of the resurrection or here in this moment of transfiguration, the Jesus we meet with in the Bible is the wisest of teachers who maps out a way of life that really will turn the world upside down … but more than that the is the one who draws us into the glory of God’s presence in a way that’s filled with mystery and awe and wonder – in a way that words cannot describe. And this God is awesome and can be scary.
That’s how Peter, James and John felt when they saw and heard the very presence of God in Christ – “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
As we seek the presence of God here in this place and at this time, and as we meet with the Jesus of the Bible Jesus speaks into our greates fears. He reaches out. He touches us at that point of our deepest need. And he picks us up and sets us on our feet again. “Get up and do not be afraid.”
Read on in this passage and you find that the God Jesus opens up for us is the God who is with us in the mess, the horror, the pain and the suffering of this world at its worst. The God who is with us through this world and leads us into the glory of his eternal love.
Hear the words of this Bible reading and let God’s Word save us!
“Second,” J.John goes on to say, “we need to let God’s Word steer us. The desire to go along with everybody else is particularly strong today when most of us are constantly connected digitally to each other and to the global culture of emails, tweets and Facebook. If we pay attention to it, the Spirit of God in scripture will steer us on a safe course. Reading the Bible regularly, thoughtfully and prayerfully will guide us through life. It may not be a comfortable direction – going against the flow never is – but it will be the right one.”
Move on to chapter 18 and it’s all about steering us as a church family – to be welcoming and caring of children and of those who are in the world’s eyes the least important, to speak openly and lovingly with each other, setting each other right on a one to one level, with the support of someone else in the church family if needs be – always sensing that whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus he is there, present with them. All relationships within the church … and elsewhere Jesus says, beyond the church too are to be underpinned by a spirit of forgiveness. So the second part of our passage gives us a steer:
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
One of the things you may notice here at Highbury is that when we sing traditional hymns we quite often sing those hymns to slightly different words. We do that for a reason. About thirty years ago, our then Director of Music, Derek Watson, acquired for the church a new hymn book, Hymns for Today’s Church. It modernised the language of hymns to remove these and thous just as we have done in the version of the Bible we use. Although we project the words now we still use that hymn book. At first I didn’t like it. It’s grown on me. But I cannot bring myself to sing Guide me O you great redeemer!
It’s interesting to see why the Jubilate Group who were responsible for this hymn book chose to adapt the words in the way they did. In the music copy there is a Words Preface” I found it interesting reading back in 1991 when we arrived here. It’s worth a read now. I have put copies on the tables and the window sills. Do have a peep.
One thing caught my eye then. The Words Editor to whom we are indebted or otherwise for the wording of our hymns has a name I recognised. Michael Saward.
That was for the most awful of reasons a household name back then – that most people would recognise. In 1986 while he and his family were at home in their Vicarage in Ealing a gang of three men broke in, beat Michael Saward and his daughter’s boy friend, While one was stealing goods from the house the other two attacked Jill Saward, his 20 year old daughter and raped her. It was au unimaginably traumatic and awful experience for her and for them as a family. It was headline news. When the case came to court it was headline news again – when the Judge declared in giving the one man responsible for the burglary a longer sentence than the two responsible for the rape that the victim of the rape had not been unduly traumatised.
As we were on the move to Highbury Jill Saward disclosed her identity and told her story. She told of the awful impact the rape had had on her. She told of how wrong that Judge had been. Ever since she has campaigned for the proper recognition of rape in the law courts. As recently as two years ago she co-founded an organistation called Juries aimed at ensuring juries in rape trials are educated about the nature of rape.
On Thursday at the age of 51 Jill Saward died suddenly after a massive stroke. Shortly after 5-00 I was on the way to make one last visit and I found myself listening to the report on the PM programme. I switched the engine off and sat in the car for 10 minutes listening. It was so moving.
First, be it said, she had spent the last thirty years campaigning vigorously on rape and its awfulness. She was passionate that justice should be done. She was passionate that the perpetrator was at fault and not the victim. Only through talking about it – having it in the open could there be the beginnings of dealing with it. In a moving interview replayed on Thrusday mornig she spoke of doing that so that it could be in her words ‘deaad and buried’.
What she would say to the Judge.
What she would say to other people – you must get it out of your system becauyse if you
7:50 seconds in to PM Programme on Thursday, 5th January 2016.
But she also had some powerful things to say on forgiveness. This in particular.
You have to bury it and bury it dead – but the only way you can do that is to talk about it, to talk it all through, to get it out of your system, to talk through it until it doesn’t hurt any more and that way you can bury it dead.
And have you buried it dead? Asked Jenny Murray. I have buried it dead.
In the same interview Jill Saward talked about the way her faith had helped her.
The Sunday after the attack David’s parents came down from Scotland. It was mothering Sunday and I think some people had sort of said stay away from church. And I felt really angry about that. I thought, why should I keep away from my God, why should I keep away from worshpping my God. And we all went together in a big group into the church. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer and I joined in. And then when we got to the line “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” it really struck home to me that if I want forgiveness for whatever I’ve done I’ve got to be prepared to forgive. So no matter what the sin is that I’ve got to forgive it’s got to be ultimate if I want ultimate forgiveness for anything I’ve done wrong.
Forgiveness is not a cop-out. Forgiveness is a very hard thing to actually come to terms with and it entails a lot. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to see justice done.
Comments after replaying the interview. She talked to the people who matter on behalf of the victims of sexual assault and rape – she has campaigned continually. She helped to put victims at the heart of the criminal system – comment from the Attorney General. Made significant changes in the process in the court.
Died in hospital after a short illness – she has dedicated the past thirty years of her life to helping other people. Campaigned tirelessly – an outstanding campaigner. Commended by
Juries – an indefatigable campaigner, truly brave – Rape Crisis England and Wales – courageous, pioneering and inspirational.
Juries – indefatigable – dedicated her life. Major impact on the way the judicial system works.
Alison Boydell Co-founder of Juries. 2014 – important not just the public at large but those who serve on juries are educated about the realities of rape and sexual violence and have the opportunity to have some of the myths and preconceptions and myths that abound dispelled. Came together and formed juries.
In all of those thirty years her faith has sustained her in the campaigning she has done, in the work she has done. Indeed she spoke movingly of the way people had said in the wake of what had happened the family should not go to church for a while – but she found that was the place where she had the strengthening she needed precisely at that moment.
We come to the third thing to be on the look out for in reading the Bible.
“Finally, we need to let God’s word STRENGTHEN us. The Bible comes to our aid providing constant encouragement and reminding us that God has given his Spirit to support his people in even the most difficult of circumstances.”
That’s where I want to come back to the third part of our reading from Matthew 17 and 18 today. It’s the verse that stands as our text for the week.
Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20)
Sometimes as one week comes to an end and another week is about to start it feels as if there are mountains in the way that we will never manage to move.
Hang on in there. Hold on to that faith that finds its focus in the Jesus who saves, the Jesus who steers let God’s Word strengthen you with a strength from beyond yourself that will see you through … and will see seemingly insurmountable mountains move.
Prayer and Worship with Hy-Spirit
Prayers of Concern
173 Christ triumphant
A time to share and look forward
A Hy-Spirit Song
Words of Blessing