Service and Prayers for Epiphany 2

Our Parochial Church Council has decided to shut our building due to rising levels of coronavirus in Cheadle Hulme. We are therefore not able to worship together in church this Sunday. Here are a service and prayers which have been written by our Vicar and Readers for Sunday 17 January 2021...

Welcome:
Good morning and welcome to All Saints. This is not quite how we imagined church to be on Sunday 17 January but in light of the recent rise in cases we felt it was right to close the church building but that does not mean church as a worshipping community has stopped.

During this time we will go through a short, reflective service of prayer and scripture. You may find it helpful to light a candle at the beginning as a symbol of the light that is never extinguished, the light of Jesus. And as we light it we remember those in our church also gathered around the light. 

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Preparation and Confession:
Christ has brought us out of the darkness; to live in his marvellous light. We have come together in the presence of God our Father to rejoice in the gift of Jesus to us as the light of the world and to offer to God our thanksgiving in prayer and song.

Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. Let us turn to the light and confess our sins:

Father eternal, giver of light and grace, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in what we have thought, in what we have said and done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault. We have wounded your love, and marred your image in us. We are sorry and ashamed, and repent of all our sins. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and lead us out from darkness to walk as children of light. Amen

May God who loved the world so much that he sent his Son to be our Saviour forgive our sins, and make us holy to serve him in the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our reading today is from John 1:43 – end.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses wrote in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’

Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Sermon (by our Reader, Michael Aiers):
Over the past few weeks we have heard quite a lot about ‘beginnings’. That is not very surprising as we have just started a new calendar year, welcomed a new, and long prayed for, vicar and, this being the season of Epiphany, our Gospel readings are revisiting the beginnings of Jesus’ own ministry.

Last week we celebrated the festival of the Baptism of Christ and heard, from St. Mark’s gospel, that Jesus travelled from his home village of ‘Nazareth in Galilee’, in Northern Palestine, and was baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. St. John’s gospel indicates that Jesus’ baptism took place near the village of ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’, in the district of Judea in Southern Palestine. This ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’ is not to be confused with the home village of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, which is much closer to Jerusalem.

In St. John’s gospel the testimony of John the Baptist acts like a trumpet fanfare to mark the beginning of his account of Jesus’ ministry and, he tells us that “the next day” Jesus began collecting together his support team of disciples by recruiting Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples, and his brother Simon Peter.

Today’s gospel reading continues the story with Jesus deciding, “the next day”, to return back north to the district of Galilee and the recruitment campaign goes on. Jesus invites Philip who, like Andrew and Peter came from the town of Bethsaida at the northern end of Lake Galilee, to join the team. Philip was clearly impressed by Jesus and went to tell Nathaniel that they, presumably Andrew, Peter and himself, had found the one written about by Moses and the prophets and he is Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel is not impressed. How, he asks, can anything good come from that insignificant little village of Nazareth which does not feature in any of the prophecies about the Messiah? Philip’s reply is simple; “come and see” he tells Nathaniel. Nathaniel went and, having met Jesus, he too joined the team. It is widely accepted that Nathaniel is to be identified with Bartholomew in the lists of the Twelve Apostles. With the first recruits enrolled Jesus then proceeds to assure them of much greater things to come.

Like Jesus, in our gospel reading, Sarah is at the start of her ministry here and will, I assume, also wish to recruit a team to aid and support her in that ministry. However, things are not quite so straightforward for Sarah if she wishes to follow our Lord’s example.

As we have heard, Jesus, on his recruiting campaign, was able to travel freely through the regions of Galilee and Judea in Palestine meeting and talking with those he met. Sadly, Sarah does not have that freedom because, having found herself in a tier 4 lockdown, she is, like all of us, strongly discouraged from even leaving the house. And, when she does go out, the number of people she may meet and socialise with is again severely restricted.

How then can Sarah find and gather together her support team? Here Sarah has the advantage over Jesus because, surely, her support team already exists and it is a big one. We, the parishioners of All Saints, are that team and surely the work of reaching out, through the web site, weekly emails, on-line socials, phone calls, visits, shopping, which so many have undertaken throughout the interregnum and pandemic, will continue as that is a role we all share with Sarah. Jesus sent out his own team to spread the good news and we should follow their example because, although each of us can only reach out one or two others during lockdown, together we can reach out to many.

And what if some to whom we speak about Sarah ask “Can anything good come out of Luton?”, showing a shameful ignorance of Luton’s proud history of hat making; well, hopefully it will not be too long before we can, once more, invite them to “come and see”. 
Alone Sarah has a daunting task but, if we all work together then, as Jesus told Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel, we will “see greater things than these”.

Intercessions (from Our Reader, Pat Yates):
Today we pray as a church in exile, a dispersed community, but one in faith and hope...

Loving Father, you know each one of us, our hope's and our fears, our longing for fellowship one with another. Give us we pray such a sense of your presence, that we may know that, though separated, we are one in faith and love. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, as you called the disciples, open our ears to your calling, open our eyes to your presence, open our hearts to your love, that we may hear you and hearing, we may love you and loving you we may serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving Father, we pray for those whose need is very great. For all suffering from Covid in our hospitals and for doctors, nurses and hospital staff caring for them. For those who feel their strength is almost exhausted and for those whose operations have been cancelled. For all who live in constant pain. We especially remember any known to us who are sick or distressed at this time. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Finally, as we end this time of prayer, let us think of our own discipleship as we ponder these words, written by John Henry Newman...

"God has created me to do some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. 
I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nought.
I shall do good. I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it...if I do but keep his commandments.
Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am. I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him.
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.
He may take away my friends he may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me...still he knows what he is about."

Merciful Father, Accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

As our saviour taught us so we pray:

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

A blessing to end our time together:

May the Father, who has loved the eternal Son from before the foundation of the world, shed that love upon us his children. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. In the name of Christ. Amen.

(Remember to blow out your candle!)