Church of England Diocese of Birmingham St. Paul Blackheath

A short service for the 1st Sunday of Epiphany 10th January 2021

Call to worship

This the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
We are the family of God.
And are called by God’s name.
We are heirs of Christ’s kingdom.
And born of the Spirit.
Let us, therefore, come together in thanksgiving.
Amen.

A gathering prayer

Lord God, giver of light and life,
by your word you bring everything into being –
the far-flung galaxies and the tiniest atomic particle.
You have given us a world to enjoy and to care for.
Give us compassion in the use of its resources,
wisdom in our stewardship of your gifts,
and reverence for all that you have made –
for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

A prayer of approach

Come, let us honour the powerful glory of our Creator God.
Let us worship God’s majesty in the splendour of holiness.
Amen.

A prayer of confession

Lord, when you came into the world, things changed. When we came into a relationship with you, things changed. Life became filled with a new sense of purpose and peace. But, Lord, sometimes we let you down by doing wrong things or failing to do right things.
We are sorry, Lord.

Sometimes, Lord, through pride, stubbornness or fear we build barriers and keep others at arm’s length – even you, Lord.
We are sorry, Lord.

At times we give in to our weaknesses and temptations, failing to draw on your strength. At times we are troubled by difficult situations and find it hard to trust you.
We are sorry, Lord.

Help us to turn such things around and turn to you. Help us to learn from the past and, drawing on your strength and peace, make a better future.
Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness

O God, when Jesus was baptized, you spoke of your love for him. You showed your love for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. By the power of the cross, the darkness of our wrongdoing is banished by the light of your loving forgiveness.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Psalm 29

The Voice of the Lord in the Storm

Praise the Lord, you heavenly beings;
praise his glory and power.
Praise the Lord's glorious name;
bow down before the Holy One when he appears.

The voice of the Lord is heard on the seas;
the glorious God thunders,
and his voice echoes over the ocean.
The voice of the Lord is heard
in all its might and majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
even the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes the mountains of Lebanon jump like calves
and makes Mount Hermon leap like a young bull.

The voice of the Lord makes the lightning flash.
His voice makes the desert shake;
he shakes the desert of Kadesh.
The Lord's voice shakes the oaks
and strips the leaves from the trees
while everyone in his Temple shouts, “Glory to God!”

The Lord rules over the deep waters;
he rules as king forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people
and blesses them with peace.

Bible reading Mark 1.4-11

So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized,” he told the people, “and God will forgive your sins.” Many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan River.

John wore clothes made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. He announced to the people, “The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

Not long afterward Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”

Talk

We live in extraordinary times and what an extraordinary week this has been. An exceptional week even by our own recent standards.

Here in England we have entered another period of extended lockdown that looks to be stretching throughout the winter months. A pattern that is repeated in many places across our world. The disruption and dislocation to our familiar patterns of life is extensive and many people are struggling mentally, physically and spiritually as a result.

Whilst in the USA a period of transition between one administration and the succeeding one and one president and next one has deteriorated into violence.

With despair and anguish perhaps at times threatening to overwhelm us, how very striking and reassuring are the words that we find in the psalm and hymn chosen for today.

From the psalm 29 we hear these words spoken over us
The Lord rules over the deep waters;
he rules as king forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people
and blesses them with peace”.

Whilst from the hymn writer Michael Forster we hear these words
God is our strength from days of old,
the hope of ev’ry nation;
whose pow’r conceived the universe
and set the earth’s foundation”.

Here we have a reminder that the Lord our God is the author of creation. The Creator of heaven and earth. Here is a reminder that whilst we are gifted with freewill to determine the trajectory of our lives, whilst we have this license to exercise our stewardship of creation, the Lord our God rules as King forever. Ours is not the ultimate authority here on earth and importantly, especially in our day, we remain accountable for the choices and decisions that each of us make and of course for our stewardship of this planet earth. It is important for us to note here that environmental issues are also profoundly spiritual issues, because of the power that conceived the universe. A universe that gravitates towards order from chaos as we discover, in the first book of the bible, in the book of Genesis when emptiness and darkness is transformed by light and the Spirit of God moving over the waters. Especially in times of disorientation, disorder and chaos it is important for us to remember that God has not abdicated his throne. God has not turned his back upon us and the power of grace and love is not absent in our world.

In fact, in times of disorientation, disorder, chaos and let me add disobedience the presence of God and the call of God for us to change tack, to change direction and to repent is even stronger. We see this in the preaching and teaching of John the Baptist, described for us in our bible reading from Mark. John’s message is unequivocal, “turn away from your sins and be baptized and God will forgive your sins”. This message strange to say, is a profoundly attractive one, an appealing one, a magnetic one to the people who hear John’s voice calling out. Crowds of people search John out, trekking across desert sands seeking a change and a new start from the disorientation, disorder, chaos and disobedience of their lives. What these crowds seek is the strength and peace that the psalmist promises in verse 11 that restores a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord our God.

But there is another person in the crowd who seeks John out. A person whom John is not worthy to baptize and who is without sin. Someone who has been waiting decades for this moment, for this new beginning and who now makes himself known.

How interesting that Jesus did not begin his public ministry at the ages of 16, 18 or 21 as we might expect. Instead it was at the age of 30 or 31 that this turning point is reached and the stage is set. Within God’s scheme and purposes there is always a right time to move. Just as a seed takes time to germinate before it can grow and flourish, so sometimes waiting is part of God’s plan for us. This is a hard lesson, for if you are like me and inclined on occasions to be a little impatient, then waiting when we want to press on is a hard discipline to learn. But it is essential if we are to fulfill and flourish in the purposes that God has for our life. Jesus, who models life for us waited to be baptized and afterwards he waited again, as he retreated into the desert for forty days of solitude before embarking upon his work and ministry.

Here in this moment, alongside John, Jesus no longer hidden in Nazareth, but made visible as heaven and earth meet and touch and a voice from heaven declares over him that “you are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you” (verse 11). A fathers endorsement, so powerful, so necessary, and yet sometimes sadly absent from our biological fathers, is the epiphany, the revelation that reveals Jesus to the world and from here there is no turning back. Here is the moment that later enables Paul to write to the Colossians
“(Jesus) Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first born Son, superior to all created things”
and this amongst all the trials and tribulations of this age is where our hope is to be found. Amen.

Rev Mike Sermon Vicar St Paul’s Church Blackheath

Prayers

Eternal God, it feels as if the whole world has changed
and yet in you there is stability and the opportunity of a new beginning.
So, we pray now for those whose lives are in turmoil,
those whose lives have been turned upside down, those who feel lost.
May they feel supported, find fresh hope,
and use our prayers in Jesus’ name to strengthen them.

We pray for those for whom the lockdown has come as a relief,
for those who now feel safer,
but we pray too for those who now feel desperate,
alone and worried about their jobs, their finances, their mental health.
May they feel supported, find fresh hope:
Lord, use our prayers in Jesus’ name to strengthen them.

We pray for children and young adults as their schooling is disrupted,
we pray for those who enjoy learning from home,
but pray too for those who will lose confidence,
who miss their friends, who feel vulnerable.
We remember their parents
and the parents of children with special needs,
struggling to cope on their own.
We pray for teachers, administrative staff,
and all those who feel overwhelmed.
May they feel supported, find fresh hope:
Lord, use our prayers in Jesus’ name to strengthen them.

We pray for the people of a divided America
at this time of political and racial tension and transition,
for outgoing President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden.
We pray too for countries around the world
struggling with ethnic violence and militancy.
We remember the people of West Africa
and in particular the people of Niger, villagers who live in fear,
those who have been wounded in recent attacks
and those who have been bereaved.
May they feel supported, find fresh hope:
Lord, use our prayers in Jesus’ name to strengthen them.

We pray for those who have been injured
or lost their homes and loved ones in the severe weather,
remembering particularly the people of Norway affected by landslides,
and those in Australia battered by cyclones.
We pray for those who work in the emergency services,
those whose work is dangerous and traumatic.
We pray for those in refugees camps
with little protection from the weather,
those who sleep rough,
those who can't afford to heat their homes.
May they feel supported, find fresh hope:
Lord, use our prayers in Jesus’ name to strengthen them.

We pray for one another, our families,
our communities, our church fellowships.
May we support those who are unwell or grieving.
May we bring fresh hope to those who feel forgotten and are vulnerable,
and may we – both practically and prayerfully – share our faith
in your Son Jesus in whose name we entrust these prayers to you.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

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

Hymn

God is our strength from days of old,
the hope of ev’ry nation;
whose pow’r conceived the universe
and set the earth’s foundation.
Though hidden from our sight
in uncreated light,
his presence yet is known,
his wondrous purpose shown,
resplendent in creation!

The Word of Life, before all things
in primal darkness spoken,
became for us the Word made flesh
for our redemption broken.
His glory set aside,
for us he lived and died,
obedient to death,
renewed in life and breath,
to endless glory woken!

Michael Forster (b. 1946) © 1996 Kevin Mayhew Ltd.

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Lord, help us to be open to your prompting
as we seek to discover what you would have us be and do.
Remind as again and again that you have promised to be our
guide and companion on our journey.
Help us to look forward with renewed commitment,
and bless our thinking and speaking and doing.
In your name.
Amen.

Let us go in peace,

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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