Sunday 31st January 2021

Call to Worship (Psalm 43: 3-4)

Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

HYMN The God of Abraham Praise

(From Grace Presbyterian Church, USA)

Prayer

God of light and life,
we gather to remember your love.
We gather to stand for your love and light.
We gather to work for your kingdom.
We gather to work for the flourishing of all.
God of light and life, shine among us as we gather.

Friends, we are called to walk in the light.
Forgive the times we have followed ways of our own choosing.
Set us in paths of righteousness, for your name’s sake.

Friends, we are called to consider whether the light in us is not darkness.)
Forgive the times we have failed to share your light.
Give us courage to share your light, together.

Friends, the prophets denounced those who ‘who call evil good and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness’.
Forgive our cynicism that costs others so dearly.
Sustain us as we seek the light of your life in the world.

Friends, God brings even deep darkness to light.
Let your light shine on us, O God, that we might live.
Open our eyes and renew us, for in your light we see light.

With the words that Jesus taught us, let us now pray together:

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.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Scriptures

James 1:17, 22-27
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Matthew 5: 15-16
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

HYMN Lord, for the years

Reflection

At 3pm local time on the 27th January 1945 Soviet soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This, the largest of the Nazi death camps, had already been deserted by its SS guards. Only seven thousand prisoners remained, the others have been marched to their deaths not long beforehand. Despite the brutality of the Eastern Front nothing could prepare these battle-hardened soldiers for what they saw. It is a date that they would never forget, and neither should we. That date is now remembered annually as ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’.

This week, with the anniversary of that day, we are called to reflect on man’s inhumanity to man. We are called also to seek out how we may be light in the world, ensuring such things are never forgotten lest we do not learn from them. We are called to be light that they may never happen again. Our scripture passages today all touch on the theme of being that ‘light in the darkness’.

The call to worship, from Psalm 43, shares in the early belief that light was the creation of God. More than that light is believed to be a gift. We see that reflected still in how we make use of candles in our worship, even if not every week. Further, the psalmist calls upon God to ‘send out your light and truth’. The Psalm, itself, is a lament yet the passages concerning light tell us also that it is not without hope. This hope is also linked to the desire for the freedom to worship. The desire to worship is writ large in human nature despite the attempts of many to snuff it out. History bears witness to this whether it be the Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, or the Chinese Communist Party. Yet faith and worship are resilient for the faith communities always seem to survive to begin again.

The idea that light was created by God is echoed in our reading from the letter of James. Here, his references to God as the ‘Father of lights’ draws us once more to the creation stories of Genesis, and to the Psalms. James, however, takes the image a stage further linking it with the demand that people of faith respond to this gift with grace and mercy. That is, the faith community are to move beyond simply good intentions. They are to respond in actions that proclaim righteousness, justice. In the times of the Bible this often meant looking after the widow and the orphan, those whom wider society often neglected. To return to the Holocaust, Britain managed to rescue around 10,000 Jewish children through what was known as the ‘Kindertransport’; it is estimated another 1.5 million were murdered by the Nazis. In this context James reminds us of the importance of both our individual and collective actions, and of the cost of not acting.

As we turn to our final passage, we find Jesus sharing the comical scene of someone lighting a lamp, only to cover it up that its light may not be seen. He is not seeking to entertain us but is stressing the importance of action. As elsewhere faith is important but action, too, is vital. In his words Jesus stands in a long tradition of both Biblical instruction and prophetic proclamation. With his words Jesus challenges us to act. The associations with light in the ancient world challenge us to see God’s actions in these human actions of sharing light.

We cannot travel back and undo the work of the death camps. Neither can we travel back and undo the evil that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, or any other place of genocide. But we can stand in solidarity with those who were its victims and its survivors. We can keep their stories alive, and their memories never forgotten. We are blessed by being free to be able to protest and campaign in freedom; we are blessed by being free to choose leaders that will endorse freedom and life rather than oppression and death. Let us use these blessed freedoms and act in faith. As the years roll on the witnesses to those events are fewer in number. It becomes our place to carry the light and shine it on the dark places of our world. It becomes our place to bring hope. It becomes our place to let the light of God shine in the darkness.
Amen.

A litany – Called to be Light

When faced with religious discrimination,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with a global pandemic that threatens our wellbeing,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with the darkness of shame and rejection,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with human beings not being treated in a dignified manner,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with discrimination for ‘being different’,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with injustices caused in the name of religion,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with people who are unable to live in their own countries and homelands,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with a lack of generosity towards refugees and migrants,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with genocide,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with denial of the Holocaust,
Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

We look to the light of Jesus, so that as we reflect his light in the world, it is filled with the harvest of his good works. Amen.

HYMN Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

(From Canterbury Cathedral)

Benediction

May the light of God shine on us
transforming our lives
and brightening our world.
Amen.

Acknowledgements:
‘The Council of Christians and Jews’ for permission to use elements of their service for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021. www.ccj.org.uk

English translations of Lord’s Prayer © 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC). www.englishtexts.org. Used by permission.

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
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