Sunday 9th January 2022

Welcome
Welcome to our joint service for this second Sunday of January. Wherever we gather, in the sanctuary or at home, we are encouraged in these times of challenge to find hope in God, as expressed to us through the voice of Scripture.

Call to Worship (Psalm 29: 1-2, 11)
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendour.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

HYMN 120 God, we praise you, God we bless you

(from St. James URC, Newcastle)

Prayer:

Let us pray:

Loving God,
like the Psalmist,
we have entered your gates with thanksgiving
and your courts with praise.
This is the day that You have made;
we rejoice and are glad in it.
For You O Lord, are a good God
and Your love endures for ever,
Your faithfulness continues through all generations.
Blessed be Your holy name for ever and ever
through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

Forgiving God,
we confess to You the many ways
in which we have fallen short of Your expectations of us.
We confess our sins against You our God,
and against our fellow sisters and brothers in this world.
Often, we have failed to witness of our faith in You,
of our love for You and of Your care for us.
Often, we have chosen the easy way of talking about everything else
but of our relationship with You.
We have kept faith as those who are now in Your presence did years ago.
Have mercy upon us, grant us Your grace that by Your Spirit,
we will be true disciples of our God
whose son Jesus Christ,
died and rose for the forgiveness of our sins.

Gracious Lord,
as we receive Your forgiveness,
we ask that You be present with us in this time of worship.
May Your Spirt unite us, whether gathered in the sanctuary
or joining from our homes.
Grant us grace to worship You,
to hear Your words read and preached with new ears,
and to respond with renewed commitment.
Make us a people after Your heart,
seeking to do good to the world
bearing testimony to Your love,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who taught us when we pray, to say:

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:

Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
    and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.’

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’


Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

HYMN 485 Dear Lord and Father of mankind

(from Winchester Cathedral)

Reflection:

How are you feeling? It is a serious question, not one of politeness with the expectation of the usual meaningless response, ‘fine’. So, how are you feeling?

For some of us it may be tiredness resulting from Christmas, New Year, and all that these require of us. For some it may be anticipation of what we will personally face this year. There will be folk for whom there is a nervous anticipation of something good coming to pass in this new year. Yet, for some of us the prevailing feeling may be one of sadness, even despair. This sadness could be personal, yet it could also be a response to the proposals of Presbytery as regards this congregation and our building. The passages set before us for this Sunday offer us something to begin to offset any such negativity as we may be experiencing. They offer us hope.

We have heard three passages this morning, from the prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist, and the Gospel of Luke. All three point to the presence of God in every facet of life; they all point toward the hope that such truth offers us. We began with the Psalmist in our call to worship. Here, in the midst of the storms of life, God is seen to be majestic and powerful, deserving of praise. Yet in this we are not forgotten. When we heard from Isaiah, we heard these themes continued. Irrespective of our circumstances God is seen to be with us, at our side. Finally, in the Gospel passage, the suggestion is that we immersed in God. God is seen to be all around while we are to be found in Him. In other words, there is hope. Let’s consider these passages one at a time.

The Psalm speaks of the voice of the Lord in the midst of the storm. The writer uses his words to attempt to capture something of the wonder and power of God even as the images of the storm trouble or frighten. The voice of God is said to be like the thunder rumbling over the seas, over the land. It is said to make everything look small by comparison, emphasising the might of the Lord. Yet, even in His greatness, the Psalmist impresses on us the assurance that God is with us. On God we can lean. In God we can find the strength to carry on when we are failing. As the Psalm closes, we are reminded that as we walk in faith we are blessed with the peace of God. His hand calms any storm we may need to pass through in our daily lives.

The words of the prophet Isaiah may draw us to the hymn “Do not be afraid”. These words of scripture offer us a sense of calm; Isaiah’s words are meant to sooth. The prophet offers us, all of us, regardless of our background, assurance and comfort. He assures us, reminds us, that we do not need to face things alone, we can go in the presence and strength of God. We can allow ourselves to take a deep breath; we can honestly say, ‘With God, I can do this.
Luke invites us all to revisit our baptism, if we can recall it. Indeed, in some Christian traditions, there is an annual service of blessing with water, accompanied by the renewal of Baptismal vows. As we hear this story of Baptism at the beginning of the new year, we could interpret it as an invitation to wash off the old year and step forward in faith into the new. In other words, it is an invitation to start afresh before God. At the start of the reading Luke tells us the people were seeking, searching, hoping for the Messiah; they were filled with anticipation for a coming saviour. The Baptizer, John, gives them hope in his witness of who is to come and what the Messiah will bring. He understands his role and the purposes of God for him. John tells the people that this coming Messiah will be both judge and Saviour; He will demand justice where there is none. When Jesus is baptised by John, He receives the Holy Spirit and God’s approval; prophesy is fulfilled, and the public mission of Jesus begins.

I began, today, by asking “How are you?” I meant it. I asked as we are living through times that are both complex and challenging for both individual and congregation. Yet our readings from Scripture offer us something to hold on to. They began by reminding us that there is nowhere in life that is not touched by the presence of God. Then we were reminded that despite the apparent size and wonder of creation that God has not forgotten us. Finally, we are reminded that in our Baptism we are called into a life of witness to these things; a life where we are nurtured and carried onward. As we step on into the challenges of the times before us let us return continually to the words of Isaiah, and the promise they bear us. In them we will not be disappointed no matter how much we are by the world around. Isaiah, proclaiming the word of God, writes, “you are precious in my sight, … I love you.(Isa 43: 4).
Amen.

HYMN 191 Do not be afraid

Prayers:

Let us pray:

We give thanks to You our ever-loving God
for the blessings of this and every day.
We offer this day the gift of our lives,
that we might make a difference in our communities and beyond.
We do this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who freely offered His life that we might life in abundance.

We pray for all who are bearing heavy burdens:
those facing difficulties and problems to which they can see no solutions,
wrestling with inner fears and racked by anxiety for themselves or loved ones;
troubled about money, health, work or relationships;
all who crave rest for their souls but cannot find it.

We pray for the influence of Your Holy Spirit in the troubled places of the world.
Fill us with Your passion for justice that we may strive to build bridges of reconciliation.

We pray for all who are happy and for whom things are going well,
that they may know the source of their blessing.

We pray for all who are distressed.
Comfort the sad, be present with the sick making Your will known to them.
Strengthen those who are depressed by failure.

Loving God,
help us to spread Your love to our friends and neighbours.
Let us think of one or two particular friends
and ask that God will help us tell them the good news.

Let us think of the people sitting on either side of us
asking that God will be especially close to them.

We remember those people who are not with us today,
perhaps through illness, holiday, or some other duty.

Lord, thank You that You listen to our prayers,
spoken and unspoken
in Jesus name.
Amen

HYMN 737 Will your anchor hold

(from Cape Town Massed Choir, and Philharmonic Orchestra)

Benediction:

May the blessed presence of God fill our hearts with the assurances of God’s love.
May the gracious arms of Christ embrace us as part of the community of believers.
May the Holy Spirit baptise us afresh and lead us into newness of life.
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Spirit Holy,
be with us all,
evermore. Amen.

Sung Amen:

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org
Prayers and final blessing adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 9th January 2022.

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