We are reaching an important part of the year as we review the decisions, we have made already about easing the restrictions in our churches. Please hold the various groups in prayer as we look at how we respond to the continuing presence of Covid-19 in our area. We have managed as Christians to worship in our own homes but there is a deep desire to return to our buildings in some form. We want to and will continue to be cautious about any decisions we make because the health of our brothers and sisters are at the uppermost of our minds. In the next few months, we will look at how we can move forward as Christians in the limitations that Covid-19 puts upon us. Things will not be ‘normal’ for quite a while and so we will need to look at how we can express our Christian faith and share fellowship in different ways.
The ‘Coffee Time’ will take place as usual at 11.30 – 12.15 on Sunday morning the ID No. is 892 9250 3742 and the Password is Coffee
I have chosen songs from Songs of Fellowship this week with just one from Singing the Faith (StF)
Here is the Order of Service
Let us pause as we prepare to worship God
Introduction 921 Men of Faith
Hymn 921 My first love is a blazing fire, I feel his powerful love in me
We come to worship you today because you are God Almighty and worthy of our praise and worship. We wonder at your creation, the world you have brought into being. The many things that sustain us and delight us. You are beyond our imagination, and yet we can catch a glimpse of your glory in the world you have
created. Even with our finite minds we want to know more of you, your power, your love and your presence in our life and in the world, we live in. We may be limited in our experience of worship because we cannot be in our churches to sing and share with others so freely and yet we know that you appreciate the worship of our hearts
God our Father, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus to be our King and Saviour. We thank you that he came to express your love in service to others and ultimately gave his life for our sins. Forgive us for the times that we have not listened to you, when we have been unwilling to follow you. Lord we pray for all who believe in you that they may know your forgiveness in their hearts and minds. We ask that your Holy Spirit work in our lives to bring glory to your name. Amen
And now let us say the Lord’s Prayer together
Reading Isaiah ch 56 v 1 – 8
Hymn StF 363 My Jesus, my Saviour, Lord, there is none like you
Reading Matthew ch 15 v 21 – 28
Hymn 951 O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame
The story of the Canaanite woman makes me feel awkward. How can Jesus treat someone in this way? It is not like Jesus to turn anyone away, especially, when they are asking for help. There are, of course, reasons for Jesus response to the woman which we will go into later. Something else that makes me feel uncomfortable and that is the British Churches response to the ‘Windrush” generation. West Indian people came over to Britain in a response to a request from our country. The Caribbean people came over to Britain to take on employment such as nursing and driving busses and working in factories. To a
certain extent they were welcomed for the contribution they were making to the economy. Sadly, they were not always welcome in our churches. For various reasons black people were discouraged from attending mainstream churches. Some of them faced outright discrimination and were told that they were not welcome in a particular church and others faced apathy and stern looks – they were not given a welcome smile; they were even ignored. Eventually, many of them drifted into other churches or organized their own worship. We see today the vibrant services from Black majority churches.
Let us now look at the story from Matthew chapter fifteen. Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon, these cities are near the gentile border. Perhaps he withdrew from the crowds so that he and his disciples could get some rest and recharge their batteries. We know ourselves that if we are a Christian, we are never fully off duty. God may call upon us at any time to do his work. There are always opportunities to share our faith with people, and sometimes, or even often we are not prepared.
A Canaanite woman found out that Jesus was in the area. She was in desperate need because her daughter had a demon and was in a terrible condition. The woman refers to Jesus as “Son of David’. The woman knows that Jesus is a Jew but she expresses faith in him. Firstly, because she has travelled to see him to ask him to heal her daughter. Secondly, she uses the phrase “Son of David”, this the term which Jews use to refer to the Messiah. The woman must have some understanding of the Jewish faith.
In verse 23 it states, “But Jesus did not say a word to her.” Have there been situations in our time where someone has walked into our church and we have felt uncomfortable about them? Perhaps they look like a homeless person and so we think that if we go over and talk to them, they may beg for money. Conversely, I am sure we have all had the experience of walking into a church we have never been in before, and everybody ignores us. At the end of the service we walk out of the church and no one has talked to us. We feel ignored and not welcome. We have to be alert about new people walking into our church, they will probably feel uncomfortable themselves about walking into a building they have never been in before. And this applies equally mid-week as well as on a Sunday. We ourselves
may be guilty of prejudging someone and not going to talk to them. Every single person in the congregation should feel a responsibility to talk to new people in the church. We see this in the actions of the disciples, they leave the responsibility to speak to the woman to Jesus. In verse 23 it states, “Send her away. She is following us and making all this noise.” How many people have we lost because they haven’t felt welcome in our church?
In verse 24, Jesus explains to the disciples. “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.” Jesus has a limited amount of time to complete his ministry here on earth. Firstly, to teach the people and also to heal them. Secondly, to prepare his disciples for when he leaves them physically. He cannot be sidetracked by the demands of everyone, especially, as he has been called to reconnect the people of Israel with God his Father. We too have limited resources and we need to use our time carefully. I am sure we have all been in a position where we have been stretched so thinly that although we are very busy, we don’t achieve anything. We need to work out what priorities God has for our life, and for our church.
In verse 25 it states, “At this the woman came and fell at his feet. ’Help me, sir.” How often do we want something so badly that we are willing to fall on our knees and beg God? But the other point about this woman is that she believed. There was no other option for this woman than to believe that Jesus could heal her little girl. If she went away now, she would lose hope. Do we leave it until God is the only option left and then pray to him? Sometimes God wants to intervene with our problems but we don’t ask him. We do not allow him to act. Pray – speak to God, not in a half-hearted way but pray as if your life depended on it.
Jesus words to the woman were not meant to be insulting. The context is a household where food is being given to children. The children should not miss out because their food is being given to the dogs. Jesus ministry was focused on the Jews to fulfill God’s promise to them. And later it would be offered to the gentiles. Sadly, the Jews became exclusive in their thinking that salvation was only meant for them. But sadly, that is the attitude we take in church. Thankfully, the judgmental attitudes of the past are well behind us. The thinking that you have to conform to the norms of the church and the behavior expected of people in the
church. The sense that this is our building and we will decide what happens in it. The sense that the church is for us and if you want the benefits then you will have to join our ‘club’. It was Archbishop William Temple who said, “The church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”
The words which Jesus spoke to the woman about exclusivity are sometimes thought by people in church, and what some people outside the church think about their own clubs and organisations. But how many people have been put off our church because of our arrogant attitude? We as Christians are called to serve, we are called to reach out to others, and not count the cost. And it is not always easy, when we feel that people are deliberately using the church with no thought of appreciation or gratitude. But Jesus said himself, in Matthew chapter 20 v 28, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The woman responds to Jesus talking about the children’s bread, by saying, “Yes, it is, Lord, even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from the master’s table.” The woman shows respect for Jesus position but she puts a good point across, she is not going to give up on her daughter, she is going to do everything she can to persuade Jesus to answer her prayer. Sometimes when we as an individual, or as a church, act completely selflessly, with no expectation of any reward, that is when God blesses us the most, because we are acting in the way that he does. God blesses us even though we do not deserve it.
I can remember when I visited my friend, Pastor Rose McDonald. Her church had had a mission to the drug addicts and prostitutes in the area. Several people gave their lives to Christ, including a couple who turned away from their drug habit. After a few months, this couple wanted to get married but they couldn’t afford a ‘church wedding’, and so Rose challenged her congregation to provide a reception for them. On the Saturday Rose conducted the service to marry the couple and then we all went outside, as members of the congregation turned the room into a reception area. The room was tastefully decorated and when everyone was seated the food was brought out. It was a tremendous day, a real celebration. A couple who a year previously were addicted to drugs were now making their vows
before God and in front of family and friends. The couple could never repay the church for what they did but the congregation said that they were part of their church family now and they wanted to bless them with this gift.
In verse 28, Jesus answers the woman. “You are a woman of great faith, what you want will be done for you.” And at that very moment her daughter was healed.’ I hope this story is a lesson for each one of us. How earnestly do we pray to God? How much do we want our prayers to be answered? And do we walk in faith? Jesus expectation of his disciples and of us is that we walk in faith.
In our reading from Isaiah chapter 56 verse 7, God says through the prophet,” I will bring you to Zion my sacred hill, give you joy in my house of prayer, and accept the sacrifices you offer on my alter. My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.” In our country today, we see faith and worship expressed in many different ways, because people have settled here from many various countries. We see the Polish people expressing their deep-rooted faith in God in the Catholic Church. We see the Afro-Caribbean people expressing their faith in many main stream churches, and also forming their own churches. And now we see Muslims from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan converting to Christianity and worshipping God in their own language here in this country. There are many other nationalities who have found in Britain a freedom to worship God in their own style and in their own culture. I can think of the Chinese churches in Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby. God is bringing people to our country to experience his love.
Let us be a church that welcomes all, and appreciates the diversity of Christian faith expressed in our community and in our country today. Amen
Hymn 780 How deep the Fathers love for us, how vast beyond all measure
O God of hope, please fill us with joy and peace as we trust in you. In a world of uncertainty and anxiety, when many are mourning for loved ones, when many have lost their means of livelihood, when old familiar ways of living may be gone
forever, where the “new normal” is yet unknown. We know that we can look to you for guidance and reassurance.
We pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because of their faith. In places such as China and North Korea, the government is increasing its oppression on believers, so we do pray for your protection on all Christians, whether part of an official church or a house church. We pray that these believers will continue to be able to get Christian material to sustain their faith. We also think and pray for Christians in other countries where mob violence and biased officials make life very difficult for those who profess Christ. We pray for your protection on our brothers and sisters in these countries. We also pray for countries where Christians fear for their lives because of terrorist attacks, places like Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Indonesia and Pakistan.
We pray for our government in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Guide them in the decisions they make. We pray that people will respond positively to the restrictions in place. That people will think of others and especially those who are vulnerable. Lord, we are all frustrated by our lack of freedom but help us to think of the greater good. We pray also for those who have lost jobs and businesses, help them to have opportunities in future to rebuild their careers. And we pray also for those in financial difficulties, especially, those with young families, help them to have enough to provide for their family. Amen
Hymn The Best Gift – North End
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you us ever more. Amen