Once again, we start another month in ‘Lock-down’ but at least now with a glimmer of hope that the situation is getting gradually better. We still recognize that hundreds of people are dying each day which is a terrible loss, and especially for the families of those who have lost loved ones. We will be in our churches once again but our joy will be tinged by the tremendous loss of life, not just in our own country but all over the world. There are some pieces on the news which really move us when they highlight individuals who have died with the virus, but each death is a tragedy and brings hurt and loss to the families affected.
We are grateful for all who watch our services and send encouraging comments, and we also know that some our congregation cannot get the services on the internet and appreciate the emails or the printed copies. We will continue to do this as long as we feel that there is a need. We are learning all the time and we are grateful for all those who contribute in any way to the services. We enjoy producing the services and are encouraged by the material which is being put on the circuit webpage and also generally services and songs on the net. Recently we have had various Zoom meetings around the circuit, it has been good to catch up with what is happening in the area even though we cannot meet up physically.
Below is the service for Sunday 6th June. I have chosen hymns from Singing the Faith StF, some of the hymns are in Hymns and Psalm HP.
Let us quieten our hearts and minds as we prepare to worship God.
Hymn StF 645 HP 689 Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
Oh Lord, you are sovereign over all. How majestic are your ways in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens. When we consider the work of your hands, the moon, the sun and the stars which you have set in place, what are we that you are mindful of us. You made us a little lower than the angels. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Empires rise and fall but you remain constant. You are the creator of time and space and nothing surpasses you. You are a being above all beings. You are Alpha and omega. The beginning and the end. We praise you because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. How precious to us are you O Lord.
Your love overwhelms us, your grace is beyond measure. You are holy and yet you want to share your love with those who often turn away from you. We thank you that your love for us is constant and nothing that we can do will stop you loving us. But we confess Lord, the fragile nature of our love. The sinfulness of our hearts, the stubbornness of our wills. Forgive us Lord for our sin, the times when we say something or do something which hurts other people, and which hurts you. We thank you Lord that you are a loving God who opens his arms wide to receive us back into the fold when we have turned away from you. Thank you for your full and free forgiveness. Help us to live our lives in gratitude to you. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Reading Jonah ch 3
Hymn StF 638 HP 73 Through all the changing scenes in life
Reading Jonah ch 4
Hymn 20 Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here
To give some background to the history of Nineveh and to help us understand Jonah’s point of view. The ruins of Nineveh are near Mosul in Iraq. Nineveh was known as a great lawless city. Nahum the prophet called Nineveh ‘a city of bloodshed’ Nahum ch 3 v 1. Nineveh was known for its sinfulness. It is interesting that one commentator draws parallels with Nineveh and Sodom. The difference being that when Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom to be saved. God said that there were no righteous people to be found in the city. Sannacherib, an Assyrian king, laid siege to Jerusalem in 701BC (2 Kings ch 18 – ch 19 v 37). The Assyrians were the sworn enemy of Israel. So, when God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh he was repulsed by the idea. But God asked Jonah a second time. Jonah changed his mind and said ‘Yes’. This was perhaps because Jonah had been rescued from the sea, and maybe the great fish vomited Jonah onto the land near Nineveh. So, this time he couldn’t refuse.
Jonah obeyed the Lord and approached the city. We have already established that Jonah was not afraid. He was confident that God could destroy Nineveh if he wanted to. And so, he went into the city of Nineveh, a foreign prophet speaking God’s word. We do not know what attitude Jonah had when he preached destruction on Nineveh. He perhaps relished telling the people that they were going to be destroyed within forty days. Jonah felt that they deserved it for all the terrible crimes they had committed. Jonah preached in the main city and then went to the outlaying areas to give God’s message to them. When Jonah’s work was done, he went to the east side of the city to see what would happen. You can imagine him making a shelter for himself – a front row seat. He wanted to see the destruction of the city. But even before he got comfortable, he started to hear that people were repenting; And even the king instructed his people to fast and pray. You could say that at this time the Assyrian power and influence was on the wane. They were no longer the all-conquering nation that brought death and destruction upon their foes. But it was Jonah’s powerful message that brought these people to their knees. God was giving the people of Nineveh an opportunity to repent and they took it with both hands. The king said, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.
Jonah’s attitude to their repentance was anger. He wanted to see these people punished for what they had done. Are we like that sometimes? Wanting justice and wanting people to be punished for what they have done. Jonah says to God “is this not what I said when I was still at home. That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah is so distraught that he asks God to take away his life. Jonah is a powerful prophet and God is using him to bring people to repentance. Jonah wants to choose who God blesses and forgives. But God’s love and compassion goes far beyond the narrow confines of Jonah’s thinking.
God tries to show Jonah his love for the people of Nineveh by using a plant, that grows rapidly and gives Jonah shade from the burning sun. Jonah appreciates the plant and the shade it gives him. But the next day the plant withers and Jonah is angry again. He says to God, “It would be better for me to die than to live”. Jonah shows his shallowness and his selfishness. He can only think of himself and his own people. God is trying to help him to understand that his love is for the whole human race and not just for Israel. God is showing love to the people of Nineveh even though they do not deserve it. But at least given the opportunity to change their ways, they repented. Has the story of Jonah challenged you in some way? We are so quick to judge people and slow to love them. Jonah looks at the people of Nineveh and what they have done in the past and he refuses to forgive them. God looks at the people of Nineveh and sees a people who are ready to change, give up their old ways and start again. Many decades later in 612BC, Nineveh was raised to the ground, completely destroyed. And it wasn’t until the 19th Century that the ruins of the city were discovered. Time punished the people of Nineveh, not God.
God continues to express his love to all people, not just the Jews in the Old Testament, and Christians of today. God created this world of ours and he loves every single human being on the planet. God can see and know each individual and he wants to express his love to them. We cannot love in the same way as God loves but we can try to love people as individuals, and not pigeon-hole them into categories. We saw last week in Minneapolis in America, institutional racism. Where a black man was killed by a white police officer. We saw how a man was treated as a criminal, a problem, and not as an individual. Too often we see the problem and not the person. Too often, like Jonah, we want to love the people we are close to, the people who please us, and we have no time for people who make our life difficult.
The story of Jonah speaks deep into our hearts, it challenges the way we treat people and our attitudes towards them. We do not know whether Jonah changed after his encounter with the people of Nineveh and his conversation with God. But we do know that we can learn the lessons of Jonah, we have an opportunity for God to challenge our thinking and our attitude to others. We have a chance to change. To open ourselves up to God’s love influencing our lives, our attitudes, and the way that we treat people. To become more Christ-like. To see the hurt and pain in other peoples lives, and not just see the hurtful things they say and do. It takes time and a change of attitude. It means we have to make sacrifices. No longer can we be the judge who seeks justice and punishment on those who have done wrong. We need to be an instrument of God’s love and compassion. We need to allow God to love through us. For us to be channels of God’s love, joy and peace. Jesus did not condemn people, he tried to show them a better way, and that way Is the road to Calvary, where love was expressed to the full.
Hymn StF 627 Everyone needs compassion, love that’s never failing
Lord, as we look and listen to what is going on around the world, we see tensions in communities. We pray for the situation in America, we pray for justice for all and not just the privileged. We ask that you will help them with their response to the Coronavirus. We see people fighting for freedom. We bring before you the people of Hong kong and the new laws which China is bringing in to restrict the influence of the pro-democracy party. We thank you for the British government which is offering an opportunity to live in a free country. We also see the desperate need for food and basic supplies which is prevalent in poorer countries, where people have no way of earning money during the ‘Lock-down’, and so have nothing to buy food with. We thank you for churches throughout the world who have responded to the needs of people in their communities. We pray for organizations like Barnabas Fund who are helping Christians who are in a minority in their own country and may not get government aid.
We pray for our own country and the response to the Coronavirus. May the resources be available to combat this terrible disease. And once again, we thank those who are doing everything they can to help us in this crisis. Help them to know how much they are appreciated. We thank you Lord for the hope you give to us, the light that you shine on our lives, the healing you bring to so many, and the rest and assurance you give to those you have raised to glory.
Hymn StF 82 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder – How great thou art
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us for evermore. Amen