Faith In Life

 

CALL TO WORSHIP: Happy are you who have learned to praise the Lord, who walks in the light of His presence. We will rejoice in His name all day long and shout in praise of His goodness.

 

Gracious and loving God, we live in such a complicated world. The tasks that we have to do in school or at work often seem to be very difficult. World issues can be hard to understand, whilst new technology and gadgets confuse us.

 

It can be very tempting to think that important things have to be difficult. Yet coming to You now is the most important thing that any of us can do, and at the same time very simple.

 

All we have to do is to say, here I am, Lord. This time is Yours. I am Yours. Speak to me, and give me grace to listen.  In Jesus’ name. Amen

HYMN 81: NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD-StF

 

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Lord, we will sing of Your great love for ever; We will tell of Your faithfulness to every generation.

 

Your love can always be relied upon; we know that we can always trust You. When You make promises, You keep them. You were with King David, and You have been with Your people ever since.  

 

Lord, we will sing of Your great love for ever; We will tell of Your faithfulness to every generation.

 

We celebrate Your name all day long, For You are our glory and our strength. You are high above all leaders and kings, and You are our shield and our protection.

 

Lord, we will sing of Your great love for ever; We will tell of Your faithfulness to every generation.

 

You have sent Jesus to be our Saviour; to show us how we can serve You In small ways as well as in great ones. Through Jesus, You give us a way to be set free from the hold that our wrong doings can have upon us, And to have a new start.

 

Lord, we will sing of Your great love for ever; We will tell of Your faithfulness to every generation. Amen

 

TALK FOR ALL: WALK IN LOVE (COLOSSIANS 3:12-17)

 

Do you like to take walks? I do. There are always interesting things to see along the way and it feels good to be outside. Sunshine is especially nice, but it’s fun to walk, even if it’s raining.

 

Doctors tell us that walking is good for our health. It makes us strong and lifts our spirits if we feel discouraged.

 

Where do you like to walk? I often walk along the park (Spinney Hill Park), but I also like to walk in the forests and along the streets of my town.

 

Have you ever walked in autumn leaves? They make a lovely crunchy sound. I love their colours and they smell so fragrant.

 

How about walking barefooted in fresh green grass or in wet sand at the beach?

 

The Bible teaches us to “walk in love” (3:14). What do you think that means? Let’s make a list.

 

• Yes, it means being kind to one another.

 

• It means helping each other.

 

• It means forgiving one another.

 

• It means being thankful for all God has given us.

 

• It means studying and praying and singing as a way to honour God.

 

• It means letting “the peace of God rule in your hearts…” (3:15).

 

Wherever we go we can walk in God’s love. AMEN

 

HYMN 51: GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS, O GOD MY FATHER- StF

 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: The Bible says, ‘Do not let sin be in charge so that you do what it tells you.’ Lord, You give us Jesus as our example, and the Holy Spirit to guide us; but we come to say that we are sorry because we often allow sin to be in charge.

 

We are easily tempted into doing what is wrong; we allow bad habits to get the better of us; You know what is best for us, but we listen to other voices instead of Yours, and end up hurting You, other people and ourselves.

 

We thank You Lord, that when we say we are sorry, You forgive us for our wrong doing. Help us to listen to You more, and to live our lives in the way that pleases You. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

 

READINGS: COLOSSIANS 3: 12-17

 

HYMN 98: YOUR LOVE IS AMAZING, STEADY AND UNCHANGING-StF

 

SERMON: FAITH IN LIFE (COLOSSIANS 3:12-17)

 

Many years ago, observers like T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis marked signs of a change in western culture. Eliot described his contemporaries, as hollow inside, lacking in passion and heart, a sense of purpose. At the same time C. S. Lewis was talking about what he called people without chests, brilliant technocrats without heart. Ever since sociologists and commentators have continued the theme, to wit: the secular society seems to be producing a people increasingly and narcissistically focused upon themselves and their own needs and so devoid of a certain vitality and transcendent purpose.

 

I suspect that this broadside does not fit our kind on most days, but it does single out a certain danger, a certain challenge we all face in the contemporary world of accumulation and consumption. The all- occupying drive to get and enjoy can lead to lives increasingly empty and restless unless we are careful, unless we struggle against the stream. It is all too easy to become one dimensional, devoid of inner spirit and life.

 

And, unfortunately there is no evidence that the problem can be solved by the alternative means of stimulation that a secular and commercial society offers: various pop therapies, bombarding music, trips to exotic locales, extreme sports. One wonders about the increasingly dominant role that professional spectator sports play in relieving the boredom and blues. I think we make headway against the flatness, the hollowness of mood and mentality only by a change in attitude toward life itself.

 

The ancient faith we revere but often fail to internalize in ways that are powerful and transforming, begins with the affirmation, the conviction that real life comes of faith in life as gift. The Psalmist sings, “You give them to drink from the stream of your delights for with you is the source of life.” The most immediate experience we have of our God is sensitivity to the presence in us and those around us of life.

 

Now the deep and abiding sense that life is a gift, that it comes always and every day from God, runs counter to the surrounding view of things in a society like ours. Clearly the reigning assumption with many is that life is a possession of the individual to do with as he sees it. This may mean some over against the intrusion of government or other external authority. It is patently a false reading of life over against God and his creation.

 

We neither manage nor possess our own life. It is a mystery that comes to us with birth and returns to Him in death.

 

So the recovery of God in our lives means the recovery of the experience of depth, richness, that comes in the awareness of life as a precious gift to be approached in awe and reverence. But look at the landscape. How do we see life treated? Is it not more often as just another commodity to do with as individuals will? Children abused, casual abortions, wives beaten, prisoners tortured, college girls violated, civilians gassed, bodies subjected to mind blasting substances. Is not the morning paper a scene of irreverence toward life? Seven children tortured and beaten, near starved to death in an ordinary neighbourhood. There is little sense that life is something mysterious, precious, gift of another dimension, that we lay profane hands on to our ultimate sorrow and destruction.

 

What is that sensitivity? Is it not the awareness deep within of the life we share with all God’s creatures as his incredible creation? We do encounter that reverence, that sensitivity, strangely enough in circumstances of incredible cruelty and suffering. Recently we have encountered again the memory of Auschwitz in the 75th anniversary of its liberation. Interesting the reaction of one G.I. to the half-dead in one of these camps back then: “Those corpses with a pulse were as close to nobodies as you can get: mere skeletons wrapped in papery skin. But somehow I would have done anything to keep those poor, ragged souls alive. Our medics stayed up all night to save them; some in our company lost their lives to liberate them. I learned that day what ‘the image of God’ in a human being is all about.” A reminder that at our best some depth of life still calls to depth within each one of us from time to time.

 

I suspect we may perhaps meet this primal experience in the maternity ward more than anywhere else. How hard it is to stay secular, matter of fact, clinical, before the miracle of another human life beginning. Before the nursery window even the most hardened pragmatist turns into worshipper.

 

When feminist author, Naomi Wolf had her first baby, she discovered that her newfound interest in “whole life” was not always welcome. She writes: “Some of the hostility to religion from feminists I was around at the time, derived from their perception that ‘God-language’ had been so co-opted from the religious right that to use it was to allow oneself to be co-opted… So it felt embarrassing, a social liability, to admit an interest in God. It mattered to me that it would feel pathetic and nervy to tell someone I was interested in spiritual issues in the progressive circles in which I spent my time; to confess that would be more un-cool than to confess to various forms of vice or addiction. But then I gave birth two and a half years ago. That was such a miracle that it’s hard not to try figure out how to address it. The miraculousness of having your child wake up in the morning and look at you! It’s hard not to speculate about ‘where did you come from?'”

 

That’s an awareness, a sensitivity to life that ought to keep it full of wonder and excitement. If you think life isn’t special, surprising, unpredictable and precious, I invite you to visit a hospital or a mortuary. One thing is certain; they are alive. Hard to stay empty, bored, half-hearted, dispirited, in the face of their energy and enthusiasm, the hope  and vitality of the patients, staff, chaplains and relatives and friends.

 

None of this is far from the old story in which the desert God takes of the dust of the earth, which we are, and breathes into that dust, that Adam, his own breath – his own life. Here is the sense that the real mystery, the real miracle of all is life itself, this strange vital force which animates you and me, which is the very breath of God.

 

Faith is awareness of my life as not my own, but a gift of God. And as an historical faith rooted in specific place and people, this faith means the embrace of my own particular life, the place and people with whom I am, as also gift of God. In this older culture comes again and again the call to choose our own special place and company. Part of the flatness of much human experience today may derive from the fact that a secular world encourages us to take life for granted. It is just there, a phenomenon, an accident. It comes from nowhere and it is going nowhere. And so we cease to know it as a choice, something we must embrace.

 

So faith is a sensitivity to the privilege of sharing this mystery with one another throughout our years. To keep from growing hollow and half-hearted about life we come to God to renew not only an awareness, an embrace of life, but an acceptance, a willingness to embrace our own particular life, committed to living it where we are and with whom we are as God gives us grace and strength. So often life loses its intensity and vitality because we are not there. We are absent, wishing we were somewhere else, living some other life, with some other folk.

 

Life returns as we stay focused on this day and the fact that, whatever an unknown future may bring, we are here. But the secular consumerist society is almost inevitably a society that breeds envy, which is by definition restlessness and discontentment with who we are and what we possess, which in this culture is the same thing. It rarely occurs to many who clog the mall parking lots night and day, that happiness may consist more in what we do without, the willingness to be content with less than having what everybody else seems to think important. If we are truly to live, happy and fulfilled, rather than ever empty and hungry, it will be as we learn to treasure the life given to us now, this day, rather than continually longing to be someone else, or to live some other story, walk some other way. “Whatever my circumstance, I have learned to be at peace,” writes the Apostle Paul.

 

A young friend once wrote me beautiful words very much to the point. “The past six months have been an exciting time of growth for me. I have come to see life and the world in a new and beautiful way. The time I used to spend futilely trying to control anything and everything else, I now spend enjoying where I am. I have seen how when I let go, problems seem to work themselves out. I can accept both the good and the bad as learning experiences. I have found strength in surrender to have the courage to change the one thing that I can, namely me. It has been a beautiful year.”

 

Even when the rough times come, a man wrote of friends who were given the heartbreaking news that their son had what appeared to be an incurable disease. Everyone was torn with pity for them, but they remained remarkably calm and uncomplaining. One night as this man left his friends’ house, he tried to express his admiration for their fortitude. The boy’s father looked up at the stars and said, “Well, it seems to me that we have three choices. We can curse life and what it does to us at times and look for some way to express our rage. We can grit our teeth and endure. Or we can accept the life given to us with son each day as a gift. The first alternative is useless, the second is exhausting. The third enables us to go on really living.”

 

Then in this older way of looking at things, the embrace of life, and the acceptance of our own particular life, involves also the acceptance of those with whom we share life’s way. The secular scene is often one of a deadly individualism in which the connections between people are frayed and failing, where there is no deep commitment to life together, sense of obligation and community over time. Faith in life means embrace of one another in the kind of life together to which Jesus calls us. In his perspective there is no such thing as a healthy life apart from community where bound together by his love and call.

 

So the Apostle Paul can write of that call, “Put on garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgiving. Bind it all together with love. Let Christ’s peace, the peace to which we are called as members of a single body, shape our decisions and days.”

 

And, then he adds, always be thankful. Awareness of the miracle of the gift of life, acceptance of our own particular life with and for one another leads to the liveliest of lives, the capacity to appreciate and be grateful for whatever comes. Gratitude comes not with satisfaction of our desires and easy days, but with the learned whole- hearted acceptance of all that comes to us of life, in life. There is nothing more vitalizing, more stimulating, more truly joyful than the grateful heart that has learned to find in the miracle of life itself, the life that came with this morning’s sunrise, with all its variety and beauty, struggle and challenge, a precious gift.

 

Susan DeVore Williams writes, “Our friend’s wife had just succumbed to cancer after a long struggle, and when his letter arrived, I opened it with a certain amount of dread. It was hard to be reminded that this dear man was now so alone, without the comfort of children or other family. Thanksgiving was just around the corner, and it broke my heart to imagine how empty his tiny apartment would seem at this time of year. I was sure his letter would be a sad one.

 

But my friend surprised me. “I thought I might go out to the cemetery today,” he wrote, “but instead I’m sitting here thinking about gratitude. I’m reminded of the little boy who was asked by his teacher to describe salt. He answered, ‘Salt is what spoils the potatoes, when you leave it out.’ Thankfulness is like that, I’ve decided. It’s what spoils everything when you leave it out. God would probably forgive me for being unthankful right now, and He’d understand if I decided to ignore Thanksgiving this year. But I’ve made up my mind: I am not going to leave out the thankfulness, no matter how I may be tempted. Having decided that, it’s surprising how much better, how much stronger I feel, how much more alive I am, and how much I’m finding to be thankful for.”

 

One man, along in years, put it beautifully. “As I sit on a cool winter afternoon looking out the window on the snowy scene, I look back with many thanks. It has been a great run. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Much could have been better, and I have, by no means, done what I should have done with all that I have been given. There were dreams that did not come true and losses not a few. But overall it has been a school of lessons, not easily learned but of infinite worth, an instruction of a gentle and patient kind. So the over-all experience of being alive has been and remains a thrilling experience. And I firmly believe that death will be a doorway to more of it: clearer, cleaner, better, with more of the secret of it all opened. But again I say, it’s been a great run. I’m thankful for it and next to my gratitude to my God, for all the friends who helped to make it so, especially those closest and dearest to me. ”

 

Choose life, then, all if it, as the very gift of God to you that you and your children and your grandchildren may truly live.

 

HYMN 440: AMAZING GRACE-HOW SWEET THE SOUND-StF

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Remembering that Jesus said that the smallest good deed would not go unrewarded, we pray today for those who do jobs which are often not noticed, or are thought of as unimportant.

 

Let us pray. Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

We pray for cleaners; for those who come into our schools and offices, emptying bins, sweeping and washing floors after those who are there during the day have gone home. We pray too for those who clean our church, whether they are volunteers, or receive payment for what they do. Show us how we can make their work easier by the way that we live and work.

 

Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

We pray for those who sweep the streets and keep the drains clear of litter and leaves; for those who empty our bins, and clear the rubbish from shops and businesses. Keep them safe in their work.

 

Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

We pray for those who work in kitchens out of sight; for those who make our tea and coffee after the service; for those who wash up in cafes and restaurants or in our school canteens. Show them that their work matters, and remind us to offer a word of thanks when we can.

 

Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

We pray for those who work at night in all kinds of places. Their work is often not seen, because most people are in bed. Help them to know that their work is important. May they remember that You are with them even if they feel very much alone.

 

Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

Now we pray for ourselves. Lord, we have many jobs to do; some look important and others do not; some may be jobs that we would choose, but we may not want to do others at all. Help us to remember that You see all that we do and will accept all that we offer.

 

Lord open our eyes And show us where Your work is being done.

 

We offer all these prayers in the name of Jesus. Amen

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

HYMN 645: WILL YOUR ANCHOR HOLD IN THE STORM OF LIFE-StF

 

BLESSINGS: Lord, You call us to be Your people, and You offer new life in Jesus as our reward. May we serve You in glad obedience and with thankful hearts. The blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon us and remain with us always. Amen