Together We Press On

CALL TO WORSHIP: Brothers and sisters, let us all agree on this; That we belong to Christ, and that God calls us. Let us press on towards our goal, forgetting what is in the past, and keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Gracious God, as we come to You now, we want to concentrate on what is really important. We read in Your word that there is nothing more important than knowing Jesus and becoming like Him. Help us to listen to all that You have to say, and to learn from You so that we may grow more like Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen

HYMN 342: ALL HAIL THE POWER OF JESU’S NAME-StF.

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Hear what the bible tells us; Jesus said, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’

The prophet tells us that God’s people are like a vineyard that He tends carefully. The writer of the Psalms says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’

Let us remember that we belong to God, that He loves us, that he provides everything that we need, and let us give thanks for His goodness.

For all that You are and for all that You have done, we praise You Lord. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: A HIGH CALLING (Philippians 3:4b-14)

Have you ever tried to learn something new and found it difficult? How about when you were quite young and were learning to tie your shoes? That is a difficult task for tiny hands. I can imagine that you had to try over and over again to tie a strong bow that wouldn’t slip.

Can you share some of your experiences when you tried to learn to do something new? Did you become discouraged?

As an adult I wanted to learn how to knit. I had to learn how to put stitches on the needles, how to read directions, and how to make those directions become a knitted hat or scarf or sweater. Sometimes I would make a mistake and end up with a hole in my knitting where none should be.

In the Bible the apostle, Paul talks about learning how to become a good Christian. He found it difficult and said he was not “perfect,” but he “pressed on” (3:12).

He gives advice and says to “forget… the things which are behind, and stretch… forward to the things which are before.” (3:13).

To learn something new we need to learn from our mistakes, then leave them behind, and keep trying to improve and move ahead. Whether it is learning to tie your shoes, learning to knit, learning how to spell new words, learning how to be kind, learning how to throw a ball, or learning to jump rope, be positive and keep working toward your goal.

Not one of us is perfect. We are all trying to be the people God intends for us to be. The Bible reminds us that this is a “high calling” (3:14).

HYMN 152: THIS IS THE DAY – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING:  Loving Lord, today we will hear a story that Jesus told to show how people do not listen to Your word and rebel against You. We come now to say that we are sorry because we can sometimes be like those people.

We close our ears to what You are saying and go our own way instead and we take the precious gift of Your Son Jesus for granted. We act as though the good things You provide are just for our own personal use and we make excuses for ourselves when we do wrong.

Forgive us Lord for behaving in ways that do not please You. Help us to turn to You again, knowing that because of Jesus we can be forgiven. Help us to make a new start, and guide us into the right way by Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

READINGS: PHILIPPIANS 3: 4b-14

HYMN 494: COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING – StF

SERMON: TOGETHER WE PRESS ON (PHILIPPIANS 3: 4b-14)

I am continually impressed with those who have the discipline to run, even more so the ones who do it for fun. I grew up playing football, but was a defensive midfielder, which meant I spent most of the game in sprints and stops. I’m going to challenge myself to press on to the harder runs, because I know that’s the only way I have any hope of actually reaching my goals this time around.

All of this to say, running is no joke. It takes commitment, hard work, and discipline. The same is true about our life of faith, which is something the apostle Paul knew well. In Philippians, he utilizes the image of an athlete to demonstrate that the Christian life is not about just a quick profession of faith in Jesus Christ and then sitting back and waiting until he comes again. As Fred Craddock writes, the image is quite the opposite:

Paul portrays himself in the least relaxed, most demanding posture he knows: as a runner in a race. His language is vivid and tense: pressing, stretching, pushing, straining. In those words the lungs burn, the temples pound, the muscles ache, the heart pumps, the perspiration rolls.

For Paul, faith is an active response marked by a sense of movement toward something more. And Paul is quick to point out what gets left behind.

He reflects in this letter about his many accomplishments as a successful student of the Torah who was zealous about fulfilling his religious obligations. He notes that he was one who “had it all” religiously speaking. He took part in the appropriate rituals and adhered to the letter of the law. But then he references that moment we know from Acts 9 with his conversation on the road to Damascus, and identifies that this has shifted his perspective drastically. Now, all that he once clung to as accomplishment is loss. The word in Greek he uses is translated by the NRSV as “rubbish,” but carries a much more graphic feel – you can substitute your own euphemism. Instead, he has discovered that there is a much greater goal than just ticking off all the boxes on the activities card at church. His focus has shifted, and now he is zeroed in more directly on an engaged relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul, this is a critical distinction, and a straightforward reminder that our lives of faith are not as much about us as they are about Jesus. That is what he identifies as the gain.

Put simply, Jesus changes everything. Christ’s resurrection and claim on us as his own reorients us to a new way of being in the world that is forward-facing, not looking back to our own past achievements. The image of the runner here again is helpful. In running, it is usually less helpful to spend much time thinking about the road that is behind you. Instead, the focus needs to be on what lies ahead.

Sometimes, that means little increments. I remember doing conditioning runs each year at the beginning of football season, when we had all neglected our training. As the team captains led us on a neighbourhood run, I remember looking to telephone poles, large trees, street corners, anything I could to give myself a focus point on which to reach. By keeping my eye on something ahead, I found my feet were more likely to move forward. In the first century, however, runners may have had a different perspective. If you look at art from around that time and earlier, you find that the depictions are almost always of runners looking backward, suggesting that it may have been common to look over one’s shoulder when running, as if you were being chased. Of course, this will generally make for a slower run, and potentially a dangerous one if you don’t pay attention to what is coming up. Paul’s image in Philippians may have been provocative to those early readers, challenging them to see things from a different perspective and to take on a new way of thinking in relationship to their lives of faith.

Maybe we need that reorientation, too. It is very easy in our lives of faith to get caught up in what has been done in the past and only note what we have experienced or have done before. This can be good, of course, as we recall those foundational and pivotal moments to our relationship with God. But it can also leave us with a belief system that is in the past, rather than one that engages us now in the present. Paul, I think, would have us work to let go of the things in our past that distract or encumber us so that we can pay attention to the here and now. Then, we can look ahead and press on to the future that lies before us. In order to get there, he might suggest that we focus on the one who is responsible for it all – Jesus, who is indeed ahead of us.

Our text from Paul also presses us to do more. Remember, he doesn’t instruct the Philippians to rest in this good news. He calls them to action. Thoughts and prayers are important in times of struggle, and good and right, but they themselves cannot be the end. We must press on towards a more full participation in the life-giving transformative work that God has done and is doing in the world through Jesus Christ. This means being a witness of compassion and love, like those who rushed to provide medical attention and care for the injured. This means being engaged in measures that might prevent such attacks from happening in the future. This means looking around our own communities and asking if we are showing Christ to each other every day in ways that foster peace and usher in the kingdom of God. This means spending time in prayer and reflection on what our own “heavenly calls” might be, whether around these circumstances or others where we are passionate. Our work as disciples isn’t finished just because we are here confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. In fact, that profession is just the beginning of the race and journey Paul talks about. And, it’s like the clichéd phrase reminds us, it isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.

The life of faith is about action and continued discernment. This is what “pressing on” toward Jesus is all about, and our text for today urges us to examine our own lives and consider how well or not the decisions we are making is leading us in closer relationship with Christ.

Fortunately, Paul helps remind us. Our “goal” is to pursue the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. That’s it. To be the most faithful in this time and place, and to press on to deeper levels of discipleship together, so that we might be transformed by the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. That’s why this has to be a process of prayer and conversation, attentive to our actions being a natural and earnest extension of our faith. This is what stewardship is all about.

I encourage you to take this passage to heart, and spend time in reflection and prayer with how you are running the race. Centre yourself on Jesus and the call God is making to you, and press on to that goal of being the best disciple you can be with your time, your skills and abilities, and your financial resources. In striving towards this goal, the Psalmist’s words will ring true, and we will also be those who “tell of the glory of God.”

May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, and all that we do in response, be done with this in mind, that they may be acceptable to God, our rock and our redeemer.  Together, we press on. Amen.

HYMN 608: ALL PRAISE TO OUR REDEEMING LORD - StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Merciful God, we pray for the many people who have contracted the Corona-virus in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, The Caribbean and in other parts of the world.  Bring comfort to those grieving loved ones who have died and peace to those worried, fearful and uncertain as the virus spreads.  We also pray for governments and authorities who are developing strategies to contain and deal with the virus and those in the health services who may be risking their own lives to care for sick patients.

Here in the UK we especially pray for the Corona Virus situation and the procedures that have been put into force to try to halt its spread. Help us all to be responsible in the things that we do in our lives to prevent the spread of the virus by taking heed of the recommended precautions and avoiding situations which may make things worse.

Holy God you made our world to be like a vineyard and choose a people to be its tenants.  May we who are now the workers in that vastly changed vineyard prove to be worthy of the work you trust us to do

(Short silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Mighty God, we pray for our church; that Christ may be the cornerstone of all that we do in his name.  May we, his living church be the solid blocks of a spiritual community which continues to hold fast in an every secular world. (Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Creator God as we pray for our world we especially pray for all who like St Paul have suffered the loss of all things for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ.  We raise before you organisations like the Barnabas Fund which supports Christians living under persecution or in threatening environments with finance and prayers. We join our prayers with them as we ask for courage and strength for all persecuted Christians, their communities and churches. (Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Father God, we thank you for the joy of human love, and for all those among whom we live and work with.  We pray particularly for loved ones who worry us with their health, or circumstances, or life direction. We pray for those among our friends and families who do not know you, or whose faith has been shaken.  (Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Gracious God, friend of those in need, your Son Jesus can free us from our burdens and heal our bodies and spirits. We pray for those still burdened, those seeking healing, those in need within the church and the world. We pray too for those suffering from the Corona Virus, the Health Service struggling to cope with the Pandemic and all those simply living in the fear of contracting it.  (Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Merciful God, as we pray for all departed this life help us to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. May those who have shared his sufferings have become like him in his death, and through that suffering and sharing attained the resurrection from the dead.

(add names : Brian Rapper who died last week and his children....of the recently departed or on Anniversary list) (Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Faithful God, as we move into the coming week to live and work for the Gospel, help us to travel onwards with our eyes on the goal, to that place where you are beckoning us, onward to Jesus.

Merciful father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen

HYMN 620: THOU GOD OF TRUTH AND LOVE -StF

BLESSINGS: Lord, You call us to live faithfully in Your world. As we go, help us to hold fast to Jesus, so that we may grow in the right way, and bear fruit that pleases You. And may the blessings of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit continue to be upon us and remain with us always. Amen