Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 21 February 2021

Morning Worship 10 am on Zoom  

(First Sunday of Lent)

Joshua Joshua 3.7-13 & 4.1-9

'Remembering Grace'

Speaker: James Cook

Series: Joshua 'No failing words'

 

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Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

Today we continue our series of services focusing on the Old Testament book of Joshua.

Already we’ve seen stories of great courage – but sometimes the greatest examples of that courage has come from unexpected places.

Today we have a look at faith, and particularly one of the greatest tests that faith undergoes.  

We see that the nature of that test isn’t necessarily what we might expect.

And we see that God might actually use us as memorials of his grace.

 

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION                

Leader:   Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you

All:        and also with you.

 

Leader:   Almighty God,

to whom all hearts are open,

all desires known,

and from whom no secrets are hidden:

All:        cleanse the thoughts of our hearts

by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

that we may perfectly love you,

and worthily magnify your holy name;

through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

HYMN: All people that on earth do dwell

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

Leader:   Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:

‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul, with all your mind,

and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.

On these two commandments 

hang all the law and the prophets.

 

All:        Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             have mercy on us.

 

             Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             have mercy on us.

 

             Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             grant us peace.

 

Leader:   Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God,

             though we have rebelled against him.

             Let us then renounce our wilfulness and ask his mercy

             by confessing our sins in penitence and faith.

             Wash away all my iniquity    

   All:        and cleanse me from my sin.

 

Leader:   Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Against you, you only have I sinned     

All:        and done what is evil in your sight.

 

Leader:   Christ, have mercy.

All:        Christ, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Create in me a pure heart, O God,      

All:        and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 

Leader:   Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:   May almighty God,

who sent his Son into the world to save sinners,

bring you his pardon and peace, now and for ever.

All:        Amen.

 

PSALM 25 verses 1-9

 

All:        Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Mark chapter 1 verses 9-15 

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus 

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Lord, you are the light of life to me 

 

SECOND READING

Joshua chapter 3 verses 7-13 & chapter 4 verses 1-9 

Crossing over into Canaan – remembered for all time

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (James Cook)

‘Remembering Grace’

Joshua 3-4

It’s been said that forgetfulness is the greatest barrier to faith. Whether or not that’s strictly true, certainly failing to remember someone’s authority or reliability in a particular area, will certainly mean you’ll find it hard to trust them or follow their guidance.

There was a time when Stephanie and I had the privilege of meeting someone senior in the Metropolitan Police. After an event we were at he offered to give us a quick tour of Scotland Yard. It was late at night, so no-one was about, and after going through all the security gates and past the CCTV, we couldn’t help feeling like we shouldn’t really be there. It felt surreal just casually walking into Scotland Yard. But we remembered that our guide was a member of the Met, he knew where he was going, and so we knew we could trust him. But if we ever forgot, in the bowels of Scotland Yard, that he had the authority and ability to guide us through, well we’d probably start to get rather worried about getting safely out. Remembering his trustworthiness meant we could follow his lead without fear.

The same is often true, isn’t it, in our walk with God. Our fears and worries can so often arise simply because we’ve forgotten his trustworthiness. We’ve forgotten how he has guided us in the past, or we’ve forgotten his power and might, we’ve forgotten his tender-loving care, and so we fear whether he’s really capable of guiding us through the difficulties we can see lying ahead. Forgetfulness can, therefore, be a barrier to stepping out in faith.

This was the issue facing the Israelites in Joshua chapters 3 and 4. Remember that God has guided his people out of slavery in Egypt, he’s led them for forty years through the wilderness, and he’s finally brought them to the border of the Promised Land. The land he’d promised to their ancestors. God has led them through so much already, but as they’re about to embark on this new chapter in their nation’s story, there’s a change of leadership: Moses dies and is succeeded by Joshua. A new generation now in charge, a generation who don’t remember so easily all that God did for their parents and grandparents. And yet, there’s so much that lies ahead of them in the Promised Land, so much that could cause them to fear and lose heart. But God, in his gentle, tender care, knows how important it is that the people do not lose faith in his guiding hand if they’re to face all the challenges to come. And so, on this momentous day, the day when they cross the River Jordan and enter the Promised Land, God ensures that they see his full power, so that they might remember that he is more than adequate for all that lies ahead.

So, we’ll look at this passage under two headings: Beholding his power, and remembering his grace.

BEHOLDING HIS POWER

First, then, beholding his power, and here we’re looking at the section we had read from chapter 3. The Israelites are encamped on the banks of the Jordan, perhaps wondering where Joshua is going to lead them next. At certain times of the year, the river is fordable in parts, but at the moment it’s in full flood. There’s no way they’re going to cross at the moment. Best to wait for the drier months. But, no. Joshua goes up to the priests, and says to them, ‘God has asked me to tell you to go and stand still in the Jordan.’ How do you think the priests would react? ‘What did you say? You want us to put our wellies on and go and stand in the river? Have you seen it recently? It’s in full flood! We’ll be washed away! What are you talking about?!’

It was a crazy thing to do. Was there no other way to cross? As I’ve said, at other times of year the Jordan could be easily forded. Couldn’t they have waited? Couldn’t God have timed their arrival better? Well, God explains his purposes in verse 10: ‘by this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you’ all the nations who oppose you. Enormous challenges lie ahead. God knows that, and here he is directly addressing the fears that they feel as they look ahead to the challenges that face them. He wants them to see, to experience his full might and power, that they can go forwards confidently trusting in his ability to guide and lead them. 

Just imagine being one of the Israelites. And imagine walking on the bed of the River Jordan. You’re stepping over snails and frogs and other things that live at the bottom of rivers. And to your right is this great wall of water. Did you see how Joshua described it in verse 13? He said the waters ‘shall stand in a single heap’. Have you ever seen a heap of water? This wall of water just hanging there. You would not doubt that this was anything but a work of God. And if God can so control the forces of nature, then they have nothing to fear. Far from it being poor timing on God’s part, to bring them here when the river was in full flood, it seems rather that he brought them there at just the right time for him to show them how trustworthy he is. He is the Living God. The Lord of all the Earth. They are perfectly safe in his hands.

REMEMBERING HIS GRACE

So, having crossed the Jordan and seen this astonishing display of God’s power for them, God in his grace then wants to ensure that they don’t forget what they’ve experienced. And so, our second heading, then, remembering his grace, and here we’re looking at the section we had read from chapter 4. The whole nation has crossed the river; but before the priests are allowed to leave the river bed, twelve men pick up twelve stones from the middle of the river, the number symbolically representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and they place the stones in their camp on the other side to form a lasting monument. 

Our towns and cities these days are so full of monuments and statues, that we can very often not really notice that they are there and forget their significance. Sometimes, however, a monument will arrest our attention: I think of the tall column that stands by the side of the A11 near Elveden. So many times I’ve driven past and wondered what it was. I’ve since learnt that it’s the Elveden War Memorial, commemorating the dead from three parishes in the First World War. Well, this pile of 12 large stones – each person was carrying one stone on their shoulder, so they were likely pretty hefty stones – this pile of 12 stones would have arrested your attention, when in later generations you were going for your daily walk along the banks of the Jordan. But it might not be immediately obvious what it was, like the Elveden War Memorial. I had the benefit of the internet to find out what it was; an ancient Israelite would have to have asked his or her parents, ‘What are those stones by the river?’ And then they would have said, ‘Oh, yes, those stones remind us of that extraordinary day when the Lord held back the waters so we could pass safely through.’

Monuments remind us of important things in our history we might otherwise forget. But in this case, it’s not simply remembering past acts of courage done by others; it’s about remembering God’s past grace to us, that we might never doubt his grace in the future. If forgetfulness is a great barrier to faith, then remembering is a great antidote to fear. As the Israelites went forward and faced all the challenges that lay ahead, they could look back at that monument and remember that just as God had mightily led them by the hand in the past, so he will not fail to mightily lead them by the hand in the future. 

What are the challenges that lie ahead for you? What are you fearful of as you look into the future? How long this lockdown will last. Whether normal life will ever return and we can see our loved ones again. Fearful of a new job or vocation that God is calling you to. Fearful of the state of our finances. Fearful of spiritual battles: can that sinful habit ever be defeated? Whatever it is you are fearful of, remember how God has led you by the hand in the past, and that he will not fail to lead you by the hand in the future.

I keep an intermittent prayer journal: every now and again, often when I feel most fearful, I’ll write down a prayer. But it’s become for me also a memorial of God’s grace, as I look back and remind myself of how many of yesterday’s troubles are now past and forgotten. God led me through them, and as he led me through them, so he will lead me through whatever there is to come. What can you do to regularly remind yourself of God’s grace to you in the past?

But let’s also not just look back to our own lives. We are in the privileged position of being able to look back to someone else who passed through the River Jordan, as we heard in our first reading. And Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan pointed forwards to his passing through a much greater river, the river that lies between us and our Promised Land of eternal life. Just as Joshua’s priests went in ahead of the people and made the way safe for them to pass through, so Jesus has gone through death for us and made the way safe for us to pass through. What do we have to fear with such a guide as this? If he has done that for us, what will he not do for us? Who or what will possibly separate us from the love of Christ? Remember that he has held back the torrents of death for you; he will not let go of you now.

 

A version of this talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 21 February.  

 

HYMN: God has spoken by his prophets

 

PRAYERS 

Alone with none but you, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear, when you are near, O king of night and day?
More safe am I within your hand
Than if a host did round me stand.

(Columba, c.521-597)

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the church, a community of your people that you have gathered together to worship, serve, pray and love. Give us strength to live as ambassadors for you in the world. Help us to always remember your faithfulness towards us, and especially through the life and sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to live our lives in obedience to your will in faith. Teach us all to trust our lives into you completely and to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that we may walk in spirit and truth. 

We pray for your blessing on all Christians wherever they may be, and may they be strengthened by the power of your love. We offer you our thanks that we can meet together in this church, albeit on zoom and not in person, and express our faith openly. We remember and pray for those who are denied this opportunity and are persecuted for their faith. 

During this time of Lent help us more clearly to see the ways by which we follow you and as we come to you for refreshment and renewal help us to forget ourselves and find true happiness in serving you. As we re examine our lives through self discipline and prayer, individually and on the Lent course beginning on Tuesday, may we enter your stillness, be sensitive to your call and know your will for us. Help us to play our part in the life of the church throughout the world; through our prayers and by our gifts of money and service during this season of Lent and beyond. Give courage to those who find it hard to follow you. Give us a fresh vision that leads to action and strengthen us to serve you in the places where we live.

Lord in your mercy,

All:        hear our prayer.

Creator God, as we pray for your world we ask that you take from us all hatred and prejudice.  Give us your spirit of love for all people whatever their race or creed and give the same spirit of acceptance to all world leaders that, through mutual understanding and common endeavour, peace and prosperity may be increased throughout the world.

Holy Father, we pray for a world that needs peace, a world that needs wisdom, a world that needs healing. We pray for all those in positions of authority and leadership; that they do not misuse their powers to the detriment of those they are supposed to be helping but respect and care for all their peoples and for the natural resources of their countries. We pray that they will be given the insight and integrity to govern wisely according to your will.

Lord in your mercy,

All:        hear our prayer.

Loving God, whose son, Jesus Christ, understood people’s fear and pain before they spoke of them, we pray for all who are affected with illness, grief or despair.  Bring healing to every broken life, relief to all who are in pain, hope to the dying and strength to all who care for them. May we always offer gentle support to those in trouble, sensitive encouragement to those in need, and strength and support to those in weakness. We especially pray for any suffering from Coronavirus.

In a moment of silence, we lift before you those that we know who are in particular need of your help today. 

Almighty God, we ask you to draw close to all of those on our hearts. May they be aware of your healing presence, and we ask you to provide your peace and comfort for them at this time.

Lord in your mercy,

All:        hear our prayer.

Father we pray for those whose hearts are saddened by the death of someone close and dear to them; give them a patient faith in this time of darkness and strengthen them with the knowledge of your love, confident in the promise that those who believe in you will live though they have died, and now share with you the joys of heaven.

Lord in your mercy,

All:        hear our prayer.

Merciful Father, we pray that you will bless and protect our homes, our families and our friends. Help us to build bridges of tolerance and understanding between the different generations and cultures. May our homes be havens of peace and rest – a place to call our own and a community in which we can feel safe and secure. Help us to be mindful of those who have no homes, families or friends. Make us grateful for all that we have so that we may use every endeavour to ensure that every person has a home to call their own and feels wanted within their own community.

We pray for the children and young people connected to our church through the various groups and especially for those who are beginning to sense the wonder, mysteries and difficulties of life. We ask that you will hold them in your love. May they, through the good influence of parents, families and the church, grow into a fuller understanding of your love and purpose. Help each one of us to respond to their needs. Give us patience and compassion, and help us to offer them our time and our experience with true sincerity and love.

Gracious God, help us to see this time of Lent as an opportunity to develop our discipleship and discipline and as your Son Jesus showed us how to reject temptation, fill us with grace to be faithful to his example in this Lenten season and the years ahead.

 

The Collect for today

Almighty God,

whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days 
in the wilderness,

and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:

give us grace to discipline ourselves 
in obedience to your Spirit;

and, as you know our weakness,

so may we know your power to save;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

All:        Amen.

 

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

 

All:        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.

Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH

Leader:   Let us affirm our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

All:        Though he was divine,

he did not cling to equality with God,

but made himself nothing.

Taking the form of a slave,

he was born in human likeness.

He humbled himself

and was obedient to death,

even the death of the cross.

Therefore God has raised him on high,

and given him the name above every name:

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bow,

and every voice proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

 

HYMN: Guide me O thou great Redeemer

 

THE BLESSING

 

Leader:   May the Father

from whom every family in earth and heaven receives its name

strengthen you with his Spirit in your inner being,

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,

and that, knowing his love,

broad and long, deep and high beyond our knowledge,

you may be filled with all the fullness of God;

cf Ephesians 3.15-19

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. What are the challenges that lie ahead for you?

 

  1. Where have you seen God’s grace in your life?

 

  1. What memorials of God’s grace can you create?

 

 

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