Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 11 April 2021

Morning Worship, 10 am on Zoom 

Repeated as Evening Worship at 4 pm in Church by advance booking only

 

Second Sunday of Easter

‘Letting in the Light’

1. 1 John 1.1-2.2

Speaker: James Cook

Series: 1 John ‘Living in the Love of God’

 

If you find this type difficult to read, 

please look at this page.

 

A revised version of the talk in video format, including a reflection on the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 11 April. 

 

Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

 

 

INTRODUCTION                

 

Prayers on hearing of the the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

 

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,

             your Son has opened for us

             a new and living way into your presence.

             Give us new hearts and constant wills

             to worship you in spirit and in truth;

             through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

HYMN: See what a morning 

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

 

Leader: In baptism we died with Christ,

             so that as Christ was raised from the dead,

             we might walk in newness of life.

             Let us receive new life in him

             as we confess our sins in penitence and faith

cf. Romans 6.4

             Jesus Christ, risen Master and triumphant Lord,

             we come to you in sorrow for our sins,

             and confess to you our weakness and unbelief.

 

             We have lived by our own strength,

             and not by the power of your resurrection.

             In your mercy, forgive us.       

All:        Lord, hear us and help us.

 

Leader: We have lived by the light of our own eyes,

             as faithless and not believing.

             In your mercy, forgive us.       

All:        Lord, hear us and help us.

 

Leader: We have lived for this world alone,

             and doubted our home in heaven.

             In your mercy, forgive us.       

All:        Lord, hear us and help us.

 

Leader: May the God of love and power,

forgive us and free us from our sins,

heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,

and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

PSALM 133

 

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

John chapter 20 verses 19-31

The risen Jesus appears to the disciples

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: O Praise the Name

 

SECOND READING

1 John chapter 1 verse 1 to chapter 2 verse 2

God is Light

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (James Cook)                         

‘Letting in the Light’

1 John 1

 

It’s been so nice to have some sunnier days over the past few weeks, not least the warm spell we had in the days before Easter. But one downside of all the sunshine was that it revealed just how filthy our windows have become over the winter. I was horrified at how disgusting they were, and immediately booked a window cleaner to come round and clean them. And I’m sure when they do come round, the house itself will feel so much brighter and welcoming with all the extra light that can now come in.

 

Light is like that, isn’t it? It can be an unwelcome revealer, bringing to light things we’d rather remain hidden, like my dirty windows; but when the light does shine, how much more full of life do we feel! 

 

The same can be true of our relationship with God. Our passage from 1 John this morning describes God very simply as ‘Light’, but his light can be a searching light as much as it is a life-giving light. It can be uncomfortable to sit under, revealing things we’d rather weren’t revealed, and we might instinctively want to move out of its gaze. But our passage this morning encourages us to walk in that light, because ultimately that light is also life-giving. And so our two headings this morning are ‘A searching light’ and ‘A life-giving light’.

 

1 JOHN: GOD IS LIGHT AND GOD IS LOVE

 

Before looking at today’s passage, though, I do just want to introduce us to the book of 1 John, which may well be unfamiliar to many, hidden away as it is towards the backs of our Bibles. It’s the first of three letters we have in the New Testament written most likely by the apostle John, who also wrote the Gospel of John. John has become concerned, it seems, about a group of teachers who’ve left the church and have started troubling it by their teachings. This group of teachers is normally identified as an early example of a group known as the Gnostics: essentially the Gnostics believed in a spiritual kind of religion that downplayed the physical world, or even considered it evil. As a result, they denied that the person of Jesus was in any way God, because God wouldn’t sully himself by taking on flesh – and you can see John responding to this in his opening words, where he stresses over and over that he saw, touched, heard Jesus and can testify that he really was the revelation of God. And they also denied that there was any importance to morality: it doesn’t really matter how we live in our bodies, because our bodies don’t really matter.

 

In responding to these concerns, John crafts this extraordinary poetical letter. It doesn’t follow a linear structure, like so many of the other letters, where point A is followed by point B and so on. Rather John cycles round and round the same ideas and themes, revisiting them and rearticulating them. And there are two key ideas that come to the fore, summed up in two headlines: God is Light, and God is Love. With these two big themes John is not simply rebuking those who’ve left the church, who’ve left the path of light and love; he’s also seeking to encourage this troubled Christian community to keep walking in the light and love of God. This first chapter, then, introduces that first idea, God is Light. 

 

A SEARCHING LIGHT

 

What does it mean, then, to walk in God’s light? What does it look like to let God’s light into our lives? What is the character of this light? Well, first of all, God’s light is a searching light. If we allow it, God’s light will search out and reveal things we might rather remained hidden. You’ll see in verses 6-10 John three times says the phrase ‘if we say that’. In each of these sentences he seems to be echoing the claims made by these false teachers. Their first claim is that they have fellowship with God, that is that they are in an active, living relationship with him – and yet, John says, they are walking in darkness. They claim fellowship with God, but their lives tell a different story. John isn’t saying that true Christians lead perfect lives – he makes that clear in what follows. What he does seem to be saying is that the Christian is open to God. The Christian has opened the curtains and allowed God’s light to flood in. They listen to what God has to say to them. They allow God to challenge them with what needs to change. They allow God to shine his light into their lives.

 

These teachers, however, were not allowing God’s light to challenge and convict them. In fact they went further. The second and third claims sound very similar. Verse 8: ‘If we say that we have no sin’ and verse 10: ‘if we say that we have not sinned’. The first might mean to deny a sinful nature, the second to deny sinful actions. Either way, the claim is that we have nothing of which we need to repent. We don’t need God’s searching light, because there’s nothing that needs changing.

 

A pastor I know in the States once told me a story about a time when he was at seminary. As part of his training for ministry, he had to undergo a psychological assessment, to make sure that he was emotionally well-balanced to undertake the demands of pastoral ministry. During this assessment, he expressed his belief that he was a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness – something we all do every week during our services in our time of confession. But when he said this, his assessors became very concerned. To them, such an acknowledgement suggested he was not in a good place at all, and he had a hard time trying to persuade them that he was fit for ministry.

 

The story highlights, I think, an aspect of our modern culture, a culture that, like these teachers John was addressing, emphasises our inherent goodness. We might be ready to acknowledge that we’re not perfect; but to say that we’re a sinner in need of grace is deeply offensive to the modern mind. It’s a view that is pessimistic about the human condition, and that, it is felt, only serves to make ourselves feel miserable and unworthy. And of course there have been Christian traditions in history that have so weighed people down with a knowledge of their sinfulness, that they leave feeling miserable and unworthy. But that aside, our culture has a deep reluctance to acknowledge fault.

 

And, in a sense, that’s understandable. Sitting under God’s searching light is uncomfortable. We’ll all have experienced the at times deep-seated reluctance to acknowledge our share of the blame. We get defensive, we make excuses, we point the finger at everyone but ourselves. God’s searching light can be deeply uncomfortable – no wonder there can been such a tendency to avoid its glare. To draw the curtains, however, and not let God’s light in might be comfortable in the short term, but, John says, is ultimately to live a lie. 

 

A LIFE-GIVING LIGHT

 

So, God’s light is searching – it discomforts us with what it reveals about ourselves – but wonderfully it is also a life-giving light. 

 

John responds to each of those three claims by the false teachers with three claims of his own, expressed in another ‘if’ sentence: If we say that, we live a lie, but if we do this instead – if instead we open the curtains and let in the light – what joy follows! The joy first and foremost of knowing the freedom of forgiveness. The American psychiatrist Robert Lifton has argued that modern, Western people, having got rid of a sense of sinfulness, are left instead with ‘a nagging sense of unworthiness all the more troublesome for its lack of clear origin.’ Is that something you feel, a nagging sense of unworthiness? Or maybe you feel very acutely the burden of guilt or shame? Well, if we let in the light, John says, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

 

Acknowledging sin can seem so pessimistic and feel so uncomfortable, because without Jesus it is. Without Jesus, all we will end up doing is making ourselves feel bad about ourselves, as we look and see all that is wrong about ourselves, but have no way to change it. We just increase that nagging sense of unworthiness. And so instead we close the curtains and pretend the grime isn’t there. 

 

But with Jesus, all that changes! We can let the light in, we can allow its gaze to fall on even the darkest crevices. Because of Jesus, we can look our sins squarely in the eye, knowing that God has looked at them already, and in his love for you paid for them on the cross. If we confess our sins, we can know for certain that God will forgive them and does not cease to love us. Furthermore, John says, Jesus is our advocate with the Father. He doesn’t mean to say that Jesus is trying to persuade a reluctant Father. Jesus and the Father are one. But what he is saying is that in heaven we have someone speaking up for us. Jesus is saying about you, I have taken his or her sins upon myself, I have cleansed them and set them free, and they are now worthy to be here. 

 

It’s so hard, isn’t it, to go up to someone we know can be critical and own up to something we’ve done wrong, because we just know they’ll have a go at us. How much easier it is when we know the other person is always forgiving and forbearing; we know that when we go to them, we’ll be received with love and compassion rather than scolding and scoffing. And how easy it is to think that God is more like the latter than the former! If that is you, hear the words of verse 9 as words of wonderful freedom and good news: if we confess our sins to God, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

 

You see, we can let in the light of God with joy and confidence, knowing that when we do we can be freed from the burdens of guilt we bear, and even from that nagging sense of unworthiness. We can know the riches of his forgiveness, and know that he has already seen every dark part of you and loves you still. God’s light might be searching, it might reveal things we’d rather remained hidden, and the more we go on in the Christian life, the more we will experience God’s searching light convicting us about things we need to change. But let us not pull the curtains and block out the light. Let us allow Christ’s light to shine in our hearts that we might experience the joy of forgiveness, cleansing, the burdens lifted, and the joy that follows of deeper fellowship with God and with his people.

 

A revised version of the talk in video format, including a reflection on the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 11 April.

 

HYMN: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

 

PRAYERS (Jenny Holcombe)

 

Let us praise and thank our Lord:

 

Jesus, Easter Light, Easter Joy, 

You bring the promise of the sunlight, 

the resurgence of hope,

For in you all darkness has been conquered, 

death and pain and doubt. 

For you are Easter Light, Easter Joy.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

In Your name, we pray to our Father God -

 

Heavenly Father,

You have promised through your Son Jesus Christ

That when we meet in his name 

and pray according to his mind 

that he will be among us and hear our prayer; 

in your love and mercy, 

fulfil our desires and give us your greatest gift, 

which is to know you, the only true God 

and your son Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

Dear Father, we pray to you as your children, the Church, the bride of Christ. As Jesus interceded for his disciples in the Garden, so we repeat his plea that those who are given to him, accepting their faults and forgiven, may be saved from Satan’s snares and delusions. May Christians in every land feel the comfort of your peace despite the hatred, scorn or apathy of those around them.  Bless church leaders and ministers everywhere in their families, their faith and fellowship and the care of their flock. We particularly pray for Bishop Graham, Archdeacon Karen, Rural Dean Patrick and those who minister at our sister church Christ Church. Lord, we ask your joy and peace for Phil, Sheila, James and those who serve on our Church Council. Help us to resume our services at St Andrew’s with the best use of your gifts, whether through technology or face-to-face words and music.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

We open our hearts to you, Father, as we fear for the world. 

 

We plead for your saving strength in all the failings we see, far and near. Be active, Lord we beg, in Brazil as Covid-19 ravages the people. Through the charity of nations, share the vaccine across the earth where it is needed.  Succour those who flee drug-gang violence and war, and empower merciful people in neighbouring countries. Stretch your saving arm over areas of deforestation and waste-disposal on land and in the oceans, climate-change and the irreversible loss of wild life.  Dear Father, in your compassion shine the light of Christ into the darkest places so that the cleansing rays bring healing and health.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

Father, we pray for just laws carefully upheld in all nations.  We ask for your wisdom at the trial concerning the death of George Floyd in America, so there may be a beacon of hope and trust to illuminate the hearts and minds of protesters. Protect those who police society by consent and not by the weight of repressive states.

Give legislators wisdom as they deliberate and place demands upon their nations. Restore, O Lord, reasons for respect of law and trust in those who seek to uphold it, and encourage those who feel alienated and disenfranchised.  Teach us how to peacefully and constructively show righteous indignation over wrongs. May your voice be heard speaking life, stirring hope and bringing peace.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

In our country, dear Father, protect and guide Elizabeth our Queen and all in authority. Give our nation a spirit of generosity to those at home and overseas, so that funding may not be cut off mid-stream to those in aid agencies, or research and action for risk-reduction across the world.  Provide for needs of food, education or employment, and relieve burdened organisations who take the weight of care. We pray for students who have disruptions in their learning, socially, emotionally and educationally, and we plead for their safety in this age of modern dangers.  Lord, may hearts be softened and people here be ready to pay more in proportion to their privileges, for improvement of services to all and relief of poverty.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

Loving Father, we bring before you the concerns of our community. Thank you for the care and hard work of those at the school, the scout-ground, our supermarket; funeral directors, opticians, take-away, pubs and post office; charity shop, estate agents, hairdressers; our postmen, dustmen, milkmen and delivery people... We pray for relationships, whether distantly and with covered faces, or openly outside, or closer indoors with families.  Lord, enable support to those who need it, through the enlightenment of our understanding and empathy.  We need your life to behave as Jesus showed us towards others - grant us that grace. 

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

Dear Father, look with compassion upon our own families and those we know who are in difficulties, whether financial, physical, mental or spiritual. Bring them healing and peace, we pray.... Breathe your life-giving spirit over them, and an awareness of Jesus’ reality, forgiveness and hope. Through the fellowship of your people, may your love be shared and the experience of a relationship with Jesus light up new faith and joy. 

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

Finally Father we ask your blessing for ourselves. You gave us Jesus and in him new life that is not of this world. We then have a great responsibility - to live in his light, forgive others and share his love. Send upon us your strengthening Spirit so we are not alone in this, but always with you and in you.

 

Lord, meet us in the silence, And hear our prayer.

 

The Collect for today

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. 

Amen.

 

Rejoicing in God’s new creation,

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.

 

HYMN: Before the throne of God above 

 

THE BLESSING

 

Leader: God of our lives, 

we give thanks for the life of Prince Philip,

for his love of our country,

and for his devotion to duty.

We entrust him now to your love and mercy,

through our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   And the blessing of God almighty, 

             the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

             be among us and remain with us always. 

All:        Amen.

 

The National Anthem

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

You might wish to reflect, alone or with others on

  1. What stands out in your memory about the Duke of Edinburgh?

  2. What will you always remember about him?

  3. What things did you learn through his life and death, including about God?

 

or to address these questions on the readings and sermon

1. What are some of the ways in which we might say ‘we have not sinned’?

2. How have you experienced the Spirit convicting you of sin?

3. Are you more inclined to think of God as forgiving and forbearing, or scolding and scoffing? 

 

 

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