Sunday at St Andrew's

29 March 2020, 10 am

Passion Sunday (Lent 5) 

Virtual Morning Prayer at St Andrew’s Eaton 

Today’s talk: ‘Called to Suffer – Called to Live’

Speaker: Joe Lenton

 

Welcome to this ‘virtual service’ from St Andrew’s Eaton. For the second week we’re unable to meet face-to-face, but please join others from the congregation in prayer and learning from God’s Word. 

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

 

Let’s read (or sing) the hymn Christians lift your hearts and voices

 

FIRST READING

Jeremiah 52 verses 1-16.

The Destruction of Jerusalem Recalled

 

Hymn: The Lord is King!

 

SECOND READING 

John 11 verses 1-2, 17-27, 32-35, 38-44

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

 

Hymn: There is a higher throne

 

SERMON (Joe Lenton)

Jeremiah 52.1-16

‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion... How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?’ 

These words of lament found in Psalm 137 were a heartfelt response to living in exile, forced away from home and away from their normal lives. After the events we read about in Jeremiah 52, the people find themselves at a loss, struggling to find how to worship in a new setting without their familiar temple rituals.

For them, worshipping God was very much associated with a particular place. There were particular things they did together that helped cement their identity as God’s people. So, without all these things, have they lost that special identity? Was God even with them if they weren’t in the promised land? Fear and despair were setting in and risking overcoming them.

We all take some degree of comfort from the familiar. We can allow our work, where we live and the activities we do to define us as people. If we find ourselves in unchartered territory with no idea of when ‘normality’ will resume then it can be a frightening experience. Perhaps we fear that God isn’t with us or that we won’t be able to worship ‘properly’ until we return to our buildings. After all, that’s where the action is for people of faith, isn’t it?

The key workers left behind to keep things ticking over might surprise us. They might be in some ways considered the poor of the land. They are rarely the best rewarded for their work. Those that had seemed essential suddenly find themselves on the sidelines. In a crisis, things can get turned on their head.

Despite warnings, we might stand defiant thinking that we are somehow different. Zedekiah and his entourage clearly thought that they deserved to have God on their side. They seemed to think that they could succeed where others had fallen by standing up to the Babylonians. For a time, maybe they thought they were being proved right. They perhaps felt safe behind the city walls. But then, food began to run out and eventually the city walls were breached. They weren’t safe after all. Jeremiah’s warnings had been true.

Perhaps they felt that as they were God’s people they had a right to a different outcome. The menace sweeping the world would somehow stop at their door and move on leaving them be. Their faith had become in some ways a sense of entitlement. But God didn’t see it that way. Particularly because they weren’t even behaving in a way that truly suggested they were God’s people. Their hearts weren’t really in it. They had started to release their slaves, but changed their mind as we read in chapter 34. Doing the right thing became less important than their sense of being entitled to a certain lifestyle. 

So, any protection they might have had, any lessening of the severity of the tragedy was waived when they acted selfishly and ignored what God was telling them. A little humility could have spared Zedekiah seeing his family killed and having his eyes poked out. Instead, he rebelled.

Sadly, of course, the whole country suffered. We don’t know how many faithful, loving and godly people were left. But, they had to suffer the same fate as the rest. The whole nation was broken because of the actions of some. They all had to endure hardship, have their daily lives snatched away and be stuck in a strange kind of limbo, shell-shocked, no doubt.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, if despair took over. Perhaps they just had to give up and accept that their old way of life was gone? Not necessarily. If they looked back, they could recall that Jeremiah hadn’t just predicted that the Babylonians would come, he’d also predicted that they too would one day fall. Looking back to earlier chapters of Jeremiah we find prophecies of hope. Babylon the great would come under God’s judgment and things would change. 

God had already set forth the intention of restoring the people. They would be healed, forgiven, rescued and returned to their land. Things might not be exactly as they were before, but they would be restored to something similar. Read chapters 30-31 of Jeremiah to get a feel for these prophecies. They are meant to be comforting to those in distress. They are meant to bring the light of hope to those feeling overwhelmed by darkness.

With God, evil, devastation and chaos do not get the final word. They might be too much for the people to cope with, but they are not beyond God’s control. Some things had to run their course. Some elements of what happened where to chastise the people and show that behaviour has consequences. There were lessons to be learned along the way, including that God was there in the unfamiliar and could still be turned to in faith.

Worship could happen without the temple. Hope could take the place of fear. Wrongs could be forgiven and behaviour changed. The key thing the people needed to do was to turn to God. If they didn’t then these blessings wouldn’t be on their way just yet. But, if they did it also didn’t mean that they got everything restored as they wanted it straight away. There was still suffering to be endured and a transformation to go through.

Since then, God’s people have passed through various crises. Each has brought suffering of some kind and a feeling of being lost and unsure of the future. Each has needed some kind of change to move forward. God’s people have mysteriously grown despite circumstances. A small nation in the Middle East has become a worldwide family. Barriers have been broken down. Truths have been rediscovered. A crisis has also been an opportunity.

So, what opportunities are going to emerge from this crisis? What truths might we (re-)discover? How might God’s people change? It may be too early to answer these questions yet. But, history has told us and prophecies point forward to some kind of restoration. We might feel like our story is ending badly like Zedekiah’s, but we need to remember the comforting words of hope.

It is never too late to turn to God and we can never quite know what God is going to do to turn things around. The current crisis is something that affects us all. How we respond is important not only for ourselves as individuals but also collectively as a people. We mustn’t seek to blame. There will be many innocent lives lost. Our job is to follow Christ’s example and be a positive influence, looking to and humbly relying on God.

 

PRAYERS

Let us pray to the Lord,
who is our refuge and stronghold. 

As we come before God in prayer, 
let us focus on how we are with Jesus, 
and he with us today, 

in the prayer called St Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

So Lord, we bring our concerns to you, our loving Father.

For the health and well-being of our nation,
that all who are fearful and anxious
may be at peace and free from worry:

Lord, hear us,
Response: Lord, graciously hear us.

For the isolated and housebound,
that we may be alert to their needs,
and care for them in their vulnerability:

Lord, hear us,
Response: Lord, graciously hear us.

For our homes and families,
our schools and young people,
and all in any kind of need or distress:

Lord, hear us,
Response: Lord, graciously hear us.

For a blessing on our local community,
that our neighbourhoods may be 
places of trust and friendship,
where all are known and cared for:

Lord, hear us,
Response: Lord, graciously hear us.

Be with us, Lord, in all our prayers,
and direct our way toward the attainment of salvation,
that among the changes and chances of this mortal life,
we may always be defended by your gracious help,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.

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

The Collect, the prayer for the day

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his victory; 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. 

Amen.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray

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: Thou whose almighty word

 

Finally, although we are scattered at the moment, 

let us pray for each other:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
and the love of God, 
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit 
be with us all, evermore. 
Amen.

 

You can still see last week's page here

 

 

Church of England logo


Printer Printable Version