Week Commencing Sunday 30th August

Week Commencing Sunday 30th August 2020

Call to worship

‘This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.’ Acts 2:23

Opening prayer

We come in awe and great gratitude O Lord, staggered at the scale of your great love for us that we see so clearly at the cross. We understand that the cross is indeed your way of a person being reconciled with and brought back into relationship with you.

Help us to see today how you were present through the cross, although according to outward appearances, you seemed absent. Help us to draw encouragement from knowing you are present, and will work out your good purposes as we face our own trials and difficulties of life.

Help us now to sing your praise, confess our sins, hear your Word and bring our prayers to you through Jesus Christ. Amen

Hymn

 

1 There is a green hill far away,
without a city wall,
where the dear Lord was crucified,
who died to save us all.

2 We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear;
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

3 He died that we might be forgiv'n,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heav'n,
saved by his precious blood.

4 There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin;
he only could unlock the gate
of heav'n, and let us in.

5 O dearly, dearly has he loved,
and we must love him too,
and trust in his redeeming blood,
and try his works to do.

 

Cecil Frances Alexander.                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0ybUpuLn8M

 

Reading Mark 15:21-32

15 21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] [a] 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Sermon. ‘The Hidden Revelation of God in the Cross’

‘The Hidden Revelation of God in the Cross’ was an insight from Martin Luther that I read about in Alister McGrath’s book ‘Making Sense of the Cross’ and it has been an encouragement to me.

Perhaps the best way to understand what Luther meant by this hidden revelation is to consider the scene of hopelessness and helplessness on the first Good Friday as Jesus died on the cross and compare it with the Resurrection.

McGrath writes:

‘On that first Good Friday the crowd gathering around the cross were expecting something dramatic to happen. If Jesus really was the Son of God, they could expect God to intervene and rescue him. Yet, as that long day wore on, there was no sign of a dramatic intervention. In his cry from the cross, even Jesus himself experienced a momentary yet profound sense of the absence of God, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ Many expected God to intervene dramatically in the situation, to deliver the dying Jesus. But nothing of the kind happened. Jesus suffered, and finally died. There was no sign of God acting in that situation. So those who based their thinking about God solely on experience drew the obvious conclusion: God was not there.

But the Resurrection overturned that judgment. God was revealed as having been present and active at Calvary all along. God had been working out our salvation and had been vindicating Jesus.

God was not seen to be present by human eyes in the circumstances- but present he really was. What experience interpreted as the absence of God, the Resurrection showed up as the presence of God. The Resurrection showed God had been active ‘behind the scenes’ at Calvary; working in secret.

For Luther the Resurrection demonstrates how unreliable the verdict of human experience really is. Instead of relying upon our impression of human experience, we should trust God’s promises and the promise of his presence with us; even if our circumstances suggest otherwise.

Here Luther is making an important point about faith. Faith is an ability to see God’s presence and activity in the world and in our own experience. Faith sees behind external appearances. It is an openness to find God where he has promised to be, even when experience suggests he is not there. Luther uses the phrase ‘the darkness of faith’ to make this point.’ (‘Making Sense of the Cross.’ Alister McGrath).

Others described in the Bible experienced this ‘darkness of faith.’ They held on to the character and presence of God despite their experience suggesting the opposite:

When we consider David and Goliath, Saul assessed the situation according to usual human experience. He said to David ‘You are not able to go out against the Philistine and fight him, you are only a boy and he has been a fighting man from his youth.’ David replied with faith ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ David still sees what God will do in the seemingly God forsaken situation.

We see this same faith exemplified by Moses. He was called by God to lead an ungrateful people who wanted to return to Egypt. A people who wanted to stone him and replace him as their leader. But Moses knew he was called by God. He continued to trust in God though seemingly God forsaken.

Think of Joseph thrown in a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. Falsely accused of sexual assault, thrown into prison. Dark experiences indeed. Was he God forsaken? No. He continued to put his trust in the Lord. Later, after he had been exalted by Pharaoh, and after he met his brothers again and forgave them, Joseph said to his brothers ‘Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…(he) sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth. It was not you who sent me here but God.’ (Genesis 45).

According to Luther we should apply this insight to our own situations. There are times when all of us find it difficult to accept that God is present and active but this is when faith is truly faith.

So then, ‘the hidden revelation of God in the Cross’. God seemingly absent is actually present. Let’s think on illustrations and applications relevant today, to help earth this principle.

Alan Haskey. I would like to tell you a little about this man. I met him when I was 16 years old. I and other young people had agreed to go away for a few days to help put up tents in readiness for a Christian camp for young people. We were cooped up in a van- and it was a long journey, far from comfortable. But there was this man in a wheel chair. He was full of life and hope, making us laugh with his sense of humour, despite his own condition.

He must have suffered- even on such a difficult journey, but if he did he didn’t show it. But beyond the journey itself, he was afflicted with a debilitating disease. He suffered from cerebral palsy. His condition meant he was confined to that wheelchair permanently. But clearly Alan was a man of faith. He had that faith that still perceived God was present, even though his circumstances would suggest he was forsaken. Alan’s faith in God motivated him to gain a Degree at York University, write poetry and an autobiography.

 

Alan had this faith and hope in God described by Luther. Of future hope and the Resurrection to come Haskey writes in his autobiography: ‘I will have a new body and if I don’t I’ll be really upset! I’ll want a partial refund at least!!’

Again when we think of suffering, this time in the context of illness and approaching death, we often see this ‘darkness of faith’ granted to such by the Lord. Those who so suffer have a faith in Him, though according to human experience/questioning God would appear absent.

Roy Castle. He is still remembered by many as the host of the television programme ‘Record Breakers’. But he was already an established entertainer and musician before he presented that show. Earlier in his career Castle had gone to many venues- clubs and so on – to entertain, but in those days these places were full of cigarette smoke. Castle was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not because he himself smoked, but because in those early days he had constantly breathed in the smoke of others.

But Roy Castle had put his faith in Christ. And this gave him courage and dignity to face his diagnosis. He organised what was called a ‘Tour of Hope’ at that time. He wanted to raise money in order to fight lung cancer. Through that tour, 7.2 million pounds was raised for Lung Cancer Research. Sir John Mills commented on the unique impact of Roy Castle in such a short space of time. He said that whenever he thought he had problems and was tempted to grow despondent, he would remember Roy Castle’s example in the face of suffering.

Again, what looks like Divine absence is really Divine presence.

There are other trials where we can apply Luther’s principle. Not overt situations of suffering or the prospect of death, but a whole host of lesser trials, that can still make us anxious and try to rob us of hope:

I was in the Sixth Form. It was a history class. The teacher was talking about some of the evils in the world and he wanted our opinion about reasons for this. No doubt he was looking for social and economic factors- but the question was open ended so I gave him a few theological reasons. I described about the Bible’s teaching about the Fall and the entrance of sin into the world (See ‘God and Viruses’ Update 29/3/20 for more on this). To which he said ‘if that was true, then why wasn’t everyone killing each other?’ At that time I’d been listening to a Bible Teacher called David Pawson, and so my teacher’s question didn’t throw me. I explained about ‘general revelation’, that God gives everyone a sense of right and wrong, that His moral law presses in on everyone. I also explained that Christ is the light of every man in this respect, that God Himself was restraining evil in the world. But instead of encouraging me in bringing together such reasons, all this man could say was ‘Let’s get back to the real world’ That’s difficult to take when you are a young man, when there is no attempt to engage, just a put down in front of others. As if to say all that is important to you is irrelevant, unreal and a waste of time.

It’s at those times that you and I experience the ‘darkness of faith.’ Why doesn’t God show up and do something to show this man that these Christian Truths are indeed true! Why doesn’t He set things straight? But those times when we feel most on our own, ignored, forsaken- these are the times when He is most with us.

Not long after, I read the Parable of the Mustard Seed from Mark 4.The Lord encouraged me to see that the Kingdom of God is like a seed- it can seem in the eyes of many to be small and insignificant. But where the kingdom takes root in a life that life will grow into the largest of trees. It will give shade, so that even the birds fly and find rest within its branches. When you’re young it seems that life is to be found everywhere else but in God. As a young person God was saying to me- actually, if you let my kingdom take root in you, even when you are treated unfairly for doing so, I will build my ways in you and bless you and your future marriage, and your family and your work for me. My kingdom will root and flower to bring real life and benefit to many others. Such prospects looked foolish then. But actually, and often running parallel with other periods of trial, in many ways He has brought this about.

The hidden revelation of God in the Cross. At the times when we are most tempted to doubt Him or think He has forsaken us, those are the very times we are to press in to Him and His Truth. The very times when He is actually powerfully with us and will bring about His greater purposes. At those times we remember Easter Sunday is round the corner- vindication and resurrection.

Alister McGrath applies this principle to the Church in this country. ‘At this point in history in this country the Church has not been doing very well. It has not been doing very well for some years. There are pockets that spring up from time to time, but these often plateaux and then split. Our society in general is becoming more secularised and less interested in the things of God. While many say they are sympathetic towards Christ, they actively rebel against his teaching and avoid surrender to Him and to joining with his people. For the Church this appears to be like Good Friday- God appears to be absent, the opposition have it all their own way, we are tempted to cower and hide away, as did the first disciples. But the hidden revelation of God in the Cross teaches us otherwise. Christ who has promised to be with us always is really present. He calls us to wait on Him and pray, to be obedient to His Word, regardless of immediate outcomes. He wants us to wait on Him. Vindication and Resurrection are around the corner. The harvest will come.

History has shown this- just when it looks like the church is in terminal decline- as it did during the persecutions against the early Christians, or the Dark Ages, or before the Reformation, or before the Evangelical Revival in this Country, or in the face of the rationalistic onslaught of rationalists/atheists in recent centuries- time and time again God has refined His Church and purified Her and raised Her up again. And whether we personally see such revival in our own day matters not. We still put our faith in the Lord and do what He requires and leave outcomes with Him.’ (Making Sense of the Cross’ Alister McGrath).

Conclusion

Luther himself was persecuted and came close to death in standing for justification by faith. No doubt the hidden revelation of God in the cross was worked out during this difficult time. It sustained him and reassured him of God’s presence within his own experience of the ‘cross’. But eventually Easter Sunday followed for Luther. His re-discovery of the biblical doctrine ‘justification by faith’ has been preached across the world and blessed by the Lord.

Perhaps you are facing a situation that seems like ‘Good Friday’ to you. Perhaps similar to an illustration you have heard today. Keep your faith in the Lord. He is not absent but present. Trust His promises and act accordingly. Persevere because your God is a great God. He is in control; He is working out His purposes. Do not lose heart but trust Him. Your hope will not be disappointed because the promise of Easter Sunday will surely come.

…………………………………………….

Hymn

 

You chose the cross with every breath;
The perfect life, the perfect death.
You chose the cross.
A crown of thorns You wore for us,
And crowned us with eternal life;
You chose the cross.
And though Your soul was overwhelmed with pain,
Obedient to death, You overcame.

I'm lost in wonder, I'm lost in love,
I'm lost in praise forevermore.
Because of Jesus' unfailing love,
I am forgiven, I am restored.
You loosed the cords of sinfulness,
And broke the chains of my disgrace;
You chose the cross.
Up from the grave victorious,
You rose again so glorious;
You chose the cross.
The sorrow that surrounded you was mine.
Yet, "Not My will, but yours be done," You said.

‘I’m lost in wonder…..’

 

 

Martyn Layzell.                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJiw2rwCKDk

 

Prayer Diary for September

As the Prayer Diary is prepared, arrangements for the recommencement of the church services and other activities are being considered by the Deacons.  The Prayer Diary cannot, therefore, follow a Church Diary.

  1. Our minister, Rev David Barnes, his wife Liz, and his ministry.
  2. Our Church Secretary, Wendy Breese, and her continuing work.
  3. Our Church Treasurer, Dick Gibb, and for our financial support.
  4. Our Deacons, for God-given wisdom.
  5. Members and friends still being shielded or in ‘lockdown’.
  6. Members and friends in hospital, or residential or nursing homes.
  7. The monthly Missionary Prayer Meeting.
  8. Judy Cook and her work at Hope Home in Thailand.
  9. Paul and Alison Guinness, their family preparing to return to Burundi.
  10. Mary and Martin Barber; their work in Madagascar.
  11. Tim and Linda Hobson.
  12. The ABC Babies and Toddlers Group, to recommence.
  13. The Dell Club; that it will also begin again.
  14. Teachers and pupils as the new school year gets underway.
  15. St.  Margaret’s church; its’ Rector, Rev. Mark Standen.
  16. The Immanuel Church; its’ leader Rev. Ben Redding.
  17. Our caretaker, Rosalyn, and all who care for our premises.
  18. The Torch fellowship, to recommence soon.
  19. Safety and security in Angmering.
  20. Our Musicians; thank the Lord for their talents.
  21. The ABC Singers, for an increase in numbers.
  22. Peace in Israel and the Middle East.
  23. Our Government, its ministers and all M.Ps
  24. Wisdom in dealing with the economic problems caused by COVID-19.
  25. Leaders of the national churches; to lead the whole church aright.
  26. A movement of the Holy Spirit within the nation.
  27. Today should be Harvest Sunday; Praise God for His bounty.
  28. Doctors and nurses and all working in care homes.
  29. Numerical and spiritual growth in the church.
  30. Revival in Angmering!!                         

 

Hymn

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me, 
still all my song shall be, 
nearer, my God, to thee; 
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 

2 Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, 
darkness be over me, my rest a stone; 
yet in my dreams I'd be 
nearer, my God, to thee; 
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 

3 There let the way appear, steps unto heaven; 
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given; 
 

 

angels to beckon me 
nearer, my God, to thee; 
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 

4 Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise, 
out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise; 
so by my woes to be 
nearer, my God, to thee; 
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 

5 Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky, 
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly, 
still all my song shall be, 
nearer, my God, to thee; 
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

 

Sarah Flower Adams.                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwLl5nY5WPI

 

Blessing

May the Lord bless you and take care of you; may the Lord be kind and gracious to you; may the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace.

David Barnes 26/8/20