Week commencing Sunday 3rd January 2021

Week Commencing Sunday 3rd January 2021

Call to worship

Forgetting what is behind and reaching for what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:13, 14

Anyone in Christ is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Cor. 5:17

Carol

 

Once in Royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honour and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For he is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

 

Cecil Frances Alexander

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKa2zGrRlNM  

 

Prayers

We look to God for forgiveness, knowing that last year we have often grieved him through our failures and sins:

 

Forgive us, O God where we have not cared enough for you.

Where we have not cared enough for your world.

Where we have been content with ourselves as we are

Forgive us, O Lord

Give us the will and the power to live by the Spirit of Jesus; now and always. Amen

 

Father, let us dedicate all this year to you, for the service small or great you would have us do; not from any painful thing freedom can we claim, but in all, that we may bring glory to your name. Amen. (L. Tuttiett).

 

Item Andrew Breese

 

Reading. Matthew 25: 31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the

least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

Carol. (Recording)

 

Good King Wenceslas look’d out,

    On the Feast of Stephen;

When the snow lay round about,

    Deep, and crisp, and even:

Brightly shone the moon that night,

    Though the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight,

    Gath’ring winter fuel.

 

“Hither page and stand by me,

    If thou know’st it, telling,

Yonder peasant, who is he?

    Where and what his dwelling?”

“Sire, he lives a good league hence.

    Underneath the mountain;

Right against the forest fence,

    By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

 

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,

    Bring me pine-logs hither:

Thou and I will see him dine,

    When we bear them thither.”

Page and monarch forth they went,

    Forth they went together;

Through the rude wind’s wild lament,

    And the bitter weather.

 

“Sire, the night is darker now,

    And the wind blows stronger;

Fails my heart, I know now how,

    I can go no longer.”

“Mark my footsteps, good my page;

    Tread thou in them boldly;

Thou shalt find the winter’s rage

    Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

 

In his master’s steps he trod,

    Where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod

    Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

    Wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor,

    Shall yourselves find blessing.

 

 

John Mason Neil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVUMG6LZGM

 

Sermon. “Stephen & Wenceslas. Men who gave of themselves.” Part 2.

Last week we saw that Boxing Day was the day when the poor boxes were opened. These were collection boxes in the church that people put money into to help the poor. The tradition arose from Stephen’s example, because he was one of seven deacons who agreed to distribute food parcels to the needy in the church.

Good King Wenceslas

Let’s turn now to the Carol “Good King Wenceslas”. You may wonder why and what the link is with Stephen- but bear with me, and hopefully all will become crystal clear!!

It is interesting that this carol should be so popular. It’s questionable as to whether it is a carol in the way we normally understand it. It isn’t about the Christmas story. It doesn’t mention Jesus. It’s actually based on a legend from the Czech Republic, and it’s about a king born some 8 centuries after the baby in Bethlehem. But the carol still remains popular.

“Good King Wenceslas” was written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853. Neale was asked to write something for children for the day after Christmas and he turned to the legend of King Wenceslas for his inspiration. Neale it seems thought about the significance of Boxing Day- of giving to the poor and of Stephen’s example. His carol is a reflection of these ideas. He explores the themes of riches, poverty and most of all- generosity. And these thoughts led him to the story of King Wenceslas. Wenceslas lived in Bohemia- today’s Czech Republic-during the tenth century. Wenceslas was well known for his acts of charity. Neale found the story in a book called “Deeds of Faith”, which was full of inspiring morality tales for children.

When you look at the verses from the carol you hear a story from the life of Wenceslas. Actually he was not a king but a duke. In these verses Wenceslas shows kindness to a poor labourer whom he has seen gathering wood in the bitter cold on St Stephen’s day. Moved by what he saw, he set out to take a rich Christmas box of food and drink to this unfortunate individual. Wenceslas is accompanied by his page, who, like the child for whom the carol was written, learns from the duke’s example how to care for others. How to give generously to help those who are in need.

Wenceslas gives of himself, like Stephen. He gives to those in need. And like Stephen he too shows the ultimate act of generosity. He too is martyred for the Christian Faith. He was killed by his own brother, who later repented and became a Christian. Rather in the way that Saul became a follower of Jesus after his Damascus road experience.

Wenceslas is today the patron saint of the Czech Republic. There is a statue to him in Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague. It was in this square, in more recent times, that the Czech people stood up to the Communist Government that had kept their country behind the iron curtain after World War 2.

And if we say good king Wenceslas is like Stephen, we can also say he is like the king of kings; the Lord Jesus Christ. When we think of kings we see that some are like King Herod- tyrants, others like the wise men, have been more kindly leaders and seekers after truth, and some, like Wenceslas have become examples for us to follow. Wenceslas’ kingship was like this, however because he modelled his life on the true king. Jesus is the servant king who sets us an example to follow (see 1 Peter 2:18-21), just as Wenceslas encourages his page to follow in his foot steps and not give up.

This Carol reminds us what sort of king God is. He is a king high above the heavens, but also “lifts the poor and needy from the dust and ashes” (Psalm 113:7); a king who helps everyone who is weak (Cf Acts 20:35). A king whose love and faithfulness lasts forever (Psalm 100:5) Indeed, another king, king Solomon, made that clear when he wrote, “Kings who are fair to the poor will rule forever” (Proverbs 29:14).

The last lines of this Carol are based on yet another king’s discovery, this time King David, who said, “You, Lord God, bless everyone who cares for the poor, and you rescue those people in times of trouble” (Psalm 41:1).

At this time of year many of us have spent excessive amounts on our families and ourselves rather than those in need. This carol reminds us we are called to be subjects of a new kind of king, who turns our ideas of wealth and poverty upside down. Paul writes of this king, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor.8:9).

Generosity, as we see in Stephen and Wenceslas, is the mark of those who follow the true king.

We see this most powerfully in the Parable of the sheep and goats (Matt.25: 31-46). It is a sobering and challenging Parable. It describes how the king will deal with his subjects depending on how generous they have been towards others in this life:

He says to the sheep: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. When the righteous ask when they had done this for Christ, he says “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”

The goats who are cursed into the eternal fire did not give of themselves in these ways for Christ, and when they enquire about this, Jesus says “Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me”

Elsewhere in Scripture we know our eternal assurance comes through our being justified by Christ, on account of his atoning sacrifice for us (see Update 22/11/20 for example) We have an inheritance because we are joint heirs with him, however that is not explained in this Parable.

This parable, with some of Jesus other parables, challenges us to see that if we are justified before Christ, then the  subsequent work of God will include his spurring us to acts of generosity in the way this parable sets out. If we are not showing Christ’s mercy and generosity towards others in one or more of these ways then we have to ask ourselves have we ever experienced Christ’s mercy on us? If we are not showing Christ’s generosity in such ways then the only conclusion to be made is that our original profession of faith is illusory and we suffer the fate of those who never knew Christ. Justification by faith is not easy believism. It’s not a pattern of words we just repeat. Christ saving us from sin and becoming Lord of our lives has implications for our conduct as individuals and what we value as His church.

We need to think about our conduct before God here. When I heard a sermon preached on this passage it challenged me to start giving to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. A mission that supports those imprisoned for their faith. It made me re-examine how I could help those in need. If you are not challenged to show some form of practical mercy like that, then examine yourself- are you really one of the goats?

Of course many in the Church give generously of their time and resources within the fellowship to benefit the whole. This is what God wants us to be like and He knows what you do and what you cannot do.

But it is worth our reflecting on how much we benefit those in need. This is why a number of churches now have “Mercy ministries” projects where they have opportunity to literally care for those in need and so show Christ’s generosity.

We support missionaries who in turn run such projects abroad. But it is worth reflecting on how we might support a mercy ministry here at Angmering. When I was as Assistant Minister at Mount Pleasant Baptist in Swansea; the church ran a mercy ministry in the shape of a soup kitchen for those who were homeless; staffed by members of the church.

The remarkable truth contained in this parable is that in giving to those in need, the king’s subjects have actually been caring for the king himself- “Whatever you did for the least brothers of mine you did it for me” The truth of this is seen in David Adam’s poem:

 

Christmas Poor

 

You are the caller

You are the poor

You are the stranger at my door

 

You are the wanderer

You are the unfed

You are the homeless with no bed

 

You are the man

Driven insane

You are the child

Crying in pain

 

You are the other who comes to me

If I open to another you are born in me

 

(“The Edge of Glory” David Adam).

 

Stephen and Wenceslas both gave of themselves and it cost them everything. To follow the baby Jesus will be costly and will mean stepping out from the safety of whatever palace we occupy to show the generosity of God to those in need of His love. This is both the genuine mark and sure test of Christian discipleship.

You have one life given to you here. It will pass quickly. Will it be a life marked by the king’s generosity? Will you give of yourself for Him?

……………………………………….Him

Prayer

O God our Father, at the beginning of this New Year, look upon our Christian family. We come to you in prayer with hopes and resolutions. And we come also with our doubts and fears, knowing the power of the world, the flesh and the devil. Tet we pray that you will help us not to fall.

At the beginning of this new year look upon us as we do our work, face our examinations, run our households, look for jobs, earn our wages, maintain our businesses, enjoy our leisure.

At the beginning of this New Year look upon our church as it loves and cares and serves, as it learns and worships and witnesses.

At the beginning of this New Year look upon your world, with all its sickness, waste, war and sorrow, yet all its joys as well.

At the beginning of this New Year Father grant us your presence and your peace; keep us safe in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Church Family worship).