PRAISE THE LORD, O MY SOUL; ALL MY INMOST BEING, PRAISE HIS HOLY NAME. PRAISE THE LORD, O MY SOUL, AND FORGET NOT ALL HIS BENEFITS – WHO FORGIVES ALL YOUR SINS AND HEALS ALL YOUR DISEASES, WHO REDEEMS YOUR LIFE FROM THE PIT AND CROWNS YOU WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION, WHO SATISFIES YOUR DESIRES WITH GOOD THINGS SO THAT YOUR YOUTH IS RENEWED LIKE THE EAGLE’S. (Psalm 103: 1-5)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP!
WE LOVE THE PLACE, O GOD, wherein Thine honour dwells; the joy of Thine abode all earthly joy excels.
It is the house of prayer, wherein Thy servants meet; and Thou, O Lord, art there, Thy chosen flock to greet.
We love the Word of life, the Word that tells of peace, of comfort in the strife, and joys that never cease.
We love to sing below for mercies freely given; but O we long to know the triumph song of heaven!
Lord Jesus, give us grace, on earth to love Thee more, in heaven to see Thy face, and with Thy saints adore.
LET US PRAY:
LORD OUR GOD, we give thanks for Your goodness and love towards us as we are able to worship You again in our church, despite of the threat of the pandemic still around us. Help us to be cautious and observe all the protective rules and regulations implemented for the safety of all of us present here this morning. Be with us – Lord – in every experience of our life. When we neglect You, remind us of Your presence; when we are frightened, give us courage, when we are tempted, give us power to resist; when we are anxious and worried, give us peace. Bless us as we are gathered here to worship You and be with all those sisters and brothers of ours who for safety or any other reason are not able to be with us this time. Give us Your Message – Lord God – and for everything You’ve done , You are doing and You will be doing, we glorify Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, One, Eternal God, both now and for evermore, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – JEREMIAH 8: 20 – 22.
THE HARVEST IS PAST, THE SUMMER HAS ENDED, AND WE ARE NOT SAVED. SINCE MY PEOPLE ARE CRUSHED, I AM CRUSHED; (SAYS THE LORD) I MOURN, AND HORROR GRIPS ME. IS THERE NO BALM IN GILEAD? IS THERE NO PHYSICIAN THERE? WHY THEN IS THERE NO HEALING FOR THE WOUND OF MY PEOPLE?
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – ROMANS 12: 12. BE JOYFUL IN HOPE, PATIENT IN AFFLICTION, FAITHFUL IN PRAYER.
MAY GOD BLESS HIS HOLY WORD AND ON HIS NAME BE GLORY AND PRAISE.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. Prophet Jeremiah speaks here in the name of the people besieged in Jerusalem by the Babylonians, complaining of the length of their lockdown. They had been seduced with vain hopes of deliverance, but now the harvest and summer were past and there was still no salvation at the horizon. The Lord had left them exposed to judgement, as the grain was left unharvested out on their fields. The prospects of the coming winter were bleak, and despair grew, as they began questioning if God was still on their side. Is there no hope left for God’s people? That was the vision given to Jeremiah by God, to offer the people a glimpse of HOPE in the SALVATION of the Lord. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people? The Prophet asked these questions to bring them back to reality, regarding their complaints by saying that a Spiritual Balm: – GOD’S SALVATION AND HEALING, – was available; however, the people – despite their desperate situation – were still not seeking God’s help and healing. In the Bible, Gilead means “Hill of Testimony,” and was famed for its plantations of aromatic and medicinal herbs. Balsam was a lowly tree – little higher than a shrub – with some insignificant flowers. But if its branches were cut there flowed a kind of gummy substance, which then was carefully collected, and considered to be the best remedy for all diseases. The gardens where it grew had belonged to the kings of Israel since the time of Solomon and the Balm was highly prized by pharmacies and physicians of the ancient world. After the army of Caesar Vespasian conquered the region of Palestine (71 AD), to prove how valuable that campaign has been, a Balsam-tree was even carried through the streets of Rome in triumphal procession as a symbol of victory. “There is a Balm in Gilead” is one of the best known African-American spiritual songs of the period of slavery in America (1619- 1865). This spiritual is evidence that African-American Christians knew and trusted God through Jesus Christ for salvation and healing despite their terrible conditions. They answered Jeremiah’s question with a resounding “Yes, there is a balm in Gilead”: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour. He can heal our wounds and make us whole. Using God’s BALM in our faithful Christian lives is the best and only remedy for all our physical and spiritual diseases, and this was Jeremiah’s message as well, when he spoke of the proverbial magic Balm in Gilead to the desperate people in the besieged city of Jerusalem. The Prophet’s name – JEREMIAH – means “God is High”, “God will exalt”. This is why he was called by God to promote to the people a very valuable Investment in Hope. Paul gives us a great definition of this hopeful SALVATION-BALM through faith in Jesus Christ, in his Epistle to the Romans: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12: 12). In these deadly times of Covid-19 we follow closely all the official guidelines of our government and health authorities, to contain the spread of the virus,- which is very important; even vital. Here and now let us turn our eyes onto God’s Spiritual Guideline, to be kept safe for all eternity through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
- – BE JOYFUL IN HOPE. There is no such thing as a “hopeless Christian”. A Christian is by nature essentially Optimistic. Frustration and despair can come into our earthly lives at any time but let us never forget that our faith in Christ alone will bring us the long-waited Salvation. So, we have to wait hopefully, patiently, and prayerfully for the outcome of our God’s Plan. Only a JOYFUL HOPE can keep us persevering; JOY, that comes from taking God’s assurance seriously. Hope in normal life is something that is pleasant to look forward to, and which is in the future. We look forward to it with anticipation which uplifts us because the thing hoped for is full of promise, but it has an uncertainty about it, as some circumstance may prevent the realisation of the hope. The hope Paul speaks about is nothing like this. It is a SURE and CERTAIN HOPE, because it is founded on the WORD and promise of God. God does not lie, and there is no power in earth or heaven that can overthrow Him or prevent the execution of His sovereign will and pleasure. Further, this HOPE is based on the WORK of God in Christ. There is no condition that has to be fulfilled by us for the promise to be realised, and therefore this HOPE enables us to rejoice in all circumstances, seeing our Heavenly Father’s hand working gloriously in our lives at all times. As we grow stronger in our faith, and trusting the Lord in all the changes and charges of our lives, gradually we learn to be JOYFUL in a much deeper, spiritual way, our HOPE being finally built on nothing less than trusting in the Cross of Christ and always taking God JOYFULLY at His Word. For in this HOPE we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it PATIENTLY (Romans 8: 24-25), – here the Apostle introduces the second component of God’s wonderful BALM for us. “HOPE” is used in the Bible objectively to mean the situation for which we do hope, a situation glimpsed in many beautiful passages of the Scriptures, when we shall experience the fulfilment of all God’s promises of salvation, when we shall be free at last from the unsatisfied needs and wants of this life, when sin will no longer hinder us. “HOPE” is also used subjectively to mean the feeling of confident assurance and sure expectation that all the things which God has promised, truly will be ours one day. As Paul reminds the persecuted Christians in Rome to rejoice, he moves straight on to the subject of suffering.
- – PATIENT IN AFFLICTION. Suffering for Christ was normal for the early Christians; its scars were seen as badges of honour, bestowed by the Lord. Even when persecution did not occur the disciples of Christ regarded afflictions as the thoughts and ways of the Lord to turn the hearts of the people to Himself to ask, seek, and knock. Suffering is normal for many Christians around the world today. There is a biblical vision of suffering, preached by Paul and Barnabas in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, that we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Book of Acts 14: 22). In times like these, when troubles overwhelm and even believers find themselves at their wits ‘end, mature Christians decide to look at their AFFLICTIONs as an opportunity to renew their TRUST in the Lord as their eternal REFUGE. Writing to believers in a context where suffering was the norm, Paul tells them – and us – to be “patient”. This is a very positive and active kind of patience, not a passive endurance. It has been described as a “brave patience”, which perseveres in bearing the load, whatever it is; which refuses to weaken, complain or be discouraged; and also refuses to slip out from under the load.
About 150 years ago, there was a great revival in Wales, and as a result of this, many missionaries went to North-East India and Nepal to spread the Gospel. The region known as Assam was comprised of hundreds of tribes who were primitive and aggressive head-hunters. Into these hostile communities came a group of missionaries preaching the Good News of Love, Peace and Hope in Jesus Christ. Naturally, they were not welcomed. One missionary succeeded to convert a man, his wife, and two children. This man’s faith then began to impact many villagers to accept Christianity. Angrily, the village-chief called the family who had first converted to renounce their Christian Faith in public or face execution. The man instantly composed a song and started singing it: – I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back. Enraged at the refusal of the man, the chief ordered his archers to shoot down the two children, but the man kept on singing: – Though no one joins me, still I will follow. Though no one joins me, still I will follow. Though no one joins me, still I will follow. No turning back, no turning back. Then his wife was killed. Facing death himself, the faithful man sang the final memorable lines: – The Cross before me, the world behind me. The Cross before me, the world behind me. The Cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back. Then, he was killed like the rest of his family. The chief who had ordered the killings was deeply moved by the faith of the man. In a spontaneous confession of faith, he declared suddenly – I too belong to Jesus Christ!” When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour. The song of this Christian martyr – called Nok Seng – from the Garo tribe of Assam, at the border area between India and Nepal, is today the anthem of the Garo people. Visiting one of those villages a few years ago, I myself had the privilege to experience the emotional power of that Hymn, acknowledging how God works in mysterious ways … Remembering that Christ has been more greatly AFFLICTED for our sake, and the ways how patient afflictions were – and are – used by the Lord to build up faith in this world, we should never question God about why hardships might come into our lives. PATIENT IN AFFLICTION is the way to answer Jesus’ prayer: Your will be done, and His call: – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11: 28-30).
- – FAITHFUL IN PRAYER. It is a fact that none of us pray as much as we should, and that we spend far too little time in prayer. To be faithful in prayer is as important as the joyfulness in hope, and patience in affliction, are in the composition of the BALM OF SALVATION. Prayer and the practice of prayer is the barometer of a healthy Christian life. If we are to be faithful in prayer, we need to understand what a privilege prayer is. This is how we can come into the presence of God and find Him open to our cry, welcoming as our heavenly Father in Christ, and ready to answer all that we bring before Him. Prayer connects us to the OMNIPOTENCE of God, and so there is no difficulty, no affliction, that is beyond His Power to aid and solve. Prayer is our lifeline. It is one of the main channels through which God pours out His promised strength and grace into our lives. I like what I read somewhere that a Christian without prayer is like an astronaut walking in space, floating aimlessly and helplessly, being cut off from the spaceship. It is through prayer that we can endure our afflictions with “brave patience”, rejoicing in hope even while we are suffering. Jesus told us to pray privately in our own room with the door shut (Matthew 6: 6) but also promised that where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18: 20). In God’s wonderful economy spoken or unspoken, private and fellowship-prayers, each somehow finds the wonderful source of strength and encouragement freely given by God. The sacrifice of praise rises, the intercessions build on each other, and leaves each soul joyfully strengthened and ready to endure. By being faithful in prayer we will find the answer to Jeremiah’s awakening message to the besieged people in Jerusalem about the Balm in Gilead, and realise that true deliverance comes always through Jesus Christ, our UNIQUE BALM of God.
In order to get SALVATION right, it is essential to notice the order of the three components of the BALM. Patient in affliction comes between Rejoicing in hope and Faithful in prayer. The reason seems to be that for the ability to patiently face the afflictions of life, a Christian is always required to hang on to a joyful hope to gain strength to the fight by prayer. Paul carefully chose his words and placed them in order for the best of reasons in this defining message, that we might be better instructed and helped in all the difficult circumstances of our journey across this earthly life. And all these, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is a Balm in Gilead: – There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a Balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. / Chorus: – Oh, there is a Balm…
If you cannot sing like Angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, go home and tell your neighbour:- He died to save us all. / Chorus: – Oh, there…
LET US PRAY:
ALMIGHTY AND ETERNAL GOD, we thank You that even in the worst of the situations, Your Spirit enables us through our faith to remain joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. In these testing times of continuous spread of Coronavirus Your Word tells us that You care for all Your children. You know each one and hear each prayer, You know each house and see each need. Give us peace and patient endurance to remain faithful and hopeful in Your Salvation all the days of our lives. Bless Your Church, here and everywhere. Confirm Your people in the faith of the Gospel, and inspire us with love for Your house, zeal in Your service. May the followship with You and one another take us through these hard times of Pandemic. Bless the whole world with Your healing-support and guide with Your wisdom the leaders of the nations, scientists, medical staffs and care workers in their devoted service for others. Bless with Your comfort all who are in any trouble or pain. Heal those who are sick; support and strengthen those who are dying; console those who mourn; supply the wants of those who are in any kind of need. In our weakness, You are our strength; in our darkness, light; in our sorrows, comfort and peace. We pray for those in the circle of family, friendship and love around us: children and parents; sisters and brothers; grandparents, friends and neighbours; and for all those especially whom we silently name now in our hearts … Bless our homes that love, joy and safety may dwell there, and keep those who are absent from us – due to ill-health, distance or any other reason – within the protection of Your care and love. Gracious Lord, Your might is beyond measure, Your wisdom beyond knowledge, and Your love beyond telling. You have put eternity into our hearts and made us hunger and thirst for You. We thank You for satisfying this morning the longings You have implanted into our hearts, that we may find You in life, and find life in You, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our Balm, our Saviour. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O, what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer! Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer!
Are we weak and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Saviour still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer! Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.
MAY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. AMEN. (2 Corinthians 13: 14)