GOD WILL MEET ALL YOUR NEEDS ACCORDING TO HIS GLORIOUS RICHES IN CHRIST JESUS. TO OUR GOD AND FATHER BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER … AND THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOUR SPIRIT. AMEN.
(Philippians 4: 19, 20, 23)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP.
OPENING HYMN (CH-24):- GOD IS OUR REFUGE and our strength, in straits of present aid; therefore, although the earth remove, we will not be afraid:
Though hills amidst the seas be cast; though waters roaring make, and troubled be; yea, though the hills by swelling seas do shake.
A river is, whose streams make glad the city of our God, the holy place, wherein the Lord Most High hath His abode.
God in the midst of her doth dwell; nothing shall her remove: God unto her an helper will and that right early, prove.
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the God whom we adore, be glory, as it was, and is, and shall be evermore. Amen.
LET US PRAY:
SOVEREIGN LORD GOD, we praise You that You are able to do more than we can ever ask or imagine – where we can do so little, You can do so much, when we can do nothing, You can do everything. Teach us to believe that, not just with our heads but in our hearts. When life seems dark, the future frightening, and our resources to meet them all too few, we praise You that You are able to see us through. When hopes seem dashed, dreams lie broken and visions have faded, we praise You that You are able to bring new purpose. Sovereign Lord God, in these abnormal times, You are able not simply to meet our needs but to transform our lives – able to bless us beyond words. Receive our praise, give us Your Word and teach us that whatever we face, whether good or bad, whether we feel able to meet it or not, You are able to do more than we can ever ask or think of, – through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – GENESIS 32: 22 – 30.
THAT NIGHT JACOB GOT UP AND TOOK HIS TWO WIFES, HIS TWO MAIDSERVANTS AND HIS ELEVEN SONS AND CROSSED THE FORD OF THE JABBOK. AFTER HE HAD SENT THEM ACROSS THE STREAM, HE SENT OVER ALL HIS POSSESSIONS. SO JACOB WAS LEFT ALONE, AND A MAN WRESTLED WITH HIM TILL DAYBREAK. WHEN THE MAN SAW THAT HE COULD NOT OVERPOWER HIM, HE TOUCHED THE SOCKET OF JACOB’S HIP SO THAT HIS HIP WAS WRENCHED AS HE WRESTLED WITH THE MAN. THEN THE MAN SAID, – “LET ME GO, FOR IT IS DAYBREAK”. BUT JACOB REPLIED, – “I WILL NOT LET YOU GO UNLESS YOU BLESS ME.” THE MAN ASKED HIM, – “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” “JACOB”, HE ANSWERED. THEN THE MAN SAID, – “YOUR NAME WILL NO LONGER BE JACOB, BUT ISRAEL, BECAUSE YOU HAVE STRUGGLED WITH GOD AND WITH MEN AND HAVE OVERCOME”. JACOB SAID, – “PLEASE TELL ME YOUR NAME.” BUT HE REPLIED, – “WHY DO YOU ASK MY NAME?” THEN HE BLESSED HIM THERE. SO JACOB CALLED THE PLACE PENIEL, SAYING, – “IT IS BECAUSE I SAW GOD FACE TO FACE, AND YET MY LIFE WAS SPARED.”
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – 2. TIMOTHY 4: 6 – 8.
… I AM ALREADY POURED OUT LIKE A DRINK OFFERING, AND THE TIME HAS COME FOR MY DEPARTURE. I HAVE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, I HAVE FINISHED THE RACE, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH. NOW THERE IS IN STORE FOR ME THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, WHICH THE LORD, THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE, WILL AWARD TO ME ON THAT DAY – AND NOT ONLY TO ME, BUT ALSO TO ALL WHO HAVE LONGED FOR HIS APPEARING.
There is no such thing as the Perfect Church or a Sinless Christian. All those who come to Christ are conscious of their need to be SAVED and made CHRISTLIKE by God’s GRACE, THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST. This is how the Bible defines CHRISTIANITY as a way of REFORMED LIFE from sinful deformation. Christian life is a spiritual battle and a continuous struggle, so relevantly described in our Old and New Testament readings, through two prominent sinners, JACOB and SAUL, whose names finally were changed into ISRAEL and PAUL.
- – JACOB’S ENCOUNTER WITH GOD is a strange story, having its roots in the relationship between him and his older brother Esau. They were twins, and Esau, the first to be born, came out red all over, like a hairy garment (Genesis 25: 25). Jacob, the second to be born, came out, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel (25: 26), – Jacob’s name meaning “he takes the heel”. Esau enjoyed the privileges of the firstborn – the birth-right and the blessing. Taking the birth-right casually, Esau sold it to Jacob for a bowl of lentil-stew but then he was deceived as Jacob – with his mother’s assistance – tricked Isaac – their father – and got Esau’s blessing as well (Genesis 27: 1 – 29). When Esau discovered the treachery and decided to kill his brother, Jacob fled in time to his mother’s brother, Laban, and saved his life. Laban tricked him by marrying both his daughters to him. In return Jacob cheated Laban, becoming rich at his expense (Genesis 30: 25 – 43), so he had to run away again, and decided to risk a return home. At that point, Jacob sent messengers to Esau in an attempt at reconciliation. Esau came to meet him with four hundred men. Fearing that Esau would kill him, Jacob prayed to God, Whom he had encountered during the night before this meeting…
The whole event is shrouded in mystery. Jacob was wrestling with a man – but we are not told who this man was. We are just left with the assumption that the person Jacob was wrestling with is either God or a messenger from God. God is always surrounded by mystery, but His message remains crystal clear even in the darkness of fear and struggle, even in the shadowy nature of emotional suffering, God is still there with us. It is equally important that there is a conversation going on between Jacob and the man whom he wrestles. Even in the midst of dark struggles we can talk with God, and God is talking to us too. And then, the most wonderful message is at the end: – even through the most bitter experiences in life, God transforms us and gives us real hope for the future. We know that names were more than just names – they were also given to tell something about the character of the person. Jacob, “the deceiver” had his name changed into Israel, which means “God protects”. Jacob has been transformed by the struggle and he is now a person who sits under the protection of God. Through the struggle, he has changed and his relationship with God has been totally transformed.
Jacob wrestled with God. He questioned God. He showed passion and anger and even ferocity towards God as they wrestled. But he kept talking to Him and kept his face turned towards God and in that act, he was re-formed for the better. So we realise from this passage that God is with us in the dark mystery of fear and struggle; that even though we might feel alone, God hears us and speaks to us. We can know that there is hope, even in the darkest moments of our lives. Our Lord is a GOD WHO PROTECTS and leads us into a new future. Jacob’s victory in this insistent struggle was that finally he managed to convince God of his vital need to be protected and to be blessed by Him. AND GOD BLESSED HIM THERE (Genesis 32: 29b).
- – SAUL’S ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS. Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”(Acts 9: 1-6). From that moment Saul became a devoted disciple of Jesus. He was taken into Damascus by a disciple of Jesus called Ananias and something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength (Acts 9: 18-19). Later, his name was changed into PAUL (Paulus means, “humble” or “small”) and he was turned to be the Lord’s “chosen instrument to carry Jesus’ Name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9: 15). This is the biblical story of Paul’s conversion. This is in fact what happened to Jacob/ Israel at the ford of Jabbok, and the same is true of the Christian life. Becoming a Christian is relatively easy: acknowledge to God that you are a sinner and receive by faith the free gift of eternal life that Christ provided by His shed blood. But then comes the hard part – hanging in there as a Christian in a world that is hostile towards God and His people. The real test of faith is to endure the struggle. Genuine faith perseveres to the end of the wrestling, and ends up being blessed as God’s chosen child. From the moment Paul met Jesus he was “humbled” by the encounter, recognizing the grace of God that had been extended to him. He had learned that living a spiritual life and maturing in the Christian faith did not depend on his own ability, wisdom, intelligence, or efforts, but on the indwelling Spirit of Christ, working in him and living through him.
- – I HAVE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, I HAVE FINISHED THE RACE, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH. NOW THERE IS IN STORE FOR ME THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS… Paul wrote these words of encouragement to his fellow disciple, Timothy, from Tullianum, the main prison in Rome. There, Christians were kept imprisoned for no longer than ten days, before being executed for their faith by crucifixion (Peter), killed by lions in the Colosseum, or decapitated as Roman citizens, like Paul. Sitting on the hard floor in a dark cell of a damp dungeon, with the clear prospect of being executed soon, Paul’s words are not those of a discouraged, broken man. There is no despair, no defeat, no cynicism, and no fear in his faithful confession. Paul’s view of death is just a DEPARTURE. He was able to look back on his past and say confidently that he had done well. He was not implying that there had not been in his life mistakes or times of discouragement, but through all of the problems and trials he had stayed in the exhausting long race, and in the good fight of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
MARATHON is the field where a decisive battle took place between Greece and Persia in 490 B.C. ending with the victory of the Greeks. The legend says that after that battle, a Greek soldier, called Philippides, or Pheidippides, ran the distance from Marathon to Athens – 26 miles and 385 yards – with the news of the victory. Arriving at the Areopagus – Athens’ main square – he shouted: – NENIKEKAMEN (WE HAVE WON), then he fell dead. The marathon at the Olympic Games commemorates this achievement.
There is no such thing as an easy marathon. We need to get out of our heads the idea that Christian life is all glory and effortless bliss. There is joy, but there also are many trials and temptations that require endurance, to be able then to look back on our lives and say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
In the ancient Olympic Games there were no gold, silver, or bronze medals. There was only one winner per event, crowned with an olive wreath made of wild-olive leaves from a sacred tree near the temple of Zeus at Olympia. It is not easy to interpret what Paul means by the crown of righteousness. The Bible teaches us that while salvation is a free gift, God wants to reward us on the basis of our service for Him (Romans 14: 10; 2 Corinthians 5: 10). The crown of righteousness has to be won by committed Christians, who have been justified already by faith. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air (1 Corinthians 9: 24-26). Perhaps Paul’s meaning here is simply that even though his earthly judge (the evil Caesar Nero) had wrongly condemned him, he knows that the Righteous Judge would vindicate him when he stood before Him. Clearly, Paul lived in view of that day when he would stand before Christ. So should we, being motivated to live faithfully on this day.
I read of a journalist who was in charge of the obituaries. One day when he did not have any deaths to record, he put a sheet of blank paper in his typewriter and wrote his own name on the top. He then found himself writing his own obituary: – “I have been a good husband and a fine father. I have contributed to a number of worthy causes. I have left a reputation of absolute integrity. My friends are many, and the whole population of the city is very grateful for my contributions to our common life”. By the time he had finished the page, he had already committed himself to the task of living up to his own obituary.
Paul viewed his life as a sacrifice to God. His death would be a departure to be with Christ. He looked back and he did not think of himself as going to be executed; he thought of himself as going to offer his life to God. Ever since his conversion, he had offered everything to God – his money, his time, his physical strength, the acuteness of his mind and the faithfulness of his heart. Only life itself was left to be offered, and he was ready to lay it gratefully down. For Christians, death is laying down the burden in order to rest; it is dismantling a temporary campsite in order to take up residence in the heavenly places; it is casting off the ropes which bind us to this world in order to set sail on the voyage which ends in the presence of God. Who then shall fear it? (William Barclay: New Daily Study Bible).
Whether we may still be in the struggle, whether we continue fighting in the darkness, whether we are currently asking questions of God in this earthly race, trying hard to keep our faith in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have just receiving a wonderful promise from God’s Word to us this morning. A Message that we may know afresh the transforming and healing love of the God Who protects and leads each one of us into a new future, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Its proof is in both Jacob and Paul. AMEN.
NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD, with heart and hand, and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices – Who, from our mothers’ arms, hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today….
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given, the Son, and Him who reigns with Them in highest heaven – the One, Eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore; for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. (Church Hymnary – 368)
LET US PRAY:
ALMIGHTY LORD GOD, You are the author of life and the giver of victory. You deliver our eyes from tears, our feet from falling, and our souls from death. In Your love for the world You gave Your Son to be our Saviour, to live our life, to face our struggles, to bear our burdens, our pains, our fears, our griefs, and to die our death upon the cross. You brought Him back from death with power and glory, and gave Him full authority in heaven and on earth. We thank You that He conquered sin and death for us and opened to us the gate of everlasting life. God and Father of us all, by all Your dealing with us, whether of joy or sorrow, bring us closer to one another and to You. Help us to walk amid the things of this world with our eyes wide open to Your glory. Make us sure in every struggle, suffering, and despair that You are still loving us, sure in every darkness that You are still supporting, protecting, and guiding us, sure in death that You are giving us life for evermore. Go with us, Lord, in our hearts, our minds, our souls, so that what we think, and say, and do, points to You – so that who and what we are speaks of Your goodness, Your peace, Your grace – a testimony to Your love. Show us Your way, and help us to walk it, through our faith in Christ. We bring before You our world – Your world Lord God – with all the expanding fear of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Give us compassion to be supportive to those around us, helping and protecting each other. Guide the universal struggle to find the appropriate vaccine, and finally contain the virus. Shine into the darkness of this world. Brighten the lives of those who wrestle with illness, pain and disaster; those who mourn loved ones or face the prospect of their passing; those who are poor, homeless or hungry; those who are depressed, troubled or weary, and shine into the hearts of those who do not know You, those who reject You or even oppose Your way. Be with Christians everywhere, with our sisters and brothers of our congregation , in Portree, and in the neighbouring parishes. Bless our loved ones near to us or far away, and all those whom we now name quietly in our hearts . . . through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-689). – NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE, nearer to Thee! Ev’n though it be a cross that raiseth me, still all my song would be, “Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee”
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 to Thee! Nearer to Thee
There let the way appear steps unto heaven, all that Thou send’st to me in mercy given, angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee
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 to Thee! Nearer to Thee
Or if on joyful wing cleaving the sky, sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly, still all my song shall be, “Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee”
MAY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. (2 Corinthians 13: 14) AMEN.