Readings And Sermons or Talks

The Collect for today, the Third Sunday of Epiphany

God of all mercy, your Son proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed: anoint us with your Holy Spirit and set all your people free to praise you in Christ our Lord. Amen

The Psalm for today is Psalm 19

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens[c] he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
    Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;[d]
    do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever. Amen

The Covenant Prayer of The Methodist Church

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And this covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen. 

The first reading today is taken from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12, verses 12 – 31a

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

This is the Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 4, verses 14 – 21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

This is the Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

Today’s reflection comes from Mike Black

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen

Do you ever feel that God is nudging you ? Do you ever feel that he wants to use you for something? Do you ever feel a kind of calling? Or maybe even a reproach of some kind?

Do you remember the story of Jonah from the Old Testament? – Yes, we all know that he was swallowed by a whale, but do you remember why he was thrown overboard? Why the ship he was on was floundering in unusually stormy seas? He was fleeing from God. He was afraid to do what God was calling him to do and to go to Niniveh. Afraid to go there and preach against the wickedness in Niniveh.

Take today’s psalm. Psalm 19. – It seems that I cannot escape it ! This is now the third time it has come up as the daily psalm, when I’ve been giving a talk.

And yet, this psalm fits in perfectly with the other readings we had today. It also fits so well with the Methodist Prayer of Covenant, which we said today instead of the Benedictus.

This Sunday falls in the middle of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, so it is also very fitting that we should be using a prayer from a different denomination in our service today. Speaking from a personal prespective, some of you will know that I’ve “been round the block” a couple of time with regard to where I fit within a denomination. I know that several of our church family have, too.

I started my Christian journey at the parish of St James the Great in Waterfoot. That church closed many years ago, but, when I was a boy, it was very high church Anglo-Catholic – with incense every Sunday and a service of Benediction of the Holy Sacrament tagged on to evensong on a Sunday evening. I will always remember the grown ups at the church commenting that the vicar was “more catholic than the Pope” !!

From there, I followed my parents and moved to St Nicholas, Newchurch, which many today might call “high church”, but which seemed, in those days, to be far lower church than what I’d previously known. When I lived in our German twin town, Bocholt, I went to the local Roman Catholic church. On moving to Brussels, I went back to “becoming an Anglican” again before moving to the Presbyterian church of Scotland, where I was ordained as an Elder. My, hopefully, last stop is the home I have found here in Goodshaw, where I feel that we have a wonderful balance of high and low church. More importantly, I have always found that there is a real feeling of God’s presence in this place and among our family here.

As most of you know, in the pre-Covid times, we would hold a service together with our friends down at Rakefoot, the Covenant Service. They’re holding their Covenant Service down at Rakefoot this Sunday morning. We were invited to join them again, but, as a PCC, we decided not to do so, given the prevalence of the Omicron variant of Covid in the valley at the moment.

Methodists hold an annual Covenant Service – a celebration of all that God has done and an affirmation that we give our lives and choices to God. It is an invitation for people to renew their covenant relationship with God. Most churches hold the service at the beginning of the New Year, but some hold them in September at the start of the Methodist Year.

The Covenant Service goes back to John Wesley’s time. The same John Wesley, who was not allowed to preach in this church, so stood outside on the wall to preach to several hundred people. He wanted a form of worship which would help people open themselves to God more fully. In 1755 Wesley created such a service, using material from the writings of the seventeenth-century puritans divines, Joseph and Richard Alleine. Over succeeding generations, the Methodist Church has made changes to the service so that it continues to be relevant to congregations using it.

The aim of the service is to help people hear God’s offer and God’s challenge; to provide space for God to prompt and for people to respond. Yet, more than this, for the Covenant Service is not just a one-to-one transaction between individuals and God, it is an act of the whole faith community. 

Both the Covenant Prayer and Service are regarded as jewels of Methodism and one of the most distinctive contributions of Methodism to the liturgy of the Church in general. Like ourselves, other churches are now discovering it and making use of it in their worshipping life.

I am simply amazed at the way in which this Covenant Prayer has come together with the readings for today from the Lectionary. It’s what some people would call a coincidence, while others would call it a God incidence.

This prayer, which deserves in every sense to be read slowly and in a spirit of reflection places us in the hands of the Lord our God. In it, we offer ourselves to God to be used for his service. Take that, then, in conjunction with the reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Together, they tell us that, no matter who we are ; no matter how clever we are ; no matter how many gifts we may have ; we are all worthy to be part of the body of Christ in the world today.

How wonderful is that !!!

Now, you may be reading this at home, or listening to me speak, and thinking, “but I’m no good at (insert task)…..” - or “I’m not the kind of person, who can stand up in front of people to sing or to pray or lead a service.” - and that might all be very true. HOWEVER, each one of us has gifts, which God can use. So many people in our church family certainly have the gift of kindness. I know, for example, that I would be absolutely useless at doing the flowers, which decorate our church, or running the Café on the Hill, the Community Lunch or the Little Angels toddler group. Cleaning the church and polishing the brasses isn’t something I feel called to do. That’s not because I feel it’s below me. It’s just that I know I can’t do everything. As it says in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which we heard this morning, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose”.

All God wants us to do is to use those gifts we have been given for His greater glory.

It may have gone unnoticed, but, as of a week ago on Friday (that was Friday 14th January), the new Benefice of Rossendale officially came into existence. As part of this reorganisation, the clergy in the part of Rossendale which falls in the Diocese of Manchester are now all part of a team. There will be three full-time stipendiary clergy consisting of Rod Bevan as Team Rector and two Team Vicars. So far only one of those, Janet O’Neill, has been appointed. The second team Vicar, who will nominally be responsible for the parishes of Rawtenstall, Constable Lee and Goodshaw with Crawshawbooth has yet to be appointed, but will be our “main vicar” within the team. My guess is that his role here will be very similar to what Chris Casey’s was, with the difference being that he will officially be tasked to our parish. The incumbent will then take over as chair of our own PCC.

Within the organisation, each church has to put forward a person to be their “Focal Leader”. I feel very humbled in having been asked to take on this role, but it does have other consequences for our Parish. Each parish also needs to have two churchwardens. Last week, we elected Janice Lewer to the post of churchwarden, but we still need to have a second one, as I can’t be Focal Leader and churchwarden.

“Why do I mention this in my talk today?” you may ask. Well, it comes back to the question of each of us using the gifts we have to serve God and to grow His kingdom here at this end of the valley.

Here is the Covenant Prayer again :

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And this covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen. 

What does this prayer say to you ? Are you running away like Jonah, or are you ready to use all your gifts and talents for Christ ?

Let us pray

O Lord, as we dedicate our lives to you this morning, so give us the courage to live out the life which you have planned for each and every one of us. When we worry about stepping forward to volunteer our talents for your purpose, let us be open to you and guided by Your Holy Spirit, that we might banish all fear and say “yes, Lord”. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen