Worship for Sunday 22nd January 2023, by Peter Smith


Opening music

Call to worship

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Hymn StF 692: Your hand, O God has guided


   1      Your hand, O God, has guided
        your flock, from age to age;
        the wondrous tale is written,
        full clear, on every page;
        our forebears owned your goodness,
        and we their deeds record;
        and both of this bear witness:
        one Church, one faith, one Lord.

   2      Your heralds brought glad tidings
        to greatest, as to least;
        they summoned all to hasten
        and share the great King’s feast;
        their gospel of redemption,
        sin pardoned, right restored,
        was all in this enfolded:
        one Church, one faith, one Lord.

   3      Your mercy will not fail us,
        nor leave your work undone;
        with your right hand to help us,
        the victory shall be won;
        and then, by all creation,
        your name shall be adored,
        and this shall be our anthem:
        one Church, one faith, one Lord.

Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1891) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 692 .

Prayer of praise(based on Isaiah 9: 1-4)

Gracious God we offer our praise and thanks to you. Faced with your constant love, our hearts overflow with joy.

Joy like people before the harvest or those with riches to divide. Joy like those who know the lifting of burdens and end of oppression. Gracious God, accept our praise and thanks. Amen

Prayer of confession

But our joy is muted because we know we have sinned.  We come into your presence to seek forgiveness, hoping in your constant love:


Loving God you hear our prayers.  Give us now the assurance of our sins forgiven.


We hear Christ’s gracious words.  Our sins are forgiven.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.


Loving God, through your Son you have called us to repent of our sin, to believe the good news, and to celebrate the coming of your kingdom.

Grant that we may hear the call to discipleship and gladly proclaim the gospel to a waiting world; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Divisions and strife

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I always think that these early verses of the first letter to the Corinthians give you a real insight into the way in which Paul is working.  You get a sense of a man working at speed, under pressure and most likely dictating the letter to someone else.   The way in which he keeps thinking of the exceptions to his initial statement that he hasn’t baptised anyone remind me of this scene from the Life of Brian:

[for those not able to watch it is the one which starts with “what have the Romans ever done for us?” and the list of what they have done keeps growing so apart from the roads, education, sanitation etc, what have they ever done for us]

Paul’s writing a letter not a work of systematic theology, although there is plenty of theology there.  To him it is not important who has baptised who, he so disinterested that he has only partial recall of the ones he has baptised.  What is important is that the good news has been preached and responded to. That they know Christ and the message of the cross.  So why, when they should all be one, have they allowed divisions and fractions to grow up amongst themselves?  Claiming to be followers of various leaders to whom they belong.  Even those who say they belong to Christ are to be criticised,  but then who are familiar with those who claim to be “true Christians” and the rest of us are in error.

Paul sets out the context in which he is make the case and plea for unity in Christ.  It seems appropriate that we should be reminded of that in this week of prayer for Christian Unity.

Unity which doesn’t require us to be uniformly the same, but be in unity with Christ.  In his sermon the Catholic Spirit, John Wesley argues that even though we may not agree on all things or worship alike, if our hearts are right with God and with each other, then we can be in fellowship with each other.

But even as we live in a church which recognises contradictory convictions, we are nonetheless called to recognise Christ in each other and the integratory of the person and of their faith.  We are called to love, if not like, each other and to preach Christ crucified.

Hymn StF 679: Come, guild the Church – not heaps of stone

(ignore the words in the video and use those below)

 1   Come, build the Church — not heaps of stone
        in safe, immobile, measured walls,
        but friends of Jesus, Spirit-blown,
        and fit to travel where he calls.

   2      Come, occupy with glad dissent
where death and evil fence the ground,
and pitch a Resurrection-Tent
where peace is lived, and love is found.

   3      Exposed upon the open ground
to screams of war in East and West,
our ears will catch a deeper sound:
the weeping of the world’s oppressed.

 4     In wearied face, or frightened child,
     in all they know, and need to say,
     the living Christ shall stand revealed.
Come, let us follow and obey!

Brian Wren (b. 1936) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 679
Words: © 1986, Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ  <www.stainer.co.uk>

The work of Jesus and hearing the call

Reading Gospel: Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
   light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Reflection part 2

Its easy to hear the Gospel reading and assume that in the light of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus heads for a place of safety to avoid trouble, he withdrew to Galilee. 

But pause for a moment. He heads straight into the occupied territory controlled by Herod Antipas who has executed John.  Into a land were local elites have carved out a place for themselves , in social and economic terms, and order is maintained by coercion, by violence whether real or threatened.

We may well laugh at the hapless revolutionaries as their complaint, what have the Romans ever done for us, is apparently undermined by a long list of benefits.  But Rome only gives benefits that are in its interests.  An occupied country is an occupied country, even if the people get bread and circuses. Injustice and exploitation  were rife, and resentment bubbled beneath the surface.

Into this potentially explosive situation came Jesus, preaching good news about the Kingdom of God, based on love and justice.  Hardly the act of someone who was withdrawing.

In the context of this ministry, Jesus began to gather a community of disciples around himself.  It is easy to be lulled into the traditional view that he said follow and they did without any planning or preparation beforehand. 

One friend has suggested that Jesus was calling people who he already knew and already knew him.  That they had been talking about what they should do and how, and the moment arrived for them to act, to follow. The call is about putting their money where the mouth was, as though Jesus has said right we are going to do this.

I am reminded of meeting a group of men on the top of Snowdon and falling into conversation with them.  They were there because they had been sitting in the pub a few weeks before talking about the fact that they had never climbed Snowdon and perhaps one day they should.  One of the group had taken them seriously, and the next time he saw them it was right we are going to this next week, you had better be ready!

Is this Jesus and the disciples?  Its an attractive idea and makes sense to me.

Reading Thomas Bohache in the “Queer Bible Commentary” and Warren Carter in “Matthew and the Margins”, you get a sense of Jesus calling together an alternative community to challenge the status quo and offer hope to the excluded and marginalised.

The twelve (and the list in the Gospels to vary), certainly seemed to have formed a core group, but they are surrounded by others and importantly in that number are the woman (some of whom provided the financial support for Jesus and the others).

The disciples are called and embark on a pretty intensive three year training course, with Jesus as their teacher, including being sent out on mission to put into practice what they have learnt.  Which surely should encourage us to celebrate and affirm the training that we give to preachers and ministers? And not belittle the study of theology.

Still calling

Jesus still calls disciples to follow him today.  It too easy for us to think of only some as having a calling or a vocation.  Many years ago, I candidated for the Methodist Ministry and was told not yet.  Never tried again because I met a man called Jack Keiser, a lay reader in the Church of England, former deputy director of the Willian Temple Foundation, ex SCM staff member etc.  Jack helped me to see that you can be called to be part of the laity, which is after all the majority of us.

Christ calls us, in all of our life to work for the Kingdom of God.  A calling which requires us to be in the mess of everyday life.  As we read our papers and listen to the news we see that inequality and injustice still abound.  The poor are getting poorer and at best are offered sticking plaster solutions by the Government.  Real incomes for the vast majority are falling, eroded by inflation.  No wonder strikes are happening and foodbanks are almost overwhelmed.  And what can we say about the under resourcing of the NHS. And at the same time the divide between rich and poor is growing.

That divide matters because it is not just in terms of wealth, of income but in terms of a shared understanding of community.  There is growing sense in which we no longer have a consensus of what society should be like and that bodes ill. And if we look beyond our own borders, which we must, then the picture is no more encouraging.

We have as Christians, as follows of Jesus, a sacred duty to proclaim God’s love for all people.  To discomfort the comfortable and comfort the discomforted.  Not with pious promises of the life to come but the reality of God’s transformative love, that with goodwill and hard work justice can prevail and society can be transformed.

We are encouraged in this not just by the saints who have gone before but by those who work now to equip us for change and transformation.  Especially in the work of Church Action on Poverty and the Joint Public issues Team (affectionately know as JPIT). 

As Christ’s disciples we are called to be a visible presence in the world.  At the Manley Park community carol service, I spoke briefly about the prophets who spoke truth to power as being part of the awkward squad and suggested that as Church we share that calling. 

This last Advent and Christmas the Methodist Church ran a campaign that there is room for all (counter top the message that there was no room in the inn).  A message of hope and inclusion that rather like the pet dog is not just for Christmas.  The task of speaking and acting for justice, of practicing radical hospitality is one that goes on all year round.

At Manley Park, and in other places in our Circuit, we sing with gusto “All are welcome” but so many in our society feel unwelcomed and unloved – even at times by the church.  Our work is to show them that all are welcomed in the Kingdom of God, and at the same time to ensure that this is also true of our society.

We will all have our own pet causes, things we feel passionate about, particular justice issues, whether its climate change,  or racism, or LGBT+ issues or disability rights  etc– and that’s fine as no one individual can do everything.  Fine as long as we remember that other causes are is important as our san all are part of the work for justice, our shared work as disciples called to follow Christ.

The disciples were called to be fishers of people, which we have interpreted to be part of the work of evangelism, the calling and making of more disciples. I believe that that is an easier task when the church is seen as engaged and engaging with the life of the community.  The feed back after our carol service, from members of the community not normally in church, –   when I spoke of being part of the awkward squad, practicing radical hospitality and declaring there was room for all  – was positive.  Perhaps I had sowed the seed of who the church and faith could be relevant to their lives.  Amen.

Hymn StF 673:  Will you come and follow me

    1      Will you come and follow me
        if I but call your name?
        Will you go where you don’t know
        and never be the same?
        Will you let my love be shown,
        will you let my name be known,
        will you let my life be grown
        in you and you in me?

   2      Will you leave yourself behind
        if I but call your name?
        Will you care for cruel and kind
        and never be the same?
        Will you risk the hostile stare
        should your life attract or scare?
        Will you let me answer prayer
        in you and you in me?

   3      Will you let the blinded see
        if I but call your name?
        Will you set the prisoners free
        and never be the same?
        Will you kiss the leper clean,
        and do such as this unseen,
        and admit to what I mean
        in you and you in me?

   4      Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
        if I but call your name?
        Will you quell the fear inside
        and never be the same?
        Will you use the faith you’ve found
        to reshape the world around,
     through my sight and touch and sound
        in you and you in me?

   5      Lord, your summons echoes true
        when you but call my name.
        Let me turn and follow you
        and never be the same.
        In your company I’ll go
        where your love and footsteps show.
        Thus I’ll move and live and grow
        in you and you in me.

John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958)

Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 673 Words: © 1987, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH  Scotland.  <www.wgrg.co.uk>

Continuing work

Foot note

Being disciples, walking in God’s ways, can be hard work and the psalmist recognise that.  Psalm 27 reminds us that we find strength and encouragement in God and God hears us when we speak, even if we feel like screaming at times. The Lord hears our cry!

Reading Psalm 27: 1 -9

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
   whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
   of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
   to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
   they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
   yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
   that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
   and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
   in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
   he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
   above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
   sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
   be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
   Your face, Lord, do I seek.
   Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
   you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
   O God of my salvation!

Prayers of intercession

We have been asked to pray for….

(use your own church prayer list etc)


For rulers, governments and all in authority

That they may act justly and seek peace

For the oppressed and marginalised

That they may find their rightful place at the centre

For all who suffer

That they may know God’s healing presence

For the Church, that it may be led by the Spirit

And work for Kingdom of God

For ourselves that we may follow Jesus wiling

and proclaim the kingdom of God in words and deeds.

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer of thanks

Loving God, we give you thanks for your constant love for us. For that love made known to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For that love which we share with each other and with the world through the gift of your Spirit.

Loving God we give thanks for the gifts that each one offers in response to your love; the gifts of time; of money; and abilities.

Loving God we give you thanks that your love transforms lives and brings light and hope to even the darkest places.

The love that enables us to pray:

 your Kingdom come. Amen

Hymn StF 546: Behold the servant of the Lord

   1      Behold the servant of the Lord!
        I wait thy guiding eye to feel,
        to hear and keep thy every word,
        to prove and do thy perfect will,
        joyful from my own works to cease,
        glad to fulfil all righteousness.

   2      Me if thy grace vouchsafe to use,
        meanest of all thy creatures, me,
        the deed, the time, the manner choose;
        let all my fruit be found of thee;
        let all my works in thee be wrought,
        by thee to full perfection brought.

   3      My every weak though good design
        o’errule or change, as seems thee meet;
        Jesus, let all my work be thine!
        Thy work, O Lord, is all complete,
        and pleasing in thy Father’s sight;
        thou only hast done all things right.

   4      Here then to thee thine own I leave;
        mould as thou wilt thy passive clay;
        but let me all thy stamp receive,
        but let me all thy words obey,
        serve with a single heart and eye,
        and to thy glory live and die.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 546 .


The Sending: A Franciscan Benediction

Attributed to the earliest followers of St Francis

May God bless you with discomfort

at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger

at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,

so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears

to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them

and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you can make a difference in the world,

so that you can do what others claim cannot be done

to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.


Closing music: Song 34 by Orlando Gibbons:


Bible readings from NRSV