Worship for Sunday 23rd January 2022

Opening music – from all that dwell below the skies

Call to worship

Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

HYMN StF5  Father, in whom

   1      Father, in whom we live,
        in whom we are, and move,
        glory and power and praise receive
        of thy creating love.
        Let all the angel throng
        give thanks to God on high;
        while earth repeats the joyful song,
        and echoes to the sky.

   2      Incarnate Deity,
        let all the ransomed race
        render in thanks their lives to thee,
        for thy redeeming grace.
        The grace to sinners showed
        ye heavenly choirs proclaim,
        and cry: ‘Salvation to our God,
        salvation to the Lamb!’

   3      Spirit of holiness,
        let all thy saints adore
        thy sacred energy, and bless
        thy heart-renewing power.
        Not angel tongues can tell
        thy love’s ecstatic height,
        the glorious joy unspeakable,
        the beatific sight.

   4      Eternal, triune Lord!
        Let all the hosts above,
        let all the sons of men, record
        and dwell upon thy love.
        When heaven and earth are fled
        before thy glorious face,
        sing all the saints thy love has made
        thine everlasting praise.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 5 .


Prayer of adoration and confession Psalm 19 (adapted)


The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament 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 goes out through all the earth,
   and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens 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 hidden 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 for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
   and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.


Moreover by them is your servant warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?

In the stillness and the silence we recall our sins and seek God’s forgiveness

   Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
   do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
   and innocent of great transgression.

 Hear then Christ’s gracious words “your sins have been forgiven”

Amen. Thanks be to God


Loving God through your Son you have called us to repent of our sins, 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

 Reading – Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’

Reflection 1

“So, they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

There is a long history in Judaism of the Rabbis and others wrestling with the meaning of the law and how to apply it to everyday life.  Our view may be somewhat coloured by the stories in the Gospel of Jesus’ run ins with the Pharisees, with such remarks as “you’ve strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel” poking fun at their ability to get so lost in the detail that they miss the real point.

But on other occasions Jesus treats with great respect the questions asked of him.  In response to “Who is my neighbour?” we get one of the best loved stories in the Bible, the Good Samaritan. So convincing that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it didn’t really happen, its made up.  I heard the story of the woman who hid Jews from the Nazis and entered the Gestapo – thus keeping up appearances that she was law abiding!  Asked why she took such risks, she replied because that’s what the Good Samaritan would have done – a fictional character inspiring bravery and compassion.

I am continually amazed by those people who believe that the Bible needs no interpretation, that the meaning of passages is crystal clear and can be applied to daily life straight from the page.  Often those who hold such views are suspicious of scholars and academics that seek to explore and unpack the texts, working on translations that do justice to the original and take account of differing ancient manuscripts.  I’ve even come across someone on the Methodist UK Facebook page who won’t have any truck with any translation since the King James Version – he seems to believe that any later translations are a con trick to change the meaning and understanding of the scriptures to some human being’s hidden agenda.  Not quite “if it was good enough for St Paul” then it’s good enough for me” – but pretty close.

It seems to me that if we want to do the scriptures justice then we should use every tool at our disposal, including the latest and most accurate translations, acknowledging as we do so that there are ambiguities, uncertainties in the text and our own cultural prejudices and baggage to deal with as well.

There is a hymn by Charles Wesley, which is neither in MHB nor Singing the Faith but which made it into Hymns and Psalms (number480), Spirit of truth, essential God.  Verse 2 reads: 

Still we believe, almighty Lord

Whose presence fills both earth and heaven,

The meaning of the written word

Is by thy inspiration given;

Thou only dost thyself explain

The secret mind of God to man”

Reminding us of our need of the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit in understanding and applying the scriptures.  But I believe the Spirit works through  translators and scholars, and also as we bring those other building bricks of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to bear: Reason, Tradition and Experience in conversation with the Bible.

HYMN H&P 480     Spirit of truth, essential God

 1 Spirit of truth, essential God,
Who didst thy ancient saints inspire,
Shed in their hearts thy love abroad,
And touch their hallowed lips with fire;
Our God from all eternity,
World without end we worship thee!

2 Still we believe, almighty Lord,
Whose presence fills both earth and heaven,
The meaning of the written word
Is by thy inspiration given;
Thou only dost thyself explain
The secret mind of God to man.

3 Come, then, divine Interpreter,
The scriptures to our hearts apply;
And, taught by thee, we God revere,
Him in Three Persons magnify;
In each the Triune God adore,
Who was, and is for evermore.

Charles Wesley       

Gospel Luke 4: 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. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

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. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Reflection 2

Occasionally the NRSV (like other translations) includes chapter or section headers.  I know I’m not alone in disliking it when readers include them as though they are part of the text.  It can at times result in complete nonsense.  Today part of the Gospel was headed “The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth” but we ended the reading before we got that far.

We have a very familiar passage.  Our understanding is that it would be customary for a visiting Rabbi or teacher to be asked to read from the prophets and to speak to the people.  There is an indication here that Jesus is regarded as a Rabbi, a suitable person to be asked to read.  I think that given Jesus could read that there is clear evidence of an education over and above what your average 1st century carpenter’s son would have received.

Although Luke appears to misquote Isaiah 61, I think that for the purposes of the story we shouldn’t get too exercised by that, we get the flavour and the intention of what was being said.  The passage in Isaiah is usually understood as another Servant song – the servant of God who is called and anointed for the specific purpose of brining good news.

As with so many passages in the Bible, there is a readiness to spiritualise the meaning out of the plain words, that the good news is for the spiritually poor, those oppressed spiritually etc, who are in need of correction(healing) etc.  But that reading seems at odds with so much of Luke’s Gospel which seems to be concerned with those who are materially poor, physically oppressed, in need of healing and of health.

And certainly, for the 21st century Christian this seems closer to our understanding of the Gospel message and the idea of the Kingdom of God.  That we, like Jesus, are called to bring good news to the poor, the oppressed, those excluded from society.  Which calls for radical action and awkward questions.

What use is it telling a starving person that God love’s them if you don’t show that love by providing food, and by asking why they are hungry in the first place, what is wrong with our economic systems?

Where is the good news for the poor in our own society? We face spiralling fuel costs leading to fuel poverty.  It still matters where you were born and who your parents where, and which school you want to in determine how you will get on. Its still news to have headlines like “working class boy makes good”.

The government says that it is all about levelling up – but apart from a snappy tagline there still appears to be very little flesh on the bone.  Perhaps if we could get invited to one of these parties that don’t happen at 10 Downing Street we could ask the questions and find out more.

During Covid,  we have seen Marcus Rashford campaign for free meals for the poorest children, reminding us that those of us in the more privileged parts of society, even if it doesn’t always feel like we are privileged,  have a duty to our fellow human beings. 

And our concern for the poor doesn’t stop at the county’s borders.  If John Wesley could speak of the world as his parish, then we can certainly speak of our concern for the whole world.  Our neighbours are all over the place.  When we entered a period of austerity measures as a country we maintained our commitment to .7% of Gross National Income going to Foreign Aid, only cutting it subsequently.  The promise to raise it again in the future is cold comfort to those in need now.

In the last few days Tonga has been in the news because of the volcanic eruption that caused a tsunami. Rescue teams have been sent to some of the outlying islands, including one where all the houses were destroyed and another where just two homes remain.  We are reminded of the fragility of life and our interrelatedness.  I was first alerted to the disaster because of a Facebook post by a friend who served as a mission partner there.

And there are disasters waiting to happen if we do not tackle climate change with sense of urgency.  Our lives are affected not only by what happens in our backyards but around the globe.

We have been reminded of interconnectedness and interdependency throughout the COVID pandemic. A pandemic which will not be over until we have shared the vaccine with everyone not just our own citizens.  Being vaccinated ourselves, when there is no medical reasons why we should not be, is part of Christian discipleship. And so is calling for the vaccines to be made available to people throughout the world irrespective of their wealth or that of their governments.

There is only good news for the poor, when we not only speak out but match our actions to our words.

This passage from Luke is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ manifesto – which may be overstating things.  But as a mission statement we could as churches and as individuals do a lot worse.

HYMN StF 239   Sent by the Lord am I

    1      Sent by the Lord am I;
        my hands are ready now
        to make the earth the place
        in which the kingdom comes.
        Sent by the Lord am I;
        my hands are ready now
        to make the earth the place
        in which the kingdom comes.

   2      The angels cannot change
        a world of hurt and pain
        into a world of love,
        of justice and of peace.
        The task is mine to do,
        to set it really free.
        Oh, help me to obey;
        help me to do your will.

José Aguiar

Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 239
Words: © 1991 Jorge Maldonado.


Take time to think about and pray for the people and places on your mind and in the news…(and don’t forget yourself).


Let us pray

 for the poor and marginalised

that they may be set free

the those unlawfully imprisoned

that they may be set free

for the all who are oppressed

that they may be set free

for those who cannot comprehend your good news

that they may be set free

 for all in authority, for governments throughout the world

that they may enact good news for the poor and excluded.

 For your church and for us

That we may be anointed with your Spirit. Amen


Prayer of thanksgiving (adapted from Janet Morley – All Desires Known)

Loving God source of our being and goal of all our longing, we praise you and give thanks because you created humanity in your image.  Made us to cherish the world and to live in harmony with one another and with  you.  Yet we struggled and stayed from your ways, falling into sin.

So, in the fulness of time, you came as one of us, emptied of power, and taking upon yourself our unprotected flesh

As Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, you announced good news to the poor and dared to show us how to love.  You angered the rich and powerful, who sort to extinguish your life.

On cross you laboured for us, and by your death and resurrection us brought us to the hope of new life.

So, with those who followed you then and since, with the saints in every generation, with those in heaven and on earth we give you praise and thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen

Lord’s prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen

Prayer of dedication

Loving God through your goodness , we have our gifts of money and tine to offer. May we build your kingdom in their sharing.

Loving God through your goodness we have our lives to offer. \through our sharing may others know your love.  Amen

HYMN StF 701   Heaven shall not wait

   1      Heaven shall not wait
        for the poor to lose their patience,
        the scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:
        Jesus is Lord;
        he has championed the unwanted;
        in him injustice confronts its timely end.

   2      Heaven shall not wait
        for the rich to share their fortunes,
        the proud to fall, the élite to tend the least:
        Jesus is Lord;
        he has shown the master’s privilege —
        to kneel and wash servants’ feet before they feast.

   3      Heaven shall not wait
        for the dawn of great ideas,
        thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
        Jesus is Lord;
        he has married word and action;
        his cross and company make his purpose plain.

   4      Heaven shall not wait
        for triumphant Hallelujahs,
        when earth has passed and we reach another shore:
        Jesus is Lord
        in our present imperfection;
        his power and love are for now, and then for evermore.

John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 701
Words and Music: From Heaven Shall Not Wait © 1987, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH  Scotland.  www.wgrg.co.uk.

Blessing and dismissal

May the blessing of God, father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you now and always. Amen

Go in the strength of the Spirit to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Amen. Thanks be to God.


Closing music written by Nathanial Ford for “Father in whom” (composer playing the flute)