Thursday, 20 August 2015

Service of the Word–16 August 2015 at Wingrave Methodist Church



Hymn 1

Immortal invisible God only wise STF 55


We have come together in the name of Christ
to offer our praise and thanksgiving
to hear and receive God’s holy word
to pray for the needs of the world
and to seek the forgiveness of our sins,
that by the power of the Holy Spirit
we may give ourselves to the service of God.

Confession and absolution

Jesus says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand” So let us turn away from our sin and turn to Christ, confessing our wrongdoing in penitence and faith.

God the Father forgives us in Christ and heals us by the Holy Spirit. Let us therefore put away all anger and bitterness, all slander and malice. Silence

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin. Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the Father of all mercies cleanse you from your sins, and restore you in his image to the praise and glory of his name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Blessed are you, Lord our God,
creator and redeemer of all:
to you be glory and praise for ever.
From the waters of chaos you drew forth the world
and in your great love, fashioned us in your own image.
Now through the deep waters of death,
you have brought your people to new birth
by raising your son to life in triumph.
May Christ your light ever dawn in our hearts
as we offer you our sacrifice of thanks and praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Hymn 2

Be thou my vision STF 545

Reading Proverbs 9.1—6

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has set up its seven pillars.
2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servants, and she calls
    from the highest point of the city,
4     “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
5     “Come, eat my food
    and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways and you will live;
    walk in the way of insight.”

7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
    whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
    rebuke the wise and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Reflection on Wisdom — I

My father used to despair — “When will you reach the age of discretion?” Nous, he called it.  

At least I didn’t do anything as stupid as Lawrence of Arabia when he conceived the title of a book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Title comes from Proverbs 9 — but prior to WWI Lawrence intended it to be the title of a scholarly work about the 7 great cities of the Middle East. Then he was involved in the war as Lawrence of Arabia as we know from David Lean’s film starring Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole.

Lawrence liked the title, so after the Great War ended he decided to write his memoirs using the same title. He wrote three drafts of the book, which was about the Arab uprising.

Stupidly, he lost the manuscript of the book when changing trains at Reading Station. This was particularly sad, as by then he had destroyed all his wartime notes, but in 3 months he rewrote the 400,000 words from memory. It was never properly published during his lifetime, but he paid for a limited print run with another name which brought him close to bankruptcy. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1935.

Not very wise, you might think — especially according to the type of wisdom portrayed in the Bible .

Noús  – the God-given capacity of each person to think (reason). For the believer, (noús) is the way of receiving God's thoughts, through faith.

Nous is masculine, and women get a poor deal throughout most of Scripture, both in the OT and NT — so you will be pleased to hear the Heb word hokmah (Wisdom) is clearly feminine. Which is odd, because Wisdom was God’s first creation; indeed she was involved in the process of creation, and described as an aspect of God’s nature, or even a separate being in her own right. Before the ladies present get too excited, the word for foolish is also feminine.

The two of them — the wise woman and the foolish one — invite all and sundry to a feast at their respective houses.

The Wise woman built her own house, prepared her own meal, and invited everyone to participate. She built her house on 7 pillars. It was expensive and well constructed. Her feast was rich, substantial and life-giving.

The foolish woman used the exact same words of invitation as she sat at her door. But she was unprepared, her meals were stolen, and her guests were killed by her food.

As we will see in a minute, Wisdom is not confined to the OT. If I mention wise and foolish women, you will immediately think of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, some of who had enough oils for their lamps, but others ran out. Or the wise man who built his house on rock, and the foolish who built his on the sand.

But today’s NT reading comes from Ephesians. It teaches us to be careful how we live, not foolishly but wisely...

Reading Ephesians 5.15—20

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection on Wisdom — II

There are two main ways the Wisdom of Proverbs is also found in NT.

One is that Jesus uses Wisdom tradition in his teaching. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

Then again, in James the writer says: 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5). James picks up on the Proverbs idea that God is the source of wisdom and on the idea from our passage that wisdom is available to all. Shortly after our passage, we find the important saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9.10).

The second way we find Wisdom in the NT is in our understanding of Christ. Think of the opening of John’s gospel. Jesus was present before time, in creation. Like Wisdom who prepares a banquet, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for the faithful in the Kingdom of Heaven.

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

The Communion service, in which we participate through the bread and the wine, is a precursor of the Kingdom. Jesus himself in his own body is the bread, as we read in today’s gospel from John chapter 6....

Hymn 3

Great is thy faithfulness STF 51

Gospel John 6.51—58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”


Hearing this gospel reading, we immediately expect any preacher will talk about Holy Communion. You’ve probably heard several sermons over the years, explaining this and that doctrine about the Eucharist.

The crowd were themselves confused and wanting an explanation. Who is this man who talks about being the living bread, and giving his own flesh to them to eat? Jesus makes the situation worse, by telling the crowd not only that they need to eat his flesh, but drink his blood too.

I am struck by the fact Jesus does not sit the crowd down again and give them a long discourse on what he means, and the implications for each of them. That would be like me offering you a four-week series on the meaning of the Bread of Life. Instead, Jesus feeds them all. He waits until they have had their fill of the loaves and fishes before making any attempt to clarify what is going on.

That’s not to say Jesus’ message was unimportant. In fact it was crucial. Later on, he says “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

I think you’ll agree, the salvation of their very souls, and ours, depended on their acceptance of what was being illustrated to them, and what they should do in the future. But that could wait, at least until their physical hunger had been addressed: then there would be time for their spiritual needs.

I suppose it’s the same with us. We just need to trust, to participate in worship, without necessarily understanding the deep theological significance of each service, but in child-like trust in God to have faith that he will give us what we need.

What is going on I suppose is that Jesus promises instead of just instructs or explains. Jesus promises that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life now and will be raised up on the last day.

Jesus promises to provide food for the life of the world, his flesh and his blood. He promises to nourish the world with the gift of himself. For the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus, his incarnate life and very real death on the cross, is life-giving food for us and for the world.

All through John chapter 6, Jesus has been helping us get to grips with God’s Wisdom — that same Wisdom we were thinking about in Proverbs and the letter to the church in Ephesus. What I mean is this. Our salvation does not depend on what we know or understand. Eternal life does not hang in our learning, or even how much of the gospel we put into practice. We are not judged by how much we give to charity, how many clothes for the homeless we sort at the Whitechapel Mission, or a correct understanding of what we believe in.

No — eternal life is being in close communion with Jesus Christ. Eternal life is to remain in Jesus and he in us. Like the branches of the Vine. It’s that intimacy of close connection one with the other — more than connection, since the branch is part of the Vine and ceases to be a branch if that connection is severed.

Whatever else follows — follows. By the same token, a lot of what we sometimes think of as important clearly isn’t. Are we doing it right? Is our belief orthodox? Does it matter whether we have bishops or not, or even what gender they are? And so on...

So we return to where we started. The Wisdom of Christ — as the Nike advertisements say Just do it. Nothing else matters. Amen


Rejoice in the Lord: sing and make melody in your hearts to God. And the peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.

Hymn 4

Let all the world in every corner sing STF 57


Heavenly Father, we come to you in the name of Jesus. Your Word declares that we can come to you, the source of all wisdom. We do that now Father, and ask that you would not only give us the wisdom of humanity, but the wisdom of God. We pray that you would impart in us your wisdom, that we may be able to rightly divine the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

We pray that you will instruct us and teach us in the way we should go (Psalm 32:8). Direct our steps, let our ears be inclined to hear your voice, and give us your Holy Spirit to correct us when we have gone astray.

Lord God, help us to be quick to hear and listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (James 1:19) Let the words of our mouths speak your truth with wisdom, but in simplicity so that all may understand and benefit by them. Amen.

Hymn 5

Guide me O thou great Jehovah STF 465


The joy of the creating Father be your strength
The love of the ascended Saviour uplift your spirits
The power of the Holy Spirit sustain you
And the blessing...