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Virtual worship - 29 August 2021

 


Service Sheet (pdf)

Hello and welcome to this recorded service, presented by Bradford North Methodist Circuit. I am Martin Bashforth and I am a local preacher in the circuit.

For several weeks, we have been looking at the parables told by Jesus, to discover truths about God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we are to consider two (related) parables which teach us about prayer. We know how important prayer was to Jesus himself. We are told by Luke (6:12) that before he chose his 12 disciples “Jesus went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God.”

As we pray, we come into the very presence of God who is, at the same time, sovereign Lord of the whole universe and also our heavenly Father. 

Song

Let’s keep this in mind, as we share our first hymn STF 530 To be in your presence 

Prayer

And so, let us come to God in prayer. Let us all pray:

Gracious God, creator of the universe and father of every living thing, thank you for making us in your own image. Thank you for inviting us to partner with you in the development of your creation. Fill us with wonder at the beauty of the world; fill us with gratitude and fill us with a desire to play our part in seeing your kingdom come on earth. May we be faithful stewards of all that you have given to us, especially in caring for this planet on which we live.

Grant us the help of your Holy Spirit, as we seek to worship you in spirit and in truth. Take away any sense of our own worthiness to come before you, for none of us is worthy. We enter into your presence only by your grace and at your invitation. Father, we thank you for your wonderful grace.

Give us, Lord, an awareness of your presence with us in this hour, whether we are in a church as part of a congregation, or at home, on our own or with our family. May we feel your love and your support, and know that we can bring to you, with confidence, our praise, our needs, and our desire to know more about your will and your ways.

Bless our time together and through this service, may your name be glorified. We ask it in the name of Jesus, our living Lord and Saviour. Amen

Song

We listen now to a beautiful hymn, which reminds us that God hears our prayers, whether spoken or unexpressed. This video is a beautiful setting of a hymn written almost 200 years ago, but so true for today.

STF 529 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

Reading

We now hear our first of today’s parables, which is found in Luke 18:1 – 8.

Reflection

Does God always answer our prayers? I believe he does. However I qualify this, by saying two things: God’s answer to our prayers may not always be the answer we are hoping for. And also there will be times when God makes us wait for his answer, until the time is right.

Those of us who are parents will know that what our children ask for, is not always going to be good for them and so, as good parents, we sometimes say No to their pleas. This is because we love them and want the best for them. In the same way, because God loves us, immeasurably more than we love even our children, there will often be times when he will say No to our prayer requests, for the best reasons.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged his hearers to ask, seek and knock on the door of God, who is loving and generous. “Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone, when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” God always wants the best for his children.

When using a parable to tell us what God is like, or what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus usually starts by introducing a loving father, or a good shepherd, or a generous landowner. The events in the story are meant to demonstrate the nature of God and also how things work in the kingdom of heaven. God’s authority is exemplified by his grace, his love and his generosity. This is what Jesus wants us to know about God.

This parable is quite different. The authority figure is far from gracious. The different versions of the Bible tell us variously, that ‘the judge neither feared God, nor respected people’; he ‘never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people’. And he was ‘a godless man who had great contempt for everyone’. Not a man, then, who loved his neighbour!

But, he was a judge, and the woman needed him to make a judgement in her favour, to remove a great problem from her life. So she pleaded with him. And she pleaded with him. And, like a dog with a bone, she would not stop pleading with him. They say, don’t they, that constant dripping wears away a stone, and that certainly seems to be borne out by this story. The judge owns up that he doesn’t have any sympathy for the woman. Why would he, when he doesn’t care for any person? But the sheer repetition of her constant pleading, her persistence in seeking justice, after a time, wears him down and in the end, he resolves to get her justice, if only to get her off his back and secure himself some peace and quiet.

Jesus then says: Contrast the behaviour of the judge, with the God of grace. Our father is always ready to hear our prayers. And Jesus says, he will never turn a deaf ear to us. He will answer our prayers - in the light of his knowledge of the wider picture. He knows, and he wills, what is best for us. And sometimes, he chooses to withhold his answer until the time is right.

The parable is teaching Jesus’ followers never to be discouraged in prayer. Only God sees time in the round and therefore only God knows what is good for us in the long run.

If he seems slow to answer, we might just hasten his response by praying persistently. That is the other point to this story.

St Augustine was a mediaeval Christian who greatly influenced, not only the Christians of his day, but countless followers of Jesus over many centuries. He fully deserved to be made a saint. But it may surprise you to know that Augustine was anything but saintly during his youth and early adulthood. He was very much ‘one of the lads’ of his day: drinking, getting into trouble and causing much anxiety to his mother (who we now know as St Monica). His behaviour spelled doom for his later years, and his mother was in despair. However, she did not give in to despair. She prayed for Augustine. Not once. Not several times. But every day for 17 years! Yes - 17 years! It seems the corrupt judge got away lightly with the persistent widow! And after those years of persistent prayer, God answered Monica’s pleading with Augustine’s conversion to Christianity and his wonderful missionary work - for which, it now seems, he had been born.

So, in telling this parable, Jesus is not using the corrupt judge as a model of what God is like. He is drawing the contrast between the judge who has no compassion, and yet answers the widow’s pleas to shut her up, and God who is gracious and always ready to hear the prayers of the faithful.

Our lesson, from this parable, is “Pray without ceasing pray!” God delights in our prayers and never tires of hearing us.

Song

Hymn STF 531 What a friend we have in Jesus 


Reading

Our second parable is found in Luke 18: 9 – 14.

Reflection

William Barclay tells us that, in Jesus’ day, devout people prayed three times a day: at 9 am, at noon and at 3.00pm. Additionally, prayer was felt to be more effective, if offered in the Temple, and, at these times of day, many people went to the Temple to pray. And so it is, the two people in the parable turned up at the same time to offer their prayers. But what a contrast between the two men.

The Pharisee went to the Temple, not to exalt God in prayer, but to promote himself. He was blowing his own trumpet - to impress God, but also to impress those people around him. And it certainly made him feel good, rehearsing how devout he was, how he fasted and gave a tenth of his possessions away. What a shocker he is! How arrogant, to thank God that he is not like the people around him. He judges them to be robbers, evildoers and adulterers. How did he know? I will never forget those occasions when my mother, bless her, quoted scripture to me as part of bringing me up well. She would often say: “Judge not, lest you be judged”. Someone else told me that whenever you point a finger at someone, you are pointing three at yourself. Clearly, the Pharisee had never heeded such sound advice.

In complete contrast, the tax collector knows his fallibility and has come to the temple to put himself right in the eyes of God. So ashamed was he, that he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said: “God have mercy on me a sinner.” His prayer was not meant for anyone’s ears but God’s.

Jesus is teaching us that worship must never be a show of sanctity. One man’s worship is never more acceptable to God than another’s. All men and women come before God as equals. God has no favourites.

Of course, this isn’t a lesson that we need to be taught. There is nothing wrong with our worship, is there? We would never look sideways at other worshippers and turn our nose up at them. In our eyes, all people are equal and the worship of everyone is equally worthy. If that is how you feel, then please take a look at this video…..


[For the benefit of those who cannot watch the video, this is the story it tells:

Disguised as a homeless person, a pastor mingled with his new congregation outside the church. The church members were eagerly awaiting their new head pastor, who was going to introduce himself that morning, but they did not expect him to turn up in that kind of a disguise.

During the 30 minutes he walked around among them, whilst the church was filling up with people, only one person said “Hello” to him. He asked people for change to buy some food, but not one person offered him any. He went into the sanctuary to sit down, but was asked by an usher to move to the back. He greeted people, to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

Sitting at the back of church, he listened to the church announcements. Then, an elder excitedly announced the arrival of their new pastor. “We would like to introduce to you our new pastor.” The congregation looked around, clapping with joy and anticipation. To their surprise and confusion, the homeless man at the back of the church stood up and began to walk towards the altar. The clapping slowly stopped. All eyes were on the ‘homeless’ pastor.

When he reached the altar, he took the microphone and paused for a moment. He looked at the congregation and told them what he had experienced that morning. He then said: “I hope you will all go home and reflect on what happened here this morning and examine your hearts. See you all next Sunday.”

Many heads were bowed in shame. Many began to weep. Many looked at one another in realisation of their unkindness.

“It doesn’t matter how many Sundays you sit in church. Or if you think you are saved. God sees what you do and how you treat people. That’s what matters.”]

I will leave you to judge whether you have fallen into the trap which caught out that congregation. But in case the video has set alarm bells ringing in your head, let us offer a prayer of confession:

Lord, you know the inmost feelings of our hearts. You know of those occasions when we have come to worship in the wrong spirit. When we have made judgements about other members of the congregation. Forgive us for those times. Sharpen our awareness of our own shortcomings and plant in us a desire to be more like Jesus in our relationships. Enable us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Prayers for others

Let us now bring to God our prayers for the needs of the world:

Father, we pray for peace in our world. Our televisions make us aware of all the trouble that exists around the world. Conflict between nations, and conflict within nations, as greed, ambition and hatred make victims of innocent people. We pray for all who are suffering: those who have lost their homes; those who have lost family members and refugees, who are escaping the violence and seeking refuge in safer places. Lord, encourage the Governments of the world to have sympathy and to show compassion for refugees.

We pray for the scientists and governments of the world who are trying to reverse climate change. We think of the people who have suffered from wildfires and unnaturally high temperatures in recent weeks. We pray for your guidance for the conference, due to open in Glasgow in October, that decisions may be taken which would begin to reverse the trend of climate change. Our planet and our lives depend on it.

We pray for all the governments of the world trying to arrest the spread of Covid19. Thank you for the skill of scientists and doctors and thank you for the discovery of vaccines which are helping to control the spread of the disease. Comfort all those who grieve the loss of a loved one, due to the pandemic.

As we approach the beginning of a new Methodist year, we pray for our ministers and those who hold office within our Church. We pray especially for ministers and their families, moving to new stations within the Connexion. May they be welcomed with love and soon settle into their new surroundings. We thank you for the ministers in our own Bradford North circuit. Use them and us, to bring glory to your name.

And, Lord, we add to our prayers those concerns of our own hearts, for friends and family members who are suffering in any way. We thank you, that you are always ready to hear our requests, and are faithful to answer them. Give us the faith to accept your answers, and show us ways in which we may ourselves provide some answers to those prayers.

We ask all our prayers, in and through the name of Jesus, our Saviour and our Lord.

And we close our prayers by saying together the prayer which Jesus taught us: Our Father……..

Song

Our closing hymn - a prayer for the whole world – reminds us that we each have a part to play in bringing about a better world, by the way we live our lives, putting love into action, every day.

Hymn STF 696 For the healing of the nations 


Blessing: 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,

so that you may overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



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