Sunday 24th

SERMON 1

 

9.45am   Holy Communion     Epiphany 3          Preacher:  Fran Powis                 

 

Nehemiah 8; 1—3, 5—6, 8—10                    
Luke 4; 14—21

 

Opening Prayer.

 

 

Settle down comfortably because I am going to tell you a story.

Twice in the Bible the people of God went into exile. The first time was by their own volition, Jacob took his family to Egypt during the great famine, to be reunited with his lost son Joseph who had become successful and great in the eyes of the Pharaoh.

Through the passing generations the Israelites became subservient and slaves to the Egyptians who feared their growing numbers. God rescued his people and so the great exodus to the promised land began.

We move forward in history to the time of Jeremiah, when the people had forgotten what they owed to their God and stopped worshipping him and obeying his laws.

God allowed the Babylonians to attack and conquer the Israelite people. Many were taken back to Babylon as slaves. Some were left behind and Jeremiah was instructed by God to stay in Jerusalem and minister to the people.

However Jeremiah was taken by his own people, and against his will, into exile, again, into Egypt.

Meanwhile the Israelites were told by God, through his prophets, to settle in Babylon, to marry and raise families; they were told they were there for the long haul.

Time passed and the Kings of Babylon changed. The Israelites, because of their obedience to God and their good way of living became valuable citizens and were promoted to influential positions of authority.

Some Israelites were allowed to return home and received financial help and supplies as well as permission to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.

That is background information, now we move into today’s reading from Nehemiah.

Ezra was the prophet at this time and returned to Jerusalem in 458 BC leading the second wave of Israelites to return home. The first exiles had returned home in 538 BC and the temple rebuilding was completed in 516 BC.

Nehemiah is the last of 5 historical books and features quite early in the biblical text, page 492, however in the Bible’s time-line it was written approx. 445—432 BC, just before the book of Malachi (430 BC), the last book in the Old Testament. The last prophet before God became silent for 400 years. The closing words from God before the setting of the New Testament when God sent his Son to save all people.

Nehemiah heard of the unfinished project in Jerusalem, the temple had been rebuilt but the walls and gate of the city remained incomplete, leaving the city vulnerable to attack and the people defenceless. With the permission of King Artaxerxes in 445 BC. Nehemiah left a comfortable and wealthy life in Persia to return to his homeland.

Armed with royal letters Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem and organised a workforce, appointing groups of workers to different portions of the wall.

There was opposition, there were insults, ridicule, threats and sabotage; some workers became weary, some became frightened. Nehemiah’s plan and strategy to overcome these problems began with prayer. Nehemiah stood firm in the face of all opposition and the rebuilding of the wall was completed in fifty-two days.

Can you imagine such a project being completed in fifty-two days? They had no modern equipment, no heavy machinery to move the big stones, no cranes to lift them into place. They had men of determination and a boss with organisational skills and they had God.

What a tremendous monument to God’s love and faithfulness, both enemies and friends knew that God had helped.

What could we achieve if we had people like that to repair our motorways, to kick-start our house building industry, to reorganise our central government and local government, to keep open our libraries and to help our NHS.

Nehemiah continued to organise the people, registering them and appointing gatekeepers, meanwhile Ezra led the city in worship and Bible instruction.

To repair our problems today we need to begin with prayer, asking God to appoint people able to organise, people able to motivate and people to pray.

What do you think of gripers, complainers and armchair critics? The people who expect the invisible ‘they’ to do things, crying, ‘Someone ought to do something’ They expect others to pick up rubbish, tidy up after events, write to MPs, write letters of complaint to the BBC, put the kettle on, listen to those who are hurting?

We can all do these things.

God enabled the wall to be rebuilt, this gave the people security, however the work was not complete until the people had rebuilt their spiritual lives.

After the wall was built, Ezra read the law to the people, bringing about national repentance. Nehemiah and Ezra were different people, yet God used them both to lead the nation.

There is a place for all of us in God’s work even if we are different from most other people. God uses each person in a unique way to accomplish his purposes.

Does God have a vision for us? Are there walls that need to be built today? As we recognise deep needs in our world today, God can give us the vision and the desire to ‘build’. With that vision, we can mobilise others to pray and put together an action plan.

Prayer and action go hand in hand. Through prayer, God guides our preparation, teamwork and diligent efforts to carry out his will. Prayer is still God’s mighty force in solving problems today.

The Book of the Law of Moses was probably the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The people listened attentively to Ezra as he read God’s word, and their lives were changed. Because we hear the Bible so often, we can become dulled to it’s word and immune to it’s teaching. Instead we should listen to every verse carefully and ask, “How does this apply to my life?”

Ezra, not Nehemiah, was the official religious leader. It is significant that Nehemiah was a layman, not a member of the religious establishment or a prophet. Not everything has to be left to our religious leaders, we don’t want to wear them out doing jobs that others can do.

Nehemiah was motivated by his relationship with God, and he devoted his life to doing God’s will in a secular world. Such people are crucial to God’s work in all aspects of life. No matter what our role in life, let us view it as God’s special calling to serve him.

“For the joy of the Lord, is your strength”.

 Amen.

 

 

SERMON 2

 

6.30pm   Evening Prayer    Epiphany 3        Preacher:    Carol Shelley

 

The Early church and us:

Jeremiah 1 v 4- 10;

Galatians 1 v11- 16a

 

The period of Epiphany is so much more than celebrating the visit of the Magi: it offers each one of us an opportunity to consider or reconsider our life in faith.

Why, because Epiphany should be a time of revelation.

‘Revelation, a revealing; a time when something is revealed to us.’

Many of us have had faith for a long time, for some it has been a lifetime’s commitment.

However, if we do not make enquiries of our faith, if our faith is not developing and moving forward it will become stagnant.

Our faith should be exciting and inspiring, it should move us forward to do God’s work.

To comprehend this more fully I want to begin by looking back to the growth of the early church.

For here we find people so committed, so excited that they were prepared to change their entire way of living.

The apostles from the time they left their homes to follow Jesus had never returned to the familiar.

The members of the early church were forced into a secret life, living within their communities but actually sharing much of their everyday lives with other believers. They did not only meet for worship, they would share meals, experiences, teaching and discuss how they could influence others.

The growth of the early church was rapid, inspirationally so, but it was within the world known to them at the time.

We see the centre of the Christian faith being in Europe, most likely in Canterbury or Rome but just as Christianity is a world church today a concept we need to become more aware of, the early church was a church of the known world then, what we would identify as the Middle East.

The early church grew rapidly away from what is now Israel into today’s Syria, It reached Ephesus which is in present day Turkey, then to Cyprus, and eventually it was taken into Greece to cities such as Phillipi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Athens.

Ancient Greece had been the centre of civilisation, and it still remained the philosophical and educational centre of their world. Outside Italy, Greek was still the major international language.

Of course the church gradually spread much further.

It was eventually accepted by the Romans and so spread throughout their Empire, but the early days were to always remain extremely influential.

Why?

The answer lies mainly in the influence of one man, Saul of Tarsus, known to us as Saint Paul.

Although Paul never experienced life with Jesus as the apostles had, his influence was to become enormous until now many see him as the creator of the modern church.

Again the question why arises?

Paul was a highly educated man and he spoke and wrote in Greek.

Using the experiences and knowledge of the apostles and other early disciples it was Paul who was able to teach, and write about Jesus in a manner that more people could understand and comprehend.

Paul was deliberately chosen by God, just as Jeremiah had been centuries before.

Paul was chosen because God knew who he was and what he would be able to do.

Using the words from Jeremiah:-

“I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.”

Here is a direct message for us today, just as it was for Jeremiah and Paul.

God knows us, he created us.

God determines a path for us, and through the Holy Spirit we will always be given the strength and skills to fulfil the role God has created for us.

We must never ignore a task set before us; God knows that we will have what is needed in strength and skills because he will provide.

So too for Paul: he became not only a teacher but a translator.

Each language has its own structures and nuances; if you have learned a language or tried to speak abroad then it soon becomes apparent that literal translation does not always work.

This was the problem of the early church.

Aramaic, Hebrew, local dialects were all being used; Paul brought the unifying force of Greek.

He was also able to create ideas and phrases which translated Christ’s actions and teachings into a language and philosophy which all could understand.

“The church, the body of Christ”, “Christ emptied himself”, “Redemption”.

It was Paul who was able to bring about the understanding of knowing Jesus, the revelation of “mystery”, righteousness, and justification.

To us today these are terms we hear and usually understand all the time, we have grown into these concepts but in the days of the early church they were revolutionary.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, it is only right that we recognise how much our faith today is dependent on Paul’s understanding and work.

Returning to the early thoughts on Epiphany and it being a period of revelation, we need to contemplate where our faith is and in what way we can both stimulate ourselves and fulfil our obligation to God’s work.

Despite their many challenges the Early Christian Church thrived.

Their challenges were not actually too far removed from those we face today.

They were a minority in a very material, selfish world; where they were shunned and sometimes faced hostility.

Yet, they were excited by what they knew, they were driven to share what they knew.

If we do not feel the same maybe it is because our faith has become too familiar, stagnant.

This is the challenge of Epiphany.

We need to return to our roots, determine what it is that we believe in: once more feel excited and inspired to take up God’s work for God’s people.

Amen