Holy Communion Sunday, 2 August 2020

[The complete Service is contained in one video file. The musical prelude and postlude are each in their own video file, at top and bottom of this post. The words of the service, hymns, readings and intercessions are all included in the video of the Service, but not the words of the Sermon by Professor Steve Smith; if you wish to read his text while listening, you will need to scroll down to it in the text of the Service, which is below the video recordings here.]

Prelude in C by J.S. Bach

 

The Service today is led by Revd Ernesto Lozada-Uzuriaga

Introit: Cast thy Burden upon the Lord

Cast thy burden upon the Lord
and he shall sustain thee.
He never will suffer the righteous to fall.
He is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy, Lord, is great
and far above the heavens.
Let none be made ashamed
that wait upon thee.

Julius Schubring (1806–1889)
CCL31580

Welcome

Good morning, Living Stones, and welcome to our Holy Communion Service on the eighth Sunday after Trinity.
A warm welcome, too, to our preacher: author and speaker Professor Steven Smith, who will talk about his new book Wrestling ’til Daybreak.

We begin with the Prayer of the Week.

Let us pray.

Prayer of the Week

Bountiful and compassionate God,
you place in the hands of your disciples the food of life.
Nourish us at your holy table,
that we may bear Christ to others and share with them
the gifts we have so richly received.

We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Amen

Hymn: I come with joy to meet my Lord

I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved and free,
in awe and wonder to recall
his life laid down for me.

I come with Christians far and near
to find, as all are fed,
the new community of love
in Christ’s communion bread.

As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share,
each proud division ends.
The love that made us, makes us one,
and strangers now are friends.

And thus with joy we meet our Lord,
his presence, always near,
i
s in such friendship better known,
we see and praise him here.

Together met, together bound,
we’ll go our different ways,
and as his people in the world
we’ll live and speak his praise.

Brian A. Wren (b. 1936)
CCL31580

Gathering Prayer

Jesus said: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

Welcome to the house of God.
We have come from all the corners of the earth.

Welcome to the hospitality of God.
We come as we are; we bring our life, our stories, our journey.

Welcome, brothers and sisters.
We are the rainbow people of God.

Welcome, chosen people.
May God our companion bind us in his love.

Amen

The Confession

Forgive us for the things we have done and have not done.
Forgive us for the things we have said and have not said.
Forgive us for the life we have lived and not lived.
Beloved God, help us to reflect the image
of the one we profess to follow
in thought, word and deed,
and in discovering our true self
draw others into that light.

Amen

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 32: 22–32

Read by Richard May-Miller

Jacob wrestles with God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’

But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’

27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Jacob,’ he answered.

28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’

But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

NIV®

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Matthew 14: 13–21

Read by Don Head

Jesus feeds the five thousand

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’

16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.

18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

NIV®

This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to Christ our light.

Sermon

By Professor Steve Smith

Hi, my name’s Steve Smith, and I’ve been asked by Ernesto just to give a ten- or fifteen-minute reflection on this book I’ve just finished. The book’s called Wrestling ’til Daybreak, and it has a subtitle, rather a long subtitle, called A Spiritual Guide for Disconnected Christians and Other Questioning Journeyers. So, I thought I’d just start by reading the first couple of paragraphs from the introduction, just to give you a flavour as to what we’re exploring, and then unpack a little bit some of the main themes of the book so you can get a sense of where I’m wanting to come from. And hopefully it’ll be food for thought, and when you are reflecting on your own relationship with God. So, if I just read out the first couple of paragraphs and we’ll take it from there. So,

There’s a very strange story in Genesis in chapter 32: 22–32, which tells of Jacob spending the whole night alone physically wrestling with a man who turns out to be a physical manifestation of God.

However, this night-long struggle leads to God mysteriously admitting that Jacob has overcome him, but then also to God incapacitating Jacob by dislocating his hip. Jacob’s incapacitation results in his blessing at daybreak and Jacob being renamed Israel, which means, according to some Bible translations, ‘He struggles with God’.

The main starting point then of the book, being the second of a trilogy, is that, like Jacob, we too should participate in struggling with God in all areas of our lives. Now, too often, wrestling with our creator is seen in Christian circles at least as indicating spiritual weakness and a lack of faith, when often the opposite is true. And this struggle, I believe, can show the committed engagement of us critically reflecting, and self-consciously questioning our relationship with God, albeit leading to a temporary disconnection from him.

Now, when participating in this struggle, we show ourselves as not being prepared to submit to quick solutions in inverted commas, to faith-based conflict, which merely imitate submission to God, rather, by struggling and wrestling with our creator through our questioning and our sense of disconnection from God. We, because of God’s love, can encounter him in new and liberating ways. Therefore, as our questioning journey with God continues, we discover against what we might expect that this struggle and disconnection ultimately brings us into closer contact with God, and how he wants us to rest more deeply in his everlasting love, peace, joy and stillness.

So, as I mentioned earlier, this is the second part of a trilogy, the first part was a book called Nine Steps to Well-Being, and with that first book I started off with the assumption that you need to hold my argument is and the kind of work this through my own personal reflections on various things that have happened to me in my life, but also my reflections on scripture. But basically, if we don’t recognise and hold fast to this basic tension between struggling and wrestling with God, I think we end up with one of two bad outcomes. So, if we are always struggling, we end up with an unceasing conflict which threatens, I think, the peace and stillness with God and what he’s promised us through his blessings and loving connection. But if we are forever trying to maintain stillness and rest with God, then we will end up having a superficial or complacent faith, I think, which denies or disguises in some sort of way the possibilities, the potential of a deepening relationship with God, which must in part come through this struggle with him as Jacob was struggling with God in his wrestling with him overnight. So, we also have this repeated again and again in our lives, too, I think. And it’s important for us to recognise this.

So, given this, the book is divided into nine chapters. And what I try to do is explore the larger tapestry of our lives, which are often characterised by this struggle, but then anticipating that out of this struggle, we get to a place which is reflecting a deeper connection with God. So there’s nine titles to the chapters and, as I say, I explore my own personal experiences and then try to connect that with my reflections on scripture and wider theological issues.

But the nine chapters are: ‘Frustration’, ‘Despair’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Solitariness’, ‘The search for meaning’, ‘The search for purpose’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Sin’ and ‘Death’.

So what I try to do is explore these different aspects, if you like, of our experience, which can often be characterised by struggle, and then start thinking about how through that struggle, through that disconnection from God, we might understand our relationship with God in a more deep and profound way. And my argument is – my experience is – that we experience God through this struggle, which then allows us to connect with what is often a mysterious and unfathomable character, very mysterious and unfathomable will and purpose as well in our lives, but that we must hold that as being mysterious and unfathomable so we can make sense of the limits of our understanding of the lives that we lead. So, I recommend that we should hold fast to this tension between wrestling and resting with God, but out of that, we should expect that we should engage in a liberating and transforming power of God that should take root in our lives.

OK, so just with that in mind, one of the other themes of the book, which is underpinning a lot of what I explore, is how we might understand God in this capacity – how we might understand God and his relationship with us in this capacity, bearing in mind Jacob’s story and his wrestling with God through the night, and that this wrestling happened, as it were, as part of how Jacob became more close and intimate with God. Because often we think of the possibility of us struggling with God, and many commentators, of course, have talked about how we must struggle with God in some form or another question and push. But one of the arguments really is that what God is doing with us in those times is not kind of putting up with our questioning or looking at our questions, as it were, from afar, and working with us, as it were, from a distance with these questions and with this capacity to struggle.

My experience is that God actually wants us to get into that place of struggle, that this is where intimacy with God is borne out. This is where it happens often is within this struggle. The mistake, I think, in our thinking is often that the struggle is, as it were, a reflection of our brokenness or a reflection of our inability to properly get close to God, that we have to struggle with him because we’re confronted with a world that’s very difficult to get to grips with, challenges, our experiences and so on. And this is all true for sure. But I think my other thought here, in the middle of all of this, is that even if that wasn’t true, God would still want us to struggle with him in this kind of way, because struggle of the wrestling kind that we see in relation to Jacob is central to building up an intimate relationship with God, where we push against God and he pushes against us, and that we in those moments become closer to him. You know, if we can imagine and picture what’s happening with Jacob wrestling with the physical manifestation of God during that night, we’re left with a very powerful image, a very strange image. But I think we’re also left with an image that was very intimate as well. That this reflects the closeness of Jacob’s relationship with God and that his renaming ,of God’s renaming of Jacob to Israel, is telling, if we’re to take some of the translations, like the New International Version, for example, as Israel, meaning ‘he struggles with God’, then we’re also seeing that the name that gets awarded, as it were, to God’s chosen people, is also very centrally concerned with this idea of struggling with God.

Now, what I want to just finish with really in these thoughts is how we might understand a God who’s able to engage in this kind of relationship with us. And I think the starting point, the Christian starting point, is that what we’re believing in, as Christians, is that we are following and trusting in Christ, who is God, in the form of a physical person. So we not only believe, if you like, in the infinite, we also believe that the infinite is become the finite in Christ. That this is the kind of orthodox template, the incarnation, which is at the heart of the Christian message. And, of course, it’s been in many ways changed. And many Christians would wonder about this and try to make it, I think, quite a much more manageable package to see Jesus is a reflection of God, but not a manifestation of God. But I think this actually – this move, is a mistake. And I think it’s a mistake because it misses what’s actually going on when God seeks to empathise with his creation, which includes our experience of struggle. Because, going back to my earlier point that struggle is not just a manifestation of our brokenness, it’s not just a manifestation of how we struggle with a world that’s damaged and struggle with ourselves that are damaged., what we also see is that Christ struggled with God. Christ struggled with his own identity in the context of how he lived his life here on Earth, which in the first instance sounds jarring because it seems to indicate that there’s something possibly wrong. But that’s already based on this mistaken premise that struggling with God is somehow flawed. It’s part of our flawed character, because if we are to see Christ as unflawed because he is God, then how do we get to this idea that he is struggling with himself and struggling with his own identity in the context of struggling with God the Father? But to me, in Scripture and in my life, I see this struggle being manifested in a range of different ways. And what I see in Christ is, permission, if you like, to struggle in this way, and what I want to focus on just to finish these reflections is what Christ cried out on the cross as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, in Matthew 27: 46.

He cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Why have you left me alone? Why have you abandoned me? That’s what’s behind that cry – it’s not a sanitised cry. It’s a desperate cry on the cross. And it’s a question as well. It’s a question which comes out of a place of struggle, bearing in mind that he, Christ, was struggling massively in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was feeling the pain and anticipating the pain of the crucifixion. But he was also feeling grieved as a result of anticipating the pain of the crucifixion. He was already, as it were being, had been abandoned by his disciples. And now we see this crying out. Why God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Which is on the cross. And that cry of despair, that cry of defiance in many ways, that cry of suffering, that cry of sadness, of abandonment is at the heart of human experience.  And that, paradoxically, is where God wants us to be, to be able to receive the fuller blessing of God.

The place of humility and submission to God’s will must in the first place come out of this cry on the cross as we cry out every day, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And, going back to this tension between the idea of resting with God versus struggling with God, then we’re also faced when Jesus cries out, why have you forsaken me? Why have you abandoned me? Why have you left me alone when he’s on the cross? We’re also reminded that that cry is also found in Psalm 22; in the first verse of Psalm 22. And Jesus obviously knew that when he was crying, that he was articulating his own pain, but he was also articulating the pain of generations of people that cry out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Why have you left me alone?

Now, that is the place of struggle, but it’s interesting to note, too, that Psalm 22 is right next to obviously Psalm 23. And Psalm 23 is that famous psalm, isn’t it? ‘The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me to quiet waters’, etc. What you see with Psalm 23 is this idea of resting with God, where God takes you to green places, which takes you to places where you can quench your thirst, where you can trust in being with God, where he takes you through the trouble, through the valley of the shadow of death, where he protects you, where he will danger as well with many blessings as we go towards the end of Psalm 23. And for me, it’s very poignant that Psalm 22, which begins with that cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Is put alongside Psalm 23, which is where we rest with God, where we trust God, where God is the place where we can sigh and let go and be a place where we can feel loved and secure.

And it’s not a mistake, I don’t think that these two psalms are together and it’s indicative of how we must hold this tension. That it’s not that we must side for Psalm 23 and not 22 or vice versa, we must hold both psalms in tension as we must hold both our struggling and our rest together. Assured that we have a God who has become one of us, that the empathy that that demonstrates is that we can trust in a God who knows what it is too, to struggle and knows what it is to ask the big questions, and we should not therefore be afraid to ask the big questions of God, any question in that struggle. But at the same time anticipate a wonderful creative liberation and peace that comes from that struggle. So, the big Christian claim then, is that God, in his love for us, understands us all the way down, so to speak, because he’s become one of us. And for Christians, a God who hasn’t done this is self-evidently lesser than a God who has.

And so, in the middle of our struggle, we can also be assured that God knows exactly what that feels like and that’s where the intimacy in large part is born. Which allows us then to enjoy the many, many blessings that God wants to give us.

Choral Response: He watching over Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps

He watching over Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish
He will quicken thee

Julius Schubring (1806–1889)
CCL31580

An Affirmation of Faith

We believe in the Creator:
the maker of all things.

We believe in the Son:
the redeemer of our broken world.

We believe in the Spirit:
The sacred wind that binds all things together in the family of God.

Creator Father, beloved Son and living Spirit.

Amen

Intercessions

By Penny Keens
(read by Pat Kyd)

Everlasting God, may the worship of your Church throughout the world be attentive and expectant, ready to be set on fire again and again with the outrageous foolishness of loving, without exceptions and without limits.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Creator God, may all that encourages the people of the world in goodness, honesty and compassion be blessed and grow; may all that encourages self-seeking and cruelty, prejudice and deceit wither and be exposed as the unsatisfying rubbish it is. May we learn from one another’s cultures and respect one another’s differences.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father God, we thank you for the joy of human love, and for all those among whom we live and work. We pray particularly for loved ones who worry us with their health, or circumstances, or life direction. We pray for those among our friends and families who do not know you, or whose faith has been shaken.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Merciful God, we pray for the many people who have contracted the coronavirus in China, in Spain and in other parts of the world. Bring comfort to those grieving loved ones who have died and peace to those worried, fearful and uncertain as the virus spreads. We also pray for governments and authorities who are developing strategies to contain and deal with the virus and those in the health services who may be risking their own lives to care for sick patients.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Loving God, gather into your eternal kingdom all who have come to the end of this earthly life and rejoice to see you as you really are. We remember all whom we love but can no longer see, and thank you for your overarching love and undergirding faithfulness to us.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen

Hymn: I am the bread of life

I am the bread of life.
You who come to me shall not hunger;
and who believe in me shall not thirst
No-one can come to me
unless the Father draw him.

And I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up on the last day.

The bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world
and he who eats of this bread
he shall live for ever
he shall live for ever

And I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up on the last day.

Unless you eat
of the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink of his blood
and drink of his blood
you shall not have life within you

And I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up on the last day.

I am the resurrection
I am the life
He who believes in me
even if he die
he shall live for ever

And I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up,
and I will raise you up on the last day.

Suzanne Toolan (b. 1927)
CCL31580

The Peace

Jesus says,

‘Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.’

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

The Offering

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9: 6–7

Thank you

To everyone who is continuing to pay us regularly through the Parish Giving Scheme.
To everyone who is continuing to pay us regularly by bankers’ order.
To people in the envelope scheme who are putting their money aside every week ready to bring in when we re-open.
To members of the envelope scheme who have already sent cheques and on-line donations.

Thank you

Holy Communion

The Thanksgiving

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed be God for ever.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.

Blessed be God for ever.

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.

Eucharistic Prayer

It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;
in your love you made us for yourself.
When we turned away
you did not reject us,
but came to meet us in your Son.

You embraced us as your children
and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

In Christ you shared our life
that we might live in him and he in us.

He opened his arms of love upon the cross
and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

On the night he was betrayed,
at supper with his friends
he took bread, and gave you thanks;
he broke it and gave it to them, saying:
Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
his body is the bread of life.

At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,
he gave you thanks, and said:
Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;
do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
his blood is shed for all.

As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,
send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine
may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son.

As we eat and drink these holy gifts
make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

With your whole Church throughout the world
we offer you this sacrifice of praise
and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

The Lord’s Prayer

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

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.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Amen

Breaking of the Bread

We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.

Though we are many, we are one body,
because we all share in one bread.

Take this bread:

Share this wine.

In these Christ comes to us with love from God.
The gifts of God for the people of God.

Amen

Hymn: At the name of Jesus

At the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now:
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.

Bore it up triumphant
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures,
to the central height,
to the throne of
Godhead,
to the Father’s breast

filled it with the glory
of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him;
there let him subdue
all that is not holy,
all that is not true;
crown him as your Captain
in temptation’s hour;
let his will enfold you
in its light and power.

Surely this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.

Caroline M. Noel (1817–1877)
CCL31580

The Blessing

Thank you for joining us this morning.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace.

And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father,
the Son
and the Holy Spirit
be among you
and remain with you
today and always.

Amen

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ.

Amen

Postlude: Adagio in C by J.S. Bach

[Video recordings of all the music in this Service can be viewed by following this link: http://www.cornerstonemk.co.uk/music-videos-for-sunday-2-august-2020/]