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Leytonstone United Free Church Sunday Service 22nd March 2020

Welcome Video

Call To Worship

Day by day, God leads us:

to the deep, deep pools of peace,

to the green, lush lawns of grace.

Day by day, Jesus calls us:

to pour out ourselves in service,

to anoint the stranger with hope.

Day by day, the Holy Spirit shows us:

the community we could be,

the family we are called to become.

Opening Song

The Lord's My Shepherd

Opening Prayers

Let us pray:

God of justice, peace and righteousness

come into our midst this morning

Breathe your breath, your Spirit of prophecy,

your energy, your enlivening,

your imagination on us.

Wake us up

Open our eyes, unplug our ears

That we might hear

That we might see

That we might grieve

That we might dream

That we might follow the ways of your extraordinary kingdom

For you call us to be your light

in the darkness,

your voice in the wilderness,

your hope for the hopeless

You give us strength

in our weakness,

Peace and gentleness,

Words and boldness,

to proclaim more of you and of us, less.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Amen.

Let Us Sing

I stand amazed

Setting The Scene

The 4th Sunday in Lent - What a week!

The 4th Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday, the midpoint in Lent and a time of rejoicing in many Christian traditions as we celebrate the crossing of half way through the lenten season and its end is now in sight. The journey to Easter is in its final stages and Jerusalem draws near.

This was going to be the focus for this short piece this morning. However the events of this week with the government's actions to tackle the coronavirus crisis has changed that. I saw this article by Tony Perkins in USA Today which i’d like to share:

We can’t help but notice the 24/7 coverage of the coronavirus on the TV news spreading even more quickly than the virus itself, leading many to wonder if we’re facing a plague of perhaps Biblical proportions. In almost real-time, the world is giving the tally of confirmed cases globally, as well as the casualties. And as nations close schools around the world, including in the UK now, the United Nations is reporting that some 290 million children are home from school, giving parents a daily reminder of the fears of infection.

The news has people doing more than fighting over toilet paper. The stock market has responded with a sickness of its own, plunging as much as 2,000 points a day as businesses fret over interruptions in the supply chain. The airlines that fly many millions of people a day are panicked as people see aeroplanes as giant Petri dishes and are opting not to fly.

Churches, where hugs and handshakes are frequent, first transitioned to fist and elbow bumps and waves, have now closed their doors altogether for Sunday services and stand empty.

Pope Francis avoided the crowds by giving his weekly address and blessing over the internet from the Vatican library rather than his usual window where the crowds would gather below.

The fear is palpable. The anxiety is real. And the future is unknown. But isn’t it always?

Writing to the church at Philippi, where he had once been beaten and imprisoned, Paul tells the believers in the book of Philippians not to worry or to be anxious about anything. Instead, Paul instructs them they should pray for God's blessing and make supplication for his protection and do it all with thanksgiving.

Studies show that prayer reduces anxiety and depression. A reduction in anxiety allows people to process and react to external events with a more cognitive rather than emotional manner. And a time in which there is worldwide concern over a virus without a treatment, a strategic and peaceful approach to problem solving is a good thing.

When faced with fear of the unknown, turning to an all-knowing God is a good place to start. And for people of faith, we know that God answers prayers and that, as it says in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

That doesn’t mean we only pray; we act as well, but, calmed by the awareness of the presence of God, we can respond with clarity and direction.

To quote the late Dr. Billy Graham:

“We are to pray in times of adversity, lest we become faithless and unbelieving.

We are to pray in times of prosperity, lest we become boastful and proud.

We are to pray in times of danger, lest we become fearful and doubting.

We are to pray in times of security, lest we become self-sufficient.”

So let us pray:

In this time of uncertainty and distress.

keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may rejoice in your comfort

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

For we are not people of fear:

we are people of courage.

We are not people who protect our own safety:

we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.

We are not people of greed:

we are people of generosity.

We are your people God,

giving and loving,

wherever we are,

whatever it costs

For as long as it takes

wherever you call us.

Amen

Let's Sing Again

Love Each Other

Bible Reading

Psalm 23

Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness, for His name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

for ever.

Sermon:

Open Your Eyes

By Ashley Matthews

Now we all know Psalm 23 – you might have learnt as a young child in Sunday school or like me taught by my mother.

The message in the Psalm always brings me hope, it reassures me that the Good Shepherd is always there, never leaving or forsaking me, that He has a plan for me. The hope that I experience when I read or remember the Psalm is that God will provide for my needs that He will protect me, that He would guide me and give me the direction I need when things don’t go the way I planned, and that I can enter into and stay in His presence all the time.

The world says that we live in uncertain times, and yes, I agree in reality we are living in a time of grave concern. We need to keep safe, follow the guidance that has been presented by the government, including the Department of Health regarding staying healthy, washing our hands, isolating ourselves when we have been exposed to someone with symptoms, and prevent the spread of the virus. As the church leadership we have decided to follow these guidelines, and I am confident that, as we stop our gatherings, for now, we will help to prevent the spread of the virus in the long term.

As a Christian, I also have the confident hope in my Redeemer God that He will work things out for the good of those who are called according to His purpose as He promises in Romans 8 v28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Many of you know that I and my family observe a 21 day Daniel fast at the beginning of each New Year, this year being no different. Those of you not familiar with this, we as a family fast – we only eat fruit and vegetables, and drink water for the 21 days. Furthermore, and most importantly we set aside a time of prayer – a time to reconnect with God, listening for His Voice at the start of the New Year. For me it sets the tone for the rest of the year.

This year we found that somehow it was different. Yes, we fasted and set our time apart for prayer, listened and were obedient to God as He spoke to us about certain things, but yet it felt different. How, you might ask? Well, for the years we have observed this connectedness and relationship with our Father, we have always had some sort of tangible blessing and prayers answered above and beyond what we could have ever thought or imagined. This year there had been nothing, no evidence of any kind of breakthrough or manifestation of things that we have experienced before.

As the days in the past weeks have unfolded, we have had the revelation that actually God has been honouring our fasting and prayer this year. Earlier I mentioned that Psalm 23 is of particular significance due to the promises of provision, protection, God’s direction and presence in our lives. I do believe that the word of God, the bible teaches us to hear His voice not only at times like we are experiencing today but always in our walk with Him.

Our prayers and devotion this year centred on our relationship with God and how He opens or lifts up our eyes towards Him, so that we can see His Grace towards us. Lifting our eyes towards Him, for those who remember, was the theme around Christmas time, especially at the Christmas Eve service led by The Table.

Friends, I want to encourage you today, that when we lift up our eyes to God in this time that He will provide for us, not just material things and health, but also most importantly, drawing Himself near to us as we sincerely seek Him in prayer. The first time the bible mentions about opening someone’s spiritual eyes, we read in Genesis 21 that when Hagar and Ismael were asked to leave Abraham and his family, eventually their supplies and water ran out in the desert. As Hagar was physically distancing herself from her dying son, preparing herself to lose her son, God heard the cries, the prayers of the boy. At that moment God opened Hagar’s eyes to see the provision of water nearby, which saved their lives. That is what God wants to do for us, as we draw near to Him. He wants to provide for our every need, in times of abundance and in desperate times.

The second time the scripture talks about opening the eyes of someone is when we read in Numbers 22, that Balaam was alerted by his speaking donkey that he was heading in the wrong direction. Many will think that how can a donkey speak – except in Shrek off course – but God wanted to get Balaam’s attention, and the only way He could do that was through the most unlikeliest way, through a talking animal. The donkey saved Balaam’s life, God opened his eyes and he was able to see the Lord’s Angel, who gave him guidance on the direction he was heading. Does the situation we in at the moment command us to open our eyes to see that drawing closer to God we need His direction and guidance in our lives. The encouragement is that God has a plan and direction for each one of us – He promises this in Jeremiah 29 v11, that the plans He has for us is good, and not for disaster. I am heeding His call.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The third instance we read about God opening someone’s spiritual eyes is recorded in 2 Kings Chapter 6. Elisha and his servant find themselves surrounded by a vast army. His servant became anxious and fearful. Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes to that he was able to see the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire. God provided supernatural protection. He gave them His protection against the attack of the enemy, who was about to attack them. We need to open our eyes to the protection which only God can provide us during this time. An army of warrior Angels are ready to protect us in this time of need. Believe that He has commanded His army to surround and defeat this invisible enemy. See that God can open your spiritual eyes to see what others don’t see, an understanding eye, and wisdom beyond measure.

God wants to have an intimate relationship with us. He knows us, because He created us. He wants to communicate with us on a daily basis. The way He does it; is when we read and study His Word; we get to know who He is and what His will is for us. We can know of Him, but my desire is to know Him intimately. Sometimes we don’t recognise Him. We read in Luke 24 when Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, after His resurrection, they didn’t recognise Him. He walked and talked with them, eventually having a meal with them. At some point while they were having their meal Jesus opened their eyes, then they recognised who He was, who He is. They had a revelation of Him. We need to recognise Him, develop a relationship with Him, in order for us to know His will for our lives. The only way to have our eyes opened is to spend time in His presence, study His word, receiving fresh revelation and understanding of who He is.

My encouragement to you at this time of the world’s uncertainty is to open your eyes, lift up your eyes to the One true God. A God who loves us unconditionally, one who knows us best, who meets us just where we find ourselves. I renew my commitment to seek out God, to establish and develop my relationship with Jesus and to be fully led by The Holy Spirit.

I wholeheartedly seek Him, who provides me and my family with supernatural Provision, Protection, Direction and His continual Presence.

Let us open our eyes, lift up our eyes to Him to provide all of these.

In Jesus name I pray.

Let's Sing

Our God

Prayers of Intersession

Let us still ourselves and in the quiet bring to mind those things we want to bring before God and pray.

Let's consider:

The wide world around us and all that goes on that affects our planet.

People in other countries and situations they find themselves in.

Those things that affect our country.

The church and all that it goes through at this time.

Our community.

Our friends, family and those close to us.

Anything which is on our mind right now.

Amen

Our Final Song

And Can It Be

The Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and evermore. Amen.

Go In Peace To Serve The Lord

Closing Video

Credits

Thom Shuman - Lectionary Liturgies. John Birch - Faith and Worship.

Credits:

Created with images by Artem Sapegin - "It was a rainy evening and we were far from a place we wanted to reach. When we were close to a viewing point we saw that sun was shining through a tiny crack in the clouds and the whole valley was filled with a golden light. We ran like the Fellowship of the Ring, jumping over tree roots and steps of a staircase to the viewing point. The whole shoot took around three minutes: unpack a camera, set up a tripod, choose and change a lens, compose a frame, focus and shoot. I had enough time to only take four frames with different exposures and the sun had gone." • Zac Durant - "Sunshine bath" • Greg Rakozy - "untitled image" • Priscilla Du Preez - "untitled image" • Milada Vigerova - "untitled image" • Joshua Hanks - "untitled image" • Chelsea shapouri - "untitled image" • Julie Marsh - "untitled image" • ThisisEngineering RAEng - "Male broadcast engineer in studio" • Jack Sharp - "untitled image" • Billy Huynh - "If you like and utilize my work, please consider supporting me by donating via PayPal: paypal.me/billyhuy" • Jeremy Perkins - "Reach" • Nathan Dumlao - "untitled image" • Mohamad Babayan - "untitled image" • Kelly Sikkema - "Hands about to press down on a hand sanitizer pump" • Timothy Eberly - "Morning Passage" • Shane Rounce - "Alex Winslow stretching off before jumping around for some photos. Atop the old mining pit in Dinnington." • Giorgio Parravicini - "Muscat desert sunset" • Iva Rajović - "untitled image" • Sharon McCutcheon - "Magical bokeh and colors so playful they are fit for a unicorn!" • James Sutton - "Open sign license plate" • Chris Liverani - "Neon prayer"