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Leytonstone United Free Church Sunday 29th March 2020

Something to reflect on as we begin to worship ...

Welcome:

Dear siblings,

I have tried to contact as many of you as possible on the phone this week, I know I haven’t be able to reach everyone though. It is with much sadness that we have had news that on Tuesday Patsy Gray died in Whipps Cross Hospital. As yet, we do not know any other information but please do pray for her daughter Heidi and son Andrew at this sad time. I am sure many of you will have memories and reflections of Patsy. I would like to gather any that I can to pass to her family. If you would like to contribute to this please do drop me a message, email or note, my address is 6 Queens Road, E11 1BB.

Why not light a candle in her memory as we worship.

This is not what should be, nor is it want anyone wants but it is what it has to be for now.

The past two weeks have really been about responding to the ever changing government requirements. We have had to close the building, so much of last week involved making decisions and executing that.

The building might be shut but we are still the church, the people make up our church not the building. We are a body, with every member playing their part, especially when some are not as strong as others.

Without knowing it though, we have been preparing for days like these. Our pastoral groups have all had a freshen up and contact details have been updated in the previous few months. I am providing resources to the junior church families and keeping in touch with them, utilising technology to keep contact with The Table and Amy is keeping in touch with Soul Food. We are using the pastoral groups as a way for people to be in touch with a few people, it is impossible to keep everyone in touch with everyone. I hope you have had a chance to connect already with your group leader or your church friends. If not, why not pick up the phone this afternoon!

I have started a church Whats App group if you use that platform and would like to be included please do text me on 07538213855 or email me.

Remember if you need any supplies or want a chat then please do get in touch using my mobile number above.

Call to worship:

Response line: Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are gathered,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are scattered,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are well,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are ill,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are happy,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

When we are sad,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

In all times and all seasons,

Lord Jesus, meet with us.

Loving God we find ourselves in very different places today. Help us to always remember that we are united in and through you even in times like this we can’t meet together. Amen.

Let us sing together ...

Hello!

Let us pray:

Loving God,

to all those who are alone and feel isolated from community:

be a companion and friend.

To children who can’t play with their friends and whose days lack structure:

be a companion and friend.

To those who have the virus and those who are concerned about loved ones:

bring healing and comfort.

To those who grieve for loved ones who have died:

bring healing and comfort.

To decision makers and all in authority:

give wisdom and compassion.

To neighbours and all who seek to help others:

give wisdom and compassion.

For those who work in the health service:

we give thanks and ask your blessing.

For those who care for us and make us smile:

we give thanks and ask your blessing.

In the name of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.

Amen

Today's Bible Reading:

Luke 11:1-44

The Death of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin,[b] said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[c] off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Reflection:

This might seem like an odd choice of reading, but it is the set lectionary reading for today’s worship. It is also a scripture that God has been reminding me of daily as the last few weeks have unfolded, so rather than ignore it, as is so easy to do with difficult passages, at difficult times, it feels right to embrace it.

We see Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, become sick and die. Jesus has delayed going to visit Lazarus and arrives too late, of so it seems. Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha are not impressed, each of them failing to hide their grief and annoyance with Jesus and then we see Jesus weeping, the phrase Jesus wept being one often quoted as the shortest verse and one that for so many holds so much power. There can be no mistaking Jesus’ humanity here. He weighs up whether he should travel to Bethany. He is worried about his own and his disciples’ safety. He is deeply moved by the sisters’ disappointment, anger and grief. And he is touched by the presence of those from the village who console them. The death he finds in Bethany is much more than the culmination of Lazarus’ illness though. The family’s standing in the community would have suffered as a result of their good friend’s absence. Who can say how much of the sisters’ hopes for their future security died with their brother?

And the story is about much more than Lazarus’ return to life. Lazarus’ resurrection is a sign of Jesus as ‘the resurrection and the life’ (v.25). It also anticipates the general ‘resurrection of the dead’ – in popular belief this was associated with Israel being set free from foreign oppression. Is it any wonder that the authorities are unsettled by popular interest in the revived Lazarus (11.45ff; 12.9-11), not least by the crowds drawn to Jesus when he finally arrives in Jerusalem (12.17)?

But you still might be wondering what this passage has to do with where we currently find ourselves …

I wonder when you read this story which of the characters you find the most in common with?

Are you Mary? Maybe Martha, Lazarus or even Jesus?

If I am honest, I flit, I am all of them.

One minute I find myself wanting to be Jesus. Wanting to make everything better for all those who are hurting, in pain and facing uncertain futures. I am wired to try and fix things. Friends, I know that many of you are wired like this too. A number of you this week that have expressed how frustrated you are at not being able to do more as you find yourself at home.

Then the next minute I am a bit of a Mary, in a strop with God because the pain that I see all around is too much, I am annoyed and frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be here changing things. I remember all the times when it felt like God was distant, when loved ones have suffered and there have been no positive solutions to the problems faced.

Then of course, I switch again and find myself more of a Martha. I know that God is present, that God has power, that God has declared good intentions for us. I trust in the promises of scripture and in my experiences of the times when God has provided.

And then there is the reality, I often find myself more like Lazarus.

As this pandemic we face continues there will be times when I, like many of us will be the one that is in need of help. We will be stuck at home, in need of support from those that know us and love us, perhaps reliant on neighbours who are finally becoming friends. Some of us will get ill and we’ll need more support but many of us will face these things through the lens of isolation and being socially distant from those we want to hold close. It will not be an easy season, I can’t sugar coat it and say everything will be alright.

But I know that God has called us together. I know that in each other we have a connection that is beyond friendship. That’s why I chose the song at the start: When you're are down Who comes around To pluck you up When you are down And when you're outside, looking in Who's there to open the door? (metaphorical of course!) That's what friends are for!

My mum has always taught me to look for the helpers in a time of crisis. When things are tough people work together in remarkable ways. We see prejudices and division dissipate and the best of humanity rise up.

We can’t control all that is happening around us. We are not the messiah. Shocking I know. But we can control how we respond. We can choose to worship God. We can choose to support each other. We can reach out to our neighbours. We can be the church we have talked so much about, one that meets people where they are at, that witnesses to God’s love and grace, that demonstrates peace & hope.

It is time to outwork Jesus' call:

He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" Luke 10:27

This passage, at this time, leaves me questioning how will we chose to show solidarity with those who are suffering as a result of Covid-19?
And how can we show Jesus to those who are forced to self-isolate in the days ahead?
I wonder what it says to you?

The Lords 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:

Creator God,

show us how to heal the world you made.

Redeemer God,

teach us to walk with those who suffer.

Sustainer,

fill our mouths with the right words.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

help us to show your love to all people.

Amen.

Public Service Announcement:

Something to reflect on as we end our time:

Join us for Palm Sunday

next week!

Credits:

Created with images by fotografierende - "untitled image" • weyo - "Candles light in advent.. Christmas candles burning at night. Golden light of candle flame" • Alex Woods - "Countryside man" • Shelby Miller - "untitled image" • Diana Vargas - "One and only way" • Gift Habeshaw - "untitled image" • Edwin Andrade - "untitled image" • David Beale - "untitled image" • Neil Thomas - "When you need that helping hand!" • Gleren Meneghin - "Sundays on Columbia Rd" • Nina Strehl - "This is Max wearing a cap from LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR. The label is a social label from Switzerland that wants to spread lots of world changing love! 12% of their sales goes to homeless and the crew around founder David Togni are always busy loving on people in their world. Have a look att their website loveyourneighbour.ch" • Marquise Kamanke - "untitled image" • Allen Taylor - "Girl in field with Bible" • Laya Clode - "The leaves of a Bismark Palm Tree (Bismarkia Nobilis) create layers of angles and points upon which to focus"