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Division & Unity Leytonstone United Free Church - Sunday 18th July 2021

Welcome

The Gospel of Mark says in chapter 6 verse 34 'When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.'

Sheep without a shepherd. People without leadership. Our leaders, like shepherds, are tasked with leading those in their care diligently.

Where are our shepherds today? In fact, who are our shepherds in this day and age? How are they doing? Can we trust them? Do they try to bring harmony for the good of all or do they fuel divisions and seek to benefit themselves. These are not new questions for they have been asked for many generations as we will find out today.

Call To Worship

Psalm 23

The Passion Translation

Yahweh is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough.

He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love. His tracks take me to an oasis of peace near the quiet brook of bliss.

That’s where he restores and revives my life. He opens before me the right path and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honour to his name.

Even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!

Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear.

I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.

You become my delicious feast even when my enemies dare to fight. You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit; you give me all I can drink of you until my cup overflows.

So why would I fear the future?

Only goodness and tender love pursue me all the days of my life.

Then afterwards, when my life is through, I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!

Song 1

Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace

Opening Prayer

Lets press pause on our busy lives and become still and pray:

Generous God and Giver of all things, we rest in your loving and tender care; and we are revived, restored and renewed by your strength and encouragement. You go before us in life, leading us in pathways that are secure without the confusion of becoming lost, aware only that we always need to follow you; and so we trust in your guidance and wisdom.

As human beings, we know there will be times of stress, when our body or mind lets us down; we know there will dark times too, when life seems to be nothing but struggle; and it is in those times especially, that we rely on your Presence deep within us to guide and bless us. Grace-Giving God, you provide us with the tools we need for the tasks we face, and for this we give you our trust and our thanks.

Merciful God, You guide us in right paths, You lead us in the ways of righteousness, but we have allowed our anger, our rage, our greed, and at times even hate, to direct our paths. We have overreacted, we have taken more than our share, we have despised others that seem to have it all. Forgive us, God, for not following Your ways. Forgive us for not remembering that we are Your sheep, and You are our Shepherd. Forgive us when we have not listened for Your voice and instead have acted in the ways of the world. Guide us back to Your path, to loving You and loving our neighbors. Help us to unclench our fists and lend out our hands in hope and healing, forgiveness and love.

Life-Giving God, you put out the ‘Welcome’ mat for us as we gather to worship you. You nourish our souls and bodies through your goodness and tender mercies; you heal our life’s wounds; and your generous love fills us to overflowing. You give us an honoured place at your table, and invite us to stay with you as your guest forever. You have promised that your unfailing love will stay with us always, and for this, we give you our thanks.

Amen.

Bible Reading

Jeremiah 23:1-6

The Righteous Branch

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,

a King who will reign wisely

and do what is just and right in the land.

In his days Judah will be saved

and Israel will live in safety.

This is the name by which he will be called:

The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

Setting The Scene - Division

by

Ben Gbeve

"The Lord is my shepherd" starts Psalm 23 which we all know so well. “I am the good shepherd” stated Jesus as recounted in John ch.10-v.11. But today’s reading does not start out with such praise of shepherds of ancient Israel:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

So who were these shepherds?

In biblical times the metaphor of the shepherd was not just used for the Lord but also for kings and rulers who were given the responsibility of leading their people safely. To understand today's passage it is insightful to look at the previous chapter in the book of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 22 vs. 2-3 says this:

‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

The expectations of leadership have been laid down, paraphrased in the Message it says:

Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!

The mandate is clear but alas, this instruction seems not to have been heeded, for we hear:

“Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,”

The shepherds entrusted to keep the flock safe have not looked after the sheep. The sheep have scattered. The leaders given the task of protecting all in their land have failed; there is division and disunity, both in terms of spiritual matters and those of social justice.

Division and disunity, we have seen a lot of that in recent days, weeks, months, years, haven’t we:

This week we have seen the fallout of those who use race and the colour of people's skin to account for why a football match was lost.

We see disagreement between those who believe Covid related restrictions are an affront to personal liberty and freedoms, and those who believe more caution is needed.

The battle over Brexit saw a social-political civil war in our land between Brexiteers and pro-Europeans for over 4 years.

In America we saw the the division caused by a President who some idolised and others demonised and whose term culminated in the storming of the seat of democracy

In all these examples the leadership of Prime Ministers, Presidents and their secretaries of state have been called into question. Do we see our leaders today seeking to heal divisions for the good of all, or do we see them exploiting and fueling division for their own benefit?

Let me leave that there with you to think about while we listen to and sing our next song.

Song 2

Beauty For Brokenness

Bible Reading

Ephesians 2:11-22

Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Reflection

In this second reading, we are brought back to the theme of division. Here the author is referencing the division between Jews and non-Jews; he says:

Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” …... remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise

It is thought that Paul wrote this letter to believers in Ephesus (a city in modern-day Turkey) to encourage them to think of themselves in a whole new way. He wanted them to think of themselves not as people who had once been involved in idol worship, illicit sex, and foolish philosophies, but as people in Christ—people with a radically new identity.

This is a message of inclusion. Contrast this to the first reading where leaders had caused the flock to scatter; here we have an example of a church leader doing all he can to bring not people who were once unified back together, but rather unify people who never belonged together in the first place. The passage reminds me of Galatians 3:28 which reads:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It does not matter your race or background, whether you are rich or poor, nor your gender - these and any other divisions are all unimportant, and nonexistent in this new way of thinking.

In Christ we are one people. In Christ we are called to look at that which unites us and not that which divides us. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Revelation ch.7 v.9 which says:

......I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

Listen again; it says "from every nation, tribe, people and language". It doesn't say ‘some nations but not others’, it doesn't say ‘selected tribes and peoples with some excluded’, it doesn’t say ‘just those who speak your language well’. It says “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne”. Unity is the vision here so how dare we, as humans, contradict this and build barriers and introduce ideas to cause division.

We considered in the first reflection some issues that divide this country today and asked if we are seeing leadership which seeks to end or seeks to manipulate divisions in our society.

I think that the call to action from this second reading is for us to demonstrate unity; to stand up the best we can to the forces that seek to divide and conquer.

Let us set the example to the world by our faith in our Lord and “Be the change we want to see in the world”. Let us be bound together as one holding a vision of righteousness, justice, joy and peace.

Song 3

Bind Us Together Lord

Intercessions

Mark chapter 6 verses 53 to 56 say this:

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Just as the people then, we now also bring our petitions and concerns before the Lord.

We pause to offer prayers for those people and situations that are close to our hearts:

For the world......

For our country......

For our community......

For our church......

For our leaders......

For our family and friends......

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Amen

Communion

Communion Prayer

Gracious God,

In love You open wide the doors and welcome us into Your presence - saints and sinners alike.

You spread a table before us, filled with the richest fare - a feast of love and mercy for the body and soul.

We come with joy to meet You here, to eat and drink at Your table, to taste and see Your goodness, to celebrate Your grace and mercy in our lives.

May Your Spirit inspire our praise and thanksgiving, our prayers and petitions as we worship together in Your presence.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our host and Lord,

Amen.

Blessing Of The Bread And The Wine

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your tender mercy, gave your only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; he instituted, and in his holy gospel commanded us to continue, a perpetual memory of his precious death until he comes again.

Hear us, merciful Father, we humbly pray, and grant that we receiving these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood; who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks;

He broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.

In the same way, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: Drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Receiving Of The Communion

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life.

Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.

Let us eat together

The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

Let us drink together

The Lords Prayer

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 trespassed against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

Forever and ever.

Amen

Song 4

Nobody

Why You ever chose me has always been a mystery. All my life I've been told I belong at the end of the line with all the other not-quites, with all the never-get-it-rights. But it turns out they're the ones you were looking for all this time

Close

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.

Lets us go in peace and take the word of the Lord in to the world

Credits:

Prayer Credits: Opening Prayer © 2011 Joan Stott "The Timeless Psalms" RCL Psalm Year A used with permission; and, Rev-o-lution Resources by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell http://rev-o-lution.org, (c) 2020. Used by permission. Created with images by MigraineAgain - "graffiti peace sign" • Anrita1705 - "sunset sun sunny" • sspiehs3 - "cross sunset silhouette" • AveCalvar - "hands light hand" • Hucklebarry - "bible scripture book" • B_Me - "pedestrians people busy" • bernswaelz - "candlelight candle light" • jeffjacobs1990 - "jesus christ god" • Pexels - "blonde sitting wall"