Our service was led by one of our own local preachers Ken Dransfield with the able assistance of our worship leader Christine Bunting. Ken is amazing as he still preaches regularly and in his early 90’s is still clear and direct in his approach. He began worship as we sang the opening hymn of ‘Go tell it on the mountain’ after which he led the prayers. After Christine read the first reading from John 17v1-6 we sang ‘Jesus calls us o’er the tumult’. Christine then read John 9v13-25. We sang ‘Thou did’st leave thy throne’ before Ken led the prayers of intercessions. Pam who had won a competition as a child for her singing and has been singing for 70 years sang a song of encouragement called ‘God has a plan for your life.’ She sang it without music and it was lovely to hear. We then sang ‘Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love’.
In his sermon Ken said that contrary to the message from the media regarding the demise of the church, there is still a growing Christian Church preaching the good news of the gospel. In South Korea there is one particular church with a congregation of more than 3000, which is continuing to grow. Despite all the conflicts there is still a Christian presence in Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq and the church in China and Russia continues to expand. Ken wondered why they still exist and what belief in Jesus was all about. He quoted the statement of the Apostles’ Creed and how the words Jesus said and his actions continue to be remembered even today. If what he said and did was so remarkable, why was he killed? And yet on the cross he stated he had finished what he came to do? Luke described the reaction when Jesus read from the prophecy that the Spirit of the Lord was upon me to preach to the poor, heal the sick and proclaim release for the captives and told them that on that day the prophecy had been fulfilled; hostility was felt by his listeners who felt he was claiming too much about himself. When did Jesus say and do such things and where? 2000 years ago in the small country of Israel under occupation of the Romans and at such a time there was no advanced technology such as we have today. What relevance does it have for us today, he wondered? Well times and technology may have changed but we are essentially the same people as they were then.
We have the protection now of the law, our hospitals and health services and we are no longer exploited in the work place and we have freedom to worship, Ken argued. Yes, since the end of the Second World War we have had such protections but I fear that those protections are increasingly under threat through increasing privatisation; not everyone is wealthy enough to pay for justice or hospital care and I pray that we will continue to protect the vulnerable who have no voice to protect themselves and not only realise too late that such safeguards have gone.
Matthew’s gospel ended with the command of Jesus to go teach and share the good news about Jesus in every nation. From those initial few disciples Christ’s mission continues today preaching freedom in every sense against suffering and exploitation. Ken sees the media given greater power to threaten and undermine our faith and prove what we believe. How are we to reply to such a challenge? The blind man who had been healed by Jesus found himself under threat from the Jewish authorities; his parents too were asked to confirm that their son had been born blind and explain how he could now see. They confirmed that he had been born blind but could not explain how he could now see, but he was of age to answer for himself. His parents were afraid that they would be expelled from the synagogue if they said that they thought Jesus had healed him. The blind man when he was challenged said simply that he did not know if Jesus was a sinner or not but all he knew was that once he was blind but now he could see and he was expelled from the synagogue.
Many have given their whole lives to mission and serving others often at great cost. Why was Grace who taught in a girl’s school in Kenya murdered by Mau Mau, when she had come to serve? Why did Phoebe, who was about to retire and came home when she was ill, return to the mission field when she had recovered and continued to take services? People like his late wife Jean Angus, who used to sing in the choir at Wesley Chapel, sacrificed 15 years on the mission field as she accompanied her husband Ken; her letters home revealed how hard she had found it. Was her life a waste? Surely not, Ken implied. What of the woman who used all the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus for his death; Judas condemned the action which he considered a waste but Jesus commended the love in the action and said that she would never be forgotten. All such people challenge us today; have we finished the work God sent us to do? Are we prepared to follow and serve and share the love of Jesus as those others did and continue as we are able until we have finished what God called us to do? The service concluded with the hymn, ‘Stay Master stay upon this hill.’