Sunday September 13th at Wesley Chapel

On Sunday September 13th our minister Trevor Dixon led worship at Wesley Chapel. Before the service we were told about a petition to object to the extension of Sunday Trading hours; I was only too happy to sign as the only thing about working on a Sunday for Beth when she was in retail was that it was a shorter day!! We also were told about an online petition to sign against the charges for Sunday parking and evening parking being considered by Harrogate Council; not to increase revenue but to free up parking spaces apparently!! It will make it more difficult for those who attend evening fixtures, such as the restaurants, the Theatre, and Cinema; support and social support activities; Church support for local activities and Church services. Most consultations seem to be overruled by our Council but we can only try.
Worship began as we sang, ‘Can we by searching find out God?’ before Trevor lead the opening prayers. We sang, ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’, before we heard the readings from Isaiah 50v4-9a and James 3v1-12. We sang, ‘I am not ashamed to own my Lord.’ We heard the gospel reading from Mark 8v27-38 before Trevor gave his sermon.
Trevor explained how Jesus put his disciples on the spot when he asked them what the people said about him. Trevor compared that to ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’s options given to the contestant like asking the audience. The disciples replied well as they had been listening to what other people said about Jesus. Then Jesus challenged the disciples by asking them what they actually said among themselves about him. Peter without hesitation said Jesus was the Messiah. Trevor wondered what questions we get asked today that put us on the spot. How do we explain who Jesus is? How do we help those who are struggling in their faith? How do we respond to the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites? I believe I am a work in progress, growing and slipping as I learn from Jesus how to live, so definitely not perfected. I am glad I have a lifetime to learn.
Trevor suggested other questions to consider. What about the mass movement of refugees and migrants from Syria and other areas of persecution and war in face of homelessness, starvation and lack of security? Those in such situations question the role of religion. Were these situations caused by religions? What relevance do ethics have in a self-seeking society with Sunday Trading, cruelty, injustice and suffering in the world today? What about the end of life; recently assisted dying has been voted against in Parliament again, for which I, personally, am relieved, although I advocate better pain relief in terminal illness and at the end of life. We cannot give answers but we recognise the questions; we each have to work out answers for ourselves. We have no stock answers to these situations and dilemmas. We need to think about the options and not offer glib answers to the dilemmas. Do our actions speak louder than words? It is not what we say but what we do and how we react to the dilemmas which is the real response.
Careless talk costs lives; if our witness in the world is careless or inconsistent it will affect that witness. We are not to feel afraid to speak about God in challenging situations. Isaiah was not afraid to speak about God in a challenging situation in exile. Isaiah was on trial as he had said that Babylon would fall to the Persians. There was opposition from the Jews who did not want to stand with him. Isaiah just spoke the words God gave him and he knew he would vindicate him so he stood up to the opposition.
James was prepared to take a similar challenge; he warned his readers to speak with care and caution when they spoke of their faith. Trevor commented about how the words in a number of hymns in the Singing the Faith hymnbook had been modified to have more inclusive vocabulary, so it is not exclusively male. Many hymns have been modified to include everyone. What are we saying if we discriminate against those of a different skin colour? People have just found the first known burial site of human beings in Africa! Our intercessions seem empty if we do not move for justice for races. If we don’t demonstrate love in discussion and debate, especially when we don’t agree; we must not forget the dangerous power of the tongue. We need to take care and not just say empty clichés. When we say God bless do we actually think God will bless them or not? When someone is suffering grief or pain we don’t know what to say. We often say ‘take care’ but do we mean it? Do we try to offer proper support or help to find counselling? How can we help support those who have terminal cancer and cannot find God in their pain and suffering? Does God care? We can offer to listen to what those who have given up on God say, and not give platitudes or promises which offer no real help. It can be costly and risky and we may not always understand the big questions we are asked. Peter was challenged to the depth of his faith. Our faith may not be strong enough to go it alone, but that is not asked of us, God is with us; even if we fail, God does not dismiss us as losers. God is our support and sustainer, who helps us cope in difficult situations.
We sang ‘Our God is a great big God’, before Trevor led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded as we sang, ‘Make me a channel of your peace.’ It was a challenging service and I think it is good to be challenged.

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