On Sunday January 3rd our minister Rev. Trevor Dixon led the Covenant Service at Wesley Chapel. We sang ‘Come, let us anew, our journey pursue,’ before Trevor led the prayers and collect. We then heard the readings from Deuteronomy 29.10-15; a reading from the Law; Jeremiah 31.31-34; a reading from the prophets; Romans 12.1-2; a reading from the epistles. We sang ‘Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning,’ before we heard the gospel reading from John 1.1-17.
Trevor preached. After Christmas worship can seem like an anticlimax, Trevor said. The shepherds have moved on; Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over. New series are beginning on the television; holidays are being advertised to be booked. What should we learn from the tradition of John’s gospel? Trevor reminded us that John is an extraordinary gospel, unlike the other 3 synoptic gospels it delves more into the depths of issues. The climax of the gospel is ‘Glory.’ The great sign is that faith in Jesus leads to eternal life. John said that ‘we had seen his glory.’
Where is that glory? ‘Can we see it now?’ Can we see it in Bethlehem now? No, but there was no peace when Jesus was born. In South Africa there are children dying from Aids and thousands died in West Africa from the Ebola virus. Can we see peace in the Middle East where children are dying? Can we see it in Saudi Arabia, where more than 40 people including a renowned Shea cleric were executed? Can we see peace in Iran or in Syria? Can it be seen in our streets or are we all still anxious about possible future attacks? Are we afraid to go out after dark? Who will turn our sadness into joy or into glory? The gospels give no easy answers; the truth is hard to find; life is hard to take. If there is no glory shall we go back home now? It’s a terrible life; maybe the only hope of salvation is the Lotto draw?! Some do believe that, even some Christians feel life is a matter of chance and there is not much glory. Does God leave us alone to work out our share of glory? It’s our choice, not God’s when we get it wrong and we will have to face the music on our last day?! Does God really watch us with a wry smile and tear? If that is so, is God some divine policeman ready to judge those of us who fail to stick to the rules? Is there no God who engages with humanity to bring in the kingdom of power and glory, has he left? That is what the crowd said when Jesus turned down leading an earthly kingdom after he had cleansed the temple. That is what Pilate thought when Jesus described his kingdom as not being of this world.
John’s gospel describes a different kingdom, a new kind of power, a strange glory; those who believe in Jesus will not die. Jesus was a man of suffering who died and was buried, and raised to life by God. Where was Jesus in Auschwitz? Where was Jesus on September 11th in New York or in London on July 7th? Where is Jesus now in Bethlehem? Where is Jesus in the hoards of refugees?
Jesus is there alongside them all! The themes of John’s gospel are the signs of the kingdom. The final greatest sign is the sign of the cross; there is the glory at the moment of crucifixion, where he was lifted up on the cross. Whatever happens, God is in the midst of it, suffering and dying alongside humanity. God will never desert us even if we do our worst to him; after we killed Jesus God did not abandon us.
We can know this as parents when our children are growing up, as no matter how far they push our buttons, we will never stop loving them. We let them make their own mistakes because we love them and need to let them go but we will always be there to pick the pieces up afterwards. God is always alongside us in every situation, especially the seemingly hopeless ones; he does not desert us. When we are blind and stupid he asks us to look at the man abandoned on the cross; the glory of the father’s love shining from the bleeding face of Jesus. God’s redeeming presence is always there; he never lets us go. When Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ on the cross, it was a cry of victory, not despair; as he had successfully completed the work he had come to do. Now we can see the glory. Even the worst dictators fail eventually and then their evil can be redeemed by the next generation. Those memories of past injustice and suffering remain to redeem the future; it gives us the opportunity to shine like stars in a needy damaged world. We cannot let the hungry starve, nor abandon those who fail such as addicts not ignore the vulnerable. As long as we can see the glory of the cross, evil will never triumph.
May the world be set free to see God who loves and empowers his people? He calls us to remember this covenant He made with us and respond by promising to be his people as He promises to be our God, loving and supporting us, always alongside us. When we sense there is a distance between God and us; who has moved? God brings his grace and glory for us all to experience.
We then renewed our covenant with God, reminding ourselves that in all he calls us to he will be alongside us, as we again commit ourselves in this New Year to follow Jesus each day. We sang, ‘Come, let us use the grace divine,’ before Trevor encouraged us to bless each other with God’s peace and prepared the gifts of bread and wine. We sang a hymn I had not known before which emphasised that God had never left his people especially in its darkest times, Israel in exile, promise and hope found in God’s Messiah, the promise being extended to Jews and gentiles, in fact all who believe through God’s covenant of grace, in sharing of bread and wine, summed up in the final verse: –
God has purpose in this promise
Made to Israel long ago;
That his faithful church be ready,
In the world, his love to show.
We are sent among all people,
Living through Christ’s powerful name
For our God, whose cov’nant promise
Given once, remains the same. B.M.Mosedale
Trevor led the prayer of thanksgiving to celebrate Holy Communion. After we shared the bread and wine we sang, ‘Will you come and follow me,’ and worship concluded with the blessing.