On Sunday May 29th I led worship at my chapel, Wesley Chapel. It is always good to be among friends, especially as I seemed to be a bit stressed at first. Once I went out to begin worship I felt more at ease, although I wondered why there were so many smiles of amusement and I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to let the steward address the congregation first! I immediately sat down as Les Sudron came down to make a start pretending to wipe his eyes!! When I went back to begin worship I was smiling and told them how on my wedding day to Malcolm, one of his friends Bob Fisher asked me if I remembered a certain Gwyneth Fisher, which I did. Apparently she was his younger sister and she was in my form back from 1975-1978, when I left to have my first daughter, Beth. Her memory of me in my 20s was that I was scatty!! I had obviously not changed much!
We began worship when we read Psalm 96 responsively as the call to worship. Our opening hymn was ‘All people that on earth do dwell’; apparently that hymn was not liked by a member of the congregation because it took her back to her school days! I led the opening prayers of praise, thanksgiving and the Lord’s Prayer before we sang the chorus, ‘Abba Father’. Christine Bunting, our worship leader read from 1 Kings 18.20-39 before I spoke about the number of choices we are faced with today, including in a few weeks voting in the referendum, reminding them of the importance of voting, whichever way they choose to vote or they could not criticise the outcome. Elijah challenged the people of Israel to make a choice between worshipping Baal or Yahweh. It was a courageous act as he felt he was on his own and there were 450 prophets of Baal. However Baal failed to set fire to the sacrifice, whereas Yahweh’s fire burnt up not just the sacrifice but also the stones of the altar. Faced with proof that Yahweh was the genuine God the people of Israel fell down and worshipped God. We all need to choose whether to follow God or not. Our choice might seem as clear cut as it was for Elijah, but we need to decide whether to follow Jesus or not. We are free to accept or reject our Lord Jesus and to accept or reject the Holy Spirit sent as our guide and teacher.
We sang, ‘Breathe on my breath of God’ before I read ‘Galatians 1.1-12’. Members of our congregation, Shelagh, Jenny, John and Christine Sudron took part in a dramatised reading based on Luke 7.1-10. We sang ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ before I preached.
In this well known passage we meet the Roman Centurion who was the equivalent of a Regimental Sergeant Major; he was in command of his men. Unusually he was well respected by the Jews as he was a Jewish sympathiser, who had even built a synagogue for them. The centurion did not come himself but instead sent some Jewish elders with the request to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. The Centurion had an incredibly unusual attitude to his slave as he loved him and would go to any trouble to save him. In Roman law a slave was defined as a living tool with no rights; a master could ill treat him or even kill him and normally once a slave was past being able to work he would be thrown out to die. Yet this servant was so important to him that he sent for Jesus’ help. The Centurion would normally not have had any friendship with despised Jews but he was a humble man. He recognised that a rabbi like Jesus would be defiled if he entered his home and he, a man who had the authority to command recognised that same authority in Jesus, so he knew Jesus only had to say the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus was amazed by the Centurion’s faith, as he had never found such faith in all of Israel.
Paul had been on the way to Damascus when Jesus had encountered him and changed his life. Now he was writing to the Galatians in response to the news that they are danger of turning away from the gospel he had preached to them. Unlike other letters he did not start with greetings and thankfulness, but began with himself. He reminded them that he had been a persecutor of Christians before he had encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. He had been determined on one course of action but Jesus had stopped him in his tracks and commissioned him to be an apostle. He had been given his authority as an apostle directly from Jesus and God the Father who had raised Jesus from the dead. The Galatians were in danger of thinking that behaving in certain ways and following the cultural ways of other Christian factions would secure their salvation; they had forgotten that their salvation came solely from the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. They just had to accept God’s freely given, undeserved gift of grace. Have we made the choice to accept God’s free gift of salvation? Do we recognise Jesus’ power and authority in our lives? Paul had to learn to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Help us to each day to renew our acceptance of God’s free gift of grace through Jesus Christ. May we recognise the Holy Spirit as our constant guide as we face life’s dilemmas and struggles, so we can reach out to a needy world with Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance?
We sang, ‘Brother, sister let me serve you’ before I led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang ‘Father of everlasting grace.’