Join us on the First Sunday of Advent when our worship will be led by the Minister at 11:00.
During the service will light the first Advent candle, and celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Whether you attend Trinity regularly or periodically, or if this will be your first visit, you will be very welcome. There is an opportunity for everyone to meet friends and newcomers over coffee and tea in the Old Hall after the service.
St Matthew 25: 31 – 46
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Fr Michael taught me that whilst the Church taught the existence of Hell we were not told to believe anyone was there – aside from the devil and his angels! In such a way the Catholic Church rode liberal and conservative horses at the same time. In this passage Jesus seems to do the same. The more liberal, social gospel, types amongst us shuffle a little at the fate of those who don’t engage in social action. The more conservative, right believing, types amongst us shuffle at judgement being about how we behave not what we believe.
When I ministered in Manchester I had the privilege of working with asylum seekers and refugees. I heard stories of rape and torture whilst in police custody in Uganda, of one man’s repeated rapes in Cameroon meaning he needed surgery when he eventually came to the UK. Another friend has had years of therapy to try and come to terms with what happened to him in a Cameroonian prison. A former church member was made to work as a prostitute in Kenya and was then trafficked to the UK believing she’d come to work as a domestic servant but told, on arrival, she had to work in a brothel. Others struggled with guilt as those they’d left behind had been killed; an underground Christian from Iran was late to a prayer meeting and arrived to find all his fellow Christians being arrested.
Where is justice for them when their torturers retire on nice pensions?
Where is judgement for them when leaders of these countries win corrupt elections?
Where is judgement when the world doesn’t provide it?
It’s not for us to decide who is, or who isn’t, in Hell. Jesus doesn’t imply that people go there for believing the wrong things – despite what the Church often seems to imply. Instead Hell’s doors are wide open for those who oppress, torture, starve, and demean Christ in the poor and forsaken.
It’s hard Lord to think of the goats;
might we be goats?
We want to be sheep,
all fluffy and lovely
feeding, visiting, and clothing the poor.
What if we’re goats though?
Help us always, Lord Jesus,
to see you in the poor, the least, the despised,
to serve you in those sisters and brothers,
hat in the difficult task of separating out sheep and goats,
we may come with You. Amen
Resources for Worship
Worship is at the heart of our life as God’s people. Whatever else we do, worship is at the core as it is through meeting God – in the hymns and the music, the movement and the silence, the Word and the words, in friend and stranger as well as in bread and wine – that we are fed and sustained. This encounter with God lifts our spirits and gives our lives direction, our prayers focus and our faith a grounding in the everyday realities of life.
Faithfully, week after week, ministers, elders, and lay preachers lead God’s people in worship. Part of my ministry is to help with that task by co-ordinating the provision of Worship Notes which assist in the careful preparation of worship. Our Worship Notes offer all the prayers needed (and some that might not be!), notes on the readings that could be built into a sermon, and suggestions for hymns (which might be used or might stimulate the thinking of those who lead worship).
This week I have prepared the notes for the First Sunday of Advent. I note that in difficult times we long for God to do something. We look at the wars of our world, the climate crisis, the mass movements of people, the rising prices, and want something to be done and, not surprisingly, we don’t have much confidence in our political leaders. So, as people of faith, we want God to intervene. We start the season of Advent – the time when we look forward to Christ’s return in glory which, of course, feeds our desire for God to come and put things right. The notes can be found here https://urc.org.uk/your-faith/prayer-and-worship/worship-notes/
I prepared the sample intercessions some months ago so we also ask some of our folk to prepare weekly intercessions which are more topical and could be used in small groups, personal prayer as well as Sunday worship. This week’s intercessions have been written by John Collings, a Lay Preacher and member of Rutherglen URC near Glasgow and they are on the Worship Notes page.
The URC is suggesting that we don’t light the candle for the second Sunday of Advent leaving it unlit in solidarity with Christians in Palestine and Israel who won’t be having an Advent filled with light and love this year. Again, the Worship Notes page has a suggested liturgy for this non-lighting.
Finally, the Rev’d David Coleman, Chaplain for Eco-Congregations, Scotland, has prepared a visual Advent Calendar where a variety of folk have created a short 90 second reflection for every day of Advent. You can see them all here. A good thing to share with your churches!
I hope you find all these resources useful – do let us know your thoughts on these resources as you use them.
With every good wish
The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
and laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit
or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
even the night shall be light about me;
indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
but the night shines as the day;
the darkness and the light are both alike to You.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Who makes their bed in hell? Who would make that choice?
I can remember in my younger days thinking I had to make a choice between my faith and my sexuality, even making (being advised to make) the choice to go through aversion therapy to make myself acceptable. What I found was that aversion therapy wasn’t acceptable, left some trauma, and didn’t work.
This hell isn’t so much a place as an extreme feeling of not belonging – particularly with other Christians. I vividly remember the times I sat at Communion and couldn’t take part, couldn’t receive just one small piece of bread & one small sip of wine.
I was judged, and I judged myself, unworthy of being part of one of the core Sacraments and, therefore, assumed God thought I wasn’t worthy. Unlike others who had done some things that were wrong I felt that who I was, my very being, was wrong and therefore unforgivable, unlovable; it was hell. But I’d made my bed, I had to lie in it, alone, because at least if I chose celibacy maybe there was a way back into the Church family.
All through my personal hell, though, I felt drawn to being in God’s presence because over time it felt comfortable, more when I was alone with God than with other Christians. Gradually God poured healing in, prayers felt like a conversation, I had poured out everything to God, and God had heard me, and reached out to me and gently led me home.
So how do we stop people from being in hell?
Maybe by not judging but accepting, not shunning but including, not asking too much, but allowing people to flourish at their own pace.
We can’t assume that our corner of the Christian world in the URC is automatically a safe space, we have to actively and persistently include, invite, welcome, and love – just as we are loved.
God of love, and God of rescue
save us from the hell we can fall into.
Rescue us from the pit
shine your light on our lives so it overwhelms the darkness
bring us safely home. Amen
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Hymn Come All You People / Uyai Mose
Alexander Gondo © World Council of Churches Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved. Sung by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Chancel Choir and used with their kind permission.
Come all you people,
come and praise your Maker (x3),
Come now and worship the Lord.
Prayers of Approach
Gracious and loving God,
we are your people,
we find ourselves loved and free.
We see the wonder of your love all around us, each and every day.
We see your love in relationships, in creation,
in kind acts and in each other.
We are blessed by you in so many ways.
We experience your love in our lives, your hope in our hearts
and your inspiration in people, situations and places around us.
We come before you and we worship you as parent,
sibling, confidante, protector, sustainer, enabler and holy, divine love.
We are humbled by all you have been, are and will be in this world and in our lives.
Yet we still mess up, we still get it wrong, and we still fail, often despite our best attempts and efforts.
Prayers of Confession
We come with our prayers to give ourselves time to consider where we have got things wrong, where we have abused our positions of power, where we have failed to speak out for those on the margins, where we have fallen short on the way.
In a moment of quiet, let us all to hold before God the things for which we are sorry. The personal, relational, community and worldwide situations that we have not challenged or questioned or not responded to in a more loving and compassionate way. The things we have done or left undone that would have helped others or made a difference for good. The stuff we have avoided or ignored because it felt too much.
Gracious God, these words we offer,
seeking to make amends and to change.
But knowing that, even if we continue to fall short, we are loved.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Jesus reassures us that we are forgiven.
Let us hear his words:
Come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
We claim that rest and seek to forgive ourselves and forgive others.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
We wrap up all these prayers in the words that Jesus gave us, saying:
Prayer of Inspiration
Bless these words from Scripture that they may give us glimpses of your kin-dom, words to live with and live by and bring us closer to you. Amen.
Reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will sort them out. As shepherds sort out their flocks when they are among scattered sheep, so I will sort out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged, and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.
In this is the Word of the Lord.
Hymn The King of Love my Shepherd is
H. W. Baker (1868) Public Domain. Sung and recorded by the Sunday 7pm Choir of St. Francis de Sales Church in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and used with their kind permission.
The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness fails me never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
and He is mine for ever.
of living water flow,
with gentle care He leads me,
and where the
verdant pastures grow,
with heav’nly food he feeds me.
Perverse and foolish
I have strayed,
but yet in love He sought me,
and on His shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill,
with you, dear Lord, beside me;
Your rod and staff my comfort still,
Your cross before to guide me.
You spread a table in my sight;
Your saving grace bestowing,
and O what joy and true delight,
from your pure chalice flowing.
And so through all
the length of days,
Your goodness fails me never,
may I sing your praise,
within your house for ever.
Reading St Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”
In this is the Word of the Lord.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN.
At first sight the Matthew reading looks like a text that would give us freedom to judge, condemn and divide. So much of the Christian faith has been used to do such things to so many people and still does today. Part of my struggle with this Sunday being named Christ the King is that it speaks of power. And power is the root of a lot of our struggles in society, community and relationships. The question posed earlier about which image of God sits best with you reveals my own bias and discomfort with such words. I ask myself why?
In recent years I have become so much more aware of the power dynamics in society, the privilege many of us have, the divisions that exist often beyond my eyesight and the inequality that exists particularly for those who find themselves ‘on the edges’ for a variety of reasons. And I understand that the chance of birth has led me to be one of the privileged- I am university educated, I have access to medical care, I have money and access to food and shelter, I am physically well much of the time, and I am in equal relationships that feature respect.
So, with the background of privilege and concern for the dynamics of power in this Sunday’s title, I focused on the two texts- that interestingly put forward images of shepherding (with a bit of king added in there).
Our text from Matthew comes at a vital point in Jesus’ ministry, a time when he has spoken to power and condemned the Pharisees, has spoken of the end time, the coming of change and the need to be watchful and careful. This reading is placed after two parables: the Parable of the 10 bridesmaids and the Parable of the Talents, neither easy, and both quite divisive. For me these texts, and the one we read from the Gospel according to Matthew, contain an urgency. A message about getting your life in order because of the imminence of Jesus’ return. So, the urgency, the extremes and the dualistic nature of the stories all combine to raise both our awareness, and that of the early listeners, of how we should live. (What we also have to keep in mind is that the author knew the end of the story, knew what had happened to Jesus and was framing the story to speak to the specific audience he was writing to).
Each of these stories is framed in a community setting, not addressed to individuals. The bridesmaids are in community, the slaves live in community and then Matthew’s text gathers the nations- one of the biggest forms of community.
Let us look again at the Ezekiel story- this is also no individualistic text. This is not a God who picks out individuals to be saved but seeks God’s people who have been scattered and seeks to bring them back into relationship, away from the things that distract, divert and divide, encouraging them back into community.
God is speaking to groups of people, to nations, not to individuals. It is not an individualized faith God calls us to, but one where we rely on and look out for each other. It is not a consumer faith of ‘what can I get out of this’ that God calls us to, but a faith that asks: ‘what can I give’? God does not invite us to explore a faith that ensures we focus on self and personal gain and success, but a faith that asks us ‘are you ready’ and tells us that ‘you are never alone, I will not desert you’.
In the reading from Ezekiel, we hear of a God who wants to bring unity, who wants to show love, who actively reaches out- even when the people have chosen to turn away. The God we see in this Old Testament text is a God who is not distant. What we see is a God who is close enough and involved enough to care for people, to look out for them, who actively seeks to rescue them, and whose desire is that they have all they need. God does this from a pastoral position, a shepherding place, is a caring and loving Divine presence who offers salvation to the whole of God’s people. And in this text there is the fact that the word shepherd can be interpreted as ruler or king, as the person who oversees. God’s desire is for those in power to care and to nurture, the complete opposite of how some in power behave!
The image of an overseer of flocks continues into the Matthew text. This time, however, we hear the words of Jesus looking forward to the end time when we believe that God will offer judgement on humanity. This stark, uncomfortable text reminds us that Jesus came to show us how to live. He came to tell and show the world that, by his life, ministry, death and resurrection, we are to learn about how we are to live in community. In this New Testament text there is a shift in responsibility- God makes it clear that, as Christ has shown us, we are to be the ones who look out for, rescue and care for, others. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. And again the reading is clear (the hint is in the title- ‘the judgement of the nations’) that this is not about any of us just being self-absorbed and self-righteous in how we love and live. It is about working together to bring equity, fairness, justice, and hope for all. In community. Together.
Jesus showed us that, to live God’s way, it is not just about ourselves. But ourselves together. Each of our words, actions and ways of being have a wider impact. We are not just us, we are we. Faith in God, as revealed in Jesus and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit is not about power and authority and self-gain. It is about togetherness, collaboration and community.
So where does that get us in relation to the struggles of God as King or Shepherd?
I think we can learn from the Matthew texts. There is a real risk, as followers of Jesus, that we do judge, criticize and condemn. The stories of Jesus that shock, unsettle and concern us are meant to do just that. They are often caricatures that contain duality- an either/or offering. When given clear choices it is often easier to make a decision. In the texts we have shared, we want to be the ones who are looked after, we want to be the ones who can say ‘I helped’ or ‘I offered’. By the very nature of the writing we almost have no choice- who wants to be the one that denies the humanity of others?
Maybe the question I should be asking is not ‘Is Jesus King or Shepherd’ in a binary way. Maybe I should be asking- how is God revealed to us through the words of Scripture? What can I learn about the nature and way of God through the stories and journeys and experiences of God’s people? I see God as shepherd, God as King, God as Mother Hen, God as Healer, God as Eagle, God as broken man by the side of the road. We often like the duality of being ‘in’ or ‘out’. And yet we all know that separation only causes division. What about both/and? This is the question I leave you with. This was the best piece of advice I have gained from my supervisor- it applies to so much in my life and in my faith: What if it isn’t either/or but both/and?
Hymn When I Needed a Neighbour
Sydney Carter © 1965 Stainer and Bell Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved. Sung by the Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and used with their kind permission.
When I needed a shelter
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
were you there?
When I needed a healer
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a healer,
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
Were you there?
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Wherever you travel,
I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
I’ll be there.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God,
divine Creator, overseer of all, enabler of life and love.
We believe in Jesus,
Son and Saviour, role model, trouble-maker, and shaker-upper.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
source of grace and peace, inspirer and enthuser,
accessible and welcoming.
We believe in the Godhead,
three in one, confuser, bewilderer and assurer
who invites us into the eternal dance of creation,
alongside the whole of humanity,
free from division and discrimination.
We believe in God – here, now, forever and for all. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession
This prayer by Pope Francis appeared at the end of his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’”.
All powerful God, you are present in the universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with your peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle,
for justice, love and peace.
Loving God, we know our responsibility to your world
and those alongside whom we live.
We pray for those we do not and may never know.
Now in a time of quiet,
we offer our prayers for those people, places and situations known to us. We pray that you will hear and hold these words
and may we never forget that our prayers change us
as well as changing your world.
All these we pray in the name of Jesus: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Shepherd, Compassionate healer and divine Son. Amen.
thank you for your love in our lives,
for who we are, who we can be and all we have.
Because we are so blessed
we come with our freewill offerings of money, time and talents.
Take these and use them for your glory,
to bless and encourage and love.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hymn Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim
Charles Wesley (1744) Public Domain. BBC Songs of Praise
You servants of God,
your Master proclaim,
and publish abroad
his wonderful name;
the name all-victorious
of Jesus extol;
his kingdom is glorious
and rules over all.
“Salvation to God,
who sits on the throne!”
let all cry aloud,
and honour the Son;
the praises of Jesus
the angels proclaim,
fall down on their faces
and worship the Lamb.
Then let us adore and give him his right:
all glory and power, all wisdom and might,
all honour and blessing with angels above
and thanks never ceasing for infinite love.
Let us go out as Christ’s hands and feet,
sowing seeds of harmony and community,
challenging injustice and promoting peace,
dancing together in the eternal dance of humanity,
united by the love of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And may the love of God
Creator, Sustainer and Son
uphold, enable and bless us,
along with those we love and those we struggle to love.
Now and forever, Amen.
All liturgical material by Jenny Mills.
Opening Music: Communion by Cesar Franck (1822 – 1890), Man IV, Jenny Gill Crawley URC
Closing Music: Trumpet by Alcock (1715-1806), Man IV, Jenny Gill Crawley URC – 2021
Thanks to Graham Handscomb, Shree Morrissey, Anne Hewling, Sarah Wilmott, Kathleen Haynes, Diana Cullum-Hall, Alison Jiggins, Liane Todd, and Lorraine Webb for recording various spoken parts of the service.
Copyright: Where copyright material has been reprinted & podcast under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved
This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use. Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.
& Resources for Advent
Dear <<First Name>>
I hope you have found the last week’s Devotions on Heaven interesting. It’s not a subject we talk much about in contemporary Christianity – despite the words of the Our Father which we say most weeks in worship. It was good to have Paul Nimmo as a guest contributor from the Church of Scotland.
Turning from Heaven we now face Hell which is not a popular theme in much of the contemporary Church. Yet, just as Heaven is part of what the Church has taught since its earliest days so is Hell. Famously Ignatius Loyala’s Spiritual Exercises have a week of profound reflections on Hell. Whilst talk about Hell may have fallen out of fashion, this week 6 URC folk ponder Hell. Sam Goodman reflects on the Hell we make for ourselves drawing in some of his own personal history, Kirsty Ann Mabbott focuses on Hell being an absence of God, I muse on the discomfort liberals have with Jesus’ talk of Hell (and the discomfort of conservatives when Jesus’ words imply that one is sent to Heaven or Hell because of how one acts rather than what one believes!). ‘frin Lewis Smith shows the ancient idea of the harrowing of Hell has some life left in it, Angela Rigby muses on the Lake of Fire in Revelation as a place of purification and Tim Searle muses on darkness, teeth gnashing, and alienation from God. I hope these reflections on Hell stimulate your thinking.
Next Sunday we start Advent and I thought I’d mention the Advent resources the URC has for those of you who prepare and lead worship.
I hope that the array of resources available, and the reflections on Hell this week, strengthen our discipleship and common life.
With every good wish
The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship
Friday 24th November 2023
Philippians 3.13–14, 17, 20
This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. … Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. … our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The writer of the Epistle to the Philippians gives us a striking image of our relation to heaven when he writes that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’.
In one sense, the image is quite perplexing: after all, we have never been to heaven; we have no passport from heaven; and we pay no taxes to heaven.
However, this image is insightful in many other ways. Knowing that God rules over heaven indicates that God rules over us. Knowing that we are citizens indicates that we belong there in a very profound way. And knowing that there are other citizens indicates that we are far from alone.
Yet the point remains that we are not in heaven – at least, not yet – and heaven seems very far away.
The writer of Ephesians knows this well. And that is why they write of ‘straining forward’, of ‘pressing on’: we are not in heaven, not yet, but are invited towards it, directed towards it, even pulled towards it. The compass is the call of God in Christ Jesus, and we are already on the way.
In the meantime, we look for signs of heaven here and now, at this time and in this world. We look for those flashes of love and life which illuminate our lives and our world. They may not be as frequent or as fulsome as we might like … but they are there. God is not left without witnesses in the world.
And perhaps sometimes we must make bold to try to be witnesses of heaven ourselves, in ways sometimes small and sometimes great, sometimes visible and sometimes hidden. All this, as we move towards the prize that lies, for now, beyond – but will one day be ours.
We are thankful that you sent your Son from heaven to earth, doing your will among us. Coming in our form, he has both shown us the way to live and made it possible to live that way.
Grant us the faith to walk in his path, to follow in his mission, and to believe in his triumph. In the face of all that assails us, help us to see the flashes of heaven, of your life, all around us.
In the courage of our faith, may our love stay strong, and may we not lose hope.