Minister's Sermon - Friday 20th March
Rev Tony Parkinson
Hymn STF 73

1 Fill thou my life, O Lord my God,

In every part with praise,

That my whole being may proclaim

Thy being and thy ways.

2 Not for the lip of praise alone

Nor e'en the praising heart

I ask, but for a life made up

Of praise in every part:

3 Praise in the common things of life,

Its goings out and in;

Praise in each duty and each deed,

However small and mean.

4 Fill every part of me with praise;

Let all my being speak

Of thee and of thy love, O Lord,

Poor though I be and weak.

5 So shalt thou, gracious Lord, from me

Receive the glory due;

And so shall I begin on earth

The song for ever new.

6 So shall no part of day or night

From sacredness be free;

But all my life, in every step,

Be fellowship with thee.

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

Prayer

God – almighty creator, provider, sustainer, we worship you.

Jesus Christ – ever-living saviour, healer, teacher, we worship you.

Holy Spirit – wisdom of God, present and active, we worship you.

Accept our praise this day; enlarge our vision, increase our love for you and for all creation, and bring us into the kingdom of your glory.

In the name of Christ we pray: Amen

Reading – 1 Corinthians 10.14-22

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

Consider the people of Israel: do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Today’s reading comes from the lectionary in the Methodist prayer handbook, one of a series entitled ‘preaching & example’. Paul is giving the Corinthian church some practical advice about how to live distinctively as Christians in a multi-cultural, multifaith environment. It may seem rather esoteric, since Paul centres on the question of eating food offered in sacrifice; however we must remember the local situation. Corinth was like all cities of the Roman Empire, home to many different religions, each with their own customs and practices, and Christians would be rubbing shoulders with devotees of Greek and Roman gods, and of stranger deities from further east. The social situation might well arise as to how a Christian should behave as guest at dinner where the meat being served comes from an animal sacrificed to a pagan god. But Paul extracts a deeper meaning which is still relevant for us: how does our behaviour in community align with our profession of faith?

Paul explains this in terms of participation (the actual Greek word is koinonia, which is usually translated ‘fellowship’), and he uses the Lord’s Supper as his example; by joining together in eating bread and drinking wine we become part of the one ‘body’ of Christ which is the church, but we are also are in fellowship with Christ himself. This is an inclusive relationship, drawing together all fellow-believers; but it must also be exclusive, since (as the hymn-writer says) ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’. However there were similar expression of participation in other religions especially through shared meals, and Paul was aware of the risk that if Christians were to join in activities in any way associated with pagan religion, they might be drawn away from true fellowship with Christ.

We might think ‘that’s not a problem today – we don’t believe in idols’. Nonetheless we have to pose ourselves the fundamental question: who (or what) is first in my life? It is too easy for the best to be pushed into second place by something which is of itself good, but not as good – for example, for family or career or leisure activities to have top priority. I worry when a church member says ‘I can’t come to worship next Sunday – I have to stay at home to prepare lunch for family visitors.’ Is it unimportant – a one-off event - or an expression of split loyalties? And what about the Christian business-man or politician who is always on call even on Sundays? We may not agree with everything that Teresa May did, but for her worship on Sunday was a priority. The fact is, a Christian must be single-minded, God-focused. Jesus said that we can’t serve God and money (in Chandler’s Ford he might have said that we can’t support Saints and Pompey). God comes first, everything else is second - and there is no better time than Lent to look at our life again and make sure that our priorities are right.

Prayer

We bring to God the needs of the world and its people.

We pray for all those affected by the Coronavirus pandemic – for people who are infected, for those caring for them, and those in quarantine – for those coping with voluntary or enforced social isolation, and those trying to carry on a normal life under great difficulties. Give us all courage to face up to the fear of illness, consideration for the needs of others, care and compassion for those least able to cope, and love which will look out for those who most need help.

We pray for the church as it faces unprecedented restrictions on its normal activities. May we be creative in ways to serve you in our community, adaptable in how we worship, and single-minded in our loyalty to you.

We pray for this church and all its members, that we may find new ways of supporting each other, especially those who are sick or lonely or bereaved.

We sum up all our prayers in the words that Jesus gave his church:

Our Father, who art in heaven.....

Hymn STF 676

1 Christ, from whom all blessings flow,

Perfecting the saints below,

Hear us, who thy nature share,

Who thy mystic body are.

2 Join us, in one spirit join,

Let us still receive of thine;

Still for more on thee we call,

Thou who fillest all in all.

3 Closer knit to thee, our Head,

Nourished, Lord, by thee, and fed,

Let us daily growth receive,

More in Jesus Christ believe.

4 Never from thy service move,

Needful to each other prove,

Use the grace on each bestowed,

Tempered by the art of God.

5 Love, like death, has all destroyed,

Rendered all distinctions void;

Names, and sects, and parties fall:

Thou, O Christ, art all in all.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

May the blessing of God be with us today –

On our going out and our coming in:

On our speaking and our thinking:

On our living and our loving –

Now and for ever. Amen