Material for Worship on the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Recently Nerys came across this photo of a sign outside a Dundee church. It is intended to bring a smile to the faces of passers by but it also expresses a truth which, in these difficult times, is both comforting and challenging.

Throughout the Bible, we see God at work, from the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis telling the story of God’s work in Creation to the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. God is particularly active in working with people as today’s Psalm reminds us. ‘You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways’ (Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18). God is the Good Shepherd, always guiding and protecting his flock, a gardener, an artist, a potter, a parent, a builder.

In today’s Gospel passage, John 1.43-51, read here by Martin, we see God at work through Jesus.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks several times about being sent to complete his Father’s work. Here the work consists of seeking and finding those who are actively searching for him. We’re often unaware of God at work in our lives and think that it’s all down to us. This is what gives the story of the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel its wry humour. John tells us that Jesus goes to Galilee to find Philip and invite him to be his follower. But listen to Philip’s triumphant words to his friend, Nathanael, ‘We’ve found him about whom Moses and the law and the prophets wrote!’ Philip thinks it is he who has found Jesus, the Messiah, not realizing that it is always God who takes the first step. The longing deep in Philip’s heart, which had led him to study the scriptures – the same longing that had driven Nathanael to sit and pray under the fig tree – was the work of God. As St Augustine said, we could not even have begun to seek for God unless he had already found us.

In the New Testament, we see that it is the same deep and sincere desire for relationship with God that had caused Saul to become a Pharisee and such a zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus. His passion was misplaced, just like Nathanael’s initial incredulity borne out of prejudice, that anything of any value could come from the town of Nazareth. God’s work is transforming work and it doesn’t stop at our initial calling. God works in us for the rest of our lives, guiding us in the right direction, widening our understanding, deepening our compassion, helping us to deal with those things that diminish us and distance us from His love.

God also works through us, as he did with Philip, who didn’t argue with his friend but invited him to ‘come and see’. In our Old Testament passage today, 1 Samuel 3.1-20, read here by June, we see God at work through an old, blind priest and a courageous young boy.

God who is love has made it his job to know each one of us intimately. He has given me and you a special message to deliver, a special song to sing for others, a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak my message, or sing my song, or offer my act of love. These are entrusted only to me by a God who knows me personally. ‘Where did you come to know me?’ asks Nathanael as his distain turns to amazement. You’ve seen nothing yet, is Jesus’ response. In responding to God’s unique calling and allowing him to work through us, whatever stage of life we are at, we discover what we were born for and that brings with it a profound sense of rightness and peace.

You are invited to follow the words of a hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith, which speaks of Christ’s work in and through our lives. You may wish to sing along to the tune ‘Love Unknown’ played here by David.

Christ is the One who calls,
the One who loved and came,
to whom by right it falls
to bear the highest name:
and still today
our hearts are stirred
to hear his word
and walk his way.

Christ is the One who seeks,
to whom our souls are known.
The word of love he speaks
can wake a heart of stone;
for at that sound
the blind can see,
the slave is free,
the lost are found.

Christ is the One who died,
forsaken and betrayed;
who, mocked and crucified,
the price of pardon paid.
Our dying Lord,
what grief and loss,
what bitter cross,
our souls restored!

Christ is the One who rose
in glory from the grave,
to share his life with those
whom once he died to save.
He drew death’s sting
and broke its chains,
who lives and reigns,
our risen King.

Christ is the One who sends,
his story to declare;
who calls his servants friends
and gives them news to share.
His truth proclaim
in all the earth,
his matchless worth
and saving name.

Let us pray to our God who is at work in us and through us, knowing that he is listening to us. (With thanks to John for putting together the intercessions that follow.)

To him who alone is God let us make our requests with thanksgiving, through the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus.

I ask your prayers for peace in the life of the world, in dangerous places, in disaster areas, in more stable areas and in all our dreams.
Uphold all those promoting the democratic outcome of the presidential election in the
United States. Support the Uighur people suffering from violent persecution in Western China. Give hope to the civilians in North East Nigeria suffering from very long running terror attacks.
Pray for God’s peace.

I ask your prayers for all who suffer injury, sickness and loss.
Pray for all who are afflicted.

I ask your prayers for all who wield authority and influence, through God’s call.
Remind them that they have been entrusted by all those that they represent, to serve to the best of their abilities. Inspire President elect Joe Biden and Vice President elect Kamala Harris in their new presidency. Give strength to Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon as they lead our governments and are continuously asked questions which cannot be answered. Enrichen charities such as Christian Aid and Tearfund who respond to disasters and provide ongoing support, directly to local agencies, that support thousands of people.
Pray for all who exercise power.

I ask your prayers for all whom we have wronged and all whom we disagree with.
Lead us to respect all who are different from us. Help us understand that our own red lines may be seen as offensive to others. Make space for people, with different views to talk to each other. Enable us all to listen.
Pray for all who hate us.

I ask your prayers for our bishops as they field questions about our churches being closed and for all whom Christ has appointed to his service, as they nurture our faith.
Help cast the burdens off our Ministry team after a long year. Guide the technical team who have been streaming St Mary’s worship. Flood all your disciples with your Holy Spirit.
Pray for God’s people.

O God, whose will it is that all should find salvation and come to know the truth: receive
the prayers and petitions which we offer in faith and love; through him who gave proof of your purpose, and who sacrificed himself to win freedom for all mankind, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.