Sunday Sermon

Sunday 20 September 2020

Dear Friends,

God willing, this should be my last weekly devotional.  That’s because next week, all being well, I will be on leave in Cornwall and I have asked Stuart to write the devotional and the following week we hope to resume church services.  So, this is an opportunity for me to look back over the past six months and reflect on them.  The thing that springs most to my mind is change.  What a lot of changes we’ve had to get used to since March.

If we look at John 11:54, we see that Jesus chose to be circumspect.  He knew that the chief priests and Pharisees were plotting against him, ‘Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea.  Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.’  When it wasn’t the right time, because of the danger to his life, Jesus changed what he was doing and prudently withdrew.  Just as we, with the threat to our lives and health, have withdrawn into our homes.  However, when it was important to go to worship, the time of the Passover festival, Jesus left his retreat and made his way to Jerusalem.  We hope and pray, that as the Government are now permitting us to meet as church, that it is the right time to be worshipping together from October.

But to go back a bit, what had brought the chief priests and Pharisees to be particularly hostile towards Jesus was the raising of Lazarus.  It was an amazing miracle that the Jewish leaders just couldn’t ignore.  For us, the raising of Lazarus brings hope of new life, of comfort for those who mourn and the knowledge of Jesus’ incredible power.

O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise,

My great Redeemer’s praise!

The glories of my God and King,

The triumphs of His grace!

Jesus! The name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease,

That bids our sorrows cease;

’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,

’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,

He sets the prisoner free,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean,

His blood availed for me.

He speaks and, listening to His voice,

New life the dead receive,

New life the dead receive;

The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,

The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,

Your loosened tongues employ,

Your loosened tongues employ;

Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;

And leap, ye lame, for joy!

My gracious Master and my God,

Assist me to proclaim,

Assist me to proclaim,

To spread through all the earth abroad

The honours of Thy name.

Charles Wesley

Jesus’ raising of Lazarus caused the mournful hearts of Mary and Martha to rejoice.  His name ‘bids our sorrows cease’ and calls us to new life.  He is the miracle worker who can do things we can hardly believe and his Holy Spirit is the Comforter for those who are struggling, so that they can say, ‘It is well with my soul.’

When peace like a river

attendeth my way,

when sorrows like sea billows roll;

whatever my lot

you have taught me to say,

‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’

It is well, with my soul;

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet,

if trials should come,

let this blessed assurance control,

that Christ has regarded

my helpless estate,

and has shed His own blood

for my soul.

It is well, with my soul;

It is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin – O the bliss

of this glorious thought –

my sin – not in part – but the whole

is nailed to his cross;

and I bear it no more;

praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

O my soul.

It is well, with my soul;

It is well, it is well with my soul.

And Lord haste the day

When our faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll

The trump shall resound

And the Lord shall descend!

Even so it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul;

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Words, Horatio G. Spafford, 1873,

Music: Philip P. Bliss, 1876

You may think, it’s all very well for Horatio Spafford to say ‘Whatever my lot … it is well with my soul’ he hasn’t lived through a pandemic.  But … his only son died at age 4 in 1871.  In 1872, the great Chicago fire wiped out his vast estate, made from a successful legal career.  In 1873 he sent his wife and four daughters to Europe on the ill-fated SS Ville du Havre.  Since he had a lot of work to do, he planned to follow them later.  The ship sank and he lost his four daughters with his wife being the only survivor.  She famously sent him a telegram which simply read, ‘SAVED ALONE ...’  He went to her, and on his return home, his law company office was burned down and the insurance company refused to pay him.  They said it was an Act of God.  As he had no money to pay his mortgage and no work, he also lost his house.  After all that he sat down and wrote, ‘Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’.

Perhaps you have a friend who says, ‘Well, there’s always someone worse off than me’, and Horatio Spafford was certainly worse off than us.  I hope his story and the miracle of the raising of Lazarus can give us greater faith in our current circumstances.

Rev. Kathy Williamson