A tale of two halves

We will be looking at the Jonah and Mark passages You may like to get them ready in your own Bible.

Welcome

I am so pleased that you are sharing this act of worship. Please accept my welcome to you again. I would like to invite you to participate in Holy Communion, so you might like to get some bread, a cracker, or a biscuit; and something to drink, water, fruit juice, or wine – whatever is available and appropriate for you.

Call to worship

This is the day that the LORD has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD

for His love endures forever,

This is none other than the house of God,

and this is the gate of heaven.

I am well aware that as you start this service you may not feel so glad, but I find that words like these are uplifting. If you sing the hymns, you might like to sing this through at least twice!

Hymn           Rejoice and Sing 386

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart

I will enter His courts with praise;

I will say, “this is the day that the Lord has made,

I will rejoice for He has made me glad.”

He has made me glad, He has made me glad;

I will rejoice for He has made me glad.

He has made me glad, He has made me glad;

I will rejoice for He has made me glad.

Leona van Brethorst

© 1981 Lorenz Publishing Co/MCA Music Publishing/CopyCare

 

Prayer of approach

Gracious God, we come before You now, each in our own homes, yet united in our worship.

As we come before You now, may we be aware in a fresh and new way of Your presence as You dwell with us in Your Holy Spirit.

As we come before You now, we seek to honour You.

Gracious God, in coming before You now,

may we be changed more into the likeness of our Saviour Jesus Christ.    Amen.

Theme introduction

Having decided that this service would include Holy Communion, I wondered how the two halves might link, or maybe seem disconnected. Communion can stand alone, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Then I read the lectionary readings, and made a connection.

A tale of two halves

Yes, I know that the saying is really “A game of two halves” but that didn’t quite say what I wanted to! Well, definitely not as my starting point as we are not playing; this is not a game. I did some quick research; looking up “A tale of two halves” leads quickly to “a game of two halves” but also brings up “A tale of two cities.” Actually, both of these were interesting to me because of what they represent.

Readings  

Jonah 3:1–5, 10

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Mark 1:14–20

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Sermon

A tale of two halves

I would like to share with you some thoughts about two halves.

The book of Jonah is a tale, or story, of two halves, the half affected by Jonah trying to run away from God’s calling, and the half where Jonah obeys God. Maybe it is a tale of two cities as well: Nineveh before God’s word is brought to them, and Nineveh after the people heard God’s word, repented, and changed their ways.

         Our Mark passage also brings us a tale of two halves for the lives of Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John. The half when they were fishermen, and the half when they obeyed God’s call to follow Jesus.

         This is perhaps the moment to come back to the idea of a “game of two halves.” What is meant by this in sporting terms, is that sometimes one team play best in one half, and then in the second half things change round completely and they get outplayed by the other team. People sometimes use the saying as a metaphor for their life; after some significant event changes things so that one part of their life no longer resembles the other.

         I would like you to use your imagination for a moment. Think of an orange. How many segments does it have?

Apparently oranges usually have ten segments, but can have more or less. Let’s assume a ‘usual’ orange with ten, therefore a simple half of an orange has five segments. Of course, halving something is simply dividing it into two and not necessarily symmetrical, so one ‘half’ could be two segments, and the other eight! Alternatively, oranges sometimes get cut across the circumference dividing into two pieces, each with halves of ten segments. Enough of that!

         If we consider the lives of Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, there are many defining moments at which there could be considered a game, or tale, of two halves. As in our passage, the halves before and after following Jesus. But also:

before and after Jesus taught them how to pray;

before and after witnessing their first miracle;

before and after being sent out the first time to spread the good news;

before and after Peter declaring that Jesus was the Christ;

before and after they entered Jerusalem, hailing Jesus as King;

before and after the last supper;

before and after the crucifixion;

before and after the resurrection;

before and after, for Peter, denying and later being forgiven;

before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

         Each of these moments will have been defining moments in their lives, causing different changes, and changes of different magnitudes.

         Let me take you back to Jonah for a moment. This is a short book in the Bible, just four chapters. You might like to read it, and consider how many defining moments there are, how many different pivotal experiences and the before and after changes these made to Jonah.

         I would like to turn now to “A Tale of Two Cities.” I haven’t read this one of Dicken’s novels, so I looked it up. Apparently, it “deals with the major themes of duality, revolution, and resurrection.” Even if you are not familiar with the novel, you may be with at least part of the opening sentence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” If I have understood correctly, Dickens effectively gives some of his characters new life (resurrection), sometimes through them moving to live in different places, and ultimately new life being given because of self-less giving. Having a vague idea of the synopsis of “A Tale of two cities” was something I hadn’t expected to find and resonated with my theme.

         We have thought about Jonah’s “tale of two halves”, and that of Simon, Andrew, James and John. We have realised that there can be many different defining moments which make life “a game of two halves”. This is true of us as well, either side of which life is very different. These are some, although not all of them will fit for every life, and not necessarily in this order:

before and after we started going to school;

before and after we made special friendships;

before and after we started going to work;

before and after medical diagnosis;

before and after we were made redundant;

before and after we lost someone;

before and after we met our partners;

before and after got married;

before and after we had children;

before and after a special sporting or musical achievement …

I’m sure you can add others, and while it is true that some of these are major life changing factors like going to school or starting work, their impact can have become so much part of life that we can forget how important they were; others impact our lives nearly every day. But for me, this is the most important defining moment for “A tale of two halves”:
before and after we knew and accepted for ourselves the new life of God in Jesus Christ!

For a moment, let us come back to the orange! Even though it may have been divided into two or cut in half, it is still one orange. The two halves are now a different orange, but it doesn’t become two oranges! It is in some ways different, and in some ways the same. One half is always part of a whole! And what about those sporting games of two halves? The two halves may be very different, but they are still part of the same game.

Some of us will have grown up in church life, but there has to be a time when we accepted the faith as our own; others of us may have drifted into church life, perhaps through friends or changing life circumstances; other of us may have had a sudden transformation of life – but for each of us it is knowing in mind and heart, that Jesus gave his life for me; knowing, accepting and receiving God’s love; knowing that there is part of us that does things our own way, which can sometime hurt our relationships, and isn’t how God would have us live, which brings us to be sorry, and then to know God’s forgiveness, acceptance and life. This truly is the stuff of a tale, a game, a life – of two halves.

It may be, that as you read or hear this, you realise that you haven’t had that defining life moment of accepting and receiving God’s new life. You may have attended church all your life, going with the flow, even enjoying it and finding it helpful, but not making the faith your own. Or this may be something quite new to you. Either way, whether you have known it or not, God has been with you all your life, through the mundane as well as all the defining experiences; God knows you through and through, warts and all, joys and sorrows, and loves you completely. Perhaps today is the day, so I invite you to say this prayer:

Dear God, thank you that you love me and have a good plan and purpose for my life. I’m sorry for ignoring you and doing things my way. I realise now that I have done and thought and said things that have hurt you and the people around me, and for this I’m truly sorry.

Thank you Jesus that you gave your life for me. Please forgive me and help me now, by the power of your Holy Spirit, as I decide to live for you.    Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer, please get in touch with me for a confidential chat about it. Also, do get in touch if you would like to talk privately about any “before and after” life experiences.

         Remember that for each of us – our lives are one whole life. Although some things seem to change it beyond recognition, throughout it all God has been, and is, and always will be with us.

Our next hymn came up in a conversation with my Mum, and I think it fits very well in our worship today. If you have access to the internet you might like to look it up on YouTube, sung by Stuart Townend, from an album “Worship songs of grace.”

Hymn       

1/5 I know not why God’s wondrous grace

to me has been made known;

nor why – unworthy as I am –

He claimed me for His own.

But ‘I know whom I have believed;

and am persuaded that His is able

to keep that which I’ve committed

unto Him against that day.’

2/5 I know not how this saving faith

to me He did impart;

or how believing in His word

wrought peace upon my heart.

3/5 I know not how the Spirit moves,

convincing men of sin;

revealing Jesus through the word,

creating faith in Him.

4/5 I know not what of good or ill

may be reserved for me –

of weary ways or golden days

before His face I see.

5/5 I know not when my Lord may come;

I know not how, nor where;

if I shall pass the vale of death,

or meet Him in the air.

Daniel Webster Whittle (1840 – 1901)

Holy Communion

Our remaining liturgy and prayers are from the Second URC Order for Holy Communion (slightly adapted).

         I hope and pray that this sacrament will be especially meaningful for you.

Prayer of Praise

Loving God, in the company of all your people we come to you, and your presence is joy to us. We come here on this first day of the week to meet with you and with each other and to listen for your word for each one. We are ready to break bread and to drink wine, to remember again the stories of our faith, and to be changed by being here with you. As we worship in the company of angels, surrounded by the saints, and embraced by your love, let us give ourselves openly and freely, as you give yourself to us, in tenderness and love. Loving God, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, we worship you, the one holy and eternal God.

Silence

Prayer of Confession and words of forgiveness

God of justice and forgiveness, we confess that we live in a world in which some are hungry even for bread, many people are sad or hurt, and there is much that is unfair and unjust. We confess that in our own lives we do not always do what is right or turn away from what is wrong. We ask your forgiveness, we claim your love and mercy, asking that you would assure us again of your forgiveness, and we ask for courage to make a new beginning. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:9)

He also said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:35)

Prayer for grace

Eternal God, we believe the good news of your mercy and love, and rejoice that we are forgiven and free. Receive us as your children, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, part of your new community of love, and give us strength to do your will, today and always. Amen.

The invitation

Jesus was often a guest. He shared many meals with his friends, and they long remembered his words at the table. Though some disapproved of the company he kept, Jesus ate and drank with all kinds of people and showed everyone the love of God. Wherever people met together Jesus was glad to be welcomed and to be fed. Today, we are the guests of Jesus. He welcomes us, whoever we are and whatever we bring, and he will feed us at his table. Old or young, rich or poor, joyful or in sorrow, Jesus invites us to share bread and wine with him, to remember the story of his life and death, and to celebrate his presence with us today. On the night before he died, Jesus shared a meal with twelve of his disciples in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. The Gospel writer tells us what happened that night.

The story of the Lord’s Supper

While they were eating, he took bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take: this is my body’. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

We are the friends and disciples of Jesus today. He invites us to break bread together, to remember him and to pray

that God’s Kingdom will come.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. Amen.

Offering Prayer:        

We bring this bread and this wine to the table of Jesus. With them we bring ourselves, all that we are and all that we own. We pray that the ordinary may become holy, and heaven be opened to the people of earth.

We thank you God for the gift of life, and for the gift of this bread and wine. For all these gifts we thank you and ask you to bless these elements of bread and wine to our bodies and our lives to your service. Amen.

Break the bread and hold it for a moment.

Eat this bread. It is the bread of life.

Pick up your cup and hold it for a moment.

Drink this cup. It is the cup of blessing.

Thanks be to God for his gift beyond words.

Let us pray:

Loving God, you have fed us generously at this table, as we have remembered Jesus and rejoiced that he is with us today. We are ready now to follow him, and to be your people in the world. May your Holy Spirit show us the way, make us holy and fill us with love.

Hymn        Rejoice and Sing 448

Here, Lord, we take the broken bread

and drink the wine, believing

that by Your life our souls are fed,

Your parting gift receiving.

As You have given, so we would give

ourselves for others’ healing;

and as You lived, so we would live,

the Father’s love revealing.

C.V. Pilcher (1879 – 1961) altd.

Prayers of Intercession 

Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for the Church, for the great Church throughout the world, and for our own Church community gathered today for worship and prayer. May we remember Jesus every day, grow in understanding of him, and learn to love You and our neighbours more and more. Fill us with Your Spirit, and make us a people of peace, of faithful prayer and loving action.

Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for the whole world; for the people, the animals, the earth, the sea and the air. May all that You have made be sustained in peace and harmony, and may all Your creatures share in the goodness of creation. Bring healing to all who are suffering, and may all Your people share in hope.

Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for ourselves, for our families and our friends, for all those we love and for those we find it hard to love. May young and old respect one another, and the generations honour one another. May nothing divide us or come between us, let Your love bind us in affection. Bless us with Your peace, that together we may praise You forever.

Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us.

Lord accept all our prayers, spoken and unspoken through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn        Rejoice and Sing 530

1/4 Living God, Your joyful Spirit

breaks the bounds of time and space,

rests in love upon Your people,

drawn together in this place.

Here we join in glad thanksgiving,

here rejoice to pray and praise:

Lord of all our past traditions,

Lord of all our future days.

2/4 As Your bread may we be broken,

scattered in community;

we who know Your greatest blessings

called to share Christ’s ministry.

May we gently lead each other,

share our hunger and our thirst;
learn that only through our weakness

shall we know the strength of Christ.

3/4 Lord, when we grow tired of giving,

feel frustration, hurt and strain,

by Your Spirit’s quiet compulsion,

draw us back to You again.

Guide us through the bitter searching

when our confidence is lost;

give us hope from desolation,

arms outstretched upon a cross.

4/4 Living God, Your power surrounds us,

as we face the way Christ trod,

challenge us to fresh commitment

to the purposes of God:

called to share a new creation,

called to preach a living word,

promised all the joys of heaven,

through the grace of Christ our Lord.

© Jill Jenkins (born 1937)

Blessing

The blessing of God be upon you,

the One who loves you,  the Christ who calls you,

the Spirit who makes you holy, today and always.       Amen.