Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 20 June 2021

Morning Worship, 10 am on Zoom 

Repeated as Holy Communion at 4 pm in Church by advance booking only

 

Trinity 3

‘A Community of Lament’

Speaker: Lucy Stone 

Series: Getting hold of Church

 

If you find this type difficult to read, 

please look at this page.

 

A version of the talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 20 June. 

 

Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

 

It’s a relatively simple thing to recognise that all is not right with the world.

We may even have a sense of sharing Christ’s sorrow for all that is yet to be put right, both in ourselves and in the wider world. 

And yet both in the church and in the wider world, there’s a bias towards ‘being happy’ or joyful - which can lead us away from engaging with the sorrow and suffering of genuine tragedy - whether that’s the tragedy of injustices in the world, the crisis of climate change, or the grief of this past year (plus) of the pandemic.

Perhaps we are called as much to be ‘a community of lament’ as much as we are called to be a community of praise, or of joy, or of grace…

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION                

Leader: Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you

All:        and also with you.

 

Leader:   We meet in the presence of God

All:        who knows our needs, 

             hears our cries, 

             feels our pain,   

             and heals our wounds.

 

HYMN: Praise my soul the King of heaven

 

CONFESSION  

Leader: Jesus saw the city and wept over it, 

because it did not recognise 

the time of God’s coming. 

We confess our part in the self-centredness,

blindness and sin 

of the life of the life of our nation and our world.  

                                                                                    cf Luke 19.41

 

Leader: Lord God, our maker and redeemer, 

             this is your world and we are your people: 

             come among us and save us. 

 

             We have wilfully misused your gifts of creation;

 

             Lord, be merciful:

All:        forgive us our sin.

 

Leader: We have seen the ill-treatment of others 

             and have not gone to their aid;

 

             Lord, be merciful:

All:        forgive us our sin.

 

Leader:   We have condoned evil and dishonesty 

             and failed to strive for justice:

 

             Lord, be merciful:

All:        forgive us our sin.

 

Leader:   We have heard the good news of Christ, 

             but have failed to share it with others;

 

             Lord, be merciful:

All:        forgive us our sin.

 

Leader:   We have not loved you with all our heart, 

             nor our neighbours as ourselves;

 

             Lord, be merciful:

All:        forgive us our sin.

 

Leader: May God who loved the world so much 

             that he sent his Son to be our Saviour 

             forgive us our sins 

             and make us holy to serve him in the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

PSALM 137 verses 1-8

 

All:        Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Nehemiah chapter 1

Nehemiah prays for his people

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Longing for light (Christ be our light)

 

SECOND READING

John chapter 12 verses 27-37 

Jesus Speaks about his Death

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

PRAISE RESPONSE

Leader:   Cast your burden upon the Lord: 

All:        He will sustain you.

 

Leader:   Create in us clean hearts, O God:

All:        Renew a right spirit within us.

 

Leader:   Cast us not away from your presence;

All:        take not your Holy Spirit from us.

 

Leader:   Give us the joy of your saving help;

All:        Sustain us with your life-giving Spirit.

 

SERMON (Lucy Stone)

‘Church: A Community of Lament’

Nehemiah 1 (& John 12.27-37)

 

Phil and James have started us off brilliantly thinking about the community in which God has called us. The community of Church. James sharing about God’s grace and how we are humbly dependent on God. And then Phil last week sharing how we can be a community which connects with our natural state of praise, praising the one who “calls us out of darkness and into his glorious light.” 

I have somehow ended up talking about something maybe on the surface less positive and encouraging. I have been given a “community of lament.” I was feeling a bit apprehensive about this, some of you know me fairly well, some of you don’t know me at all yet – though I hope as restrictions loosen we will get to know each other better. But those who do know me, will hopefully see that I am a positive person, that I normally have a smile on my face, that it takes a lot to get me down. So to think about lament seemed quite counter to who I am. However, I have realised what a gift it is to lament. I have discovered the beauty and Godliness in lamenting. 

Lamenting is an uncommon topic, we don’t talk about it that often both in church and in society. But lamenting has a place in our worship, and in fact, this last year has been cause for a lot of lament. The pandemic has caused pain and suffering, loss and anxiety. There is so much to lament because of coronavirus. The loss of quality time spent with family, the loss of holidays, the loss of physical contact, the loss of jobs, the loss of freedom, the loss of gathering weekly together to worship God and for too many, the worse loss of all, the loss of a loved one. As a church, should we be giving space to pause and recognise the grief that has been and is still being felt? Should we be appealing to God in lament together for this world? 

It is not just the pandemic that is cause for lament, there are so many other things in our world that need lamenting. The injustices, oppression and abuse in this world continue to cause suffering to millions of people. What is causing you pain at the moment? Is it the effects of covid? Is it injustices in our nation and our world? Is it global warming and the struggles our earth is facing? Is it domestic abuse? Slavery? The refugee crisis? Racism? Or is it a personal pain you are experiencing today? Illness, loss, struggles in relationships, work? Whatever it is, bring it to the table and let us lament together as a community. 

But let us take a step back for a moment and think about what lament actually means. The dictionary describes it as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”  This doesn’t mean to scream loud and bold necessarily, but just allowing the pain to fill you up to not squash it down or move it to the side and pray it will go away. Lamenting is pausing to feel the pain. To really understand the pain. And I believe, a Godly lament is to bring that pain as an appeal to God to do something about it. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I am a positive and optimistic person - things just don’t keep me down for very long. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days and feel sad and mad. I cry and I shout. But I have a wonderful support system with friends and family who help me, and I do believe a big reason for my positivity and optimism is God. I have been incredibly blessed in my life with a strong Christian heritage and have grown up knowing that God loves me and will provide for me. I have heard stories of God being there for my family and I have experienced that for myself on many occasions – most recently a £200 Sainsbury’s giftcard was posted through our door at a time when we didn’t have enough money for essentials. Therefore, when something makes me sad or mad, it doesn’t take me long to come to Jesus and his promises to me.

However, I have learnt that it is okay to come to Jesus and not feel great, to not pray for Jesus to make me feel better or to fill me with peace and to make me see the silver lining. That sometimes, it is okay to feel that pain, to pause in that pain and give it space to do what it needs to do. But in the security and safety of God’s loving embrace. 

Last week, my Grandpa very sadly passed away. He was an incredibly special man, who stood firm in his faith until his last breath – and is responsible for a lot of the stories that have boosted my faith throughout the years. On Friday, together with my family, we mourned his passing and celebrated his life. It was sad and it was painful. God was present, but that didn’t make it a happy occasion, he was present in our pain. There was joy, because we know that Grandpa is free in Heaven to worship God – whom he has served so faithfully throughout his life. But that joy didn’t take away the pain we felt at the loss of a dear man and the sadness we felt for our Granny who is now widowed. 

But I was not alone in that pain. My family were feeling it too. And God was embracing us all. And I am sure that each of you has felt pain in your life, we all feel pain. Jesus even felt pain. The shortest verse in the bible is “Jesus wept.” Pain is part of being human. 

Scripture is full of pain and subsequent lamenting; we have a whole book called Lamentations where God’s people are despairing at the destruction of Jerusalem. The Psalms are full of laments of God people. And as we read in our Old Testament scripture today, Nehemiah lamented.   

Nehemiah is speaking to us from the exile in Persia, and there are just a remnant of the people left in their homeland.  And it takes a journey, as we hear in the passage the people are in great trouble and the wall is broken down. As a response upon hearing this news Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah lamented. He felt grief and sorrow and was drawn to his knees. He couldn’t think of anything else, just the pain. Nehemiah allowed himself to feel what he was feeling. Nehemiah paused in the pain. 

But what is key about Nehemiah, is that he paused WITH God. He didn’t push God away, he invited God to be with him in the pain. He fasted and he prayed. We can get some idea of what he was thinking about in those days by his following prayer. He begins by saying: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Nehemiah knows who God is and knows God’s promises to him and to Israel and laments to that God. Nehemiah’s lament is full of hope. 

Jesus says in our passage from John’s gospel today: “Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of the light.” As Christians we are children of the light. We are light bringers. So when we are pausing in the pain - we have light. The darkness that can be in our world can’t consume us, because we have Jesus’ light. Psalm 13 is another of the psalms of lament. It starts: “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” and it ends: “I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” So just as Nehemiah came to God and recognised who he was, and just as the Psalmist pours out his heart to God but concludes that God has been good to him, so too can we pause in the pain but hope in God’s faithfulness. 

A Godly lament, therefore, is an appeal to God based on confidence in His character and in His promises. It is knowing that there is pain and sorrow, and feeling it, but it also is calling out to the God who gives us hope, in that pain and sorrow. 

Now Nehemiah didn’t just spend the whole time lamenting, he did go on to rebuild the walls. He acted. But he only acted after that pause in pain and his lament to God. So often we see injustices in the world, and just want to act - to give money, share posts to raise awareness, talk to people, campaign, protest, fight for justice. All these things are good, very good and are what God calls us to do. To hunger and thirst for righteousness. But have we paused to feel the pain that these injustices have caused, like Nehemiah did? I believe this is crucial, that we act not out of duty or responsibility, but out of empathy and a love for God’s people and world and a sorrow for what is happening. Therefore, let us take the time to pause, and to understand some of the pain that God’s people are feeling before we act. And then go, act. Stand up for righteousness. Hold up the light. 

So what about us as a church? Here at St Andrew’s. Do we see this lamenting, this appeal to God based on his character and His promises to us, happening here? Do we feel like we can come to church with all our pain and lament in the sanctuary it provides? Should we feel like we can? Church needs to be a place we can be free to feel every emotion we feel. Whether that be joy, anger, love, anxiety, pain. Where we can bring the pain of the world to God together. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and it didn’t look good, the church I was a part of at the time felt that pain we were all feeling. We cried out regularly to God to heal her, to restore her. Every Sunday, time was given to pray for her, we worshipped with her name on our hearts, we lamented together. Sadly, she died. And the church mourned. It was heartbreaking, but it was beautiful too. It was what God designed the church to be. A place where you can feel what you need to feel and feel it with others around you too. A place where you can be reminded of God’s faithfulness and promises. But that doesn’t force these promises upon you in such a way that makes you feel like you ought to be happy or okay about everything. A church who lets you pause in the pain. And holds you close as you do. 

Can we be like that? Can we lament together? What would that look like? There is suffering in this world and it is time that the church takes notice of this. There is racism, there is abuse, there is global warming, there is children growing up too fast, there is people dying as they try to flee home to somewhere safer, there is a pandemic, there is so much suffering. Let us not ignore it anymore, let us feel the pain. Let us grieve. Let us lament. But let us also hope in our loving, faithful and good Heavenly Father.  

 

A version of the talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 20 June.

 

HYMN: Before the throne of God above 

 

PRAYERS (Valli Rao)

 

Lord, in your mercy,
All:        hear our prayer.

 

‘Lord you have been our dwelling place

in all generations;

before the mountains were brought forth

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ (Psalm 90.1-2)

 

Nehemiah broke down, wept, fasted and prayed in distress expressed his sorrow to Israel’s sin.

He knew when god’s people pray effectively, difficult decisions fall into proper perspective and appropriate action follows.

 

Let us pray to our God in heaven, the great and awesome God, with that commitment.

 

Heavenly Father, hear us as we pray for the worldwide church, the needs of the world, for our church community and for ourselves.

 

Father God, to you a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

To us recent times are like a thousand years because of the lockdown we have faced:

the isolation, loneliness, disappointment, financial inequality and unemployment.

By your mercy we are slowly coming out of it.

We thank you for the vaccination programme and the medical care by dedicated professionals.

 

Lord, in your mercy,
All:        hear our prayer.

 

We pray for the places around the world where Covid seems to be out of control, and for their politicians who are trying to control the pandemic.  

We pray that all these countries will have enough supply of vaccine and medical equipment needed for those who are suffering the most.

May the rich countries may be generous in offering help to those most in need.

 

Lord, in your mercy,
All:        hear our prayer.

 

We praise you, Father for the privilege we have to worship, to openly remember our brothers and sisters in some parts of the world who are persecuted and tortured because they are Christians.

 

We lament the stigma and prejudice to mental health problems and gender dysphoria in our society.

We remember the homeless, prisoners, poor and the needy. 

We pray our church may be a place in which we welcome, nurture encourage and include every one as you did during your ministry on earth.

 

Lord, in your mercy,
All:        hear our prayer.

 

We pray for the relatives and friends who care for the sick, lonely and house bound.

Comfort and heal all those who suffer body, mind or spirit. Locally we pray for…

Give them courage and hope in their in their troubles, 
and bring them the joy of your salvation.

 

Lord, in your mercy,
All:        hear our prayer.

 

THE PRAYER FOR TODAY

God our Saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

All:        Amen.

 

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

 

All:        Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen.

 

HYMN: Lord of our life and God of our salvation

 

CLOSING PRAYER

All:        In darkness and in light, 

             in trouble and in joy,

             help us, heavenly Father, 

             to trust your love, 

             to serve your purpose, 

             and to praise your name; 

             through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

             Amen.

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:   May God keep you in all your days. 

             May Christ shield you in all your ways. 

             May the Spirit bring you healing and peace.

             May God the Holy Trinity drive all 

                  darkness from you 

             and pour upon you blessing and light;

 

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. What concerns make you want to raise a lament to God?

 

  1. Lucy points out that Nehemiah followed up his lament to God with action.  What action to you think you could take after bringing these laments to God?

 

  1. Do you think there is anything that is ‘off limits’ – that shouldn’t be brought as a lament?

 

 

Church of England logo


Printer Printable Version