The Lord be with you! Welcome, Cheviot churches and also those joining us from elsewhere. This is Colin, and I hope everyone is staying well and keeping safe. Come, people of God, let us worship together on this 3rd Sunday after Epiphany.
Call to Worship
God alone is our rock and our salvation.
We will not be shaken!
Trust in God at all times, O people.
We will pour out our hearts to God, our refuge.
In this time of worship, let us turn our lives to God and accept the good news.
We will listen for Christ’s call and follow him.
Hymn 104 – The Lord of heav’n confess
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
O God of Life and Hope
In these still early weeks of this year we gather in our different places, and yet mysteriously together, to worship you.
We are here to be renewed by you, O God, so that we may be able to renew others;
to hear in the quiet places of our beings
that word of love and divine friendship;
to gain fresh vision so that we may help draw others
into that circle of truth, life and service that is your Kingdom.
Our longings after you are deeply true, O God
but they are not always wholly pure.
We are dusty with sin;
we have compromised when we ought not to have
and in those things where love said “give way”
we have instead held fast.
Forgive us, and restore us in the many dimensions of our lives.
Make our longings for you and for the life of your Kingdom, the truth of our lives.
Make the words of our hearts and mouths,
the actions of our hands,
more nearly match our true hearts.
The God of mercy, who forgives all sin, forgives us.
May this God also strengthen in us all goodness,
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So be at peace with God, with yourself and with each other, in the name of Christ our Lord
Readings – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Mark 1: 14-20
Hymn 340 – When Jesus saw the fishermen
Almighty God, today finds us in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity; help us to listen to your voice still calling us to unity in our diversity. Help us to repent and believe the good news, and to follow Jesus as He calls us again today. Amen
Remember the time when libraries were open? You could go in and choose from fiction or biography, the children’s section or so many different types of non-fiction from travel to gardening. The Bible is often called a library of 66 books and has history and poetry, biography collection of letters and far more beside - even, I would suggest, comedy. Comedy? Or maybe, gentle humour. Certainly, whenever I read the book of Jonah, I have a smile on my face.
Now, today we are remembering Christian Unity, but also the 25th marks the birthday of Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet. Burns had an uncomfortable relationship with the Church, though many friends were ministers. He lambasts the ‘unco guid’, those who had a high conceit of themselves. Jonah was one of the unco guid, who no doubt enjoyed being a prophet; it had a certain status in society. But then God drops a bombshell and wants Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach. Now, Nineveh was not just up the road; it was thousands of miles away in what is now Northern Iraq and was the capital of Israel’s dreaded enemy, Assyria. That was the last place Jonah wanted to go, so he went down to the harbour and caught a boat going to Tarshish, near Gibraltar, the ends of the earth at that time, entirely the opposite direction from Nineveh. He thought he could escape God, that he could leave God behind in Israel. On the boat he must have been smiling to himself thinking he has won, when there was suddenly a storm, when there was suddenly a great fish – which swallowed Jonah and which ultimately dumped Jonah right on the doorstep of Nineveh. He learned that there was no escaping God.
In the passage we read today Jonah is given the same task – to call Nineveh to repentance. The humour goes on, for in a feat to make Billy Graham green with envy, he gives a 30 second sermon and becomes a preaching sensation: today, he would have millions of followers on Twitter. All the inhabitants of the city repent, even the animals wear sackcloth. You would think that would have made Jonah happy, but he is livid – he wanted God to destroy Nineveh. He doesn’t want them to be forgiven, he doesn’t want them to know God’s love.
Many scholars think that Jonah was written at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when some of the exiles had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and found that people had intermarried with the other nations around. But some of the returning exiles were quite fanatical and wanted a stricter interpretation of the Law. They wanted people to send away their foreign wives. They felt that God only belonged to them and no-one else.
The writer of Jonah was making a plea for greater tolerance. For them, the exile proved that God wasn’t confined to Jerusalem, but was with those exiled in Babylon too. God was far bigger than they imagined, and the book of Jonah is suggesting that God’s love is universal and that all nations are within God’s embrace. People may be very different from us, but that doesn’t exclude them from God’s love.
It is an appropriate message for the week when we remember Christian Unity. People may worship in different ways, and that should be something to rejoice about. Yes, there are issues which still divide the churches, and we need to be honest about them. But there is so much which unites.
We should rather focus on the call to show God’s love to others. Jonah was a reluctant prophet, but fortunately in our Gospel the fishermen accepted the call to follow Christ – and the world was turned upside down.
Hymn 533 – Will you come and follow me
Prayers of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of wisdom and integrity, you call your people to live together in joy and in justice. Hear us as we pray for the needs of the world.
We pray for those whose faces and stories we have seen on the news this week;
For those who live in places of fear and war,
For those whose decisions affect the lives of nations, and we remember those making hard decisions about Covid, but also thank you for all involved in the vaccination programme.
For Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as they take over leadership of the United States, where there are so many divisions.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we ask you to help us to see clearly the divisions in our churches and be willing to engage in honest dialogue with those whose ideas and traditions differ from our own.
We pray for the unity of your Church.
Help us to see ourselves as rays from one sun, branches of a single tree and streams flowing from one river.
May we remain united to you and to each other, because you are our common source of life.
We pray for the leaders of our churches.
As a church may we be faithful to your call to work together and share our resources with those in need.
We pray for those who are sick or sad or in trouble and for those who care for them.
We pray for those who have died and their families and friends who miss them so much.
And in a moment of silence, we pray for our own needs and hopes and dreams.
Hymn 516 – We are marching..
May you know God’s peace in your heart and in your home. May you find God’s strength in the moments of your need.
May the love of the Father, the grace of the Son,
the friendship of the Spirit be yours today,
and for every day to come. Amen.