Sunday Worship from All Souls, Langham Place
OPENING INTROIT: ‘Jesus Child’ by John Rutter, (last verse only)
HUGH PALMER: Introduction:
A very happy New Year and a very warm welcome to All Souls Langham Place this morning. As we surface from Christmas, when you certainly will have heard the story of the Jesus child, most of us will have taken time to look back as well as looking ahead to the year in front of us.
And there's no denying it's been a gloomy 2011 and - if we don't look upwards to Jesus Christ to transform our attitudes and hope - it feels like a pretty difficult one to come too. So to help us this morning we're going to look a little further back - and further forward.
Every church’s ministry is shaped to a considerable extent by its geography and its history. All Souls is situated at the heart of the West End of London, one of the most multi-ethnic cities in the world, and for the past 60 years and more our history has been linked with John Stott. A former Rector and a lifelong member here, John died last year aged 90 but his ministry set a course we are still keen to follow as we look to the future and all that 2012 really still does have to offer.
Included in 2005 in Time Magazine’s World’s 100 Most Influential Figures, John Stott was a theologian of international renown who crossed denominational and churchmanship boundaries. Above all he was a preacher who galvanized and led particularly the evangelical world not only in its traditional strengths like evangelism but to face the bible’s teaching on social concerns and to apply its principles to contemporary issues. A prolific author, many knew him from his writing, from his magisterial work “The Cross of Christ” to his engagingly telling book on Issues Facing Christians Today.
So, at the start of this year, we’re going to look back at 2 or 3 major planks for any church’s ministry, foundations which John laid for us – and for the wider Christian world - so well; I invite you to listen to him and some whose lives have been deeply affected by him and reflect on how our ministry as a church – at All Souls or in your own context - should look as we prepare to move forward and set out on another year.
First though let’s rejoice in our God; the God who has guided us in the past and the God to whom we commit ourselves for the future. Our congregation is led by the All Souls Orchestra and Prom Praise Choir:
HYMN: Lord for the years (© Words: Timothy Dudley-Smith, Music: Michael Baughen, Arranged: Noël Tredinnick)
At the heart of John Stott's ministry was the careful regular explanation of scripture to hundreds who came to this church week by week to hear him preach. So throughout our service we will hear brief extracts from sermons he preached here, some from years ago. The son of a Harley Street doctor from just a few streets away, John was public school educated in the 1930s and converted while at Rugby School by the famous evangelist Eric Nash. As John would have wanted each of our reflections begins with scripture and includes personal testimony, a few words from me, and prayer. Leading our service with me today is David Turner - a long-time churchwarden here and friend of John.
A reading from Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians chapter 4, verse 5 and 6.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. [ 2Cor 4 :5,6]
My name is Frances Whitehead. It was New Year’s Eve 60 years ago, and John Stott, the young Rector, was preaching here in All Souls at a Watchnight Service. I happened to be in the congregation (a purely nominal Christian), and that night I found myself listening to John Stott unfolding the story of Nicodemus - a man who had gone to Jesus by night as an enquirer after truth, and to whom Jesus had said that in order to understand spiritual truth, he needed to be ‘born again’ – that is, to start life afresh (believing in him as the Son of God and Saviour of the world).
As I listened, I heard John Stott’s repeated appeal to us to fix our eyes on Jesus, and to listen to him. John Stott spoke with simplicity, and such evident conviction, that I found myself being drawn personally to believe in Jesus (who he was, and why he had died on the cross) and wanting to begin a new life of faith, not empty profession. So at the end of the service, I made my decision - I turned to Christ in prayer, opening my heart and life to him; I asked for forgiveness for past unbelief, failures and hypocrisy, and asked him to take over my life from then on.
So that was my New Year resolution, made 60 years ago today. It led 4 years later to my leaving the job I had at the BBC and starting a new career as John Stott’s secretary - a role that I have been glad to accept ever since, with no regrets.
And how thankful I am that throughout his ministry John Stott so faithfully preached this message of salvation – pointing people constantly to the Lord Jesus Christ, urging them to look and to listen to him, and to face up to his claims to be their Saviour and Lord. For that is what he truly is.
Hugh Palmer - Reflection 1:
We don’t always have to be able to pinpoint the moment as precisely as Frances Whitehead, who was John’s secretary for almost 60 years, is able to in order to know that a life has been shaped or changed. Jesus has a habit of doing that and He didn’t stop doing that in the 50s when Frances first came to a living Christian faith.
The last few years at All Souls Langham Place here in the heart of London have seen baptisms and testimonies that have pointed to the fruit of the gospel of Jesus. The former drug dealer who now helps lead in the children’s ministry, the city worker for whom all the pieces of evidence fell together on Waterloo Station, the concert pianist who told me at the age of 12 she had learned how to assemble a gun in 24 seconds – it was all part of her education in her country’s regime – the family friend who was helped to find Christ by the 10 year old son to whom she felt she could ask the questions that sounded too foolish to put to his parents.
The stories can go on and on as people come into contact with those who served them, pointed to Jesus Christ and watched as God shone his light into their hearts. When the gospel bites it can do so in a very clearcut and dramatic way or with a far more gradual feel. But when it bites it transforms.
Whatever difficulites beset us personally, whatever sorrow and joys, the making known of that gospel has to be our heartbeat for 2012.
Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, we rejoice that the Gospel , which proclaims all you have done for us at the Cross, is truly good news and has lost none of its ancient power to transform lives and reconcile enemies. Give Christian people everywhere confidence that its message brings light and life, joy and hope.
May we this year preach, share and live the Gospel in eagerness, power and love that your Name might be glorified.
Choir and congregation: When I was lost, you came and rescued me (Kate and Miles Simmonds © 2001 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music; Arranged: Ray Monk)
A reading from Matthew Chapter 5 verse 13 and 14.
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. [Matt 5: 13a and 14a]
JOHN STOTT: READING
My name is John Wyatt. John Stott’s model of double listening, and his robust confidence in the orthodox biblical Christian faith, provided a framework which has directed my own thinking and practice as a doctor and academic researcher over the last 30 years. I started attending All Souls Church in the 1970s when I was medical student. I can still remember the impact that John Stott’s preaching had on me. I was electrified as he engaged honestly and thoughtfully with the controversial issues of the day – nuclear disarmament, industrial relations, the legalisation of abortion – and showed how Christian teaching could provide relevant, practical and creative responses. I had never heard preaching like this and it left an indelible impression. The Christian faith could provide answers to the most complex and challenging social questions. As I came to know John Stott as a personal friend his example and encouragement were deeply formative, particularly when I started my career as a junior doctor. As a paediatrician caring for critically ill babies in a major intensive care unit, I was facing complex and troubling ethical issues. With each technical advance there were fresh dilemmas.
The challenge to Christian thinking continues. As new ethical problems in medicine and technology arise nearly every month, the need for double listening has never been more urgent. May we be faithful to the example we have been given.
Hugh Palmer - Reflection 2:
“You are the light of the world” said Jesus and it is that Christian listening that puts us there. Not simply faithfully recounting bible truths that never seem to land in the real world, but not just echoing our own culture either. It will vary from place to place, but we probably all know which is the greater danger for our church.
The one is reassuringly comfortable but increasingly out of touch with a world around us that is no longer expressing even its spiritual longings in a Christian framework. The other can speak engagingly into the world of Monday to Saturday without necessarily shedding any of God’s light or truth.
Our last speaker John Wyatt, is an eminent Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at UCL and a member of the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of Physicians. As John discovered all those years ago and has been developing ever since in his own field, Christians need to recover a hunger for God’s truth and an acute awareness of the world around us to engage with the societies we have been put in and speak God’s Word with its prophetic force into them. To release the bible from the safe compartments we sometimes unconsciously park it in and allow God’s Word to speak into a contemporary world with all the relevance of the living word it is, whether we communicate from the pulpit or the barstool, with work colleagues or our grandchildren.
Let us pray. Father, you have called us to sacrifice and responsibility in our society, to express love for you in generosity and service to others. Lead us, by your Spirit, into all truth and a passionate concern for the welfare of our communities.
In a complex and often challenging world, we long to become integrated people living under your Lordship and for your glory.
Our next song was written and composed by Graham Kendrick. It articulates something of the relationship between human action and God’s mercy – and judgement.
Choir and congregation: O Lord, the clouds are gathering, (Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music/Thankyou Music
Arranged: Noël Tredinnick)
A reading from the prophet Isaiah Chapter 58 verses 6 and 7.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood. [Is. 58: 6,7]
JOHN STOTT: READING
My name is Eidi Cruz. John Stott, or as we affectionately called him Uncle John, had a profound influence on our family story. My Dad first met him in Mexico when he was only fourteen years old having become a Christian through Uncle John’s book ‘Basic Christianity’ the year before. There began a lifetime friendship, which later extended to our whole family.
We learned so much from Uncle John. He lived a dynamic, relevant, world-wide Christian life combined with a heart of inspiring humility and integrity. For him to write and speak about the love of Christ meant taking up the cause of the poor and the most vulnerable, as Jesus did.
Uncle John was very influential around the world and not least in Latin America. In the 1980’s my parents, Saúl and Pilar Cruz, after having spent time at The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, founded Armonía – an NGO that works with some of the poorest communities in Mexico. This began through working with families that lived on top of a rubbish dump in a deeply marginalised area of Mexico City. Uncle John’s books, his personal letters, his visits to Mexico, his ministry at All Souls Church and his own simple lifestyle had a great impact on my parents’ vision and work, as well as in our life as a family.
I have this lovely memory of Uncle John serving cake to children at one of the community centres of Armonía. Uncle John would teach and preach during his visits to Mexico, and he would also get to know the people of the communities and serve alongside them. He would remember the names of children and adults for years afterwards and would pray for them specifically.
Hugh Palmer - Reflection 3:
It is that authenticity of life that Christians should covet. It is so immensely attractive even when the institutional church is not!!
Eidi and her family have seen and lived it in Mexico and it’s what I got a glimpse of on a brief trip I made just the other week to Jos in Nigeria. Their Archbishop, Ben Kwashi, had spoken at our last World Mission Sunday. And I went to stand alongside him and learn from him. For Christians in Jos have known suffering in recent years. Churches burnt, Christians wounded and killed in their thousands. Yet it was remarkable to see the response he is leading there. It is built not on revenge but love. A response that stretched from caring for orphans, even adopting them into his family, via education and business, modeling an integrity so often lacking there, to a seminary training ministers of the gospel of Jesus, and a new generation of church planters.
Mexico’s rubbish dump communities, Nigeria’s suffering ones, this is a global gospel and 2012 challenges us as to how we reflect this in our own communities.
Let us pray. Lord you call us to compassion where the poor are humiliated, to reconciliation where people are divided, to generosity where need is greatest, to justice where oppression is apparent, to simplicity of life in the face of our own materialism – even during this period of deep concern for our own economic security.
Help us, we pray, always to feel what Jesus felt – Give us His indignation at all that demeans or devalues human beings and, by your Spirit, the grace, commitment and patience to embody His love so as to make the Gospel attractive in every cultural setting and especially in the dark places of our world. ALL: Amen.
And we say THE LORD’S PRAYER, together:
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.
Choir and congregation: Rock of ages cleft for me (M Toplady (1740-1778) © in this version Jubilate Hymns Music: R Redhead. Arranged by: Noël Tredinnick)
BIBLE READING: Luke Waldock, Luke 4:16 – 21
A reading from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4, verses 16 to 21.
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Hugh Palmer – Final reflection:
What an inclusive Kingdom! As Jesus pulls back the curtain on the start of his public ministry that Saturday morning in the synagogue in Nazareth, he announces far more vividly than ever some trite phrase like “Kingdom for All” could communicate, just how far reaching and all encompassing his mission is.
“Good news for the poor” yes, it reaches that far. “Freedom for the prisoners”, whether the bars are from a prison cell, the weakness of old age or the spiritual enslavement of sin, captivity of any kind is no barrier. “Recovery of sight to the blind”, whether from the scars that life has brought or a self-inflicted refusal to open eyes and see, opportunity is beckoning again. “To release the oppressed” Yes, they are included in as well. It is as if Jesus is saying as graphically as he can that no matter the starting point you are not beyond the reach of this kingdom and all that it has to offer. How important to factor that in as we look ahead to 2012!
All of this is not just good news for all but good news for now. “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” Jesus quotes as he ends. It is an echo of that ancient Old Testament year of Jubilee.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity when debts would be cancelled, land restored to its original owners, people sold into slavery to service debts returned to their families. Who is thrilled at the thought of Jubilee? The poor of course, the helpless.
But each and every one of us has forfeited our plot in God’s Kingdom .. we have left to live a life of servitude and year by year the debts have piled up … they are quite impossible for us to pay off. Once in a lifetime, no once in eternity God will declare Jubilee … debts cancelled, liberty restored … life back with God’s family, inheritance, a place with God himself will be available again. Jesus has come to trumpet that Jubilee moment, the year of the Lord’s favour, of God’s grace has dawned.
It is still with us. As Jesus speaks he is quoting from the prophet Isaiah who spoke of how the servant of the Lord would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour “and the day of vengeance of our God”. Only Jesus shockingly stops short of that. It is not why he came at Christmas. That judgement is for later not now. Until he returns, it remains the Year of the Lord’s favour. The year of our Lord 2012 remains the year of opportunity, a year when the doors of the kingdom remain open, a year for individuals like Frances Whitehead all those years ago to step through, a year for churches to live and beckon and point others to join them. A year for God’s purposes of mercy and grace to go on being worked out!
Choir and congregation: God is working his purpose out (A Ainger (1841-1919) © in this version Jubilate Hymns Music: Millicent D. Kingham. Arranged by: Noël Tredinnick)
BLESSING: Hugh Palmer