Prayers of Approach
Our God offers us hospitality, and God’s welcome is generous. God is here among us, meeting with us in our worship and in our fellowship. God longs to meet our needs as we come with hands open and arms outstretched.
Welcoming God, we come to you with open hearts and with open hands. We come with our faith and hope, and with our doubts and fears. Send your Holy Spirit to work among us, filling us and changing us to become more like Jesus. Amen.
Eternal God, source of all life, today we choose to follow you. Be present in all we think, say and do. Powerful redeemer, speak to our hearts. Holy God, we draw close to you.
Loving God, giver of life; Lord Jesus, friend and Saviour; Holy Spirit, living water – we worship and adore you. We come today, not having or expecting all the answers but knowing that you are the way. Amen.
Hymn: I want to walk with Jesus Christ (R&S 367)
Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
The conquest of Canaan is complete and near the end of his life Joshua offers the people of Israel a choice – will they follow God who brought them out of Egypt, or the gods of the land to which they have come? Joshua leads by example, he and his household will serve YHWH – and so will the people! Centuries later Jesus too offers a choice. As Jesus begins to answer the difficult questions he posed in last week’s readings, his followers are finding it hard to commit to being disciples. They struggle to understand Jesus’ teaching and find it difficult. Jesus encourages them by saying that his words are ‘spirit and life’, but reminds them of some challenges too. When he asks if they will leave him, the disciples respond, ‘Lord, where would we go? You have the message of eternal life.’ They make the active decision to follow Jesus despite the difficulty, intrigued by the journey ahead. Jesus does not offer easy answers, instead requiring commitment to a way of life that demands a leap of faith.
Hymn: Father I place into your hands (R&S 518)
All of us make choices every day of our lives. Most of them are simple, toast or cereals; tea or coffee; this shirt/blouse or that; bus, car or walk; and so on throughout the day. Some however are more complicated and have deeper, wider more serious effects or implications: shall we get married; is it time to move house/change jobs, etc. What important decisions are you facing at the moment? Joshua and Jesus offer the most life changing decision of all: who to follow, who to serve.
The continuing conversation between Jesus and the crowd has moved from the wilderness on the other side of the lake, from the lakeside and into the synagogue in Capernaum but Jesus is still talking about the bread from heaven and giving of himself, his flesh, to eat. As in our churches today synagogues were not only places of worship but were the centre of the social life of the village and places of teaching. Synagogue meetings often involved a meal followed by discussion and structured teaching, so did the conversation continue over more eating? The people and, at this stage, the rather loose band of Jesus’ followers, were glad to be fed but found this teaching too hard to stomach.
Jesus’ question, ‘Does this offend you?’ and his explanation contrasting ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’, ‘The spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing,’ (v, 63) do not seem to help much. And the question, ‘What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?’ only seems to complicate matters further. Jesus acknowledges that there are some people there who do not believe and it is at this point that many of his ‘disciples’ turn back and no longer follow him. Jesus asks the 12 if they want to go too, which leads to what may be the whole point of this protracted discussion, Peter’s declaration, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!’ Is this Jesus sorting out his followers and ensuring that those who remain, who he will work with for the next couple of years, have some idea of what they are signing up for?
Joshua offered the people of God a choice without any judgement. He made his own profession of faith clear but offered them legitimate alternatives. Jesus also offered a choice, one that some of his followers did not want to accept. But these are not necessarily one-off decisions. The people of God were called by the Old Testament prophets to return to the Lord again and again. Peter recommits to following Jesus on the beach after the resurrection. Wrestling with faith doesn’t mean being judged and found wanting. The offer remains open. And that very act of wrestling with it makes us more resilient when we do make a commitment to faith.
Hymn: Will you come and follow me (R&S 558)
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, we thank you for your unfailing love, we thank you that even with all our doubts and fears and worries about the journey ahead, you are there by our side. Where else can we turn? To whom shall we go? Thank you that you are our rock and our salvation, our strength and our high tower. Thank you that as we choose to go on this journey with you, as we make decisions and plans, you are there, gently leading and guiding, always present. We praise you, Lord, for your constant love and faithfulness.
(prayers and other material adapted from Roots. © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission)
O God, who answers prayer, as we bring our thanks we pray for communities that have seen tragedy, for those who have little to be thankful for. For vulnerable people who struggle to face what life throws at them. May they be built up in your love and strength. Lord, we pray in your Spirit.
We pray for people who suffer for their faith. For ministers and evangelists who seek to spread your word. For us all as we share the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May they, and may we, be built up in your love and strength. Lord, we pray in your Spirit.
We pray for people who feel bound by chains of unemployment and poverty, chains of disability or illness, chains of sorrow. Lord, we pray in your Spirit.
We pray for ourselves when we feel vulnerable,
for our church and community and for the URC Lancashire West Missional Partnership. May they, and may we, be built up in your love and strength. Lord, we pray in your Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: I danced in the morning when the world was begun (R&S 195)
Lord Jesus Christ, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. Go with us into your world.
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest on us and remain with us, always.