Sunday 3 January 2021, First Sunday of the year
In times past
God spoke through the prophets;
but in this the final age
he has spoken to us in his Son.
Hymn Lord for the years
God of the past
You are the God who has always been with us
through every moment of our lives
as you were the God who was always there
for the generations who went before us
God of the present
You are with us now
sharing with us in our joy and sorrow
offering us you word of encouragement
your healing touch
your word of challenge
the power to do your will and be your holy people
God of the future
What lies ahead for us and all your world
some things we look forward to with excitement
some things with dread
Help us to step forward trusting in you
that your love and care always surround us
that you keep all the promises you have made
that you for forgive us and give us a new start
that your Spirit is always active
bringing healing and wholeness in the world
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time
Hymn O God our help in ages past
Reading Jeremiah 31: 1-14
The LORD says, “The time is coming when I will be the God of all the tribes of Israel, and they will be my people. In the desert I showed mercy to those people who had escaped death. When the people of Israel longed for rest, I appeared to them from far away. People of Israel, I have always loved you, so I continue to show you my constant love. Once again I will rebuild you. Once again you will take up your tambourines and dance joyfully. Once again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria, and those who plant them will eat what the vineyards produce. Yes, the time is coming when watchmen will call out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Let’s go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.’”
The LORD says,
“Sing with joy for Israel,
the greatest of the nations.
Sing your song of praise,
‘The LORD has saved his people;
he has rescued all who are left.’
I will bring them from the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
The blind and the lame will come with them,
pregnant women and those about to give birth.
They will come back a great nation.
My people will return weeping,
praying as I lead them back.
I will guide them to streams of water,
on a smooth road where they will not stumble.
I am like a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my eldest son.”
The LORD says,
“Nations, listen to me,
and proclaim my words on the far-off shores.
I scattered my people, but I will gather them
and guard them as a shepherd guards his flock.
I have set Israel’s people free
and have saved them from a mighty nation.
They will come and sing for joy on Mount Zion
and be delighted with my gifts
– gifts of corn and wine and olive-oil,
gifts of sheep and cattle.
They will be like a well-watered garden;
they will have everything they need.
Then the girls will dance and be happy,
and men, young and old, will rejoice.
I will comfort them and turn their mourning into joy,
their sorrow into gladness.
I will fill the priests with the richest food
and satisfy all the needs of my people,
I, the LORD, have spoken.”
A new year. At this stage last year we had no idea what lay ahead. Perhaps because of that we’re hesitant about being too definite on what will happen this year, what to look forward to, what to plan for. That said, we will all have hopes and dreams for the year – and also fears and concerns. Some may be Covid-related, some may not:
- Hopefully the vaccine programme will roll out smoothly, the incidence of infection will fall, and we’ll move down the tiers until we’re in Tier 0, the old ‘Phase 4’. Hopefully we’ll be able to go to theatres, concerts, dances, sports events, and have no restrictions on numbers in church. Hopefully we will all stay well and be able to meet up with friends and family we haven’t seen for some time. But will we still need to keep some kind of precautions like physical distancing and face-coverings until they can be sure that the virus has either gone away, it presents no further threat?
- Hopefully governments will bring forward well-thought-through plans for a revival of the economy – also addressing issues like inequality, poverty, improving the environment – and reviving town centres. Hopefully they’ll address areas like job creation, benefits, social care, parental support and the balance of power between the centre and the local community
- Hopefully America will provide constructive leadership in the world, tensions in East Asia and the Middle East will be eased, Britain will rebuild its relationships with its neighbours, and world leaders will work together on addressing global issues like poverty, human rights and climate change
Hopefully. There’s an element of doubt about the future, but also an element of confidence, sometimes based on past experience, sometimes flying in the face of past experience.
Our Bible reading comes from the prophet Jeremiah. He lived more than 2,500 years ago, in the little land of Judah (which may have been about the size of West Dunbartonshire) at a time when it was facing annihilation by the Babylonian Empire. Our reading probably came from older prophecies known to Jeremiah but adapted by him for his own day, because it refers to ‘Israel’, ‘Samaria’ and ‘Ephraim’. To the North of Judah lay the confederation of the 10 Israelite tribes, of which Ephraim was the most powerful, and Samaria the royal seat of power. Israel was slightly bigger than Judah, was certainly wealthier, and the Israelites thought very highly of themselves until ‘the Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold’, and utterly defeated the Israelites (100+ years before Jeremiah’s time). The policy of the conquerors was to deport conquered peoples, and move other peoples to resettle conquered land – all with the aim of prevent attempts to break away and reassert independence.
The words of the prophet, about restoring Israel, its capital and its leading tribe would have seemed ridiculous (and unpopular in Jerusalem, since Jews and Israelites had a long history of warfare). Jeremiah predicts that it will happen, because God is in charge:
- God has shown in the past that his love for them is constant, faithful and true. He saved them in the past and he will not forsake them now. He will bring them joy instead of sorrow, he will restore broken communities, cities and economies
- God will restore their fortunes, but they will have no cause for arrogance or boasting of their own worth. It will all be of God’s doing, God’s gift to them, and they must accept it with contrition and humility. It will be a caring and inclusive society
- Before the destruction of Israel there was constant warfare and conspiracy against Judah, and they squabbled over which sanctuary was more important – Jerusalem or Samaria. God is looking to reconciliation between them, and joyful worship in one sanctuary, where people recognise and give thanks for the goodness and blessings of God
Jeremiah lived more than 2,500 years ago, but his message was grounded in his experience of God’s faithfulness in the past and the present. Because of our experience of God’s faithfulness in the past and present, we too can look forward with hope, trusting in God’s goodness and promises
Prayer for others and Lord’s Prayer
We pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn As with gladness
Go out into the New Year
knowing that God is with you
knowing that through Christ he knows what it is to be human
knowing that his Spirit is constantly working for peace and justice
and the blessing…