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 159 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
Hymn 161 O God our help in ages past
Reading Ephesians 1: 3-14
At the beginning of the New Year we often take time to reflect on what lies ahead this year – things to which we are looking forward, things to which we are not looking forward, and things (like the arrival of Covid two years ago) which will come on us unawares. In such pondering we often picture ourselves as some kind of passive, helpless victims, tossed this way or that by forces over which we have no control.
Some things we cannot prevent or make happen, but we do have power over some things in our lives. So as we contemplate 2022 – a year that is already almost 36 hours old – let’s not focus on what will or might happen to us, but what we will do with and in this New Year. Many of us have also got ourselves into a bit of a rut over the last two years: all that lockdown has caused us to retreat into ourselves a bit. So I’m going to give you all some homework to do during the week: when you get home, get some sheets of paper, and either write headings at the tops of columns, or take a separate sheet for each heading. The headings are:
- Where do you want to go?
- Whom do you want to see?
- What do you want to do?
- How do you feel about what is happening?
- What about God and Church?
The ‘to do’ lists/ wish lists are for the whole year. We don’t need to do everything by next week. Some might be better for the summer or autumn, some may need to wait till the Covid infection rate is lower. It isn’t the end of the world if we don’t do them, but let’s give ourselves a challenge. Let’s look at those headings in turn.
Where do you want to go? Which places do you really want to visit this year – maybe favourite places, or places you haven’t visited before. Places nearby, or places where friends or family live. It might be a trip out for a day or an afternoon, or it might be where you’ll go for a weekend or a holiday. It might be in Scotland, or somewhere else in Britain, or maybe even abroad. Go when you get the chance
Whom do you want to see? We are meant to be social creatures, interacting with each other. Which is partly why lockdown was so hard for so many – we couldn’t see family or friends ‘for real’. As restrictions were lifted we greatly appreciated being able to meet up with them. For many people seeing friends and loved ones far outstripped the chance to go on foreign holidays or do any number of other things. Whom do we want to make sure we see this year? Can we begin to plan when we will do it (especially if that involves travel)? And let’s remember those who may not be able to see family or friends yet because of international travel restrictions
What do you want to do? It may be that we want to go to a show or concert, a rugby or football match, climb a certain hill or walk a particular path, have a day wandering round the shops, learn a new skill or refine an existing one, read a certain book, watch a film or TV programme or series, do something to the house or garden, clear the loft or that cupboard
How do you feel about what is happening? When you hear or see what is happening locally, nationally and internationally, do you feel helpless, angry, empowered or just switch off? Does your blood pressure go up? Do you shout at the TV or radio? What about contacting your councillor, MSP or MP? (Remember Jesus’ parable about the woman who bent the judge’s ear till he gave in). What about doing more to support the work of a charity, either with time or money?
What about God and the Church? Are you still on good speaking terms with God, have you had a bit of a fallout, or are you getting on better with him than before? If relations are a bit strained, what can you do about it? Have you had a chat with someone about it? If things are going well, what more would you like to learn, to think about?
What about links with the church? Have they continued, or do you feel that you and the church have drifted apart a bit? The church may have to do something about that – like what? What can you do about it? Do you need to make a determined effort to come back more regularly, to get involved? How would you like to be involved?
What about the 90+% of folk in Dumbarton who don’t relate to the church or to Jesus? What can we contribute to the church trying to reach out to those folk? What can we do to help with the new initiatives and pilots that the church is trying to get underway this year? What can we do as a church to help address some of the issues in our community like poverty or loneliness?
What has all of this planning for the New Year to do with us siting in church on 2 January? God has called us to be part of his family. He has called us to share the hope, the joy, the different perspective on life that such a relationship brings. He wants us to share in the wholeness and fullness of life he wishes for all people. He is concerned when our experiences of the last two years wear us down, sink us in a rut. He wants us to feel the energy that comes from our relationship with him. He wants us to be models, showing the rest of the world what a difference that relationship can make, and he wants us to be engaged with the world around us, sharing his love and peace wherever we go. In God’s terms ‘love’ isn’t just a cosy feeling you get when you’ve opened a present you like on Christmas morning, it’s about the action needed to help someone/anyone in need achieve that wholeness and fullness of life God wills for them. Similarly ‘peace’ isn’t about achieving a temporary, uneasy ceasefire in difficult relations, but is about an end to fear and worry, having what is needed for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being, living in harmony, caring for each other. Through his Spirit God helps us to know love and peace, and to work for love and peace, today, and for the next 363 and a half days this year.
Hymn 237 Look forward in faith
Prayer for others and Lord’s Prayer
We thank you for your love and care –
we have known it in the past
help us to trust in it for the future
For many of us the last two years
with lockdowns and restrictions
have been difficult
help us to cope, to get out of any ruts we’ve sunk into
and be a help and inspiration to others
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 326 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…