Sunday 28th June 2020

Call to Worship: ‘I love the LORD because He hears me; He listens to my prayers. He listens to me every time I call to Him…Be confident, my heart, because the LORD has been good to me.’ Ps 116: 1,2&7.

PRAISE: Listen to or sing a Psalm or hymn of praise.

Prayer: Loving God, in all the changes and uncertainties of life, we are so thankful that You are a God we can depend on; always good, always loving, always merciful and always faithful. Forgive us Lord for the many times we do not live up to Your calling on our lives. We are sorry. Gracious God, renew our spirits, strengthen our resolve, deepen our faith and send us out forgiven and restored to live and work for You. And we continue to pray as we take the words Jesus taught as we say, ‘Our Father….’

Reading: Acts 15:36-41, Colossians 4:10-11 & 2 Timothy 4:9-12 Our readings today take us across the latter New Testament as they focus on a member of the Jerusalem Church, John Mark. As you read, look out for how Paul speaks of him – firstly not wanting him on a missionary journey but later describing how valuable he is in his ministry. In John Mark we meet someone who has made a mistake, but through friendship and forgiveness is restored.

Prayer: ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour. If one falls down, his friend can help him up…’Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. In your prayers for others, take time to reflect on these verses and think about the people, friends and family, who have helped you when you were in need or had ‘fallen down’. Name them one by one before God and thank Him for their help, friendship and encouragement. And pray for yourself, that you in your turn will be that friend to others….

Reflection: Grace for life’s ups and downs….

Life can be full of ups and downs; one minute everything seems to be going well, the next not so good; one minute glorious sunshine, the next scurrying for the umbrella; one minute feeling on top of the world, the next down in the dumps; that’s all part of the journey of life. Today, we continue our walk through the book of Acts focusing on the life of a lesser known character who knew more than a few ups and downs of his own….and we will discover how friendship, encouragement, kindness and forgiveness, all things that can be wrapped up in one word – grace – made the difference for him and that of course will point us to the grace that is ours in Christ…

The character we focus on today is John Mark and it takes some digging across the New Testament to uncover his story. It seems he was a teenager when he first met Jesus and he is thought to have been in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ arrest, being the one who was seized as a follower but managed to escape (Mark 14:52). Years passed and John Mark became a member of the Jerusalem Church. His cousin Barnabas introduced him to the Apostle Paul and he was invited to join Paul on one of his missionary journeys. I’m sure it seemed like the adventure of a lifetime to go on such a journey, but something went wrong, and John Mark abandoned his missionary colleagues and returned home. Perhaps he was seasick or homesick or afraid…perhaps there was a disagreement….but whatever it was, it proved a stumbling block and a setback, and to use a modern term, ‘he bailed out’…

Sometime later, Paul was preparing for his second missionary journey and Barnabas suggested giving John Mark a second chance (Acts 15:37), but Paul would have none of it, and the disagreement was so sharp they each left to go their separate ways. I wonder how John Mark felt being the cause of such division and bad feeling….I’m sure this was a low point for him and a tough season in his life…And that’s where Barnabas, known in the Bible for his friendship and encouragement, stepped in as he took his young cousin under his wing, showing faith in him and taking him on a short-term mission trip to Cyprus and hence helping rebuild his self-esteem and giving John Mark a second chance to prove himself as reliable in the service of Jesus Christ…

Things go quiet for a while before John Mark resurfaces some ten years later in a prison cell with, perhaps surprisingly, the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:10). Whatever disagreement there had been between them is now history. They have both put it behind them with Paul speaking of how much he now depends on John Mark (2 Timothy 4:11). What a turnaround…John Mark the unreliable now John Mark the indispensable! And what made the difference? I think that little word with a big meaning, ‘grace’, had a lot to do with it: Barnabas demonstrating grace when he gave John Mark that second chance, and Paul and John Mark both showing grace in their lives as they ended up as good and valued friends…no grudges…no looking back…just moving forward as brothers in Christ…. It also seems later in life John Mark like Paul did some writing – he is widely thought to be the author of the Gospel of Mark…a long way from the young man who had once, ‘bailed out’!

Pondering the story of the ups and downs of John Mark’s life takes a bit of work and a bit of digging, but what a worthwhile search for the reminder it gives of the importance of friendship, encouragement, kindness, forgiveness, moving on in love – and all pointing us to the ultimate expression of these things as seen and experienced in the grace that is ours in Christ. And what does that mean for you and me? It means God knows all about our mistakes, our ‘bail outs’; how unreliable and changeable we can be; He knows all about us and still calls us to come to Him for the best friendship we could ever have, the most encouragement and kindness we will ever know, forgiveness that means our past can be put behind us, in a word, He offers us His grace, ours not because we deserve it, but because of all Christ has achieved for us on the Cross. We all have our setbacks and stumbling blocks in life’s journey and in our service for God. But it is a journey, whether through sunshine or rain, going well or not, so let’s keep moving forward together, brothers and sisters in Christ, and as we do, so we will each discover again and again and again, more than enough grace for all life’s ups and downs, praise God!

PRAISE: As your worship draws to a close take time to thank God for His word and to perhaps sing or listen to a hymn of praise. Perhaps: What a Friend we have in Jesus/ What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus/ Father I place into Your hands the things that I can’t do.

BENEDICTION: May the grace of God thrill your hearts, the mercy of God transform your minds, the peace of God flood your souls, and the love of God flow through your lives…and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy spirit be with you this day and evermore, Amen.