Great and wonderful God, we have come here today to worship you, because you alone are worthy of praise. Our minds can never fully understand you, and we know that our human thoughts, and all our ideas about you, are inadequate. Your power and wisdom are far beyond our understanding and we are in awe of you. We find it truly amazing that you, the God of all creation, should take an interest in us, and it is even more amazing that you love us so much, that you sent Jesus to save us by his death and resurrection.
We thank you, that through Jesus’ teaching and example, you have shown us that you care deeply about each and every one of us. We are weak and foolish, and we often fail to understand your ways, but you are compassionate and generous, and there is no limit to your love. You continue to provide for all our needs, and you are always ready to listen to us, and to give us the help and guidance that we need.
Heavenly Father we confess that too often we do the wrong things, and we go astray. Sometimes we fail you because we have relied on our own human strength, instead of seeking your guidance, but sometimes we say things, and do things, even when we know that they are wrong.
We can be possessive and greedy, and sometimes we ignore the impact that our actions have on other people. May we remember that people everywhere are all your much loved children.
We can be reluctant to set aside our petty disputes, and we can be slow to forgive other people for the times when we feel that we have been treated badly. Help us to learn to forgive others, and may we actively seek to improve our relationships with all people everywhere.
Merciful God, we know that you are the good father who is willing to forgive us, and to give us another chance, even when we have deliberately disobeyed you. Forgive us for all our failings, strengthen our faith and trust in you, and give us the courage, and the strength, to follow your teaching in all that we say and do.
Lord, you know that we do not always understand the things that we read in our Bibles, so as we read your word we ask that you will open our minds to see the relevance of your word to our daily lives.
Hear our prayer in Jesus’ name.
Both of our readings this morning are from Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews, and you can find this in the New Testament section of the Pew Bibles on page 284.
The writer of this letter does not identify himself, but scholars think that there are two possible candidates. The first is Barnabas, who you will remember was involved with Paul in his journeys and ministry. The other possibility is Apollos who was also well-known to Paul. He was involved in the early church in Corinth, and there are references to him in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.
The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jews who had converted to Christianity, but some of them wanted to retain some of their old rules and practices. The writer makes it clear that Christ is superior to Moses, and to all the other ancient prophets, and that the old rules and rituals have been superseded.
Now reading from the Hebrews, chapter 11 from verse 1 to 31.
1 To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
2 It was by their faith that people of ancient times won God's approval.
3 It is by faith that we understand that the universe was created by God's word, so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.
4 It was faith that made Abel offer to God a better sacrifice than Cain's. Through his faith he won God's approval as a righteous man, because God himself approved of his gifts. By means of his faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 It was faith that kept Enoch from dying. Instead, he was taken up to God, and nobody could find him, because God had taken him up. The scripture says that before Enoch was taken up, he had pleased God.
6 No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him.
7 It was faith that made Noah hear God's warnings about things in the future that he could not see. He obeyed God and built a boat in which he and his family were saved. As a result, the world was condemned, and Noah received from God the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who received the same promise from God.
10 For Abraham was waiting for the city which God has designed and built, the city with permanent foundations.
11 It was faith that made Abraham able to become a father, even though he was too old and Sarah herself could not have children. He trusted God to keep his promise.
12 Though Abraham was practically dead, from this one man came as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, as many as the numberless grains of sand on the seashore.
13 It was in faith that all these persons died. They did not receive the things God had promised, but from a long way off they saw them and welcomed them, and admitted openly that they were foreigners and refugees on earth.
14 Those who say such things make it clear that they are looking for a country of their own.
15 They did not keep thinking about the country they had left; if they had, they would have had the chance to return.
16 Instead, it was a better country they longed for, the heavenly country. And so God is not ashamed for them to call him their God, because he has prepared a city for them.
17 It was faith that made Abraham offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice when God put Abraham to the test. Abraham was the one to whom God had made the promise, yet he was ready to offer his only son as a sacrifice.
18 God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that you will have the descendants I promised."
19 Abraham reckoned that God was able to raise Isaac from death - and, so to speak, Abraham did receive Isaac back from death.
20 It was faith that made Isaac promise blessings for the future to Jacob and Esau.
21 It was faith that made Jacob bless each of the sons of Joseph just before he died. He leaned on the top of his walking stick and worshiped God.
22 It was faith that made Joseph, when he was about to die, speak of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, and leave instructions about what should be done with his body.
23 It was faith that made the parents of Moses hide him for three months after he was born. They saw that he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king's order.
24 It was faith that made Moses, when he had grown up, refuse to be called the son of the king's daughter.
25 He preferred to suffer with God's people rather than to enjoy sin for a little while.
26 He reckoned that to suffer scorn for the Messiah was worth far more than all the treasures of Egypt, for he kept his eyes on the future reward.
27 It was faith that made Moses leave Egypt without being afraid of the king's anger. As though he saw the invisible God, he refused to turn back.
28 It was faith that made him establish the Passover and order the blood to be sprinkled on the doors, so that the Angel of Death would not kill the first-born sons of the Israelites.
29 It was faith that made the Israelites able to cross the Red Sea as if on dry land; when the Egyptians tried to do it, the water swallowed them up.
30 It was faith that made the walls of Jericho fall down after the Israelites had marched around them for seven days.
31 It was faith that kept the prostitute Rahab from being killed with those who disobeyed God, for she gave the Israelite spies a friendly welcome.
Our second reading is a continuation of the first. So let us continue our reading from Hebrews, Chapter 11, and starting at verse 32.
32 Should I go on? There isn't enough time for me to speak of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
33 Through faith they fought whole countries and won. They did what was right and received what God had promised. They shut the mouths of lions,
34 put out fierce fires, escaped being killed by the sword. They were weak, but became strong; they were mighty in battle and defeated the armies of foreigners.
35 Through faith women received their dead relatives raised back to life. Others, refusing to accept freedom, died under torture in order to be raised to a better life.
36 Some were mocked and whipped, and others were put in chains and taken off to prison.
37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were killed by the sword. They went around clothed in skins of sheep or goats - poor, persecuted, and mistreated.
38 The world was not good enough for them! They wandered like refugees in the deserts and hills, living in caves and holes in the ground.
39 What a record all of these have won by their faith! Yet they did not receive what God had promised,
40 because God had decided on an even better plan for us. His purpose was that only in company with us would they be made perfect.
Amen, and may God bless these readings from his word.
Let us again all join in prayer. Let us pray.
Gracious God, we thank you that we have this opportunity to come together to worship you, and that we can do so in safety and without fear. We want to thank you for all that you have done for us, and for all that you continue to do. You have given us everything, so many good things, that we don’t know where to start. You have created the universe and given us this wonderful planet with its store of rich resources, and you have given life in all its forms to the plants, the animals and humankind too. We know that there is much that we have still to learn about your creation, and we thank you that you have given us the desire to explore and to try to understand our surroundings. Everything that we have; our food, our shelter, and our material goods all come from the things which you have given us the knowledge and ability to use.
Lord we thank you for all these things, and for all the other wonderful things which you have done. Guide us to make good use of all that you have provided, and to share all these things with others who are less fortunate. Help us to do our best to look after your world.
God our father, we thank you for your continuing care of us, and we thank you sent Jesus into our world to show us how we should live our lives. We thank you also that your Spirit is here with us now, to guide and comfort us.
Heavenly Father, you know that there is much turmoil and conflict in our world, and even in our own country, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Lord we ask for your guidance for those of us who elect our politicians, so that we may make informed and sensible choices which are for the benefit of all.
Be with our leaders and politicians and help them to treat each other with respect and dignity. May those who are elected to serve, do so with honesty and integrity.
Compassionate God, you know that for many reasons we can be overwhelmed by the pressures of everyday life. We feel that we are being swept along by events and by forces that are greater than our ability to cope with them. Help us to remember that you are always ready to listen to us, and that your Spirit can bring peace and comfort to the darkest of times, and to the hardest of situations.
We offer our prayers in Jesus’ name, and we further pray in the words that Jesus taught his followers.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen