14 July 2019



Call to worship          

I cannot grasp the whole
of life’s great symphony, nor find the key
to these strange minor cadences perplexing me;
I cannot grasp the whole,
but I can trust
in Him whose ways are perfect harmony.
Keith Clayton

Hymn 192          All my hope on God is founded


Loving God, present throughout creation,
you want us to know you, to love you
and to follow you.

We gather here part of your worldwide family,
happy to unite and share our love for you,
wanting to know you more,
to see you in our daily lives.

We are sorry, that there are times
when we try to contain you
in bricks and mortar, or in clay and bronze,
forgive us and help us
once more to be faithful children.

Eternal Father, beyond time and space,
beyond images or descriptions
and yet wanting to be known;
help us draw near to you
as you reveal yourself to us
in ordinary, everyday things,
in people and in nature.
Help us to follow the light of your love
shining in our darkness, guiding us onwards.

And now together we pray in the words Jesus taught us –

Our Father ……………………………   Amen

Theme – Footprints

If I say ‘footprints’ what comes to mind?  Perhaps ‘footprints in the sand’ as in the poem which finishes ‘it was in those times of trouble that I carried you my Son’.  Poem disputed authorship.

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:

“My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

There are no scripture verse about footprints in the sand. There is a poem called “Footprints in the Sand“: … For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

Or baby ‘footprints’ which new parents like to create for their memory box.  Small and precious.

Then there are footprint clues in detective stories?  They may indicate route of entry or exit; shoe type and size, sometimes the depth of print in a soft surface suggests whether the person was heavy or slight.  Paired prints may indicate a limp or a particular characteristic of gait.  Such possibilities for analysis and speculation!

All such footprints may be easily destroyed at any time leaving no trace.  But if we are thinking longer lasting footprints – detectives can make a plaster cast of a print if it’s in soft ground or has been left in drying cement, allowing time for its usefulness to be properly assessed.

Or there are the footprints made by Neil Armstrong on the moon? They will probably be there a long, long time. Unlike Earth, there is neither wind nor water to erode them.

But for today we want to think of really long-lasting ‘footprints’ which are not  these physical ones.  Instead, they are the lasting impact and effects of our behaviour towards other people.

Let’s imagine that each day the things we do and say, the way we behave as we go about our business leave a pattern of footprints, not physical, tangible prints but still a trace of us nevertheless leaving their evidence – in how other people see and understand us.  We may never know who has observed our passage, but we do know that they will form a view of us based on how we treated them and others.  And that view will affect future relationships.  How do we know that?  Because we ourselves do it all the time.

Hymn 641                   Seek ye first the kingdom of God

Reading                        Apochrypha:   Bel 1-22
                                       Daniel and the priests of Bel

Bel, was a name derived from the Semitic word baal, or “lord.” …
Bel, however, gradually came to be thought of as the god of order and destiny.
In Greek writings references to Bel indicate this Babylonian deity
and not the Syrian god of Palmyra of the same name.

Other Gods

In this story footprints provide clear evidence of betrayal and resultant loss of face for the King and his priests.  Loss of face is a powerful provocation for revenge.  No-one likes to look a fool, and especially not a powerful person who feels their power base threatened.  And goodness, these days we are seeing that in full focus in national and global politics.  Think China, North Korea, Iran, US and here in UK.

What insight might our story of Daniel offer in such context?  Daniel was a prince of the tribe of Judah, taken captive to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem.  There he was called to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  

When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which terrified him he called on all his fortune tellers and magicians and challenged them to interpret the dream, but he wouldn’t tell them what the dream was.  When he was told that no-one on earth could tell him what he wanted to know he flew into a rage and ordered the execution of all the royal advisers in Babylon, including Daniel and his friends.

Daniel told his friends to pray to God for mercy and to ask Him to explain the mystery to them so that they would not be killed.  During the night God revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision. Daniel praised God thus –

Daniel, 2: 20-23 (Page 858 in Good News Bible)

“God is wise and powerful,
praise him for ever and ever.
He controls the times and the seasons;
he makes and unmakes kings;
It is he who gives wisdom and understanding.
He reveals things which are deep and secret;
He knows what is hidden in darkness,
and he himself is surrounded by light.

I praise and honour you, God of my ancestors.
You have answered my prayer and shown us~
what to tell the king.”  

Then Daniel went to tell the king what had been in his dream and how to interpret it.  Since Daniel could describe the dream in detail Nebuchadnezzar was willing to accept the interpretation – perhaps because it was about the long term future and offered no immediate threat to his empire.  To the oppressed people of Jehovah it gave hope that God would eventually bring down the tyrant and restore sovereignty to His people.

In these days, most people  that they believed in many gods, at least one for each nation.  When one nation conquered another, it meant that the god of the victor must be more powerful than the god of the vanquished.   At that time Bel was the god of the Babylonians and Jehovah was the god of Israel.  Every day the king worshipped but Daniel worshipped his own God – Jehovah.

Come the day when the king asked Daniel “Why do you not worship Bel?” Daniel would not, could not dissemble.  “Because I do not revere idols made with hands.”  Then the challenge  from the king “Do you not think Bel is a living God – see how much he eats.”   And Daniel laughed.  “Do not be deceived” he said, which was as good as calling the king a fool.  So, the challenge to the priests of Bel – if you are right Daniel will die but if you are wrong you all die.

In the Hebrew culture of that time it was customary to make sacrifices to Jehovah, but the animals sacrificed would often then be used as part of the communal feast which was part of a particular religious festival.   In this story, however, every scrap of food offered to Bel vanished in secret, always.  If not Bel, then who had access to the locked room? 

In his earlier adventures Daniel always seemed to call explicitly for God’s help to resolve his problem.  But in this story Daniel seems to have known already what was going on and how it was dome which made it easy to trap the culprits.  He had little time to plan as the king seems to have been with him all the time.  The footprints in the ashes he had spread around Bel were the evidence of hypocrisy and corruption, a terrible betrayal of the king who had to admit that Jehovah was more powerful than the Babylonian idol.

In his fury at the deception the king ordered the destruction of the idol Bel, and the temple in which the statue was housed. That news might seem to us like a throwaway line at the end of this tale, but for the Jewish listeners in exile in Babylon, some of whom may have witnessed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, it would be a clear indicator of  retribution and divine justice.

There is no mention of intense prayer in this story but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  We believe that God gives each of us gifts to use in his work.  In the using of our gifts we may sometimes pray for specific guidance yet at other times wonder where the ‘right word or action’ came from just when needed.  Prayer is a two-way communication process allowing us to talk to God and He to us.  Praying is like talking and listening to your best friend!  Much of it silently – so who knows when someone does or doesn’t pray for help?

Daniel used his God given gifts of observation, analysis, creativity and courage to expose the greed and hypocrisy which underpinned worship of the idol.  The footprints in the ashes saved Daniel’s life but would have made him many enemies.  Confronting things we believe to be wrong, in face of the people for whom they mean power or other benefit, is no easier today than it was then. 

What can we learn from this story?  What idols consume our time and resources:  do they need to be overcome and if so what do we about them?  What ‘footprints’ do we see when we confront our own idols?  Are these prints sharp edged, leaving no room for doubt, or are they indistinct as they would be in dust or ashes?  Offering just hints of a clue.  Can others see these clues more clearly than we do ourselves? 

The book of Daniel offers an answer to a question which has agitated the world since his day, and now, still deeply concerns the nations of the world. The question is, ‘Who will rule the world?  God or other masters – greed, politics, self-interest or an insatiable desire for power?

The downtrodden, the besieged and the lonely may ask “Can there ever be faith again in the midst of darkness, rebellion, and suffering?”  According to the Book of Daniel, yes, there can be hope;  that hope which has encouraged the faithful for centuries.

I cannot see the end,
the hidden meaning by each trial sent;
the pattern into which each tangled thread is bent.
I cannot see the end
but I can trust
and in His changeless love I am content.
Keith Clayton

 Hymn 640          Holy Spirit come confirm us


Loving god, giver of all life,
generous beyond measure,
we thank you for all the gifts
you bestow on us, your children.
Receive our offerings
given freely with love and
guide us to use them faithfully
in the work of your kingdom.


Generous God, you gave everything
so that we might know you.

You created a universe full of life and spirit.
We who are a tiny part of that bigger picture
come humbly before you
to ask for your help.

In a world where people crave to be in control,
in their own lives and in the lives of others,
O Lord, we pray that your spirit
will guide us to realise
that we can do most for your kingdom
when we let go of power over others
and trust ourselves to you.

We pray for people
who need something to hold onto,
who cherish material wealth
and goods above spiritual needs and desires.

We pray for people
who are addicted, in any way,
who have lost control and can see no
long term future that is healthy or wholesome.

We pray for people
who are struggling with all
that life throws them and
who feel unable to handle it alone.

O Lord, we thank you for the people
who try to cling to your calling
to walk always in your ways;
who use their gifts to help others to find you.

O Lord, help those whose faith is strong
to continue to share your love with others,
and help the people whose faith is weak
to turn to you for strength and help.
O Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayers.   Amen

Hymn 465          Be Thou my vision O ruler of all


In faith we are sent into the world:
with a faith that dares to be a Daniel,
a faith that dares to speak truth to power,
a faith that dares to seek righteousness in the world.
In such faith we go in God’s name to share that faith,
with all who are yet to know the name of God.

Sung amen