Category Archives: from the Minister

Sunday 17th January 2020

Welcome, and Call to Worship

(from Psalm 139: 17-18, 23-24)
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

HYMN 459 Crown Him with many crowns

Prayer

Loving God,
You have gathered us in,
and made Yourself present among us.

We come to worship You,
our Creator
who formed us in our mother’s womb.
You are our source,
our life, and our meaning.
Create in each of us a new heart
open to all that is lifegiving.

We come to worship You
our Saviour and Redeemer.
We bring before You pour fears and our hopes.
As we come before You
we entrust ourselves
to Your loving care.

We come to worship You,
our Sustainer.
We give thanks
that in the highest joy
and in the deepest depths
You are there.

We come to worship You,
father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
One God, forever.

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures

I Samuel 3: 1-10
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

Then Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’

Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’



I Corinthians 6: 12-20
‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’– but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.



John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’

‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.’

Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’

HYMN 97 O God, you search me and you know me

Reflection

“Who are you?” This is such a simple yet such a profound question. Its directness evokes the simplicity of language of a young child yet also raises deep questions of personal identity and understanding. It touches on deep things without any of the trappings of philosophy or theology. So, “who are you?”

Our sense of who we are is often attached to things that may be described as external. We are keen to know where someone is from, where they live, or their occupation. These things impact on who we are but do not define us. A friend of mine recently said that she used to define herself by what she did; recently she recently realised that what mattered was whose she really was.

The Psalm that forms the call to worship, and one of our hymns today, seeks partly to address the question of who we are. God is described as present at our beginning, even in our mother’s womb. Here we are knit together by Him before our existence is known through any human means. What comes from this is not a sense of self-satisfaction that we are created as images of God; rather, scripture demands we reflect on this allowing it to guide the life choices we make. Samuel, thinking he hears Eli calling him in the night eventually has to choose what to do with this very literal calling of God. The good news is that he chooses to heed his earthly master and answer affirmatively the voice of God. Further into scripture we find St. Paul cautioning us about what we do in our daily lives. He sees that what we do matters not just on a human level; it matters, too, on a divine level because we are a part of the body of Christ. In other words, we are His. What we then choose to do reflects on how we understand ourselves in the sight of God.

The importance of knowing who we are moves to a new level in the midst of a lockdown. Many of our usual ways of defining ourselves are not available. Places of work are closed and employees placed on furlough. Cafés where we meet our friends are closed to all but take-away. Gathering with family, even outdoors, is no longer possible. We can no longer worship together in one place. In this existence how do we maintain our sense of identity, how do we maintain our sense of community? In all of this we continue to have a means of identity. This is true not only as individuals but also as a community. As the scriptures tell us, what gives both identity and community is God.

At the present time, just like the time of Samuel, it seems that personal power, wealth, and influence are topmost in people’s thoughts. We see it in relation to COVID, in ongoing political turmoil, and in continuing poverty through much of the world. It is also there in fear around these matters. How, in this, do we hear the voice of God calling to us to come to Him. How do we be like the young prophet and respond, “speak for your servant is listening.”? In times like these we need to realise our identity in Christ. No matter how things may seem at present we can answer the call of God, choosing to make our decisions knowing we are all His.

Basing our life in knowing we belong to God may radically change us. In the gospel passage Nathanael, a man of faith, has his preconceived ideas and expectations dramatically changed. How do we see beyond our fears and prejudices and, instead, see people made like you and me? How do we know, hear, and see people as they are rather than as our prejudices dictate? The answer is to remember we are all made in the image of God. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made(PS. 139: 14). Just as we begin to find our identity in whose we are so we can bring God’s justice to bear by remembering this is true of all people. In Christ there is no them, simply us. By acting in this truth we begin to make a difference; the world begins to heal; and we give glory to the one who created it, the one whose “works are wonderful(Psalm 139: 14).
Amen.


Prayer

God of healing and wholeness,
we pray for a world in need;
a world in pain;
a world in need of You.

As we see a world divided,
may we learn to look beyond difference
remembering that all are one in You.
As we see a world that rages,
may we bring stillness;
may we seek our peace in You.

As we see a world of fear,
may we learn to walk in trust
and banish the use of threat.
As we see a world of poverty,
may we give of our resources
and fill each life in love.

As we see a world of sickness,
may we bring a healing touch
and see a world made whole.
As we see a world despairing,
may come bearing light,
and let Your love be known.

God who creates and sustains,
let us hear Your voice and call.
Let us be Your hands and feet
transforming the world we know.
Amen.

HYMN 543 Longing for light, we wait in darkness

Benediction

In each voice we hear may God be heard;
in each face we see may God be seen;
in each word we speak may truth ring out.

And as we go may God
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with us,
evermore.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.














Sunday 10th January 2021

Call to Worship

(from Psalm 29):
Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

HYMN 132 Immortal, invisible, God only wise

Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer:

Lord, open our lips,
that we may proclaim Your praise.
Blessed are you, our God,
maker of heaven and earth;
may Your name be praised throughout all time.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
may Your holy name be honoured.
As the light of Your Son dawns in our hearts
guide our lips in their talk of You
that we may share Your Gospel
and bring You praise throughout the earth.
Blessed be You, our God.

Lord our God,
in our sin we have avoided Your call.
Our love for You is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Have mercy on us;
deliver us from judgement;
bind up our wounds and revive us;
in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Amen.


Scripture Readings:

Genesis 1: 1-5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

Mark 1: 4-11
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

HYMN 334 On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry

Reflection

Have you ever sat down to watch a film only to realise that you have missed the first few minutes? What do you do? Do you try to watch again from the beginning; do you give up and watch something else; or do you plough on regardless? The problem is that the first scene usually sets out the background to the story that follows. In other words, the opening sequence is vital to understanding the story. Scripture is no different.

Our first reading today, from the opening verses of Genesis, provides us with vital information that help us understand not only that book but all that follows. Contrary to contemporary, popular, understandings the Bible is not about humanity but about God. It is He who is the central character of scripture. It is God about whom the writings speak. It is not mankind that sets everything in motion but God, and it is Him who drives things forward to their conclusion.

The creation story portrays a situation where there is nothing but a watery expanse. The potential of life lies within it but without divine action, through the Spirit of God, nothing would happen. Throughout the opening verses and the first two chapters we see this happen again and again. It is a pattern that repeats throughout all of scripture even through to the New testament and the life of Jesus. Learning that we are not the centre of the story of life perhaps means we may need some consolation; it may be found when God creates humanity. All of the created order is described as ‘good’, but mankind is described as ‘very good’.

In the gospels the pattern of divine action initiating all that then takes place is found clearly in the baptism of Jesus. This apparently simple act has challenged and troubled Christian thinkers from the earliest days of the church. The problem is this: Christians believe that Jesus was without any form of sin, yet the baptism of John was one of repentance from sin. Theologians have been trying to ‘square that circle’ for almost two thousand years. There is no complete or simple answer to it, so perhaps a different approach is needed.

How would we understand Jesus and his mission if there had been no baptism? Without it we would be without a range of images that help us understand that mission. The first is that, in his baptism, Jesus identifies with us and our own baptism. Secondly, there is the parallel of the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea at the outset of their journey into salvation. Thirdly, there is the image of rebirth into a new creation as both he and we rise from the water. In this baptism the Spirit of God is at work bringing creation to bear just as in the beginning of Genesis.

There is more to this passage from Mark’s gospel than the image of the Spirit of God creating and recreating through water. This gospel also gives the account of God’s approval of Jesus, His Son. Although the relationship between Jesus and His heavenly Father is unique to a degree that is beyond our understanding, there is a parallel between the words of the Divine and our own baptism. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he reminds us that when we are baptised we become members of the body of Christ; like Jesus that means that we, too, are the beloved of God.

These two readings remind us that we are not the centre of the story; we are not the central characters in God’s plan for creation. They also remind us that images are important as they describe our mission in the world. Images also define how people will understand and respond to us. In other words, the images we use and the image we portray will impact on the mission of Jesus as enacted through us. These are challenges to us all. Yet, in these days of a second lockdown we find ourselves also in need of consolation. Perhaps knowing that we are created as ‘very good,’ and realising that we are also the ‘beloved’ of God may offer just that.
Amen.

Prayer

From the rising of the sun to its setting,
we call on the Lord to hear our prayer.

We pray that Your people
may worship in spirit and in truth.

We pray that the Church may work towards unity,
that being the will of Christ.

We pray that the nations of the world
may work in the ways that lead to peace.

As we hear the pain of the world,
we pray that all creation would be set free.

We pray that all who have passed from life to death
may rest in peace and rise in glory,

We commend the world, for which Christ died and rose again,
to the mercy and protection of God.
Amen.

HYMN 396 And can it be, that I should gain

Benediction:

May Christ,
who makes all things new,
transform you by the riches of His grace.
And may His grace,
the fellowship of the Spirit,
and the blessing of God the Father
be with you all,
evermore.
Amen.

Acknowledgements:
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayer of Confession is based on Hosea 6.





Sunday 27th December 2020

Welcome and Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 148)
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
And he has raised up his people
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord!

HYMN 326 As with gladness men of old

Prayer

God,
as we look forward to the coming year,
may we know the hope you offer.
As we look back in grief at the year just gone
may we know the peace you bring.
As we reflect on our muted celebrations of the season
may we find joy in you.
As the world around us struggles
may we feel your love in our midst.

As we gather around your word,
we can find ourselves distracted by the colour and noise around us.
As we stand at the change of the year,
we find ourselves reflecting in the regrets we have.
yet in the distractions your voice still cries out,
calling us by name into your presence.
Yet, despite our regrets, you love us still,
seeking to restore and renew us.

As we move forward into a new year
lift up our heads that we may see you.
As we move forward in life’s struggles
may we put our trust in you.
As we journey through each day
may we lift high your holy name.
As we turn to sleep each night,
may we surrender to you.

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the young plant come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Luke 2: 21-40
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

HYMN 315 Once in Royal David’s City

Reflection

It is the last Sunday of the year, and it continues to be Christmastide. Yet, with all that has taken place this year, I am not sure that it is foremost in our thoughts. After all, this is the year that brought you Covid-19, lockdown, isolation, and devastating consequences for livelihoods, families, countries, mental and physical health. Many other crises beyond coronavirus have also grabbed our attention, including the refugee catastrophe, habitat destruction and species extinction, racism, and climate change. Directly or otherwise these all impact on our lives, and not for the better.

Perhaps we have had enough of this year and, instead, wish to look forward. After all, things can only get better … can’t they? Looking forward we may have hope for vaccines and treatment. Next year also brings Brexit, and Scottish Parliamentary elections. It may also bring the Olympics, and the COP26 climate change conference. Finally, there will also be the events that impact our lives but not on the remainder of the world. Like this year it will bring challenges and new possibilities for all of us, including the churches.

These thoughts have a thread that runs through them – continual change. As we look at our Bible verses for today, we see that in the time of Isaiah, and at the birth of Jesus, the world was also in a state of flux. It was not into a fanciful world of dreams that Isaiah prophesied but into a world that knew conquest and exile, slavery, and poverty. It was not into the serene calm of a nativity scene that Jesus was born but into the squalor and messiness of the real world. In both these passages God speaks into the reality of life, offering hope.

Jesus was not born into a vacuum but into a particular time and place, and within a specific cultural context. Yet it is not the details of the culture that are focussed upon but the encounters between people. The story of the reaction of Simeon reflects his hopes, both personal and for the world. Something in the child fills him with both joy and hope, and he sees the fulfilment of the promises of God. There is the reality that some would be raised up while others are brought low; in other words, there would be justice. Somehow in the infant Jesus he sees hope for all humanity. In the story of Anna we find another who is equally touched by the child before her. Like Simeon she sees promises answered and hope fulfilled. Her sense of joy overflows and she shares her excitement with others.

In these stories we see the fulfilment of the hopes of one generation made real through the presence of a younger one. Both ends of the ages of community come together for the the plans of God. In other words, no-one is to be left out on grounds of age.

After the excitement and strangeness of these events we must wonder at the conversation that took place as the family journeyed home. In Matthew’s Gospel, the story takes a darker, more sinister, tone as the despotic ruler ‘Herod the Great’ sets out on a course of mass murder. Luke, though, skips all this summarising the remainder of the youthful part of the life of Jesus in just one sentence.

This Gospel passage is one that may bring both sorrow and joy in equal measure, and that because of its comparison with our situation. Imagine a newborn child in your own family, fussed over and cuddled by all and sundry. Yet today such opportunities for contact and intimacy have mostly been taken away from us by the virus. In today’s world Simeon and Anna would have to keep their distance. In today’s world the undiscussed rites and practices that brought the holy family to Jerusalem would be close to impossible to perform. How are we to respond?

Perhaps we may begin with Mary. She is told by Simeon that a ‘sword will pierce your own soul too’. Right at this time of joy she is presented with the reality that there would be suffering and heartache. Yet Mary does not run away or break down; rather she continues. In other places we encounter the phrase that ‘she stored these things up in her own heart’ meaning that she did not ignore events but thought upon them. The mother of Jesus was there at some of the miracles; she was there, no doubt, at some of the teaching; we know she worried about him; she was there at the crucifixion. Mary was a realist yet could dwell in the promises and hope that God offers. In our time of darkness could we follow her example; could we dwell in the hope of blessings to come?
Amen.

Prayer

God, you are with us;
you know this world better than we ever could.
We share our concerns with you
knowing that you understand.

As we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus,
we bring to mind all the children of this world.
We remember those that struggle
even in our land.
We think of those who are hungry;
we pray for them
and for those who seek to feed them.
We give thanks for the FoodBanks
and those who support their work.

As we reflect on the Gospel
we remember those who are nearing the end.
In these difficult times
we especially think of those in care homes or hospitals;
may their days be touched by grace and dignity.
We remember those who care for them,
their families and the workers;
may they find strength and compassion
to continue on in their giving.

We think of those who struggle with living,
whether through shortage of resources,
or through inner turmoil.
We pray for justice in our world,
that the hungry may be fed,
the thirsty given drink,
the naked clothed,
the homeless sheltered.
We pray for those who are ill
whether in heart or mind;
may they know your healing and peace.

We pray for ourselves;
may we find the courage to journey in faith
to live out your word in our world
and bring your kingdom to come.
Encourage and refresh us
as we seek to love you and our neighbour.
In Jesus name we pray.
Amen.

HYMN 324 Angels from the realms of glory

Benediction
Let us go into the world
seeing God at work around us
and calling us to join him.
As we go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
go with us.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Christmas Day 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from John 1: 1-5)
We proclaim the Word of life which was from the beginning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We proclaim the Word of Life.

HYMN 320 Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Prayer
Blessed are you, our God,
maker of heaven and earth,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As Christ, your living Word
became one of us
taking on the weakness of flesh,
so may the light of hope be born in us.
May it fill our hearts as we celebrate.
Blessed be you, Our God.
Blessed be God for ever.

The Lord’s Prayer

Advent Wreath

HYMN 296 While shepherds watched their flocks by night

Scripture

Isaiah 9: 2-7
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

HYMN 301 Hark! the herald angels sing

Scripture

Luke 2: 15-21
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

HYMN 309 Silent night, holy night

Reflection


We have arrived; it is Christmas Day, and our journey through Advent has come to its natural end. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus – God with us.

The story of Christmas is a tale of the improbable, the unlikely. God becomes human through the birth of a vulnerable baby. The parents are poor and outcast – the story of the census tells us that Joseph was in his ancestral home, yet there is no family to welcome him or offer accommodation. Mary is heavily pregnant, yet it is not Joseph’s child. It is a deeply fragmented society. The land struggles under both occupation and dictatorship. It is a place of unrest, poverty, and violence. Into this Jesus is born – God with us.

Change only a few minor details in this story and it could be one of many places in our world today

Today we celebrate the incarnation – God with us. At the same time we are acutely aware that so many of us are separated from those we love. How do we make real in our circumstances the truth of the presence of God? How can we meaningfully reach out and share the love of God through the unreal gathering via the internet? How do we celebrate when we are wearied by all that the pandemic has drained from us? How do we feast when UNICEF are diverting funds to aid hungry children in our land? How can we be a wealthy nation, yet the reality of Brexit threatens in just days from now?

Christmas – God with us. How can this be?

Perhaps we are looking at this from the wrong angle. Perhaps we should be looking for the presence of God not in the big celebrations and signs but the small and subtle. Perhaps we should be looking for God in the neighbour and the stranger. Perhaps we should be looking for God in the simple gesture of care or concern. Perhaps we should be looking for God in the simple gift of another’s presence, real or virtual. In the pain and confusion of the present crisis perhaps we should be looking for God in places other than the usual.

God is present when we are concerned for others. God is with us when we get it wrong too. God is with us in the midst of our pain and isolation. God is with us in the smallest of things. God came to us in the most vulnerable of ways – the birth of a child. That is the clue for where to find to find God. If we open our eyes to the least obvious of things, there we will see God. He is both present and at work. – in you – in me – in the friend – in the stranger. We just need to look at the world a little differently from our usual ways.

Christmas – God with us – if we would simply look.

Amen.

Prayer

God,
Your Son was born, to us Your Son was given;
we pray for the people He came to save.

Wonderful Counsellor,
in wisdom you made and sustain all things:
guide the Church as it seeks to reveal the mystery of your love
and fill her with the Spirit of truth.

Mighty God,
the government is upon your shoulders:
guide the leaders of the nations,
bringing them to work for your kingdom of justice and peace.

Everlasting Father,
you call us to live as one:
in your mercy watch over your people,
blessing our families and renewing our communities.

Prince of Peace,
you bring healing through the cross:
by your Spirit touch all who suffer
giving them gifts of wholeness and peace.

God,
we commend to you the world that your Son came to save;
praying for its mercy and protection.
Amen.

HYMN 306 O come, all ye faithful

Benediction
May God, who calls us out of darkness
bring us into his marvellous light,
filling us with his peace.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.

A treat:
Here is a link to a rather different arrangement of our final hymn, in its original Latin, by Irish singer Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin:

Sunday 20th December 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 126: 1-3)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

HYMN 474 Hail to the Lord’s anointed

Prayer

Lord God,
You came among us
that we may know You,
and be restored.
You came among us,
that we may be blessed.
You came among us,
that we may be a blessing.

Lord God,
as You come among us now,
may we stand in awe.
As Your presence enfolds us,
may we turn our gaze upon You.
As your closeness touches us,
may we lift our hearts in praise.

Lord Jesus,
as we recall your first coming amongst us
may we lift up thankful hearts.
As we gather around your word,
may we share in its truth.
As we await your coming again,
may we make ready our world.

Loving God,
in the silences of each day
we are drawn to our own faults.
We recall the times where we have failed;
where we have been impatient,
where we have been deaf to the cries of others,
where we have been blind to the struggles around us.

Yet we remember Your love for us.
we recall your patience,
we remember you hearing our cries,
we know that You see us as we truly are.
Continue to restore and renew us.
Make us worthy to be Your people.
And send us out into the world
to be a blessing.

These things we ask in the name of Jesus
and who taught us when we pray to say together:

The Lord’s Prayer

Advent Wreath

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 61:8-11
‘For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.’

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the young plant come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’

He said, ‘I am not.’

‘Are you the Prophet?’

He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’

‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

HYMN SGP 34 Go tell everyone

Reflection:

What do you want for Christmas? By now you may be fed up with being asked that but do not worry as today will be the last time. Thus far we have asked ourselves whether we would like peace, hope, or joy as our gift this year. It is okay to want all three. Today, though, I wonder if you would like to be blessed for Christmas? Yes, it is okay to want all four. But what is it to be blessed? To begin with it is not a warm fuzzy feeling of the kind you have when someone does something nice for you. Rather, being blessed is about being right with God. It is, though, more than an inward feeling or understanding for it has an outward expression too.

Our Bible readings today are those of the season, yet they may not feel as if they have much to do with Christmas. Perhaps that is because they continue to guide our preparations rather than mark the day itself. Yet all the readings may be taken to hint at what the birth of Jesus means, and all the hopes that were placed upon him by his followers. The readings also point us to a time to come when Jesus will return. The earliest followers of Jesus expected him to fulfil all the promises of scripture during his life however the plans and purposes of God were not quite as they had hoped. Many of the promises remain to be fulfilled and will only be so once he returns. The preparations for Christmas invite us to look forward to that time as one of completeness. It will be a time of hope; a time of peace; a time of joy; a time for being blessed.

The reading from the Psalm, the one that formed our call to worship today, seems to be a rather upbeat song about the recovery of all that was lost. Known, technically, as a Psalm of Ascent it would have been familiar to Jesus as one of those sung as the people ascended the mount to celebrate within the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a song of hope, peace, and joy. It is a song about being blessed when God restores the fortunes of the people. Many see this poem as looking forward to a time when the land and material wealth of the nation are restored. That may be the case, but to stop there is to miss out on something more wonderful. That is because the Psalm speaks of the restoration of the people; it is a celebration of the people being restored to their rightful place with God. It is a song of being blessed. One former British Prime Minister stated that there was no such thing as ‘society’ only a ‘collection of individuals’; the Psalmist would disagree. It is a people, a society, that are being restored not a collection of individuals. The people are a whole, and not a collection of component parts. It is the restoration of the whole that is regarded as being blessed.

Lockdown, in all its various forms, has robbed us not of material wealth but of the riches of being part of something, a people. It has impinged on our relationships at work, rest, and play. It has taken away significant parts of what it means to be community. Positively, it has reminded us of the value of our relationships. As Christmas nears we have heard time and again the refrain that ‘we just want to be with those we love’; this year we have heard that more loudly and clearly than the demands for presents of a material kind. This outward drive for community can be a sign of an inward state of blessedness. Blessedness is that which drives us toward being right with others just as we have been made right with God. It is blessedness that drives us to seek healing and wholeness; it is that which drives us to seek restoration. It does not mean that we will get things right, that we will succeed in our relationships and striving for community. It is the intent that makes the difference.

What do you want for Christmas? Do you want to know hope? Do you want to know peace? Do you want to know joy? Do you want to know blessedness? To know these we must first be right with God. To know these we must then seek to enact them in our daily living whether we are successful or not. We must work together to build positive relationships, to build a people who are whole. But it is not just for the season or for during the pandemic. To paraphrase the advert, blessedness is not just for Christmas – it is for life.
Amen.

Prayer

Our God,
we thank You for Jesus, the Light of the world.
We thank You for those in every generation
who have faithfully pointed to Him
and have spread His light.
May we find the courage to point to the hope,
peace, and joy that You offer.
May we witness to Your grace and mercy,
Your love and compassion.

We thank You for Your people gathering this day.
May Your Spirit fan the spark of faith,
and transform us into a people
who work for Your kingdom.

We think of those who struggle this day.
We think of the grieving,
of those who are left alone,
and of those who struggle in heart or mind.
Lord God,
You understand the tears and silences,
disappointments and regrets.
Bring Your Spirit to bear,
filling the world with hope
and light.

Lord God,
We pray for places where conflict and violence are the norm;
for places where the changing environment has brought disaster
because we have been careless with Your creation.
Bring Your Spirit to bear,
filling the world with peace.
Give us greater concern for one another
for both the neighbour and the stranger,
giving us willingness to serve each other.

Lord God,
may we follow the example of Jesus,
making this a world of Hope,
a world of Peace,
a world of Joy,
that we may be both blessed and blessing.
This we pray,
in the name of the holy one,
born at Christmas.
Amen.

HYMN 320 Joy to the world

Benediction
May hope, peace, and joy be yours.
Know that you are blessed,
and go into the world being a blessing to all.
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you always.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday 13th December 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 89: 1-2)
I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm for ever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

HYMN 290 The race that long in darkness pined

Prayer

God, we gather this day,
seeking to know your presence,
seeking to feel your touch.
Prepare our hearts
that we may feel the joy of your nearness
and see your presence in all who surround us.

God, we gather this day,
seeking your cleansing Spirit,
seeking your healing love.
Transform us
that we may be made whole in your sight
and be your presence in this world.

God, we gather this day,
to light candles as reminders,
and to pray for your light to shine.
Let us proclaim your love;
let us live out your truth,
that we may praise your name.

The Lord’s Prayer

Advent Wreath

Scriptures

Isaiah 61: 1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.

HYMN 286 Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord

Reflection

Tell me, what do you want for Christmas? I know that I have asked that of you already however I wondered if our thoughts on the matter had changed. Recently we have thought about what the Israelites were hoping for when Jesus was born. We have also considered our desire for peace. This week I would like us to think about our desire for joy in our lives.

Today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice’. It is a reminder that as Christians, we are to be joyful people. However, we must be careful to distinguish between ‘happiness’ which is a passing emotion, and ‘joy’ that is a state of being. Joyfulness should be seen in Christians. It should be seen in their witness to their faith. It should draw others to the joy of knowing God. It should inspire others to know the joy that brings. Yet so often it seems strangely absent.

Why? For many of us it is to do with our relationship with God or, rather, the lack of that relationship. We tend to keep God distant or parcelled up only to be released when our situation is dire or for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. But what if He is already here in our midst? What if the presence of God was here among us, now? What difference would that make? Here is a story that I heard; it exists in many different forms. Perhaps it will help answer our question.

There once was a church that realised it was going through a crisis. Over time many of the members had left and there were no new ones joining. People were no longer coming for worship and Bible study. The few that remained were becoming old, bitter, and fed-up. The relationships between the members were becoming stressed and sometimes unpleasant. Gossip, rumour, and complaint were becoming the norm. The minister had no clue about what to do so he decided to seek the advice of an older, now retired, colleague. The minister told his colleague how the church had dwindled and now looked like a shadow of what it once was. Only a few dozen folk now came on a regular basis. The older minister told the younger that he had a secret for him. He told him that one of the members of the congregation was the Messiah, but he was living in such a way that no one could recognize him. With this revelation, the minister went back to his church, gathered the congregation on a Sunday morning and told them what he had heard. The people looked at each other in disbelief, trying to figure out who among them could be the Christ.

Could it be the one who is always in a church somewhere praying all the time, but has a “Holier-than-thou” attitude? Could it be the one who is always willing to help but who is always bemoaning that others don’t do as much? Could it be the one who is always complaining because they are not the centre of attention or because things are done differently now.

The minister reminded them that the messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of hiding his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was the Christ amongst them. At the end of the service what each of them knew for sure was that any of them, excluding himself, could be the Christ. From that day, the congregation began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be the Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their community life became more compassionate, and their prayers deeper. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the church and began attending. Word began to spread, and before long new faces began to appear. The church began to grow again in numbers as the people grew in holiness. All this because their attention was drawn to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them. If the truth be told, Christ was present in all of them.

Living in the presence of Christ is living in joy. It should cause us to be transformed and lead us to rejoice. But to rejoice also takes faith. Many of us are experiencing tough times, much of which is heightened or caused by the pandemic. Despite all of this we may still know joy!

It may seem impossible yet, it is true. But for it to be true we need to exercise a little faith. We are to have faith that God, in Christ, is in our midst. In the here and now it life may hurt but joy is not about short time highs. Joy is a long-term commitment between God and man.

We can know joy in our lives. We can know that presence that gives meaning and the strength to carry on even when life is miserable. That joy can transform us and renew us just as in our story.

So, for Christmas, would you like the gift of joy?

Prayer

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

Just as Mary knew the joy of your presence
so may we bring that presence to bear in our world.
Each day this week, we will continue to go through our everyday life;
and we seek that our faith will make a difference.
Where we encounter broken spirits may we bring hope;
where we encounter troubled minds may we bring peace;
where we encounter broken hearts may we bring your love.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

Just as Mary knew the light of your presence
so may your people bring light to the world.
Each day this week, we will continue through daily life,
hearing and seeing the fallenness of this world.
May we seek out truth rather than lies;
may we work for justice rather than domination;
may we proclaim freedom rather than bondage.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

Just as Mary knew to rejoice in your presence
so may we learn to give thanks to you.
Each day of this week, we will continue through daily life
encountering the signs of your grace and mercy.
May we know and share your grace;
may we know and work with mercy;
may our actions be based in faith in you.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Amen.

HYMN 277 Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes

Benediction
May you go from here
in the joy of the Lord.

And as you go
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
go with you
evermore.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday 6th December 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 85: 1-2, 8)
You, Lord, showed favour to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants –
but let them not turn to folly.

SGP 45 How lovely on the mountain (Our God reigns)

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Though we cannot always gather in person
God is with us
Though some of our traditions have had to go
God is with us
Though we may not get to be with family and friends
God is with us
Though we cannot sing together
God is with us
Though Christmas is harder this year
God is with us

God, your presence is at hand
and Your word calls out to us.
Your love is not rationed,
Your grace is not conditioned,
You are present as we call upon You.
We come to bless You as our Creator.
We come to honour You as our God.
You are our heavenly Father,
and we have come to delight in You

Almighty God,
You sent Your servant John the Baptist
to prepare Your people to welcome the Messiah.
Inspire our disobedient hearts to turn to you,
that when Christ shall come again
to be our judge
we may stand with confidence before his glory;
who is alive and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Advent Wreath

Scriptures

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
‘In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out.’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’

‘All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures for ever.’

You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way’ –
‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

HYMN 600 Spirit of God, unseen as the wind

Reflection

The Bible passages for today are typical of what you would expect to hear on the second Sunday of our preparation for Christmas. They speak of hope and of promises fulfilled; they speak also of reunion with God. Yet, without mentioning the word, they speak also of peace. This is a peace that is not of this world, but one that only God can give.

In your imagination can you picture the people of Israel as they were carried off into exile. Words are not needed for we recognise in their body language the sense of defeat they felt. You can readily imagine them as they move onward at a trudging pace with heads bowed low. We can see from the text that after decades away from their homeland their sense of self-worth is low. Perhaps the people cannot believe that there is anything left for God to love, or reason for Him to come to the rescue of the nation. Into this God sends his servant, Isaiah, commanding him to speak tenderly to the people for they are frail. He is commanded to announce that she has, like a criminal, served her time and that it is time to return home.

Like a prisoner released, Israel is gently led into the light of hope. There are obstacles in the path to restoration, but they are being supernaturally overcome by God himself. A path to a reunion has been made across the desert, a place equated with trial and testing. Their joy rises as they are led home by the one who is like a shepherd to them.

That same picture of the desert road leading from exile to homecoming is the one that opens the Gospel of Mark. This time, though, it is not just the people of Israel being led home from exile but the whole of humanity that is journeying to reunion with God. This time the path is not through a literal desert but through everyday life. The mountains between captivity in a distant land and freedom become the challenges of life; the dark valleys the places where we are brought low. We may not be distant from the land we call ‘home’ however for both them and us the exile is real. It is real since for both the exile is from God, our true home. This is why we do not know peace in all its fulness.

So often when we refer to peace we are thinking of the absence of things. We often say we find peace when we are not ill, when we are not troubled by noise or others, when we are not at war, when we are not required to be active, when we are not in need of anything. Yet that understanding of peace is a passing one; it seldom lasts long and does not give us strength or hope or growth. The words we translate as ‘peace’ in scripture have a different understanding. They speak of being bound together, of being woven into something, of having strength, of being satisfied, of being at one, of being whole. This greater understanding of peace is achievable only through God.

As we read the passage from Isaiah, we read of a people who were journeying to peace as they travelled to being at one with God. In the Gospel we read of the call of the prophet summoning us all to make a like journey into being one with God. Both, ultimately, end in peace. In a world where we are experiencing a pandemic, war, political and economic unrest we desperately need to know and experience peace. But who offers a peace that is lasting? The celebration of Christmas is in part the rejoicing over the birth of the one who would be dubbed the ‘Prince of Peace’. The Bible tells us that it is this Jesus who will bring us to that place of true peace if we would follow him. In celebrating the birth and in seeking to know him better we are engaging on a path to reunion, a path to peace.
Amen.

Prayers

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all His goodness:
For the freedom to worship without fear,
thanks be to God.
For all the goodness we have seen or experienced in this last week,
thanks be to God
For those who provide for our needs, supplying our food, healthcare and education,
thanks be to God.
For those who lead us in paths of hope,
thanks be to God.
For friends and family, and for companions in the way of Christ,
thanks be to God.
For all that makes life a wonder,
thanks be to God.
For all that directs ourselves and others to Jesus,
thanks be to God.
For those who have gone before us, entering into the life of glory,
thanks be to God.
Amen.

HYMN 476 Mine eyes have seen the glory

Benediction
May the peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
go with you this day,
and every day.

And as you go,
may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
go with you
now and evermore.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday 29th November 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 80: 1-23)
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.

Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

HYMN 273 O come, O come, Emmanuel

Prayer

O come, O come, we pray our God.
we call upon Your name,
seeking to know your truth,
seeking to know your touch,
seeking to know Your love.

O come, O come, we pray our God.
Reveal Yourself to us
that we may know Your presence,
that we may know your touch,
that we may praise Your Holy Name.

O come, O come, we pray our God.
As we begin our journey toward Christmas
may we open our hearts,
may we open our minds,
may we open our arms
to embrace the Good News of Your coming among us.

Ransome us, we pray, our God.
As we call on You, so too do we turn away.
As the world cries out for help,
so do we turn deaf.
As the world reaches out for love,
so to do we close our hearts.

Ransome us, we pray, our God.
Claim us once more as Your own.
Restore us once more as Your people.
Open us up to the needs of our neighbour.
show us how to love,
even as You have loved us.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures

Isaiah 64: 1-9
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins for ever.
Oh, look upon us we pray,
for we are all your people.

Mark 13: 24-37
‘But in those days, following that distress,

‘“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

‘At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

‘Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: as soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’

HYMN 472 Come though long expected Jesus

Reflection

What do you want for Christmas? Depending on who you ask you will get a variety of answers; you may even get a list. It is a question that comes up every year in so many households and families. Sometimes the question is put subtly before the rush to buy presents takes over the local shopping centre. Other times the question could be quite blunt. If you ask it of your loved ones will the answer be straight or will they try to avoid the question so as not to seem presumptuous or greedy. Perhaps the answer may be that all you want for Christmas is your two front teeth! Whatever you want for Christmas I imagine that, like most folk in the world, your desire is not the same as that of the people of God as they approached what would become the first Christmas. What were they doing on that first Christmas? What were they hoping for?

One thing is for sure, they were not waiting for anything similar to what we look for each year. The people of God were waiting for many things; they wanted freedom from a despotic ruler; they wanted to come back to the halcyon days of the time of King David; they wanted peace. Some were waiting for a coming King like David who would restore the nation. They were not waiting for presents wrapped and lying under an evergreen tree; they were not awaiting the birth of a child who was wondrous; they were not awaiting mysterious strangers and scholars from afar. Theirs was a grounded expectation. Theirs was a hope that sometimes seemed as if it would never be fulfilled.

As they waited to be set free from all that kept them apart form God they turned to ancient stories and prophecies that warned them to prepare for a coming day. It was to be a day of God’s favour, but it was also to be a day of God’s wrath. That, perhaps, helps to explain the two readings set for today. The people were awaiting a time of judgment. Yet they were also awaiting a day that would see judgement turn to wonder, grace, and mercy. Some continue to await that coming King from David’s line. As Christians we believe that these hopes were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, son of Joseph, in Bethlehem. That birth was not into the sanitised crib scene we so often see in our churches. That birth was not into the sentimental scene that we have created that is palatable and inoffensive. The truth is far different. That birth was into a stable full of dirt and smells that have to be experienced to be understood. That birth was marked by strange signs. The visitors from nearby were shepherds, a group often regarded as untrustworthy, who had just been terrified by angels. The visitors from afar brought strange gifts that hinted at sacrifice and death, and whose presence hinted at prophecies of last days.

What do you want for Christmas? Do you want the safety of the tame and manageable? Want do you want for Christmas? Do you want the sanitised version that causes no offence? Want do you want for Christmas? Do you want the real story in all its messiness and grim reality? It is this, latter, story that changed the world and has the power to continue to do so. If you want the real story of Christmas then it is a story of hopes and fears rolled up in the promise of a coming King. If you want the real story of Christmas then it is the story of the God who forsook heavenly glory to be at one with His people in the flesh and blood of the one we know as Jesus. If you want the real Christmas then you are opening yourself up to be transformed and transfigured into the image of God.

So tell me, what do you want for Christmas?

Amen.

Prayer for the World

Listening God,
we thank You that You are God with us,
that we can glimpse Your Kingdom around us,
that we can see signs of You in our world,
that we can be part of Your story.
God, we wait and we listen;
we hope for what is not seen.
Shine the light of Your kingdom
into the darkness of our world.

Listening God,
will You come into the darkness of today’s world?
To the places where once You walked among us
but are now places of despair, conflict and occupation.
Be with those whose stories we have heard
and the countless others whose voices are silenced.

Help us to be a voice of peace,
to speak out against oppression
to share the real Bethlehem with others this Advent.
Bring Your wisdom to a situation which seems to have no end.
God, we wait and we listen;
we hope for what is not seen.
Shine the light of Your kingdom
into the darkness of our world.

Listening God,
will You come into the darkness of our community?
To the people living with fear and worry,
to the people whose Advent is not full of joy,
to the people needing support.
Open our eyes to the situations all around us that we do not see
and open our minds to the ways we can respond.
God, we wait and we listen,
we hope for what is not seen.
Shine the light of Your kingdom
into the darkness of our world.

Listening God,
will You come into the darkness of our lives?
To our human doubts and failings,
the times we do not live out our faith,
the situations we have not used our power to change.
Help us to be as open to you as You were to us
when You were as vulnerable as a baby
trusting in the world for Your safety.
Show us glimpses of Your Kingdom.
Help us to hear Your story.
Reveal to us our part in Your Advent Hope.
God, we wait and we listen.
We hope for what is not seen.
Shine the light of Your kingdom
into the darkness of our world.
Amen.

HYMN 279 Make way, make way, for Christ the King

Benediction


Go from this time
in the name of God
whose promises are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’.

Go from this time
in hope and expectation,
of promises fulfilled.

And as you go
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with you, evermore,.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayer for the World adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship.

Sunday 22nd November 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to at any time.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 95)
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

HYMN 458 At the name of Jesus

Prayer

Let us worship the Lord with gladness
as we come into his presence.
Let us remember that the Lord is God.
It is God who made us, and we belong to Him;
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving,
giving thanks to God,
blessing the name of God.
Let us give thanks to God for His goodness,
for His steadfast love which endures for ever,
for His faithfulness to all generations.

You, God, are our one and only King.
We seek Your forgiveness for when we turn from you,
and seek to serve other “kings” and false gods of our own making:
the false gods of wealth, influence, and position.
We seek Your forgiveness, we who are broken
by our own choices and actions.
Guide us that we may be the sheep of Your pasture.
Lead us to trust in You as our King and Shepherd.
Show us how to walk once more
in the name of Jesus, Your Son,
and in the power of Your Holy Spirit.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures

Ezekiel 34:11-24
‘“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

‘“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

‘“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: see, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

Matthew 25:31-46
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”

‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”

‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

HYMN 360 Jesus Christ is waiting

Reflection

This Sunday is sometimes known as ‘Christ the King’; it marks the end of the church’s year and prepares us for the countdown to Christmas that commences next Sunday. It is also a celebration that is relatively new having originated shortly after the end of the First World War. It arose out of the sense that humanity had abandoned the teachings of Christ and had again followed the desires of man. Against a growing move toward totalitarian rule in Europe the feast was meant to point us back towards our true and rightful King, Christ Jesus.

This week’s readings tie in with those of recent weeks as they give rise to questions of eternity, judgement, and loyalty. They are designed to provoke us to ask, ‘who’s side are we one’ or ‘who is it that we follow’. They provide us with glimpses of both wonder and judgement; the former for those on the side of Christ with the latter for those who prefer to choose the ways of humanity. Since these writings, both by prophet and evangelist, were written for the faith community we must also face another question: why are we being warned?

Ezekiel was called to be a messenger from God to His disobedient people. The people were in exile, sent there because they had made foolish alliances and worshipped false gods. Time and again the people had been warned of the consequences; time and again they had ignored the prophets or messengers of God. The consequence was punishment, in this case exile. Yet even in exile God did not fully abandon his people. Just as we may chastise one of our children for their wrongdoing so, too, does God chastise his children for theirs. Just as we do not stop loving our children neither does God stop loving His, even in exile. Ezekiel is sent to both warn the people concerning their continued foolishness, and to guide them back toward God.

As we look at the Gospel we see the warnings laid out more clearly, more starkly. Here we have a simple division of the people into the faithful and the unfaithful, the saved and the judged. We must, though, note an important point; belief is not enough! Remember, it is believers that are being judged. Our faith in Christ, in God, must lead to changed perspectives and changed actions. In the reading Jesus warns that it is those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, or visited the prisoner who were saved. Note, too, that this is not some form of what the Reformers entitled ‘works salvation’. The good works of which Jesus refers are not the cause of being right with God but an outworking of it. In other words, the love of God for us transforms us in ways that see us love God and then show this through the love of our neighbour.

This Sunday is about judgement, yet it is also about transformation and renewal. It is about turning away from false gods and idols of our own making. It is not about seeing yourself as the sheep in the parable and breathing a sigh of relief. It is about following the example of the sheep and reaching out to our neighbour, whoever he or she may be. It is about bringing compassion and grace to bear in world that truly hurts. It is also about doing this not to make oneself feel safe and secure but to be faithful and obedient to our Lord.

In our world faith is often seen as something personal; it’s rarely seen as something to be shared. This can see our faith become nothing more than a series of propositions with little to no impact on the remainder of creation. That is not how it is meant to be. The love of God for us is meant to transform us from inward looking and selfish to outward looking and generous. The love of God is meant to transform us ‘creatures of wrath’ to become channels of grace and mercy. The love of God is meant to transform us from ‘goats’ to ‘sheep’.

Prayers for the world

Lord, you sent Your Son to set us free,
to bring good news to the poor,
to bring sight to the blind,
to bring freedom to captives
to usher in Your Kingdom.
Lord, may Your Kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord, send us to bring help to the poor
and freedom to the oppressed.
Send us to proclaim Your truth
working for justice in the world.
Send us to tell the world of Your love,
spreading the Good News of Your Kingdom.
Lord, may Your Kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord, may we tend us to those who mourn,
to bring light and hope to those who grieve.
Send us that we may a healing presence
to all who struggle in body, heart, or mind.
Send us to proclaim that the time is here
for You to save Your people.
Lord, may Your Kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord of the Church,
hear our prayer.
Make us one in heart and mind
to serve You in Christ our Lord.
Make us to work from Your kingdom
where grace and mercy flow.
Lord, may Your Kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen

HYMN 804 You shall go out with joy

The Blessing

Go into the world from this time of worship
knowing Christ Jesus as your Lord and King.
Go from this time to work for the coming
of His Kingdom on earth as in heaven.

And as you go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with you
now and evermore.
Amen.

Acknowldegements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday 15th November 2020

Call to Worship and Opening Sentence

God who is the ground of hope, fill you with joy and peace as you lead the life of faith until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you overflow with hope.
(Romans 15:13)

HYMN 132 Immortal Invisible God only Wise

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Loving God, thank you for bringing us together for worship today. Thank you for the beauty of this church and for all the people who have worshipped here over the years that makes this sanctuary a place where we can experience love, joy and peace.
God of all time and space,
You were with Your people of the Old and New Testament.
You are with us now.
You have promised to be with us until the end of time.
We give You thanks,
that in Your presence we are not alone.
Your love has held us from before we were born,.
Your grace has infiltrated our lives, never letting us go
Your hope leads us on, encouraging us to find You
in new and ever surprising ways.
We confess that sometimes we lose faith and trust.
We look at our lives and our world
and do not like what we see.
We are impatient, ungrateful and sometimes angry.
and we question the meaning of life.

In this time of worship,
remind us of Your promise never to forsake us.
Help us to trust Your promise that You will be with us.
Teach us again about your mighty power and your unfailing love.
In Jesus Christ, you revealed your salvation in all the world, which gives us confidence of the heavenly world to come.
Through your Holy Spirit, you give us love, joy and peace.

Keep us firm in faith, that we may serve and praise you all our days.
But gracious Lord, so often we fail to do and say what you have taught us to do and say, so forgive us for getting things wrong –
sometimes we know we are selfish or unhelpful to others, so hear us now as we pray to you in silence with penitent hearts as we seek your forgiveness

……. SILENCE

As we worship you again this day forgiving God, we gladly say together the prayer that your Son and our saviour taught us to say, by saying:

Our Father, who 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,

Amen

Introduction to readings:
Our Old Testament Reading is from Judges 4: 1-7.

The book of Judges probably comes to us from a series of songs, poems and stories about the history of Israel and the ‘heroes of the faith’, known as the judges, one of whom is Deborah the Prophetess.

The book was probably written in about 550 BC when the Jews were in exile and covers the period between Joshua and King Saul that is about 1300 years to 1051BC

Very little is known about Deborah. However in today’s reading her role is to motivate Barak, the military leader of the Israelites, to attack a much stronger force led by a ‘superior-enemy’, Sisera. The passage reveals Deborah’s role and Barak wins the battle, against the odds.

The story lends itself to a consideration of what can be achieved with God’s help.

The gospel lesson is from Matthew 25: 14-30 and is the parable of the three servants, often known as the Parable of the Talents. It makes it clear that God expects us to use whatever talent and energy we have in His service.

The three servants had different talents, but they are expected to use them fruitfully and not waste that which has been given to them.

Let’s hear the Word of God now.

Judges 4: 1-7 (Good News Translation)

After Ehud died, the people of Israel sinned against the Lord again. So the Lord let them be conquered by Jabin, a Canaanite king who ruled in the city of Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived at Harosheth-of-the-Gentiles.Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots, and he ruled the people of Israel with cruelty and violence for twenty years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet, and she was serving as a judge for the Israelites at that time.She would sit under a certain palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel would go there for her decisions.One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam from the city of Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given you this command: ‘Take ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them to Mount Tabor. I will bring Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, to fight you at the Kishon River. He will have his chariots and soldiers, but I will give you victory over him.’”

New Testament Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30 The Parable of the Three Servants

“At that time the Kingdom of heaven will be like this. Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to his ability: to one he gave five thousand gold coins, to another he gave two thousand, and to another he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip. The servant who had received five thousand coins went at once and invested his money and earned another five thousand. In the same way the servant who had received two thousand coins earned another two thousand.

But the servant who had received one thousand coins went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

The servant who had received five thousand coins came in and handed over the other five thousand. ‘You gave me five thousand coins, sir,’ he said. ‘Look! Here are another five thousand that I have earned.’ ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’

Then the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, ‘You gave me two thousand coins, sir. Look! Here are another two thousand that I have earned.’ ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’

Then the servant who had received one thousand coins came in and said, ‘Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.’ ‘You bad and lazy servant!’ his master said. ‘You knew, did you, that I reap harvests where I did not plant, and gather crops where I did not scatter seed? Well, then, you should have deposited my money in the bank, and I would have received it all back with interest when I returned. Now, take the money away from him and give it to the one who has ten thousand coins.

For to every person who has something, even more will be given, and he will have more than enough; but the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him. As for this useless servant—throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth.’

CH4 HYMN 502: Take my life, Lord, let it be

Reflection: Matthew 25: 14-30

I imagine many of you know the Parable of the Talents sometimes called the Parable of the Three Servants, but let’s recap on the story and see if God speaks to us afresh today.

A wealthy landowner is ready to go on a long journey. Before he left, he entrusted various amounts of money to his servants. He gave five thousand coins to one, two thousand to another, and one thousand to another – each according to his ability.

When the landowner returned from his travels, he called the servants to give an account of what they had done with the money. The first two put had invested wisely and as a result, they doubled the original investment.

The third buried his money in the ground. The landowner was furious: “At least you could have deposited in the bank where it would have gained interest,” he said.

In a fit of anger, he took back the one thousand coins and gave it to the servant who now had ten thousand coins. As for the one-thousand-coin man, the landowner told his servants to cast him into outer darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth.

That’s the story, and the lesson that follows is sometimes summarised like this:
Use whatever talent you have, however much or little, to the best of your ability to the glory of God.

That is one of the messages of the Parable of the Talents. But let’s take a closer look at this one-thousand-coin man. He might be like you and me.

First, he didn’t do anything wrong.
In fact, knowing what we know about Jewish law in Jesus’ day, he did the most prudent thing he could do – he buried it in the ground because that was the safest option.

So, if he didn’t do anything wrong, is it not harsh that he was thrown into the darkness given that he acted responsibly in keeping with the custom of his day?
His failure was he wasted this opportunity – he had the opportunity to do something to make a difference, but he played it safe.
That’s the reason for the landowner’s condemnation – not that he did something wrong, but that he didn’t do anything at all.

Why not, – because of fear.

He was afraid of incurring the wrath of the landowner. Here’s what the servant said:

Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground’ (verses 24 & 25a)

The servant was afraid of his master, and his fear led to the paralysis of mind. And so, the question that arises for us is: what are we afraid of?

Fear affects people of every age and walk of life.
What are you afraid of? What keeps you from taking a chance to make a positive difference to someone or to your church?

Are you afraid that, if you venture out of your comfort zone, all will go wrong? A lot of people are afraid of failure.
Surprisingly some people are afraid of success. Often a successful man or woman has less free time, less freedom, greater responsibilities and more stress.
A common fear is about our health. We fear getting sick or being diagnosed with a crippling, even terminal illness such as Covid 19.
There are lots of things – both real and imagined – to be afraid of.

The question is what are you afraid of? Naming your fears is the first step to overcoming them.

And the second step is turning your worries over to God.

The point is, with God on our side, we have nothing to fear.
We are free to live without worrying about failing in life because we have the assurance of God’s sustaining grace and love.In today’s Old Testament reading, Deborah tells Barak:

God will bring Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, to fight you at the Kishon River. He will have his chariots and soldiers, but God will give you victory over him. (Judges 4: 7)

And that is what happened. The story lends itself to a consideration of what can be achieved with God’s help…. even when the odds are against you.

Food for thought for each of us at the personal level perhaps? What is God calling you to do?

But also consider this:

As a church family in this parish church, God has given you some very committed Christians with considerable talent and abilities. God has blessed you with assets and resources. God has given you the freedom to use them any way you see fit to build up this church family here and across our city and nation. And, if that weren’t enough, God has promised to be with you and watch over you.

What are you going to do with the talent, and resources in this church family?

Are we going to sit back and let the coronavirus pandemic overwhelm us and just let the church fade away?

We need new members, worshippers and supporters of our Parish Churches. How are we going to make these relationships?

Phoning people, meeting for coffee one to one, praying for them…. inviting them to coffee get-togethers and quizzes using computer conference facilities. It is indeed hard but not impossible when God helps us as he will surely do when we pray for his help.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to restructure the church and grow our church families again……that is what the message of the Parable of the talents is about for us today.

Conclusion

Finding hope in Christ in the face of some very bleak situations can be a profound demonstration of God’s power against the odds. The fact that no matter what happens, we are not alone – we always have God with us…..and nothing can separate us from God:

Paul wrote in Romans 8:38 & 39

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So what are we afraid of in building up our church family again here and throughout our country?

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Loving Lord,
We thank you for our talents.
The gifts You have given us
The people You have made us.
Knowing that You accept us and love us,
even when we fail you.

Use our lives to build Your people.
Use Your people to build a better world
Use this world to show the beauty of life with You.

When we get complacent or downhearted
teach us to count our blessings.
When we count our blessings,
teach us to pray for those who need Your blessing.

We continue to pray for our church family.
For all who serve you faithfully here.
We pray for our minister Alex as he fulfils his many duties and ministry.
We pray for our elders and all the leaders of this church that they will continue to manage our finances, property and administration in these changing times.

We ask you to bless our offerings today and those given through the banking system to build up the church here and in the wider world.
May you encourage us all to be joyful givers of our time, talent and resources.

We give thanks for all our church family whether they read this service on-line or are here today. We pray for all those known to us in silence who need your comforting presence and healing power…Silence

We pray for people everywhere throughout your world.
So many people suffering the great loss of life from war, famine, strife and now from the coronavirus pandemic.
Bring the nations together to overcome all these problems
and give all people peace in their souls.

May our hearts and arms be opened to you and to one another.
May our imagination be filled with Spirit inspired creativity
To become the church, you mean us to be tomorrow
To become the church, you call us to be today.
To become the church, you have been planning to build since yesterday.

For these prayers and all the unspoken prayers of our hearts, we pray though your son and our saviour Jesus Christ,
Amen.

CH4 517: Fight the good fight with all your might

Benediction
Let us go from this place
with hearts that grow in hope,
with lives that shine Christ’s light.
Let us go to serve,
to reconcile, to bring peace,
and to stand united
as people of the light.

And now may the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you this day and evermore.

Amen

Acknowledgements:

Holy Bible, Good News Bible Translation
Church of Scotland weekly worship
The Gospel of Matthew – The Bible Speaks Today –
Michael Green/John Stott