Category Archives: from the Minister

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

Sunday 8th November 2020

Call to Worship
We are met this day
to glorify God whose power sustains the world;
to remember with thanksgiving
those who lived and died
in the service of our country;
and to ask for God’s help and blessing,
that we may be worthy of their sacrifice
each day of our life.

God is our refuge and our stronghold,
a timely help in trouble.
(Psalm 46: 1)

HYMN 161 O God our help in ages past

Prayer
Eternal God,
you are the shepherd of our souls,
the giver of life everlasting.

On this day
when we commemorate and commend to you
those who lived and died
in the service of others,
we are glad to remember
that your purposes for us are good,
that you gave Jesus Christ
for the life of the world,
and that you lead us by his Holy Spirit
into the paths of righteousness and peace.

Merciful and faithful God,
your purpose is to fold both earth and heaven
in a single peace.
With sorrow we confess
that in our hearts we keep alive
the passions and pride
that lead to hatred and to war.
We are not worthy of your love,
nor of the sacrifice made by others on our behalf.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Almighty God,
pardon and deliver us from all our sins,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,
and keep us in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God of unbounded grace,
you declared your reconciling love and power
in the death and resurrection
of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Teach us, who live only in your forgiveness,
to forgive one another.
Heal our divisions,
cast out our fears,
renew our faith in your unchanging purpose
of goodwill and peace on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Act of Remembrance
Let us remember the kindness of God,
and his favour to us in our time of need.

Let us remember the courage,
devotion to duty,
and the self-sacrifice
of the men and women in our armed forces;
the toil, endurance, and suffering
of those who were not in uniform;
the support of those who sent us help from afar,
or came and stood by our side.

Let us remember those
who were wounded in the fight;
those who perished in air-raids at home;
those who fell in battle,
and are buried at sea
or in some corner of a foreign field;
and especially those
whom we have known and loved,
whose place is for ever in our hearts.

Let us remember those who were our enemies,
whose homes and hearts are as bereft as ours,
whose dead lie also
in a living tomb of everlasting remembrance.

Let us remember those who came back;
those whose lives still bear the scars of war;
those who lost sight or limbs or reason;
those who lost faith in God
and hope for humanity.

Let us remember the continuing grace of God,
whose love holds all souls in life,
and to whom none is dead
but all are alive for ever.

The Tryst
‘They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
We will remember them.’

Two minutes silence is observed

Prayer
In memory of those who died,
may we be better men and women;
and in gratitude to God,
may we live as those who are not their own
but who are bought with a price.
Amen.

HYMN 706 For the healing of the nations

Scripture:
John 15:9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Reflection
I think most men of my generation, and many of others, will have grown up reading such things as the ‘Warlord’ comic, or ‘Commando’ magazine; we also grew up with a diet of war films, many of which were from an earlier generation. The majority of these productions focussed on the Second World War; the majority also made it clear who were deemed to be on the side of good, and who were not. It was a simplistic approach that satisfied people and reinforced their often long-held beliefs. The truth, though, is rarely such a simple affair. I recently was introduced to the following story, again set during the last world war. I don’t usually bother with war stories however I think this one is worth telling.

The raid had gone badly. The plane was now on its own. One of the crew was dead, the remaining nine were either wounded or badly shaken up. The pilot, a mere twenty years old, was somehow holding on. The fuselage was literally shot to pieces; significant gaps could be seen. Three of the four engines had now failed. They were in German airspace and hundreds of miles from home, and safety. In some ways it was a miracle that they were still airborne. The aircraft, and American B-17, was usually referred to as a ‘Flying Fortress’ … it was now little more than flying scrap.

Common sense should have led the pilot, Charlie Brown, to order his crew to bail out. Most likely they would survive, albeit as prisoners of war. Yet something in the pilot made him determined to head for home. Ahead they could see the coast and the North Sea. It would take a few hours, but something gave him hope that they could make it across the water to the east of England where their home had been for the last year. It was then that their hearts fell. The speck in the distance was getting larger, and closer. It was a German fighter plane, and it was on an intercept course.

The German pilot was something of a hero. At twenty-eight Franz Stigler was still relatively young but his combat experience from the outset of the war had made him a veteran. Not only that but he had been decorated for his flying and his bravery. This was a fighter that would not miss his target. He approached the crippled bomber from the rear; this was normal practice as there were fewer guns pointing that way. Yet there was no defensive fire. As he drew closer he was almost in disbelief at what he saw. He could see the rear gunner was dead, yet he also saw the other crew members huddling together and tending to their wounded comrades. Stigler’s orders were simple … shoot it down.

Something inside the fighter pilot ‘clicked’. Hi earliest experiences of combat had involved flying with an older pilot, who was from a different school of thought that that which prevailed at the time; he had said to Stigler, “You shoot at a machine, not a man. You score “victories”, not “kills”. But what could he do? There was no obvious answer. He brought his fighter alongside the bomber. Frantically he gestured to the American pilot to follow his lead; the bomber held its course. The bomber was now near the coast and would soon encounter anti-aircraft batteries who would have no hesitation in shooting it down. Stigler then took a gamble. He was not going to let the plane escape, but rather he would help it to safety. He tried to nudge the plane towards neutral Sweden but the stubborn American held his course. Stigler took another gamble; he flew alongside as if on escort duty, hoping the guns below would leave them alone. It worked.

Out to sea the planes went their separate ways. The bomber struggled onward losing both speed and altitude but somehow made it back to England. Stigler returned to base to ‘face the music’. The ground crews would have seen him and reported what they saw to his commanding officer. He could be shot. Yet no report was made.

Safe in England, the American crew made their reports but these didn’t chime with the needs of wartime propaganda. The men were sworn to secrecy, and the reports filed away. Stigler returned to his squadron. Both men served out the remainder of the war.

It is now 1985 and Charlie Brown finally tells his story to a friend. Several retellings later it is published in a journal for veteran German airmen. In Vancouver, Canada, a now seventy year-old former fighter pilot opens his latest copy of the same journal and sees the story … his story. Franz Stigler was alive and well living in Canada since shortly after the end of the war. Eventually the two men spoke on the phone before an emotional and tear-filled meeting. Over the coming years the pair would travel to various air shows and veterans gatherings to share their story. This was their act to try and create a better world. The story comes to an end in an eight-month period in 2008 when both men died.

As a Hollywood film this may not quite work; it is a little far-fetched, a little too good to be true. But this is not fiction; these events happened. This is history.

This true story serves to remind us that even in the depths of the horrors of war that grace and mercy can sometimes be seen offering hope to those caught up in the midst of it. It serves to remind us that we do not need to abandon our humanity even as others around us may choose to. We can opt to choose the path of Christ and reach out to our enemies, whether real or perceived. We can choose to stand up and, as Jesus commanded, love our neighbour as ourself.
Amen.

Prayers:
God of power and love.
bless our country and commonwealth.
Give wisdom and strength to the Queen,
govern those who make the laws,
guide those who direct our common life,
and grant that together we may fulfil our service
for the welfare of the whole people
and for your praise and glory.

Bless all members of the armed forces.
Defend them in danger.
Give them courage to meet
all occasions with discipline and loyalty.
So may they serve
the cause of justice and peace,
to the honour of your name.

Bless our young people.
May they never see the flames of war,
or know the depths of cruelty
to which men and women can sink.
Grant that in their generation
they may be faithful soldiers
and servants of Jesus Christ.

Bless our friends
and those who were our enemies,
who suffered or are still suffering from war.
Grant that your love
may reach out to the wounded,
the disabled, the mentally distressed,
and those whose faith has been shaken
by what they have seen and endured.
Comfort all who mourn the death of loved ones,
and all who this day
miss the comradeship of friends.

Bless those who are homeless,
those who are refugees,
those who are hungry,
those who have lost their livelihood or security.
Help us to pledge ourselves
to comfort, support, and encourage others,
that all may live in a world
where evil and poverty are done away
and where human life
reflects the radiance of your kingdom.

Bless those in authority in every land,
and give them wisdom to know
and courage to do what is right.
Encourage those who work for peace,
who strive to improve international relations,
who seek new ways of reconciling
people of different race, colour, and creed.

Bless your Church throughout the world.
By your Holy Spirit,
draw the scattered flock of Christ
into a visible unity,
and make your Church
a sign of hope to our divided world.
Grant that we who bear your Son’s name
may be instruments of your peace,
bringing peace to our homes,
our nation, and our world.

And now, rejoicing in the communion of saints,
we remember those whom you have gathered
from the storm of war
into the peace of your presence,
and give you thanks
for those whom we have known,
whose memory we treasure.
May the example of their devotion inspire us,
that we may be taught to live
by those who learned to die.
And at the last, grant that we,
being faithful till death,
may receive with them
the crown of life that never fades;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

HYMN 704 I vow to thee my country

National Anthem

Benediction:
God grant to the living, grace;
to the departed, rest;
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth,
and all people,
peace and concord;
and to us and all his servants
life everlasting.

And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you all.
Amen.

Acknowledgments:
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Prayers and Act of Remembrance taken from the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order (1994)

Sunday 1st November 2020

Call to Worship (based on the Beatitudes):Happy are we
when our treasures cannot be counted.
Happy are we
when our knowledge is balanced by mystery.
Happy are we
when our pain is held in the arms of God.
Happy are we
when our joy comes from beyond ourselves.

HYMN 130 Ye servants of God

Prayer

Living God, this is a day of blessedness,
when we take the opportunity to come together,
to the very House of God,
to give thanks for Your goodness and grace.

This is a day when we pause,
to take note,
to see and know what’s around us,
and to give thanks for Your many blessings.

We are blessed with life,
the living, breathing life which is Your gift to us.
We are blessed with creation,
the beauty and wonder of which is beyond our comprehension.

We are blessed with love,
the ability to give love,
and the joy of receiving it.
We are blessed with the Church,
with the Community of God’s Faithful People,
with whom we are bound
and in which we have our place.

We are blessed with the Gospel,
with the Salvation won for us by Your Son, Jesus Christ.
Living God,
we are richly blessed,
and so we pause and give thanks
for Your goodness and grace.
But above all and beyond all,
in all and through all,
we are blessed by Your Love –
a challenging love;
a rebuking love;
a healing love;
an accepting love;
a forgiving love.
So we are blessed again when we can confess our fallings,
and hear Your words of love,
“Arise sinner, and sin no more.”

So, as Your cloak of blessedness is cast around us once again,
may we be drawn closer to You in the warmth of Your Spirit.

As the light of Your blessedness shines upon us today,
may we rise, wakeful and watchful,
to share that blessedness with those around us.

As the peace of Your blessedness restores our very soul,
may we rest in You,
knowing our blessedness is deep and secure.

These prayers we bring You,
in and through the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures

Revelation 7: 9-17
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’

All the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:

‘Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!’

Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’

I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’

And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

‘they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
“Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’

Matthew 5:1-12
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

HYMN 557 O Love that wilt not let me go

Reflection:
The Occupy Movement gained a great deal of attention over the years. Do you remember them occupying streets around the Parliament in Westminster? What about their blockade of Lothian Road on a busy Saturday, or the east end of Princess Street during the evening rush hour? These kinds of activities were carried out across many of the westernised countries of the world. The list of places affected goes on and on. The tactic of occupying, or blocking streets, was certainly not a new one, and it is an approach taken up by other groups. Last week we saw Extinction Rebellion occupy the main road outside the ‘Ineos’ plant in Grangemouth.

The Occupy movement pointed to economic inequality, corporate greed and wrongdoing, the need for jobs. The movement rightly identified places of injustice, places where change still is needed. Many of us will share their concerns. They are right to speak out. We need to hear and pay attention. I wonder, though, whether much will change or can change. The movement to occupy is not new. It has been the way of humanity from the beginning. Adam and Eve wanted to occupy the garden. Egypt wanted to occupy Israel. Israel wanted to occupy ‘the promised land’. Rome wanted to occupy the Jews. The Pharisees and Herodians wanted to occupy Jesus.

The desire to occupy has never ended. The desire to occupy is a desire to take over. It is often an unspoken reason for our wars. It is one thing that is held in common by the conservatives and liberals of the Church. It keeps what is effectively the two-party system of Westminster campaigning and debating. The struggle to occupy is not just limited to national or global issues. It is also personal and local. Each one of us could probably describe the ways in which we have tried to occupy situations, places, even people. It is in our marriages, our business disputes, our local communities and organizations. We learn to occupy at a young age. Watch two children arguing over a toy and you will see the struggle to occupy. Wherever you find conflict, violence, or brokenness you are also likely to find the struggle to occupy.

Everyone wants to occupy but not many want to be occupied. Before one can be trusted to occupy, however, one must first be occupied. That is, perhaps, what sets apart the saints; why their lives are worth studying, their words worth reading, their example worth emulating. Think of Mother Theresa in the streets of Calcutta. Recall the Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero assassinated for his work and words in El Salvador. Go read about Archbishop Desmond Tutu working for reconciliation in South Africa. Each one was willing to be occupied by a life other than their own and values greater than the ones of their own time and place. That is the way of saints and the way of discipleship.

That is why I am not convinced the Occupy Movement, and groups who use the same approach, will be able to change much. Both sides are occupying from the same set of values: power, control, security, opportunity, wealth. They are trying to occupy the same space. The rich have taken from the poor so now the poor will take back from the rich. The score may change but the game goes on and on. We cannot overcome evil by fighting it head on, on its own terms, but by transcending it.

Until we move to a different place, a different perspective, a different way of being we will continue to do the same thing over and over. Despite our best intentions we will continue to get the same results we always have. This is true in our families, our schools, our churches, our county, our world. The only thing that will change is who occupies.

Reallocation is not enough. Christ did not come to simply redistribute resources but to demonstrate, teach, and call us to a new way of being. We do not need another new way of doing the same old thing. We need to learn how to be different. The new way does not begin in an economic or political system, but in the human heart. That is, I think, why St. Anthony moved to the desert, St. Francis renounced his father’s wealth, and St. Julian of Norwich locked herself in a life of prayer. They wanted a new way. Throughout the ages the saints have echoed Christ’s call to a new level of being and living.

Einstein is attributed with saying, “No problem can solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.” Remember the children and the toy? Until they can rise to a consciousness of sharing, the bickering back and forth will continue. Before Einstein ever said his words, however, Jesus understood, lived, and demonstrated them. That is why he took the disciples “up the mountain,” the place that reaches toward heaven. It is the invitation to life in the kingdom.

Going up the mountain is more about an interior movement than a geographical one. Jesus was raising the disciples’ perspective, giving them a different view, offering a larger vision. He took them to a new level of being. There he taught them to be occupied by poverty in spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity in heart, peace-making, and the willingness to be persecuted for the righteousness of Jesus himself. That is a hard way of being. It is about surrender rather than control, vulnerability rather than risk, searching rather than satisfaction. It is the way of Christ. Jesus knows and has shown us that this new way of being heals the human heart, transforms lives, and reveals the blessing of God.

The beatitudes are not a to do list, eight helpful hints for happy living, or utopian ideals. They are Jesus’ core values. They define Jesus’ life and ministry. They are at the heart of his teaching, his healing, his life and death. Jesus is not telling us what to do but how to be.

The world does not need smarter, harder working, more beautiful, busier, or more successful people. The world needs people of the Beatitudes, occupied people, who speak, act, pray, and relate from the level of kingdom consciousness. That is who the saints of every age are. It is who we are to become. The saints are not God’s little overachievers. They are ordinary people who allowed themselves to be occupied by the life of Christ and his values.

If the Feast of All Saints is about remembering, honouring, and learning from the saints then it is also about examining our own lives. Where and how do the beatitudes shape our lives? How do our lives manifest the beatitudes? In every relationship, place, and circumstance we must answer this question: Do we occupy or do we allow ourselves to be occupied? Power and headlines may come by occupying but life and blessings come by being occupied.
Amen.

Prayer

O Lord our God,
we thank you for the many people
who have followed your way of life joyfully:
for the many saints and martyrs, men and women
who have offered up their very lived
so that your life abundant
may become manifest
and your kingdom may advance

They chose the way of your Son,
our brother, Jesus Christ.
In the midst of trial, they held out hope;
in the midst of persecutions, they witnessed to your power;
in the midst of despair, they clung to your promise.

O Lord, we thank you for the truth
they have learned and passed on to us.
Give us courage to follow their way of life.
For your love and faithfulness
we will at all times praise your name.

We pray for the millions in our world who must go hungry today,
all who are exploited and marginalized
because of their caste or class, colour or sex,
that they may not lose their hope,
and may find the strength to struggle for their dignity.

We call upon you for those who are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured
or threatened with death because of their witness to justice and peace.
For those who have “disappeared” because they dared to speak,
that their spirits may not be broken by their bodies’ pain.

We remember those who live in regions torn by tension and war,
by disaster, famine and poverty…
We pray especially for those countries whose struggle with pandemic
is more difficult than ours.
We pray for the people of the United States, as they approach their elections;
may they vote with wisdom and generosity of spirit.

We pray for the millions of refugees around the world,
that in the midst of tears and bitterness
they may discern signs of hope.

Lord, into your hands we commend our earth,
ever threatened with disaster,
and all persons and situations we have spoken about,
written down or remembered in the silence of our hearts this day.

Strengthen our will for peace and justice;
increase our faith in your kingdom
where “love and faithfulness will meet,
righteousness and peace will embrace”
and may your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen.

HYMN 738 Glorious things of Thee are spoken

Benediction:
God is the glory and joy of all His holy ones,
whose memory we celebrate today.
May His blessing be with you always.

May their example of holy living
turn your thoughts to service of God and neighbour
until you come to share in the joys of our Father’s house.

May almighty God bless you,
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen!

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

Opening Prayers by Tom Gordon; from Church of Scotland Weekly worship for today.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession from “Choose Life; Choose Peace with Justice,” in Midday Prayers for Peace and Justice on Hiroshima Day, August, 2010. Posted on the World Council of Churches website. http://www.oikoumene.org/

Sunday 25th October 2020

Call to worship
Come, Immortal One, high and exalted
Come into our midst and share Your love
Come, Saviour Jesus, who reaches out to embrace the needy
Come and heal us with Your love
Come, Holy Spirit of light and life
Let Your love be in the praise we offer.

HYMN 160 Praise, my soul, the King of heaven

Prayer

Eternal God,
before whom the book of history is laid
and who sees every event,
knows every character,
experiences every moment,
compared to You we are but a dandelion clock
blowing in the wind,
or a speck of dust caught in the sunlight;

For we exist only in the moment,
what we call the present – a gift from You:
we cannot return to yesterday
and correct our errors,
we cannot venture into tomorrow
and discover what lies ahead,
now is all we have,
we are a limited people, confined, restricted;

And yet, from beyond time and all the stars,
You reach out to us in love
to embrace us, to enfold us,
to make us welcome,
and we rejoice and give You thanks
for Your mercy and Your grace.

God of mercy,
whose heart is full of forgiveness,
and who does not deal with us as we deserve:
When we have thought of ourselves more highly than we ought
and forgotten to put our relationship with You first;
Forgive us, we pray.

When we have loved only those who love us
and ignored or turned aside from those who need a smile
and a hand of friendship;
Forgive us, we pray.
When we have acted as if all tomorrow was ours
yet neglected to do good in the moment of this day;
Forgive us, we pray.

May Christ Jesus,
who healed the sick,
gave sight to the blind,
and loosened the tongues of the dumb,
free us from our faults
and all that would hold us back
from being the children
that the eternal and loving God desires
Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture Readings:

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

‘“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.

‘“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

‘“Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.

‘“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so that you will not share in their guilt.

‘“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.


Matthew 22: 34-40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

HYMN 536 May the mind of Christ my saviour

Reflection
For many of us living in Britain today the phrase ‘back to basics’ may have become rather tainted. Its overuse by politicians of a generation ago seemed to transform its meaning from something radical to something slightly suspect. Yet, in our Gospel passage today, we find Jesus taking his listeners ‘back to basics’. In his continuing confrontation with the religious leaders they come to the very principles of their faith.

Before us is one of those Gospel stories with which we are so familiar that it fails to surprise us any longer. To us, Jesus is simply stating what we know – love God and love your neighbour. It seems obvious to us, however it may not have been so to Jesus’ original hearers.

For the religious leaders of the time, and for the people they taught, the Law given by God, through Moses was sacrosanct. There are not really that many laws or commandments but as scholars and teachers interpreted these according to different times and circumstances, a huge body of oral tradition and oral law began to emerge. In Jesus’ days these unwritten community laws and traditions were beginning to be recorded. The scribes and rabbis debated at some length about which of these were the most important. The Pharisees concluded that they all were; none had precedence over another, as all came from God.

So what Jesus is doing is taking his hearers back to first principles, back to basics. To “love God” with heart, soul and mind is a direct echo of the fundamental creed of Judaism (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The second command Jesus gives, to “love our neighbour”, again reflects the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:18). While many scribes of the time were expanding the legal precepts and making them more detailed, and more complex, Jesus acts to simplify things for the ordinary people.

But Jesus was not alone in this endeavour as other rabbis, too, had sought to make the Law clearer, and to reduce it to single principles. One of the great rabbis, for example, urged, “Whatever you wish men should do to you, do so to them.” Jesus did not set himself against the Law; what Jesus did was to challenge the assumption that rules about ceremonial Law was of equal importance with ethical Law. He also sought to end the growing practice of the day of making God’s Law more and more complicated, thus confusing the ordinary people. Jesus’ approach was simple and succinct. It was these changes that would have surprised Jesus’ audience.

All of the foregoing is, at best, only interesting if it has a practical meaning for our lives today. As followers of Jesus it is perhaps easier for us to reflect and act upon our understanding of what it means to “love God”. That may be simply because we spend time focussing on our worship of Him. But how easy is it for us to reflect and act upon the other command that we have looked at? How difficult do we find it to “love our neighbour”? Yet, if we take Jesus seriously, we are required to do just that. We may be okay with giving money to help eradicate poverty or disease; those would be acts of loving our neighbour. We may sign a petition, or write to our elected representatives, in a bid to have unjust laws changed; those would be seeking to love our neighbour too. But what about more difficult acts of love, the ones that require us to change our perspectives on humanity? In an age of ‘Black Lives Matter’ do we continue to speak of ‘Pakis’ and ‘Chinkies’? In the age of ‘#me to’, do men continue look at women as something to be used or abused? Those understandings of race and gender, just two examples of injustice among many possible ones, are prevalent among Christian communities as well as outside of them. We need to change. We need to change not just our outward actions, but our inner thoughts too.

Jesus, echoing the words of the Law in the Book of Leviticus, commands us to love our neighbour. However, the command does not end there; rather, it ends with the words “as yourself”. We are to love as we would wish ourselves to be loved. We are to give as we wish to be given to. We are to uphold as we wish to be upheld. This is not, though, about giving to receive a reward from either mankind or God. It is to give to complete that first command … to love God.

These are not easy things to do. It is easy to lose focus. It is easy to slip into old habits. We need to rely on God for the strength and willpower to see these through. Yet in our loving of our neighbour we are, in fact, giving worship to God. Loving our neighbour is honouring that creation of God who is made in the image of God. As we fulfil the second command we are also fulfilling the first.
Amen.

Prayer

Holy God,
who gave Your Law to Moses,
and who personified Your Law of Love
in Jesus your Son,
as Jesus reached out to those on the margins,
so now in our prayers we do likewise:

We pray for all who have little love in their lives –
those who are lonely and afraid,
those who are addicted and trapped,
those who grieve and mourn,
those whose relationships
have shattered into a thousand shards;
God of love,
help us to hold them close.

We pray for those who love the wrong things –
those for whom money or possessions are “god”
and where greed has taken over,
those who love only for gaining the approval of others, flattery, or power,
those who can only love self
and where bitterness or hurt has made them inward-looking;
God of love,
help us to unlock their hearts.

We pray for those who love to such an extent
as to give totally of self –
those who are persecuted for truth
or oppressed because they take a stand for justice,
those who face discrimination
because of skin colour, gender sexuality or class,
those who strive tirelessly for the Good News of Jesus
often facing hostility or apathy from others;
God of love,
help us to work in solidarity with them.

[A moment of silence to bring personal prayers to God…]

God of Love,
hear our prayers spoken and unspoken,
and receive them in Your grace and mercy,
through Jesus, our loving Saviour;
Amen

HYMN 166 Lord of all hopefulness

Benediction
May Almighty God,
who gave the Law through Moses
and grace and mercy in Jesus Christ
grant that this Law of love may be so written upon our hearts,
that we live both humbly, and faithfully.
As we do,
May that same God go with us,
blessing and keeping us,
each day of our lives.
Amen

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers, and other liturgical items, from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship

Sunday 18th October 2020

Call to Worship (from Psalm 99)
The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name –
he is holy.

HYMN 470 Jesus Shall Reign Where’re the Sun

Prayer

Loving Lord, Jesus,
we come into Your presence to worship and praise You.
We come from different places,
different families
and different circumstances.

However we have come here today –
whether the last week has been good or bad,
whether we have known joy or sorrow,
let us leave our cares and concerns aside
and come united in our faith and hopes for the future.

We bring our skills and our talents which You have given us,
and we promise to use them to help others
and to reach out in love
showing others what it means to be a child of God.

Help us not just to listen to Your voice but to obey.
Help us not just to talk, but to put our words in to action,
so that all we do is done in Your name.

Gracious and merciful God,
we are sorry that we seldom live up to Your expectations.
We are sorry that our promise to follow Your example
and to share Your never-ending love
are too often promises made in vain.
So, forgive us, Lord.

We are ashamed that we fail You so often.
We are ashamed that we do not always follow in Your footsteps.
We ask You to guide us and set us on the right path.
When we are weak, make us strong.
When we are discouraged, encourage us.
When we take for granted all You have given us
and do not share what we have with those who live in poverty,
forgive us, Lord.

Remind us that everything we have comes from You
and everything we do is done for the work
and the glory of Your kingdom. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures:

I Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Paul, Silas and Timothy,To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Matthew 22: 15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. ’They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

HYMN 192 All My Hope on God is Founded

Reflection:

Which side are you on?

So goes the opening line and title of one of the most famous protest or union songs of the twentieth century. From its creation in 1931 until very recently it has been a staple of many folk singers in the English-speaking world. The background to it is the violent disputes between the unions and mine owners in depression era Kentucky; against this setting it says that there can be no neutrality. In other words, you are either on one side or the other.
The song raises issues of loyalty and allegiance, as do both our scripture readings today.

Matthew:
As we continue our journey through the Gospel of Matthew we find that the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day continues to develop. This time around, though, the Pharisees seem to have asked an unanswerable question. In a society divided along lines of tribe, politics, and faith, matters of loyalty or allegiance are paramount.
The Pharisees have taken quite a lot of criticism from Jesus, and not surprisingly they are keen to get their own back. The question about paying taxes is intended to force him into antagonizing either the crowds or the Romans with his reply. Jesus’ answer might appear evasive, but it shows how nuanced an answer must be given to what is quite a complex question. The question of loyalty to the state vis-à-vis loyalty to God is always a difficult one, and in general the New Testament writers advocate compliance with the worldly authorities. This is largely because they thought that with the end of the world being imminent, spiritual reform was more important than political or societal reform. Jesus’ saying is compatible with this sort of outlook; it implies that there is a duty to the state that is not necessarily incompatible with duty to God. On the other hand, the two are not the same; at times they may overlap, and at times they may clash. In the end, it depends on the individual circumstances where the duties to God and Caesar begin and end.

Thessalonians:
If you look closely at our reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica you will not find the word ’loyalty’, though the idea is there. Paul congratulates his audience on their faith, hope, and love, and it is the former of these that we should look at more closely. The word used in the original Greek can also be translated as ‘allegiance’, which is a form of loyalty. What Paul is flagging up for praise is not the abstract idea of ‘faith’ but the very concrete practice of loyalty. Surrounded by opportunities and incentives to turn from Christ, and to follow other gods, they chose to remain faithful. In other words, the Thessalonian Christians remained loyal. It is this allegiance, or loyalty, that matters here. It earns them praise but, more importantly, it illustrates the underlying depth and strength of their faith.
Paul refers to how their loyalty to Christ is reflected in how they live life, and for this they are to be praised. However, he immediately goes on to say that the Thessalonians have been chosen by God, and that their joyful reception of the gospel in the face of persecution was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is not just a matter of the Thessalonians’ own excellence, but a case of God working in them to inspire such praiseworthy responses. Both divine initiative and human response are important components in any Christian endeavour, and we need to hold on to the sense of balance between them.

What about us?
Today, we face many of the same challenges as the people of both the time of Jesus, and the church in Thessalonica. We are expected to show multiple loyalties, not all of which are in harmony. Likewise, our allegiance, or loyalty, to Christ is also challenged as we find ourselves enticed or distracted by other gods, both ancient and modern. Like the listeners and readers of these stories when they were first told, we need to learn to walk a fine line between our faith and the world in which we live. We will be challenged to stray; our loyalty to Christ will not meet the approval of all, especially where it inconveniences them. However, like Paul’s readers we must remain firm. Like them we are not alone, for the God who chose us also inspires us to continue. That loyalty, allegiance, or faithfulness is what will be noticed and remembered. It is this that will draw others to Christ more than fine words or ceremonies. It is this that will bring us the praise of God.
Amen.

Prayer

Lord,
We bring to You now our prayers for others and for ourselves.
Lord we ask that You bless and guide Your church
here in this parish and throughout the world,
helping us to reach out to others,
sharing with them the good news of Christ
and standing with those who are most in need of our help,
love and support.

Guide us in our relationships with others,
within our families, with friends, neighbours
and those who we struggle to love or try to avoid.
Fill our homes and communities with the warmth of Your love,
may we learn to love and accept all.

Pour out Your Spirit into the world,
bless those struggling with poverty and homelessness,
evil and war.
Help us to reach out to those who are in need.

Bless those who are ill at home or in hospital,
those who are feeling anxious or low,
feeling like they would rather just give up than live on.
May they know Your love and sense Your presence with them
and may we as a church
reach out to them in their time of need.

Bless the leaders of nations and people.
Guide them in the decisions that they make,
ensuring they work hard and fight for the people they represent.
Lord, may we always sense Your presence in our lives
and in the lives of others.

Transform us to be the people that You would have us be.
All of this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,
our Lord and Saviour.
Amen

HYMN 562 Through the Love of God Our Saviour

Benediction
As our time of worship closes
let us go out into the world
loyal to Him who died
and rose again for us,
Christ our Lord.

And as we go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with us all,
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.
Prayers from the Church of Scotland, Weekly Worship for 18th October 2020.

Sunday 11th October 2020

The service this week is led by Pauline Weibye.

Call to worship (from Psalm 90)

Lord, you have been a refuge
from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born,
from age to age, you are God.

Satisfy us by your loving kindness in the morning:
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

Glory to the Father and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and shall be for ever.

Amen

Hymn 159 Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided

Prayer

God of presence

You invite us your people to listen, to read, to look and to question. Meet with us now through our worship. Challenge our thinking and deepen our understanding that we may be ready to follow You wherever your work needs to be done.

God of mercy

We thank you that you always listen even when our voices are hushed, when we fail to pray. We thank you that you still wait for us even when we dawdle or drag our feet. We thank you that your generosity always overflows even when we are less than generous to others.

God of grace

The stories from your word show us how great the gap can sometimes be between the divine and the human. Forgive us when we have let attachment to our own comfort and convenience deter us from committing to your way.

If we can remember a time when we loved more than we currently do, restore.

If we have become good friends with some favourite sin, rebuke.

If the flame of our commitment to the world’s immense needs is flickering instead of burning brightly, rekindle.

If, along the way, our relationships to our brothers and sisters in the faith are endangered through some wrong, real or imagined, reunite.

Show us the relevance of Christ for the life we live within and the world we make for others, that we may no longer live to ourselves, but in the light of him whom we call Saviour, Lord, and Friend,

in whose name we ask it and in whose name we further pray:

Our father
Who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come
They will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

Amen

Scriptures

Daniel 22, 1-13

Daniel in the den of lions

It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three chief ministers over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the chief ministers and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the chief ministers and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’

So these chief ministers and satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘May King Darius live for ever! The royal ministers, prefects, satraps, advisors and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: ‘Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?’

The king answered, ‘The decree stands – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’

Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.’

Luke 22, 39-46

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Hymn 493 Standing in the need of prayer

Reflection

Daniel – before the lions’ den

The Minister asked me to lead worship today and didn’t tell me I had to stick to the lectionary reading – so I didn’t. We’ve been following Matthew’s Gospel but today I’m departing from that to look at a passage from the book of Daniel that you, like me, may not have read or thought about for many years. The second part of this chapter, not included in the readings today, has long been a beloved Bible story – and no wonder. It’s a very dramatic story and, if you went to Sunday School when you were little, you will almost certainly have acted out the lions in the den. But the first part of the chapter, that we are reading today, is less well-known, though here too there are dramatic features aplenty – the jealousy of political subordinates, the vanity of a king and the courage of a faithful man. It also explains how Daniel overcame the challenge of the lions’ den, with God’s help.

Let’s think about the characters first. We’re not actually sure who this King Darius was. Secular history of this period has no record of a ruler named Darius and the chapter comes in the middle of stories about a ruler called Belshazzar – he of the feast with the writing on the wall, if you remember another story from Sunday School. Nor, actually, do we know who Daniel was. Does that matter?
It is clear that Daniel, whoever he was, was a Jew in exile in Babylon but had managed to rise to the dizzy heights of the civil service and he had won the trust of the king, whoever it was at the time. He was able, hard-working and honest, a man of conspicuous integrity, but this made him an object of scorn and fear to his rivals for power at the court. They planned to trap him by using what we would nowadays call ‘fake news’ since they could find no skeletons in his closet (the Sun newspaper would have despaired).

We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God. These men knew Daniel well. They knew he could not be trapped into evil, but they also knew that he would be faithful to his God in all circumstances. Every Christian should consider if others could say the same about them. If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you, or me? It is said that former American President, Jimmy Carter, a devout man, used that question to guide his life and to place his faith at the centre of his being. Do we do the same?

And what about Darius the king? Daniel’s enemies clearly knew the king well too. They knew they could exploit Darius’ pride and his desire for a unified kingdom. They decided to persuade Darius to forbid prayer to any god – and that in a polytheistic world – or to any person but himself for 30 days. Darius, perhaps flattered by the proposal, agreed. He either did not think about the implications for Daniel and his people, with their strong faith in the one true God, or he did not care. For him, this was a way of showing his power and strength and he clearly gave little thought to the likely reactions of his subject peoples.

So King Darius put the decree in writing. If that law were to be introduced in Scotland, how many of us would continue to pray? Or would we give up? After all, it’s just for a month… and no-one wants to be torn in pieces by wild beasts. Would we look for excuses to postpone public worship too for a few weeks?
Daniel did not react this way. We assume, given his high position, that he was a faithful servant to Darius the king but he clearly placed his loyalty to God above that, whatever the consequences for himself. What did Daniel do? He went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. He kept up his prayers and he did not even try to keep them private but opened his windows so that he could be seen. Not for show, although he was obviously spotted, but because he was not ashamed of his faith. He had made a lifetime commitment to God and he held to that commitment whatever the cost to himself. Daniel didn’t let the decree change his actions one way or another. He didn’t do more praying or less; he simply continued his excellent prayer life. He was duly cast to the lions but emerged unscathed, saved by God precisely because of his faith and his courageous public profession of that faith.

We too have made a commitment to God and Daniel’s story reminds us that God comes first. Do we put enough emphasis on our prayer life and on other private devotions? Do we bend with the weight of public opinion and perhaps try not to offend others by outward signs of our faith? Do we give ill-wishers like Daniel’s colleagues the power to control our behaviour?

Daniel prayed just as Jesus did, in the hours before his arrest, as he too faced torture and death. And both prayers were answered though in different ways.
Our prayers too will be answered. But we are required to be faithful, to admit to what God means to us and to show others where our loyalties lie. We are not generally asked to enter a lion’s den so how much easier is it for us to remain constant in prayer and personal devotions? Let’s set ourselves that challenge in the coming weeks; let the world see the evidence that would convict us of being faithful servants of God and his Son.
Amen

Prayer of the people

God of the harvest
Bless the gifts we have brought to you today or in other ways.
We give you what we can afford because we delight in your service
and in freely offering to you and your world
the products of our hard work and our good fortune.
Hold us to account for what we do with the riches
with which we are blessed;
grant us wisdom; make us generous;
and continue to work out your purpose in and through us.

God of all mercies
hear our prayer

God of compassion,
we remember before you
the poor and the hungry,
the sick and the dying,
prisoners and all who are lonely,
the victims of war, injustice and inhumanity,
and those who face persecution because of their colour, their faith or their nationality.

God of all mercies.
hear our prayer

Lord of all providence
holding the destiny of nations in your hand,
we pray for our country.
Inspire the hearts and minds of our leaders
that they, together with all nations,
may seek your kingdom and righteousness
and not their own glory,
so that order, liberty and peace may dwell with all your people.

God of all mercies
hear our prayer

God the Creator,
we pray for all nations and peoples.
Take away the mistrust and lack of understanding that divide your creatures;
help us understand that we are all your children.


God of all mercies
hear our prayer

Amen

Hymn 510 Jesus calls us here to meet him

Blessing

May God, who is the ground of hope,
fill us with all joy and peace
as we lead a life of faith and prayer
until, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
we overflow with hope.

Amen

Acknowledgements

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

Prayers based on material from the Church of Scotland and from the World Council of Churches