Call to Worship (Psalm 66:19-20)
Truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me.
HYMN 132 Immortal, invisible, God only wise
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Prayer of approach and confession
Eternal and ever-blessed God,
we give You thanks
for the joy that comes
when we gather to worship together
and are truly united as the people of God.
We thank You for the family of faith,
united in our desire to follow Jesus.
Thank You for those with whom we have laughed,
who have made this world a more cheery place.
Thank You for those with whom we have wept
and we have shared our sorrows
in our times of need.
We bless You for those we have served alongside
sharing together in a common task,
whose support has made the work more manageable
We bless You for those who have shared our dreams
and pursued our visions,
as partners in a common purpose,
working to an agreed goal.
Thank You for those with whom we worship together,
for those with whom we pray together,
for those in whose company
we have listened to Your voice
and sought to see You face to face.
Forgive us for everything that has interrupted
the companionship we should enjoy:
for selfishness that made us want nothing
but our own way,
for intolerance which made us see nothing
but our own point of view,
for self-assertiveness that made us seek to impose
our own will upon others.
Have mercy, good Lord.
Forgive us for arguments in which we lost our temper,
for discussions in which bitter words
and sarcastic comments were thrown about,
for things we said in the heat of the moment
and now bitterly regret.
Have mercy, good Lord.
So cleanse and purify us, that in the days to come
we will work to live in unity with one another
because we are one in Christ.
Hear this our prayer
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Acts 17:22-31 – Paul at the Aeropagus
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
John 14:15-21 – The Promise of the Holy Spirit
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
HYMN 586 Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire
Picture the scene; it’s Athens of two thousand years ago. Paul is in one of its public areas, one where the men of the city liked to gather to discuss the political and philosophical ideas of the day. Into this place of sharing Paul brings his message. He addresses his audience in terms that they understand, getting alongside them, and making himself intelligible. He even quotes approvingly from a number of their poets. He uses their culture as a means to an end; it’s a door for him to enter into their conversation and to gain a hearing. Paul begins with where they are in life, on what they regard as firm and safe ground, but soon moves on to his message. He points them to who their unknown god really is – the creator of heaven and earth, of humanity and all that is. He tells them that they need to follow this God if they want to know life in all its fullness. He tells them that they need to abandon their old gods, suggesting that they are nothing more than man-made idols. He doesn’t stop there. Paul tells them that they need to change their direction in life and follow the one true God; this implies that they will need to change their ways of life to match.
I’ve recently watched the first season of an American comedy-drama that asks the ultimate question about our ability to change direction in life, and serve God’s ways. In the language of theology, it asks about ‘repentance’, just as does Saint Paul. In a sense it is ‘ultimate’ as it asks if no less than the devil could repent! Whether or not the show’s creators are serious or sincere in their asking of the question is not what matters, what does is the importance and truthfulness of the question itself. To rephrase it, “is anyone beyond turning and following the ways of God”?
We live in times that are both strange and challenging. The current lockdown has seen many grow restless or impatient, while others have taken matters into their own hands, ignoring the advice of both science and medicine. But what about us? Can we, as the people of God, follow good advice irrespective of whether it is of human or Godly origin? Can we follow, even to our own discomfort, sound advice whether it comes from a sage or an apostle? In a sense this is what the apostle Paul is asking; he wants us to follow good advice and turn our lives from following our own paths to those of God. It may seem to limit our choices or actions, we may even feel that it is inconvenient or irritating, but following will lead, ultimately, to life in all its fullness. The television program referred to earlier seems to presuppose that even the devil can turn around, and be redeemed, implying that if he can then so could we. Paul calls on us to change and to follow.
Where, though, may we find the strength and ability to follow? Our Gospel reading, speaks of how Jesus’ followers would be supported once he was gone from among them. What’s being pointed out is that this life of following, discipleship, is not a solo effort. In part it’s a joint effort of the community of faith. Importantly, Jesus reminds us that we are not alone as he would send “another helper”. This helper would aid his followers in living the life they are called to. The Holy Spirit of God is with each of us, empowering, comforting, helping us as we seek to redirect our lives from paths of our own choosing to those God has chosen for us.
In the Aeropagus the unknown god of the Greeks is distant, and unmoved by the lives of the people. Paul tells both them and us that the true God is not like that. The true God, he states, is in our midst, journeying alongside us.
Prayers of intercession
Let us take our weariness and tiredness to God
who picks up those who have fallen
and raises up those who are brought low
Bless those, good Lord,
who are bowed down
under the burdens they must carry.
We pray for those who are crushed by their responsibilities at work
and those who feel the pain of our world,
who marvel that others can seem so indifferent to it.
Help them to keep on going.
Bring supportive friends alongside them.
Give them tokens of Your grace,
fresh vision and courage
and signs of encouragement in their struggle.
Let us take our loneliness to God,
who delights to put the solitary into families.
God our Father,
bless those who are lonely
those who have grown old
and whom the passing years have taken
all their friends and contemporaries.
Bless those who are shy,
who find it hard to initiate conversation
and have never known real friendships.
We pray for strangers in a foreign land,
for asylum seekers and refugees,
separated by language and culture
from familiar ways and much loved customs.
We remember all those
who even in the midst of crowds feel alone.
Help the Church, we pray,
to be a place of acceptance and belonging,
a place of welcome and inclusion,
where all can find a home,
a listening ear, a friendly smile and a helping hand.
Let us take our sorrows to God,
who binds up the broken-hearted
and comforts those who mourn.
Bless those whose hearts are sore today.
Be very close to those
whose family circle has been invaded
and whose joy has been darkened by death.
We remember those who have lost loved ones
for whom they have cared,
whose needs they have met,
whose lives have been so intertwined
that they still listen for a voice
they will not hear again.
We remember wives who have lost husbands
and husbands who have lost wives;
parents who have lost children,
who find their homes strangely silent and empty now
and children who have lost parents,
who are confused by a world that seems
less secure and more frightening than before
and all who for whom
familiar places, and sounds and smells
awaken memories that bring tears in their wake.
Thank You for our faith.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Let us turn to God in trust
and recommit ourselves to God.
Send us forth this day
with the joy that no-one can take from us,
the life which is Your life
and the hope that gives strength to our actions.
Help us to sing of our faith
and in that singing find our strength to go on,
trusting in Jesus who lived among us,
died for us and rose again
and who prays for us today,
even as we pray to Him.
In His name we pray
HYMN 512 To God be the Glory
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever.
New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised)
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.
Very. Rev’d. Colin Sinclair, Moderator to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2019-2020, and minister of Palmerston Place Church, Edinburgh.