Call to Worship (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 153 Great is Thy faithfulness
God of love,
light a flame of love in our hearts to you,
a flame of love to our families and friends,
a flame of love to our neighbours,
a flame of love to our enemies.
Jesus, Son of Mary,
light a flame of love in our hearts to all,
from the lowliest thing that lives,
to the Name that is highest of all.
God of life,
grant us your forgiveness.
We have been heedless in our thoughts,
cruel in our words,
shameful in our actions.
We are indifferent to a world made sad
by want and wastefulness;
we pass by on the other side
when we see our neighbour in need;
we wander from the way that leads to peace
in paths of our own pleasing.
God of life,
grant us your forgiveness.
God of the new day and God of love,
you created us and you have redeemed us.
As you scatter the mist
from the hills,
banish the deeds of darkness
from the sons and daughters of your light.
Help us to know and believe
that, as the children of your love,
we are free to begin again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Jeremiah 28: 5-9
Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord. He said, ‘Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfil the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: from early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.’
Matthew 10: 40-42
‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’
HYMN 739 The church’s one foundation
(To play, click on the link below – it is not automatic.)
The question on the philosophy exam was ‘Why?’ Lost for anything else to say the student answered ‘Why not?’ It’s a question that children often ask, usually when confronted with a simple fact. It’s a question adults often ask when dealing with trauma. In faith and theological circles it’s a question that’s often asked when we consider suffering and evil.
It’s a question I believe that we should be asking today. I do not mean in terms of the great general themes of meaning and existence, but in specific reference to the church. Let me explain. At present we are looking toward how we may re-open our buildings after a period of lockdown. Initially we are focussed on making our properties safe for private prayer; all being well this will progress onto being free to celebrate together on the Lord’s Day. Before we may open there are many things that we need to do. This involves lots of questions and many answers; it is no small task. Yet these questions focus around two things, ‘what do we want to do’, and ‘how are we going to do it’. These are appropriate and helpful in their context. Yet few are asking what, to me, is a more fundamental question, namely ‘why do we want to re-open our building?’
Over time our buildings have become more than places for praise and prayer. They are places where we may meet regularly with friends; often they have the role of contributing to our sense of identity; importantly, they also have become resources for the wider community. Re-opening may also contribute to our sense that some form of ‘normality’ is returning. These are all good things, but are they the reasons that we want to re-open our buildings? To answer that we need to consider our primary purpose in having them.
So what is our primary purpose? Ask many Christians that question today and there’s the likelihood that you’ll get more answers that the number of people you ask. Perhaps it would help if I rephrased it: What is the chief end of man? Some of you will immediately recognise those words while others may find them to be new although a little antiquated in terms of language. The precise words of that last question date from the seventeenth century. They come from the ‘Shorter Catechism’ that, until reasonably recent times, was one of the main teaching tools of the faith as understood by our tradition. However, it is the answer to that question that is important; it is ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ That, I would argue, is what our primary purpose should be, and should also apply to our reasoning for re-opening our buildings. We should be re-opening so as to be able to gather to praise, or enjoy, God together.
In our Bible readings we see some challenging things that relate to this. In Jeremiah we find him asserting that we must be truthful about the plans and purposes of God, for there are consequences involved. In the gospel, too, we find that there are consequences for those that share the good news, and also for those that provide welcome and hospitality for those who are doing the sharing. In part these readings both speak about forms of obedience, but they also speak about honouring, or glorifying, God through speaking His truth. The consequence of glorifying God is the experience of ‘enjoying’ His presence.
Glorifying God has to be our primary purpose and reason for re-opening our buildings. If you accept the argument of the catechism it should also be the primary purpose of our lives. So how does this apply to the question of buildings? In scripture we see that obedience to God has consequences. If we are obedient to God in seeking primarily to glorify Him through meeting to praise and honour him then we will see consequences. These actions of faith will see these other good actions follow. It is the glorifying of God that will see our buildings be the community resources, meeting places, and life shapers that they could be. It is the glorifying of God that will lead us to knowing His presence and love more deeply. It is glorifying God, as our chief end, that will see us know the answer to the ultimate question of ‘why?’
Let us pray for the Church,
the world, and one another.
For the Church we pray, the bright lamp of faith,
her ministers and people, and this parish.
May the Christ, our King, protect her,
keep her, and save her.
For the world we pray, the creation of God,
seeking its healing, its peace, and its prosperity.
May the Christ the Son move through all the earth,
For those who are ill we pray,
and for those who suffer.
May the Good Shepherd
who knows and loves his sheep
make them whole and well, active and content.
For those who work we pray,
and for all who shape
the patterns of this world’s life.
May the King of grace
give to their labour
growth and fruitfulness,
until the day of gladness come.
For those we love, and for ourselves we pray.
May the guarding of God be theirs and ours,
until together we come
to the High King’s house in heaven,
in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit Holy.
HYMN 516 We are marching in the light of God
The guarding of the God of life be on you,
the guarding of the loving Christ be on you,
the guarding of the Holy Spirit be on you,
every day and night,
to aid you and enfold you,
each day, each night.
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Scripture readings taken from Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized,
NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
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