Welcome. It’s good to be with you. My name is Paul Whittle and I am the Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland, a post in which I began just over a year ago, though we only moved here back in April. For me it’s a move back to Scotland, after a very long gap, having begun my ministry in North Ayrshire. Since then I have served in London, Birmingham and the Republic of Panama before becoming Moderator of the Eastern Synod where I served for twelve and a half years. I am sharing worship from my home in Cambuslang, just south of Glasgow, from which we have fantastic views across to Ben Lomond.
Call To Worship
Come, let us ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the rock who saves us. Let us come into God’s presence, giving thanks; let us hail the Eternal One with a song of praise. A mighty God is the Lord, a great king above all gods. In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains belong to God. To the Eternal One belongs the sea, for God made it and shaped the dry land. O come; let us bow and bend low. Let us kneel before the One who made us, for the Eternal One is our God and we the people who belong to the royal pasture, the flock that is led by hand.
Hymn Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
Jan Struther (1901-1953)
Lord of all hopefulness,
Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike,
no cares could destroy,
be there at our waking,
and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts,
Lord, at the break of the day.
2 Lord of all eagerness,
Lord of all faith,
whose strong hands were skilled
at the plane and the lathe,
be there at our labours,
and give us, we pray,
your strength in our hearts, Lord,
at the noon of the day.
3 Lord of all kindliness,
Lord of all grace,
your hands swift to welcome,
your arms to embrace,
be there at our homing,
and give us, we pray,
your love in our hearts, Lord,
at the eve of the day.
4 Lord of all gentleness,
Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment,
whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping,
and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord,
at the end of the day.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Living God, whose love surrounds us come what may, help us to be aware of your presence. Where we are scared, comfort us. Where we are afraid, sustain us. Where we are doubting, encourage us. Where we are complacent, challenge us. Help us to look, not for the overtly spectacular, but for the hidden things of the Kingdom.
As we look to you in this time of worship, may we be especially aware of the light and love of your presence.
God of love, as we come before you in prayer, we are so aware of your constant love, and equally aware of the many times that we turn away from you in all sorts of ways. Forgive us our failings, and help us rather to live in the light of your love. In Jesus’ Name we ask it. Amen.
The Scriptures tell us: if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination
Enlightening God, may your word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Amen.
Reading St Luke 4:21-30
Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Hymn Be still, for the presence of the Lord
David J. Evans (b.1957)
Be still, for the presence
of the Lord, the Holy One, is here;
come bow before him now
with reverence and fear:
in him no sin is found –
we stand on holy ground.
Be still, for the presence
of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.
2 Be still, for the glory of the Lord
is shining all around;
he burns with holy fire,
with splendour he is crowned:
how awesome is the sight –
our radiant king of light!
Be still, for the glory
of the Lord is shining all around.
3 Be still, for the power of the Lord
is moving in this place;
he comes to cleanse and heal,
to minister his grace:
no work too hard for him –
in faith receive from him.
Be still, for the power of the Lord
is moving in this place.
Have you ever been involved in something of which it felt it was just the right moment, the right thing at the right time; or, for that matter, found yourself in the midst of something which felt completely wrong. If you are anything like me, you will have had both experiences and, confusingly, despite their being apparent opposites, it can sometimes feel as though there is something of both at the same time.
And we can see both thoughts coming through today’s passage from Luke 4. Jesus has just read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue. That’s recorded in the immediately preceding verses – and then he announces, and it is surely not what the gathered congregation were expecting – this is it. It’s today. This is the moment. Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. But, if we jump to the end of the passage, we find that the reaction this produces is not, as we might expect, one of excitement, but rather of rage, anger. This is a wrong moment for most of the folk who heard this sermon from Jesus.
This is what we might otherwise call a ‘Yes, but’ moment. It starts well. The crowd are amazed. This is quite stunning. But, very quickly, their view is transformed – and amazement turns to rage. I wonder how easy it is for us to be swayed by opinion, and especially in those places and over those issues where that ought not to be happening.
It all began so well. Everyone was speaking well of him. Local boy made good. He was one of their own. Is not this Joseph’s son? You can imagine the word going round. The people are delighted by what has been achieved by one of their own. He’s just the carpenter’s lad, but he’s done so well. What are the things? Who are the folk – of whom we are rightly proud?
But then, what goes wrong? Well, if we read between the lines, it would appear that the problem was that Jesus didn’t offer a demonstration of what he could do. They have accepted the claim, and he knows what that means. Expectations will run high – and they will want to see something to prove the case. Maybe some water turned into wine. A picnic lunch used to feed a crowd. A bit of walking on water, or calming a storm. Or some healing. That was often what was looked for.
One point where popular culture and faith met in my youth was in the rock opera collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar – and one of the lines from one of the songs that has always particularly stuck in my mind is when Jesus appears before Herod – and Herod sings – ‘prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool’. And one of the other lines is, of course – ‘prove to me that you’re divine, change my water into wine.’ It’s the cult of the spectacular, so robustly and rightly rejected at the time of the temptations. They wanted him to do something exceptional just for them, to demonstrate his powers. After all, he was their boy. He shouldn’t be doing stuff in other places that he wouldn’t do for them.
One of the challenges that we all face, however much we might not want to admit it, is as to how we react to those who are different from us. Most of us would want to say that we are inclusive, that we are welcoming. But is that really so? Is it not rather the case that we are somewhat suspicious of those who are different from us, and that we are very good at putting labels on folk? My wife and I lived in Panama for three years in the early nineties and one of the things that I found myself saying time and time again during that period is: no soy gringo. Soy britanico. I’m not American. I’m British. And you would not believe how that transformed a number of encounters.
Jesus is genuinely inclusive. He particularly reaches out to those whom society wants to ignore, the vulnerable and the marginalised, those whom we would describe in all sorts of inappropriate ways. And what I find really interesting in our verses from Luke is that here Jesus gives a couple of really good Old Testament models to support his stance.
He points to Elijah, one of the great heroes of the people. Elijah was probably the most significant of the prophets. Here Jesus points to one of the incidents that is recorded about Elijah. We can read it in 1 Kings 17. It was a time of severe famine – and Elijah became the means of survival for a poor widow and her son. Jesus points out that at this time there were many widows in Israel. However, God didn’t send Elijah to any of those. Rather, he is sent to a foreigner, a stranger, a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And then he goes on to mention Elisha. Elisha succeeded Elijah as prophet. Elijah had anointed him for the role. And he, too, was prominent among the prophets of Israel. Elisha was known for a number of things, but one of the most notable was his being the instrument of healing for a leper. It’s recorded in 2 Kings 5. Leprosy was one of the dreaded diseases of the time. It was believed to be extremely contagious and so lepers needed to keep themselves separate. And again it is a foreigner, one who is ‘other’ who benefits from the healing ministry of the prophet. Verse 27, and it is Jesus speaking – there were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Namaan the Syrian. This is provocative stuff; but then Jesus was never afraid of being provocative, of speaking out.
I wonder what are the things on which we should be speaking out, and yet we’re not. I wonder what are the boundaries that God wants us to cross. I wonder what are the challenges that we should be putting out there, and at whom we should be aiming them.
And did Jesus convince the people? No, he just annoyed them. In fact, they got quite worked up. It looks as though things were getting nasty, dangerous. But Jesus remains calm and gets on with doing God’s work. Jesus goes on his way.
I wonder where we fit into this story. Are you, like most of that crowd, annoyed that Jesus seems to keep doing stuff for other folk? And, if so, how annoyed do you get? ‘Hurl off the cliff’ annoyed? Or are you, like a few who, I am sure, were there, ready to listen to Jesus, and to be challenged, even if you are not quite sure about what you are hearing? And then again, though it is not mentioned that any went with him as he moved on, I am sure there must have been some, even if just the twelve. Are you up for walking the way of Jesus, walking the way of discipleship, with all the challenges that involves?
At the beginning of the passage Jesus says ‘today’. Where is Jesus in your life today?
Hymn Lord, You Have Come To The Seashore
Cesareo Gabarain (1936-1991) translated Robert Trupia
Lord, you have come
to the seashore,
for the rich nor the wise,
desiring only that I should follow.
O Lord, with your eyes set upon me,
you have spoken my name.
All I longed for
I have found by the water,
at your side I will seek other shores.
2 Lord, see my goods,
in my boat you find no power,
Will you accept, then,
my nets and labour?
3 Lord, take my hands,
and direct them.
Help me spend myself
in seeking the lost,
returning love for
the love you gave me.
4 Lord, as I drift on the waters,
be the resting-place
of my restless heart,
my life’s companion,
my friend and refuge.
Affirmation of Faith
From the beginning,
through all the crises of our times,
until the Kingdom fully comes,
God keeps covenant forever
Our world belongs to God!
in the goodness of God,
renounce the works of darkness,
and dedicate ourselves
to holy living, for:
Our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples,
called to faithful obedience
and set free for joyful praise,
we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in His world, for
Our world belongs to God!
Lord, we pray for those we know, and those we don’t, who need our prayers. Bless those who are sick, those who are lonely, those facing new challenges. Bless those who mourn. Bless those who have difficult decisions to take, at whatever level. Bless our family and friends. Hear us as we take a moment to, individually and silently or quietly, name before you those for whom we would especially pray …….
So, Lord, hear our prayers, the prayers spoken aloud, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts, which we bring now in the Name of Jesus, in whose Name we pray, and in whose words we further pray now:
We come to our offertory. When we’re not in the building we can’t put cash in the plate, but some of us can and do give in other ways, and others will catch up at some point. As we think of all God’s gifts, we offer back what we can. Let us pray:
Lord, we pray for all work that is done in your name, and indeed all work that cares for others, offering gifts as we can. We pray for the work of our own church, offering to you the gifts by which we support it, money, yes, but also time and talent, love and service. Take us, and our gifts of all sorts, to do your work in the world. Accept the praise we offer; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Hymn The Church of Christ In Every Age
Fred Pratt Green
The Church of Christ
in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.
2: Across the world,
across the street,
the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat,
and never live until they die.
3: Then let the
servant Church arise,
a caring Church that longs to be
a partner in Christ’s sacrifice,
and clothed in Christ’s humanity.
4: For he alone,
whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood,
& teach us how to share our bread
and feed the starving multitude.
5: We have no mission but to serve
In full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and to spread his liberating Word.
May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship adapted from the Revised Grail Version of Psalm 95 by Andy Braunston. Affirmation of Faith adapted by Andy Braunston from the Christian Reformed Church’s affirmation Our World Belongs To God. All other liturgical material by the Rev’d Paul Whittle.
Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy – Jan Struther (1901-1953) © Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford. OX2 6DP. BBC Songs of Praise
Be still, for the presence of the Lord – David J. Evans (b.1957) © 1986, Administered by worshiptogether.com – BBC Songs of Praise
Lord, You Have Come To The Seashore – Cesareo Gabarain (1936-1991) translated Robert Trupia © 1979, Cesareo Gabarain. Translation: © 1987, OCP Publications. Recording from Orchard Enterprises Ltd.
The Church of Christ In Every Age – Fred Pratt Green © 1971 Hope Publishing Company. Sung by Garth Moore of the Isle of Man Methodist Church.
Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Anne Hewling, Richard Church, Esther Watson and Sue Cresswell for reading various spoken parts of the service.