Service for Sunday 26th September 2021
Photo Credit: Roberta Sorge, Unsplash
The Rev’d Lindsey Sanderson
Welcome to this Daily Devotions service from the United Reformed Church which this Sunday comes from the East Kilbride and Hamilton Joint Pastorate in the Synod of Scotland. We are three congregations, two in East Kilbride, one of Scotland’s new towns built in the 1950s and the congregation in Hamilton, David Livingston’s family church. The service today is led by Elders from the three congregations, along with myself, Lindsey Sanderson, minister of the pastorate. In our worship today we would like to share something of our local context with you as we listen for God’s word to us today.
Call To Worship
Come before the Lord with joyful songs, because God is good and generous, because we lack nothing. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
Serve the Lord with gladness, because of God’s greatness and justice,
because God puts an end to war, and to all forms of violence. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
Come before the Lord with joy because God is a faithful promises keeper;
God’s Word is eternal. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving
and God’s courts with praise.
Know that the Lord is God, and we are God’s own people,
a community, the family of God. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
It is God who has made us to the praise of the Holy Name, and therefore today, in the same spirit, we have a festival to celebrate God’s peace.
Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
Hymn O the life of the world is a joy and a treasure
Kathryn Galloway sung by Paul Robinson
Oh, the life of the world
is a joy and a treasure,
unfolding in beauty
the green growing tree,
the changing of seasons
in mountain and valley
the stars and the bright restless sea.
2 Oh, the life of the world
is a fountain of goodness
overflowing in labour
and passion and pain,
in the sound of the city
and the silence of wisdom,
in the birth of a child once again.
3 Oh, the life of the world
is the source of our healing.
It rises in laughter
and wells up in song;
it springs from the care
of the poor and the broken
& refreshes where justice is strong.
4 So give thanks for the life
and give love to the Maker,
and rejoice in the gift
of the bright risen son,
and walk in the peace
and the power of the Spirit
till the days of our living are done.
Life giving God, we come to you with praise and thanksgiving for your blessings which we experience in the world around us, though the beauty of the natural world, through the intimacy of human relationships, though the vitality and energy of community. We thank you that you invite us to participate in the life of the Divine, sharing in your love, God-three-in-one and so to experience the abundance of life you promise.
Life giving God we confess that too often we overlook your blessings and take for granted all that has enriched our life. We fail to act as partners with creation and hold onto attitudes of dominion over the earth; we forget to love our neighbours near and far and become complacent in our relationships, we grow comfortable with the familiar and close our eyes and ears to the new thing you are saying to us.
Forgive us when we limit life, sapping it of all that is nourishing and life affirming.
Restore us to fullness of life once again, that we may be transformed ever more fully into your image and likeness.
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Through him our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
As we turn to God’s word for us today, our prayer is that the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts are acceptable to God who is our rock and redeemer. Amen.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Hymn: Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
James Montgomery sung by the Coventry Singers
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
uttered or unexpressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.
2 Prayer is the simplest
form of speech
that infant lips can try,
prayer the sublimest
strains that reach
the Majesty on high.
3 Prayer is the Christian’s
the Christian’s native air,
a watchword at the gates of death:
we enter heaven with prayer.
4 O Thou by whom
we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way,
the path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!
This Sunday the lectionary invites us to read the last verses of James’ letter which have their focus on prayer. James was a leader in the early church and he writes his letter of practical advice for Christian living to ‘God’s people scattered over the whole world.’ The historian Eusebius who lived somewhere between the years 260 and 340 AD tells that ‘James, the brother of the Lord, used to enter the Temple, and was often found on his knees, beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s’ so assuming that we are talking about the same James, we know that when he was writing this advice on prayer he was speaking directly from his experience of making time on a very regular basis to pray for others. Prayer is something which at different times of our lives I suspect we all find difficult, I certainly do on occasion, so let’s look at James’ advice and see if that helps us as we think about prayer.
At first sight his advice seems straightforward and as we move through the list we may feel able to tick off the statements we agree with.
‘If you are in trouble, pray. If you are happy, praise God. If you are ill, send for the elders who will pray for you, anoint you with oil and the prayer will heal you and your sins will be forgiven. Confess your sin to each other and pray for one another so you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect’.
I am sure that many of us will have followed the first element of James’ advice. There will have been times in our lives when we have felt in some sort of trouble and we have turned to God in prayer. Perhaps we have felt deserted by God, and have shouted out, similar words to those of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God why have you abandoned me.’ Perhaps we have felt in need of rescue and our words have been more like the words of the psalmist, ‘Listen to me Lord, and answer me, for I am helpless and weak.’ And on many occasions we will believe our prayer has been answered. That answer may come in many different ways – it may be that simply by taking time to articulate our trouble, whether we say the actual words out loud or not, we find we are able to discern a possible solution. It may be that we feel our prayer has been answered through the actions of another person or a set of circumstances over which we had no control.
I am fairly confident that we will all have had experience of James’ second piece of advice – if you are happy praise God. It is part of our faith tradition to come before God at happy times in our lives and to give thanks to God for the joy and love which we experience. So it is natural that for people of faith the big events in life – weddings and celebrating the birth of child take place within an act of worship. But small acts of happiness too are occasions when we praise God in prayer – think of the very ordinary act of saying grace before a meal – praising God in gratitude for the food we have to eat.
James then turns specifically to occasions when people are ill and the elders are encouraged to anoint people with oil and pray and the sick will be healed and I suspect this is where this passage starts to become difficult for many of us, because we know that sometimes people are not healed despite the prayers of many people of deep faith who offer prayers in great concern for the person and that can add to the distress of people in a time of emotional stress and possibly also physical pain.
When we encounter advice like this what I find most helpful is to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, try and see things from James’ perspective and then ask how does that relate to my situation today. I think the first thing to say is that James was living in a culture where there was a direct connection, a causal link, between sin and ill health and therefore he believed that prayer offered primarily confessing sin would lead to a restoration of health. This was a long held view within the Jewish tradition and other ancient belief systems and we find many examples of such a world view throughout Scripture. However the vast majority of people today do not view the world in these terms. Medical science has helped us understand that if we consume too much alcohol, don’t eat a balanced diet and don’t take enough exercise our health will be adversely affected but I don’t think we seriously regard enjoying a glass of wine or plate of chips as sinful. To see the world strictly terms of cause and effect seems to me to also imply understanding God in terms of cause and effect. It offers us a picture of a God who acts on the basis of ‘If you do this, then I will do that.’ It leaves no room for love and grace and mercy which I believe are three of the essential characteristics of God and which we see most clearly in God’s gift to the world of God’s Son Jesus Christ, who died and was raised to life again so that we might experience that very love, grace and mercy of God.
But even if we don’t see the world through the eyes of cause and effect, and we do believe in God who acts with love, grace and mercy aren’t we left with the same question – why is it that sometimes despite the sincere prayers of many people of faith people are not restored to health? Surely if God is really a God of love everyone would be healed? This is one of the most debated questions in the last two thousand years of Christian theology. A conversation with my daughter while she was still at primary school helped me to come to my own understanding of this dilemma.
We were at a wedding rehearsal because the groom was from our congregation. At the end of it the bride’s minister led everyone in prayer and he expressed his certainty that God would ensure the wedding day would be blessed with lovely warm sunny weather because the bride and groom were such fine young Christian people. The minister’s prayer was the topic of conversation as we drove back to the place we were staying. My daughter’s contribution to the conversation was, ‘I believe God makes the weather but God doesn’t choose the weather.’ or to rephrase it in this context, ‘I believe God made the world and all its people, but God doesn’t choose what happens to them – who gets sick, who gets better, who is rich, who is poor.’ Incidentally it was not warm and sunny on the day of the wedding.
Does God just then abandon us? Is God a remote creator who has little concern for the creation? I do not believe so. God is a God of love, mercy and grace. God’s gift of Jesus reveals the nature and depth of that love, mercy and grace. God does not abandon us. Like many congregations our pastorate has a prayer group. We decided that praying in our own homes at 8pm on a Wednesday night would be the form of group that worked best for us rather than physically meeting. Requests for prayer come from the congregations, and our building users as well as themes or situations which come from our worship, our church life and world events. On many occasions we do not know for the people for whom we are praying but people get messages back to us to thank us for our prayers, telling us they have found comfort and support in them, that they feel they are not alone, they have not been abandoned. Our prayers are just a pale reflection of God’s concern for and commitment to each one of us.
So returning to James and his advice to pray for those who are sick. How we understand prayer, how we understand the Bible, how we understand how God is active in the world all rests upon who we understand God to be. We will never have the full picture and may often be left with many more questions than answers but it is then that we can be even more certain of God’s presence with us. Particularly during times of trouble and anxiety God does not abandon us, even when it appears as if our prayers have not been answered, for it is then that we are carried in the palm of God’s hand. Amen.
Hymn: We cannot measure how you heal
John Bell and Graeme Maule BBC’s Songs Of Praise
We cannot measure how you heal
or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds
where faith & doubt unite to care.
Your hands, though bloodied
on the cross
survive to hold and heal and warn,
to carry all through death to life
and cradle children yet unborn.
2. The pain that will not go away,
the guilt that clings
from things long past,
the fear of what the future holds
are present as if meant to last.
But present too is love which tends
the hurt we never hoped to find,
the private agonies inside
the memories that haunt the mind.
3. So some have come who need your help,
and some have come to make amends,
your hands which shaped and saved the world
are present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind and soul,
to disentangle peace from pain and make your broken people whole.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in the one and only God, Eternal Trinity, from whom,
through whom and for whom all created things exist. God alone we worship; in God we put our trust.
We worship God, source and sustainer of creation, whom Jesus called Father, whose sons and daughters we are.
We worship God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh; who lived our human life, died for sinners on the cross; who was raised from the dead, and proclaimed by the apostles, Son of God; who lives eternally, as saviour and sovereign, coming in judgement and mercy, to bring us to eternal life.
We worship God, ever present in the Holy Spirit; who brings this Gospel to fruition, assures us of forgiveness, strengthens us to do God’s will, and makes us sisters and brothers of Jesus, sons and daughters of God.
We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, united in heaven and on earth: on earth, the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to glorify God and to serve humanity; in heaven, eternally one with the power, the wisdom and the love of God in Trinity.
We believe that, in the fullness of time, God will renew and gather in one all things in heaven and on earth through Christ,and be perfectly honoured and adored.
We rejoice in God who has given us being, who shares our humanity to bring us to glory, our source of prayer and power of praise; to whom be glory, praise and adoration, now and evermore. Amen
Our prayers of Intercession are led by Cathy Crosbie who is training for Non Stipendary Ministry Model 4 within our pastorate. In much of the west of Scotland, this is the September weekend, the final holiday weekend of the summer so our prayers connect with the theme of recreation.
Heavenly Father we come before you this day to pray for our church, may we be open to your Holy Spirit guiding us in your ways, may we have courage to engage with new challenges that we are given, may we not be afraid of doing something new, so that your kingdom can be grown and your name be glorified.
We thank you Father that you have blessed us as a church with your blessing of ministers, CRCW’s, Lay leadership, and Elders, and those now coming through the training programmes to serve you throughout the URC, help them to share your word with others at every opportunity they are given
We pray for our nation that we would be aware of our responsibility to care for all, for those in need of shelter, and those in need of love and compassion, those who just need someone to talk to, may we be the hands, feet and words of Jesus to them this day and always, helping them find what they truly need.
We pray that as a nation we would be aware of our global neighbours, help us to show them love by supporting their needs, whether it be with vaccines, medical equipment or asylum from danger.
This weekend as many of us take the chance to relax and have a weekend break, sharing quality time with family and friends, we pray for peace and refreshment for all so we can return to our communities and our churches and we will be ready to serve you afresh.
So as we enjoy our recreation this holiday weekend, let us also be aware of the need to remember our surroundings, let us care for God’s creation, so that we can all play our part in keeping it balanced, safe and in good condition to serve the next generations to come, let us be aware of the goods we buy, the packaging it comes in, and the litter we leave behind, let us be good stewards of your creation God.
We pray for all those who find themselves unable to attend worship in person for whatever reason, to know you are with them this day in all that they do.
We also pray for those who are sick this day, either in hospital, or at home, or for those facing their final journey, may they all know your hand upon them we pray.
We ask that you would grant peace and comfort to all who grieve at this time, for loved ones now at rest in your care. All these things we ask in Jesus name. Amen
We take time now to dedicate our offerings to God. Let us pray…
Gracious God from you we receive all good things and so this day we offer back to you gifts of money, time and talents as a token of our thanks for all that we have received. May each gift offered, be seen as a channel of your grace and a means of sharing your love for the people of the communities in which we live and the wider world. Amen.
Hymn Christ be beside me
James Quinn SJ sung by unknown performers on YouTube
Our closing hymn is an adaptation of St. Patrick’s breastplate by James Quinn, to the tune Bunessan, asking for Christ’s presence with us, in every situation of life.
Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.
Christ be within me,
Christ be below me,
Christ be above me,
never to part.
2. Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me,
shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising,
light of my life.
3. Christ be in all hearts thinking about me,
Christ be on all tongues telling of me.
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me,
in ears that hear me Christ ever be.
As we walk the way, living the life of Jesus today, may we be people of prayer, consciously bringing the concerns of our hearts to God, knowing that each person, place and situation is held in God’s compassionate embrace. And may the blessing of God who is known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us this day and remain with us always. Amen.
Sources and thanks
O the life of the world is a joy and a treasure – Kathryn Galloway sung by The Revd. Paul Robinson
Christ be beside me – James Quinn SJ sung by unknown performers on YouTube
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire – James Montgomery sung by the Coventry Singers
Opening Organ Music: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com