Sunday Worship Service for 26th September 2021
A prayer of adoration
God of eternity, you are at the very heart of our lives:
we adore you.
God of miracles, you add flavour to our world.
You are the salt that seasons us,
you preserve all that is good and make us whole:
we worship you.
God of humanity, you look on us with love
and we cannot help but love you back:
we bless you, Lord.
A prayer of confession and an Assurance of forgiveness
For the times I don’t live my best life,
or even recognise what that might be:
For the times I have the sulks because I think my nose is out of
joint, and I’m too blinkered to see you in others:
Sometimes I just don’t understand your word;
when I haven’t the patience to work out what it really means:
For the times when I try and water down your Gospel
because I don’t like what it is saying to me:
Sometimes I judge others harshly, and try to stop them
because I don’t agree with what they are doing
– even though it may be for good:
I’m sorry, Lord, please forgive me.
Assurance of forgiveness
Loving Lord God,
you care so much for each one of us.
You are there for us whenever we turn to you.
When we are truly sorry,
and intend to move forward, to live our best life,
you graciously forgive us all our sins.
We gratefully and humbly accept
your forgiveness and peace.
Read Mark Chapter 9. Verses 38-50
One of the things that often happens in churches is that they struggle with work that they do not own themselves. For example, a church will look enviously at one up the road that is doing some useful youth work and they will try doing it themselves rather than supporting the other church in their work. Equally, the first church may have some successful work of their own, but other churches often don’t join in because it is not “theirs”. Equally, Christian charities can sometimes work in competition with those who are not overtly religious, yet are doing equally good work. In fact, these charities may have a volunteer base largely drawn from churches. Somehow, if the work is not being done by ourselves, then it is regarded as less valuable or valid – at its worst something to be shunned or discredited. This is an issue that is nothing new, indeed it is addressed by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel.
The reading from Mark’s Gospel is hard hitting and has some images in it that could be described as disturbing, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out”. It is fortunate that this was an extreme image coined by Jesus to make a point rather than to be taken literally. It is easy to get caught up in such lurid imagery as it grabs attention rather than looking at what is going on behind it.
Before we look at this more, it is worth looking at the first part of the reading which addresses the problem that I first mentioned. It is where the disciples complain that someone has been successfully driving out spirits. Earlier in the chapter, the disciples had tried to exorcise an unclean spirit from a young boy without success and had been told off by Jesus as a result. There is something of an irony about this then, because the disciples want to stop this other exorcist, successful as he is, because he is not “one of them” So the problem is not whether the man was acting in the power or name of Jesus, but rather that he was part of the “in group” or the establishment. They tried to stop the outsider in the same way that they later tried to stop children coming to Jesus. It shows how the disciples had become an exclusive group. This outsider posed a threat to their status as he was successful in his work, unlike them. So how does Jesus react to this? He tells them that the Kingdom of God is bigger than just one exclusive group. The lone man going about his work is bringing about healing just as much as the disciples and is therefore part of God’s Kingdom, “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us”. Those people who show kindness, whoever they are, deserve reward and are people who can be learned from, not shunned.
Going on further into the reading, the attention of the disciples is moved from those outside to themselves. It reminds the disciples (and ourselves) of their responsibility in acting as a “shop window” for Christ.
During “Lockdown”, we decided to treat ourselves to a take-away from a restaurant. It had been booked on-line, with a credit card (which had been duly charged), the time and date set. At the appointed time, I arrived to find the restaurant completely abandoned and a note on the door to say that, due to an electrical fault, it was closed. The following week their phone was not answered and e-mails to customer service at their central HQ were ignored. Finally, I was able to speak to someone at the restaurant and after further discussion, I was given a replacement meal, some two weeks later. As you can imagine, this was not a good advert for the establishment. Despite having had very good service in the past, the memory of this occasion lingered in the memory.
Jesus tells his disciples that they can either encourage people in their faith, or they can act as a “stumbling block” – in other words they impede people in their faith. Jesus uses the image of a child, not just because of their responsibility to the young, but also to those without status – those without leadership roles. This was probably also addressed at the church leaders who read this passage. If they were to cause the people in their charge to sin, or that their striving for power or prestige were to put people off and drives them away from the church, then this is serious. So serious in fact that Jesus gives an image of the worst thing that can happen in punishment – that someone has a millstone so large that it needs a donkey to move it tied around their neck and then they are thrown into the sea. Such a fate would be dreaded by people of the time as the body could not be retrieved for burial. If anything causes us to deviate from the path towards God’s Kingdom then we need to be ruthless in weeding it out. Instead, there are three things that are clear:
Anyone whose work is bringing the Kingdom of God closer is to be welcomed, whether they are in our midst or outside. Many Charities, for example are not overtly Christian but nonetheless can be seen to be doing God’s work.
We have a responsibility to further God’s kingdom in what we do and how we are seen to conduct ourselves – we have to be quite ruthless in getting rid of anything in our lives that would deter people from coming to Christ or that comes between us and God.
The final sentence provides an alternative – something to strive for “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another” – in other words the church models a community of peace and love that brings a new flavour to all around it – the Kingdom of God.
Prayers of intercession
Loving Father, following the meeting of the UN this week, talking about their response to climate change and vaccines for the poor, we pray that the words they say will turn into concrete actions and interventions for our world. We pray for the poorest who need the help of the richest. May those who lead and hold power see the humanity in others, feel the pain and strife of those who are desperate, and act with integrity making meaningful promises they can keep.
May we see the shape of God in all of humanity.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Gracious God, the energy crisis will be worrying many people. As the weather gets colder, some will be wondering how they will afford to heat their homes and keep warm. We want to pray for everyone who is anxious about their future. We pray for people who are struggling financially and concerned for their family. We also pray for those working hard to being relief to people in need. Give them the energy and resilience they need to keep being supportive and bearers of hope. We pray for our foodbanks, debt advisors and mental health services, help us to give generously where we can.
May we see the imprint of the Holy Spirit in everyone we encounter.
Lord, hear our prayer.
God of all, even with the crisis in Afghanistan leaving the news cycle we continue to pray for this country. We pray for those who are fearful and for people who really don’t know what the future holds. Please help those who need to leave find ways out of Afghanistan and for those who have to stay please keep them safe.
May we see the outline of your grace even in the darkest places.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, help us to learn how to live our lives in your service. Help us to live our best life for you. Help us to learn more about your values and see them in our own lives. Help us not to be stumbling blocks for others but signposts towards you. Help us to bring peace and light into others’ lives. As we go through this week help us see God at work in the people we meet.
May we see the pattern of your love in all we do.
Lord, hear our prayer.
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