Call to worship
I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made the heaven and earth.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZugvUQ4m90U – Be still for the presence of the Lord (Singing the Faith 20)
Prayer of thanksgiving
God, we thank you for the wonder of sight. For the beauty of the world we see each day, for the ordered loveliness we see in nature, for the majesty of the heavens and the marvels within the tiniest object, we give you thanks.
For people who have lit up our lives by their goodness and service, for people who have led your church in wise and even wonderful ways, for people of courage and vision and loving perseverance, we praise your name.
We thank you above all for Jesus, who walked in the light and gave light to others, our Saviour who has shown us your light and let it illuminate our lives, our friend who has brought heaven and earth together, the one who prays for us continually, who listens to our concerns, who shares our hopes and our fears.
We thank You for every good person, for every bit of service that makes our journey cleaner and easier and happier, and for everything that bring light and joy into our lives. Blessing and honour be to the God who is above all things yet present in the world as it changes from day to day; to the God who is shrouded in mystery yet wonderfully brought into view by Jesus; to the God whose Spirit brings light and love to our daily lives.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as in the beginning, so now, and for all time, Amen
Prayer of confession
If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and Jesus restores us to a right relationship with each other and with God.
Lord God, we do not come before You without sin – against you, against others, against the image you have placed within us – but we come in the name of Jesus, bringing ourselves into his light and love, asking, claiming, finding the mercy promised to every penitent sinner, humbly rejoicing in the way he became human, to straighten out our lives and offer them as perfect in His life and death and resurrection. May your Spirit make this wonderfully clear to our minds and hearts, through Jesus Christ. Amen
1 Samuel 16:1-13
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN4tPkX0MG0 – The Lord’s My Shepherd (Singing the Faith 481)
I am sat at my desk as I write this resource for worship, wondering what I can possibly say which is of any use to people in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. What hope can I bring? What care can I offer? This certainly wasn’t covered at ‘Vicar School’!
Let me start by offering some thoughts on the Samuel reading.
David’s name appears over 1000 times in the Jewish Scriptures, what we refer to as the Old Testament. We know him as a great leader who had humble beginnings and his leadership is known for its victories and defeats. David experiences blessing and tribulation and we see him demonstrating both the best and worst of power.
If you skip back into the very last verse in chapter 15, this tells us God feels regret at having made Saul king. I am fascinated over the possibility that God thinks this was a mistake, that God made an error of judgement. The only other time the Bible tells us that God regretted anything was back in Genesis when God had decided upon the flood, having regretted creating humanity. God’s intention in creating humanity as well as anointing Saul as king was that they would serve harmoniously, but Saul let God down, just as humanity had done centuries before.
So there was a lot of pressure on David, a lot to live up to. And he was the last choice for Samuel. Jesse had lined up all of his sons with the expectation at least one of them was destined for greatness. David, although perhaps resembling Poldark or James Bond, was young and so unimportant Jesse hadn’t bothered to ask him to attend. In that society your position was often determined by the order of your birth, and David was the bottom of the pile. Young, there were no expectations he would do anything other than manual work, and here he is, shepherding. The contrast between Saul & David is stark – Saul came from a wealthy family, David had nothing. He was insignificant.
But when God calls, David steps up, unlikely though it seemed, and he serves God willingly.
God continues to choose unlikely people and in our own way we have each responded to that great invitation by being part of this faith community.
But a word of warning; David’s anointing did not protect him from making bad decisions. True, he was a great king and his achievements are remembered millennia later, but he was far from perfect and we need to be careful not to whitewash over his abuse of power. He sees the beautiful Bathsheba, rapes her, conspires to have her husband killed and then forces her to marry him. He does nothing when his own daughter Tamar is raped by his son. We have a tendency to categorise people into goodies or baddies, but we are far more complicated than that.
Psalm 23 is the most well known of all the psalms, and this acknowledges the existence of stark opposites in the world. There are green pastures but also dark valleys. A table is prepared but enemies are near. Instead of being consumed by the darkness and overcome by enemies, we are reassured by the presence of the shepherd who offers blessings of goodness and mercy for all of our days.
The regret God articulates at having chosen Saul as King, or having created humanity prior to the flood could easily lead us to wonder whether our current global crisis is evidence of God’s displeasure at the behaviour of humanity. I believe this is toxic theology and spiritually damaging and I utterly resist this message. By turning to our Psalm for today, we know that we cannot stop bad things from happening. But this suggests to me that instead of engineering disaster to punish us, God wills blessings upon us. I do not believe that God ever conspires to do us harm.
There is a well-known story told by Eli Weisel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, of when a child is publicly hanged by the Nazi guards in front of the Jewish prisoners and they are made to watch. They stand in agony as the child struggles dying before their eyes and Weisel hears a voice behind him asking, ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ and another voice replies, ‘Where is God? God is there, hanging on those gallows?’
Instead of causing disaster and remaining at a distance, God is located in our pain, seeking to envelop us in goodness and mercy. I invite you to reread Psalm 23 now. God gives us what we need. God makes us rest because that is what is good for us. God restores us. God leads us to good places. And whatever we experience, the good stuff and the bad, God is right there beside us, offering us deep comfort, and with extravagant generosity pours a healing balm onto us.
In these times of isolation, know that God steps into your loneliness, seeking to be alongside you and give you comfort. Amen
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9_0jiO5ZRM – Lord I come to you (Singing the Faith 471)
Who sinned, asks the disciples. What bad thing did someone do that caused this blindness? Whose fault is it? Because these things can’t just be random; there have to be consequences to actions and this disability must be evidence of sin.
Jesus, of course, challenges this interpretation. He pushes back. He resists the toxic theology I wrote about earlier. He turns it round and rather than accepting that God punishes, and people deserve their fate, he explains that God works through these tragic circumstances and if only we opened our eyes, we might just glimpse God in them.
The photograph below is from my very favourite building, Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam. If ever I feel that God is distant, I think back to the many occasions I have been inside this cathedral knowing I was standing on holy ground surrounded by God’s presence. The sanctuary is built in the round with lengthy blue stained glass windows flooding the space with light. If you are observant, you can spot shards of red hidden within the blue. In his homily one Sunday, the priest told us that the designer wanted to remind us that the Kingdom of God is always breaking through, and if we look for it we will always find it.
As I read John’s gospel, it took me back to this cathedral, remembering these windows. We might be asking questions about why this pandemic has happened, what actions of ours might have caused this, what punishment is God giving us? In this reading, I find Jesus pushing back at those questions, saying you’re looking for answers in the wrong places, because your starting point it wrong. You’re asking the wrong question. Jesus reminds those listening that it is them who cannot see the truth and not the man who was blind.
I invite you to try and notice God. Wherever you are sat, right now, in your homes. To look for glimpses of God breaking through. You might be able to hear birdsong. You might have had a telephone call yesterday. You might have experienced someone’s kindness recently. You might have read a story about generosity in the news. Find God in those experiences. Just as the psalmist writes, we might be walking through dark times, but like the stained glass windows, light is breaking through and God is with us. Amen
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itiB52mVJ9Y – My Lighthouse by Rend Collective
I invite you to spend some time praying in order for the following:
- The government and advisers, that they may be given wisdom
- Those who are working hard to keep us safe and well; NHS workers, teachers, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, cleaners, police and many many others
- Those who are currently ill and feeling frightened
- Your friends, neighbours and family
- Yourself for however you are feeling
We bring our prayers together in saying the Lord’s Prayer in what ever language or version is most familiar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw5ZCZeS32M – Love Divine (Singing the Faith 503)
God as we go out, stay beside us: along the deep valleys of the world, through the dark hillsides of the world, beside the still waters walk with us, lead us, show us and be our companion for we are ever your people, this day and always. Amen
Some material adapted from ©2013 Spill the Beans Resource Team & Church of Scotland