Sunday 5th July 2020

two person on green mesh hammock outdoor

Service sheet

Call to worship

Come to me,

all you who are weary and burdened,

 and I will give you rest.

We come, Lord Jesus,

we are weary and heavily burdened

and long for the rest you give.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

 for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

We take your yoke upon us, Lord Jesus,

make it easy and lighten our load.

I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

We come to find that rest for our souls.

Be gentle, Lord Jesus, and humble our hearts.

Hymn: All my hope on God is founded (Singing the Faith 455)

Opening prayer

That I have been given one more day, I give thanks.

That the birds still sing each morning, impossibly early outside my window, I give thanks.

For the sun rising once again in the East, I give thanks.

That for this day I have bread, I give thanks.

For drinkable water, for breathable air, and chocolate biscuits, I give thanks.

For one more day of mobility I give thanks.

For novelists who create worlds and characters and stories for our minds and not for our TVs, I give thanks.

For mobile phone reception, and I-guess-its-better-than-nothing Skype calls with my family and reliable internet service, I give thanks.

That I am loved, I give thanks

That I am forgiven, I give thanks.

That I am alive, I give thanks.

That you, O God are known by many names, I give thanks. 

That you, O God are present when I feel only your absence I give thanks. 

That you are God and I am not, I give the most thanks. Forgive me when I forget that one.

And for every other gift I am too self-obsessed to see, but that totally comes from you -Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Amen.

(Adapted from Nadia Bolz-Weber)

Reading: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Reflection

Our journey through Genesis continues, and this week we have a much nicer story about seeking a wife for Isaac. Our cultural differences might cause discomfort about the servant of Abraham finding Rebekah and arranging a marriage, or Rebekah’s brother Laban seeing the rings and bracelets this servant bestows on Rebekah and then being totally at ease with her being whisked away. But firstly I want to point to the fact that Rebekah’s consent was sought – ‘will you go?’ she is asked. ‘I will’, she replies. She has the choice to say no. And secondly that there are themes here about fidelity, loyalty, blessings and the guidance of God.

The unnamed servant trusts that God will provide. Prayers for guidance are made, that whoever appears at the well and offers water for him and his camels will be the one. The servant is seeking someone kind, generous, hospitable and Rebekah does not disappoint. Seemingly God does nothing throughout these events.  God says nothing and does not obviously appear to intervene. So how is this more than just a story of an arranged marriage – what has this got to do with God?

How often in life have you felt God’s guidance at the time? Perhaps the answer to that is, all the time! If so, what a blessing for you. But for some of us, we notice God’s guidance sometimes after the event. We look back and realise that God was working, unseen, unspoken, unnoticed, but silently guiding and it is our perspective of faith which looks back and sees that God was there all along. It’s only when we reflect on our life that for some of us, we can see that God has always been present.

There are certainly events in my life where at the time things were pretty grim and for some of those times I wasn’t aware of God’s presence. Now I’ve said before, I don’t believe that God engineers situations to teach us a lesson, and certainly not that God does anything to will us harm. But through those life events, good or bad, I now view them through the lens of my relationship with God and can see that God was working through them. It may not have been apparent at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see. I understand those events better now than when I was going through them.

We live in a culture that demands proof, and when proof is not forthcoming, the only alternative is scepticism and denial. How often do we grasp for visible signs of faith? Do not put God to the test, we are told by Jesus. The workings of God are not spectacular or magical. They are not some parlour trick where we’re left wondering how it was pulled off. The workings of God are so very often ordinary.

One of the things this passage can help teach us, is to trust. Trust that God will provide. Trust that God is not idle. Trust that God cares about the mundane aspects of our lives, enough to care when we choose to share these snippets of ordinary delights and worries. Abraham trusts God that his servant will carry out his request. Abraham’ servant trusted that a wife would be found. Rebekah trusts God that this marriage is God’s will for her and Isaac.

I sometimes wonder at how God has time or the attention span or the emotional energy to think about me, to care about what I care about. But God is God and I am not God and God is not me, and thank God for that! Because one of the lovely things about this ordinary tale of how two people ended up together is that God is not so busy, not otherwise occupied that God will not give us the care and attention. Through creation God creates, creates life and creates relationships. God seems to delight wherever love is found. Through the covenant, God renews the commitment made at creation to be intimately woven in our lives. So if, like me, you sometimes wonder whether God might just be ignoring you, or too busy to care, remind yourself that God’s love for you is deeply personal. God created you, loves you, wills nothing but good for you, wants you to stay connected. The danger is we so often lead our lives as if we believe God isn’t present, or that God is idle. When we live in the knowledge that even when God seems to be silent, God remains faithful to us. And with that knowledge, we become more attentive to God’s presence. And when we are more attentive to God’s presence it strengthens our relationships, not just with God but with those around us as we notice the presence of God within them.

Our story today is about journeying and hospitality. It’s about strangers who become family. It’s about taking risks and finding a place to call home. It’s a love story and a faith story and a hope story. It helps us to be brave in the knowledge that God is with us, in our past, our present and our future.

Hymn: Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (Singing the Faith 238)

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

Reflection

Imagine there was a relationship at the very heart of the universe that existed between a Father and a Son. Imagine if that relationship wasn’t tarnished by our own edgy, messy and often complicated relationships with our own father’s, or mother’s, but modelled exactly what each of us would seek to have and seek to be. Imagine if the very closest relationship was between a parent and their child, a picture of love in perfection, and that this relationship was the touchstone for every other relationship in the whole history of the cosmos. Then imagine that you personally have been invited into that relationship, not just to witness it from the outside, but share it from the inside. To share the intimacy, to share the shorthand each family uses, to share the bond.

That relationship is what we call Christianity. That relationship is at the heart of everything in the universe. It is cosmic and it is intimate. It is deeply immersed in love.

I read this week that there is a clear correlation between childhood trauma and abuse and addiction. It’s not very surprising actually, that those people who was subject to abuse in their developing years have deep issues of trust, and seek feelings of pleasure and security not from people but from chemicals, because chemicals deliver and people let you down. We know that if you have strong relationships in your life, you can do almost anything. And the opposite is equally true; you can do almost nothing if your relationships are damaging and dysfunctional. Have you ever had a job you hated? How much easier was it to go to work if you enjoyed spending time with your colleagues – we can endure hardship when we are supported through our relationships. Whilst I think weddings are always cause for celebration, how much more should we celebrate a Diamond Wedding Anniversary? To celebrate those many years of successful marriage that have developed over time and those individuals have become better stronger people because of the strength they gained from that relationship.

We are not designed to live separately. We are designed to live in relationships, whether with colleagues, with friends, with family, with church family. This is why lockdown has been so harmful for those who are either alone, or who live in a state of loneliness because of a bad relationship. It creates discord.  

The word ‘comfort’ may sound a trifle banal, but if we break down the word origin, we find ‘com’ means together and the ‘fort’ is a place of safety – to be comforted is to be surrounded by the protective fortress of another person. ‘Companion’ has the same initial word origin – ‘pain’, French for bread – a companion is another person we break bread with.

Jesus understood that though life might be hard, we can thrive if we exist in relationship. And because our relationships with our parents, our spouses or even our friends are not always positive ones, Jesus demonstrates that personal relationship with God as the one in which we can do all things. In Philippians 4:13 we read, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ This is the relationship we need to model all other relationships on. The relationship we are invited to exist within. Amen

Wherever she goes

Wherever she goes, the boxes go with her.

Big boxes, medium, and small.

Different shapes. All individually wrapped.

 Some in simple brown-paper packaging,

others more elaborate,

and tied with an exuberance of ribbons.

Wherever she goes, the boxes go with her.

All of the boxes. All of the time.

And in each box, no matter how haphazard, or carefully wrapped,

the contents are, essentially, the same:

cans of worms, that do not bear opening.

Wherever she goes, the boxes go with her.

Over the course of time she has spent her life gathering boxes:

adding to her collection

until she can hardly walk under the soul-crushing weight of them.

There is guilt, and shame,

and a whole bundle of small boxed regrets, in purple wrap.

There is anger— wrapped red, and envy— a poisonous green;

a big, black box, where all her hurts are housed, and nursed.

Wherever she goes, the boxes go with her.

At the top of the pile is a small box, plain wrapped,

 in which only emptiness is found:

her lack of forgiveness to herself:

the harshness of the human heart, is a fearful and terrible judge.

Wherever she goes, the boxes go with her.

And she is exhausted, with the carrying of them.

So heavy and burdensome, that her back is bent,

and she can no longer see the sky.

In her bone-weary tiredness, she almost misses the invitation,

and the hand held, outstretched:

“Come to me, all you that are weary, and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

She tastes the word ‘all’ tentatively, and savours freedom.

The offer includes even her, with so many, many boxes.

She sniffs the word ‘rest’ carefully;

it smells sweet: and her back begins to straighten,

and the boxes begin to tumble all about her.

Wherever she went, the boxes went with her.

Until the day she chose the gifts of compassion and grace.

Now wherever she goes there is a lightness about her,

a spring in her step… and she never tires of seeing the sky.

Hymn : My soul finds rest in God alone (Singing the Faith 633) I confess I didn’t know this new hymn, but the words seem to fit so perfectly, it’s worth reading it through even if, like me,  you don’t know the tune.

Prayers of Intercession

Prayer is where we receive. For prayer is essentially the opening up of ourselves to the love, light and truth of God. Prayer is communion; it is that centred-ness when we touch the rock, when we have access to the very heart of things. Yes, prayer also involves work – especially the hard work of intercession; but true intercession arises first out of communion. The yoke of prayer is easy, the burden of prayer is light, for we pray in and through Jesus himself and in the Spirit who prays within us.

O Holy God, we are weary. Weary of staying indoors. Weary of not seeing the people we love. Weary of seeing the people we love but not being able to hold them. Weary of hearing about illness and death. Weary of feeling anxious.

We come to you because we are weary and heavy-laden. Give us your rest we pray

O Holy God, the medical staff are weary. Physically weary from those long shifts. Weary of seeing pictures on the news of people taking unnecessary risks. Weary of worrying about a second spike to this virus. Weary of not knowing how much more they can take.

We hold before you these precious ones you because they are weary and heavy-laden. Give them your rest we pray

O Holy God, the teenagers are weary. Weary of worrying about exam grades they have no control over. Weary of an uncertain future. Weary of only seeing their parents. Weary of the pressure of social media.

We hold before you these precious ones you because they are weary and heavy-laden. Give them your rest we pray

O Holy God, the politicians are weary. Weary of the worry of making a mistake. Weary of the responsibility. Weary of the criticism.

We hold before you these precious ones you because they are weary and heavy-laden. Give them your rest we pray

O Holy God, our planet is weary. Weary of the exploitation. Weary of the pollution and debris. Weary the attempts to heal are thwarted at every turn.

We hold before you this precious one you because it is weary and heavy-laden. Give it your rest we pray

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.

Amen.

Hymn: Your hand, O God, has guided (Sing the Faith 692)

Blessing

In our weariness we come before you, God:

carrying our burdens.

We come before you, God:

confused and uncertain,

fragile and shaky.

In you we find what we need.

Support us and make us strong, O Holy One.

Unite us as people

and make the bonds between us stable.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer—three in one,

you are the arch of Divine Love

that holds together our whole existence.

(Some material taken from © Spill the Beans & The Church of Scotland worship resources)

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