Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this Third Sunday of Lent.
Seek the Lord while he may be found.
Turn to God, generous in forgiving
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
God’s ways are not our ways.
As the heavens are higher than the earth
So are God’s ways higher than ours.
Hymn 132 - Immortal Invisible
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
God, our Creator and Sustainer,
in you we live and move and have our being.
In your depths we find meaning; in your heights we find light and joy. You are the source of peace and hope for all who turn to you.
You alone have been our help and our guide;
you give us strength and courage when we face challenges.
In you we find rest and welcome along the way.
We praise you, O God, for your steadfast love.
Draw near to us once more in this time of worship.
Reveal your purposes for us
and prepare us for the days ahead
so that our lives may witness to your mercy and grace
as we follow Jesus.
God of grace and mercy,
We confess that our thoughts are so often not your thoughts; our way are rarely your ways.
Our tempers are short and we fail to act with kindness. Our confidence is weak and we treat others without respect. Our faith falters and we lose track of you.
Forgive the many ways we fail you,
and inspire us to follow you more faithfully.
Readings – Isaiah 55: 1-9
Luke 13: 1-9
Hymn 540 – I heard the voice of Jesus say
Heavenly Father as we go out into the world help us to live in the warmth of Your love, to listen to the cries of hurt, especially as we remember the people of Ukraine. Help us to speak words of compassion as we seek the Lord, in the certain knowledge that He will have mercy upon us as we call upon Him. Amen
It is always good to go away on holiday, but it is always good to come back – and good to come back to the mild Borders climate, because Cairo was cold!
It was however good to meet up with old friends and to visit old haunts. On Monday I was with a friend in one of the Cairo suburbs, and we noticed a shop selling Syrian groceries and went in, as I wanted to buy something for the Syrian family I visit in Gala. Immediately we were welcomed. We were given some dates to sample. We were given some hot stuffed vine leaves, a delicacy. We were given some chocolate to try. We were given Arabic coffee to drink. Next it was Turkish Delight. It was Arab hospitality. How they make a profit, I don’t know!
It reminded me of Isaiah 55, with the invitation to come and eat, come and drink, come without paying. Of course, it is talking about the gift of grace, that God gives so much to us that we don’t deserve and God can satisfy the hunger in our very souls. It is a wonderful passage, calling on us to seek the Lord and finishing with a picture of hope with the juniper tree growing instead of the briar.
Whenever you travel to a place you know well, you notice changes, some of which can be for the good and sadly some which are for the worse. I hadn’t been to Cairo for three years, and it was just coming out of Covid. Cairo is chaotic. It is crowded, polluted, noisy – and wonderful. It is a place of traffic jams and dust storms; a place of great antiquity (though this time I failed to go to the pyramids), but also ever moving forward.
In the few years I have been away, they have extended the metro, the underground, adding several stops. A new museum has opened and it is so impressive. You can see all the mummies, but there are so many touchscreen devices to tell you about the various exhibits. All state of the art. New shopping malls have opened, for Egyptians love to shop. A new capital city is being built in the desert.
Meanwhile for the church in Egypt, this is a golden age, according to one of my former colleagues, with permission given to build churches, as the church bears witness in the emerging suburbs. Posters in the metro highlight Egypt’s Christian heritage. The Theological College, where I worked, trains 40 ministerial students, but also over 450 lay students who wish to know more about their faith. While I was there, the students had just been on a trip to see recycling projects in one of the poorer areas of the city in order to inspire them in their ministry.
Of course, not all in Egypt is good. It can be a repressive place to live of you are opposed to the regime – and bad things happen, such as poorly constructed buildings suddenly collapsing.
We read about that in our Gospel lesson. How a tower collapsed killing 18 people and how a group of Galileans had been killed by troops when bringing sacrifices to the Temple. We immediately think of Ukraine and the atrocities of war, of how people die as they shelter in a theatre, of how they starve and freeze in Mariupol. All innocent people caught up in the horrors of war. But the Gospel passage ends in hope, for a parable is told of the owner of a fig tree who is frustrated with it, as it fails to bear any fruit. He wanted to cut it down, but the gardener persuades him to give the tree yet another chance.
We have a God who continually wants the best for us, who offers us forgiveness and grace, who invites us to eat and drink, who always gives the second chance. A God who is with us in our suffering and stands alongside us in our distress. A God who offers hope and the promise that the pine will grow instead of thorns, the juniper instead of briars. We hold onto that.
Hymn 166 – God of all hopefulness
Prayers of Intercession
Loving God, accept these our gifts, we pray.
Bless them and use them to inspire peace in places of unrest, love in places of resentment, joy in places of fear, and hope in places of loss.
God of Hope,
When the world is confusing and frustrating,
you bring light and hope. We give you thanks for lessons learned, for changes of heart,
for fresh discoveries made, and new paths followed. We pray this day for those who are confused or afraid and for those who feel anger or despair.
God of Peace,
there is so much conflict, hostility, and antagonism
around us and within us.
Personal relationships are often tense; the world community at odds.
We pray for understanding to prevail
in relationships at home and at work,
in our community and our country.
And we pray for diplomacy to end conflict and threat among nations
Loving God, your Son Jesus Christ, wept over Jerusalem. Today, we weep over Ukraine.
We weep for those uprooted from their homes and lives. We weep for those cowering in basements.
We weep for those who have witnessed death and destruction on their streets. We weep for those separated from parents, from children, from spouses and siblings.
We are amazed at the resilience of people seeking to comfort those in need and so we pray for Governments opening up borders so that Ukrainians can have safe passage.
We pray for churches and individuals providing food, clothing and shelter.
We pray for medical workers ensuring that shattered bodies are put back together again.
We pray for ordinary Russians demonstrating and voicing their disapproval of the military actions in Ukraine.
May the Holy Spirit give us the willpower to turn our tears into action also.
May we, through our words, prayers and example pursue the things that make for a just peace in the world today and especially in Ukraine.
We remember those who feel excluded or bitter,
those who are anxious or in distress.
We pray for those who face loss and hardship in these uncertain times,
and all who know sorrow and suffering,
naming before you those on our hearts this day.
Hymn 248 – For my sake and the Gospel’s go
May we find the road that leads to life;
may we take the turns that brings right relationships;
may we pause to accompany others on the way;
and may we journey with God through Lent,
and long for the horizon and dawn.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen