Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
O Lord, in you we find refuge;
Let us never be put to shame.
Turn your ear to us, O God, and save us.
For you are our rock and our fortress.
We praise God’s steadfast love.
We offer God all glory and honour this day and always!
Hymn 93 – Let us with a gladsome mind (1,2,5,6)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Almighty and everlasting God,
your power is incomparable, your majesty infinite,
and your love beyond our imagining.
You are hidden in mystery, and yet so present.
In a hectic world, you are peace and rest.
In a harsh world, you are tenderness and mercy.
In the cold and dark of winter, you are light and comfort, and so we bring you our worship,
for you are the One who created us,
the One who redeems us,
and the One who gives us life,
our one and only God,
to whom we offer all love and loyalty, now and always.
God, whose name is love,
we confess our faults and failings,
knowing you know us through and through.
You tell us love is patient and kind, and you know when our patience and kindness falls short.
You tell us love is never rude or selfish,
and you see the times we insisted on our own way.
Forgive us the excuses we make to ourselves when our love falters. Strengthen us by your Spirit so that our love is genuine and reliable.
God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is God’s love; as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins. Thanks be to God
Readings – 1 Corinthians 13: 1- 13
Luke 4: 21-30
Hymn 550 – As a deer pants for the water
Lord God, we pray for all who work for peace and unity. We thank you for showing us the most excellent way of living and reminding us that "Love is patient, love is kind, and love never fails." Grant us the wisdom to not only hear your gracious words but to seek to live by them in our daily lives. Amen
I wonder how many of you had haggis for supper this week? The 25th January, last Tuesday, may be the day in the church we remember the conversion of St Paul, but on national terms it is Burn’s Night, and the focus is on the poet, Rabbie Burns. I grew up in Burn’s country, so was used to poetry competitions at school, and there were lots of Burns Supper. My first kilt was bought because I was speaking at one!
The last couple of years there have been no Burns suppers that I have been aware of, but I was thinking of Burns. His relationship with the Church could be quite fraught. He would attend church, but also he was brought before the Kirk Session because of his dalliances with the fairer sex. But His poems have a spiritual quality:
He was a farmer; he knew the land. So he was able to write ‘Flow gently, sweet Afton’ or describe a mouse as a ‘wee, sleekit, cowering timorous beastie’. But then Jesus used the countryside in his parables, as he talked about mustard seeds, for example, growing into big bushes.
Burns talked about the decency and spiritual devotion of folk in the ‘Cottars Saturday Night’, but he railed against hypocrisy of some religious people, like in ‘Holy Wullie’s Prayer’, who put on airs of being better than others, while hiding their own failings. Of course, we think of Jesus challenging the Pharisees.
But Burns is perhaps best known for his poems about love: ‘My love is like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June’. Today we read Paul’s great hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13. While we might have faith to move mountains, if we have not love, we are nothing. Love is so essential. Burns may have talked of romantic love, but Paul goes deeper and recognises the love that is patient and kind; the love that never fails. Here, he is talking about love that has a cost.
We can look at pictures of a newly-born baby, and it’s a picture of love. But when the baby keeps the parents awake all night, that’s true love. A couple grow older together, but when one becomes more incapacitated and starts to dribble food down their jumper, and the other has to clean up after, that is where true love is. It is when we sacrifice. For Paul, when he talked about love, I always feel he had a picture of love – and that was Jesus hanging on the cross. That was love bearing the cost, ready to sacrifice. Giving and giving and giving, and never counting the cost – so that we might live and enjoy life in its fullness. The cross is a symbol of just how much God loves us.
That is what Jesus was saying in Nazareth. He had preached from Isaiah, and it was well -received. People were proud of the local lad. He could have stopped, and all could have been well. But he continued and said that God’s love and grace were so much bigger than could be imagined. So big that it encompassed those who we might feel uncomfortable about, even our enemies. He reminds the congregation of stories of Elijah and Elisha. How one helped a widow in Lebanon, and the other healed a Syrian general. There were people in Israel who were hungry or who needed healing, but the prophets helped foreigners, the enemy. God’s love was for everyone. That’s when the mood in the synagogue turned chilly. They wanted God to be their God and help them, but were not willing to share God’s love with others. Another poet, the American Robert Frost, had two farmers at a wall between their properties. ‘Good walls make good neighbours’, one of them said. The Nazareth people would have agreed. But the poet challenges this, and Jesus would have as well. He was for tearing down the walls that divide. God’s love was for all, including those who make us uncomfortable.
The congregation grabbed Jesus and threatened to throw him over the cliff. That is what happens when you give an unpopular message. It is enough to get you killed! In his ministry Jesus lived out the love of God and it ended in the cross, where his arms were outstretches, as if to embrace all the world. May we show God’s love in our lives, even when it hurts.
Hymn 527 – Lord, make us servants (1,2,4)
Prayers of Intercession
The Apostle Paul reminds us that the greatest of gifts is love. The blessings we enjoy in life speak of God’s love for us. So may all that we offer become tangible expressions of your love at work in the world
for Christ’s sake.
O God, your love is patient.
We give you thanks for all those who have been patient with us, teaching us and caring for us in so many ways. We pray for the patience to love others as you have loved us.
God of love,
Hear our prayer.
O God, your love is kind.
Thank you for every unexpected gesture of kindness we have received.
Give us the courage to be kind to others,
serving those who seem unkind, rude, or difficult to love in these difficult days.
Remind us that each one we meet is your child,
our sister or brother made in your image.
God of love,
Hear our prayer.
O God, your love is not arrogant, nor does it seek its own interests.
Thank you for all who work to serve those who cannot fend for themselves.
Strengthen those who have lost hope and confidence in their own value.
Give us insight to speak the truth in love
and to work for change that creates opportunities for those on the margins
and respect for any who face discrimination.
God of love,
Hear our prayer.
O God, your love never fails.
We pray for all the situations in our world where there is war or hatred, where people are divided and build up walls to divide. We think of the situation in Ukraine. We remember Israel and Palestine, North and South Korea, China and Taiwan.
God of love,
Hear our prayer.
O God, your love bears all things.
We thank you for those we have loved in this life
and who now dwell in the peace and joy of your presence. Let your comfort settle on those who are bereaved or lonely this day.
We remember before you those with heavy burdens, many cares, much stress,
and those who find too little comfort and help.
Open our eyes to those in need around us
and show us how to offer support and companionship,
for the sake of Christ, our friend and Saviour, Amen
Hymn 519 – Love Divine (all)
Go in peace. And while so much of the road ahead is uncertain, we know some things that are as solid and sureas the ground beneath our feet, and the sky above our heads. We know God is love.
May the blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with you this day and forevermore.
Recessional Hymn 586 – May the God of peace
3rd sunday of epiphany
Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on the Third Sunday of Epiphany
Our services this week are at 10am at Yetholm and 11.15 at Morebattle.
How good and how lovely it is
to live together in unity
Unity is like the dew, falling on holy mountains
With it comes God’s blessing, life forevermore
Hymn 739 – The Church’s one foundation
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
For the richness of your creation,
For different colours and scents,
For different birds and animals,
None the same, yet part of one creation.
Generous God, we praise you.
For the richness of your world,
For different places and peoples,
For different songs and stories,
No person the same, yet part of one humanity.
Generous God, we praise you.
We praise you Lord for creating a world of wonder and beauty, of diversity and difference.
Teach us to live in harmony with you and our world.
God of grace and unity,
we confess we can be divisive when you have called us to unity, quarrelsome when you call us to seek peace, and critical rather than caring.
Forgive us when we mistake our familiar traditions for your truth.
Show us how we can witness to your love
through working and worshipping together.
Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor and freedom to the oppressed. We live as loved, forgiven and free people through the grace of God!
Readings – 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Hymn 522 – When Jesus saw the fishermen
Faithful God, we thank you that we are an indispensable part of the body of your church. Help us as we start the week ahead to walk more closely with you at our side, safe in the knowledge that your fatherly love and care knows no bounds. Amen
I feel tremendously privileged in my ministry to have been involved with so many different people in so many different places in the world, but I have one slight regret. Not a big one, but I am conscious of it. I have never preached in the village I grew up in. I preached as a student in a number of congregations in Ayr Presbytery, but never in Auchinleck. I feel sorry about that, and I am always a little envious of Jesus having that opportunity. That said, if we go on with the reading, as we will next week, we discover that the congregation’s reaction was to throw Jesus over a cliff, so maybe it is better not to go back! A prophet is never welcomed in their home town, etc!!
Jesus had been driven by the Spirit into the desert and had been tempted. He had had this time away, reflecting on what his ministry would be, and he came back to Galilee refreshed, invigorated, full of the Spirit. Luke in his Gospel has Jesus preach in Nazareth, his home town. As I mentioned last week, first things matter, and for Luke, this set the tone for Jesus’ ministry, for he preached from Isaiah 61 about the Spirit anointing him to bring good news to the poor, bring release to the captive, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and proclaim the Year of Jubilee, when there would be an evening up. For Luke, this was Jesus’ manifesto, what he felt was important.
Jesus was in Nazareth, and it was the Sabbath, so he went to the synagogue, as was his custom. He was given the opportunity to read and to preach. I don’t think he was given much warning, unless they had spoken to him the night before, so he had to think on his feet. One commentator I looked at assumed this was the first time that Jesus had preached in Nazareth, but I don’t think so. He had grown up there and he was now 30 and obviously very gifted. I would have thought that he would have been offered the opportunity to preach before, but nonetheless people would have been quite excited to hear him. They knew him, they knew his family.
He was given the scroll to read (there were no books as such; the Scriptures would have been written on a number of scrolls). When I was living in Tiberias, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a synagogue at Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, and amid their discoveries was a stone table with the grooves to place the ‘scroll for the day’. It was from Jesus’ time, and it was exciting to imagine him preaching there. It was the same in Nazareth – he was given the scroll, read from Isaiah 61, then expounded the message.
His message was not about WHAT God demands, as much as WHO needs attention and compassion. Jesus had grown up with Exodus and Deuteronomy and with the prophets; God was speaking out for the poor, the unseen, the afflicted, the rejected, the overwhelmed and those on the margin. God’s salvation was for everyone, and no-one was excluded. This was encapsulated in Isaiah 61 with the announcement of the Year of God’s favour, the Jubilee, when debts would be cancelled and wrongs made right and a sharing of all God’s bountiful gifts.
For Luke, that was Jesus’ priority, and he lived it out in his ministry. Jesus was with the blind and desperate and grieving. He speaks of God’s desire that people live in total rightness and full humanity. Jesus places himself right in the middle of God’s agenda for the whole world. What’s more, he calls us, as his followers, to ask who needs attention and compassion in our world today and embrace his manifesto of liberation and hope.
Hymn 263 – God of freedom
Prayers of Intercession
Creator God, you made each of us in our uniqueness,
and together, all of us to bear your image in the world. Accept our gifts, unique as they are, and bless them for the sake of your Son, Jesus.
God of life, God of love.
You created us and set us in relationship with each other:
In families and neighbourhoods,
in churches and communities,
in cultures and nations.
We give you thanks for the rich gifts of arts and culture,
of home life and community celebration
which bring meaning and encouragement to our lives.
Help us contribute our gifts
to the traditions and imagination that sustain the best of our common life
from one generation to the next.
God of mercy and forgiveness,
You call us to live together in peace and unity.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian unity,
we pray that your Spirit will create understanding and co-operation
among all who bear Christ’s name.
Help us share our gifts with each other
so that churches within our community may flourish
and our common mission will find new energy after months of challenge.
Lead us to reach out to those of other faiths and no faith
so that, together, we may be a blessing in the world you love.
God of healing and hope,
We pray for our neighbourhoods and our nation.
Where people are divided and bitterness turns into resentment,
show us how to work for reconciliation.
Inspire our leaders at every level of community life
to work together for the care of the most vulnerable
and to restore the goodness of our common life
as we recover from the effects of these months of pandemic.
Make us generous citizens and careful stewards
of the land you entrust to us together.
God of justice and mercy,
We pray for the world you love, the world Christ died to redeem,
so deeply divided by religious and political animosities,
by ancient bitterness and current conflict.
Encourage world leaders to work for peace and understanding,
especially in places torn by violence,
and areas still struggling with the effects of the pandemic,
by poverty, hunger and the effects of natural disasters.
May the hope Jesus embodies encourage us all to work for positive change.
God of courage and comfort,
We remember those of our congregation and community
in need of your special attention today....
Use us as agents of your healing and hope. Amen
Hymn 511 – Your hand, O God, has guided
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!
We have been called,
we have been anointed,
we have been given a task.
So go out from this place, carrying Good News to the world: news about freedom from oppression and healing for the afflicted.
May God's blessing from Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen
2nd sunday of epiphany
Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
Call to Worship
How precious is God’s steadfast love!
We will find refuge in the shelter of God’s wings.
Come and feast on God’s abundance.
We will drink from the river of God’s delights.
For with God is the fountain of life;
And in God’s light we will see light.
Hymn 327 – Brightest and Best (1,3,4)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
God of light and life,
as the new year unfolds before us, we begin to feel the sunlight coming back to brighten the winter.
Our spirits grow stronger in the light.
You shine your light into our lives in your Son Jesus.
Your Spirit strengthens us to face whatever this year will hold.
Ever-hospitable God, the storehouse of your love never runs dry. We taste and see your goodness, overflowing, spilling into our lives and the life of the world— love, grace, and mercy enough for all, and more besides. Generous God, forgive us when, in fear, we withhold your grace, worrying that there may not be enough to go around; or, when we judge that others may not be worthy of your blessing. Forgive us when we share your grace with those ‘like us’ and those who like us, forgetting that all of humanity is our neighbour, and all are invited to your feast.
Be assured. No power in heaven or on earth can separate us from God’s great love.
Take heart, and know that we are forgiven.
Readings – Isaiah 62:1-5
Hymn 201 – Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (1,3,4)
Heavenly Father, as your Son Jesus began his earthly ministry at a wedding celebration and through the miracle of changing water into wine showed us the abundance of your wonderful love for us. May our Lord continue to transform the water of our everyday lives into the new wine of your kingdom as we put our faith in Him, transforming by his love the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. Amen
I was visiting my Syrian friends in Galashiels earlier in the week, and I was chatting away to Youssef, when Hania, his wife, appeared with a tray of big bowls of a Syrian type rice pudding sprinkled with coconut. Not something I would ever choose, I must say, but I couldn’t refuse. I managed to clear my bowl, only for Hania to reappear with another bowl. I did refuse this time. Then a plate of fruit appeared – each. Banana, apple, pear, grapes. Eat, eat, eat! It was Middle Eastern hospitality. They don’t have much, but are very generous.
Our Gospel reading today talks about abundance at a wedding reception - though it could have gone so very wrong! It is interesting that John should begin Jesus’ ministry at a wedding reception. First things matter. In Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry with the sermon on the Mount with Jesus as a Moses figure, giving the law. Mark has Jesus immediately into the fray, casting at demons, while Luke has Jesus preaching a sermon on liberation and healing in his home town of Nazareth. Each sets the tone for their Gospels. But John chooses what at first seems a rather frivolous story of turning water into wine. But it was a sign, and John has seven of these signs – like the feeding of the 5000, the walking on water, the raising of Lazarus, all pointing to the kind of person Jesus was, pointing to what he was coming to do, and the first of these was at the wedding reception.
Weddings can last several days in the Middle East, but at this one, the wine ran out. Inconvenient, to say the least. Positively embarrassing for the family, you could acknowledge. But at that time and in that place, it was a real disaster. For wine was more than a social lubricant, but symbolised God’s harvest, God’s blessing. It would be an awful start to anyone’s marriage, if the wine ran out. There was no point looking at who was to blame; something had to be done!
Enter Jesus’ mother. She gave Jesus the ‘look’ and told him to get on with it. He protested his time had not yet come, but Mary had a steely determination about her, and Jesus soon was asking that six big stone jars be filled with water, and when tasted, it was the best of wines, so good that the steward remarked on the family keeping the best wine till last. The day was saved, as were the family’s blushes.
Some commentators look at the six stone purification jars and see the emptiness of the religion at that time, contrasted to what Jesus brought- something new, something out of the ordinary, something transformative. He brought the sign of God’s abundance, for the six jars would have produced 1000 bottles, more than enough for the reception.
In Isaiah 25, there’s a banquet on God’s mountain, where all are satisfied; the Messiah would bring this about. In Isaiah 62, which we read this morning, Israel would be transformed and given a new name – they would no longer be forsaken, but called Hephtzibah, my delight. We have been going through a difficult time, and certainly we are not out of the woods yet, but in this sign John is pointing to God’s extravagant love and abundant grace. As Jesus was committed to the wedding family, so God is committed to us. The story of the wedding in Cana is all about the joy and abundance that Jesus brings in his kingdom, where no-one gets the dregs and where worry is turned to wonder and embarrassment to joy. In this act, Jesus shows the best is yet to come. ‘Don’t worry’, he says, ‘I have saved the best till last’.
Hymn 697 – Let’s praise the Creator
Prayers of Intercession
O God, Jesus brought the joy into lives that needed hope and a new beginning. We pray for all those who need a new beginning this year:
Individuals trying to make a new start,
Families trying to sort through difficulties,
Groups hoping to accomplish good things for others,
Refugees building new homes in a new land,
Students and teachers beginning a new semester,
Businesses and congregations trying to rebuild in uncertain times.
Show each one how much they matter to you,
and renew their courage and resolve to make a fresh start. God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God, Jesus changed water into wine to show us that you can accomplish extraordinary things through ordinary lives.
We pray for all those volunteering their energy and concern to make a difference for others in this community.
We pray for our elected leaders and for all workers trying to manage their responsibilities in such challenging times.
We pray for those working for justice, raising awareness to problems in society and for the earth itself.
And we pray for one another and for each good purpose we undertake with new resolve this year.
Give us a glimpse of how our hands become your hands, blessed by the Spirit.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God, Jesus faced the suffering around him with compassion, reaching out to those in pain and grief with healing and hope.
We remember before you those whose lives are wrapped in sorrow or despair, and those facing tragic death or critical illness…
We remember those burdened by pain or problems that seem to have no end…
Embrace each one with your comfort and courage,
and show us what we can offer to make a difference.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God in whom we live and move and have our being,
thank you for giving us the courage and commitment we need to follow Christ in good times and in hard times. Thank you for the strength we find together as part of your church and the gifts you give us in each other. Help us trust in the promise of your love for us
and energize us with your Spirit so that we can recognize the opportunities you give us
to live out the grace and mercy we know in Jesus Christ. Amen
Hymn 700 – As man and woman
1st Sunday of epiphany
Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 1st Sunday of Epiphany
By the light of the Lamb shall the nations walk, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their splendour. Revelation 21:24
Eternal God, by a star you led wise men to the worship of your Son. Guide by your light the nations of the earth, and the whole world may know your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever
Hymn 326 As with gladness men of old – vv. 1,2,3
Prayers of adoration and confession
Our dearest Father, who is changeless but who makes us able to change; you who are the Unmoved Mover who inspires us to move; Lord who is both our origin, our destination and our route, we creep towards you in humble wonder. We would not know where to journey except you magnetised our hearts, our minds, our souls that we might seek you who knew the paths we have been set. We give thanks for the way along which we must pass: for the lengthening days at the darkest times, for the very first signs of your return as the earth begins to awaken, for the constellations that seem to turn like clockwork until the meteors erupt, unexpectedly.
Holy Jesus, before your infant form, sages took the knee and acknowledged your lordship over all power and wisdom. Grant us also clear vision and courage, that in the light of your light we may devote our power and potential to your service, even that requires us to go home by another way.
Spirit, who is still ahead of us, still guiding us, still and forever beckoning us onwards, we thank you for not having left us alone, stranded in the maze of the world. Be with us at all times, and guide us always, whether that voyage is inwards or outwards, to understand that we are loved by you, the Son and the Father.
We have often strayed and been misled along the road. We have allowed self-pride and self-satisfaction to make us loiter. We have ignored the needy by the wayside and have looked to pomp and earthly power rather than to the stony track ahead. We have been lazy, prideful and have kept our riches for ourselves rather than made them into gifts. We know that you see all our failings, but we know that you are merciful, gracious and forgiving. We pause, for the way is long, and think of what we might have done differently and what we did foolishly and what we did maliciously.
With contrite hearts and clear eyes, we are meek to say the family prayer that you established, saying:
Hymn 470 – Jesus Shall Reign where’er the sun - vv. 1,2,4
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Matthew 2: 1-12
Hymn ( CH3 185) – All poor men and humble – vv. all
Heavenly Father, you sent your son to guide your people, just as you sent a star to guide the Wise Men to worship him. We pray that you will send, your Holy Spirit to guide our Church as we begin a New Year and may we rise and shine as we reflect your light in our community. Amen
I have a friend, Sarah, whom I mentored when she studied Creative Writing in Edinburgh. Although she was working thereafter the government decided she wasn’t earning enough to stay on a student visa, and so she went back to America, to North Carolina, then Texas, and now is in Paris. She was one of the few I knew who was Christian, but she had an unusual background. She and her father were Episcopalians, and her mother and siblings were Orthodox. When I asked her about this she said “it’s brilliant. I get two Christmases! The 25th for us and January 6th for them!” We have a strange relationship with Epiphany. It seems, to use an awful newly coined word “betwixt-tide”. Christmas is over, and Epiphany is a vague nod. I do like that some denominations call it the “Little Christmas”. We are still adjusting to what has just happened in Bethlehem and are beginning our journey to Lent.
So what does Epiphany mean for us? I am sure you have heard many standard sermons on the Magi or Wise Men or Kings. There is the version where you point out that they came after the lowly shepherds, inverting the hierarchy. There is the version where you say “well, the Bible doesn’t say three kings” at all, and the Syriac Church has twelve. (Their traditional names, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar originate from the 8th century, but they were venerated from the 4th century). Everyone who has been carol singing knows the symbolism of the gifts: gold for royalty, frankincense for priesthood, myrrh for death. There is the post-colonial version as they supposedly represented Africa, India and Arabia. But what do the Magi mean?
The first thing to say is that it is unusual that they are in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke, who gives us the shepherds, was far more attuned to the mission to the Gentiles, whereas Matthew was more concerned with Jewish tradition. But it is Matthew who introduces the Gentile worshippers and Luke who commemorates the startled shepherds. Already, things are being inverted and turned upside down by the Nativity.
The second is – and I say this as someone who is quite clever – clever people are stupid. Yes, the Magi might have been astronomers or scientists or sorcerers seeing an unusual star and inferring a new King, and yet, they went straight to Herod. That was, frankly, dumb. They didn’t keep looking and studying but scurried to power instead. It would have disastrous consequences. It also shows the virtue of knowing the scriptures: Herod’s advisors give away where the Messiah is by quoting Micah 5, which presumably these scholars did not know. Nevertheless it is interesting that God speaks to them in dreams to say it might be best to be circuitous and not to go back to Herod. He shall do the same with Joseph in the next chapter.
What do we learn from the Epiphany? The Greek work epiphaneia does not occur in Matthew’s account – it does appear in 2nd Timothy and in Revelation, always about the second, not the first coming. But the Greek means “an appearance or a sudden realisation”. It is a little like Archimedes having his “Eureka” moment or Newton realising the apple which has just hit him on his head and the moon are governed by the same force. In literature, it was a trademark of Modernist writers. I won’t discuss James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, but Agatha Christie has one of the best examples in one of the Marple novels: how did you know Jane? Well, they passed the salt and pepper too politely. It is about suddenness more than anything. And we must be prepared for God to be sudden. It is also about the extensiveness of God’s love, for Israel, for the Gentiles, for you and for me. He will in crisis intervene, unexpectedly.
What I really take from it is the ending of the reading. “They returned to their country by another route”. If we meet the Christ, in whatsoever circumstance, there is no going back the same way, no way to retread. It will require us to be brave and require us to be daring, but the encounter means we are changes. That option is open, always, forever, to us.
Prayers of intercession
Father, we pray for the world, which you imagined, created and sustain still, and into which you entered, in a time of conflict, repression and bigotry. Millennia have not changed that. For every place marred and maimed by warfare, intolerance and catastrophe we ask that you help us to know how to help. We ask that you focus our minds, so that news about Kazakhstan does not allow us to forget Yemen, or that news about Myanmar does not distract us from Haiti; nor let us forget the injustices here which are suffered and in which we are complicit. You came into the world not for a tribe or sect or natin or empire but for the whole world, and for the whole world we pray.
We pray for the church, in all its forms. Keep uppermost in our minds that it does not matter which day we celebrate or commemorate, but that we do. Give us fortitude as we go into a New Year which will bring changes and challenges, instilling in us the knowledge that your first church was nothing more than a stable and yet it reached out to the ends of the earth.
We pray for all those who hold power, that they use it wisely, are cautious always to consider their impact on the least and lowest in society, and that they behave with due dignity. Make each person who has impact be mindful of that impact, and whether it works towards fairness, equality and justice.
We pray for all those who need not just prayers, but for us to act; for those who are ill, lonely, lacking employment or security or purpose, those who are lost and those who have lost loved ones. We pray for those with not enough food or inadequate shelter, for those in hospital and those in prison, for those who lack what we often take for granted. We pray for anyone in any kind of need – material, physical or spiritual – that you comfort them as you enlighten us as to how to bring help to the helpless and hope those without hope. We give thanks for all those, particularly in this time of pandemic, who are caring for the unwell, who are using their intellects to find solutions, those who are picking up the pieces. Strengthen them and make us, in whatever manner is right in your sight, means to improve the lives of others. Make us, Lord, the world, the church, those with power, those with none, each and every one of us here fit for your purpose. Amen.
Hymn 646 – Forth in the peace of Christ we go – vv. 1, 3, 4, 5
Go out now, and do not return the same. Go with confidence that the Father will be behind us, the Son beside us and the Spirit ahead of us. In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, bless us, protect us and encourage us. Amen.