Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Let us make melody before our God!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Let us praise God’s holy name together.
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
For God is gracious and steadfast in mercy
Hymn 160 – Praise my soul (1,3,4,5)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
At the beginning of time your words brought the world into being. Your breath gave us the gift of life.
How majestic, awesome and wonderful you are,
yet at the same time you are tender, loving and kind.
We lift our songs of praise to your name.
each day we receive gifts from you.
The gift of this new day and the opportunities it presents to us.
The gift of food and water that sustain us,
the gift of love and friendship that supports us.
We remember the most precious gift you have given us, your Son Jesus, who showed us how life should be lived and gave his life that we may live.
We lift our songs of thanksgiving to your name.
in your presence we become aware of our unworthiness.
Lord, we confess before you that we have not followed our calling:
We have not served you as we should.
We have not cared for others as we ought.
We fall short in so many ways, putting ourselves above others. Renew and remake us through the grace of your Son, Jesus, your love made flesh.
Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more’.
Readings – Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Luke 6: 17-26
Hymn 103 – Fill your hearts with joy (1,3,4)
Everlasting God, send us out into the world, renewed by our worship and strengthened by your message to John the Baptist. Help us all wholeheartedly to trust in the Lord, so that we may be a testament to the Gospel of your son Jesus Christ determined to bring healing and reconciliation to our wounded world. Amen
Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? It can be nail-biting watching the curling – too nail-biting, as our curlers finished 4th! But there seem to be a number of newer disciplines. Skiing isn’t just about going downhill the fastest or jumping the furthest, but involves acrobatics, and I was thrilled to watch a teenager from Aberdeenshire turn somersaults in the air from a ski-jump. What it must to see the world from another perspective; to see it turned upside down. Our readings today are about seeing life from another perspective about a topsy-turvy world.
Jeremiah was called as a prophet at what was an unfortunate time – there was war with Babylon, who was emerging as the great superpower of the day, gobbling up the states around them. Judah was next on the list and indeed had been defeated by Babylon. However, the leaders were trying to wriggle out of Babylon’s clutches and form an alliance with Egypt, playing one superpower against another. It wasn’t going to work; indeed, it was all going to end in tears. Jeremiah ever seemed to be tasked with giving an unpopular message, and he would preach accommodation with Babylon and against this alliance. But in Chapter 17 he gives this lovely picture of hope surviving through all the chaos. He compares a bush in the desert shrivelling up with a tree planted by the water, filling its roots, so that even in difficult times it will survive and indeed will bear fruit. Was it pie in the sky – or was it hope?
Israel’s hopes of escaping from Babylon were doomed to failure, and Jerusalem would be destroyed, the Temple burned to the ground and so many taken into exile in Babylon. But the exile turned out paradoxically to be one of the most productive periods for Israel, as they had to rethink their faith and question what they were all about. They emerged the stronger for it and were able to build a new future.
Through the Covid pandemic, there have been times when we doubted that we would come out of it, and yet we have had to adapt to new ways of doing things. As the Church of Scotland, we are going through times of change with bigger presbyteries and possibly bigger groupings of congregations and, like the Jews in Babylon, have to rethink how we do things, but that can be positive and bear fruit. Remember Jeremiah’s picture of the tree planted by the river bearing fruit. It is a picture of hope for the future.
In the Gospel reading Jesus encourages us to see things from a different perspective. We read Luke’s version of the beatitudes. Matthew’s are far more familiar, given in the Sermon on the Mount. But in Luke we have the Sermon on the Plain. Luke’s are hard-hitting. No sugar coating, they are sparse and get right to the point. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those weeping, but woe to the rich and those who have. Full stop. It is a complete turnaround from the accepted wisdom of the day, which was that if you were rich, God had blessed you, and if you were poor, you had done something wrong. We see this in the story of Job. It is still with us. There is a new film just released about Tammy Faye, one of the TV evangelists of the 70s/80s, and the evangelists were famous for their lavish lifestyle and their prosperity gospel. I saw it a lot in Africa; ‘come to our church, and you will become rich’!
Jesus here is showing God’s love, God’s bias, for and towards the poor and those struggling with life. He calls us to look to ourselves, for we still worship at other altars – the altars of wealth and power and instant gratification. But these are not the ways of the Kingdom, and we are called to share our good fortune with others and ever look outwards. We are called to see the world from a different perspective – even that of Christ.
Hymn 544 – When I needed a neighbour (1,2,5,6)
Prayers of Intercession
All good things come from you, O God, and of your own do we give you. Help us to use our gifts wisely in your service
Wise and generous God, we take time today to do as the old hymn suggests, and ‘count our blessings’, naming them silently, one by one, and giving thanks to you, the source of all that is good, and of the deep-down happiness for which we long. We give thanks for the obvious blessings, never to be taken for granted: for good health when we have it, and access to medical care; for food in our bellies and a safe place to live; for people who care about us and for whom we can care; for freedom to dress and speak and worship as we choose, without fear of persecution.
But we are grateful also for the curious blessings recognised as such only with hindsight: for losses that help us see what really matters; for vulnerability that enables us to reach out in love; for our weakness that forces us to depend on you; for brushes with death that have helped us value life more.
Loving God, you want all your children to live lives that are full and worthwhile, and we pray for those for whom each day is a struggle to survive, never mind thrive; for those who are trapped in poverty and cannot see that ever changing; those who so not have enough to eat, and those who overeat to bury their unhappiness; those who are shamed and humiliated for being who they are, and those who do the shaming.
We pray for the people of Afghanistan: the families struggling to cope and find money for food, the girls no longer being educated, the women no longer able to work freely. We pray for all hopes and dreams squashed by those yielding power.
We pray for all in this country, for all in our local communities as we attempt to return to some normality after the Covid restrictions. We pray for the lonely, those still anxious about mixing with others. We pray for the jobless and the bereaved.
We pray for all who are in leadership. In parliament. In our local councils and communities. For all leaders of the church, all those in ministry sharing the Gospel in whatever form. We pray for the weary, those feeling out of their depth and those who are sinking beneath the heavy load of responsibility.
Hymn 644 – O Jesus, I have promised (1,2,4)
As we go from this time of worship,
we rejoice in the strength of God,
we fix our eyes on the grace of Christ,
and we drink deeply of the Spirit, who makes us one. And the blessing of God be with you, now and always. Amen