Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 14th Sunday after Pentecost.
With what should I come before the Lord? What sacrifices should I bring?
You have been told what is good and what the Lord requires of you. Only to do right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.
Hymn 739 – The Church’s one foundation
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
In the world of your creation, you made the seasons to change,
the sun to shine and the rain to fall,
the vines to bear fruit and the fields to produce good things.
You alone are our strength and security;
you alone bring us rest and comfort.
We turn to you as the source of all life,
marvelling at your wisdom,
seeking to learn your purpose for our lives.
We offer you our praise and thanksgiving,
for you are the God who made us,
the Christ who mends us,
and the Spirit who brings us life.
even though we know you are the Source of our lives, we confess we often turn our backs on you.
We speak and think in ways that deny our loyalty and love for you; we ignore the needs of others.
We harbour anger and say things that cause others pain.
In your mercy, restore us to right relationships with you and with one another.
God is tender-hearted and gracious to all and has forgiven you in Christ Jesus. Trust in God’s grace and be kind to one another, forgiving others as God has forgiven you.
Readings – Song of Solomon 2:8–13
Mark 7:1–8, 14–15
Hymn 599 – Holy Spirit, hear us
Gracious God, thank you for our friends and neighbours and those around us with whom we work and share our daily lives. Keep our hearts clean and free from sin so that we can be truly devoted to your service. We ask for the blessing of your presence in the week ahead and pray that you to will guide us, guard us, and keep us safe in all we do and say. Amen.
It is something you learn very quickly when you live in Africa; before you eat, you must wash your hands. Someone brings a bowl of water, and you wash your hands in it. Then after the meal you wash your hands again, this time with soap. The main reason being that you don’t use forks and knives: you use your hands to eat. So when I read that the disciples did not wash their hands before eating, I raise my eyebrows.
For the last year and a half we have been living with all the Covid restrictions, and one of the most important is – to wash our hands. Hygiene has been essential for survival. We sanitise before coming into church; we are fastidious about making sure everything is clean. And we wash our hands. So when I read that the disciples did not wash their hands, I rather sympathise with the scribes and pharisees when they complained to Jesus in our Gospel reading today. Maybe they had a point.
But from Jesus’ reply and stout defence of his friends, you realise that there is something else going on here. The Pharisees are not so concerned about the hygiene perspective, but from the ceremonial perspective. It was the way things were done which mattered. It was religious tradition surrounding the Torah, the law, and the Pharisees were sticklers for observing every jot of the law. Now the law is brilliant – it brings people closer to God, but the outward ritual had become too important, that people forgot what lay at its heart.
The prophets like Micah and Isaiah and Hosea had complained about the same. Amos famously said, I despise your feasts, your rituals – but let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Jesus said that what matters is the heart. It is not the façade, not the externals, but what lies at the very heart. And that was love and grace and forgiveness and service.
We find love at the heart of our reading from Hebrew Scriptures. It is love poetry and paints the picture of a woman waiting, always looking out, anticipating the arrival of her lover, then he comes like a gazelle, bounding over the hills to come and be with her. The Love Island of its time. Some question why Song of Songs is in the Bible, but others liken it to God’s relationship with us, Christ’s with the Church, and I like the idea of God bounding over the mountains to speak words of welcome and grace to us and invite us into a relationship. The outcome in the Song of Songs is one of abundance and new life (‘The winter is past; the rain is over and gone’), and so it is in our life of faith where we are offered life in all its abundance.
We all like our rituals. We like the way our services are. We don’t always like new things, but they can make us think. We recite the Lord’s Prayer every week, but do we reflect on what we are saying? Hopefully we do. We all have our rituals, even what we do when we get up in the morning or go to bed at night. They work for us, but we shouldn’t become enslaved to them, and I think that is what Jesus was complaining about.
A life of faith must have so much more than religious observance. It must be one infused with God’s love and a readiness to serve God in word and in deed, for it is what lies at the heart that matters.
Hymn 489 – Come down, O Love Divine
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Great is your faithfulness, O God, and so we offer to you a portion of what we have received through your unfailing goodness. Bless these gifts and our lives, so that your love is proclaimed to the world through all we accomplish in the name of Jesus Christ
God whose Word created life,
we give you thanks for the abundance we enjoy from earth’s goodness.
Make us wise caretakers of the earth’s fragile balance, so vulnerable to drought and disaster.
May your world become a place of abundance for all your creatures,
for we know all our lives depend on you.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
God of vigilant care,
thank you for the strength and comfort you offer us
in times of sorrow and stress.
We pray for those who do not know security in their lives day by day,
for those facing violence at home or on the streets and for the vulnerable who must depend on others for their care.
Guide us to shape a society where violence is not tolerated, where the weak are protected,
where the elderly are honoured for their experience,
and children are cherished for their gifts.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
God of all times and places,
as the summer moves toward autumn,
and activities must reorganize while the coronavirus is still present,
we pray for families and churches and organizations trying to make wise choices.
Equip us all with the wisdom we need to plan well,
and act with understanding for those eager to get things going and for those anxious or reluctant to move too quickly.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We thank you for the Life & Work magazine and for all the various insights it brings to its readers.
We continue to remember the situation in Afghanistan and pray for all living in fear. We pray for the leaders of the Taliban that they might restrain their followers from acts of violence.
We remember all affected by storms or adverse weather, by the aftermath of earthquake in Haiti.
We thank you for the peaceful transition in Zambia with the election win by the opposition.
God who hears our desires even in the silence of our hearts,
listen now as we name before you the people and situations on our minds today:
Hymn SGP 72 – Lord, Jesus Christ (1,3,4)
Bless to us, O God, the moon that is above us, the earth that is beneath us, the friends who are around us, your image deep within us. May the blessing of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you, now and forevermore. Amen