Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Our help is in the name of the Lord our God,
the maker of heaven and earth.
God our Maker is present with us at all times,
loving and gracious to all.
So, we come to worship God as we follow in the way of truth.
Hymn 194 – This is the day
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Holy One, Source and Spirit of Love,
You are perfect in wisdom.
You are faithful in love.
You are relentless in seeking reconciliation.
When we feel alone, you offer community.
When we face pain, you give healing.
When danger surrounds us, you give us courage.
When we work against each another, you urge peace.
We come to worship you in gratitude for all you offer
through Christ in the power of the Spirit.
Receive our praise this day,
and renew us to serve you in the world you love.
Before You, O God, we confess our sin;
we acknowledge our brokenness,
and the brokenness of our world.
We confess that often we hold grudges and cling to the past. We focus on what we lack and resent what others have.
Forgive our jealousies and resentments,
and free us from any temptation to put others down.
We confess we exploit and abuse the gifts of creation,
and live lives careless of our environment
and of the lives of those who share this world with us.
Knowing that You are compassionate,
merciful, and ever-faithful,
we ask Your forgiveness,
and Your healing of all that is wrong;
that You will restore us to fullness of life
to serve and love the world in Jesus' name.
Readings – Esther 7:1–6, 9–10
Hymn 485 – O God, you search me (1,2,5)
Holy God, we pray for all people who seek to follow your way in their lives like Queen Esther in our bible reading today. Let your church speak your word of truth with confidence so that those who are searching and listening will be able to see and hear clearly your message of love and peace. Amen
Two scenes. One last weekend, when thousands gathered in Glasgow to walk on an Orange parade. The organisers claimed they didn’t hate Catholics, yet sectarianism and bigotry were to the fore, and I am sure many people would have felt uncomfortable, if not vulnerable.
The other scene was of leaders of the faith communities coming together – Muslim, Sikh, Jewish as well as the different Christian denominations. They spoke with one voice over their concern about the climate crisis and calling for action. Two scenes; one divisive, the other unifying.
Our Old Testament reading today was from the book of Esther, a book about a minority group feeling very vulnerable. In this case it was the Jews in Persia, and there was a plan by Haman, the king’s right-hand man, to exterminate them. Esther is Queen, but she is also Jewish, and she is called upon to act. She does so, and the Jewish community is saved. There is obviously far more to the story than that, and I feel uncomfortable with the ending, when there is a degree of vindictiveness, as the Jews take revenge. But it is a story about God using people, whoever and wherever they are, for good purposes, as God used Esther, and also it is a story about different groups with different beliefs living together.
In our Gospel reading, the disciples noticed someone casting out demons in Christ’s name. That is, they noticed someone doing good; they were relieving misery. But the disciples’ reaction was ‘Stop. You are not one of us!’. They reported the matter to Jesus, fully expecting Jesus to be horrified. But as usual, the disciples had got it wrong. Instead of condemning the person exorcising the demons, Jesus praised him and said, ‘those, who are not against us, are for us’. The disciples had set up a ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenario, as if only they had the sole right to cast out demons in Christ’s name. It was as if Christ was a trademark which belonged to them alone. But in Jesus’ mind, this person was doing something good and therefore should not be condemned.
We can be too hasty to put labels on people and claim Jesus for ourselves and not for others. Of course, it can work the other way too, and I have friends who regard me as a heretic and beyond the pale because I am Presbyterian. But it is too easy to fall into a them/us situation with the dichotomies of Catholic/Protestant; Moslem/Christian; Brexit/ Remainer; vaccinated and anti-vaxxers. Those like us and those against us. When Mark wrote his Gospel, the Church was going through similar tensions with regard to who could become a Christian, for example; there were those who had suffered persecution and those who had abandoned their faith in the face of torture but who now wanted to come back. The Church could become polarised.
This story was remembered, and Mark invites his hearers, and indeed invites us, to refine our vision of what it means to be a follower of Christ and to appreciate those who do not necessarily share our theological views or culture, but who nonetheless work to make the world a better and fairer place.
One of the biggest issues we are facing as today is the climate emergency, with the critical meeting in Glasgow only several weeks away. This is not something for the Church to address alone; we need to put aside differences and find common ground with others and work together to change attitudes.
We belong to Christ, and he has changed our lives and through the Spirit is continuing to transform us to be distinctive, but like Esther and the Jews in the Persian Empire, we appreciate that others too work for good. We have the task of bringing healing to the world, of fighting the demons of consumption and of caring for the world. Who is not against us is for us!
Hymn 724 – Christ’s is the world (1,4)
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
you have called many people together to become the church that bears Jesus’ name.
Thank you for joining us in fellowship is so many different places, and giving us opportunities to make a difference for Christ’s sake.
Creator God, you made all things and called them good.
May the earth be held in reverence by all people.
May its resources be used wisely, and the fragile balance between all its species respected.
your Son became a refugee with no place to call his own. Look with mercy on all those who are fleeing from danger,
and find themselves homeless and hungry.
Bless and protect those who work to bring relief;
and inspire generosity and compassion in hearts that have resources to share.
Guide the nations to work together to bring an end to conflict so that little children may grow up safe and happy in their own homes.
all nations rise and fall in your sight.
Hear our prayers for those who rule in countries around the world,
that they may act with integrity, establish justice for all citizens, and seek the ways of peace;
that they may address the needs of the most vulnerable, and lead recovery from the pandemic in prudent and generous ways.
God of hope,
we bring before you the names of people and places on our hearts this day,
seeking the right gift only you can give them:
Ever faithful God,
you have knit together your people from all times and places into the body of Christ through his resurrecting love.
Keep us in communion with all your saints,
those we have known and loved, as well as those known best to you. Inspire us to learn from the examples of their faith in action, and bring us together in the joy we will know in your presence.
accept our prayers, spoken and unspoken,
and strengthen us to do your will through Jesus Christ,
Hymn 646 (1,4,5) – Forth in the peace of Christ
The peace of the earth be with you
The peace of the heavens too;
The peace of the rivers be with you,
The peace of the oceans too.
Deep peace falling over you;
God's peace growing in you. Amen