Good morning, Cheviot Churches – and Good morning to those in other places too! This is Colin, and I hope everyone is staying well and keeping safe. We gather in our different places for our service for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost. This is also Fathers’ Day and Refugee Sunday.
Gladden the souls of your servants, O God
To you, O Lord, we lift our hearts
The Lord is good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love
Listen to our cries, O God, and answer
God is great and does wondrous things
We come to worship and bow down before you, O Lord.
Hymn 166 – Lord of all hopefulness (vv1 ,3 ,4)
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Glorious God, with joy and gladness we gather in our different places to worship you and to rest in your presence. We praise you for all your goodness to us and for sustaining us during these difficult times. In these early summer days we praise you for the abundance of colour and smell in our gardens, for flowers and mown grass, for the sight of tractors in the fields and the earth revealing its bounty. We are your people and you are our God. Receive our praise.
Spirit of God, you are the breath of life, the wind of change blowing through our lives, opening us up to new dreams and hopes, new life in Jesus Christ.
Forgive us our closed minds, barricading themselves against new possibilities and ideas.
Forgive us our closed eyes, which fail to seethe needs of your world, blind to opportunities of service.
Forgive us our closed hearts, which limit our affections to ourselves and our own.
Forgive us and break down and break down the prison walls of our selfishness that we might be open to your love and alert to the service of your world.
In Christ we are made a new creation; the old life is gone, and the new life is come. Know that God loves you and forgives you and beckons us ever to make a new start.
Readings Genesis 21: 8-21
Hymn 360 – Jesus Christ is waiting (vv 1,3,5)
Our Weekly Prayer from Arthur and Kathleen:
Heavenly Father, we rejoice in the call to belong to the Church, to believe in the Gospel, and to be united with those who have gone before. We remind ourselves that the Holy Family were once refugees, and in this week, we especially remember the many who are seeking refuge in today's world. Amen.
Cast your mind back a few years, to the time when we were all transfixed by the television coverage of so many refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat or walking by land through Turkey. There was then a stream of people going up through Greece and then through the Balkans, negotiating the borders, with the ultimate goal of reaching Western Europe.
Right in the North of Greece was a Protestant church, and it was bang on the route to the border, and many refugees went past its doors. These doors were firmly locked. This was not their problem. But then it happened that the border closed, and the refugees, many of them from Syria, camped by the church, making do as best as they could. The local church people watched warily at first, but they couldn’t help but notice that at least two of the women were heavily pregnant – maybe they needed help. They couldn’t ignore that – they had to engage. Soon, food and medicine were brought, some of the older people and the two pregnant women were given rooms in homes. Conversation classes began and some lessons for the children.
Why did they do it? Partly they remembered the teaching of Christ, but also for a more personal reason. Many of the grandparents and great grandparents had grown up in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and after the 1st World War there was a massive population exchange, with the Muslim population of Greece moving to Turkey, and the Greeks in Turkey moving to Greece. Many had gone via Aleppo in Syria and had been well received, and that collective memory came back. And so this little church opened up to the refugees of different faiths, and both groups benefitted from the interaction.
Our bible readings today are about outsiders. When Sarah thought she couldn’t bear a child, she gave Hagar, her Egyptian maid, to Abraham, and a son, Ishmael, was born. But now that Sarah has given birth to Isaac, she becomes jealous of and threatened by Hagar and Ishmael. She doesn’t want Ishmael to get a share in Isaac’s inheritance. And so Sarah and Abraham cast them out. It is a wonder that we find these stories in Genesis, for it doesn’t reflect well on Abraham and Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael are outsiders; they were cast out and we find them in the desert, their water run out, and Hagar can’t bear to watch her son die. It is very poignant, but is a reality even today for so many refugees. But God hears their cries, sees their suffering and brings about their safety. They are within the embrace of God’s love too, and Ishmael’s descendants will be a mighty nation too. No-one nation or group has the monopoly of God’s love.
That is the message from the Gospel too. Matthew was writing at a difficult time, when the church was becoming more distinct from the society around. Living out the radical Gospel teaching made society nervous and threatened the Roman Empire. Families became divided, and many Christians were disowned by their families and ostracized by society.
In our passage, Jesus talks about the sparrows God’s deep care for these small birds sold at the market for a ha’penny. If God cares for the sparrows, so God cares for us. We are loved and valued without measure, for we are made in God’s image. The imprint of God is on us, and God has counted even the hairs on our head. This passage follows on from the sending out of the disciples we read about last week. They were sent out with few supplies, but with the assurance of God’s love and care. The Christians of Matthews time needed to hear that, and we need to hear it today - that we are valued, but also that others are valued too, and on this Refugee Sunday we remember that those, cast out of their homes and countries for whatever reason, are within the embrace of God’s love. Like the members of the little Greek church, we should be reaching out in God’s love to them. Amen
Chorus – Abba Father
Prayers of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Intercession
Generous God, you have given so much to us. Accept our gifts, we pray, and may we be your hands, feet and voice in the world.
We thank you for moments of joy that still break into our lives, even in the strange times of pandemic and re-opening of our communities:
for love given and received, for friends who furnish our life with meaning and happiness, and for family who embrace us with love and understanding.
And we thank you for all caring and faithful fathers celebrated this day,
and praying for those cut off from their families.
God of the nations, we pray for our country and countries around this world so deeply affected by COVID-19.
Guide leaders to make wise decisions about reopening communities, and give patience and courage to those whose lives have been disrupted,
especially those who fear what the future holds.
Wherever injustice rules and misinformation confuses,
protect the vulnerable and shine the light of your truth
to reveal the path to justice and renewed hope.
God of compassion,
We pray for peace to prevail in places torn by war,
and ask that respect for human life will grow
wherever people are abused or scorned.
We pray for countries going through difficult times and remember Lebanon especially, as it undergoes economic troubles and for countries like Brazil, so affected by Covid 19.
We remember all refugees, forced to flee their homes and often struggling to fit in and be accepted where they find themselves.
We pray for all those who are suffering in any way.
Surround them with your love and support them with the strength of your Spirit.
Open our eyes to see how we might bring comfort to those who are hurting.
Be with all our workers on the frontline and bless all who are going back to work as lockdown eases, who may still feel anxious.
Lord, hear our prayer, Amen
Hymn 245 – It’s a world of sunshine, a world of rain (vv 1, 2)
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you,
with the people you love
and those whom we are called to love. Amen