Welcome, Cheviot churches and also to those joining us from elsewhere. This week's service will be led by Stuart Kelly.
2 Corinthians 5: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”
Almighty and merciful God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Deliver us from the death of sin, and raise us to new life in him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of heaven, to earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou are all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart.
Finish then thy new creation
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see they great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee,
Changed from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder love and grace.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Lord, we approach you in humility and wonder. You are the creator, the redeemer and the consoler. You are the start and the finish, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In your creation you have left signs and symbols in the most commonplace ways. We have seen, as we move into summer, the glorious yellow of the dandelion, as it turns its to dying grey of a chimney-sweeper, and as it then is blown as seeds to make creation new once more. You blessed us with creation, and we adore you, though words and images are insufficient. You are mystery and majesty and the amelioration of our meagre lives.
Because we are meagre. You are profound and we are shallow. You offered us your love in the Son, and we were amongst the rabble who sent you to death. We are liars, the worshippers of the false idols of wealth and glamour, the fornicators, the sly, the envious and we all know all this. We are not what you meant us to be and for that we offer our true confession. Lord, you have always loved us and we ask this knowing you will not condemn a sinner who is truly repentant.
Now, pardoned, we are humble enough to say the prayer that you taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen
1 Samuel, 8
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.
But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day." But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."
Mark 3. 20-35
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: "How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Lord from the depths to thee I cried.
My voice, Lord, do thou hear:
Unto my supplication’s voice
Give an attentive ear.
And plenteous redemption
Is ever found in him.
And from all their iniquities
He Israel shall redeem.
Almighty God, may your presence be seen clearly in what we do each day. Help us to unite with all those who worship your Son our Saviour as we recall his words “that a house divided against its self cannot stand”. We pray that your joy and your love will flow freely in and through us as we acknowledge his Kingship and follow were you lead us”. Amen.
I do love a theological paradox, so here is one. Does Jesus break the fifth Commandment, to honour thy mother and father, in the Gospel reading we have just heard? It’s an idea I want to come back to, but beforehand, and to put it in context, I want to look at our Old Testament reading.
It makes for uneasy reading. The prophet Samuel is in a bit of a quandary, as the Israelites are beseeching for a king. God makes it very clear to them through Samuel: yes, but on your own head be it. They are warned, and the warning comes true. Israel does get a king – the mad and murderous Saul, the adulterous sneak David, the ostentatious and lascivious Solomon and many more. In a strange way there is a parallel in the Old Testament reading with a fable by Aesop which some of you may know: number 44, “The Frogs Who Wanted A King”. In it, the frogs ask Zeus for a king and he sends a log. They are happy at first, but take to jumping on it and mocking it. So they ask for another king, and Zeus sends – the sources vary – either a snake or a heron or a stork who promptly gobbles them up. Martin Luther, writing in 1523, cites this fable. “The frogs need their stork”, he wrote, meaning that when we give up our liberties – and I do not mean singing in church or going to the pub – our democracy becomes tyranny. Imagine if your right to vote, or dissent, or protest were to be taken away by a lecherous buffoon. I am, of course, referring to Charles II.
The first thing to note in the passage is that God gives fair warning. The second thing is that Israel asks twice to be “like other nations”. They were not like other nations. They had been blessed and covenanted as an exemplar to the nations. They had a king already – God – but wanted to be like others, and wanted to engage in warfare. But God allows it, as God sees the whole of the future as well. Israel will suffer, and Israel will be redeemed.
When we turn to the Gospel reading, we have a strange rhyme. I am sure we all know the end of the passage, where Jesus asks “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Again, it is uneasy reading. Jesus seems almost petulant and dismissive if we skim read it. But we can sometimes forget about the opening. Jesus has shown himself to be not like others, and his family intervenes. I suppose, to use an anachronism, they basically try to have him sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This they did out of love. They were concerned. But they did not understand.
As some of you may know I am currently working on a book about the Virgin Mary . I wonder if as she went to try and have her Son restrained she remembered the words of Simeon. “A sword shall pierce your heart too”. Maybe she thought – this is it, this is what I was warned about. Little did she know how tragic a path she would face. But what I want to leave you with is the sense that Jesus does not break the Fifth Commandment. He does not dishonour his Mother, and he always, always honours the Father. Instead we have one of the most moving examples of how extensive is the love of Jesus. Yes, his family is there, but he looks out to the wider crowd and says “And you. And you. And you”. The King does not need a dynasty, but he does need a family; and that family is here and now and forever. When we heard last week the famous words from John at 3:16, it states “God so loved the world”. Not just Israel. Not just Christians. He so loved the world that we are all adopted by him. As much as I love a paradox, I like a challenge. If Jesus invites us to be as his parents or siblings, it means, categorically, that we have a difficult obligation to love. Therefore we must love one another as he loved us. As my hero, G K Chesterton, once wrote “the Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people”.
Brother, sister, let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too.
Prayers of intercession
Lord, we pray for your world. We have not been dutiful custodians of creation. Give us the courage to do what must be done to stem the corruption and neglect of the world; to ensure that generations yet to be inherit a place of safety and beauty,
Lord, we pray for the Church. As we undergo change which will be painful, be always behind us as we face an uncertain future. We commend to you all those who work for the Church in whatever capacity, and ask you to give them strength.
Lord, we pray for all those who wield power. Give them wisdom, give them grace, give them the hardness of honesty. We pray also for our Queen, who has been an example of public duty.
Lord, we pray for all who are sick, both physically and mentally, that your kindness might be upon them. We pray for all who work in healing, whether in hospitals, general surgeries, care homes or in their own homes, for all those who face what we cannot face. We pray for all who find themselves in need; the poor, the refugee, the scorned, the unloved, the lonely.
We pray for the dead, who are with you, and the communion of saints, that they rejoice in your nearer presence.
Finally, we pray for every person we dislike. We are fallen creatures, but let us glimpse what we could be rather than what we are.
My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me
Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
Here might I stand and sing:
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Go now in peace to love and serve the Lord, and may the blessing of our Lord God, Father, Son and Spirit, rest with us and remain with us now, and forever. Amen.