During the current cessation of regular Sunday Morning Worship Our Minister, Rev Rae Clark will prepare on each Sunday an act of worship which can be followed on this web-page.
This will continue for the foreseeable future
Clackmannan Parish Church of Scotland
Sunday 29nd March 2020
From homes near and far,
Let us worship God!!!
Once again, we gather -
But as one holy people in God’s sight.
Once again, we seek to worship,
Not because we must,
But because we can.
Once again, we long for God,
Not desiring reward,
But looking for life.
Psalm 68, verse 15 reminds us that “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” (NIV)
This has been another week of fast-paced change.
Another week of news that has the potential to deepen our fears, heighten our anxiety levels and damage our mental health as we struggle with change.
Another week of opportunity amid uncertainty.
Another week where Jesus, our Rock and our Salvation, has been willing and able to share our burdens, tend our wounds, and calm our inner storms, as he encourages us to look beyond all that threatens to destroy us, and fix our sights on him so that we may travel well.
And so, we come today – and we will worship, and pray, and offer praise and thanksgiving, and we will remember that our God saves!
Let’s pray together, as we draw close to God.
If you can, why don’t you say these words aloud? Say them slowly and thoughtfully, pausing after each section so that you may respond personally and add your own thoughts.
And as we pray, take time to name those things you are sorry for, and then take a few moments to sit in quiet contemplation so you may think about the forgiveness God so generously gives us.
Living, loving God,
We remember and declare
that you are God – the One who placed the stars in the galaxies and set the seasons to work.
We remember and declare
that you are God – the One who created us for relationship with you.
We remember and declare
that you are God – the One who travelled the journey of human life and defeated death.
The One who did all this to save us.
As we draw close to you in worship today, Lord God,
We desire a closer and deeper encounter with you.
We desire a renewed understanding of what it means to be followers of Jesus.
And we desire that you might soften and prepare our hearts so that the Holy Spirit might be at work in our lives, for we know that we are not yet all that you created and called us to be.
We know we have sinned in so many ways –
sometimes deliberately in our actions, our words, or our thoughts;
sometimes because we have failed to act or speak,
sometimes openly, and sometimes in the depths of our hearts that we try to keep hidden.
Right now Lord, I am sorry for……….
Please forgive me and help me to turn away from doing this again.
Pause and reflect…..
Gracious God, thank you for your grace and mercy.
Hear us now as we pray as Jesus taught…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy 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, for ever.
Last week we read from the bible and I encouraged you to have your own bible to hand for this week. If you have it beside you, turn now to Psalm 107, and read verses 1-9. I have placed the text here if you need it (remember I will be using the New International Version UK translation). Let’s read.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. 5 They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. 6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. 8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
(Psalm 107:1-9, NIVUK)
Turn now to the Gospel of Matthew, and read from chapter 8, verses 1-22.
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’ 7 Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’ 8 The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.
14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. 16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ 20 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 21 Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 22 But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’
(Matthew 8:1-22, NIVUK)
So here we are once more, longing to be gathered together as a church family yet having to find meaningful ways to worship in various homes scattered throughout our parish and further afield. Strange, isn’t it?
We are very aware of the physical separation, yet at the same time there is an almost tangible sense of being connected to each other in ways that are meaningful and very precious. This week I have spent a great deal of time talking to others, listening to them and learning about their lives. It seems in many ways that the thing that has driven us all into isolation in our own homes has brought more than anxiety or even fear. It has brought opportunity.
A few weeks ago, when we started out on this new journey together, I expected that it would be quite some time before we really started getting to know each other. I knew from previous experience that ordained ministry normally involves doing many tasks and spinning many plates, often at the same time!! Some things can end up squeezed off the ‘to do’ list or even forgotten. Sometimes the most important things do not get the attention or time they deserve. So, at that point, I had no real sense that just a few weeks into our shared journey I would have lots of time to indulge in lengthy, very honest conversations with many of the people God has called me to love and serve. In this past week alone, I have been given very precious insights into lives, hopes, dreams and heartaches. What a blessing that has been, and what a help those sorts of insights will be as we try to make this journey together.
As we take each new step on that journey, we will be learning more about how to be disciples, how to be the church in our time and context, and how to be all that God has created and called us to be. You see, none of us has already completed our learning. There are things that we need to learn individually and things that we need to learn as a church. If we are prepared to recognise that, and we are prepared to grasp the opportunities that God gives us, then we will see tremendous transformation in our lives and in our church. That transformation will result in us becoming much more effective as co-workers with Christ. And all of this will happen if we travel well on our journey with Jesus.
Travelling well involves being ready, attentive and responsive. It involves being willing to adapt, letting go of what is unnecessary but keeping safe all that is essential.
Sometimes we look at our lives and manage to convince ourselves that everything is fine. We gloss over the times when we are hesitant to recognise the authority of Jesus in our lives. We don’t readily acknowledge our unwillingness to accept the cost of being his disciple, and we almost never admit to being jealous or angry when we think God blesses others and forgets about us and our struggles.
So, let me ask you – what is it you need to do right now so you can travel well and continue to grow as a disciple? Do you need to let something go? Or explore more deeply your relationship with Jesus? Or do you perhaps need to stop trying to control your relationship with him? Do you put on a brave face as you face the world - but really feel unworthy, unloved, or excluded?
Whatever your answers, whatever your situation, remember this: Jesus came to declare his authority over death.
That authority is exerted over everything that would destroy and damage the abundant life he wants us to have. In order to have that abundant life, we need to be willing to accept his offer and then travel well with him. But let me be clear – having abundant life, life in all its fulness, does not mean that there will never be tough times or real struggles. But we have the choice of whether to face these alone or with Jesus.
Our readings today remind us of at least three important things. Firstly, the Psalmist speaks of the enduring love of God, who knows and responds to every need. Secondly, Matthew points us towards the truth that, by acting on his concern for the excluded, the unworthy, and those who are powerless and lacking in influence, Jesus himself has already ensured that there is a way for us all to experience that love for ourselves. But Matthew reminds us too, that there is a heavy cost to discipleship – the cost of allowing the Lord to be supreme. For, as we respond to Jesus in faith, he asks us to journey with him from then on. And when we decide to journey with him, saying ‘Lord, let me first…..” is not an option. As disciples we can and must put the Lord first in everything. First place belongs to him, not ourselves, and all we can do to is respond to him by giving back all that we are and all that we have.
That’s a hard call in many ways. Are we really ready to submit to the authority of Jesus? Well, yes - if we can still do as we please. Are we really ready to put the Lord first? Well, yes - if we can still make choices about what he asks of us. Do you see how easy it is to start trying to put conditions on how truly we are willing to be disciples who travel well with Jesus? We try so hard to be nice people and do nice things. Good and well. But don’t be misled into thinking that taking that approach is enough to ‘earn’ anyone the eternal life that Jesus came to offer us. If there is something you need to let go of so the Lord can be ‘first’, then ask him to help you let go. If there is something you need to grasp hold of to help you put the Lord ‘first’, then ask him to help you recognise and hold on to it. Travel well as a disciple by consistently putting the Lord first. And do that by exploring the nature of both our calling and our relationship to Jesus, in all of its simplicity and all of its complexity.
Friends, this public health crisis has impacted on many things, including our ability to be with other people. As we adjust to our new situation we will continue to worship, and we will continue to be ‘church’ in ways that enable us to love and serve and grow as we continue this journey together. Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He also promised his presence, always. We need to be faithful, creative and courageous about how we do that in these challenging times. People need to be loved. They need to hear the good news. And they need opportunities to explore what having faith in Jesus might mean for their lives.
So please remember that the work of the church goes on, even if we are not physically gathering in a particular building on a particular day at a particular time. Live out your faith in the small ways as well as in the big ones. Ask yourself how well you are travelling as a disciple. Review how you support and contribute to the work of the church – are you using your gifts, your time and your talents wisely and effectively? Are you bursting with a new idea that needs to be explored so new things can happen? Are you listening to the Holy Spirit who might be nudging you to serve in a particular way? Make sure too, that any financial contribution you might make is in line with your circumstances and what you know God is asking of you. If you are affected financially by this crisis, please make sure you prayerfully review and adjust your contribution as you need to. If you cannot give by your normal method please speak to me, to your elder, or to our treasurer in order to make alternative arrangements. By taking all of these steps in relation to our own journeys and the ways in which we support the church, we can honour God and ensure that the work Jesus commissioned us to do can carry on. We can travel well.
It is encouraging to hear that elders and members are keeping in touch to share information and to simply encourage each other. A friendly voice can make a difference, so perhaps I can leave you with a wee challenge for this week. Why not pray for those you have not seen or spoken to in a while. Perhaps you could also lift the phone to someone and let them know you were thinking of them. Who knows – your call might make their day! And elders – if that someone is a person in your district, it might be helpful for them to know the church has not forgotten about them.
Praying. Using our gifts and talents. Offering financial support. Serving on a team. Developing ways to help and involve others. Exploring a sense of call. The list of ways to travel well with Jesus is long and varied. Yes, there is a cost to discipleship and putting the Lord first, but there is also great joy, deep peace and real purpose in doing so.
Go on ... lift the phone, use your talents, do what you can to care for others… and whatever else you do, take this opportunity to spend time deepening your relationship with Jesus. That’s a pretty good way to travel well at the moment.
Use this prayer to guide you as we speak to God about things that make us thankful and things that cause us to be concerned.
God of love,
It is sometimes so hard to express our thanks when we are struggling with concerns about what is happening in our world, our communities, our families and our own lives.
Yet when we stop and think we are overcome with gratitude –
for your love and grace and mercy;
for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ,
who lived, died and rose again so we could be forgiven and reconciled to you;
for the Holy Spirit, who draws us close to you.
We are thankful too, for the love of family, friends and the various communities we are part of.
Lord God, those very same things that we are thankful for also give us cause for concern. We sometimes feel inadequate and unworthy of your love.
We sometimes feel we are not doing enough as disciples or as the church.
We sometimes feel that we don’t have the gifts or the strength to face the challenges of life.
And we are sometimes really worried for family, friends and other loved ones. This is made harder in these difficult days when we cannot even be in the same physical space as they are.
Heavenly Father, some of us have had news of people we know and care about being ill with the virus that is causing so much concern. Some of us are dealing with fears and problems related to work, to finance, to physical or mental health, or to some other issue we dare not even name. Some of us have simple requests, and people to hold before you…
so hear us as we now speak from our own hearts…
Lord, you already know about all of these things. You know our worries and you know our individual situations. You have things you want to share with us too. Things to comfort and reassure us; things to inspire us; things to challenge us. So, we ask you to speak into our hearts and minds now, as we stop talking and sit quietly so we might hear what you are saying….
Father God, loving Son, gentle Holy Spirit,
hear our prayers and help us to wait patiently and in faith for your answers,
for we ask this in Jesus’ name,
As we draw this shared worship to a close let us not forget that, as disciples, we have the opportunity to worship God in every moment of our daily lives. What a privilege! What a blessing! What an awesome opportunity!!!
May each one of you who is worshipping now
be strengthened, equipped, and guided,
as you travel well on your journey with Jesus.
The blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Hoy Spirit,
Be with you and those you love,
Now and always,
Remember that you are welcome to get in touch with me at any time, either just to chat and share concerns or good news, or to ask for help. Call me on 01259 211255 or 07824 505211, or if you prefer you can email me (RClark@churchofscotland.org.uk). If I am not available, please leave a message and I will contact you as soon as I can.