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 24th May 2020
‘An Unknown Landscape’
Week 3 of 5:
For such a time as this?
To all who are gathering…
…gathering their thoughts and tuning their minds towards God.
…gathering their moments of hope and joy, so they can offer thanks to God
…gathering their questions – and their doubts – so they can seek God.
…gathering their experiences so they can look in wonder at God.
…gathering their innermost thoughts and feelings so they can be honest before God.
In Psalm 145, verse 20 we read, “The Lord watches over all who love him”.
We have gathered to worship. And our Lord watches over us.
God of all knowing, all understanding, all being,
as we gather together for worship
we come with different hopes, prayers, needs and dreams.
But we come with one thing in common –
our desire to be near to you so we can know more of you.
For we long to know you.
You, God Almighty.
You, God Almighty, the Sovereign Maker of heaven and earth.
You, God Almighty, the Sovereign Maker of heaven and earth who cares for each one of us.
You, our Heavenly Father, who loves us with a perfect love that no human parent can offer.
We worship you.
We seek you.
We love you.
Accept our worship.
Open our hearts to receive all that you have for us,
and let us know the pure joy and hope of being yours.
You have loved us, redeemed us, called us,
and given us the most amazing opportunity to be your church.
Yet so often we have forgotten that or lived as if it were not true.
We have offered judgement and criticism instead of words to build others up.
We have allowed feelings of anger, jealousy or greed to damage others and ourselves.
We have sinned in ways we try to keep hidden from others.
So, hear us now, as we say sorry for these things, and more.
Loving God, I am sorry for….
Enable me to truly accept your forgiveness.
If we confess our sin the Lord forgives us.
Be at peace with God and yourself and know that you are forgiven for all you have confessed, as we come together as one family and pray in the way that Jesus taught. Together, with others in different places, we say:
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
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,
and the glory,
From God’s word …
It is wonderful to have the privilege of picking up your own copy of the bible and reading God’s word. So many people in this world long to be able to do that – but to even own a copy might put the at risk of death. Some cannot read because they have not been able to access education. Some cannot ever hope to own or hold a bible in their hands because they are too poor to afford one.
So, today – pick up the bible that you own, in the translation you have chosen and realise what treasure you hold. It is God’s word to you. The most wonderful, insightful, instructive, comforting, challenging thing you will ever read. Let it draw you close to the One who speaks to you in and through it. If, for any reason, you don’t yet own a bible please tell me and I will provide one for you to keep. I want you to be able to share everything I have each time I hold God’s word in my hands.
Let’s read God’s word now. Hold that treasure, and turn, together with others who share this worship, to our passage for today, which is Esther 4:1-17
This is the full text of today’s passage if you need it. This version can be found in the New International (UK) translation.
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.
So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.
Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, ‘All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold sceptre to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.’
When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’
So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Have you ever felt like a fish out of water, so to speak? Perhaps at a party, or other event, where everyone seemed to know everyone else and you felt like an outsider? Perhaps in a job that you felt you had been ‘lucky’ to get because you felt inside that you might not be capable of doing all that would be required of you? Perhaps in a situation where you didn’t know the unwritten ‘rules’ that everyone seemed to take for granted and you ended up having to learn fast? I’m sure each of us can recall being in a situation like that at some point in our lives. It may have happened when we were younger and still growing in our experience of life, or much more recently.
I wonder how it affected you. Can you look back on it with a sense that you coped well? Or have you been left with difficult feelings and emotions, perhaps regretting that you somehow failed to rise to the challenge? Whatever the situation for you or for me, it is important to remember that we are imperfect human beings who learn and grow in experience and confidence as we deal with challenging situations. It may not feel positive in any way at the time, but as we reflect later we can often identify things that have changed within us because we have been in and through difficult situations.
Now – before we go any further, please remember that if you are struggling just now with difficulty of any sort then you do not need to try and deal with it alone! Help is available, no matter the challenge, and the first step to getting that help is to tell someone you trust that you are struggling. That seems huge and scary when you are in a difficult place, but please, please – find a way to let someone know how you feel. You are not weak. You do not ‘deserve’ what is happening to you. And you do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed of your experiences or how you are trying to cope. Do one thing. Tell someone you trust.
Reminding you all of that is vital, for none of us know what any other person is dealing with in their own heart or mind. Yes, they may be the life and soul of the party, always first to get involved or offer help – but sometimes they are carrying deep wounds and scars. Perhaps the mask of ‘being sorted’ is simply one that they wear in an attempt to hide heartbreak or unending worry. But, importantly, you might be the person that someone reaches out to. So be kind. Be patient. Be willing to hear if they say they are struggling. And be attentive, so that you might recognise even the smallest and most hesitant attempt to tell you.
For many of us, this is a time when our mental and our physical health is under threat in ways that we have never known before. We are having to cope with anxiety and restrictions, risk and boredom, expectations and uncertainty, as well as the unfulfilled need to see and hear and touch people whom we love deeply. We have to deal with seeing and hearing of others who seem to flaunt the rules and do what they want – knowing that this could put us or our loved ones at risk of harm. We have to find ways of ensuring that each day contains ‘safe’ and ‘acceptable’ ways to keep ourselves occupied and active. None of this is easy.
But being able to ask for help sits right alongside caring for others, and each depends heavily on the other. If we don’t feel cared for then we are unlikely to trust anyone enough to tell them of our worries and struggles, yet if we don’t share our struggles then it is difficult for others to adequately care for us.
But what happens when the task of trusting others or sharing the struggle and caring feels so enormous that we feel inadequate? Not just like a fish out of water trying to fit in or do something outside of our comfort zone, but properly inadequate?
Well let’s focus on our reading and think about what Esther faced and how she dealt with it. She was living in a palace after having been raised by her uncle, Mordecai. The King had stripped his Queen of her position after she refused his drunken request to come and be paraded at a major banquet. The King wanted a new wife – to make him look good and powerful? – and Esther finds herself spending twelve months being subjected to all sorts of beauty treatments to make her fit enough to be presented to the King. I wonder what that did to her sense of self-worth?
Very quickly after being presented to the King Esther becomes the new ‘favourite wife’, but one who still has to observe the cultural expectations and mores of her time. That meant no uninvited access to her husband, and no freedom to be herself, her true self. For there was one real difficulty. Esther was one of the many Jews who had not returned to the Promised Land after exile in Babylon. “She had kept her family background and nationality a secret, just as Mordecai had told her to do.” (Esther 2:20)
Esther’s identity is crucial in all of this. She knows who she is even though she has been living a life that has involved keeping this hidden. Suddenly she was faced with a crisis. Mordecai learns of a plot to kill all Jews, and he realises Esther is in a position to prevent that from happening. Esther has to make a decision, knowing that decision would have enormous consequences for those at risk. She has to find courage and strength. She has to trust that she is following God’s will for his people. And to do that she needs to be courageous enough to trust God with her very life. She cannot remain detached or silent for as Mordecai pointed out she “had come to [her] royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). She boldly goes to the King and the plot is uncovered. And the Jews are saved from destruction.
It is impossible to know what that young woman coped with in her life and in the way that she responded to the very real crisis that came so suddenly and unexpectedly. Was she well prepared? No, if we think of things in human terms. But remember that God, even though he is never named in that book, was always present and active, working in unseen ways for the good of his people.
This week the Scottish Government revealed its Covid-19 Roadmap showing their planned response to the crisis. The roadmap lists the different activities that will be permitted in each phase as we make a slow transition from lockdown to Phase 4 and what many people refer to as the ‘new normal’. Reading it brings a fresh reminder of just how severely this crisis has affected people. It also points to the fact that there will be no easy way forward and no quick fix. We still do not know what the specific timescales will be – but we do know there will be people affected by this crisis even when we reach Phase 4. Real and deep need will be present for a long time to come – in our homes, our families, our workplaces, our places of leisure and in our communities. There will be people whose mental health is poor and made worse by this crisis. There will be people who lost jobs and have to live the stark realities that poverty brings. There will be people who are hurting badly because they have lost a loved one. And there will be those whose suffering began long before this crisis.
If any of them find the courage to say they are struggling – will we hear? Will we respond?
Will we wait for them to speak up, or will we look for opportunities to be in the right ‘position’ so that we can let them know we have been attentive to their suffering and need?
That is an important question to ask now, because this week also saw the Church of Scotland Assembly Trustees hosting a webinar to set out some of the challenges the Church faces as it tries to continue with reform and renewal programme that is so desperately needed. What became clear during the webinar was that the pandemic crisis has added to the urgency of that work. New ways of being church will need new ways of thinking and new responses. Just as Esther could not hear of the threat to God’s people and simply go back to the life she had come to know inside the palace, neither can we expect to bunker down until this crisis passes then head back into our buildings to do what we have aye done.
Our mental and physical health has been at risk. Our families, friends and communities have all been affected in ways that we might not even recognise at this stage. But as society makes its transition through each of the phases, we will face new challenges, new threats – but new opportunities too. Will we be able to grasp these and build on all that we have been as the church in these recent times? We’ve cared for each other and for those around us, sometimes in very simple ways. But each act of care and concern has pointed to God, who is Love. Perhaps we have not told our neighbours that in so many words, but as followers of Jesus that is our purpose and mission – to be a beacon of hope and light that points others to Jesus.
Esther found courage to do the thing that she knew God had given her the opportunity to do.
I wonder how much courage we will be able to muster as we think about the challenges, the opportunities and the realities of being the church in a world that has been radically changed.
Pease pray with me.
You are always present and at work in this world.
Teach us how to trust you fully,
so that we are in a good position to fulfil the tasks you entrust to us as the church.
Enable us to respond in faith to the needs around us.
Give us the courage to be bold,
and the wisdom to cherish you and your ways more than anything else, so that we are never hindered for answering your call,
in Jesus’ name,
Nothing we give to God is rejected.
Nothing we give to God is wasted.
Nothing we give to God is useless.
Today we have the opportunity
to remember and give thanks
for the generous provision God makes for us.
Today we have the opportunity
to ensure that we give back
a fitting proportion of our, time, talents and money for the Church’s work in the world.
Some of us made a promise to do that when we joined the Church.
Some of us made no such promise but do it because we choose to.
Every coin, note, cheque, standing order or other method of giving
is a response to God and a commitment to share the Good News.
Every use of our time and talents to reach others with love
Is a response to God and a commitment to share the Good News
Let’s ask God to bless all of that,
as we dedicate all that we offer and pray for others.
We thank you for your lovingkindness and your goodness towards.
We thank you for the gift of your Son who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
We thank you for all that sustains us and enables us to thrive, and all that enables us to become more and more Christlike in our living.
We give thanks, too, for the church, gracious God,
aware that she is not perfect in her ways or structures,
in our own denomination, or in any other.
But we are even more aware
that she is the Bride of Christ – loved perfectly,
and charged with sharing the Good News of Jesus.
Sometimes that means stepping beyond the places where we feel safe and comfortable.
Sometimes it means having the courage to speak up in difficult or dangerous situations.
Sometimes it means finding new ways to love and serve and bring comfort and hope.
As we pray today Lord, we know that we are your church,
not just part of the Church of Scotland,
but part of the universal, eternal church,
and we ask that you guide us
in our thinking, in our mission and in our action.
Enable us to recognise the changes we need to make
and the changes we need to accept
so that we might be well equipped for the work you entrust to us
Some of that work involves responding to those who suffer:
those who are bereaved, or ill;
those who are robbed of dignity by poverty;
those who feel excluded from society for many reasons.
Lord hear us as we cry out to you,
for justice, for compassion, and for change.
You know each and every person and situation,
so be gracious as we name them before you now.
Lord, today I specifically pray for…..
Lord, let our prayers for others transform us.
Let our prayers for other increase our understanding and our love for them.
Let our prayers for others cause righteous anger to rise up within us
and give us no peace until we respond to their needs, in your name.
Lord accept and bless all that we offer of ourselves, our time, our talents and our money.
Show us how to use it all in wise and helpful ways,
so that those we have just prayed for will be reached and touched by your Love.
Help us, Holy Spirit, as we pray and make our offerings,
to listen for your guidance about God’s priorities,
so that we learn how to keep those of our own from frustrating God’s work.
And as we pray for others, we do not forget those we love most dearly, and we do not forget ourselves either. Today, God:
I am thankful for…
Help me to…
Meet the needs of ….
Thank you that you hear and answer all of our prayers, t
hose we have shared together and those that are so very personal to us.
Enable us today to rest in you and to be restored by you.
Then lead us, Holy Spirit, into the world around us,
even in these days of restriction,
so that we might be beacons of light and hope
that tell the world of Jesus,
in whose name we pray,
We have been apart in very different physical spaces
as we arrive at this point in worship.
But, in gathering to worship
we have looked beyond ourselves and towards God.
Holy Spirit has prompted and shaped our response and our prayers –
and has united us as the people and church of God.
We are together!
For we are people of faith!
We are people of courage!
We are people at peace!
So be guided by faith as you seek Jesus in the coming week:
God is with you, and God is for you!
Be courageous as you serve others in the coming week:
God is with you, and God is for you!
Be at peace as you live with yourself in the coming week:
God is with you, and God is for you!
The blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy 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.
Many of you have been in touch with me to say how helpful it is for you to be able to worship in this way just now. Thank you for your encouragement and kind comments.
Some people have also asked for copies of ‘Sunday Worship’ to be emailed to them so that they can share it with others who do not have access to our church website.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to be added to the distribution list.
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