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Sunday Service, 13th September 2020

Welcome

A warm welcome to all who are tuning in to our service by Zoom. Thank you to all the techy people who have made this possible. Let’s hope all runs smoothly!

I am conducting worship this morning because Bob Gemmell has been admitted to hospital. I’m sure we all want to send Bob and Marion our best wishes.

Call to Worship – words from Psalm 47

God goes up to his throne. There are shouts of joy and the blasts of trumpets as the Lord goes up.
Sing praises to God; sing praise to our King!
God is king over all the world; praise him with songs!

 I invite you to sing along at home to:

Hymn 565 – My life flows on in endless song. Or listen here.

Prayer

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

Lord God, you are a God of risks and surprises. You have created an astonishing universe. Its beauty changes with the seasons and even day by day. You have entrusted us with the stewardship of your world and we acknowledge the great privilege and responsibility which is ours.

Lord God, you are a God of compassion. You are committed to the world you have created and you are committed to your people. You care for those who are vulnerable and those who are bowed down or broken. You look after the disadvantaged in our society. You care for those who have nobody else to care for them. We recognise that your care from them can only come through our hands.

Lord God, you are a God of justice and you want to see just treatment for all your people. It gives you pain when we treat others with less than your fairness and justice. It makes you joyful when we treat others as we would want them to treat us.

Lord, you are a forgiving God and we bring you now our prayer of confession.

Often we are not very good with people when they are in real need. Sometimes we fail to recognise that they are in need because we are too busy with our own concerns. Forgive us, we pray.

Other people’s sorrow and tears embarrass us even more than our own. Sometimes we shrink away from offering a word of comfort or letting people know they are not alone. Forgive us, we pray.

Sometimes we talk too much and don’t listen enough, while sometimes we don’t take the risk and speak a word of healing. Forgive us, we pray.

Lord, you are a forgiving God and we come to you now to confess our sins and express our sorrow for them. Thank you for the assurance that we are forgiven.

Help us to learn from our past mistakes and renew our commitment to living as you would have us live and love.

Hear us now as we pray further in the words Jesus taught his disciples:

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. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. For ever. Amen.

Scripture Reading

Acts 16: 1634 (NRSV)

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Reflection by Rev. Ann Inglis: Captivity and Release in Philippi

Those of you reading this can see the title I’ve given to this reflection, but, for the Kirk Session listening in to our Zooming rehearsal the title is “Captivity and Release in Philippi”. Bob had already chosen the passage from Acts Chapter 16 before being admitted to hospital and so I decided to stick with it. As a child I sometimes went to Church with my Granny and, if – or rather when – I got bored, I sometimes read a story from the Book of Acts. There are some good accounts in it and I recommend you read some of them.

I wonder what freedom means to you. We all value freedom of speech, unless we hear something outrageous and we may feel the speaker has no right to express those views. Most people would say that, in our modern, educated and inclusive world, it is never justified to make racist comments. But, what about sexist comments? What about homophobic comments? I suspect that the condemnation of those would not be quite so universal.

We value our freedom to practise our religion; our freedom to believe the things we do believe, but, while valuing that freedom for ourselves, we are sometimes dismissive of the views held by others. Ministers have traditionally had enormous freedom to proclaim their views from twenty feet above contradiction!

The passage we read today is about people in Philippi who were in bondage and people who were free. But which was which?

We are taken back in the passage to the planting of the first church on European soil. Followers of Jesus may have gone to Europe before as individuals, but Paul and Silas brought the Gospel to Europe and established a worshipping congregation. Their aim as they set out was to “preach the word”. I suppose in modern terminology that might have been called their mission statement.

If we go back a few verses before the passage we read we find Paul and Silas encountering Lydia after they arrived in Philippi. She was a rich business woman and she worshipped God. God opened her heart to the gospel and, after she and her household were baptised, she invited Paul and Silas into her home. It’s an interesting story – firstly, because Lydia is a woman, but, remember, this is Luke writing and women feature more prominently in his Gospel than in the others, and, secondly, because it is made clear that her conversion comes about because God opened her mind and not because of any eloquence on Paul’s part. Imagine being a dealer in purple cloth – seems a rather specialist kind of trade to me.

The next incident of note in the team’s ministry in Philippi centres round an abused slave girl. She accosted Paul and Silas on their way to the place of prayer. She could tell people’s fortunes and she made money for her owners by doing so. She was therefore a valuable asset: as a slave she was a piece of property. We are told she was possessed of a demon. I think in the modern world we would call her “mentally unbalanced”. It is hard to imagine what a miserable life she must have endured at the hands of her unscrupulous owners. This is a woman in bondage both as a slave and as a result of her mental illness. For many days she harangued Paul and his followers. The text makes it sound as if he healed her because he was worn out by her. She is freed from her demon but her owners are not pleased. They are pretty annoyed because their concern is with their lack of income rather than with the girl’s freedom. During the current pandemic our political leaders have the hard and unenviable task of balancing the health of the nation over against the wealth of the nation. This poor woman’s owners didn’t even try, and they blamed Paul and Silas for their loss of potential income and brought them before the Roman officials in the public square and, as we read, they were beaten, thrown into jail and chained to blocks of wood to make doubly sure they would not be able to escape.

I would imagine that they would have been in considerable pain after their beating but we find them having an impromptu worship service. Suddenly an earthquake hit the city and the prison doors were opened and the prisoners’ chains were loosened. The jailer was terrified. He was going to be in serious trouble for letting the prisoners escape. He was on the point of committing suicide. So – imagine his surprise when Paul called out to stop him and tell him that the prisoners were still there. The jailer asked what he must do to be saved. He might have been talking about his soul but, at that precise moment, I think it is more likely that he was talking about saving his skin!

Paul and Silas receive treatment for their wounds from the jailer, as well as a meal and he and all his family were baptised. The next morning they were told that the authorities said they could be released. In the Good News version Paul says “Not likely!” His case is that they had done nothing wrong yet they were beaten and thrown into prison. He plays his trump card, namely that he is a Roman citizen and, back in those days that was the best card of all to have up your sleeve. That gave the authorities pause for thought – in fact, they were afraid, and Paul and Silas received a fulsome apology. On their release they returned to Lydia’s house.

I asked you at the beginning to think about what freedom means to you. In the passage we have been looking at the people who seemed to have their freedom were the owners of the slave girl, the authorities who threw Paul and Silas into prison and the jailer himself. And yet the owners of the girl were enslaved to their ambitions for economic success at her expense, the authorities were afraid of the repercussions which would surely come on them for imprisoning a Roman citizen. They were under the power of the mighty Roman Empire and that power was wide-reaching and absolute. The jailer was clearly terrified of putting a foot wrong because the punishment was so severe that he preferred to kill himself. That’s not freedom! And yet, the slave girl and Paul and Silas – and eventually the jailer too – were free because they had been released to live their lives under God’s power and love and not the power of the law of Rome.

In John’s Gospel Jesus said: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

No doubt there were other incidents during Paul and Silas’ visit to Philippi. Paul only records what he saw as the highlights. A Church was born and Paul moved on. But he had formed relationships as is clear in the letter he wrote later to the Philippians.

I find it amazing how far Paul travelled to form these new Churches. He must have been one of the furthest-travelled men of his time. He and his companions achieved what they did achieve for a number of reasons. Here are three:

They had a clear focus of what they wanted to do – to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

They were always open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

They worked together with great dedication.

It seems to me these are the hallmarks of any church or Christian fellowship. Much has changed down the centuries but I would suggest that preaching the Gospel, being open to the Holy Spirit and working together are every bit as important in the 21st century as they have ever been.

And how important they are for you as a congregation as you begin the search for a new minister and anticipate a new ministry. That person will NOT be able to do everything.

I am sure you will have heard the following words before, but they are well worth repeating. They come from the late Very Rev. Lord George MacLeod of Fuinary.

There is a very old legend, and all legends that persist speak truth, concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven after his Ascension. It is said that the angel Gabriel met him at the gates of the city.

“Lord, this is a great salvation that thou hast wrought,” said the angel. But the Lord Jesus only said “Yes.”

“What plans hast thou made for carrying on the work? How are all to know what thou hast done?” asked Gabriel.

I left Peter and James and John and Martha and Mary to tell their friends, their friends to tell their friends, till all the world should know.”

“But Lord Jesus,” said Gabriel, “suppose Peter is too busy with the nets, or Martha with the housework, or the friends they tell are too occupied, and forget to tell their friends – what then?”

The Lord Jesus did not answer at once; then he said in his quiet wonderful voice: “I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.”

He is counting on me, and he is counting on you.

Amen.

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

Lord, we pray for Wardie Church and for all connected with our congregation.

Be with us as we work through processes to open the building again.

Guide us with wisdom and diligence as we strive to keep people safe but also long to meet together in person again.

Help us all to know how best to play our part in church life even when it looks so different.

At all times keep us encouraged in the hope we have in you, our Father.

We pray for those who are feeling the pain of loss and bereavement.

Bring your comforting presence close to each one.

Be with all who feel lonely or afraid.

Lord, we bring to you not only those sick with coronavirus, but especially today those whose health it is affecting indirectly.

Reach out to those waiting for operations or surgical procedures, many enduring pain, stress, difficulty in day-to-day living.

Reach out to those facing postponement of consultations, especially where these are for potentially serious illness – and for pressures on health service providers pushing back appointment times.

Lord we pray for our own community, for the area we live in, for our street, for our neighbours.

While we can’t be church all in one place, help each of us to be your church in all the different places that we live.

We ask that you would give us opportunities to share your love with those around us.
Give us meaningful conversations, the chance to simply ask a neighbour ‘How are you?’
and then give us the grace to really listen and show your care for each person made in your image.

Help us each to live out what we have heard in your word today. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen

Hymn 512 – To God be the Glory. Listen here.

The Blessing

Go, unbound by the chains which sometimes imprison us.
Go, bound to one another in love.
Go forward in faith and dedication.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest and abide with you this day and forever.
Amen.