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Sunday Service, 17th January 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

This Sunday sees the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is good that the Church sets aside this week enabling us to reflect on this important part of our work and ministry.

Call to worship

Lord God you love all people as your children. We are here, different people, from different homes and different backgrounds, but united in faith. We join with our brothers and sisters around the world, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal, in worship to the glory of your name.

Hymn 511 – Your hand, O God, has guided. Listen here.

Prayer

God of hope, you have given us the rainbow as a symbol of your faithfulness; in its colours you have shown us the variety of human life and your call to unity.

Its span between heaven and earth reminds us that our hopes for the future are founded on your grace; that you have turned your face from judgement to redemption and have called us to be peacemakers.

We pray for people whose humanity is denied by others, for those persecuted or imprisoned because of their religion or their politics; for those who try to oppress and manipulate others and in so doing lose sight of their own humanity; we pray for those who work for peace and justice, whatever the cost.

Eternal God, you have made us one people, your Christian people on earth.
As we pray together, help us to grow in our relationship with you and with each other;
As we worship together, give us a vision of what your love can do beyond our wildest dreams;
As we share the good news together, make our unity a witness to the reconciling power of your love;
As we feed the hungry together, free the Church’s resources from selfish use, to meet the needs that surround us;
As we care for the suffering together, may the gentle touch which unites our action bring healing to broken lives;
As we work for justice and peace together, help us to find strength through our faith to resist evil.

Help us to do your will and to receive your gift of unity so that your Kingdom may come in our lives and in the life of the world.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in 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.

Children’s talk by Mo Brand

I wonder if you know what day tomorrow is known as? It has become known as Blue Monday.

It supposedly marks the most depressing day in the year! The third Monday in January combines a low mood following Christmas, ongoing dark cold nights, the awaiting of pay day and bills after the Christmas spend, the time when decorations are truly gone and time spent with family seems long lost as the everyday challenges of school and work take over.

Now in case you didn’t know about blue Monday or even if you did and are now feeling a little bit sad that I’ve reminded you of all those things, I should also point out that it’s supposedly named by a travel company to encourage some mid-January holidays, telling people that getting away would be much better than staying home for this time of year.

As a church, however, maybe ‘blue Monday’ should be marked – if it’s a time when people are feeling that the joy of Christmas is far behind them and a time when they’re getting bogged down with everyday life, maybe it’s a time when we as Christians should be proud of all the cliché statements that ‘Jesus isn’t just for Christmas’, ‘don’t leave the baby in the manger’, ‘Jesus is the reason for ALL of the seasons’. There are plenty more, and although they’re not the kind of statement I would normally say, I actually think they’re somewhat relevant.

Wardie, like many churches, showed itself to be active and visible over Christmas with its living advent trail and many homes proud to display Bible verses and part of the nativity story with anyone who might be passing. So for blue Monday, January blues, winter blues or just a tough start to 2021, maybe we should be active in carrying some of the joy of our faith to other people. I like to leave my talks with a challenge because faith and action go together, because Christianity is about much more than one hour on a Sunday, so here is the challenge – bring some Christmas joy into January.

Send a card with a Bible verse to someone, look up some of your favourite inspiring verses and maybe even write one where you will see it, send a gift – some flowers to brighten someone’s home or something to support a charity – be thankful for the weather, pray a quick thank you for the beauty of snow or frost or rain or darkness (saying thank you changes the way we feel about these things).

Scripture readings

Isaiah 2:2–6 (NIV)

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord

You, Lord, have abandoned your people,
the descendants of Jacob.
They are full of superstitions from the East;
they practice divination like the Philistines
and embrace pagan customs.

Matthew 3:1–17

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The baptism of Jesus

The baptism of Jesus was a significant event within our Lord’s life and ministry, something that is recorded in all four Gospels, in detail in the Synoptic Gospels and inferred in John’s Gospel. This was the moment he had been quietly waiting for in the relative obscurity of his Nazareth home. A buzz of excitement was around; the unthinkable was taking place; Jews, possibly in their hundreds, were taking the unprecedented step of following John into the waters of the Jordan river, confessing national and personal sins and calling on God to forgive them and make them fit for his kingdom. Not since the days of Ezra, and perhaps not even then, had there been such a national turning towards God. Yes, the time was right, his moment had come and Jesus came forward to join others in the river.

First of all, a word about John the Baptist. Like Elijah of old, he swept on to the stage with his call to repentance. “But who are you, John?” Perhaps if he had been asked that question he would have replied: “Simply a voice”. With striking humility, he sees himself as the voice through whom God was addressing the nation. He takes no credit for his ministry. He is simply his master’s voice. Quite an example to those of us who preach.

I well remember an occasion when I was asked to take a service in Hamilton Baptist Church. The first thing I noticed when I entered the pulpit was a small permanent plaque that simply said: “Sir [or these days – Sir or Madam] we would see Jesus”.

But what about John’s message? Religious observance and religious pedigree are, of themselves, not sufficient in God’s eyes. The Pharisees and the Sadducees had that and to spare. Orthodoxy is not enough. To be of Abraham’s seed is not enough. If there is no heartfelt repentance there will be no spiritual life for you in the kingdom of the Messiah.

It’s a message that I would suggest is not out of place in the contemporary church, where at times we are prone to regard churchgoing, even baptism, as some kind of silver bullet in our quest for spirituality whether or not our action is accompanied with any sign of growth in keeping with repentance.

But back to our Lord’s baptism. There has always been a cluster of problems surrounding this act of Jesus. For a few moments this morning let’s try and shed some light on some of them.

First of all, why was it necessary for Jesus to be baptised?

To any thinking person the baptism presents a problem. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, it was meant for those who were sorry for their sins and were determined to make a new start in life. What had such a baptism to do with Jesus when the general consensus within the church is that Jesus was sinless? I believe that for Jesus his baptism could have meant a number of things.

It was for our Lord a pivotal moment in his life. As I said earlier, for some thirty years he had remained in almost total obscurity in Nazareth, waiting for his moment, looking for a sign. I would imagine that for him, the emergence of John the Baptist was that sign.

We all, on different occasions in life, find ourselves standing at a crossroads, our future depending on what particular road we decide to travel. We find ourselves having to face and respond to important, perhaps at times life-changing, situations. As Shakespeare described it, “There is a tide in the affairs of men [and women] which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and in miseries”.

Jesus knew when John emerged that his moment had come; his summons and challenge from the Father had arrived.

I believe that John’s movement was one with which Jesus wanted to identify. While it may very well be that Jesus did not need to repent from sin, nevertheless here was a movement of the people back to God and he was determined to identify himself with the message being proclaimed by John.

It could also be said that for Jesus his baptism was the moment of his Father’s approval. Nobody makes the decision to leave home and set out into the unknown lightly. Jesus had decided his course of action and now he was seeking the seal of approval from his Father, a word that was forthcoming as he rose out of the waters: “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.”

An interesting aside here is the fact that while Mark and Luke have God addressing Jesus after his baptism, Matthew has him speaking about Jesus.

For Jesus, his baptism could be described as the ordination ceremony as he began his ministry. We read: “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and alighting on him.”

But did Jesus not already possess the Holy Spirit? Matthew certainly declared that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was indeed the Son of God. Our Lord’s baptism could be described as the public declaration of it. Jesus was human as well as divine, and here at this moment of self-humbling and obedience he receives the assurance that he is indeed the Son of God and has been equipped by the Holy Spirit to bring in the kingdom.

The rabbis had expected a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, something that would usher in the Messianic age. That moment had arrived. While much of what happened at the time of our Lord’s baptism is shrouded in mystery, nevertheless it is clear that he was now equipped and prepared, ready to set out in his ministry.

But what was the significance of the Father’s message to the people as Jesus rose from baptism? It was a voice that had not been heard for centuries. Now the heavens were no longer silent. The rabbis believed that when Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last of the prophets, died, the Holy Spirit vanished from Israel. There had been no direct word from the Lord in the interim period, just silence, but now that silence was broken: “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.”

What an amazing intervention, after those centuries of silence. But not only was the intervention significant, the words spoken were astonishing.

Some Biblical commentators suggest that within God’s message we find the coming together of two OT texts. Psalm 2:7: “I will announce” says the king “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son, today I have become your father’”. And Isaiah 42:1: “The Lord says ‘Here is my servant whom I have strengthened, the one I have chosen, with whom I am well pleased. I have filled him with my Spirit and he will bring justice to every nation’”.

There had been this great expectation and hope in Israel that God would one day bring into the world a messianic son, a ruler, worthy to inherit David’s throne. The voice from heaven announced that the long-awaited, ultimate messianic ruler had come.

The descent of the Spirit not only marked our Lord out for ministry but also equipped him for the task. It was, for our Lord, the crossing of a threshold, emerging from the relative obscurity of Nazareth out into the limelight, from the shadows to centre stage, the beginning of his three years of ministry.

While we could never totally identify with all that surrounds our Lord’s baptism, nevertheless, we too, find ourselves standing at various crossroads in life with important and life-changing decisions to make, occasions when we are called to identify ourselves with our Lord, with what is right, with justice, with the poor, with the hungry. In those decision-making moments, while aware of the Lord’s challenge to us, we could do worse than remind ourselves of those poignant words of Shakespeare: “There is a tide in the affairs of men [and women], which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and in miseries”.

And the shallows is no place for us as Christians. Rather let us launch out into the depths, assured of our Lord’s presence and guidance every step of the way.

Intercessory Prayer by Fiona Lane

The last time I led the prayers was in March on the last Sunday we were all together in Church. Today we are spread out, but I hope we all still feel a sense of being together in our worship. I hope also that it will not be too long before we can all be back together in person again.

Let us pray…

Generous God
From our hearts we thank You
for friends and for family
for Wardie Church and our community
for Your Church in the world, and for the Church in Scotland
and for this amazing world in which we live.

We say thank You for the many ways You touch our lives. For laughter, for conversation, for birdsong and frosty mornings, for the people and places in our communities that are important to us.

We say thank You for times of silence and space to just be, for company and chance encounters, for simple things and special moments. Thank You that You are with us in the highs and lows of life, when we are busy and when we are still, when we are content and when we are anxious…

When we believe with all our hearts, and when we are barely hanging on by our fingertips to our faith, You create and recreate and knit us together again.

Reconciling God, we pray for Your world. May all that is divided by doctrine or politics, class or nationality, be united in Your praise. This week in particular, we pray for the people of America – for a peaceful transition of power and for the start of the healing process.

We pray for a peaceful world, where children grow up without fear, where security is based on trust rather than threats, and where nations fight against poverty and prejudice rather than against each other.

We pray for all in authority, for our politicians and senior managers, that those who lead us may establish the right priorities, and that by Your wisdom and their vision the world may reflect Your kingdom. Help them deal with the enormous challenges placed on them by the pandemic, so that they can make the best decisions for us all.

Healing God, we pray for those who are ill and suffering, for all who are worried, for those who are grieving or experiencing pain or trauma and for a world gripped by Covid. We pray for all those administering vaccines and looking after the sick. Give them strength and look after them in their work.

We pray for all the children who are not in school, missing the guidance of caring teachers, friendship and hot meals. In particular, we ask you to watch over the most vulnerable; may they be kept safe from harm and neglect.

We give thanks for Ann, Bob and Mo as we continue in our search for a new minister; for Heather and Paul and all those who are working hard to keep Wardie going in the meantime. Lord, we pray that you guide the Nominating Committee in our work to find the person best suited to Wardie as our new minister.

May we all know the power of Christ to sustain us and the love of friends near and far to support us. You know our greatest fears, our longings and our hopes – these are expressed in so many different ways, so Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hymn 577 – Christ be beside me

Blessing

May the mystery of God beckon you;
may the wisdom of God direct you;
may the forgiveness of God heal you;
may the energy of God send you out into the world
to exercise justice and love and be a blessing to others.
And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Rest and remain with you and with all whom you love, now and forever.