Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell
Welcome to Wardie Parish Church. Welcome to those who have joined us here within the Sanctuary – and welcome to those who have joined our service through Zoom. Our thanks once again to those who have made our worship possible this morning, the technical people behind the scenes. As Ann said last Sunday, those of us upfront have the easier task – it is those behind the scenes who make it all possible.
Next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday and within our worship we will include our own act of remembrance and thanksgiving.
Call to worship
For our call to worship this morning I invite you to turn to words found in Psalm 98:
Sing a new song to the Lord; he has done wonderful things.
Sing for joy to the Lord all the earth; praise him with songs and shouts of joy.
Sing praises to the Lord. Play music on the harps, blow trumpets and horns. And shout for joy to the Lord our king.
Encouraged by the Lord, exhorted by the Psalmist but under the present restrictions only, those of you worshipping in your own homes can verbally respond by singing aloud the words of our opening hymn, Hymn 173, Michael Baughen’s: “Sing to God New Songs of Worship”. As far as those of us in church are concerned – our worship may be silent, but it can be just as meaningful.
Hymn 173 – Sing to God New Songs of Worship (Tune: Ode to Joy)
Part of our opening prayer this morning has been taken and adapted from the Baptist Union of Great Britain publication – Gathering for worship.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession, and let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Forgive us, Lord, when we are rooted to the earth, unable to see beyond our present troubles, blind to the glory of your presence. At times we become so engrossed in all that is happening around us in these difficult days that we forget all that you yet have in store for us.
We are so concerned with what is immediate that we neglect the things that are eternal.
Lift up our heads that we see Christ in all his glory and in doing so begin to see things in their true perspective. Forgive us, Lord.
Risen and ascended Lord, we would have lingered on the Mount of Transfiguration, clung to you in the Easter Garden, been saddened by your Emmaus departure, and begged the Ascension skies never to close. But you have taught us deeper truth: you are not absent, even in departure.
We give thanks that mountain-top experiences lie waiting in the valley; that you are as near to us in the busy streets as in the quiet garden, that you are the guest at every meal, and heaven has come down to earth – as one day earth may be as heaven.
Risen and ascended Lord, travel with us.
Almighty God, you raised the Lord Jesus Christ to your right hand on high. As we rejoice in his exaltation, fill us with his Spirit, that we may go into all the world and faithfully proclaim the Gospel.
Eternal God, in every age you have called men and women to serve you and in serving to reflect your truth and glory. We thank you for all the saints of history and heaven, and for those whom we have met and loved, whose lives won people for Christ. As they enjoy the company of heaven, inspire us by their example as we follow in their footsteps of service and ministry.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Hear us now as we pray the words that our Lord taught his disciples –
Our Father who 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, forever. Amen.
Children’s talk by Mo Brand
(Raising a glass of water) How heavy do you think this glass of water feels?
You may know the volume in an average glass and how many millilitres are likely to be in here. I’d be very surprised, but you may even know the exact weight of this type of glass tumbler and can add the two together, but I’m not actually looking for its exact weight. I was asking how heavy it feels, and the answer to that is:
‘It depends on how long you hold it!’
Picking it up it doesn’t feel heavy at all, but if I held it for a minute my arm might start to get a bit tired; if I had to carry it home, like this (held in one arm) I don’t think I could make it, and if I couldn’t even make it home then I’m certain my arm would be extremely sore or that I would definitely fail if I had to hold it for a day.
It is the exact same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.
Today’s Bible passage talks about burdens which are a lot like weight. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later we will not be able to carry on, the burden becoming increasingly heavier, too heavy to hold.
But I don’t think we often use the word ‘burden’, so I asked Kidz@Wardie to help and they thought we could think about burdens as troubles – they even gave examples of troubles, some big and some small, that children may face such as homework, war, friends (and falling out with friends) and the environment.
So there are lots of things that might be a burden for us – a hurt you need to forgive, personal failure, worries, responsibilities, doubts, struggles, hopes and dreams, mistakes, our self-worth. Burdens are those things that tire us out and that cause us to worry.
Jesus says if we come to him he will give us rest – it doesn’t say that he will make it lighter but to be able to put the glass down, put our burdens down for a while, is often enough to be able to pick them back up and carry on, or with some of our burdens realise that we don’t have to pick them back up at all.
Jesus goes on to say that we can learn from him and that his burden is light. I don’t think that would be because he didn’t have anything to worry about, but rather he trusted God and knew that he could take his worries to him and rest.
Old Testament lesson: Psalm 121 (NRSV)
I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.
Gospel lesson: Matthew 11: 25–30 (NRSV)
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell. Songs for Life: A Psalm for all Seasons
When it comes to any discussion surrounding the psalms I am sure that we all have our favourites, poems we turn to at different times and within various situations.
For some of us, it is perhaps the best known of all the psalms – the 23rd Psalm. It presents us with a picture of the Shepherd – who leads us to rest in fields of green grass; who leads us to pools of quiet water; who fills our lives to the brim; whose goodness and love continue to be with us every day of our lives whether our days are lived beside those still waters or within the darkest of valleys.
For others, perhaps, it is Psalm 46 that they turn to. It reminds us that God is our refuge and our strength, present with us in the midst of trouble, even disaster. “The Lord almighty is with us – the God of Jacob is our strength.”
For some of us, perhaps our favourite psalm is 137 – even Boney M’s version of it – by the rivers of Babylon.
Over the next four Sundays I suggest that we turn our attention to some of these Songs for Life. This morning I want to look briefly at a couple of psalms. First of all, one of my favourites, Psalm 121, and secondly, by way of contrast, Psalm 22.
I look to the mountains, where will my help come from? My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Every time I read this psalm – or sing the metrical version of it – or Timothy Dudley Smith’s paraphrase of it – “I lift my eyes to the quiet hills”– I conjure up in my mind not the hills of Judea or Galilee but the hills and mountains which surround us here in Scotland – the rolling hills of the Borders – the majestic splendour of Buachaille Etive Mòr – the rugged form of the Torridon range. I look to the hills – where will my help come from? – not from the nature of the hills themselves – but from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
My first church was the wee Baptist Church in High Blantyre. And our psalm was one that was read to Blantyre’s most famous son – read by his father on the eve of departure of David Livingstone for his lifelong work and ministry in Africa – words of encouragement for him in the years that lay ahead.
I am certain that many of us have found the words of this psalm to be both inspirational and a means of encouragement – at different times and within a variety of circumstances within our lives.
Let the thoughts of the psalmist speak for themselves – I look to the mountains – where will my help come from? My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let you fall, your protector is always awake. The protector of Israel never dozes or sleeps. The Lord will guard you, he is by your side to protect you. The sun will not hurt you during the day nor the moon during the night, the Lord will protect you from all danger, he will keep you safe. He will protect as you come and go, now and forever.
The Psalmist presents a picture of God as one alongside us, as one who protects day by day whether we are living on the mountain top, in the valley or more likely somewhere in between.
What a contrast when we come to the opening verses of the second of our psalms this morning. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? We are transformed in a moment of time – from the joy and the glory of that mountain top to a valley of pain and abandonment.
These were, of course, the words spoken by Jesus from the cross in the midst of the sheer physical pain and agony he suffered – the realisation of being abandoned by his Father.
What I would like do this morning – rather than thinking about the prophetic nature of the content of this Psalm – is to try and picture something of the plight of the author as he penned these particular words. For some reason he felt deserted, abandoned, forsaken by God.
His cry for help, for divine intervention, seemed to be going unnoticed. He was finding that he was unable to sleep. There was a lack of peace within his life; his was a life being lived on the dark side. There was no sense of light appearing for him at the end of the tunnel.
Suddenly, however, in the midst of the darkness the author recalls something of the nation’s testimony – our ancestors put their trust in you – they trusted you and you saved them. They called to you and they escaped from danger. They trusted you and they were not disappointed.
You can almost hear the Psalmist saying to God: “That may very well be true – but it certainly isn’t my experience today. NO. In fact, I feel that I am no longer a man. I am a worm, despised and scorned by everyone. Folks jeer at me; they verbally abuse me, they shake their heads in pity; they remind of things that I have said in the past, positive things that I have said concerning my relationship with you, and now they are throwing it all back in my face. Lord what has gone wrong?”
But from the depths of his despair, from the darkness of his valley, the Psalmist begins to see a speck of light in front of him. He recalls how the Lord had blessed him in past days – as a baby, you kept me safe. I have relied on you from the day I was born – you have always been my God.
But I need your help NOW – I am in a dangerous position. My strength has gone – gone like the water spilt on the dry and arid ground. All my bones are out of joint – my heart is melted like wax – my throat is as dry as dust and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have left me for dead. Lord, WHY have you abandoned me?
You have helped me in the past – HELP ME NOW. You can almost hear him say, “I have known your presence – your help – your guidance in the past. You have been at the very centre of my life, central in my living – in my thinking, in my decision making. I acknowledge what you have done in the past. Lord, do it again.”
Slowly, the Psalmist’s cry of anguish is transformed into a song of praise – a song recorded in verses 22–31 of the Psalm – and that song of praise? I will testify to your goodness in the assembly of God’s people – and there we will praise and honour and worship him. We will again recognise and acknowledge his care for the poor – for their suffering. And I will offer sacrifices. The sovereignty of God will be recognised. The LORD IS KING – he rules the nation. We will bow down to him and before him. People not yet born will be told that the Lord saved his people.
The cry of anguish – “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” was replaced by a song of praise and worship.
The Psalmist doesn’t share with us the details of how this turnaround took place – how the despair of the valley, the anguish, the feeling of having been abandoned by God was replaced by the glory of a spiritual transformation.
While I am sure that most of us – to a greater or lesser degree – can identify with the feelings of despair and abandonment expressed by the Psalmist, we would nevertheless express our feelings in very different language than that of the author. I would suggest, however, that most of us have, on occasions, found ourselves walking on that darker side of life. For some the experience has come through the tragic death of someone close to us; for others it has come through the act of a friend’s betrayal or through the sense of loss – loss of a job; loss of our reputation or our dignity, or of respect.
We all find different prompts to express our innermost feelings. One such source that I have found helpful in the past has been the words of Cowper’s great hymn – “O for a closer walk with God”. For some, the author’s language may present a stumbling-block, but, if we allow ourselves to get beyond his linguistic style, I am sure we can join him on his spiritual journey. In the opening three verses of the hymn the author describes his own walk ‘on the darker side of life’, but in the remaining verses refers to his spiritual renewal.
Oh for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road, that leads me to the Lamb.
Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and his word?
What peaceful years I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still
But they have left and aching void the world can never fill.
Return, O Holy Dove return, sweet messenger of rest
I hate the sins that made thee mourn and drove thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from thy throne and worship only thee
So shall my walk be close with God, calm and serene my frame
So purer light shall mark the road, that leads me to the Lamb.
Two contrasting Psalms but sharing a common denominator – the Lord present in the midst of his people.
Prayers of Intercession by Les Purdie
Let us Pray.
Dear Father God, we come to You in the middle of a time of trial. We have been a lucky generation, in that for many of us this is something new. Please give us the strength to face this in the same way as our predecessors faced their trials of war, disease and plague.
We now know we need You (even those of us who are cocky enough to feel competent to get by on our own strength in normal times).
There is a huge unfairness in Covid: many with little to lose are making the biggest sacrifices. This is to protect those with most to lose for whom the sacrifices are less costly. Please help those being protected to remember this and be appropriately thankful.
Please be with our leaders, helping them to act wisely even though the issues are far from clear and difficult balances have to be weighed. Please give us the grace to accept that they too are in a volatile situation which none of them have experienced before. Mistakes will be made. It is vital that decisions are based on the best estimate of what is necessary and not on what gains short term popularity. Help us all to ignore the strident calls for extreme simplistic solutions usually benefiting the “us” at the expense of “them”.
In all of this we should remember the selfless dedication of frontline medical workers who stuck to their tasks facing huge workloads often with inadequate protection.
Sadly, people continue to die, some from Covid, some from the indirect effects of Covid and some where Covid was not at all involved. Please be with those who grieve, many of whom have been denied the comfort of a traditional funeral service. We all grieve for those we knew. Please keep their memories clear in our minds.
Wardie Church, too, is facing challenges. Please be with those who are working hard to keep the show on the road. In particular we ask for your guidance on our Vacancy Committee. Please lead them to a wise choice for our new minister. In the meantime, please restrain the rest of us from pestering them for information they are not allowed to give.
Inn these dark times we ask you for the vision to raise our eyes to take a “long view” to the hills and look to you for our help and salvation.
We ask all of these requests in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
Hymn – I Lift My Eyes to the Quiet Hills
Among the presents I received for my 80th birthday was a beautifully hand-stitched blessing from Iona, a gift from our Interim Moderator. Let me share it with you.
Holy Spirit of God brooding over Iona’s wild restless waters;
Laughing with the wind’s fury or gentle touch – rising with the sun and settling with the stars – be present here among us.
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 always. Amen.