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Sunday Service, 20th June 2021

Led by Rev. Suzie Stark

Words of welcome

Hymn 468 – Son of God, eternal Saviour

Prayers of Approach and Confession and Lord’s Prayer

Heavenly Father, by your grace you have created the universe and all that it contains.
Jesus Christ, through your redeeming love we are restored and healed.
Holy Spirit, by your power we are sustained, strengthened and guided on our journey.

Lord Christ,
We come before you now aware of our sinfulness,
We know that in so many ways we fail you.
And so we ask for your forgiveness.
Forgive us when we ignore the promptings of your Spirit,
when we fail to look for signs of your forgiveness in others.
Forgive us when we forget how you became vulnerable for us,
forgive us when we are swift to judge others and slow to see our own failings,
forgive us when our words wound and our actions cause pain.
In our broken-ness and need we stand before you now.

Almighty God,
have mercy upon us,
pardon and deliver us from all our sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in life eternal,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass human understanding.
Pour into our hearts such love towards you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord in whose words we now pray together, saying:

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,
and the power,
and the glory,
forever.
Amen.

Children’s address by Mo Brand

It is Father’s Day today, and that means we often think of our dads, grandads, uncles and other male role models in our lives or even in general; the people that take care of us and love us. One of the popular images that I’ve seen leading up to today is of a dad throwing a smiling child up in the air, arms outstretched and ready to catch – what an image of trust.

I obviously can’t speak about being a father but one of the many interesting things I find about young children is just how much they trust that you have their backs. My little one on multiple occasions throws himself backwards just assuming that: 1. I know what he’s doing and 2. I will catch him – I think it’s simply been shocked reflexes that have managed to catch him so far.

Isn’t it interesting that even as we get older we tend to still be more brave when we are with someone we trust. It could be that they encourage you to try something new, go on an adventure or even get through a difficult situation.

In today’s gospel story we are reminded just how good it is to call on Jesus when we feel afraid and how much calmer things are with him around. It’s quite a dramatic story which shows Jesus to have authority over the sea – I sometimes think that it would be amazing to pray to Jesus and the storms of life to instantly disappear but it doesn’t always work like that. What is great, though, is that the story reminds us of how powerful God is and of a message that occurs lots in the Bible where God says “I am with you”.

So maybe our prayers won’t be answered by all our problems instantly disappearing, but we can certainly feel more calm, more strong and more brave when we trust that God has our backs.

Let us hear our readings for today.

Scripture readings (NRSV)

2 Corinthians 6:113

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

Mark 4:3541

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

Hymn 57 (Ps 93) – The Lord doth reign

Sermon by Rev. Suzie Stark

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

To live in fear, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, must be one of the most awful burdens a person can bear. To be unable to have a night’s sleep, because you can never really switch off, to be living with a heightened sense of being on high-alert – all the time … how many of us have experienced anything like that? I have no doubt that for some this will ring true, on a personal or a corporate level: anyone who has been involved in war or conflict is likely to be able to identify with that, those who have lived through personal or family trauma, those who have endured a flight through a thunderstorm or who have been at sea during a violent story will know what it is to be truly afraid. For most of us, episodes of fearfulness do often, thankfully, pass, but oft time we are left living with the consequences if our particular fears have been realised.

This Sunday is the day on which the church is asked to remember refugees, to consider their plight, to pray and to take action. To consider those whose greatest fears have been realised as they have had to flee home, perhaps leaving behind family, as they have had to leave behind a means of earning a livelihood. Sadly, too, we are aware of the many who never make it to the place of refuge, families who perish on the journey, taking unmentionable risks to flee unendurable hardship. The name given to this particular Sunday is Sanctuary Sunday or Refugee Sunday.

While preparing this service I read, on the Church of Scotland website, some words written by the Reverend Raheel Arif.  Reverend Raheel came to Scotland seeking refuge from persecution.  A Pakistani Christian, he knew first-hand the hardships endured and he writes thus:

“…of the challenges I and many other Christians face daily in Pakistan and many other non-Christian countries throughout the world. Children at schools and colleges, adults in universities, in workplaces and in the community suffer discrimination, persecution and misuse of blasphemy laws.

I have personally experienced and lived the hardships and agony which many Christians in Pakistan suffer every day in various forms of persecution.”

Raheel came to Scotland and he talks of his experience as a three-step process, seeking asylum – a process which he describes as challenging and horrible – becoming a refugee, seeking a place of refuge, in his case Scotland, and then finding sanctuary; his place of sanctuary was the church where he explored and fulfilled his calling to be a minister.

Often when we are afraid, or challenged, we can turn away from God, or blame him for not knowing, not seeing or not caring.

In both the readings that Heather has brought us this morning we see human nature in action. In the Gospel reading the disciples, among them wise and experienced fishermen, find themselves caught up in a terrific squall on the Sea of Galilee. For whatever reason it takes them by surprise, blowing in suddenly and with great force. They seem taken off guard and start shouting at Jesus, accusing him of not caring about them being in mortal danger.  Jesus, awakened by the shouting, addresses the wind and waves and the storm subsides.  Once calm is restored, literally and metaphorically, Jesus challenges the disciples for their lack of faith and they, in turn, are amazed at his power, the power of God at work in their lives.

The reading from 2 Corinthians could have been written this century; the problems that looked to engulf the young church are the problems that still face Christians today. Not necessarily the life-threatening issues that faced Raheel and others like him in Pakistan, but rather the less obvious, the insidious threat to people of faith in these so-called secular days.

It seems that nothing much changes. Those of you who have read Ecclesiastes in its entirety can sense a world weariness of Qoheleth, that sense of life wearing him down, but ultimately he leads the reader to the conclusion that to be fulfilled in life one needs to have God at the centre, God is our fulfilment he suggests. Paul wishes to ensure that members of the church at Corinth don’t turn their back on God, that they are not lured away by the siren song of immorality or idolatry. Paul sees how Christians can turn their back on their faith and it is his fervent hope that those to whom he writes will not do that. The siren-calls to us some two thousand years later are not much different, just wrapped up in alternative packaging! Paul seeks to be understood, to be seen as a faithful and dependable witness for Christ, and so he lists the hardships that he has endured to show his credibility as a teacher of the gospel – many will be no different to those being endured by Christians in certain areas of the world today:

“… as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger.”

All that suffering, Paul is saying, has earned us the right to be listened to as God’s servants, as ministers of his gospel.

And even in spite of the suffering, they, the servants of God, have never turned their back or doubted, and so he lists those things that he calls the weapons of righteousness: “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God”. These are what Paul describes as “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left”.

In the face of fear and suffering Paul did not turn his back on Christ his Saviour, on God. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes he knew in his heart that he was only fulfilled with God at his centre and he wished to compel his readers to see that for themselves, and to live that life for themselves. Paul wished his readers to know that he had suffered for his faith, and that through God’s grace he was strengthened, and he cites ‘the power of God’ as the ultimate weapon to which he holds fast in the face of adversity.

Raheel who came here as a refugee is now a Church of Scotland minister in Falkirk, and he writes of how Christianity continues to spread in Pakistan:

“In spite of all these troubles and persecution, Christianity in Pakistan is growing every day and people are deepening their faith and trust in God. This, I believe, is because they have weapons of righteousness – prayer, faith, hope, and love in their right hand, and weapons of defence – truth, peace, salvation, God’s grace, God’s word, the Holy Spirit and God’s gift of eternal life in their left hand.”

For those who live their lives in fear, our readings today provide a reminder to keep the faith, to hold fast to God’s strength and love. To us as Christ’s church we are reminded today that we have a role to play in offering a place of safety, of sanctuary to those seeking refuge. Today our focus is on the religious refugee, the political refugee, those risking everything to escape tyranny and oppression, those who come to our country with little or nothing, those who find themselves tossed about on waves of uncertainty or despair, and we are asked to hold out hands to welcome, to steady and to nurture, and in our hands we have these same weapons of righteousness. We hold fast to prayer, faith, hope and love, to truth peace, salvation and grace.

As we stand in the sanctuary here at Wardie, and as others join us from what I hope is the safety of their own home, we should also remember that in this life there are many who seek refuge, a place of safety, a sanctuary from any manner of life’s storms. They may not be asylum seekers, they may not come from a far-off land; often those who live in fear for whatever reason may be our neighbour, a friend or a stranger. To those who seek it we are called to offer sanctuary, however we can or whatever that may be. Our role, as servants of Christ, is to reach out, out from within our sanctuary here, to reach out in ways both practical and prayerful, to reach out in love, sharing Christ’s message of salvation and freedom, armed with all the eternal and unchanging might and power of God’s righteousness, grace and love, love that can quell storms and calm fearful hearts.

Collect of the Day

O God our defender,
when storms rage about us
and cause us to be afraid,
rescue your people from despair,
deliver your sons and daughters from fear,
and preserve us from all unbelief;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Prayers of Intercession, by Christine Shepherd

Lord God, even during this pandemic we know that the duty of stewardship continues; we bring to you our offerings of money, time and talents, and ask you to bless them in their use here in Wardie and in the wider work of your church.

Almighty God, giver of every good and perfect gift, teach us to render to you all that we have and all that we are, that we may praise you, not with our lips only, but with our whole lives, turning the duties, the sorrows, and the joys of all our days into a living sacrifice to you.

On this June morning we thank you for the beautiful summer weather we have been enjoying during this past week, and also the recent welcome rain, much needed by the gardens; we remember that you are the creator of all and we praise your name for this beautiful world.

As the school and university years draw to a close, we pray for all the young people who have had such a disruptive experience of education since March 2020.  We pray for those who have recently sat exams and are anxiously wondering what the next stage in their lives will be. Be with them, Lord, and help them to realise that, even if the results are not what they had hoped for, this does not mean the end of their future prospects.

As furlough schemes come to an end many will be facing anxiety about their employment.  Lord, grant politicians and employers the wisdom to combine compassion with realism in dealing with the inevitable hardship, not just financial but also loss of self-esteem.

We pray for all at Wardie Church as we enter the next stage in our congregational life. We pray for Dolly as she settles into her new home, and also for her family. We give thanks for all who have helped to sustain the Church during the vacancy, and in particular for Ann and Bob, and for all who have kept worship going doing this challenging time.

We pray for the wider church in Scotland, mindful of the challenges it faces, particularly with the severe shortage of ministers, and for the continuing improvement of inter-denominational and inter-faith relations.

Recently we have received reports of the G7 meeting in Cornwall; Lord, give our leaders the integrity to commit to policies that will preserve your beautiful world and ensure that future generations have a sustainable environment.

We pray for resolution in the troubled areas of the world, wherever there is conflict. This Sunday in particular we remember refugees who have been forced to flee from home and country. We pray for the families who have been bereaved in disaster areas, and for all accident victims and their families. We pray for the many parts of the world where people do not have enough food, water, medical supplies and decent housing.

Dear Father God, we bring to you all these prayers, together with the prayers we offer in the silence of our hearts. Amen

Hymn 270  Put all your trust in God   

Blessing

May the blessing of the Father our captain and guide, be yours,
May the blessing of Christ who calms the storm, be yours.
May the blessing of the Spirit who brings us to safe harbour, be yours.
This day and evermore.

Amen