You can access the printable pdf of this service at: Written Service, Sunday 20th September 2020.
Good morning and welcome to Wardie Parish Church from our Zoom service today. My name is Mo Brand and I am the Youth and Families Worker here. I am not the normal face or person to lead worship here at Wardie but on our first official congregation-wide service I feel very privileged to be able to be here with you today. Unfortunately I’m not quite able to see all your faces but there is a wonderful small team making sure everyone stays connected as best we can.
Call to Worship
Let us be still for a moment as we draw near to worship God … Take just a few seconds to remind yourself why we are gathered together today … Listen, God speaks even through the background noise of the world around us …
Lord God, in this short time together, open our ears and our eyes to see your vision for this place and our part within it. Teach us, hear our prayers and enable us for service wherever you might take us, to your praise and glory. Amen.
Reflection on bread: if I brought you this to your house today would it be welcomed and appreciated? Would you first notice some was gone or see how much was left? If this was a banquet, do we need it all? If this was all there was, do we need to eat it all now? If this was a meal for a family, how much would you take? If this was God’s gift to the world, what would you do with it? Would you keep it, freeze it, share it or give it to another?
There’s a song “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and you’ll be surprised at what the Lord has done.” For many, the changing restrictions around coronavirus can be difficult. Just when one opportunity to travel or see friends and family opens up, a change in rules can take away those plans. It’s really difficult to be positive or optimistic and what seems like good opportunity for one person may not be so good for another.
Autumn officially starts on Tuesday, for me that’s wonderful. I adore the colours, I like a good hat on cooler days and enjoy harvest time – our first hymn talks about sowing seeds but ultimately it being fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. What a reminder that no matter what seeds we are sowing or what plans we are making God is still at work. What a reminder that whilst we may have lots to be frustrated and annoyed about in our current situation we have so many good gifts around us to thank the Lord for; so do join (in listening, singing or reading along) to:
Hymn 229 – We plough the fields and scatter. Listen here.
The season is about to change.
Springtime seems so long ago and such a different world, the world around us is still full of new life and hope but we seem focused on the layer of frost that covers it.
We mourn the loss of a carefree summer and reminisce over the sunshine memories we have of years gone by.
Autumn brings more changes; we echo the falling leaves in the uncertainty of just when things will happen.
We fear a dark winter.
Father God, remind us that no matter if it’s spring hope, summer joy, autumn changes or winter fears, you are in all things.
We confess that we are often wrapped up in our own lives, busy making plans, trying to be in control of all things and at times pushing you aside. Forgive us that we let the stresses of life become excuses for our wrongdoings, and we say sorry for the wrong things we have done.
Help us to be more in tune to the good gifts around us, to make the time to bring all things before you, to be reminded that you walk with us, are for us and how blessed we are. Remind us that no matter the restrictions you always have space for us.
We embrace the opportunity to join together in the words Jesus taught his disciples as we pray:
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. For ever. Amen.
Exodus 15:22–16:6 (The message translation)
Travelling Through the Wilderness
22-24 Moses led Israel from the Red Sea on to the Wilderness of Shur. They travelled for three days through the wilderness without finding any water. They got to Marah, but they couldn’t drink the water at Marah; it was bitter. That’s why they called the place Marah (Bitter). And the people complained to Moses, “So what are we supposed to drink?”
25 So Moses cried out in prayer to God. God pointed him to a stick of wood. Moses threw it into the water and the water turned sweet. 26 That’s the place where God set up rules and procedures; that’s where he started testing them. God said, “If you listen, listen obediently to how God tells you to live in his presence, obeying his commandments and keeping all his laws, then I won’t strike you with all the diseases that I inflicted on the Egyptians; I am God your healer.” 27 They came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. They set up camp there by the water.
16 1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”
4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.” 6-7 Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, “This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God.”
Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash
Reflection: Mo Brand
Plans are always being made; there’s a lot happening behind the scenes at Wardie to keep up to date with what’s changing and what’s possible. Wardie is even now officially on the Church of Scotland website as looking for a new minister.
Many of us may be facing changing plans as we can’t do the things we had planned: for today, for this week, for this month, for this year. What’s more, the control of these things doesn’t feel like it’s in our hands – if we’re rescheduling a family gathering we don’t know when that might be possible, and what’s more, we don’t know what our lives may look like when it actually is.
I’m intrigued by the Old Testament stories in the Bible, stories of God directly telling people go here, do this, don’t do that. A God who answers prayer so directly that lions’ mouths are closed, buildings fall and you can survive in the belly of a big fish. Wouldn’t it be amazing to know so directly that God is with you, to know that He is really watching out for you because you have seen big and wonderful displays of His power. Wouldn’t that be easier than the uncertainty of today where it’s often hard to remember amongst all the busyness that God is still there?
But the people of the Old Testament still struggled to trust in God; the Israelites freed from slavery, who crossed the parted red sea and were being led by Moses to a promised land, were still just people trying to figure out what was happening and getting caught up in the worries of everyday life.
Admittedly there was a lot of them and they were travelling across a wilderness. Maybe we can still relate to them? Imagine walking for three days and finally coming across water but, wait, it’s actually bitter. Right now it’s wanting something, making plans and it’s right there but then it’s not what we thought it would be: holidays, school schedules, work, social groups, family visits, lifted restrictions, added restrictions. Bitter water is not the thirst-relieving drink it looked like it might be, it’s not what they want and it’s not what they need. They don’t all gather in mass prayer to God and ask for help, they don’t just brush it off and say there must be something better further on and get back to walking the wilderness. No, they take the time to complain to Moses; as a prophet Moses prays to God, follows instructions and the water is made sweet.
God meets their needs. He then gives some clear instructions – listen to God, live in God’s presence, obey God’s commands and even a great reminder that He is a great healer.
So later, when the people are hungry, you would think they might listen to God, be in his presence, maybe ask Moses what to do; but they complain, again, and this time it’s more dramatic – ‘you’ve brought us here to starve to death’ and … what I’m going to understand as a romanticised version of their time in Egypt … they talk of ‘comfort’ and remember ‘lamb stew’ and ‘all the bread they [we] could eat’. I think many of us may be doing the same. As we face the struggles of today we wish things could go back to how they were in the past, perhaps to just a year ago or maybe romanticising a simpler time a decade or two or more ago without remembering the struggles that that particular time brought too.
Perhaps it’s understandable the Israelites complain in a greater way because their need, this time for food, is greater. It’s interesting that in answer God slows them down to a daily connection – each day rains down manna – enough for each person’s needs, ‘no more, no less’; if they try and gather extra (except for for the Sabbath) it smells bad and gets wormy, so each day they have a direct, in-their-face reminder that God provides.
And this idea of daily bread or daily needs turns up in other parts of the Bible, the obvious one being in the Lord’s Prayer which we have already said this morning. Together they point as a reminder that the world has enough abundance for all people. God’s economics are rubbish by today’s corporate standards but God is a God of love, generosity and grace and these things are freely given; they are not earned but also they are not to be stored up, hoarded and kept individually.
You may be familiar with Exodus, all of Chapter 16 if you’re looking for some reading, but if we go just a little further from this morning’s reading, keeping with the message translation it says ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realise that I am God, your God.’
What a powerful message not only to be reminded that the God of the Israelites is indeed the God of today but that he is our God, a reminder that our needs for each day are often very different from our wants and greeds of each day. A reminder to be grateful that for most of us our needs are indeed met and a notice that it is OK to call out and complain to God when they are not. A reminder that our lives are full of blessings to count and a reminder to gather these blessing every single day. A challenge to constantly be in God’s presence and a challenge to address the inequalities and injustices of this world by considering what we really need in our lives, no more, no less.
Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession (Graeme Trotter)
John Keats begins his poem Ode to Autumn with these words:
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run’.
Keats encourages us to savour and enjoy this wonderful season. A season when we celebrate the harvest and all the countless blessings which God has provided for us.
We face so much adversity at this time that it is sometimes difficult to rejoice in what we have. God wants us to prosper as we can; to do what is appropriate for us in all our different lives and circumstances.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer turns from despair to embrace God’s promise and His way.
‘For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time.
A time to be born and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to uproot
A time to pull down and a time to build up
A time to weep and a time to laugh…
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…
A time for silence and a time for speech…’
Not quite all of his balanced list, but a reminder of God’s promise to us.
We ask you, Lord, to give our schoolchildren and students the strength and ability to make the best use of today and a vision for their futures…
We pray for all teachers and those with a responsibility for young people; with your support and guidance, may they hold fast to the truth.
In our own uncertain times, we pray for those charged with finding a new minister for Wardie, and in the meantime we give thanks for the service of Ann Inglis, our Interim Moderator, and Bob Gemmell, our locum, and we pray that you will watch over him in this his hour of need.
We pray that you will help those recently bereaved – Janet, Hugh and Mandy – to find comfort in your hands and the care of the community.
Bless our leaders as they struggle and juggle so many challenges; help them to divine the truth and to act justly and for the good of all peoples.
We pray for the people of Belarus; may they achieve justice and peace.
For refugees worldwide, especially those in destroyed camps in Greece.
We pray that your comfort and mercy may be found in ruined lives.
‘Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them; thou hast thy music too’ advises the poet.
We are indeed blessed with your music and with our music.
We pray that, in your name, we may use it wisely, here and now
In the peace and strength and our redeemer, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Hymn 159 – Lord, for the years. Listen here.
As we take our worship, praise and prayer from this place and into our daily lives,
may the blessing of God be on us:
the blessings of challenge and change;
the blessings of travel and transition;
the blessings of discovery and deepening;
the blessings of flourishing and fulfilment.
May we count these blessing each day and evermore