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Sunday Service, 21st March 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds his readers that “the first man, Adam, was created a living being, but the last Adam is the life-giving Spirit”.

Hymn 378 – Praise to the Holiest in the Height. Listen here.

Prayer

Almighty God, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love; so that we may give ourselves to you and walk before you as the children of light, through him who is the light of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Come, Lord, like the wind, move us, direct us. Come as the breath, fill us, refresh us.

Come to your church, which without you is dull and dry, and fill us with your Spirit. Call us out of death and darkness into life and light.

We pray for our renewal and the renewal of your church in our devotion and mission.

Come, Lord, restore, renew.

Lord Jesus, your love is more than we can understand, but in that love we praise you.

Lord Jesus, your love is more than we can ever know, but we rejoice that you know us and you love us.

Lord Jesus Christ, the costliness of your love takes our breath away, but in faltering love we give ourselves to you.

Lord Jesus Christ, in love you have found us, by the cross you have saved us, and through your Spirit you have transformed our lives. We love you and we adore you.

However, Lord, like your disciples we confess that we have failed you. We ask for your mercy and help.

When we take our ease, like the disciples in Gethsemane, rather than watch with you, Lord forgive us.

When we bestow a kiss of peace like Judas, yet nurse enmity in our hearts, Lord forgive us.

When we strike at those who hurt us like Peter, rather than stretch out our hands to bless, Lord forgive us.

When like Peter we deny that we know you for fear of the world and its scorn, Lord forgive us and renew us through your Spirit. And hear us as we continue in prayer, using the words that our Lord taught his disciples, saying:

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

Often when we read the Bible we’re asked to think about what we’re reading. Is it simply historical, does it have a hidden meaning and, importantly, what can we learn from it today?

Well, when you listen to the second reading this morning have a think about the people in the story and the very different ways in which they are honouring Jesus –

There’s Martha who is referenced elsewhere in the Bible for cooking and serving, and here she is doing just that, she’s serving Jesus with her own skills in a way that appears natural to her.

There is Lazarus who is noted to be reclining with Jesus – it may seem unfair that he is just lying around if someone else is serving, but sometimes to simply be in company with God, to listen, to reflect, to take time, is very important.

There is Mary – who does something out of the ordinary, bold and humbling, where her actions show she is willing to give her most valuable possession to Jesus and it’s done out of love.

These are some very different ways to honour Jesus.

There’s one more person to listen out for, and that’s Judas – it would seem like he has good intentions. Mary’s gift could have been given to the poor and made a big difference, but his questioning is not good, he is judging the way in which someone chooses to honour Jesus – if we can simply spend time with Jesus, use our everyday normal lives or do big bold actions, then we should do the one that’s right. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others or judge other people’s actions but we should honour God.

So if it’s … the way we play sports, speak to our parents, relate to our siblings, do our chores, talk to our friends, we can do all things with God in mind even if we all do so in different ways.

Scripture readings

Isaiah 53:18

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.

John 12:18

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

 

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The Supper at Bethany

Have you ever done something, done it with the best of intentions, but having done it then discovered that your action has been totally misunderstood, or perhaps misinterpreted? If you have, you will not have too much difficulty identifying with Mary in the passage that was read from John’s Gospel.

At that time of the year the Jewish pilgrims were making their preparations for celebrating the approaching Passover at Jerusalem. Six days before that celebration took place Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethany, the home village of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. A supper was arranged and held in his honour, a supper at which Martha served and Lazarus sat at table as a fellow guest.

An important issue within our narrative is that by this moment in his ministry Jesus badly needs and wants his followers to be united. But it must have seemed that while the rest of the world was plotting against him his closest friends were having difficulty even supporting him and sticking by him. We can almost feel the tension crackling in the air.

An ordinary supper with friends turned suddenly turned into a confrontation between Judas and Mary. But even before considering that relationship we come across the simple words: “Martha served … then Mary took a pound of perfume”, another fragmented relationship that has been well documented in the past. Unity, togetherness, acceptance of each other? There were certainly issues around relationships within his group of followers.

Jesus had come to Bethany seeking a spiritual oasis before facing the coming storm. I suggest that despite the tension in the air and the obvious question marks over relationships, he did find peace. No doubt he enjoyed the meal that Martha had prepared, and the act of anointing performed by Mary must have had a deep and profound effect on him. One commentator has suggested that: “Mary’s act of love is a prophetic statement about the fact that before long Jesus is going to be buried – and buried so hastily that there might not be time for proper anointing.”

The ointment that Mary used in anointing her Lord was one that was derived from nard, an aromatic herb grown in the high pastures of the Himalayas, between Tibet and India. It had many a mile to travel to reach Mary’s home in Bethany, and it was certainly a scarce and expensive commodity. Mary takes her jar and begins to pour her ointment on Jesus’ feet.

To quote another commentator: “You hardly know what to admire most, the depth of Mary’s devotion or the lavish nature of the sacrifice she made.”

One thing that stands out vividly in our narrative is the contrast between Mary’s act of love and thankfulness and the abrupt response of Judas. You can almost hear Judas muttering: “What a waste!” While her action centred around her love and devotion, her thankfulness, his response was cold and calculating in nature.

“Why wasn’t the ointment sold for three hundred silver coins and the proceeds given to the poor?” My understanding is that ‘a silver coin’ or ‘a denarius’ was roughly the daily wage of a labourer.

It would almost seem as if Judas had a fixation about money. He probably viewed everything from what it was worth and he seems to have already done his homework. He had calculated the going price for the jar on the open market was nine months’ wages for an ordinary labourer.

Nine months’ wages for a single jar of ointment! What a waste! Judas had obviously convinced himself that this act of Mary was one of unjustifiable extravagance, something that in his eyes was utter folly. You can almost imagine Judas’s mind working overtime. How much better it would have been if Mary had sold the ointment and given the proceeds to Jesus and the twelve, via, of course, Judas the treasurer. But he could not have come out with something as blunt as that, and so he suggested that the money should have been taken and given to the poor.

Mary must have felt misunderstood when Judas said what he did. That can happen to all of us and that kind of reaction hurts. For us – as for Mary – what matters most is that our Lord knows what is in our hearts and what our intentions have been. That must have been so important for Mary.

John seems to have summed up the situation, and summed up Judas: “He said this not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief.”

The anointing of Jesus by Mary could be described as act of thanksgiving, of love. She must have felt enormous gratitude to Jesus because, as we read the previous chapter, he had raised her brother Lazarus from the tomb in which he was buried.

It could also possibly be described as an act of understanding. Over the previous weeks, certainly from the time of their spiritual retreat at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had been telling his disciples that it was necessary for him to head towards Jerusalem, that the way ahead was the way of sacrifice, a way that would lead to the cross and to Calvary, the way of suffering and shame.

Initially the disciples couldn’t grasp the necessity for such an act of sacrifice. They seemed to be devoid of any real understanding. Could a similar criticism be levelled against Mary? Did she fully understand what Jesus had said to Martha when he announced on the occasion when Lazarus was raised from death, that he, Jesus, was the Resurrection and the Life? Providing, of course, that her sister had shared the statement and the significance of it with her. Maybe she didn’t fully understand but she had sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him teaching.

The hour of his destiny had not yet come but it was fast approaching. It seems clear that she had at least some awareness of what was ahead and so Mary took her jar of ointment and anointed her Lord and Master.

If it could be said that Mary’s act was one of understanding it could also be said that it was certainly a timely act.

Perhaps, like the disciples, she didn’t want to think about the Lord’s death. It hurt, it was all too painful and perhaps like the others she had tried to delete it from the consciousness of her mind. But now in this act of anointing it was almost as if she was letting go of her defence mechanisms, allowing the barriers to come down, ones that she had built up for her protection. It was almost as if she was at the point of accepting the reality of what Jesus had been saying and teaching, that his way had to be the way of sacrifice and of the cross, and not that of an earthly crown.

There was no doubt that Mary owed so much to her Lord, his friendship and fellowship, her salvation and the recovery of her brother Lazarus. If she was indeed at the stage of intellectually accepting Jesus’ ‘proclamation of intent’ as far as his future was concerned, she probably felt in her heart of hearts that she had no other choice than to do what she did, open that jar of ointment and anoint him in preparation for his death.

Jesus was about to enter the deep waters and the dark night of betrayal and of his passion. Mary’s taking of her jar of ointment and anointing Jesus was truly a timely act, an act of thanksgiving and love, an act of understanding.

As far as Mary was concerned, Judas’s words of waste and extravagance I’m sure never entered her head. Her action was a token of her loyalty and her love. I’m sure she realised that she couldn’t hold anything back, her sacrifice, her love offering had to be the very best that she could offer, it had to be all. As we journey on through Lent may our response be of a similar nature, offering our best, our all to the Lord.

Prayers of Intercession by Stephen Green

The Lord Our Shepherd (Good News Version)

23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths,
as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, Lord,
for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

You prepare a banquet for me,
where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest
and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
and your house will be my home as long as I live.

Adoration
• Faithful Father, thank You for watching over us every day. Please give us the grace to walk closely with You in everything we do today.
• Lord lift our eyes to the things that matter, and away from our daily, momentary problems. Bring an eternal perspective to our lives.

Confession
• Sorry, Lord, when we fall short. When we fail to step out of the boat in faith. When we step out and then take our eyes off you.

Thanksgiving
• Thank you, Lord, that our sins are forgiven, we have a purpose for living and a home in heaven.

Supplication
• Lord, we pray for a way out of COVID-19. It’s hard to know how and what to pray for all the direct and indirect consequences of this horrible virus.
• We pray for Bob and thank you for his faithful ministry through this time of vacancy.
• We pray for those who find it harder to engage with our online worship. We pray for those like John and Isla Weightman, for Katy Laidlaw.
• We pray for your provision of a new minister for our family. We know you will provide, Lord, in your own good time. Thank you for our nomination committee, and the dedicated leadership to it provided by Brian, Robin and Fiona.
• We pray for those in our families and our friendships who don’t know you, Lord. Help us to stay faithful in prayer, and humble and selfless in our witness.

Lord, walk with us today.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen

Hymn 527 – Lord Make Us Servants of Your Peace

Blessing

May you continue to find in Christ crucified
a strength in times of darkness
a support in times of weakness
and the assurance that life is eternal.

And may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest upon you and remain with you, and with all whom you love,
now and always, Amen