Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell
Good morning and welcome to Wardie Parish Church – welcome to those worshipping within the sanctuary and to those worshipping from home. Hopefully some day soon we will be able to come together on a Sunday morning, we will be able to praise God in the hymns we sing, we will be able to greet each other and enjoy fellowship with each other.
Call to Worship
For our call to worship this morning I would direct you to words of the Psalmist, words found in Psalm 89.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
With my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I will declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
Your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
Hymn 166 – Lord of all hopefulness. Listen here.
Living God, we pray that as the Holy Spirit came in wind and fire to the apostles, so may your Spirit come to us, breathing new life into our lives, setting our hearts aflame with love.
Lord Jesus Christ, you declared yourself the way, the truth and the life.
Reveal your truth to us, inspire us with your life, that now and at all times we may find in you the way to the Father.
Living God; in this building, used in past days to the sound of singing, where there have been baptisms and funerals, where people have come to be married or to celebrate the birth of a child;
This building, where some have wept and some have been filled with joy.
Where people have struggled with the deep things of life, have prayed urgently, been stirred and changed; in this building where you have so often been in the midst of your people, be with us now.
So much around us has changed because of the pandemic; we thank you that in the midst of it all your love for us and towards us has remained the same.
Worship we are told is the doorstep of heaven – where children speak to their Father, where the poor sit at table with their Saviour and the weak are empowered by God’s Spirit.
This is where love and mercy meet, where love and obedience hold hands, and where love bids us welcome; for this IS the doorstep of heaven.
Loving God, let it be this and more for us today, for Jesus’ sake, in whose name we further pray, taking the words he taught his disciples, 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, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Children’s talk by Mo Brand
[SIGN] “You are beautiful”
I asked Kids at Wardie: “What I should wear to work?”
I asked if it would be OK to dye my hair.
I asked if I could get piercings and tattoos.
[SIGN] “You are wonderfully made”
They understood right away that although we might use clothes to show off who we are, our favourite colours, what teams we are part of and to what school we go, they don’t truly make us who we are.
Now, I’m not just talking about our genetics determining our hair colour, eye colour, skin colour or height and I’m not just talking about who we are on the inside, but I’m talking about everything!
[SIGN] “You are created by God”
Realising that God knows everything about you: when you got up this morning, when you went to bed, what you’re thinking right now and the words that you will say, realising that because God is in all things that even if sometimes we aren’t so good at thinking about God – he is always there.
[SIGN] “You are known by God”
It can be both a wonderful thing and a hard thing to think about! In today’s reading we will hear a psalm where the writer is amazed at how wonderful God is, so amazed that God is in everything, and so, so amazed that even he struggles to understand just how amazing God is.
So it’s OK to be amazed, it’s OK to struggle with God, it’s OK to ask for help. There is only one you and you are made beautifully.
[SIGN] “You were created to be YOU!”
So as we listen to today’s reading I wonder if any of these signs brought you amazement or made you think, and if so, if you can listen for the other ways the writer reminds us of the words that spoke to you?
Psalm 139 (NRSV)
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you.
O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell. Psalm 139: A Diamond Among the Gems
The Psalms have been described as the gems among the Scriptures of the Old Testament. If this is fair comment perhaps it is also fitting to describe our chosen psalm this morning as a diamond among those gems.
Within the psalm the author points us to the omniscience and the omnipresence of the Lord – the Lord who knows everything and is everywhere. The Psalmist doesn’t present this in the form of a cold theological description of our Lord’s attributes – theology in a vacuum. There is a warmth within his writing, the language of the poet, yes, but within his language there is a warmth that penetrates our hearts and our minds.
If God’s power reaches throughout creation, if that power affects everything in its wake, if it illuminates the darkest and deepest recesses, if his eye can observe everything, then all of this has implications for our lives and our living.
The opening verses of the psalm refer to God’s limitless knowledge of us. There was never a time when we were unknown to him, nor will there ever be a time when we will be outwith his observation. The Lord knows us and knows everything we do. He knows when we are weary of life, our moments of sadness, our hurts and the wounds we carry. And he knows the things that inspire us and challenge us. “He knows when we sit down and when we rise up”. He knows every word we speak, every thought we think. He is behind us and knows all about our past and he is out there in front of us and knows what lies ahead for us. He is there with us at all times, a disarming thought perhaps, but his presence is not so much a threat to us but an assurance of his protection over us, a comfort through some of the more difficult situations we face from time to time.
From God’s limitless knowledge the Psalmist now turns his attention to his inescapable presence. “Where could I go to escape from you?” Ascending to heaven to escape from God would be like, as someone has said, walking into the centre of a fire to try and escape from the heat. Retreating to the world of the dead would be an equally useless exercise. Two regions, one of glory, the other of darkness, set in absolute contrast, but of both, the Psalmist says there is one thing that is certain – the Lord is there.
The author continues on his fantasy of flight; even if we were able to travel at the speed of light; even if we were able to discover lands yet unexplored; even there, it would be utterly impossible to escape the Lord’s presence.
The Psalmist now refers to one last possible escape route – going out into the darkness. His conclusion is that this would be yet another useless exercise. God is there in the darkness: “Darkness and light are the same to you.” His Word is a light on our path and a Lamp to our feet.
If we allow ourselves to get beyond the poetic licence used by the Psalmist, his basic message is simple – we cannot hide from God.
God’s knowledge of us is perfect, it is complete and there is no way known to humankind whereby we can escape his presence. In the third paragraph of the Psalm, the writer turns his attention to God’s infinite concern for us. As unborn babes in the secret place of our mother’s womb we were covered by the hand and the love of God. Before we knew of the Lord’s existence, before we knew anything, the Lord loved us and cared for us. The slogan of our NHS is care from the cradle to the grave. God’s mantra goes even further – from conception to your last breath on earth, and to a new life beyond the grave, I have you in the hollow of my hand.
These are remarkable verses, especially when we remember that they were written at a time when far less was known about human physiology. The God of creation performs another miracle every time a child enters the world. Who can gaze on a newborn child without feelings of wonder and awe – the fragility, the frailty and yet its perfection? The embryo continues to develop from stage to stage, each member being fashioned in its own time. What at first is nothing other than a shapeless mass grows and develops and in time is born: “Fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Psalmist was overwhelmed as he meditated on God, his ways, his thoughts, his concern, his love: “If I counted them they would be more than the grains of sand.” Even if we could gather all the grains of sand from the world’s beaches, the gracious, loving and merciful concern of the Lord towards us would far surpass the total of all those grains of sand.
The author it seems, couldn’t remain awake long enough to take in God’s infinite concern for him. As he dropped off to sleep his thoughts were with the Lord. And on awakening the Lord’s concern for him still occupied his mind.
It is possible to come to the conclusion that verses 19 to 22 are not part of the original Psalm, as they seem out of place and out of character with the rest of the poem. Some commentators have suggested that they couldn’t possibly have been part of the original text and that they must have been added by another author at a later date. They would argue that the Psalmist has just been writing about the Lord’s concern for his people, he has been almost overwhelmed by the length and breadth, the height and depth of God’s love, and they suggest that it is inconceivable that he suddenly flies off in thought along a diverse avenue.
“O God how I wish you would kill the wicked.
How I hate those who hate you.
How I despise those who rebel against you.”
Others would suggest that the more we look and study these words the more we come to see their relevance and therefore their rightful place within the psalm. The writer was concerned with what could be described as ‘a holy sense of sin’. He was upset and resented what he saw as the wicked rebellion of some against the Lord.
I will leave you to draw your own conclusion as to whether you see these verses as an additional or a relevant section of the psalm.
In the final couple of verses of the poem the writer presents his response and reaction to the thoughts of his mind and his heart. These come in a prayer for cleansing and guidance.
“Examine me, O God, and know my mind. Test me and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any wicked way in me.” However rebellious and wicked and sinful he may have described others, the psalmist realised that he was in no way perfect himself.
Do you remember how at the beginning of the psalm he had written: “You have examined me and you know me”? A matter of fact now becomes a matter for prayer. He invited the Lord to turn the white light of his holiness on him; he wanted the Lord to point out his failings, his shortcomings. It is a prayer for cleansing, a prayer that forms the basis of Graham Kendrick’s relatively modern song, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’.
Lord I come to your awesome presence,
From the shadows into your radiance
By your blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.
And finally to complete the psalm – a prayer for guidance: “guide me” to his rightful place at the very centre of his life and living, and that the Lord should determine his pathway and keep his feet from straying. A thought echoed in the great Welsh anthem:
“Guide me O Thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak but Thou are mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.”
As I suggested at the beginning of my reflection on this psalm, the fact that we live our lives in the light of an omniscient and omnipresent God could result in us reacting to that knowledge in different ways. The fact that he knows us as we are and the fact that we cannot hide that knowledge from him, nor can we physically hide from him, could cause us distress, but when we consider the fact he is also aware of our struggles, our hurts, the wounds that others have inflicted on us, and he is there for us, that he is, as we saw last week, our strength and our salvation, surely it is a cause for relief and thanksgiving.
Couple those thoughts with our own prayer for cleansing and guidance: “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.”
Prayers of Intercession by Paul Mitchell
Father, as we gather together here today let us not lose sight of why we are here as we draw close to you.
We are thankful that you are constantly at work in our lives. You are:
a help in times of difficulty
a strength in times of weakness
a guide when we feel lost and alone.
So we bring our worries, our burdens, and our hope before you, knowing that you are the Lord of our lives and the hope of the world.
We pray for people in these times who face financial difficulties, those who worry about the future of their business or job – we ask that you help them to discover the solutions needed and give to them your peace.
We pray for those who struggle to put food on the table and can see no end to their empty cupboards. We seek fairness in the world and ask that your people would work towards this becoming a reality.
We bring our prayers for people continuing to face the challenges of isolation and social distancing as we continue to face a pandemic, and we are grateful for the work and wisdom of those developing a vaccine.
We pray for countries affected by war, conflict and so many different situations at this time. It can be easy to forget that there is more than coronavirus that people are dealing with daily at the moment.
We pray for your guidance for those charged with making key decisions – may they always have in their heart what is best for people and not for themselves. May they turn to you for guidance in all things.
We pray for the police and the emergency services, and all those who provide care and support in our country. For our teachers and all in schools and pre-schools doing an amazing job at this time.
Father, in a moment of silence we bring to you …
people who are worried about their health and what the future might hold
those who feel anxious or depressed or afraid
those in hospital
those with burdens they find impossible to share.
Finally, Lord, we pray for your church here in Edinburgh and all over Scotland. Grant us your help, guidance and counsel as we continue on our journey to find a new minister for our parish.
Father, we give thanks that you hear our prayers: the ones said out loud and the ones held silently in our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Hymn 97 – O God you search me and you know me. Listen here.
God our Shelter in the Storm protect you
God our Rock be your strength
God our Father nurture you.
God our Life-breath inspire you
God our beginning and our end, hold you forever in his love.
And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest and remain with you and with those you love, now and always. Amen.