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Sunday Service, 24th January 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

This week is set aside within the Church calendar to help us focus on the continuing problem of homelessness within society, a problem that seems to be increasing with the passing of the years.

Call to Worship

For our Call to Worship this morning I would direct you to words spoken by our Lord and recorded in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25, words spoken to the faithful: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”

Hymn 543 – Longing for light. Listen here.

Prayer

(Partly taken and adapted from The Word in the World – prayers compiled by Donald Hilton.)

Lord Jesus, when you lived on earth there was no maternity unit for your birth;
your parents became refugees;
you were rejected in your home town;
you shared the life of the poor;
you were tried and executed out of political expediency;
you learned full well what it feels like to be marginalised, and you also experienced something of the depths of human need.

Lord Jesus, present with us now, meet us in our physical, mental and spiritual need.
Meet us in a world of desperate need; where some mothers still give birth without proper medical care; where refuges are herded from land to land;
Where politics makes families and individuals rootless and homeless, where poverty destroys the lives and hopes of many;
And where torture and false imprisonment prevail.

Be with us in our worship and make us more sensitive to our own needs and to the needs of others.

Forgive us Lord, as we live in YOUR WORLD.

The hungry faces stare at us through our television screens, the homeless figure on the pavement asks for money. We turn away, preferring not to acknowledge our common humanity or the link between our plenty and their poverty.

Forgive us, Lord, that we can so easily live our lives ignoring the needs of others.

Forgive us, Lord, as we live in YOUR CHURCH.

People come with tears in their eyes and unhealed wounds in their lives. We turn away, preferring not to see, preferring not to remember our belonging together in Christ or the link between our spiritual well-being and theirs.

Forgive us, Lord, that we can so easily live with and continue to ignore our friends’ needs.
Forgive us, Lord, as we live out our own lives.

We try to give the impression of personal health, of personal well-being;
fearing that any sign of weakness on our part will be interpreted as failure.

We turn away, preferring not to see, preferring not to remember that we too need healing, and the link between our well-being and your forgiveness.

Forgive us, Lord, that we can so easily live with our own needs unanswered.

Thank you, Lord, for those simple acts of kindness we all experience, when human love reaches out towards human need. We thank you, Lord, for all the people who may never be noticed but who, with quietness and grace, do the work of Christ.

Hear us as we continue in prayer taking and using the words that our Lord taught his disciples: 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

I’m assuming that many of you are familiar with a version of this story book? The Very Hungry Caterpillar – this is the finger puppet version!

It’s quite simply a story of a very hungry caterpillar who eats his way through all sorts of food until he becomes a big caterpillar; he then builds a cocoon around himself and then transforms into a beautiful butterfly!

I’m also assuming that most of you knew that butterflies start off life as caterpillars?! Even though the Bible doesn’t specifically talk about butterflies, this transformation is often used in our Christian faith. The Bible has lots of stories about transformation and epiphany, defining moments when everything changes for the people in the story – we will even hear of a someone changing in the Bible reading today.

It’s often related back to say that before Jesus we have a certain view of the world; it’s quite restricted like a caterpillar on the ground, but once we know Jesus we’re transformed into something very different like a butterfly – our view of the world becomes much bigger and we are seen as something beautiful.

It’s such a lovely way to think of faith stories but I often feel like it applies only to those big testimonial stories where coming to faith was a huge transformation; however, even butterflies rest and take up nectar before flying again so maybe we need to remember to do the same – if we want to fly we still need to stop by the flowers – and if you’re following all the imagery hopefully you can imagine what the flowers would be for you – however, Kidz@Wardie also have some ideas …

To believe in God
To worship God
To go to church (in whatever format we can)
To be good
To do good

So I hope whatever the flowers are for all of us we find a way to be replenished so we can fly like butterflies in our own faith journeys.

Scripture readings

Isaiah 6: 1–8 (NIV)

Isaiah’s Commission

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Acts 22: 6–16

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: Our personal epiphanies

A couple of weeks ago when referring to the season of Epiphany I mentioned that one of my reference sources told me that Epiphany was a Christian festival beginning in January. In the Western Church it began with the commemoration of the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, and in the Eastern Church with the baptism of Jesus. Bearing that in mind we have focused our attention on these two subjects on previous Sundays. My source, however, went on refer to an epiphany as the manifestation of a supernatural or divine moment or any moment of great or sudden revelation, to personal epiphanies and it is to that subject I want to turn our attention briefly this morning.

Our Scripture Readings contained dramatic incidents in the lives of Isaiah and Saul of Tarsus, supernatural moments within their lives which they could have referred to as their own personal epiphanies.

The Isaiah passage is one of those very special narratives from the Old Testament that tend to linger in our consciousness. It describes God’s call to Isaiah to ministry. It speaks to us of the glory and majesty of God, his holiness, and yet it is also one that somehow brings the reality of God’s presence from heaven to earth.

Isaiah’s vision of the Lord prompted an acute personal awareness of his unworthiness before the Lord: “I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful.”

And God’s response? “Your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven.”

For me, the verse that stands out in the narrative is Isaiah’s response to God’s intervention in his life: “With my own eyes, I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Here we have a direct record of Isaiah’s own personal epiphany, his pivotal, life-changing moment.

God’s intervention – Isaiah’s response – God’s assurance of forgiveness opens the door for God’s challenge to the fledgling prophet: “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?” And Isaiah’s reply? “I will go. Send me.”

A moment in time that changed Isaiah’s life for ever – his own personal epiphany.

Turning from the pages of the Old Testament to the Acts of the Apostles we focus on one of those very special moments in the life of Saul of Tarsus, a moment that brought about a complete transformation, change in direction, change in attitude to one of the most vocal opponents of the early church – a moment that transformed Saul the persecutor into Paul the Apostle, the missionary who along with others turned the known world of the day upside down in the name of Christ.

Our passage finds Saul armed with the appropriate documentation from the high priest in Jerusalem giving him permission to continue his programme of persecution of any Christians he identified in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem. And so we find him on his way to act, in his understanding, for the glory of God, the glory which he believed was being besmirched by those crazy followers of Jesus.

Suddenly his world was turned upside down in a moment of time. Years later, he would write of that special moment, of seeing ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah’.

It was an experience that showed him that the God he had loved from childhood, the God for whose glory he had been so righteously indignant, the God in whose name and for whose honour he was busy rounding up those who were declaring that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah, the God he had been right to serve, right to study, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had done what he always said he would do, but done it in a very different way from popular thought. The God who had promised to come and rescue his people had done so, but had done so in the person of Jesus. Saul’s epiphany moment.

Everything that Saul of Tarsus did and said from that moment on, and particularly everything that he wrote, flowed from that sudden, shocking ‘seeing’ of Jesus.

Saul sank to the ground, blinded by the light with the words ringing in his head: “I am Jesus whom you persecute. But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.”

And so he was led by the hand into Damascus. One commentator in writing of this event says: “We call this event a ‘conversion’ but it was more like a volcanic eruption, thunder storm and tidal wave all coming together. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was the moment when all the ancient promises of God gathered themselves up, rolled themselves into a ball, and came hurtling though that open door and out into the wide world beyond.”

Paul’s epiphany, a moment that not only changed his life but has led to a significant influence being exerted at a collective and individual level within the life of the church in the interim period.

Moving on from the pages of Scripture, let us take a moment to consider events that we could describe as our own personal epiphanies – perhaps less dramatic, even less emotional, but nevertheless experiences that have changed our lives and our attitude towards others.

For a period of time I was employed by the Baptist Union of Scotland as a Community Ministry. Part of my task was getting involved in what Hillhead Baptist Church in Glasgow described as the ‘Friendship Room’ held on a Friday evening in the crypt of the church. It attracted folks who lived on their own, men from the houses we ran for the homeless and others who continued to be homeless, some who even chose to remain homeless. The minister of the church at the time and the person who initiated the project was the Rev. Kerr Spiers, someone who was regarded in Baptist circles as theologically liberal. My fondest memory of Kerr, however, was of him, after an informal evening together in the crypt, inviting folks to come forward for personal prayer, inviting folks to kneel and for him or myself to lay hands on them and pray for them. How I wish that some of Kerr’s more so-called ‘evangelical’ critics could have witnessed that weekly scene. It was something that opened my eyes and opened my mind to a fully caring and healing ministry.

One wee aside from those days is my regret that the homelessness we attempted to tackle in at least some small way hasn’t diminished in any substantial way over the interim period of some forty years.

My challenge to you this morning is to invite you to identify special moments in your own lives, moments, experiences, which you could describe as your own special epiphanies, moments when the Lord revealed Himself to you in a new or different way, when your eyes and your hearts were opened to see things in a new way, pivotal moments that you can look back on with gratitude because of the change that they exerted in your life.

Our experiences may not be as dramatic or theatrical as those of Isaiah, who wrote: “With my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty”, or that of Paul who, looking back on what happened on the road to Damascus, wrote of “Seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah”.  Both record the common denominator of ‘seeing the Lord’.

As I said, our epiphanies will be different, possibly less dramatic but nevertheless just as meaningful because we too have in our own way ‘seen the Lord’ and felt the touch of his hand on our lives.

Intercessory Prayer by Heather McHaffie

Heavenly Father

While we cannot come into our church to meet our church family we feel deprived. When we cannot just go anywhere we like, we regret the loss of our freedom. But our feelings are nothing compared with people who have no settled existence, no regular occupation, and are living at best in temporary accommodation. We give thanks for the legislation in response to Covid-19 that enlarged the provision made for homeless people so that all could have some place to stay.

Due to the pandemic we all feel more isolated and we pray for our absent friends and relations. We also pray for those who feel they have no friends and relations, only broken relationships, who have suffered from abuse, possibly drug addition too, and feel there is no prospect of a home-coming, no friends to look forward to, those who feel vulnerable, lonely and sad. We know how we can feel lonely being at home more, and pray for the loneliness of people who lack the support network most of us take for granted. We have the security of warm homes and it is all too easy to be inward-looking and forget the homeless or feel satisfied that for once they are all theoretically accommodated. We give thanks for the organisations providing support and food, who don’t stop the vital work because of the pandemic.

We pray especially for the work of these involved with the Social Bite village near us in Granton. To be able to move away from homelessness so much caring support is needed as well as thousands more affordable homes. Lord, there are many good things happening in a sad and terrible time, but much more that needs to be done. With all normal activities suspended let us not decide to suspend all that we previously supported as the need is greater than ever.

God, you asked Isaiah ‘Whom shall I send?’ We ask that we might be dug out of our safe, warm, lockdown winter retreats to look for active ways to help. Life is not on hold for those who need us. We cannot do everything, but help us to do what we can. Help us to be able to say ‘I will go, Lord, send me’.

Amen

Hymn 251 – I the Lord of sea and sky. Listen here.

Blessing

May you in the days of this new week continue to be conscious of the presence and leading of God. May he be your strength in times of weakness, your guide amidst all the uncertainty that surrounds you, your peace amidst the turmoil and anxiety around.

May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest on you and remain with you and with all whom you love, now and always.

Amen