Led by Mo Brand
Good morning and a very warm welcome to everyone joining us today for worship at Wardie Parish Church.
Call to Worship
Be still, listen, can you hear it?
Be ready, prepared, can you hear the voice?
Over the waters, breaking the cedars, shaking the wilderness, can you hear the voice of God?
The voice of the Lord is powerful and full of glory, we hear it and rejoice.
The Lord gives strength to us all!
May the Lord bless us; we worship the Lord!
Hymn 211 – Today I awake
God our Father, You bring light into darkness
And hope to our world.
Your son Jesus bring comforts to those suffering
And a full life for all.
The Holy Spirit brings joy to our hearts
And everyday miracles of change in our world.
We come to worship You and to offer our praise.
As we look towards a life where we can live more openly as restrictions ease from the pandemic, we offer our gratitude for the strength You have given us to persevere through all the hardships of the past year, and praise You for the prospect of new beginnings.
We thank You, God, that You come to us now in our lives as we look ahead once more,
In worship, You speak to us,
In our journey through life, You go with us.
Help us to be renewed and refreshed once more, to rejoice again in You,
To live every day as a step forward,
Living our lives always in Your light,
And to spark that light to shine again in church and nation.
We offer You these prayers in the name of Jesus, and say together the words that he taught his disciples:
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, forever. Amen.
One of the suggested reading for today includes one of the most well-known Bible verses, John 3:16, that starts “For God so loved the world”. It made me think about how great God’s love is and if there was a way to record it so we could show it, maybe on a chart or diagram, to other people. So I’ve rummaged around for some measuring equipment that we might normally use and explored if it could then be used to measure God’s love.
Something I use a lot for baking and cooking would be this (measuring jug) but I wonder if we might use a measuring jug to measure God’s love? I keep it with a wee printed conversion table so I can change things from pounds to grams or cups to ml. In the Bible there’s a few measurements mentioned, but the one that I’m thinking of says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … my cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:1,5). Well, if our cup runs over with God’s love, I guess we couldn’t use a measuring cup or even a jug to measure it.
Sometimes we might want to figure out how high or deep or long something is and we would generally use a tape measure, but how might we use a tape measure to measure God’s love? The Bible tells us that God’s love is higher than the heavens (Psalm 108:4). If God’s love is higher than the heavens – many of our songs include reference to love so high or low or wide that you can’t get around it – I don’t think we could use a tape measure to measure it, could we?
A lot of people still carry something with them to measure something many times a day. And that’s a watch – used to measure a length of time. I wonder if we could therefore measure how long God’s love will last. In the Psalms it tells us that God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 103:17). If God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting, then even a watch isn’t going to work.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How do you measure a love like that? It seems that maybe God’s love is truly immeasurable: we can’t measure it. We don’t need to. It’s great knowing that we all have a love beyond measurements, and love isn’t about measurements, it’s about actions and experiences and we all have a part to play to show God’s love in action and also to accept and look out for that love when it’s given to us.
Hymn 115 – Love is the touch of intangible joy
Psalm 29 (NRSV)
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,[b]
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Romans 8:12–17. The Message translation
12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Well today is Trinity Sunday. I often refer to the Church of Scotland website as a starting point when I’m leading worship as it generally has a different minister for each week who writes up some helpful notes based on the suggested Bible readings for that that Sunday.
It started by talking about exciting homiletical possibilities, then only the second paragraph asked me to consider my normal way of explaining the inter-relationship and procession of the ‘three in one’, and then to consider arcane heresies, historical divisions, and whether that normal explanation or model was modalism, Sabellianism, partialism, subordinationism, Arianism, partialism or the well-known triquetra.
So, although I could try and explain the Trinity like water in that it can be ice, liquid and vapour or a sun being like the star and the light and the heat or some other analogy, it seems that most things have explored and somewhere along the line someone picks it apart to show it’s maybe not the perfect analogy for explaining such a core doctrine of Christian belief.
All that lead me to quickly conclude that maybe I don’t need to explain exactly how three persons of the Trinity yet only one God works. Probably for the best.
I also thought I needed something a little simpler, I needed a bit of step back so I started with what I hoped would be easier and explored what Trinity Sunday is. It’s a unique date in the church calendar because unlike the other festivals of Christmas, Easter, Ascension or Pentecost that celebrate events, things that happened, Trinity Sunday celebrates a doctrine – an idea at the heart of faith.
Is that simpler? There is not one natural Trinity Bible story that would be expected to be told on this day; in fact the actual word Trinity isn’t even in the Bible, so nor is there a good Biblical quote that explains it clearly, but that’s perhaps only if you are looking for a doctrine or set of answers about exactly what it means. If instead we think about Trinity as events there are many events and examples of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Our first reading has this mighty, thundering, powerful description of God who in all His glory and wonder is asked to give peace and strength to His people.
All of this power revealed in nature reminds us to be amazed at the world around us, that there are forces beyond us, but additionally that there are also times of turbulence and storms. God’s power continues to be revealed yet this power that is seen through the resurrection of Jesus, his ascension to heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit is the very same power that is available to help us, to give us peace in our everyday worries and give us strength to keep going so we can weather the storms of life.
So, although I would not describe my experience of God with thunderous glory or say I have heard his voice like bolts of lightning, I think I can understand why David in this Psalm would write of him this way: it’s his understanding of his experience with God.
So, then, what if the Trinity isn’t about doctrine, it’s not about a set of answers or being able to explain it in a perfect way but rather it’s about experience – just as we can’t measure love, we can only describe some of its characteristics when it’s in action, maybe Trinity is more about our experience with God rather than our understanding of how God might work.
That makes sense in the words that we often use in church and in our prayers. We ask God the Father for help, we look to Jesus as an example and the Spirit to guide our actions. In that, seeing God in different contexts – a power moving above the earth, a person interacting with others, a Spirit within all of us – helps us to relate more to God and in doing so to be more like him in our actions.
Most of us are actually used to reading about God in different ways. Now, I’m not about to say God is more than the Trinity, more than three personas, just that we are used to hearing and relating to God in different ways and we’re generally OK with explaining these things by our own understanding. So if we hear God is the Good Shepherd we acknowledge that some people think of God as willing to be there on the night shift in the cold to watch over us, and it’s also OK that some think of God searching around to bring back one lost sheep into the fold, or indeed that others think of God leading the flock to pastures green and still waters. So we can comfortably explain it reminds us that God watches over us, looks for us and leads us, and we don’t tend to get hung up on the fact that God – Father, Son or Holy Spirit – was never actually a shepherd by trade. We relate to our own experiences and our own understanding and to times where we have needed, wanted or found God in these kinds of examples. And maybe that’s one way we can think about relating and explaining the Trinity too, in the times where we experienced, learned from, leaned on, prayed to or sought help from God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
Our second reading today from Romans 8:12–17 comes from the Message translation but it’s worth reading again in whichever translation you normally use too and looking for God as three in one in it. I chose it because I understood or thought about the Trinity in its words – I liked that God’s Spirit wasn’t simply already given and part of me but also beckons – things to do, places to go. A more traditional translation would say that you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back to fear. What a call to be active in our faith, an indication that it’s an ongoing journey and a little bit of trust – what things to do and where to go?
I liked it because I would never speak to God with the words ‘What’s next, Papa?’ – nor would I use ‘Hi, Dad’. I think I would even struggle to start with ‘My Father’ – but it made me think about how we relate to God in a parental role, how often we say Our Father but how it can be harder to make that personal. It may be from my own experience of parental roles but now that I am also a parent it makes me think on what I would want my child to come to me about and how the words which we use mean so much – do you still call people just by their surnames, is it respect or tradition or both? When we pray, do we use the same words for God? Is that respect, tradition or both, because as our experience and relationship grow then maybe our words do too. If you were to write a psalm or a prayer that relates your experiences, would God be powerful, majestic, full of glory? Would you write Father, Mother, Creator? What would come after my God, my … ?
The passage also reminded me that God is with us in our joys and our sorrows, that Jesus suffered and endured many hardships and that at times gives us relatable experiences but we need to walk with God in all times, not just those hard ones.
And then God’s spirit confirms in us who we really are and who he is. So it looks like the answer is there – God will confirm. Alternative words say that if you are led by the Spirit then you are a child of God.
So maybe this Trinity Sunday you are confident in explaining the doctrine of three in one, maybe you’re happy to think of it as beyond your understanding, maybe you’re trying to figure it out. Wherever you’re coming from it’s a good chance to reflect, ponder, give thanks and honour God in all the ways that you have experienced and to be open and ready to experience some more!
Intercessory prayers by Susan Dyer
We come now to offer our prayers of dedication and supplication for the needs of the wider world. We are reminded that the church needs money, and that there are several ways we can give even in these restricted times. The Treasurer would be delighted to help you find the right way for you.
Let us pray:
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.
Here in our community we are blessed in so many ways.
We rejoice in the prospect of a new minister to lead us in proclaiming the Gospel and serving your people.
Give us the grace and courage to seize this opportunity to embrace new ways of doing so.
We rejoice to live in a peaceful country, and for many of us here, secure in the support and love of families and friends.
But we cannot be blind to the desperate needs of others, in this country and throughout the world, and we ask you to hear our prayers for them.
We are a world that is in desperate need of You, God.
When powers struggle for dominance, and war, oppression and abuse result;
When groups of people oppose one another because of ideologies, religion or culture;
We need a God who is far greater than ourselves and our personal interests.
We pray at this time particularly for the ordinary people of Israel and Palestine, about whom we hear so much;
and for the Uighur people of China about whom we hear so little.
Come, Almighty God, come.
When people are disregarded and devalued because of poverty, geography and disease;
When compassion and justice are withheld to some because of sexuality, race or gender;
We need a Saviour who is more compassionate than we are, who includes even those we would exclude.
We pray in particular at this time for people of colour still struggling to overcome centuries of prejudice from white people. And for the millions living in poverty with no access to the Covid vaccines.
Come, Redeeming Saviour, come.
When resources are mismanaged and abused, and the world and its creatures are destroyed; When motivation is scarce and creativity in short supply to address the challenges that we face;
We need a Spirit who is more powerful and creative than we could ever be.
We pray in particular at this time for the leaders of the world, including our own, to commit honestly and whole-heartedly to policies which will bring real change, and not procrastinate again to protect their own local interests.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Lord God, Loving Saviour, Empowering Spirit,
We offer these prayers because we need You so desperately.
Captivate us, call us and fill us, that we may be carriers of Your eternal life to this world that You love so dearly.
Hymn 110 – Glory be to God the Father. Listen here.
Many thanks to everyone who took part in the service, seen and unseen.
May God’s grace always enfold us.
May Jesus’ compassion always nourish us.
May the Spirit’s imagination always find a home in us.
And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Love of God,
and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all,