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Sunday Service, 7th March 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

In the seventh verse of Psalm 37 the psalmist encourages us to: “Be patient and wait for the Lord to act.” The hymn writer puts it like this –

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.

Hymn 485 – Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Listen here.

Prayer

Almighty and eternal God, in the midst of our Lenten journey we come to you this morning seeking a safe place, a listening place in which to open ourselves and be available – and vulnerable – to that still small voice. Come to us in our homes as we worship you. Come to us in the reading and preaching of your Word. Come to us in the touch of friends. Come to us and encourage us, challenge us, inspire us to be true servants and yet partners with you in the work of the Gospel.

Merciful God, we rejoice that your purpose for us is to enjoy life in all its fullness: casting light into our darkness, bringing order from the chaos, breathing life into barren souls. God of life, we adore you.

Compassionate God, we rejoice that the offer to us is new life, calling us to confession, holding out forgiveness, freeing us from guilt. God of new life, we adore you.

Inspiring God, we rejoice that your promise to us is a full life; giving purpose to our days, bearing fruit from the Spirit’s gifts, guiding us to live love’s truth. God of full life, we adore you.

Thank you for your friendship, Lord.
Thank you for being with us in every experience of our lives.
Thank you for physical support when our imperfect bodies reveal their imperfections.
Thank you for mental support when we struggle with new ideas and skills.
Thank you for emotional support when family and friends make demands on our love.
Thank you for spiritual support when our faith falters and we fear the future.
Thank you that at the end of our earthly lives your friendship will see us safely home and you will be there to greet us.

Hear us as we continue in prayer, taking the words that Jesus taught his disciples and making them our own.

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 was thinking about how much has happened over the last year and how much people, especially little people, have changed. At home I have a confident chatty 3-year-old who takes each day, full of excitement, as it comes. He is now quite independent and gets lots of things for himself, but he also still needs lots of reminders, mainly to tidy up his toys, to wash his hands and to remember his manners … Before he could speak, he signed. His first signs were milk, orange and bird, followed very quickly by please and thank you … so he’s had way over two years of being reminded to use his manners but it’s still so easy to forget.

When he needs something then he wants it straight away; he does not want to say please. When something is very ordinary like food, he sometimes forgets to say thank you. When something is so exciting, he’s too caught up in the moment and too busy to say it. It’s interesting that when he is reminded to say thank you sometimes, he’s so busy that words fail him, and he will sign instead. Although there are many ways he might show me how grateful he is, its always important that he always says (or signs) the actual word.

I’m also very aware that reminding him to say please and thank you will be ongoing for a long time yet but it is not just children who forget… perhaps you can relate to how hard it sometimes can be…

When you want something, when you expect something, when something is ordinary or when it’s so exciting or overwhelming that words fail – sometimes simple things like manners aren’t so simple after all. In today’s story we will also hear how some people seemed to forget their basic manners.

Scripture readings

2 Kings 5:115  

Naaman Healed of Leprosy

5 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Luke 17:11–19

Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Then there were nine. Luke 17:1117

I want to take this opportunity to thank you as a church for allowing me as an old retired Baptist Minister and Social Worker the opportunity of leading you in worship over the past year. It is something I have enjoyed and I simply want to say thanks.

I believe that it is important in life to say thank you – today, by email, previously something we would have done by phone or through what has become known as snail mail, the good old-fashioned way of communicating.

We don’t usually (hopefully) do things so that we are thanked at the end of the day; nevertheless, we do like to be appreciated.

The story is told by Dr Theodore Ferris of a traveller in Africa, while watching a nun dressing the wounds of a leper, wounds that were revolting and repulsive, saying to her: “I wouldn’t do that for 10,000 dollars.” It seems that the nun looked at him and said: “Neither would I.” She wasn’t doing it for the dollars, she was doing it for love, because of her gratitude towards the One who had loved her and had given Himself for her on the cross.

Speaking to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi Jesus said: “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.”

That journey south took him through a village where he was confronted by ten men all suffering from leprosy. As the law demanded, they stood their distance and shouted: “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.”

Here we find ten wretched, forsaken, no doubt disheartened men. I am sure they must have felt frustrated, and with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness as far as their futures were concerned. They had leprosy, a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure. In fact, in those days leprosy could have been described as a death sentence, one that was carried out a little bit at a time – an arm now, a leg or ear later. Because the disease was thought to be highly contagious, lepers were driven out of town, forced to establish their own communities, places where they would not be able to associate with anybody else than those within their own condemned group. Yes, these men must have felt hopeless and helpless and alone.

We don’t know how they managed to gain information about Jesus and the healing ministry he was exercising in the outside world, but somehow that information had filtered through to their community – perhaps that could be described as a wee miracle in itself.

Can you imagine the effect that such news about Jesus would have had within that forsaken group of forlorn people? Hopes, no doubt, began to arise; perhaps they reached the point of believing, of beginning to dream, that in spite of their seemingly hopeless disease they might just have a chance of a new life, a new beginning, and restoration back into society.

We aren’t made aware of what was actually going through their minds but obviously a collective decision was reached that they would act and act together: “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.”

Our Lord saw a way to test their faith. He said to them: “Go and let the priests examine you.” They could have looked at each other and said: “Well, nothing’s happened. We are just the same as we were.” Instead they did what he said; they obeyed him. Why such obedience? Was it something in Jesus’ words, something in his attitude? Whatever it was, it compelled them to obey. As they went, the blessing came – they were cleansed. What a wonderful, transforming, healing experience.

The miracle took place in transit. The response of the men to what happened couldn’t have been more extreme. Ninety per cent, nine out the ten, left centre stage and were never heard of again. Did they eventually make their way to allow the priests to examine what had happened to them? We aren’t told. Did the miracle have a far-reaching permanent effect on their lives or did their lack of acknowledgment reverse the miraculous process? Not as far as we know.

Why didn’t the ‘nine’ make that return journey to thank the Lord? Again we don’t really know but is it reading too much into the narrative to suggest that perhaps they felt that they actually deserved to be healed, it was their human right – if there was a God he shouldn’t have allowed the illness to have dragged them down in such a monstrous way in the first place? Or maybe they felt that there were more urgent needs to be settled – after all they had been segregated, ostracised, quarantined for many a year and therefore they would have to re-establish relationships within their family circle, within their communities, in society in general. They may not have meant to be seen as being ungrateful but there were other pressures upon them – Christ could wait, they had other priorities to meet. They no doubt had a place for Christ within their lives, but it was a place on the circumference of their lives, not at the centre.

Perhaps you feel that I am being hard on the attitude of the ‘nine’. Perhaps they showed their gratitude in later years by exercising the same kind of love and compassion to others as they had experienced from the Lord. I sometimes wish that the Gospel writers had followed up on the lives of those whom Jesus had touched in one way or another during those three years of ministry.

One man, however, did come back to express his gratitude. We read that: “he threw himself to the ground at Jesus feet and thanked him.” The striking thing about this story is the Samaritan leper coming back and falling at Jesus’ feet. He was not just removing the distance of disease but also the distance that was always there between the Jew and the Samaritan. And it is good to remember that the other ‘nine’ were doing what Jesus told them to do but the tenth was acknowledging not only what Jesus had done but also who Jesus was – as we too are called to recognise that who we are is a gift from God and what we do with our lives is our gift and gratitude to God.

The fact that the ‘one’ was a Samaritan could be read as the sting in the tail within our narrative. A Samaritan – an outsider – an alien from the Israel of God. Don’t you sometimes find it extraordinary that so often it is the most unlikely folks who are the first to respond to Jesus?

In Jericho, for example, I’m sure that there were numerous worthy religious folks, and yet it was left to Zacchaeus to take Jesus home for a meal. Why had it to be a woman of the streets who anointed Jesus for death and burial? Why had it to be 12 rough fishermen and a number of almost unknown others who formed the nucleus of a world religion? Is it simply that God works, and continues to work, in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform?

How prominent is thanksgiving in our lives and in our prayers? Are our prayers so busy with asking God for things – often good things for others – that we forget to give thanks for the good things in our lives? This may be easier for us when things are going well in our lives than on those occasions when we are experiencing the darker side of life, as many have over the days of the past year.

But back to our narrative, and at the end of the day I am sure that we would rather be identified with the ‘one’ than with the ‘nine’, and rightly so. The Lord’s intervention in our lives would probably not be seen as dramatic as in the life of the ‘one’, but I am sure we can all look back on occasions when our cry to him was just as heartfelt and as genuine as that of those lepers – Lord hear my cry, a cry that no doubt was answered, perhaps not in the way we expected, but answered nevertheless.

We could have called this morning’s reflection a matter of grace and gratitude. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ intervening in the lives of ten desperate men and the particular gratitude of one in response to that miraculous intervention.

It’s a grace that we have all experienced at different times in our lives, a grace that has brought light into our darkness, a grace that has enabled us to make new beginnings after failure, which has brought restoration of relationships, renewal to our faith and strength for our pilgrimage through life.

We would do well to remember that God’s grace can come to us in so many different ways – by direct intervention of the Holy Spirit – through our reading and understanding of Scripture – and as John Bell reminds us, through ‘the touch of friends’. And our response to the grace of God touching our lives? Surely it is one of deep and heartfelt gratitude.

I could well imagine the Lord adding a personal postscript to our reading of the Gospel passage this morning: “Having experienced the depth of such grace, now go out and exercise your gratitude by ‘touching’ the lives of others.”

When someone does something for us we may not be able to do something in return for that person, but there will always be opportunities for us to show kindness to others. Jesus healed these men. They couldn’t do that in return for him, but they could show love and compassion for others who were in difficult situations. I like to think that the ‘nine’ men who didn’t come back went off to show others the grace and mercy Jesus had shown them.

Prayers of Intercession by Heather McHaffie

Heavenly Father,

We give thanks for all that we are fortunate enough to have, for the money which we are able to give to the church for your continuing work, and for the skills of those who manage it for us. Help us in our own spending to use our resources wisely, and to think of how our purchasing power can affect other people’s livelihoods.

As we approach a whole year since the first lockdown for Covid-19 it is too easy to complain of our restricted lives and feel we do not have the opportunity to do anything useful. Life is not always made up of adventurous new projects. Like Naaman, help us to see the importance of doing the simple things you ask of us that can have surprising results. For us it could mean keeping in touch, a phone call, a card, the chance conversations when we are out and about.

Help us to look for the positives in our strange new lives. We give thanks for the medical services in this country and the vaccines we are so grateful to receive. We give thanks for the friendly spirit that the pandemic has prompted, for the smiles and chats with strangers in the street. We give thanks for our surrounding area, with interesting places that we have never taken the time to see before. We give thanks for the extra time we have gained by being obliged to modify our usually busy lives. Help us to realise that perhaps not everything we did before is necessary. Especially during Lent, we thank you for the opportunity to reflect on our lives, on what is important to us and how we want to shape the pattern of the future. We give thanks that families have been able to spend more time together while remembering those who have been separated by lockdown regulations.

We thank you for the seasons and especially now for spring. Despite the cold weather the plants respond to the increasing daylight which encourages us all. Help us to see the signs of your wonderful world around us, and to enjoy the strengthening sunshine, the swelling buds and the extravagant displays of flowers. As plants colonise the most unpromising places, so too does your love reach into the darkest places in the world. We pray for awareness of these dark places, for the will to do our part in being your agents for change. Let us show our gratitude by our actions to others, and help to make your world a better place.

Amen

Hymn 718 – We cannot measure how you heal

Blessing

May the almighty Father refresh you
And the loving Saviour redeem you
And the life-giving Spirit restore you
And now may the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest and remain on you, and all whom you love.
Now and always.
Amen.