August 29th, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

A downloadable version of this page is available for anyone who would like to save or print it out.

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Darren Philip, Youth and Children's Development Worker at Livingston United Parish Church, for his thoughts on the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

It provides liturgical material that can be used for worship in all settings. Our writers are asked to share their approaches to creating and delivering this material to equip leaders with a greater confidence and ability to reflect on their own worship practice and experience and encourage them to consider how this material might be adapted for their own context.

We would encourage continual reflection on the changing patterns of worship and spiritual practice that are emerging from disruption and how this might help identify pathways towards development and worship renewal.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

At the time of writing, it is hard to know quite what life will look like by the end of August, but COVID restrictions permitting, now is the time when many activities will be getting up and going again after a summer break. In groups with children and young people, this is usually a good time to sit down as a group and discuss "ground rules" or values that set out expectations about how the group will treat and respond to one another, and this will be even more important after such an extended time off. Perhaps as life has reopened after lockdowns and restrictions churches will have taken time out to consider what they do and to re-evaluate their life together.

Today's readings lend themselves well to this sort of task. In the gospel reading, Jesus teaches that it is the inner attitude of the heart rather than the outer performance of religious duty that matters. In the epistle, James summarises how a life lived in faith will relate to others. The Psalm relates the leadership of a king to acting justly and with righteousness towards his people, while the other Hebrew Testament reading is a poem of romantic love. Each of these can speak in to how we relate to others – those we love, those we are in power over, those we encounter day-to-day, and those who are our society's most marginalised. As this Sunday is on the cusp of Creation Time (which traditionally begins on 1 September), a thought is also offered as to how this can be expanded to include how we relate to our natural surroundings.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The inclusion of a reading from Song of Solomon in worship immediately grabs a congregation's attention because it is so different to any other scripture passage: it is a piece of performance poetry, it is charged with sexual energy… and it doesn't mention God. It is worth considering, then, the different ways in which people might hear this passage, both in terms of experience and interpretation.

In this second song, the woman imagines hearing her lover's voice and seeing him running over the mountains to stand beneath her window, where he calls to her to come and join him. It feels like the blueprint for the scene in so many romance movies where the lovestruck teenager stands throwing stones at the window hoping to catch their love's attention.

First, let us consider how personal experience might shape how we understand this passage. How might people at different stages of life hear and respond to this text? A young person making their first foray into the world of romance may recognise the excitement, anticipation and sense of adventure that is contained in this simple human interaction. An older couple may be reminded of the early days of their love and give thanks for a life shared together. Some may lament that they have never experienced such courtship, while others may be reminded of promises in relationships that were not fulfilled. Those who have lost a partner might identify with the woman's longing.

The other consideration is one of interpretation. What are we to understand this text to mean? Why was it included in the canon of scripture? If we read the text literally – as a poem of love between two partners – then its inclusion in scripture speaks of the goodness of romantic love, of God's blessing on humans as sexual beings. If we read the text allegorically – as a metaphor for the relationship between God and God's people, or Christ and the Church – it speaks of a love so strong that God runs over mountains to seek us out and invite us into relationship.

Given that many people believe this book to have been written as a drama, in presenting the reading you could invite two voices to act it out.

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

In my experience, the Psalms are rarely given a place in worship beyond a liturgical setting or song (I can only once recall preaching on a Psalm), yet there is much in them which can speak to us today. This psalm is imagined as a love song for the wedding of a king and his bride, with sections addressed to each. This little section of the psalm addresses the king. It links his position as king, and therefore his exercise of power, to three things: ruling with justice/equity, a love of righteousness, and a hatred of wickedness.

One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is that, as poetry, they can open up multiple layers of meaning. The opening of verse 6 can be translated as "Your throne, O God…" or "Your throne is a throne of God…". This reflects the manner in which some commentaries read this psalm as teaching about the nature of God who is just, righteous and hates wickedness; while others read it as written for the marriage of a specific king (Calvin believed it referred to Solomon) who – because they were just, righteous and hated wickedness – was favoured by God. Some Jewish sources point to the king as the awaited Messiah (1), while the author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes this understanding explicit by quoting verses 6 and 7 in relation to Jesus (Hebrews 1:8-9). In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that in the specific context of a wedding song, the king is also being addressed as a groom. It may be that we do not need to choose between these understandings – the richness of scripture is that it is a living text. Taking the interpretations together, this passage can serve as both an affirmation and a challenge: an affirmation that in Christ, we are assured of God's everlasting justice and righteousness; and a challenge that in our relationships (be they relationships of power as characterised by king/people, or relationships of love as characterised by groom/bride) we are called to act justly and show righteousness.

[1] See, for example, Chapter 45 on Chabad.org, footnote 3, Accessed 2 May 2021.

James 1:17-27

In some ways, I find this passage from James a difficult one to deal with – not because of what it says, but because of how much it says. In nine short verses from 19-27, there are no fewer than fourteen pieces of advice on how to live a life of faith, any one of which could be the subject of lengthy discourse. It can be helpful to think of this passage as an ‘executive summary' of what is to follow – James is setting out the ideas that he will develop later in his letter (some of which the lectionary explores over the next two Sundays):

  • Verses 17-18 speak of good gifts from above and being born of the word of truth, in contrast to the temptations of desire giving birth to sin in the preceding verses. This theme is picked up in James 3:13-4:10.
  • Verses 19-20 and 26 speak about being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, thoughts which are developed in James 3:1-12.
  • Verse 21 calls the reader to examine their life, remove the wrong that is in it and welcome the word planted in them, which is further explored throughout chapters 3, 4 and 5.
  • Verses 22-25 demand actions from faith, which is the subject of the famous passage in James 2:14-26.
  • Verse 27 places stress on the importance of caring for the marginalised (here represented by orphans and widows), which is immediately expanded on in James 2:1-13.

Luther criticised that James "does nothing more than drive to the law and to its works" (2), thereby ascribing justification to works rather than faith. In this passage, however, James is thinking through the consequences of faith: how is the Christian life transformed by faith in Christ? James presents quite a striking summary of what a life lived in faith looks like: followers of Jesus ought to control their tongue, put the teachings of Jesus into action, care for society's most marginalised and guard against being "stained" by worldly ways.

[2] Martin Luther, Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude (1522)

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Having lived through a year and a half where hand hygiene has been even more essential for survival than usual, it might be tempting to think that the Pharisees and scribes have a bit of a point when they criticise the disciples for eating without washing their hands first. It is important, though, to remember that their concern is not in the interests of good sanitisation, but rather it is ceremonial cleanliness which is foremost in their minds. They had codified thousands of regulations which would make or keep a person ritually clean (the gospel writer lists the washing of cups, pots and bronze kettles as examples) and washing hands in a certain way before a meal was one such rule.

Jesus responds by calling them hypocrites, quoting from Isaiah 29:13, where the prophet bemoaned those who practice the rituals of religion by rote without anywhere allowing it to enter into their hearts. I remember songs and choruses from when I was young ("Read your Bible, pray every day…" etc.) that left me with the impression that faith simply boiled down to a set of rituals and practices which, so long as I performed them faithfully, need have no larger impact on my life. Here, Jesus clearly speaks against falling into that trap – religious practices are well and good if they help turn our hearts towards God and others, but it is essential to ensure that the tradition does not become our idol rather than God. A life of faith must be so much more than religious observance.

Jesus then goes beyond just the Pharisees and the scribes, and speaks to the whole crowd, making what would have been a shocking claim that "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." William Barclay described this as "well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament." (3) Jesus goes against centuries of tradition and countless scriptures of law which make provision for what foods and objects are clean or unclean, and instead declares that it is not physical matter (such as food) that can be clean or unclean, but rather human hearts.

It is worth stopping for a moment and imagining being part of that crowd, having lived with the teachings, traditions and laws that formed your understanding of faith, then hearing Jesus sweep all that aside and proclaim that's not what really matters. It must have been a lot to take in. I wonder what traditions and practices we hold dear, which we would find as difficult to see past, Jesus might also proclaim to us don't really matter?

[3] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 198.

Sermon ideas

Each of today's texts speaks of what it means to live a life of faith and how that impacts the way we relate to God and to other people. There are several approaches which could offer a way in to exploring an aspect of relationship, a few of which are offered here as a starter.

Relating to hearts and deeds

I alluded above to the centuries-old debate of faith versus works. On a cursory reading, the passage from Mark seems to come down on the side of faith (as Jesus calls those who focus on performing a religious obedience ‘hypocrites' and states that it is what is in the heart that matters), while the passage from James seems to come down on the side of works (as James claims it is not enough to leave something in the heart but that it is putting it into practice that matters). Dwelling on the texts for a moment longer, though, they are not in disagreement. Both caution against the dangers of thinking yourself to be religious without that being transformational. Both stress the importance of the inner life – the human heart – in which God has implanted God's word (James 1:21), but which we can deceive (James 1:26) and allow to be defiled by evil intentions (Mark 7:21). Both are concerned with the outworking of what is in our hearts – looking at the final couple of verses in each text, James lists the positive and Mark lists the negative ways we can respond. By reading these texts together, each reinforces the other: what matters is what is in our hearts, but those whose heart is filled with love for God and neighbour will be moved to acts of compassion and justice.

Relating to the marginalised

Today's psalm speaks of a king, and in case we forget the king's position of power, images of sceptres, extravagant robes, an ivory palace, ladies of honour and a queen in gold remind us of that. Yet, although there is a power imbalance between the king and his people, this king is praised because he acts justly and loves righteousness. How we treat people when we are in a position of relative power matters. It is little surprise, then, that when James comes to sum up "religion that is pure" (v.27) his first thought is "to care for orphans and widows" – those representative of society's most marginalised. Similarly, when Jesus comes to list those things which defile a person in Mark 7:21-23, the things he lists are not individual acts but all things which affect another, usually one who is in a lesser position of power than the perpetrator. Positions of power will always exist, but we are called not to let the relationship become defined by power, but rather by love.

Relating to our loved ones

When I get home after a difficult day, it is my loved ones that bear the brunt of my bad mood. So often those whom we love the most can be those we take for granted the most. They can also be those we treat least well. Today's readings can offer a corrective to that. Song of Solomon can remind us of the goodness and beauty of love as something to be treasured. Psalm 45 – set at a wedding – highlights the importance of equity and righteousness within relationship, while the advice in James to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger will serve us well in all of our personal relationships. Today's readings could offer the opportunity to celebrate the gifts that are love and relationship, and to reflect on how to show God's love to one another within them. This could be enhanced by making a personal connection, for example interviewing a couple in your congregation who have been together for a long time.

Relating to creation

Given that Creation Time begins in the coming week, it is worth expanding these ideas to consider how we relate to planet earth. The imagery in the passage from Song of Solomon could almost be a hymn in praise of creation – there's landscape (mountains), season (winter), weather (rain), animals (gazelle, stag, turtledove) and plant-life (flowers, fig tree, fragrant blossom). The woman thinks of her lover as nature – what if we reversed this and thought of nature as lover? When Psalm 45 speaks of the king exercising justice and righteousness and hating wickedness over his subjects, what would it mean for us, who are stewards of creation, to show justice and righteousness and hate wickedness towards our planet? What would it mean to let a love of creation sink deep within our hearts such that we were moved towards meaningful action?

There could be an opportunity here to involve the whole congregation by, for example, inviting them to submit a photo they've taken of their local natural environment and piecing these together as a slideshow (which could be shown in person, or shared online) on the theme of "nature as lover".

Prayers

These prayers are offered in differing styles to encourage participation.

Call to worship

This responsorial call to worship requires splitting the congregation into two parts. If using this in online worship, you may wish to have three voices read one part each and invite those at home to respond with the final line of each section. It introduces the themes of each of the readings, so can be altered to suit the readings chosen.

Leader: We gather to worship the Lord.
Group A: Not with empty rituals.
Group B: Not with doctrines and traditions.
All: But with all our hearts.

Leader: The Lord our God is king.
Group A: God rules with justice and equity.
Group B: God loves righteousness and hates wickedness.
All: God's kingdom will last forever.

Leader: We gather to worship the Lord.
Group A: With ears ready to listen.
Group B: With hearts ready to receive.
All: With faith ready for action.

Leader: The Lord is faithful and true.
Group A: The Lord is our beloved.
Group B: We are the Lord's beloved.
All: The Lord is ours and we are the Lord's.

Leader: Because God is good.
Group A: Because our hearts are filled with love.
Group B: Because we care for one another.
All: We gather to worship the Lord.

Thanksgiving

This prayer is a form of imaginative contemplation that invites worshippers to go on an imaginary journey to offer thanksgiving to God for those to whom we relate. Encourage people to sit comfortably and close their eyes – and make sure you offer twice as much time for each silence as you think you should!

Imagine you are boarding a double-decker bus.
You pay your fare, climb to the top deck and take the front seat by the window.
Take a moment to look at your fellow passengers.
Like countless people every day, you do not know them,
yet you share a moment of life together.
Take some time to imagine their faces.
Look at each one and say in your heart:
they are made in God's image.

Silence

Thank You, God, for fleeting relationships,
for those whom we encounter in passing every day.

Take a moment to look down to the pavement.
There, walking past, is someone you don't get on with,
someone you find difficult, someone you dislike.
Take some time to picture their face.
Think about what went wrong between you.
Look at them and say in your heart:
they are made in God's image.

Silence

Thank You, God, for these people,
for they too are Your children.

Take a moment to look out of the opposite window.
The bus is passing a woodland, a nature area.
Take some time to picture the things you enjoy:
the plants, the animals, the scenery, the weather.
Look at it and say in your heart:
God saw that this was good.

Silence

Thank You, God, for Your creation,
for the wonderful gift You entrust us to care for.

The bus arrives at your front door.
Take a moment to picture all the people that pass through that door:
friends, family, those with whom you laugh and cry.
Take some time to recall those dearest to you.
Look at them and say in your heart:
they are made in God's image.

Silence

Thank You, God, for the gift of love,
for family, for friendship, for companions on the way.

You slowly disembark the bus
and step out into the world.

Keep in me, God, a thankful heart.
Amen.

Confession

This prayer of confession picks up on the themes of James and Mark. The last line of each stanza could be spoken by the whole congregation if desired.

For those times when we have hurt those closest to us,
when we have been slow to listen, quick to speak, quick to anger,
forgive us, Lord, and fill our hearts with righteousness.

For those times when we have hurt those we encounter,
when we lose control of our tongues,
forgive us, Lord, and fill our hearts with righteousness.

For those times when we have hurt the weakest and most marginalised,
when we take advantage of power, wealth or status,
forgive us, Lord, and fill our hearts with righteousness.

For those times when we have hurt Your creation,
when we know how to care for it but fail to act,
forgive us, Lord, and fill our hearts with righteousness.

For those times when we have hurt You,
when we seek ritual over faith, when we hear Your call but do not act,
forgive us, Lord, and fill our hearts with righteousness.

Forgive us, Lord, and help us reset our relationships
that they may be filled with a love and compassion that reflects Yours,
the King of righteousness.
Amen

Intercession

Picking up on the theme of love and the imagery of the heart, members of the congregation could be invited to write their own intercessions on a heart shape. In person, this could be done individually on pre-cut heart shapes, or collectively (if distancing restrictions allow) on a poster or flipchart. Online, this could be done by sharing your screen on an image of a heart and enabling the ‘Annotation' feature if you are using a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or MS Teams, allowing everyone to write or draw on the same heart.

Blessing/Closing prayer

This blessing reinforces the theme of right relationships by naming parts of the body. You could invite people to touch or point to the appropriate part as the prayer is said.

As we go from this space,
give us eyes to see afresh the beauty of relationship,
give us ears that are quick to listen,
give us mouths that are slow to speak,
give us hands whose actions are compassionate,
give us feet to walk only with You,
and give us a heart to know and share the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
that the whole world may be transformed.
Amen

Alternative Material

This material has been supplied by kind permission of Spill the Beans and allows you to explore the readings or theme of the service in creative ways that include everyone gathering for worship.

New material from Spill the Beans is provided in the latest issues available from their website.

All of the activities below can be carried out in church or in the home with some adaptation and notice in advance.

Bible Notes

The Spirit of the Law – Mark 7:108, 14-15, 21-23

"Tea's almost ready! Time to wash your hands!" Mum's words still ring in my ears.

In the previous chapter of Mark we read about Jesus feeding the 5,000. ‘And lo, Jesus faced the huge crowd of people and held up the five loaves and two fishes, before he blessed them he said, "Lunch is ready! Time to wash your hands!"' Can you imagine the scene? Cleanliness is next to Godliness?

Of course, the cleanliness devout Jews practiced was not so much about stopping the spread of germs (though that might have been a secondary benefit) as it was a mark of holiness. The rituals they used, including handwashing, were the single most important way of keeping themselves pure from contamination: from the ‘wrong' sort of people, the ‘wrong' sort of animals and the ‘wrong' sort of bodily fluids. By keeping themselves pure in that way they were more worthy of God. Or so they believed. Those in power, like the Pharisees, used these rituals and rules to try to keep clear of, and control of, the masses—and even Jesus himself.

Today's story begins with the Pharisees tut-tutting that some of Jesus' very own disciples weren't sticking to the rules about ritual handwashing. Jesus, however, challenged those rules quoting Isaiah to affirm his argument. The way Mark writes, it's easy to see he's on Jesus' side; his explanation in verses 3 and 4 has an air of ridicule about it: ‘even the pots and pans had to be washed, for goodness sake!'

Jesus wasn't saying that the original spirit of the law, including taking part in rituals to draw us nearer to God, was wrong. He was angry at how insistence on keeping the rules was having the opposite effect, turning people away from God. It had all become ridiculous.

A second example of how the spirit of the law had been undermined by keeping the letter of it, is found in verses 9-13, excluded from today's reading; but they make the point well. For us ‘corban' could be the money we put in the offering bag, our committed contribution to God's work.

What if the Church had a rule which said that nothing should lessen the amount we give; so even if a member of our family is unemployed and in desperate need of money for basic living, we can't spend God's money on that? What is God's work if not to bring the Kingdom value of feeding the hungry, to everyone? Is God going to punish us for giving less to the Church and more to people in need?

A third example was about food. Mark was writing for a mainly Gentile readership. He was well aware that some Jewish Christians believed that Gentiles should keep Jewish rules; more specifically, he knew that the rules about what kind of food Jews could and couldn't eat were proving to be a stumbling block so telling this story of Jesus was vital to welcoming all-comers (an issue we read more about in Acts).

Jesus said it wasn't what we eat or don't eat that's important (thus he says Leviticus 11 is invalid!) it's what thoughts we have in our minds and hearts about other people and how we behave towards them that's important. The spirit of God's law is about loving: respecting with equality, justice and generosity our neighbours (all of them), our world, and ourselves. How does our commitment bear fruit?

Retelling for Young People

It's question time in a big way this season, as Mark shows up arguments, confrontations, requests and debates between Jesus, the disciples and those they met. So the most basic visual symbol that connects these stories is the question mark itself.

Have a printed A4 (preferably laminated) question mark and this should be used each week along with a different "question word".

The aim for this story is to examine the question WHAT.

A different child each week could be given the question mark card prior to the service and carry it forward prior to the retelling of the story. You may also wish to produce a card with the word WHAT on it. However you may just have the word on a screen within the church.

By way of introduction, comment on how many of the young people will have returned to school. Ask them what they learn about within school.

At this point the children could respond with some suggestions of what they have learned since starting back.

You could then explain that there is a question which they could help you with.

Stand and wash your hands in a basin of water. Ask the young people, "What am I doing?"

Depending on the answers, you can agree or help to arrive at the desired outcome: washing dirt/germs from your hands.

You could then ask the children what they think you may have been doing which meant that your hands needed to be washed. Be prepared for some interesting answers!

After a couple of suggestions ask them what you may be about to do that means you need to wash your hands.

This should come round to preparations for eating, once the gist of the eating concept has been established you can explain that Jesus told the Pharisees that whatever they ate goes straight into their stomach (point to your stomach) and doesn't go near your heart.

What is in your heart is already there, it doesn't matter whether you eat an apple, pizza, chips, etc. Getting rid of bugs by washing may help your tummy but it doesn't affect your heart.

However, what you do or say comes from the heart. If you do good things or bad things that comes from the heart (point to your heart).

Questions for the young people to consider:

  • What am I doing?
  • What am I saying?
  • Is it good? Is it bad?

Challenge for the week, for everyone:

  • Stop, think, question, ‘What am I doing?'

Activities

These activities can be done with a gathered congregation or at home, with some adaptation.

Follow the rules

This is a simple game of following the rules. The leader tells everyone to stand, sit, bow, jump, and so on. Once they have done a round of this, ask the children to do the opposite of what you tell them.

In the next round get half of the group to follow the instructions as given and get the other half to do the opposite of what you say. It doesn't take long for things to go haywire. The children will start to make up their own rules!

Afterwards talk about rules and why some rules are good while others are bad. Do they find it hard to follow rules? Do they find it hard to follow rules they don't understand?

Do we need laws?

You will need: sheets of paper, pens.

Write down as many rules and laws as the group can remember off the top of their heads. These can be official or unwritten laws or conventions. Then spend a few moments thinking

about the rules or laws written on the sheets and give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down depending on whether the group thinks they are helpful or unhelpful.

Law makers

Spend a few moments talking about why we have laws and rules.

  • Who makes the laws we live by?
  • Who decides if a law is good or bad?
  • Should laws change or always stay the same? Why?
  • Would you like to be a law maker? Why did you choose as you did?
  • What qualities should someone have in order to be a good law maker?

Law breakers

The Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus' day considered Jesus to be a law breaker. And, according to the particulars of their laws, they were right. You may want to talk about people that have practised civil disobedience in order to awaken society to laws that hurt rather than helped people: Martin Luther King Jnr being an obvious example.

  • When is it okay to break laws?
  • How did Jesus help people think about the law and how they should live their lives?
  • Can you think about any famous law breakers? What laws did they break? Why?

Prayers

Call to Worship

As this may be the first Sunday in a new season with the whole church family meeting routinely again, a new ritual of gathering could be created to be used for the coming Sundays. Here are possibilities to choose from and adapt.

Symbols

Different ages of people from the congregation carry in the symbols of faith such as a Bible, bread and wine, water, candle and cross. They lay each on a central table and the congregation responds:

Leader: The Cross
All: and we will carry it.

Leader: The bread
All: and we will break it.

Leader: The wine
All: and we will share it.

Leader: The Word
All: and we will live it.

Leader: The water
All: and we will pour it.

Leader: The light
All: and we will follow it.

Leader: The symbols of faith and following
All: and we will worship together.

Alternative calls to worship
  • Begin with a handshake of peace.
  • Invite a member of the congregation to welcome people instead of the worship leader.
  • Begin by reading the Psalm for the day, shaping the space, then welcome people into worship.
  • Process with an order of service, hymnbook and bible and lay on the communion table with some suitable words of dedication such as:

All we bring today is part of ourselves:
our words, your wisdom born in us;
our song, your song alive in us;
this is who we are today
and we long to see who you will yet make us be.

Prayer of intercession

May we find new rituals of love, O God,
that bind us to one another,
that bring us closer to our neighbours,
that speak into the world
with acts of heaven.

In violence,
may we renew our covenant with peace
and make space to lament and remember
that which destroys,
that we might learn.

In hunger,
may we renew our covenant with sharing
and make room to ask why people starve
that we might learn
and change how we live.

In homelessness,
may we renew our covenant with shelter
and make a place where all are welcome
that we might renew a community
that learns and renews.

In loneliness,
may we renew our covenant
with our neighbour
and make time to speak into their silence
that we might speak of heaven,
that we might learn on earth.

May we find new rituals of love
for the world,
that we might engage all your people
and bring transformation
by being here
through your presence
and by your word.

Hear us.
So be it.

Sending

Provide bowls of water at the doors of the church and invite people to dip their hand in the bowl and either mark a cross on the back of their hand or mark a cross somewhere on the journey home.

May we get our hands dirty
with the work of God
and may we find God
in every ritual of love and justice.

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 259 – "Beauty for brokenness" – a song that speaks of justice, righteousness and care for both the marginalised and the planet. It could also be sung as an intercessory prayer.
  • CH4 265 – "Pray for a world where every child" – some of the words in this hymn may seem hard hitting, but it links with themes of power, acts that defile the person and love in relationship.
  • CH4 489 – "Come down, O Love Divine" – drawing on the theme of what's in the heart being what matters.
  • CH4 463 – "Fairest Lord Jesus" – this would fit well with the "Relating to Creation" theme, but also picks up on some of the imagery of Psalm 45.
  • CH4 138 – "Nourished by the rainfall" – this lively song from Puerto Rico also picks up on the creation theme and has a repeated line about responding in deed and word. The final verse speaks into all the themes identified above.
  • CH4 544 – "When I needed a neighbour" – it might seem a bit cliché, but this old favourite speaks into the themes of relating to the marginalised and being moved by faith to act.
  • CH4 220 – "The day you gave us, Lord, has ended" – the final verse of this hymn mirrors verses 6 and 7 in the Psalm and would be appropriate if you are gathered for evening worship.
  • "Don't tell me of a faith that fears" – Wild Goose Resource Group (can be found in Enemy of Apathy and Love and Anger) – a lively affirmation of faith-inspired action for justice which also links well with the gospel reading. It works well to have a solo voice sing the first four verses (or four voices sing a verse each) and have the whole congregation join with singing the final verse.
  • "Pure love" – Linnea Good (More Voices 31) – this wonderful little hymn contains only seven words yet profound truth and beauty. Its simplicity means it can easily be sung by young children as there is no need to be able to read the words. It works well to divide the congregation in two and have one group echo each line after the other.

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

Useful tips for creating and leading worship online can be found on the Resourcing Mission website.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.