June 6th, Second 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 Rev Dr Alistair Donald, Chaplain to Heriot-Watt University on behalf of the Society, Religion and Technology (SRT) Project, for his thoughts for the second Sunday after Pentecost.

"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." - National Worship Team

As the restrictions on our ability to meet in groups continue, worship leaders continue to deliver their services both online and offline.

We can help to facilitate participation from the whole congregation by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technology in the service in ways that suit both physical gatherings and video-conference style settings, such as:

  • Opening and closing moments of worship that help people mark out a time set apart with God
  • Introducing various parts of the worship service to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each one (framing)
  • Enabling conversations or prayers in breakout groups
  • Holding spaces that allow people to go deeper in worship
  • Using the chat function and microphone settings to allow people to actively participate in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship

Useful links:

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

Useful tips for creating and leading worship online can be found on theResourcing 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 ouronline hymnary.

Introduction

We are surrounded by technology, and it plays an increasing role in many aspects of our lives. Who would have thought, a year ago, how much we would depend on Zoom and other similar platforms in order to conduct worship services, and to hold our church meetings on?

Technology brings many benefits – most of us regularly take some kind of medication, and many of us will walk around, carrying on our daily lives with a replacement part of our body– perhaps a hip or heart valve. But rapid advances in technology also present us with novel dilemmas– the extent to which we should allow the genetic engineering of plants, animals or even humans, for example.

For more than 50 years, since it was established in 1970, the Kirk's Society, Religion and Technology (SRT) Project has sought to help the church to engage with ethical issues in science and technology: you can find out more about the work of the SRT on their website. An important aspect of the work of the SRT is encouraging the church to remember our work in prayer, which we do primarily through our special annual week of prayer, which this year takes place 13- 19 June. You can download a leaflet to help guide your prayers.

1 Samuel 8:4-11 (16-20)

Kingship in the Old Testament is viewed in differing ways and is by no means seen as an unalloyed blessing. That modelled on David is viewed in a positive light, with Messianic overtones stretching into the future to be realised in due course in the reign of God proclaimed by Jesus. But in this passage, we see that the demand for a king was originally born of a rebellious spirit. The elders of Israel approach the aged Samuel to say that, since his sons are not following in the ways of their father, they demand "a king to govern us, like other nations." When Samuel takes the matter to God in prayer, he is told that it is not Samuel that they have rejected, but God – the latest in a litany of rebellious acts leading back to the Exodus (verses 6-8).

Samuel is to warn the people that if they have a king ruling over them then that will not work out well. A picture is drawn of a typical middle eastern ruler of the time, who will tyrannise and enslave them (verses 10-11 & 16-20). Yet that is what the people choose: they want to be like the other nations around them.

This is a warning for the Church against always going with the flow during what is for us a time of rapid societal change. When is it time to be "like the other nations" and when is it time to maintain a distinctiveness based on our identity in Christ? For example, with the development of Artificial Intelligence and the degrading of discourse that can arise from an uncritical use of social media, what does the Church have to say about personhood?

Psalm 138

This psalm has much in common with David's song of thanksgiving (Psalm 18, also in 2 Samuel 22), but is shorter and more direct. It is an expression of confident trust in God as well as being a song of praise. Whilst the psalmist thanks God wholeheartedly, "the gods" in verse one is reference to a Hebrew term applied to human rulers (see Exodus 21:6; 22:8-9; Psalm 82:1), and so is equivalent to the "kings" referred to in verse 4. God is worshipped as God has answered the psalmist's call for help (v.3).

But there is also a more wide-ranging concern well beyond the needs of personal deliverance. It is envisaged that the day will come when "all the kings of the earth" (and presumably their subjects) shall praise the covenant God of Israel. The final section is one of confidence in God's keeping power, and a reminder for us to check our attitude: "though theLordis high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away." (v.6). The word translated as "fulfil" in verse 8 is a rare one in the Old Testament, and is a reminder as the psalm closes of an assurance that God will fulfil God's purposes in the life of the individual as in that of the community.

All this is very reassuring for the believer in the midst of the turbulence that we are currently seeing around the world in terms of unrest, concern about the future, pandemic, environment etc.

Genesis 3:8-15

This passage about Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden has had an enormous influence on theological thought through the ages, and has also impacted the history and development of western art. Today we are increasingly aware that this influence has sometimes been a negative one, having been used to justify misogyny and the relegation of women to second class status in the Christian church. Adam's ‘she made me do it', has at times been weaponised to demonise women, and to absolve Adam of responsibility for falling into temptation.

Yet not all commentators have followed this approach. As the Austrian theologian Susanne Heine has said: ‘We must grant both the Jewish and the Christian tradition that it is also possible to find sufficient texts that speak of the guilt of the first human couple, or of the guilt of both, humankind or Satan.' (Women and Early Christianity, SCM Press, 1987, p. 19.).

One application of the passage is that it throws a spotlight on the very human tendency to evade responsibility for our actions: we could look on it as the original ‘It wisnae me!' This is worth some reflection in an age when social media is so often a conduit of piling on and dishing out blame to anyone except oneself. Then in the poetic section in verses 14 and 15, we have what is often seen as the first intimation of the future coming of a Saviour who will reverse the effects of the Fall. The serpent/Satan may wound the woman's distant offspring (‘you will strike his heel') but that offspring will in turn deal the serpent a fatal blow (‘he will strike your head'). Good wins in the end.

Psalm 130

The overwhelming experiences of bereavement and isolation that many have endured during the pandemic have added a new poignancy to the first verse of this psalm: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you O LORD.'

It's true that we reach out to God especially when we are at our lowest ebb, and it's wonderful that we can do so. But we should not just file away psalms like this for a rainy day. Lament psalms, although very common in the psalter, are perhaps not made as much as they should be as a general resource for prayer. This might be because we believe that feelings of negativity should have no place in the life of faith, or that when a ‘can do' attitude has seeped into our thinking and we think it somehow unseemly to seem vulnerable before God.

Pride and a mindset of independency are likewise lethal to a meaningful relationship with God. It was with good reason that Jesus said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see God.' But when we cry out to God in our need, we can be sure that he will hear us. The psalmist is also keenly aware of personal failings: blame is not to be deflected but to be owned up to (v.3). This also brings the wonderful realisation that genuine forgiveness by God is available (v.4).

Yet knowing all this does not then mean that we just tick a box, say ‘job done', and return to our prior frame of mind. To really benefit from the experience of the psalmist, we will want to ‘wait for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.' The psalm ends by reminding us that God's steadfast love is not only to be experienced on an individual basis (although it is that), but also by the worshipping community as a whole (verses 7-8).

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Karl Marx famously dismissed religion as the "opium of the people", claiming that it drugged workers to the reality of their exploitation on a false prospectus of a non-existent heaven. The Church has certainly at times been open to the charge that it is only selling "pie in the sky when you die" – that it is concerned more with eternal life rather than with life in this world. But the pendulum can also swing too much the other way, as when there is such a strong emphasis on bringing about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now that the hope of eternal life diminishes or even fades away completely. The clear New Testament perspective is that both are important, and not to be presented as mutually exclusive.

This passage keeps both horizons in view. Rather than contrasting eternity with inaction in this world, Paul draws attention to eternity so that we better understand the "slight momentary affliction" (4:17) that a lifestyle of authentic and active following of Jesus may bring upon us when we take up our cross and follow him. In the preceding passage Paul has spoken about how Christians should reflect "the glory of the Lord" (3:18) since God "has shone (his light) in our hearts", with the proviso that this treasure is held in jars of clay (4:6-7). Some examples of what is summed up in the expression "slight momentary affliction" are then given (4:8-9).

This background helps us understand the encouragement of the current passage. Communicating the Gospel flows from believing it (v.13), with great hope that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise the believer (v.14). So while faithful disciples will have afflictions, in the light of what is to come these are "slight momentary afflictions" since "we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen" (v.18).

We might apply this to the current very real concerns about the environment and the (ab)use of technology. In a public debate often dominated by pessimism and even despair, we have something invaluable to offer: hope. And it's the certainty that God will one day bring everything into harmony that motivates and emboldens us to bring a God-perspective into the here and now.

Mark 3:20-35

One of the narrative styles favoured by Mark is to embed one episode inside another apparently unrelated one which brackets the first one. (I say "apparently", since the reader is no doubt being invited to reflect on what might unite the two episodes.) A well-known example would be the death of the daughter of Jairus and the resolution of that episode (by Jesus raising her from the dead) being separated by a different encounter in the healing of a woman (5:21-43).

Here we have something similar. The family of Jesus had apparently been listening to those people who were saying that things were really getting out of hand, and that Jesus had indeed gone out of his mind. So they set out to find him in order to restrain him (3:21). Then at the end of the pericope the family arrive outside the house where Jesus has been debating with the scribes and call for him, prompting a Q&A on who exactly is the family of Jesus (verses 31-35).

The scribes who have come to Galilee from Jerusalem, presumably to investigate this upstart speaker who is reputed to be attracting such record crowds, pick up on the "out of his mind" theme by ascribing Jesus' powers of exorcising demons to "the prince of demons" (v.22). Jesus points out the illogicality of this reasoning, since "a kingdom divided against itself will not be able to stand" (v.25).

However these references to demon possession might be understood, the key point is surely that getting Jesus 100% wrong is no trivial matter. Jesus indeed references such a stance as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the one sin that can never be forgiven. Some have interpreted this as denying Christ under pressure or attributing Spirit-empowered miracles to Satan. The "unforgivable sin" is better thought of as a sustained and decisive rejection of Jesus and His life and work, right up to the end of someone's life. So, while only God knows the heart, in a pastoral context anyone worried about whether they have committed this sin by some accidental or unguarded slip of the tongue really needn't be anxious since their very anxiety shows that they haven't done so.

When Jesus hears that His family are looking for Him, Jesus' only recorded response is to say that those gathered around listening to His teaching are His true kindred – "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (v.35). This is not as stark as the perennially alarming but clearly hyperbolic saying about hating our kindred and even life itself (Luke 14:26), but both passages are to emphasise that following Jesus is to be at the very top of our approach to life. Any broken family relationships arising from that will be compensated for not only in the life to come but also in this life as we find new kindred in Christ (Mark 10:29). As a coda we might mention that Jesus' family comes round in the end: His mother Mary was there at the foot of the cross and is mentioned as among the believers on Easter Sunday, while His brother James became leader of the nascent church in Jerusalem.

Sermon ideas

Many people outwith the Church, and many unfortunately within it also, are convinced that Religion doesn't mix with Science and has little to say to wider Society. SRT begs to disagree! Whether technology is as simple as a knife or as complex as nuclear power or artificial intelligence, we have a choice of using it either for good or for ill.

In SRT's 50th anniversary year of 2020 a series of highly accessible articles in Life & Work was produced which focussed on a wide range of key issues. These oven-ready pieces are just crying out to be used as illustrations in a sermon!

A selection of these topics is suggested below, but really any of the 12 articles could be helpful in illuminating one or more of the issues raised in the lectionary readings.

If you go with the second choice of readings, Psalm 130 might be used as a resource for coping with any major negative effects that have arisen in your congregation during the pandemic. If you opt for Psalm 138 then it too is a good antidote for anxiety.

One option for a sermon would be to stick to an overview of how science and technology impacts society, and what a Christian understanding might look like. The reading from 2 Corinthians could be used to illustrate the place of Christian hope in a world in which concerns about science and technology are so often raised in a context of despair. The reading from Mark speaks very emphatically to the need for Jesus to be central in our thinking, and the August article "Jesus and the natural world" explains very well the relevance of Jesus in science – see especially the final paragraph. The June article "The Strength of a Seed" looks at how churches are engaging with science. The Genesis passage raises the general issue of taking responsibility for problems in society or the environment that we may be responsible for, and not doing the easy thing of blaming others.

Another approach might be to concentrate one or more specific topics. Of the alternatives offered, the 1 Samuel reading points to the problems when we think we know better than God, and when we want "a king to govern us like other nations." Increasing concern over the issues surrounding the end of life are likely to get more acute, and this is addressed in the March article "The Great Unmentionable." When is it time to go with the flow of voices and outside the Church and be "like other nations", and when is it time to raise a distinctive voice arising from our identity in Christ?

What happens when society as a whole ignores the "God perspective" could be based on either the 1 Samuel or Genesis readings, using concerns about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the articles for April "The Challenge Ahead" where several AI-related issues are discussed, and/or a more specific topic in May "Battlefield Robots" and/or October "Surveillance and Social Justice." Psalm 138 ends with a ringing affirmation that God will fulfil God's purposes in the life of both the individual and the community of faith.

Prayers

God of all majesty
You have given us a wonderful world, and have also given us the ability to explore and understand it.
We praise You for the majesty and beauty of creation,
and for the opportunities which we have to enjoy and appreciate all that You give to us.

As stewards of creation,
we have the responsibility to care for the world You have given.
We can manipulate our environment- for good or for ill,
to the benefit or the detriment of our fellow creatures.
We acknowledge afresh the huge impact that we humans as a species have
and the huge impact on the planet—and repent of the ways in which this has often been contrary to Your will.

We pray that You will give guidance and discernment
to all who seek to discern between helpful and harmful applications of human advances and innovations.
We pray for the impacts of technologies on society –
on how we interact,
on how we view ourselves, other people,
or the world around us –
even how we view our Creator.

We give thanks for the opportunities which the Society, Religion and Technology project has to explore the issues that technology raises;
we pray for wisdom as we reflect on how these technologies might be used.

As Christ called on His followers to be salt and light,
to have an impact on the communities in which we live,
we pray that, as we seek to witness for God in the world,
we will always do so in a loving and gentle way,
remembering that we need to be faithful to our calling to be salt and light.

Loving Lord,
as we as a church, as society, as a nation,
and as a world seek to wrestle with significant issues,
we pray for wisdom, discernment and compassion for all.

We pray all these things in the name of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ
Amen

Rosanne Cash has a modern lament song called "Tell Heaven" on the 2014 album The River and the Thread (Blue Note Records) which may be useful as a reflection on the theme of reaching out to God when we reach the end of our tether:

When you're like a broken bird, tell heaven.
Battered wings against the dark and day,
when your worries won't let you sleep, tell heaven.
When the tears won't ever go away.

If you got no one to love, tell heaven.
There's no one on the telephone today,
when every story falls apart, tell heaven.
Nothing good seems like it will come your way.

Tell heaven.

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.

Through the Season

Windows to God – Mirrors for the Soul

A possible visual hook for this season would be through the use of windows and mirrors. Indeed the overall theme for this season could be based on "Windows to God, Mirrors for the Soul".

In some of the passages during the season we encounter people who are looking on to what is happening, as though looking through a window at events taking place. As we read some of these passages, it is like we have a "window" to God, a way of helping us to see something more, and to learn something different about God.

At other times as we explore the passages in this season, it is as though the passages reflect back to us aspects of what it is to be human, positive and negative: the passages act like "mirrors" for the soul.

This thought can be developed so that the focus during the season will switch between whether we are looking through a window or into a mirror. Some weeks we will learn more about God, other weeks we will focus more on looking at ourselves and how we can reflect more of God through our lives.

We remember that some windows are mirrors too!

Possible arrangements might be:

  • A large window frame with a separate pane for each week, this pane could either be clear or mirrored (shiny mirror card would work) depending on the week and key words or theme added;
  • Two large frames, one as a window on one side of the sanctuary, the other mirrored (either a large actual mirror or mirrored card), adding key words to whichever is the focus for that week.

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

Theme: Monarchy and Deity

Object: Mirror. Words: King, ruler, God, royalty

Bible notes

Be careful what you wish for – 1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

"Be careful what you wish for." A statement that we have all heard and perhaps all used from time to time. What is it that we wish for? Is it a new car, a remodelled house, a new job, or a better paying job. Is it less materialistic in nature? Do we wish for world peace, safer communities, an end to famine, a more just and equitable society?

There is no doubt that in many of our wishes in life, those in authority have a strong influence over whether they have a chance of coming true or not. People in positions of power set policy that can make or break dreams and wishes in an instant. Whether it is a tax break, or a cut in the rate of benefits, a decision to invade a country, or to ignore a developing world crisis, people in authority should never underestimate their power.

In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II will be celebrated in June 2022. That is an astonishingly long time (70 years) for anyone to be in a position of authority.

For a lot of people the monarchy is a divisive subject, even in a year of celebration such as this. Some people would prefer that the status quo remained where a monarch, as head of state, can represent the people of their nation across the world. Others would prefer a republic where that head of state is democratically chosen by the people.

These are not new discussions or arguments. In 1 Samuel we read of the tensions that existed in the people who in today's reading demand a new way of being ruled. They didn't think that Samuel's sons would act in a just manner when the time came for them to take over. They also wanted to be just like all of the other nations who had a king to rule over them.

The experience of Samuel has come full circle. Eli's sons were not seen to be suitable heirs and so Samuel was chosen. Now, here is Samuel in a similar situation. Eli's sons were unsuitable due to their religious character flaws when they ate too much of the sacrifices and slept with the women from the temple, Samuel's sons were ethically flawed: perverting justice and taking bribes.

The request is taken badly. Samuel was displeased at the people's request and God saw it as a rejection of him and his ways. A period of persuasion takes place with Samuel following God's commands and telling the people exactly what a king would mean. The understanding of this antimonarchic understanding of the world may have come from the experience of some of the Canaanite Kings or even the example of Solomon (1 Kings 10-11).

Despite Samuel's best efforts and persuasion the people still wanted a king. They looked for justice and felt that a king could provide that. The people had missed the fact that the culture they so earnestly desired was similar to the ideals that God offered them. Justice, fairness, community are all aspects of God that even now churches strive to bring about.

The people wanted their community to be like all the others around them. What do our communities want? Do they want to be the same as those around them or be something different? What about our churches? Do we want to blend in or stand out?

Power, authority, monarch, God, justice, ethics: hand in hand or mutually exclusive?

Retelling for young people

The people said to Samuel,
"We really want a king!
Please find someone to lead us,
to fight for us and win!"

Samuel told the people,
"Here's what a king will do –
he'll send your sons to battle,
he'll make life hard for you!

"The best of everything you have
the King will make his own!
you'll have to work much harder,
and then you'll moan and groan!"

But the people said to Samuel,
"We want a king to reign -
like all the other countries!
We want to be the same!"

Samuel told the people,
"But we've got God above,
who only wants the best for us,
and leads and rules with love!

But the people wouldn't listen,
"We want a king!" they said,
"What will I do, Lord?" Samuel cried,
God answered, "Go ahead,

"give them what they ask for -
a king to rule them all."
So Samuel searched the land
and chose a man called Saul.

What kind of king, I wonder,
did Saul turn out to be?
Did he make the people happy?
We'll have to wait and see…

Activities

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

If you are using the Through the Season ideas above to help set the scene throughout this theme, the visual focus this week is the mirror. Words to add could be: king, ruler, God, royalty, monarchy, jubilee.

Gathering activity

Prepare a number of sheets of A1 paper or larger, hung around the worship area and title each sheet with one of the following: "Music, Houses, Images, Power." Draw a vertical line down the middle of each sheet. On one half write ‘Monarch' and on the other write ‘God'.

Invite people individually or in groups to consider each of these themes and write in the appropriate column the different styles or examples each prefer. For example, for Music, in the ‘Monarch' column you may suggest ‘Pomp and Circumstance March' and in the ‘God' column you may suggest ‘Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring'.

See how many different suggestions you can build up. This may give a way in to illustrating and reflecting the difference between God's idea of community and the world's.

The Ruler

You will need: three chairs, crown, gown.

This activity explores what our expectations of a king or queen might be. Encourage three people to sit upon the chairs at the front. The rest of the group decides what attributes they want in their ruler, and what their ruler might do for them. They can then pose these to the three people to see if they will agree.

The person who agrees to most can then be crowned, and respected as ruler for the rest of the time together, but, in turn, they will need to do what they promised... or will they? If they decide to break their promises, ask them why and discuss how difficult it can be to

Discernment

You will need: bowls, rice, small safety pins, blind folds.

How can we really know God is talking to us? For this game you will need bowls of rice and lots of very small safety pins and a blind fold for each team. Fill your bowls half full of rice and then mix into the rice a set number of small safety pins for example 10 safety pins (make sure the safety pins are closed). Blindfold each child in turn while they try to pick out the safety pins. It is amazing how difficult it is to identify the pins. This can be used as an illustration of how easy it is for us to be distracted by other things.

Peer Pressure

You will need: paper, scissors, pens.

On the face of it, it seems that the Israelites were bowing to peer pressure; they wanted to be just like everyone else. But God wanted them to be different to everyone else. Not just for the sake of it, but because the different way God had in mind was better.

Ask the young people to draw or cut out a crown shape of paper and write on it some of the ways they feel they are different or want to behave differently. If they are willing, you could discuss some of these and encourage them in trying to live under God's leadership.

Prayers

Call to Worship

To be read together or two voices alternate lines or different parts of the congregation reading different lines, finishing together.

We dare
to worship,
to praise,
to love,
to forgive,
to live fully,
to live with faith,
to live together,
to live for the future.
We dare
to be different.

Reflection

Peasant king
who dines with lepers,
tax collectors and prostitutes,
who sits at our tables
and takes on the tasks of a servant.

Lowly king whose feet get dusty
and whose hands become soiled
with the grime of human contact
and the serving of others' need.

Mighty king
who hangs on a cross
lifted up to show
that death is not the last word.
Risen king
whose triumph confounds
all earthly systems
of authority and majesty.

Sovereign God
our Saviour and Lord.

Sending

Go now
and dare
to be God's colourful community
in a world that prefers grey.

Dare to stand out
in a world that prefers conformity.

Dare to live
in a world that seeks death.

Dare to be God's
in a world that thinks it is its own.

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 theSongs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 127 – "O worship the king" – could be used as a rousing creation-linked opener
  • CH4 147 – "All creatures of our God and King" – would work as an alternative to 127
  • CH4 87 – "Lord, from the depths to thee I cried" – the metrical version of Psalm 130. The sombre tune "Martyrdom" fits the mood well and enables worshippers to lament (rather than analyse what a lament psalm is)
  • CH4 259 – "Beauty for brokenness" – a song with thoughtful words of prayer response to issues such as care of the earth, poverty and despair and a plaintive tune. Also available on YouTube to be played as a reflection.
  • CH4 181 – "For the beauty of the earth" touches the topics raised in the sermon in a number of ways.
  • The new hymn "Praise for the depths of space" was written for Ely Cathedral's science festival in 2017 and is sung to the tune for "My song is love unknown"

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.