14 November, 25th 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 Professor John Swinton, Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy King's College University of Aberdeen, for his thoughts on the twenty-fifth 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

There are many different ways in which you can read scripture. You can read it academically, searching for the true linguistic meaning of words and phrases. You can read it didactically, search for the message that is being taught through the words and stories that are presented. You can read it meditatively, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you through imagination and feelings into new ways of seeing the world and living faithfully within it. Of course, we need each of these ways of reading if we are to find the things God wants us to discover.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

Here we will concentrate on reading scripture meditatively. If we read this passage meditatively, then some beautiful things begin to emerge.

Hannah is scorned for her childlessness. For her rivals, Hannah's childlessness is a source of derision and hurtful jibes. But for Elkanah, Hannah's plight was an opportunity to show kindness, thoughtfulness and love. He loved her not for what she could or could not do, but just because she was. Elkanah's love is a beautiful paradigm of God's Grace. God loves us not for what we can do, but for who we are. In the mist of the difficulties of this world, God treats us with kindness. Elkanah is disappointed and deeply saddened by Hannah's distress. His concern is that he is not enough for Hannah. He feels helpless.

Hannah prays and makes a pledge with God that her most prized possession – the son she longs for God to give to her – will be returned to God. Hannah does not use this as some kind of bargaining chip. She seems to know that it is a good and proper thing to do. To give back to God the things you love is not sacrifice, it is love; love of God and unselfish, ungrasping love for the things you love. As Hannah prays, something strange happens. She is deep in prayer, but Eli thinks she is drunk! Immediately our imagination takes us to a similar situation where in the book of Acts the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and everyone thinks they are drunk! It seems that the presence of the Spirt can easily be understood as a person losing their senses. And indeed, perhaps it is a hidden truth that when we come into the presence of the Spirit we appear to lose our senses. Who could believe in a crucified and risen God! It's ridiculous – irrational! And yet, that which others assume to be madness often turns out to be where God is. Hannah's "drunken prayers" ended up with the delivery of her longed for son. The Spirit moves in unusual ways.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Passages like this can be quite difficult. Sometimes we read them and think that the writer is talking about a God who is distant, sometimes even violent; a God who is sometimes portrayed being like a tyrannical ruler who demands our respect. If we don't give it to them horrible things will happen to us. And of course, we can sometimes read the passage like that and indeed sometimes passages seem to say just that. However, what we must always bear in mind is that God is not a human being writ large. We are always limited by human language and human ideas to talk about who God is and what God does. The temptation is to try to make God a bigger version of ourselves. I have power = God has ultimate power! I know how to love = God loves like me, only more.

But there is a logic of love that lies behind all scripture and this passage is no exception. We just need to find the right angle to look at it. Verse 2 begins to offer us a clue:

"There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God."

If there is no Holy One like the Lord, then all of us are equal. If God is the standard, we all fall short. There is therefore no room for pride or arrogance based on human capacities and achievements. What have we to be proud or arrogant about if the Holy One is the measure of our lives? You think you are clever? Look at God. You think you are strong and mighty? Look at God. You think we have power over life and death? No, that is God's and God's alone. God turns our normal assumptions upside down. The Holy one longs for justice. God raises up the poor and puts down those whom think they are the powerful. Most importantly in the midst of a fallen world where it seems that evil is running rampant, the writer of this passage reminds us that God will win. Peter tells us that God is love. The God who is love is the standard that we should measure all things by.

Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25

The only sacrifice that is necessary for our redemption is the sacrifice that Jesus has offered for us on the cross. We are a forgiven people, freed from sin and sanctified through the precious blood of Jesus. Now we have the law of love written on our hearts and on our minds. We are people who have been forgiven by love and who are called to offer forgiveness and love to a world that longs for both. God has forgotten our sins. Now we are friends together; friends of Jesus and friends of one another, bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit and called to live in a new way. Even in the midst of a world that tries to silence us, we are told to hold on to our confession; to continue to testify to the love that has been given to us and the freedom that has been bestowed upon us in and through the work of Jesus. Our calling is to encourage one another towards the goal of love and provoke both love and good deeds in our friends in Christ. We are a people who meet together, who encourage one another; a people who see the end coming and want to help the world to benefit from the wounds of Jesus and the great love of God that is given to us through the Holy spirit.

This is a pretty powerful passage! It really lays down the manifesto for discipleship and lays out a path and a way of being for those who love Jesus and are called to love one another. I think it was Mother Theresa that once said that: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." The writer to the Hebrews tells us how and why such words are a source of revelation and truth. We are deemed in love and called to a life of love. What a vision!

Mark 13:1-8

There is a lot of mystery in the gospels. Jesus could be quite cryptic, so it is not totally surprising that the disciples sometimes felt quite confused. But it's interesting that Peter, James, John and Andrew came to Jesus privately. I wonder if they were a little embarrassed that they hadn't worked out Jesus's cryptic message. You know how it feels when you are in a crowd and someone drops a pearl of wisdom that you don't really understand, but assume that everyone else does! Often when that happens no one in fact ununderstood, but everyone is too proud to be the one who asks the question.

Jesus's response to the disciples' questions is important. He tells them to be careful as some people will try to lead them astray. He tells them to beware of imposters. At the beginning of the book of Romans Paul tells us that the main problem with sin is that we often times can't see it! Sin and evil, he says occur when we begin to mistake the things of this world for the things of God; when we mistake ourselves and our own views for the views of God. The problem with sin is that it distorts our cognition in such a way that we lose the ability to discern good from evil and become unaware that we are sinning and making bad decisions. We lose our sense of spiritual discernment.

Jesus's warning here is very similar. "Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!' and they will lead many astray." He asks us to read the signs of the times. Verses 7 and 8 resonate with our current world and its experience of painful groaning. But Jesus says, when these things happen, we should not rush out of the world to some kind of spiritual high ground and wait to be rescued by Jesus. Things are beginning to change, but the fullness of the change has not occurred yet. For now we must continue to love one another, to care for the poor and the vulnerable, to offer friendship to the outsider. To be like Jesus in a world that is fallen but being reconciled with God through Jesus. Reading the signs means living into the suffering of the world.

Sermon Ideas

There are many ways in which we could bring these passages together in a sermon. But one theme that runs through them all is the issue of care. Elkanah's care for Hannah brings to the fore his love and generosity. Hannah's care for and trust in God led to a powerful prayer that God listened to. God's care for human beings is revealed in God showing us the futility of trying to do things by ourselves and the releasing power of handing ourselves over to God and recognising who God is and what that means to us as human beings. Jesus shows care for the world by offering Himself as a sacrifice for all of us. And as Jesus teaches and walks with the disciples, Jesus reveals His care for them by taking time, being present and explaining the complexities of life now and life to come.

Care is central to the human vocation. In the second account of creation in Genesis 2, Adam is told by God to care and tend for the world. Care then is a primal responsibility given to human beings by God. But there is something else hidden in this command to care. Part of being human and living obediently before God is to care. But the necessary corollary of that observation is that being cared for is part of what it means to be human. This is important. We sometimes hear people say that those who are for whatever reason unable to care for themselves are somehow lacking in value and dignity. Sometimes this is used as a justification for ending people's lives. But the Genesis passage and the other passages we have read this week indicate something different. To be cared for is part of what it means to be human. So, when we come to that time when all we can do is to be cared for by other people, we don't lose our dignity or value. Quite the opposite! We discover something important about what it means to be human: to be human is to care and to be cared for.

As we move into what will hopefully be a post-Covid era, perhaps one of the vital lessons we will have learned (should we choose to listen), is that we are all deeply interconnected. If we don't care for one another all of us will suffer. Today's passages begin to inform us how we might understand this call to care and begins to point us towards ways in which we can care for one another more faithfully. So that is our challenge: Who will you show care to today?

Alternative Material - focus on COP26

The General Assembly has endorsed the ‘Five Marks of Mission', which includes the commitment to Christian mission, "To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth." Care for the environment continues to be a core part of what it means to be a Christian, and in the context of the climate crisis our response as the Church of Scotland will be a demonstration of our commitment to working for the integrity of creation. As we approach the COP26 international climate summit being held in Glasgow in November 2021 we invite congregations, ministers and worship leaders to reflect on and communicate the following ideas:

  • The urgency and gravity of the situation, as highlighted by the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was described as a ‘code red for humanity', and the acknowledgement that the climate and biodiversity crisis not only represent a failure of our stewardship of God's creation but that the precipitous decline in global ecosystems threatens the wellbeing of billions of lives dependent upon them
  • The role of faith, communal worship and prayer in helping to shape our attitudes and behaviours, including to continue to have hope even (or especially) when a situation is difficult, and in particular to have the chance to remember the situation of sisters and brothers all over the world suffering from the impact of global heating
  • The practical decisions the Church has taken for itself, including to disinvest from fossil fuel companies and setting the church on a pathway to Net Zero carbon emissions by the year 2030
  • The importance of decisions by governments from countries around the world to set more ambitious carbon reductions targets, for rich countries to be generous in the sharing of wealth to support poorer nations affected by loss and damage caused by the changing climate, and for an end to government subsidies and investment in fossil fuel businesses
  • How to support young people within and outwith the Church through the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) to raise them up and let their voices be heard

For further resources on COP26 activity from Church related organisations visit

Suggestions for hymns around the theme of care for creation and COP26

For further information about what the Church of Scotland is doing in relation to COP26 and carbon reduction, please email faithimpact@churchofscotland.org.uk

Prayers

Approach to God/Call to Worship

Great and merciful God,
we come before You in love and with humility.

We live to worship You

You are a God who is Creator.
You brought everything that we know,
everything that we see,
everything that we are
into being through Your word.

We live to worship You

You are a God who is love
You are a God who gives love.
You are a God who loves us so much
that You sent Jesus to release us from our bondage:
to save us.

We live to worship You

You are a God who brings peace to the world
In You all things are reconciled
In You we become the Body of Jesus
You are a God who is worthy of our worship

We long to worship You. Amen

Thanksgiving

A time of silence and reflection during which the congregation brings to mind the ways in which God has blessed their lives and reflects on the things that they are thankful for at this moment in time.

Confession

We come before You
aware that all of us fall short of Your Glory.
We all make mistakes.
We all struggle to love like Jesus.
We often hurt one another –
sometimes deliberately,
sometimes by accident.

God of deep forgiveness hear our prayers

Forgive us.
Lord forgive us for the times when we neglect You.
Forgive us for the times when we put ourselves before You
and the good of others.
Forgive us for the times when we damage ourselves
through our thoughts and actions.

God of deep forgiveness hear our prayers

You ask us to love God, love neighbour and love ourselves.
Forgive us for the times when we fall short of Your good desires.

We approach You knowing that You are a God who forgives.
We are grateful that in and through the sacrifice of Jesus
we can be forgiven and reconciled with You
and with one another.
Thank You for the peace that comes with that promise.

God of deep forgiveness hear our prayers

Intercession

Prayers are offered here for the church and for the world. These could reflect contemporary issues going on in the world or/and local issues that directly concern the congregation and the town/city/village within which the service is taking place. The central focus is on God's acting, loving presence in the world.

Blessing / Closing prayer

And now as we leave this place
may the Spirit of the living God be with us
in all that we think,
all that we say
and all that we do.

We ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ
our Lord and our Saviour.
Amen.

Act of Remembrance

A reflection on a service of Remembrance is available on our website.

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 18 – "The earth belongs to God alone"
  • CH4 197 – "As we are gathered, Jesus is here"
  • CH4 192 – "All my hope on God is founded"
  • CH4 9 – "O God, my refuge, keep me safe"
  • CH4 351 – "Jesus' hands were kind hands, doing good to all"
  • CH4 755 – "Be still and know that I am God"

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.

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.