October 31st, 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank the Guild of Health and St Raphael for their thoughts on the twenty-third 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

In his book, ‘The Witness of Preaching', Thomas Long offers an image of preaching where the preacher enters and dwells within the text, taking time to ‘become a witness' to see what happens in the story and within themselves as they read it. Next, the task is to form words that they then share as they ‘bear witness' to the events they have seen. Our task, he says, is to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what we have seen'. This process of ‘dwell and tell', being the witness and then testifying and bearing witness, is for many worship leaders and preachers, one of the most rewarding, engaging and exciting activities in their ministry.

Preaching and liturgy can create moments that encourage gathered worshippers in their own ability to take the text, enter into it and pay attention to everything they see – hopefully building confidence and trust in their own insights; we hope that this resource offers simple ways to do that with these texts.

When an act of worship, or even just a small part of an act of worship, enables a whole congregation (not just those who have been preparing the sermon and prayers) to ‘dwell and tell' then ‘speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what is seen', how much greater, fuller and truer might our shared understanding and telling of the Story be?

In these resources we will highlight some of the themes that are contained within the texts, offering some thoughts about how different worshippers might relate to them. Later, we will suggest some conversation starters and questions that might help shape a sermon and/or liturgy that facilitates a ‘dwell and tell' experience.

The Guild of Health and St Raphael

The Guild of Health and St Raphael is dedicated to helping churches connect faith, health, healing theology and science. Currently the Guild offers a variety of resources such as the GoHealth community and podcast, the Healthy Healing Hub project, facilitated online bible studies and events, our Moodle training courses: ‘Learning to Heal', academic lectures and a journal, prayer resources and weekly reflections on Facebook (see www.gohealth.org.uk for more information).

Through all of our work, including the annual Denis Duncan lecture, in conjunction with the Church of Scotland (details to follow on the Guild of Health website), we want to help people reflect on their experiences and understanding of what it means to flourish as human beings in relation to God, each other and the whole of creation; that we would all share in and share out the Sacred Story of healing that has been entrusted to us and entwined within us. This is why we have focussed these reflections and suggestions on storytelling and listening – healing happens when stories are told and listened to, especially within the context of worship.

Ruth 1:1-18

How can we let this story tell itself? What themes emerge from it that might resonate with those of us gathered in public worship?

Food and Famine

What do we know of the insecurity that women and widows of Ruth, Orpah and Naomi's day would have faced? When have we wondered where our next meal will come from? When have we feared that the usual places where food can be found might have less, or none?

For some, the famine in the story may remind them of Covid-related panic buying in supermarkets in 2020, job losses from lockdown measures, international trade restrictions meaning demand exceeded supply, visiting foodbanks for the first time, only to find them depleted or even closed.

Other worshippers may remember back to wartime rationing or a long period of unemployment or essential benefits being withheld.

Grieving

Orpah, Naomi and Ruth are all bereaved – even without the additional hardship of famine, they are already very vulnerable. Ruth and Orpah have lost husbands and a father-in-law and Naomi lost her husband and two sons – how must they have all felt?

In our listening to the text, perhaps some will recall times when they lost a spouse or a child or a parent. There may be people who have lost more than one loved one because of the pandemic. Perhaps older people will remember entire families who lost every husband, father and son during the War. Others might not relate to the death of a family member but know what it is like when the chief earner of the family goes away, leaving the family with little income or security. Others may know what it means to be in a different part of the world, in danger and with no knowledge where support might be found.

Again, how can we honour these insights into this poignant story, which is as contemporary as it is ancient? How can we create space for people to make a personal connection, using it as way into prayer and worship in that very moment?

Blaming

Naomi believes that this was all done to her by the will and hand of God who had turned against her. Whilst the starting points may be different – food security, grieving, safety, sorrow – we may find comfort for the times when we too have felt that God had brought or allowed hardship, perhaps used ‘tough love' to correct or punish us. We may find reassurance that we are not the only ones to ask where God was during a hard time of our lives, or even prayed ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?'.

Psalm 146

What happens when we read this psalm? What happens within each of us when we read it alone and what happens when we read it aloud together? Where are the common reactions and responses? Where does one person's response stand out distinctly from other peoples and how can we create space for these reactions in worship?

When I read it, I found myself disagreeing with the Psalmist that ‘human beings can't save' – they can. So what am I missing here? I felt discomfort at idea that after praising God all my life – this past year has had moments when I wondered if I would still love God by the end of it or if I would still believe that God was real. I found myself wrestling with the Psalmist's claims about the wonderful things God does for people in need – this year I have had to work hard to call occasional good news stories to mind rather than just auto-play the showreel of devastation that the various news Apps have brought to my smartphone, day after day.

But there the psalm stands, unapologetically full of praise, speaking from a context where the writers were no strangers to hardship, depression, struggle and loss. Perhaps it has done its job by interrupting my preoccupation with what is difficult in the world just now and challenging me to meditate on what is still wonderful about the world and the God who made it. But honestly, right now, I'd love to hear about how other people are experiencing psalms of praise like this one. Who finds them to be out of place in a pandemic world and who finds them to be essential, vital reading?

Hebrews 9:11-14

The book of Hebrews seems largely concerned with one matter: the supremacy of Christ above all things. That Christ has fulfilled, surpassed, replaced and overwritten all that God's people relied upon. The Law, the sacrificial system, the first covenant, Levitical laws, earthly tabernacles and sanctuaries, cleansing rituals, the High Priest tradition, the prophets, kings and judges.

Christ is the High Priest and through His blood He enters the Holy Place (not the earthly one made with hands) and obtains eternal salvation. This same blood will not only cleanse us outwardly, but inwardly, purifying our conscience.

For those of us who have spent time as Christians, the centrality of Christ, His sacrifice and resurrection are so core to our faith that this passage may not seem particularly gripping. For the intended readers, this theological reorientation could have been life-changing; earth-shattering; mind-blowing.

Throughout the text the author uses logic, argument, exhortations, poetry and a host of other literary techniques to engage and persuade readers that Christ is our Way in life, now and eternally. That He is the source of our perfection, fulfilment and wholeness.

Mark 12:28-34

An interesting passage to use alongside Hebrews, here we have Jesus not abolishing the previous laws, but homing in on that which has gone before Him and is of most value – the commandments to love God with our whole being and our neighbours as ourselves. He speaks plainly, no parables or sophisticated rhetoric: ‘There is no commandment greater than these.'

What interests me is that this is the only place in Mark where a Scribe is cast in a positive light. In fact, in a few verses after this passage the author has Jesus telling people to beware of the Scribes.

It is as if the author wants to highlight something about loving God and our neighbours by framing the exchange about these two commandments between Jesus and someone from a group who he would normally be in contention with. This could perhaps be an interesting angle to explore in a sermon or with some conversational moments of worship.

Sermon ideas

Psalm 146

What we are reading affects how we read it and likewise, how we read something can affect what we understand from it. Whilst we cannot read in large groups all of the time, it is vital that we experience the text like that at least some of the time. If this were read aloud in a group and the words of the text given life and volume by many voices lifted in praise, I imagine I would feel rather fired-up and confident, reassured by this powerful affirmation, rather than reading it alone in ponderous silence, when I might feel conflicted and lacking-in-faith. Alternatively, this could be read as a whole group, or have three people do a reading together – this is much easier if they can be in the same building – unison readings can be problematic from different locations (though not insurmountable and you will know what would or wouldn't work.)

One approach to Psalm 146 text might be to ask two people to read the psalm ahead of the service, choose one line or verse that stood out to them and write a few sentences about why that they would be happy to share. Give them a starting line like ‘When I read Psalm 146 the thing I found most comforting is.' and ‘When I read the Psalm, the thing I most noticed was…'

Another approach would be to invite everyone to listen to the reading, perhaps from a few voices and then chat to one another about any line that stood out for them that they found comforting and any lines they found challenging. Hearing what someone else was reassured by or struggled with always draws us closer together – growth in relationships, inspired by these texts, is a huge part of what it means to be a community of faith especially one where people can be heard and find healing.

Ruth

Some listeners coming to the story will see something quite different from us and others and will have insight and wisdom about the plight of Orpah, Naomi and Ruth as a result – some of which they may feel able to share if opportunity is given without expectation.

Taking some time to talk about the vulnerability of the women in the story, draw some connections of the famine to how food security, income, supportive relationships, for so many people were threatened during the pandemic. Invite people to recall how they felt and how they coped – invite them to share that in a small group, or simply to journal/reflect and in the quiet, talk to God about it.

If you wished to take the Psalm 146 along with the Ruth passage, you might invite people to imagine what Ruth, Orpah and Naomi's reaction might be to certain parts of the psalm text. What would they cling to? What would they find challenging or unbelievable? What might they question? Have them discuss this with one another through the virtual breakout room or in small (distanced?) groups/pairs, or perhaps, just call out short accounts of their reflections.

Note: if you are also using Psalm 146, you might like to have it read by a solo voice first, then have three women read it again in unison. Give space after it to let the experience sink in and allow for people to reflect on it.

If you had more time, perhaps write a first-person monologue from Naomi's perspective – responding to the psalm by talking to God about it.

Lastly, you could create space for more voices from within your congregation, perhaps asking someone who might have some personal connection with the story or a character to share just a short account from their life. Give them a week or two to prepare. Assure them that it isn't a sermon they need give, but simply an account from their life that connects with the text or resonates with one of the characters.

Hebrews

Consider using the text and some questions to get worshippers to reflect on and share their stories with one another.

Simply asking them to discuss what they find interesting about the text can be helpful – ‘Read the text and then share with your neighbour/breakout group what stood out to you and what you notice/wonder.'

More directed questions such as, ‘When have you ever experienced a time when your beliefs changed significantly? What happened and how did you cope?' Or, ‘Share a time when your values were challenged and changed.' Or, perhaps it is more helpful to focus more on faith practice rather than the theoretical – so, ‘How have the ways that you pray changed over your lifetime?'

Other questions that may generate good reflection or discussion might be, ‘Talk about a time when you acted in a certain way because you felt it was how Jesus might have acted.'

There is a plethora of songs that relate worship, the work of Jesus and His blood cleansing the worshippers that could form an extended section of singing. Consider using a few songs but break the singing up with readings from the text (perhaps use more of the chapter than just today's section) to root the worship experience in the reading.

Mark

When have we ever found ourselves in agreement with someone, or a group, that we normally passionately disagree with? Perhaps a political group we habitually treat with suspicion; a person we've never been able to get on with; or maybe a person from a different religious tradition.

The presence of the Scribe in the story allows us to explore how we relate to those we disagree with or have longstanding enmity. It gives space to speak of how we might treat our enemies, how we could learn from them or at the very least, create moments when we focus on what unites us rather than on the things that divide us.

Prayers

Approach, confession and thanksgiving

Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord, all you people
praise the Lord with all your life;
in all that you do
as long as you live.
Praise God in the morning
and praise God in the evening
Praise God when you rise
and praise God when you rest
Praise God in times of plenty
and in the times when there is less.
In times of peace
and in times of strife
When you are thriving
and when you are downcast.
In all of your life,
In all that you do,
As long as you live.

Praise God.

God, You are the Maker of the heavens
and all that dwells there.
God, You are the Maker of all the earth
and all that dwells there.
God, You are the Maker of the oceans and seas
and all that dwells there.

And so we worship You,
with all of our heart,
all of our mind
and all of our strength.

All that we know was made by Your hands
All that we know and yet also, so much more:
the farthest reaches of Heavens
that are even now, still unfolding
the secrets of the Earth
still hidden from our knowing
the depths of the oceans
from which all life came.

And so we worship You,
with all of our heart,
all of our mind
and all of our strength.

Mighty and powerful,
before all things,
and beyond all things
yet always a God who is faithful to all creation.
Faithful in love.
Faithful to save.
Faithful to tend.
Faithful to share.

And so we worship You,
with all of our heart,
all of our mind
and all of our strength.

With our human hearts, we try to love You,
the all loving God
With our human minds, we try to understand You,
the all-knowing God
With our human strength, we try to serve You,
the all-powerful God.

And we rejoice to know that when our hearts falter,
Your heart forgives.
When our conscience mislead us
You teach us that we are ever-loved
When our strength fails,
You draw near and hold us close.

Hear us in the quiet as we confess to You
where we have turned away from You or others
and where we need Your healing and forgiveness.

We give You thanks O God,
You who upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
Who sets prisoners free,
and gives sight to the blind,
who lifts up those who are bowed down,
and loves the righteous.
You who watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
who frustrates the ways of the wicked.
You Lord God, reign forever,
for all generations.

Praise the Lord.
Amen.

Lord God,
By Your Son, we are reconciled to You
and by Your spirit we are sent out to Your world
to learn to walk in love as Christ walked in Love.

We are sent to care for those who,
like Naomi, Ruth and Orpah had no security.
And so we pray for those who have no food
because of a famine, or because of Covid,
who have no resilience to these things
because they were not allowed to work,
or were refused work because of their gender.
Grant them security and fairness Lord
and call us out of our comfort
to share what we have been given.

We remember those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
For when the grief is so near they are numb
we ask for Your comfort.
For when they feel alone
we ask that You would meet them in the compassion of others.
For when they blame You and cannot find the words to pray
may they know that the Spirit groans for all of creation
and that Christ intercedes for them.

We think of those whose world has been turned inside out by the pandemic –
grant that they would know the support and care of others,
the help they need and the strength to carry on.

Lord Jesus, You suffer with us,
and through Your resurrection,
have taken our sufferings into the heart of God.

Help those who are alone and vulnerable
know that You have been there too,
that You are with them,
even when we cannot see You,
even when they blame You.

And for us Lord,
help us be open and willing
to be part of the answer to these prayers.
To be Your hands to care,
Your ears to listen,
The body through which You might bring healing and life.

Blessing

Bless our hearts O God, with the love of Christ
Bless our minds O God, with the wisdom of Christ
Bless our bodies O God, with the power of the resurrection of Christ.

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

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 102 – "Alleluia. Praise the Lord, O my Soul" – a musical rendition of Psalm 146
  • CH4 676 – "Shout for joy!" – reflecting the tone of praise for God in the psalm
  • CH4 763 – "God bless to us our bread" – takes the notion from psalm 146:7 (upholds the oppressed and feeds the hungry) and touches on the theme of famine and food security found in the Ruth story. As a shorter song it would work well during a prayer of intercession, or perhaps as a song to follow the reading of the Ruth passage.
  • CH4 344 – "And Jesus said: Don't be afraid" – touches on themes of grief and perhaps picks up the verses that tell us about Naomi believing her grief was caused by God. For those of us who blame God for our suffering or wonder where God is during suffering, this song offers words of comfort and reassurance.
  • If the themes of grieving and asking where God is in our grief are part of your service CH4 388 may be a good choice too, asking ‘why have you forsaken me'.

  • CH4 393 – "We turn to God when we are sorely pressed" – perhaps ties the plight of Ruth with the supremacy of Christ and his salvific works described in some of the Hebrews reading.
  • CH4 359 – "He came down that we may have love" – picking up on the themes of Mark passage.
  • CH4 519 – "Love divine, all loves excelling"
  • CH4 115 – "Love is the touch of intangible joy" – this and CH4 519 offer further reflection on the Mark story.
  • CH4 258 – "When the hungry who have nothing share with strangers"
  • CH4 259 – "Beauty for Brokenness" – this and CH4 258 have similar themes to the story in Ruth and may work particularly well after prayers of intercession.

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.