September 5th, 15th Sunday after Pentecost

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Daniel Joaquim, Director of the Theological Education Department – Nampula Synod, IECM (Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique) and currently a PhD Student at Pretoria University, for his thoughts on the fifteenth 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

The season of Pentecost opens a space for celebrating the presence of the Holy Spirit, that living force which guides and enlivens the Church. Since the creation of the Universe, the Holy Spirit is and continues to be a factor and agent of community transformation which manifests itself in terms of changes to and the restoration of interpersonal relationships.

Today's reflection takes the biblical texts and analyses each one of them from a relational point of view. Therefore, the major driving force, which links the texts together, is ‘relationship'. This key concept helps us to unpack these familiar texts.

The reflections on these texts takes into account the African context, particularly that of Mozambique, which is facing many challenges and opportunities for spiritual growth.

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

The book of Proverbs is the most important record of Israelite wisdom. In its oldest version, Proverbs was a collection of material from very different eras and different wisdom genres. The Jewish tradition attributes this book to Solomon, because, according to 1 Kings 3:12, he was given "a wise and discerning mind". As a wisdom discourse, the book of Proverbs refers to the organisation of the world and social behaviour.

Proverbs 22 begins with pairs of words such as "good name" vs "great riches", "favour" vs "silver and gold". Good name and favour (see also Ecclesiastes 7:1; Luke 10:20) are related to the reputation or character and bring the idea of being accepted by the community. The acceptance idea fits well with African world view, because to make an impact as an influential and positive person you need acceptance in the community. Acceptance is a relational concept, which expresses links between people. Whatever we are and whatever we possess, the passage reminds us that all are equal before the Lord (v2).

The word pairs continue in verses 8-9, showing the consequences of some inappropriate behaviours and giving encouragement to the righteous. The blessings of the Lord are upon whoever feeds the poor (v9). Lastly, it is all about the issue of social justice (v22), in which the Lord intervenes to plead the causes of the "poor" and "afflicted" (v23). The wisdom principle is that nothing is more valuable than good relationships: healthy relationships are better than silver and gold.

Psalm 125

Psalm 125 is a hymn of Ascents in which the pilgrims celebrate their trust in the Lord. In the context of the people of the Old Testament, the metaphor of Mount Zion (v1) represents stability and strength. The Lord created and chose Mount Zion as a place in which God's Temple would be built. The Lord blessed Zion, and its stability and strength remain forever and are the marks of those who put their trust in the Lord. Therefore, the Lord's protection is as permanent as the mountains themselves.

The sceptre, representing the government of the wicked, shall not have power over anything that belongs to the righteous (those who trust in the Lord – v3). But even if this does happen, the reign of the wicked will not last for ever.

The Psalmist prays for God's blessing on the righteous and warns the wicked that the Lord will overturn their power, which is impermanent. The Psalmist ends this hymn, which contrasts the righteous and the wicked, with a prayer for peace on Israel.

The Lord is the source of the peace that all nations need in order to flourish and mature. The task of every believer is to build their lives on their trust in the Lord and to pray for the righteous and for peace among the nations.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Addressed to Christian communities of Jewish origin dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, the letter of James is linked to wisdom literature through the use of instruction and exhortations around questions of ethics and wisdom.

James states that the Christian faith is against division and discrimination against people. Any counter-testimony is discouraged, particularly social behaviour that discriminates between rich and poor. Appearance or social status are not valid criteria before God and it is counter to their faith, because the Lord does not look at people in this way (vv1-4).

The author expresses here that the idea of human dignity is not linked to material possessions, but to their vertical relationship with God (v5). In a horizontal relationship, the argument is that to reject the poor – whom Christ has chosen – is to reject Christ Himself (v7). There is no preference of the poor over the rich; God does not reject the rich because of their possessions, but because they commit violent acts (vv6b-7).

Partiality therefore breaks the commandment to love your neighbour and whoever breaks that commandment is guilty before the Lord (vv10-11).

James' listeners did not understand that discrimination was a sin as serious as adultery or murder; that, in violating one point of the law, they were guilty of violating it as a whole (vv10-11). Therefore, in order to avoid discrimination, Christians in all contexts ought to practise the greatest commandment: You will love your neighbour as yourself.

Mark 7:24-37

The world of Mark's gospel is one of conflict and suspense; of puzzles and secrets; questions and the overturning of the obvious; irony and surprise. Its main actor, Jesus, is confusing in the extreme. This passage bears witness to these aspects of puzzles and changing perspectives.

At first, the text seems to suggest that the relationship with the pagans, who are considered unclean, (vv25-26) is to be avoided at all costs and, therefore, the resolution of problems ought to follow a privileged chronological order: the sons of Abraham first (v27). The Syrophoenician woman reversed this logic by her response to Jesus' statement. She changed the perspective by talking about "paidia" (‘little children' in Greek), a word that focuses more on the size or age of the little ones. By faith, she saw herself as a Gentile who would benefit from the blessings of the children of Abraham (v28).

Her argument is based in the image used by Jesus (the children's bread) and she then alters the point of view. Her perspective expresses the idea that no matter what your ethnic or religious origin is, once you have any problem it needs to be sorted out. The chronological priority enjoyed by the children of Abraham is thereby abolished. This woman's faith recognised that the Lord's purifying power could cross boundaries to benefit the pagans (v29) and the space where the Spirit of God can work in pushing away the unclean spirit is therefore miraculously enlarged.

The healing of the deaf man proves the enlargement of the space where the Spirit of the Lord operates (vv31-37). Healing in a strange land again, Jesus proves that His mission and love extends to all humankind. Faith breaks barriers and establishes a healthy relationship with God regardless of the believers' origin. Faith overcomes ethnic and religious differences.

Sermon ideas

Like 2020, this year is also a time of crisis. The world continuously cries out due to the limitations imposed by the global pandemic of COVID-19. It affects so many of the major areas of life such as the economy, politics and religion. In the area of social relations, things continue to be tough. For instance, distances between beloved ones are increased and personal relations became more unstable and distant.

Traditional places of worship are closed and this is leading to a growing anxiety about the future of relationships with other believers. It seems that this is a crucial time to redefine and develop new perspectives in order to stabilise and strengthen relationships with one another.

This Sunday could be an opportunity for us to take time to reflect on whether our environment, our possessions and social status are impacting on our personal relationships, our relationship with others and with God (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23).

How do we celebrate our trust in the Lord during Creation Time? Let us keep praying for the entirety of creation and for peace in the world. Let us increase our trust in the Lord and it will make us stable and strong (Psalm 125). Faith ought to compel us to discourage all types of division and discrimination, and demands a concrete and practical commitment for all believers (James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17). Christian faith breaks barriers, establishes and strengthens a healthy relationship with God and others; and it helps to overcome the ethnic and religious differences (Mark 7:24-37).

References

  1. BIBLE – English Standard Version (2016).
  2. ADEYEMO, T. (ed.), 2010, Comentário Bíblico Africano, São Paulo, Mundo Cristão.
  3. FOCANT, C. & MARGUERAT, D. (ed.), 2010, Le Nouveau Testament Commenté – Texte intégral, Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible, Genève, Labor et Fides.

Prayers

Call to worship

There are always more than enough reasons to worship God in God's Holiness. Looking around, both near and far from us we feel the effects of God's mercy upon us, which calls us to worship. The air that we breathe freely, our hope to live full lives again despite the global situation, our family members and friends, our shelter and food, all these and other motives compel us to worship.

Merciful Lord
Praise Your Holy Name.

You created the universe out of love
Praise Your Holy Name.

We live only by Your grace and love
Praise Your Holy Name.

In Your image and likeness,
You created us to form relationships with others.
Praise Your Holy Name.

With thankful hearts, we worship You
Praise Your Holy Name for evermore.

Thanksgiving

Loving and gracious God,
we come before You to give thanks for what You have done for us.
We celebrate Your Name and offer You praise because of Your Holiness,
yet You are a living God in whom we trust and believe.
We thank You, God, for the rainy season and for health.

Oh God, we thank You for the life we have,
for the air we breathe
and for our relationships with those who are both close and far away.
We thank You for Your infinite goodness,
which deepens our trust in You.

God of mercy, increase our faith
so that we may develop a deeper understanding of You
and a deeper relationship with You.

Confession

Gracious God, You who know us better than we know ourselves,
there are countless times that we have sinned against You and our neighbour.
Have mercy on us and forgive us.

Consciously or unconsciously,
through our words, attitudes and actions,
we have broken our relationship with You,
with our neighbours and even with the environment.
Have mercy on us and forgive us.

Restore, oh gracious God, our broken relationships and guide us in Your paths.
For Your glory and the building of Your Kingdom
Have mercy on us and forgive us

Intercession

Gracious God,
We pray for our broken world and for peace.
We pray for the children of all nations,
for men and women longing to be reunited with their families.

Gracious God,
We pray for the removal of all types of barriers which stunt or destroy relationships.
We pray for new ways to create closer relationships with God and others.

Gracious God,
We pray for all nations, churches and faith-based organisations,
to encourage and empower us all
to build loving and supportive relationships
that reflect the image and likeness of God.

Blessing / Closing prayer

May the Lord of strong and stable relationships
help you to live wisely and in peace.
May the Son guide your paths.
May the Holy Spirit lead you into wisdom.
Amen

Alternative Material for Creation Time

With Christians around the world, we dedicate this month to a reflection on our often troubled relationship with the Earth.

This year EcoCongregation Scotland and the Joint Public Issues Team (Methodist, URC, UK Baptist and CofS) have worked together to provide a bank of valuable resources for congregations, in a variety of media, to facilitate ‘Creation Time' (also referred to as Creationtide or the Season of Creation).

After a year's postponement, the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November has become the stimulating backdrop to prayer and preaching in 2021, drawing together many churches and faith traditions. Under the harsh light of greater awareness of global crisis, the scriptures blossom with meaning and significance as resources for encouragement and reflection for congregations and communities throughout Scotland.

This is an exciting time to be church, and one which requires courage, faith and cheerfulness – perhaps even playfulness – as changing global conditions demand us to more profoundly and authentically dedicate ourselves to prayer and commit to action in light of the manifold green threads of the Bible, emerging like shoots of God's Word for today.

You can find resources as they are posted on the EcoCongregation Scotland website.

Creation Time themes from this week's lectionary readings

God's preferential option for the poor in James provides food for thought as we listen for the voice of the Global South in preparation for COP, and in Mark 7 Jesus challenges the demons which undervalue the small changes we each can make. Proverbs 22 highlights the connection between injustice and what follows for the poor and the land. Wayward humanity in Psalms 125 and 146 is compared unfavourably to the robust personality of the land.

– Rev David Coleman, EcoChaplain with Eco-congregation Scotland

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.

Psalm 125: "Those Who Trust in the LORD"

Proverbs 22: "A Good Name"

Suggestions for hymns during Creation Time

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.