October 17th, 21st 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 Derek W Hughes, Minister of Easterhouse Parish Church, for his thoughts on the 21st 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

October is a month with a particular focus on tackling poverty. Sunday 17 October is the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and 4-10 October is Challenge Poverty Week. The resources for the first four Sundays in October have been written by Priority Area congregations. You will also find more Challenge Poverty Week resources on the Priority Areas Facebook page, including videos, prayer memes and links to webinars being held throughout October, with a particular focus this year on poverty and the climate crisis. We would encourage you to share these with your congregation as a way of highlighting how the church is engaging in anti-poverty work at a local level.

Since the early 1990s the Church of Scotland has placed a priority on putting resources into the most deprived communities. However, while there is great work happening in Priority Area congregations (those in the 5% most deprived parishes), it is important to recognise that the priority for the poorest and the most marginalised is the gospel imperative facing the whole church.

During this month we are asking every congregation in the country to look at poverty in their own community. Every parish will contain people who are in poverty, even if some of it is hidden. "Deprivation Stats" have been produced to show this for every parish, and new expanded versions of these will be launched in October, including maps showing relative deprivation in your parish and its neighbours​. These can be found via the Church Finder on the Church of Scotland website and we would encourage you to use these as a conversation starter with your congregation or Kirk Session.

I am writing these materials during the week of the General Assembly – please don't judge me, I'm multitasking! Anyway, I only mention this because of the refrain I have heard many times at Presbytery and General Assembly throughout the thirty-one years of my ministry (so far!): "Questions are always in order."

If you are anything like me in the journey of faith, you'll be someone who often asks questions of God. In all honesty, it's my default position. "Lord, why is this happening to me (or someone I love)?" "Why do seemingly decent folk get hit with some awful stuff in life?" "How come there is so much hurt and hardship in the world?" "Why do I drive a Citroen, when I'm really a Jaguar kind of a guy?" Okay, that last one was just to check if you're following along!

As we read through the Bible passages for this Sunday, it becomes quite plain that questions abound. I like this reminder that, although we are people of faith, we are encouraged to continue on a life-long journey of learning. Someone has said (sorry, I don't recall precisely who it was) that, as disciples of Jesus, we should have a permanent "L-plate" on our backs, because we are aye learning. We never quite graduate from the school of our Saviour. There is always progress for us to make in following Christ – how to love Him more, and how to show that love to those around us.

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

When it comes to the book of Job, perhaps the oldest known section in scripture, questions abound. However, chapter 38 turns the tables. Instead of questions being asked OF God, it is the LORD who is posing the queries TO Job (and, THROUGH Job, to us).

The tenor of questions asked clearly demonstrates the awesome nature of God, underscoring the fact that God has an overview of life, which, as human beings, we can never enjoy.

Of course, that doesn't mean we ought not to bring our questioning to God. But it does perhaps suggest that we do so with humility.

I'm also thinking of the invitation in the letter of James (chapter 1, verse 5): "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

Much like the passage from Job, which we have just read, Psalm 104 continues our focus on the creative majesty and almighty power of God. On several occasions here, God is addressed as LORD.

The observant among you will notice that it is rendered in capital letters. This represents the all-holy Hebrew name of God – transliterated as YHWH and articulated as Yahweh or Jehovah. It's what theologians call the Tetragrammaton (that University education was well worthwhile!).

And, given such a wonderful image of an amazing and creative God, the Psalm ends as we might expect, with a double-shout of praise: "Praise the LORD, my soul. Praise the LORD."

Now, if you have never been tempted to shout "Hallelujah" before – and, it has to be said that many Presbyterians are sometimes reluctant to do so – then faced with the utter awesomeness of "the LORD" is a good prompt to let rip and sing/shout praises (when COVID-19 regulations allow, of course!)

Hebrews 5:1-10

I confess that, for me personally, study of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews has always been a bit of an uphill struggle. In some ways this particular section of chapter 5 is typical. And, mention of the somewhat obscure figure of Melchizedek initially doesn't give any relief. Yet, being forced to dig deeper and ask questions of the text (and of myself) is not an entirely bad thing.

Delving into Genesis chapter 14, verses 17-20 reveals a description of Melchizedek as a king and a priest. Ah, now the penny drops. There is a clear parallel here with Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One of God. Although King and Head of the Church, Jesus is also our intermediary; the One who stands in the gap between mankind and God, pleading our case and offering Himself that we might be pardoned from our sin. Like every other priest in Scripture, the calling is to represent people before God. To achieve that requires empathy. In life and death, nobody fills that role better than Christ. Yet, in one respect, we know that He is different from every other priest; unlike them, He is perfect, without sin.

Mark 10:35-45

Sometimes we paint members of the early church as perfect examples of how to follow Jesus – we almost make ‘plaster saints' of them. In contrast, the question raised by James and John in this brief interchange with Jesus reveals how very ‘ordinary' they actually were. Their request, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory," (v35) appears to be a display of raw ambition. As ugly as this may seem at first glance, it gives Jesus the chance to ask a question of His own: "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?" (v38b.)

Using that as a platform, Christ then goes on to underline the importance of service as a core value of the Kingdom of God: "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (verses 43b-45.)

Sermon ideas

"The One Minute Manager," "Good to Great," "How to Win Friends and Influence People," "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

Even a cursory glance at the non-fiction section in any respectable bookshop reveals a range of titles on the theme of leadership. Safe to say that it's a growth industry. Has there ever been a time in the history of humankind when there was more interest in how to manage others in the workplace?

We have come a long way from the view that everything could be covered in two days – the first being the ‘carrot' and the second being the ‘stick.' Reward or punishment are poles apart, but are, sadly, still the approach many use in the management of personnel.

In gifting Jesus to the world, God deliberately chooses a different path. Of course, Christ speaks and ministers with authority. But it's not the kind that rides rough-shod over people. Instead, He identifies with folk, comes alongside and gently guides.

With a truly ‘open door' policy, which welcomes questions and engages in serious discussion, Jesus doesn't even lose His temper when dealing with "Boanerges...the sons of thunder," James and John (Mark's Gospel 10:35-45). Instead, Christ answers their question with a question, spelling out to them the implications and ultimate cost of the ‘promotion' they seek for themselves: "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?" (v38).

Jesus also goes on to make quite plain the need to understand their proper place in the ‘company' structures: "…to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." (v40)

This is clearly a nod in the direction of the importance of submitting to the LORDship of God Almighty, Ă  la Psalm 104 and Job 38.

So far, so very normal…at least in terms of modern management techniques! Much of this you might find in any of the tomes penned on the subject in our day and age. "You get back what you put in" or "no gain without pain" might sum up this approach to leadership. Plus, "you need to know your place" or "there's a pecking order." Every company has a clear set of steps on the ladder to the top.

But, the second half of the portion from Mark 10 is where we find Jesus diverging hugely from what might appear acceptable in today's "dog eat dog" approach to advancing one's career:

"Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.'" (Mark 10: 42-44)

To rise up one must first bow down.

To lead, one must serve.

And, just to show that this applies across the board in the way God's Kingdom operates, Christ asserts: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10: 45.)

I am reminded here of the Latin phrase, which was quoted and commended at my ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament more than 30 years ago: "servus servorum Dei." It translates as "servant of the servants of God."

Interestingly enough, Google tells me that this is a "title given by Popes to themselves in documents of note."

For the sake of clarity, I am not looking for any white smoke blowing out of the chimney of the manse where I reside any time soon! But I do believe that the phrase is one Jesus would like to see every Christian (not just those ordained to ministry) live out.

Now then, taking together this call of Christ to servanthood from Mark 10, with the overarching image of God as the LORD in Job 38 and Psalm 104, there is a sense in which we are to recognise our place in the purposes of God and resist a drive towards self-importance. Instead, we are to follow the example of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, in the way that we love and serve others every day, even when it costs us something, perhaps especially when personal sacrifice is involved.

If there is a range of ages at the service you may want to engage in a more intergenerational way around the ideas of questions. This approach possibly depends on who you have as part of your church family, as well as the particular setting and how interactive you and the congregation like to be.

In line with the experience of Job, the Psalmist, James and John, perhaps a game of "Who am I?" might be played.

For those unfamiliar with this, the idea is for someone to think of the name of a person – celebrity, politician, family member, etc. – but not to share that with anyone.

Questions are then asked in turn about nationality, job, gender, age, appearance, etc. to try and home in on a guess at the name of the particular person.

This could be done a few times – and almost always ends in some sort of hilarity as a result of random ‘guesses.'

The point is that questions can be good, or they can be well off the mark. Lead on to affirming the need to ask questions of God.

This is something that can inform our faith, even just get things off our chest. Without promising to answer them (because you and I are NOT God) what questions might we ask of God?

And, if you want to dig deeper still, perhaps allow them some time to think about what questions God might ask of us. For example, what does God require of us as followers of Jesus?

Allow me to conclude by suggesting a simple children's song, which sums up much of what I believe is being shared here:

J - O - Y, J - O - Y, this is what it means,
Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between - Yeah!
J - O - Y, J - O - Y, this is what it means,
Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.

It is sung to the tune of "Jingle bells"

Who doesn't know that, right?

Forgive me if it becomes a bit of an ear-worm for the rest of your day.

Let's pray that it might just as readily resound in our hearts and in the way we live EVERY day.

Prayers

Call to worship

I would encourage use of the Psalms in a creative way. This can work well, especially in taking time for everyone to make ready for the worship service that lies ahead.

Often people arrive at the sanctuary with thoughts and emotions swirling around their heads and hearts. I am not suggesting we set these aside…not for a moment…but that we take time to name these and to bring them to God.

One example might be to use Psalm 55, verse 22 as follows:

Cast your cares on the Lord
(palms of hands facing down)

and He will sustain you
(palms of hands facing upwards)

He will never let the righteous be shaken.
(arms crossed over chest)

Take each phrase in turn…read it very slowly and deliberately…then allow a moment or two to follow through on the actions, before leading gently into the first item of sung praise.

Prayer of approach

All praise and glory,
honour and power be to Your name,
God Almighty.
You are holy and majestic in Your person
and in Your ways.
High and lifted up, nothing escapes Your view.

Jesus taught us that You even know when a sparrow falls from a tree
and You tend to the flowers of the field
as if each one was irreplaceable.
How much more are we, all humankind,
the work of Your hands and the apple of Your eye.

Such a reminder is staggering,
difficult for us to comprehend,
especially when we know ourselves to be far from perfect.
Yet, because of Christ, You look past our faults to our potential,
You show mercy rather than condemn us,
You express interest in what we can be
rather than what we have been,
You grant grace upon grace.

Thank You, Lord.
Thank You that rather than write us off and leave us without hope,
You draw ever closer to us and promise that,
where we turn away from our past failings
You will bring restoration.

Thank You, Lord.
Thank You that in Your hands
our brokenness is not something that resigns us to the rubbish tip.
Instead, You are the original recycler,
taking what we are,
wasting nothing of our life experience,
and fashioning us into something beautiful.

Thank You, Lord.
Thank You that despite our waywardness
and because of Your compassion,
there is still hope for us to be purposeful in the things of Your Kingdom.
In this regard, the stories of old,
the tales of those who have gone before us,
both in bible times and since then,
give us reason to believe that all is not lost.

And so, we pray that You will speak to us clearly today
as we read from and reflect upon each passage from the Bible.
May Your written word be brought to life
by the presence of Your living word.

Take our lives, then,
as we once more lay them before You,
as we submit to You and Your ways,
as we put fresh faith in Your plan and purpose,
as we again take on trust the promises of Christ.

And hear us as together we pray the words of Your Son, our Saviour:
Our Father…

Prayers for People

Lord, before we pray for the needs of those we love
and for so many around the world
whom we shall perhaps never know personally,
we pause to acknowledge that, like Job,
sometimes we are caught up in complicated situations
that cause grief and raise questions.
There have been times when people have said or done something
that has brought pain to our door.
We find it hard to let go of those emotions
and even harder to forgive.
Soften our hearts, God, and help us to forgive others,
even as You have forgiven us in Christ.

Equally, there have been occasions
when it is we who have been at fault;
our words and actions have visited hurt on someone else,
either knowingly or unwittingly.
We confess that, even when we are aware of the tension that has arisen,
we still find it challenging to address the brokenness
and we shy away from saying sorry.

Give us, we pray, something of the spirit of Jesus –
instead of ranting and launching into a war of attrition with others who hurt us
or whom we have hurt, may we become peacemakers,
opening the door to reconciliation and healing.

Unity of spirit and purpose,
along with the healing of broken relationships
is what we also seek for our nation and world.

Where there is contention, bring co-operation.
Where there is unhealthy competition, usher in collaboration.
Where there is false accusation, let there be truth.
Even when differing in opinion from one another,
may we do so with mutual respect.

And this is our prayer also for Your church.
In our generation, may we increasingly become an answer to the prayer of Jesus,
whose desire was to see his people become as one.

Now, as a church family,
we bring before You the particular needs of those who are facing hardship at present.…

(Make some time to name people and situations – as appropriate – before God).

Draw very close to all whose burden is heavy.
Continue in them the process of healing that has begun,
and which we hope will accelerate.
May physical rest and peace of mind be their experience
now, and in the days, to come.

At the same time, we rejoice with each one of our local congregation
who has something to celebrate…

(Again, take some moments to name people and situations before God, which bring joy).

Lord, how wonderful it is
for us to share the pleasure such good news brings
to those directly involved,
and to us as a congregation.

And finally, in the silence of this space,
we bring to You our own needs and those of others
who have not already been or cannot be mentioned publicly at this time.

(Please don't rush through this…it's a chance for everyone to cry out to God from their hearts)

Lord, in Your love for all humankind,
reach out to everyone who needs a deep touch from Your healing hand this day.
Hear and answer us according to Your mercy, Heavenly Father,
and glorify Your name in our midst
that all may know You are the LORD,
and that nothing is impossible for You.
In Jesus' name, we pray.
AMEN

Prayer of blessing

God knows your name, and calls you to serve others in his.
Go then, to love and serve the LORD,
by loving and serving all of those with whom you share this earthly life.
And, the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you all, today and every day.

All God's people said – AMEN!

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 111 – "Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!"
  • CH4 132 – "Immortal, invisible, God only wise"
  • CH4 184 – "Sing to the LORD a joyful song"
  • CH4 374 – "From heaven you came (Servant King)"
  • JUNIOR PRAISE 200 – "Praise Him on the trumpet" – an upbeat version of Psalm 150, which encourages a shout of "Hallelujah." (NB…if congregational singing still not allowed (or even if it is - please God, let it be) then why not hand out small percussion instruments to be shaken, rattled and/or hit by all who wish to participate!
  • JUNIOR PRAISE 288 – "Who put the colours in the rainbow?" - something for the children, which picks up the idea of questions and the theme of God's sovereignty
  • "J-O-Y, J-O-Y, this is what it means, Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between -
    Yeah! J-O-Y, J-O-Y, this is what it means, Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between!" – a simple and fun song for all ages, to the tune of "Jingle bells."

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.