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Virtual Worship - 19 September 2021

Perfect wisdom


Welcome and Call To Worship

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19b-20

Hymn: 

Blessed be the name of the Lord (StF 41)

Children's Address: I'm the Greatest!


For those of you who can’t access YouTube, this is a very simple presentation of the story of the disciples arguing about who among them was the greatest, as in the next reading, in the style of an old-fashioned flannelboard.

Reading: 

Mark 9:30-37

Pride and humility

Just imagine Jesus’ utter frustration! Mark tells us that this was the second time Jesus had tried to explain to his closest followers and friends what was going to happen when they got to Jerusalem – that he, the most important man ever, was going to sacrifice himself for the good of everyone. Jesus had deliberately set time aside with his disciples, away from the crowds, from the demands of preaching, healing and working miracles, to share with them. Then he finds out that, not only had everything he’d said gone completely over their heads, now they were falling out about who amongst them was the most important! Their evasive behaviour when he asks what they had been discussing shows they knew they were behaving badly – though perhaps not just how badly, how inappropriately. Jesus responds by teaching them that whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Jesus invites them – and us – to a life of humility.

There’s a story about the famous boxer, Mohammed ‘The Greatest’ Ali, travelling on an aeroplane and being asked by an air steward to put his seatbelt on. Ali replied ‘Superman don’t need no seatbelt,’ to which the air steward replied ‘Superman don’t need no airplane!’

The opposite of humility is pride – the puffed up, full-of-our-own-importance sort of pride – the problem being that it is inherently about comparison: my car is newer and shinier than yours; my football team play better than yours; I’ve got the latest model iPhone, a designer handbag. Harmless enough, we might think, but the subtext is that we are making judgements, judgements that can easily spill over into our attitudes to other people.

We begin to think and act as though we are ‘better’ than other people, that our needs and wishes are more important than those of others – that like Mohammed Ali, rules do not apply to us. For example, consider what happens when even the nicest, most mild-mannered person gets behind the wheel of a car. How many of us have exceeded the speed limit, even when we weren’t particularly in a hurry, or got seriously annoyed when someone has whizzed down the outside lane and then pushed in front in a traffic queue? I am sure we can all think of similar examples where our attitude to other road users has not exactly been humble!

This self-centred pride, looking only at the world as it relates to and impacts on us destroys our ability to love, leading us to judge rather than serve. It stunts our ability to appreciate and celebrate the wonderful diversity of humankind and inhibits our learning from one another. It’s rather ironic that these days we use the word ‘exclusive’ to describe something unusual and special, something desirable, because self-centred pride really is ‘exclusive’ – it excludes other people and ultimately excludes God.

The Christian writer John Ortberg, in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, (Zondervan, 2015), says:

Humility is not about convincing ourselves – or others – that we are unattractive or incompetent. It’s not about ‘beating ourselves up’ or trying to make ourselves nothing. If God wanted to make us nothing, he could have done it.

Humility has to do with submitted willingness. It involves healthy self-forgetfulness. We will know when we have begun to make progress in humility when we find that we get so enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in the moment that we cease to be preoccupied with ourselves, one way or the other. When we are with others, we are truly with them, not wondering how they can be of benefit to us.

Humility, if we could ever grow into it, would not be a burden. It would be an immense gift. Humility is the freedom to stop trying to be what we’re not, or pretending to be what we’re not, and accepting our ‘appropriate smallness.’ In Luther’s words, humility is the decision to ‘let God be God.’

Wouldn’t that be such a relief, to truly let go of that corrosive idea that we know best and let God be God, trusting in his perfect wisdom and will, confident that whatever is going on in our lives, our churches, our world, he loves us to die for – and ultimately, he holds us safe?

To God, every person has intrinsic, infinite and equal value. Jesus died to save everyone – he is the first, because he made himself the last, the servant of all – that’s the lesson he wanted his disciples to learn on their Galilean retreat. When we give Jesus first place in our lives and forget ourselves in his service, loving and caring for each other, that’s when we are practising true Christian humility.

Being humble is hard – we might even fall into the trap of being proud of how humble we’re getting, which is not true humility at all! We’ll trip over our own egos and our own self-centred humanity on countless occasions but we are assured that through Jesus we can be forgiven and that his Holy Spirit will be with us always to help and equip us, because God loves us more than we can ever imagine.

Hymn: 

Brother, sister, let me serve you (StF 611)

Readings: 

Psalm 1; James 3:13-18

Wisdom and peace

On one of the farms where I was brought up there was an old-fashioned hand operated winnowing machine for separating grain from chaff – nature’s protective wrapping, but inedible and no longer needed. Into the top of this winnower you tipped sacks of grain from the threshing machine (that’s the huge contraption that separated the heads of grain from the straw – what’s now done by combine harvesters), and when you cranked a handle on the side if this machine it operated a powerful fan which blew the lighter chaff away allowing the heavier grain to be collected below.

That machine used a technique which is as old as harvest itself, and it’s this that the Psalmist is referring to when he describes ‘the wicked’ as being ‘like the chaff that the wind blows away’: lightweight and worthless in God’s eyes. By the wicked he means those who follow evil schemes, refusing to obey God’s rules, and even scoffing at the whole idea of God. (Who’s he? What does he matter?) This is the chaff, those who will be judged by God as unworthy, whose fate is the tip. I suppose a modern urban equivalent might be litter blowing about in the street: once useful, but now without content of any value.

The Psalmist makes a contrast with those who do believe in God, who trust and follow his words in the Bible, apply them in their lives, and so develop a relationship with God who spoke the words. Such people, says the Psalmist, develop a substance and a presence. There’s something enduring about them . They’re people worth knowing.

To describe what he means he uses the picture of a tree planted by streams of water – not a struggling desert shrub, but a sturdy tree regularly and reliably yielding fruit. Even when adverse winds blow, it’s leaves don’t wither. There’s a peace and prosperity about such people, a deep wellbeing.

James is making a very similar distinction in this part of his letter, when he contrasts two totally different kinds of ‘wisdom’: that which comes ‘from above’ (from God), as distinct from that which is ‘earthly’ as he puts it. But whereas the Psalmist merely comments that there is a difference (and how it arises), James is building on this by telling those who claim to have the wisdom from above to make every effort to show it by the way they behave.

They are not to give in to what he says is unspiritual and demonic in origin. They are not to boast and be false to the truth, nor harbour bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, which leads to disorder and every vile practice. Instead they are to be (and we need to ponder every word here): pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And they are to show these characteristics through their good conduct! Such are peaceful in themselves, and fruitful in peacemaking around them.

In his brisk way James seems to be saying, ‘Now go to it!’ and we can see why. It’s partly because how we behave makes a difference in the world, as we all know, but also because godly conduct glorifies God, from whom it comes.

Prayers

Heavenly Father, blow through us the wind of your Spirit, ridding us of all our chaff, all stuff that may once have been useful but no longer helps our life with you.

Even more, turn us away from deep-rooted Godless attitudes: self-centred worldly thoughts that tend towards the bad. May we have done with self-centred jealousy and get rid of any bitterness lurking within.

We’re asking this for ourselves, because we know we need cleansing, and only you can do it: habits of old are so hard to overcome. You know what they are, but we name before you now those we’re most aware of...

And Lord, please will you also bless others around us in similar need.

Blow away all this bad, and fill us instead with your Spirit of holy peace and trust in you. Make us open to reason, not angrily defensive. Liberate us into the fuller life that Jesus brings – and please, Lord, make it show by the way we live. Amen.

Music for Meditation

The Perfect Wisdom of Our God


The perfect wisdom of our God,
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by His hand,
And held together at His command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas,
The secrets of the stars are His;
He guides the planets on their way,
And turns the earth through another day.
The matchless wisdom of His ways,
That mark the path of righteousness;
His word a lamp unto my feet,
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And oh, the mystery of the cross,
That God should suffer for the lost
So that the fool might shame the wise,
And all the glory might go to Christ!
Oh grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:

Keith Getty / Stuart Townend
The Perfect Wisdom Of Our God lyrics © Thank You Music Ltd.
CCLI 1068851

Prayers of Intercession and Lord's Prayer

Lord, you first
Let that be our prayer
As we seek to follow you
Along the path of our tomorrows.

Trusting in your love, your grace and your perfect wisdom, we humbly bring before you the people and situations that lie heavy on our hearts.

We pray for all those who are suffering as a result of political unrest, violence and warfare, thinking particularly of the situation in Afghanistan.

We bring to you the ongoing impact of the COVID19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods around the world.

We pray for areas devastated by extreme weather events and other consequences of climate change.

We pray for your worldwide Church, both in places where our brothers and sisters face persecution for their faith and places where it is a struggle to find ways to communicate your Good News to a society who feels church is irrelevant, to people who are distracted from their spiritual poverty by modern life and comforts.

In all these situations, Lord, please give your wisdom, integrity, compassion and strength to everyone in positions of influence and authority.

Make possible what sometimes looks impossible to our human eyes.

And, in a few moments of quiet, Lord, we bring to you those people known to each of us who have special need of prayer…

Silence

Lord, you first
Let that be our prayer
As we seek to follow you
Along the path of our tomorrows.

We offer these and all our prayers as we join in the prayer Jesus continues to teach his friends:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Amen.

Hymn: 

God is love: his the care (StF 403)


The Grace

Service prepared by
Jackie Marshall and Roy Lorrain-Smith

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