Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves.1 Peter 2: 16
Hymn 106 Bring to the Lord a glad new song
We thank you that in Jesus you have experienced human life
you know what it is like being part of a family
having neighbours, having colleagues
having fun, being sad or worried
being patient, being encouraging
feeling ignored or let down
You have shown us how we should live in all those situations
You have given us your Spirit to help us to live your way
But all too often we don’t
Sometimes we wanted to do what was right
but tiredness, irritation or a moment off-guard
meant that we didn’t do the right thing
Sometimes we did the wrong thing without even realising it
Sometimes we knew what we should do
but we chose not to do it
because it was too much effort
or because we wanted to do or say something
that would cause hurt or offence
We are sorry
Help us to be different
to be more like Jesus in all that we do
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
When I was across the water, there was an occasion when the Presbytery was changing the venue for its meetings. On the Sunday afternoon before the Presbytery meeting, I got a phone call from an elder that I knew who belonged to another congregation. ‘I’m trying to find where we’re meeting on Tuesday, but I’m lost. How do I get there?’ ‘Well, if you don’t know where you are, how can I give you directions?’ (and thinking, and why didn’t you phone your own minister?)
I was reminded of that conversation recently, when I read that retired Admiral Lord West was concerned that Russian or Chinese hackers could try to immobilise satellite navigational systems, affecting royal navy and merchant navy craft. But suppose they immobilised satnavs? Half the population don’t seem to know how to read maps, and where would lorries and vans end up? People would have work out for themselves where to go. How many would get lost?
There are many occasions when we find that we are suddenly challenged with having to think for ourselves: when a problem crops up at home or at work, and there’s no one about from whom to seek advice; coping with someone who has taken ill, or requires first aid, and there’s no ‘expert’ on hand; going into an exam, expecting to know what the questions will be, only they aren’t; and so on.
When challenged like that we can surprise ourselves with remembering a lot that we thought we didn’t know, or had forgotten. We can also be quite capable of thinking carefully and wisely about how to address our problem. So we don’t need to panic, just use our God-given brains to think it through.
Life is full of decision-making, from the relatively simple ‘what shall I have for lunch?’ to more complex issues connected with politics, finance, medicine and so on. Some people reach decisions themselves, some research widely and talk about it with others. As followers of Jesus we like to include him in our consideration of more complex issues. He doesn’t have ready-made answers to every single issue that might ever arise on Planet Earth. But he gives us clear markers on the sort of things we should take into account when reaching our decision (because he wants it to be our decision, not just what we are told we must do). We have his other friends we can turn to, to talk about difficult matters. Above all he gives us his Spirit to help us and guide us in all that we do.
Ephesians 5: 15-20
Hymn 615 Holy Spirit ever living
Last Monday we moved out of Level Zero – but to what? It’s like a kind of Level Minus One. It’s not quite ‘normal’ because there are still some restrictions in place (like wearing face coverings on public transport), and the pandemic has not gone away (most of us may have had two vaccinations, but we also know people who have caught it – some quite badly – despite two vaccinations). But for most of the time there aren’t specific ‘rules’ to follow: we have to use ‘common sense’ regarding what we do. But one person’s idea of common sense is not necessarily another’s. And when we look to people like politicians to act as role models for us, the guidance can be ‘confusing’.
To be fair, guidance on how to live our lives, what decisions to take in specific situations, was never easy or straightforward:
- Most of us probably grew up with very specific guidance from parents, grandparents, teachers and everyone else on what we should and shouldn’t do. How many of us struggled against bits of that guidance (like when you had to be in, when you went to bed)? How many of us still follow to the letter the guidance given by parents, grandparents, teachers etc?
- Many of us may have been in the position, as parents, teachers or youth group leaders, of telling younger folk what they should and shouldn’t do? Would we say all the same things today, or have our views changed a wee bit?
- Family and friends tend to have the same kind of approach to life that we have. But when you get put together with colleagues or neighbours, or get talking to the parents of other children in the school class, sometimes their ideas of right and wrong can be a bit eye-opening: and not just about when children go to bed, what they can watch on the television, and what they can eat [girls in Birmingham]
- Then there are the messages given out by role models such as sports personalities, actors and musicians, what social media ‘influencers’ say, and what adverts expect us to aspire to
It isn’t only colleagues, neighbours and ‘other parents’ who have a different outlook on life from us. Different ethnic and faith communities in our own country can have different outlooks [Moslem girl who came on a sleepover]. Such differences can become more pronounced in different countries and areas of the world. Then there are many, both in positions of power and in the wider population, who simply choose to resort to violence or theft, and see nothing wrong in it.
Despite the attempts of some faith communities to set out guidance on how to behave in a range of possible scenarios, in practice there are so many possible situations in life where we have to decide what is the right thing, or the better thing, that it is impossible to have a guidebook for every eventuality. We do need to rely on our own judgement and ‘common sense’.
Jesus didn’t try to write a guidebook for every possible situation. He gave us guidelines and pointers to inform our decision-making, things like:
- Love your neighbour as yourself
- Do not judge others
- The last shall be first
He acted as the ideal and consistent role model who always put into practice what he said. And he gave us his Spirit, to be with us constantly, guiding us, transforming us, so that we can become ever more like him in the way that we behave.
Prayers for others
Every day we are faced with decisions
some are straight-forward, with little real consequence if we get it wrong
others have longer-lasting implications
help us when we have important decisions to make
to do the right thing
There are many aspects of life
where we are not sure what is the right thing or the best thing
we hear people advocating different views
and are not sure what to think
guide us when we are faced by these big or confusing questions
We give thanks for those who have given us wise guidance and advice over the years
those who were good examples and role models for us
we pray for those who don’t have such guidance or such role models
provide them with the wise advice and examples
help us as your people to strive to be better examples than we often are
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 192 All my hope on God is founded
And the blessing of God Almighty.