Sunday Worship, 26 September 2021


Send out your light and your truth to be my guide; let them lead me to your holy hill, to your dwelling-place.

Psalm 43: 3

Hymn 124 Praise to the Lord the Almighty

Opening Prayer


Help us to recognise how much we depend on you

you have given us life

you have made us able to think about its meaning and purpose

you have given us the ability to choose to do what is good

 what is positive, what is constructive

and you have given us the power to turn from what is hurtful and negative

In a world where there are many temptations to follow other ways

 you have given us your word to guide us

 we have the life and teaching of your Son

 the example of many faithful Christians

 and the constant presence of your Spirit

Yet we confess:

 there are times when we have gone astray

 when we have heeded voices other than yours

 when we have followed ways that are not yours

and we are sorry

Forgive us and restore us

Your presence transforms us and our lives:

 with you we need never be afraid

nothing can separate us from your love

we have known your hand holding us fast

 your steps marking a way for us

and we long to keep knowing you

 knowing you more and more

Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen

All age time (for ages 0-100)

As we approached opening up the country from Covid regulations earlier this year, many people said that they were looking forward to meeting up with family and friends for a coffee or meal and a good chat.

What makes a ‘good chat’? You could probably get a Social Sciences PhD on the topic, but we won’t try to answer the question in anything like that depth today:

  • a chance to share what you have been doing, your views on some topics, maybe share some hopes, dreams, concerns, worries, ask how the other person is doing, and maybe catch up on news of other people
  • a chance for the other person to do the same
  • there are times when we need to unburden ourselves if there has been a problem or crisis, or maybe the other person needs to do so, but if every meeting involves one or other party doing all the talking, it stops being an enjoyable encounter, and not something you want to repeat in a hurry
  • it is good to drop questions into the conversation, to allow each other to open up and talk about different things – but if they come one after another after another, it ends up being like an interrogation session
  • the tone of the conversation needs to be mixed – some light-hearted, some serious. As we have just noted, if someone needs to unburden their worries and problems, then we need to prepare ourselves for some positive listening. But if every conversation is a catalogue of moans and complaints, then we might not rush to meet up again.

Sometimes we meet up with friends or family that we haven’t seen for years, and pick up with them as though we had just seen them yesterday. But most of the time we try to keep in touch with family and friends (whether face-to-face, on the phone, vis email or whatever) as part of building and maintaining our relationship.

All this applies to our relationship with God too. We can have a quick chat if that’s what is needed, or take longer to have a more in-depth conversation. It might mean taking time to reflect on the things we are thinking about or concerned about, and allowing God some space to get a word in edgeways (we don’t need to hear ‘voices’, just take time to think about a problem from different angles, or maybe reflect on what we can or should do). Even if people haven’t spoken with God for a very long time, he is always ready to listen, ready to engage in conversation with people.

Hymn 771 If you believe and I believe

Bible reading

James 5: 13-20


Over the last few weeks we have been thinking about issues brought up in the Letter of James – something that was probably originally written for a Jewish Christian community in the Holy Land in the early years of the church. Much of it focussed on how, as followers of Jesus, people should live their daily lives and treat others:

  • listening carefully when other people are speaking, concentrating and paying attention to what they say
  • avoiding prejudice and discrimination in how we react to others
  • thinking carefully about what we say, and how we say it, whichever medium we are using
  • allowing God’s Spirit to guide and change us as people, turning away from conventional ‘worldly wisdom’ and living lives that are pleasing to God

Then to conclude, the author addresses the spiritual life of the community, and in particular prayer.

There are some parts of the Christian community today that are very comfortable talking about prayer, but on the whole Church of Scotland members are not. We feel slightly awkward in mentioning it, we aren’t always sure what we are supposed to think about it, or do. We do pray, but we don’t feel comfortable letting on that we do, and we aren’t always sure that we pray in the ‘right’ way, because we don’t do the sort of things that folk from other Christian traditions do, and are quite happy to talk about.

What would prayer have meant to the audience for which the Letter of James was written? If they did indeed live in the Holy Land in the early years of the church they probably experienced prayer in a variety of formats

  • they probably attended the Temple from time to time, where priests and choirs chanted prayers beyond the barrier that separated clergy and laity, but where lay people either prayed their own prayers out loud or quietly into themselves (like Jesus’ description of the Pharisee and the tax collector)
  • in small town and village synagogues they may, as now, have used a set prayers in Hebrew though, as today, it isn’t their native language
  • we also hear of Jesus going up hills to pray in the early morning, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Apostles praying in homes, which sounds like them framing their own prayers to God
  • they had probably learned to recite the Psalms, which could be songs of praise, laments, opportunities to express anger, doubt and frustration to God, and could help them to frame their feelings when speaking with God

How does the author encourage his audience to use prayer for building their relationship with God and with each other?

  • to make time to give thanks to God. It is so easy to take good things for granted, and not express thanks. Are things going well? Give thanks to God. Are they feeling good? Give thanks to God
  • to share with God their worries and concerns, and ask for his help when there is trouble or need
  • to pray for healing and wholeness for each other
  • to confess their sins to each other and ask for forgiveness. They had probably grown up in the traditional Jewish context of offering a sacrifice in the Temple as an expression of confession and seeking forgiveness from God. But now that they were followers of Jesus they believed that he had been the ultimate sacrifice to bring forgiveness for sins – so it was no longer appropriate to make the traditional offerings. So how could they confess their sins and seek assurance of forgiveness? By sharing their confession with each other, and seeking reassurance from each other

What does this have to say to us, two thousand years later, and in a different Christian tradition?

  • we should still be ready to give thanks to God. Is it a bright, sunny day? Give thanks. Are we feeling good? Give thanks. Are things going well? Give thanks
  • it is OK, indeed it is a good thing, to share our worries and concerns with God in prayer, and ask for his help – whether for us, for other people or for wider situations.

Asking God for help was, and still is, a debated subject in some quarters. Some argue that if God is all-knowing, do we need to point out to him where help is needed, and if he is so powerful and caring, should he not act to help people without us drawing the need to his attention, and asking for his help. They are fair points, and yet if we see or hear of trouble, or someone in need, surely it is an automatic reaction to want to share it with God? Wouldn’t it be somehow uncaring to think, ‘well I don’t need to talk about it with God, because he knows, and could do something about it if he wants?’ Praying for others (or ourselves, if the need is ours) reinforces our concern for others, and when there is nothing else that we can do, it helps us to feel that we are at least doing something.

Does praying for God’s help achieve anything other than making us feel that we have at least done something? Sometimes the outcome we ask for happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Why? We don’t know. On the one hand we believe that God respects the rules of the Creation he brought into being, and doesn’t intervene at every available opportunity. And yet at other times unexplained or unexpected things do happen. How our prayer could help God intervene is a mystery we cannot fathom, we just keep praying

  • the author of the Letter suggested that when someone is ill the church elders should go along, anoint them and pray over them to bring about healing. I suspect that suggesting that to members of any Kirk Session would freak them. Our understanding of illness and how to treat it has changed in two thousand years. We now look to healthcare professionals for help with physical healing, but showing care and concern for someone who is ill can help them to find the mental stamina to fight their illness or get through their treatment. Elders and patients may not be comfortable about praying at the bedside, but quietly at home can be a comfort to both
  • some traditions have formal prayers of confession said by the whole congregation, some have opportunities to confess your sins to a clergyman to ask for absolution. We don’t do either, but we do include confession of sins and asking for forgiveness in our opening prayer, and we do all say the Lord’s Prayer together, asking for forgiveness of our Debts, Trespasses or Sins, as we forgive others. It is something we can do quietly each day
  • just as there were a variety of styles of prayer available to the author’s audience, and to other members of the early church, so there are to us. We can pray using the Psalms. We can pray using formal prayers – there is a wide range of material available in books, in addition to books such as the Church of Scotland’s Common Order. We can pray in everyday language – God doesn’t mind

The author makes the point that the ‘prayers of a righteous person’ are ‘powerful and effective’. We might be inclined to think we have an opt out, because we aren’t righteous. It doesn’t mean that we are super-holy, but that we have been put into a right relationship with God through Jesus. It is because of Jesus that we can pray direct to God, in stumbling language. He assures us that God hears, and God will respond. Through Jesus our prayers – yes, even ours – can be effective. Talking with God builds up our relationship with him, and builds up our church fellowship.

Hymn 97 O God you search me and you know me

Prayers for others

Gracious God

We thank you that we can talk with you

 as easily as we talk with best friends or closest family

we don’t need to use fancy words or rituals

you are always ready to listen to us

help us to take time to listen to you

 and time to express thanks and praise

 as well as airing our worries and moans

Help us when we are conversing with other people

 to be ready to listen

 not to hog the conversation

 and not to be always moaning

help us to be patient with those who do moan

 or don’t allow us space to say something

Be with all those who don’t have someone with whom to chat

 help us to make space to assist where we can

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 198 Let us build a house

Blessing (3-fold Amen)

And the blessing of God Almighty.

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