Sunday Worship, 23 January 2022

Service starts at 11:15am in Riverside and streamed on YouTube


Consider how great is the love which the Father has bestowed on us in calling us his children!

1 John 3: 1

Hymn 113 God the Father of creation

Opening Prayer

You are a God who believes in partnership and teamwork

In your own essence you know the companionship

 of Father, Son and Holy Spirit

You want us to have a living relationship with you

 walking with you, talking with you

 enabling our relationship with you to grow and develop

 trusting you more, working with you to build your Kingdom

You want us to have meaningful, creative and productive

 relationships with each other

a number of images have been used to describe how we should work together:

 different parts of the human body

 the stem, branches, leaves and trusses of a grape vine

and we could probably add:

 a jigsaw, a machine, a sports team

all speak of the need to work together

 for the good of the whole

 no matter how different we are

 the whole being greater than the sum of the parts

You have given us gifts to use

 but we haven’t always been ready to use them

sometimes we haven’t been too keen on developing relationships –

 whether with you or our fellow followers of Christ

 we haven’t been too keen on working as part of a team

 sometimes we have found it hard to overcome our dislikes and prejudices

Forgive us

Inspire us to love you more

 to love our team-members more

 to be ready to work together

 to serve you and build your Kingdom

Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen

All age time (for ages 0-100)

We’re coming towards the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which happens each year between 18 and 25 January. The aim isn’t to forget about the topic for the rest of the year, but like other special days and weeks making specific time to think about something that is easily overlooked in the busy-ness of life.

It began many decades ago as an attempt to get to know each other and start talking to each other, finding that, not only do people who go to other churches not have horns or forked tails, but actually they and we have a lot in common. In the past there were joint services, pulpit exchanges, pew swaps and guided tours. We’ve got beyond that now. We aren’t planning anything special this year to mark it, but it is still something to think about and pray about: not just unity between different denominations, but within denominations, and within congregations.

Churches are made up of people, and people are all different – so any group of people will be different from any other group of people, whether it’s a church congregation or anything else.

As we read about the church communities in the Bible – whether in Jerusalem or one of the towns or cities around the Mediterranean – we find that they had differences within their community, and differences with other church groups (in the same town or elsewhere). Sometimes the arguments were about doctrine or practice, but probably behind a lot of it was difficulty in coping with other people. Maybe someone rubbed them up the wrong way (to be perfectly honest, I could see Paul doing that). Maybe something was said that could have been phrased better, and there was no apology. Maybe it was having to rely on relayed information, rather than hearing it first hand.

Whatever the reason, both Jesus and Paul emphasised that God was calling people to belong to something that embraced everyone, whatever the differences of language, ethnicity, background, social status or gender. Belonging to something bigger didn’t mean everyone had to become exactly the same – we all have our own unique personalities and gifts, and God loves us for them. But he also calls us to work together, to share together, to help each other to get through life and together to seek to build God’s Kingdom on earth.

That needs prayer not just from 18-25 January, but 1 January to 31 December, with no days off in between.

Hymn 180 Give thanks with a grateful heart

Bible reading

Luke 4: 14-21


Last week we were thinking about John’s Gospel using the story of the wedding at Cana as the first public expression of Jesus’ ministry. Other Gospel-writers use other stories. Luke picked the story of Jesus addressing the synagogue congregation in his home village, Nazareth. We don’t know whether Jesus chose that Bible reading himself, or if it just ‘happened’ to be the Lectionary reading for that day. It comes from the beginning of Chapter 61 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, originally addressed to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon but who were feeling disillusioned and dispirited. Jesus would have read from the Hebrew version of the text (the basis for our Old Testament translation), but Luke quotes from the Greek translation (which slightly differs) with which Jews outside the Holy Land would be familiar, as well as many Christians. There is also reference to material in the Book of Leviticus, part of the Jewish Law.

He begins by emphasising that he is anointed by God’s Spirit: something that in Jewish tradition happened to priests, kings and prophets, and which Luke has already said happened to Jesus at his baptism. He is appointed by God to do amazing things, and is empowered by God to achieve them. Commentators have argued over whether the actions Isaiah/ Jesus describes are to be understood literally, or in a more metaphorical/ spiritualised way.

When speaking about the ‘poor’ is he talking about those struggling to survive, or those who are ‘poor in spirit’? There may well have been groups in the Greek-speaking Jewish world (where Jews had no power or influence in the way that state or local authorities operated) who believed that such sayings were to be understood in metaphorical ways, and such an approach might appeal to wealthier Jews whether in the Holy Land or outside it. (We get hints in Matthew’s Gospel that his target audience were struggling over the rights and wrongs of wealth and poverty)

  • maybe Jesus is addressing a concern that, whatever their material prosperity, people could still be poor in spirit
  • maybe he was referring to that faithful, observant group referred to in Psalms and in writings outside the Bible, the Anavim (lit ‘the Poor’) who saw themselves as weak, vulnerable, but faithful in service to God.

On the other hand, Luke often presents the ‘poor’ as those who are literally short of money and are living on the margin of survival. Maybe Jesus is addressing all three elements:

  • power and wealth are not enough to bring happiness and being in a right relationship with God. They can actually entrap us. Turning to God can set us free from enslavement to things material, and help us see life in a new way
  • we are called to a life of humility and service. That makes us vulnerable, exposed to being made fun of, taken for granted, taken for a ride. But God will justify us and acknowledge the cost of our faithfulness
  • God has a concern for justice, inclusiveness and care for the whole community. Again and again in the Law is the refrain to remember ‘the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the stranger in your midst.’ We don’t know how often it was applied in practice, it didn’t envisage a welfare state such as we know, but it probably went a lot further than other societies of the time, and remains a constant reminder to us and the whole world of God’s concern and priorities

‘Captives/ prisoners’ could again be a metaphorical way of referring to those whose lives were enslaved by greed, jealousy, prejudice, addiction and so on. That could be as true for 2022 as in the First Century. On the other hand it could have a more literal meaning:

  • in OT and NT times people were not sent to jail as we do now. In many cases they were simply executed or received brutal corporal punishment. When people like Peter, John or Paul were imprisoned, it was usually a short holding detention. John the Baptist’s imprisonment was more like a political prisoner’s detention. Commentators think that Luke’s Gospel was written in the late First Century. At that time, were there Christians detained for political reasons?
  • others were in a different kind of captivity – slavery. Technically Jews were not supposed to enslave other Jews, but whether they strictly observed it, or found a way of saying that it wasn’t slavery, but to all intents and purposes was, we can’t be sure. Gentiles had no issues with the theory of slavery, and many Christians were slaves. Suggesting that slaves might be set free (even if it were just the Christian and Jewish ones) would have seriously undermined the whole economic and social structure of the Roman Empire and wider Ancient world.

Which brings us to that reference to the Book of Leviticus. Chapter 25 describes two things: the Sabbath Year (every 7th year, when the land was to lie fallow for a whole year), and the Jubilee, every 50 years (when the economy was reset). Land sales (usually imposed on people unable to pay their debts) were only valid till the year of Jubilee, and then the land was to be restored to the original family; Jewish people who had sold themselves into slavery because they couldn’t pay their debts or keep themselves were to be freed; loans to fellow-Jews facing poverty were to be interest-free, and any food sold to a hungry person should be at cost-price. The writer Josephus assured his audience that these were observed. We are probably more sceptical, envisaging that,  even if no interest were charged, there might be a high administration fee – and Sabbath Years and Jubilees were more likely to be aspirations than facts. Many then and now would regard such practices as impractical. They don’t fit into either modern political philosophies or party manifestoes. However they do remain in the Bible as an expression of God’s values and priorities. They are constantly there to challenge us, to challenge each generation to think seriously about how God wants us to structure our society and economy.

Jesus used this short reading to announce what he was about to do, and he sends out his church to continue his work:

  • helping people to find new meaning and purpose in life, to make it so much more fulfilling than simply pursuing material wealth, pleasure and power
  • setting people free from their basic instincts, addictions or whatever to discover their true potential
  • calling people to a life of humility, service and concern for others
  • challenging people as individuals, and society at large, to pursue God’s concern for justice, peace, those who are disadvantaged, and those at the margins.

Hymn SGP 36 God who is everywhere present on earth

Prayers for others

Gracious God

Time and again in the Bible you expressed your concern

 for justice, for peace for those who are marginalised

 who have no one to speak out for them

we pray for those in our day who cry out for justice and for peace

 the righting of wrongs

 those who feel pushed to the margins

 excluded by ethnicity, ability, religion or whatever

 the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in our midst

we pray that we will respond to their need as you would wish

 that governments and all in authority will respond

 and we ask your blessing on all who are seeking to help and support them

We pray for those who are in captivity

 those who are imprisoned because of what they think or believe

 those who are imprisoned because of their ethnicity, religion

  or whatever makes them ‘different’

 those who there for other reasons

 their families and friends

 and those who work with them and support them

We pray for all who are seeking a fulfilment, meaning or purpose in life

 which can only be found through knowing you

 may they find you and find what they are seeking

 may we as your church help point them to you

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

In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

 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 352 O for a thousand tongues to sing

Blessing (3-fold Amen)

May the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ

shine in your hearts,

transform your lives,

and brighten the world

and the blessing of God Almighty

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

rest and remain with you

today, and every day, and for ever

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