Sunday January 17th 2021
Welcome to worship this morning. The intimations for all four congregations are on page 7.
Hymn 160 Praise my soul the king of heaven
Prayer of Approach and Confession (Gwen)
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We praise you for being with us to safely see us through another week. We praise you for keeping us strong when we see so much to disturb us happening round about and praise you that when things do go off kilter you stay by our side to support us and see us through. You have said that not a bird falls from the sky but you know about it so how much more you know and care about us your children.
Knowing that you love us gives so much comfort during these times when we feel so isolated with the lockdowns and can’t see our family or friends. Knowing too, that Jesus faced similar problems in his life to the difficulties we now have gives us the strength to face our troubles with confidence that we will not be defeated.
We know Lord that our faith sometimes isn’t that strong, that we do succumb to our fears which then make us feel helpless and unhelpable. We withdraw into ourselves and are unable to provide the help that others need, yet you know how we feel and always find a way to place people where they are needed or find the right person to draw alongside us and help lift us up. We ask your forgiveness for our doubts and worship you for your continued love and care. We do not know what the future holds for each of us but we know that you want the best for us and we trust in you and we further pray together in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord saying –
Hymn 147 All creatures of our God and King
Reading: Psalm 104: 10-18
You make springs flow in the valleys,
and rivers run between the hills.
They provide water for the wild animals;
there the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
In the trees nearby,
the birds make their nests and sing.
From the sky you send rain on the hills,
and the earth is filled with your blessings.
You make grass grow for the cattle
and plants for us to use,
so that we can grow our crops
and produce wine to make us happy,
olive oil to make us cheerful,
and bread to give us strength.
The cedars of Lebanon get plenty of rain—
the Lord's own trees, which he planted.
There the birds build their nests;
the storks nest in the fir trees.
The wild goats live in the high mountains,
and the rock badgers hide in the cliffs.
6 My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. 2 Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are something when you really are nothing, you are only deceiving yourself. 4 You should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. 5 For each of you have to carry your own load.
6 If you are being taught the Christian message, you should share all the good things you have with your teacher.
7 Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant. 8 If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death; if you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life. 9 So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. 10 So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith.
Anthem: For the beauty of the earth - John Rutter
One of the things Santa left for me under the tree this Christmas was a little hardback notebook, very attractively decorated with Paisley-pattern marbling on the cover and a colourful elastic band around it to keep it safe, all in its own Paisley-patterned little box. I felt that such a nice notebook should be used for a special purpose, but what could that be?
Then, as I was out walking the dog on January 1st, the “seventh day” of Christmas, I got my answer. Gliding up the Fleet towards me there actually were seven swans-a-swimming---really! It was very obliging of them to swim past me on that particular day and it had me humming the 12 Days of Christmas for the rest of that week! But they also gave me a purpose for my little notebook – it could become my wildlife spotting diary!
I cannot describe to you the joy that I get from the glimpses of wildlife around and about us. A few nights ago, on one of the clear frosty evenings that we have been having lately, I took Lolly into the garden about midnight and there perched on the telephone wire was a tawny owl, looking broodingly down, listening for any tell-tale sounds of mice and voles scurrying along (Lolly was a bit too big to interest it). As I watched, mesmerised, it took flight and glided away completely silently, amazing for such a large bird.
Other entries in my wildlife notebook include a male goldeneye swimming up the Fleet on January 13th and three sightings of what I think was a little egret, an unusual visitor this far north (although another member of the Manse family thinks it might have been a snowy egret---an unusual visitor this far south!)
Taking joy from these little things each day is what helps to get me through this very depressing time that we are living in at the moment. The news seems to be full of doom and gloom. This week we had the highest numbers of deaths from coronavirus in Britain since the pandemic began – over 1500 in one day. The day-to-day restrictions we are living under are becoming ever more severe. Despite the roll out of the vaccine, we continue to see death tolls rise, numbers in intensive care increase, and we can see the strain that the National Health Service is under.
We also watch depressing coverage of political unrest in the United States and we wonder how much worse things are going to get over there before everything settles down and what sort of legacy the new president inherits and what he’ll do about it.
And so I find it helps to take some time in each day to take pleasure in the little things of life, the nature around us. Somebody told me recently of the joy they felt at seeing the first snowdrop coming up in their garden.
And I find when I look at the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms, that our Biblical forebears also took joy in the natural world around them. Many of the Psalms extol the wonders of creation. One of the best examples of this is in Psalm 104, where the Psalmist begins with the grandest elements of Creation (the heavens themselves “spread out like a tent”) but then brings his focus literally down to earth. He takes joy in the springs and rivers, the wild donkeys and the birds, and also the food which we have to eat – “wine to make us happy, olive oil to make us cheerful and bread to give us strength.”
The procuring of food is problematic for all of us at the moment, but I know I always feel better when I have braved the shops, stocked up, cleaned everything, and put it away. Something in the past which I have always taken for granted – the ability to go to the shops and buy food to eat, has taken on a new significance in the middle of a pandemic where every foray outside is at personal risk. It certainly makes me more aware of the necessity of food for mental and physical well-being. Our Biblical forebears, who lived a much more hand to mouth existence than we do, would have been very aware of this, and the same is still true for many people around the world today and even in our own supposedly advanced country where Foodbanks sadly have become an essential part of many people’s existence.
So taking pleasure just from the fact that we are fortunate enough to be able to prepare and eat a decent meal is a simple thing which should nevertheless lift our spirits in gratitude at this time when we look out at the world around us.
But of course, the little joys of life go further than the natural world around us and the food we eat. Contact with other people can have a huge impact on our mental well-being and for some many people the hardest part of lockdown has been not being able to see and talk to other people.
The letters of St Paul have many instances of the importance that other people have in our lives. Galatians chapter 6 for example exhorts us to bear each other’s burdens. When life is difficult for all of us, as it is at the moment, it is quite easy to be caught up in our own survival and not take heed of those around us. But just a little thing like a phone call to see how someone else is doing can really lift the spirits of another person and often make ourselves feel better as well.
So as we travel through the dark days of January and the frustrations of lockdown, give yourself space to take joy from the little things of life, the first snowdrop of spring, or the robin singing on a bare branch outside the kitchen window, the sunset with the glorious colours of red and gold stretching across the horizon or the friendly tones in the voice on the other end of a phone line. And hold on to the hope that together we will get through this time of darkness to sunnier climes.
Hymn 155 Think of a world without any flowers
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
We give you thanks for the little things of life,
The first snowdrop of spring
The sun breaking through after rain
The wealth of bird and animal life which can bring us such joy
We treasure these little nuggets of joy because as we look at the world around us we can see so much that is depressing.
We pray for all those who are in hospital at this time with coronavirus
For the doctors and nurses who put their own health on the line day by day to care for them
For family members who cannot visit but sit and worry at home.
And we pray that we would all be careful and sensible in our interaction with other people at this time to slow the spread of the virus.
We give you thanks for the vaccination programme and pray that the rolling out of the vaccine would happen expeditiously and safely.
We think of the situation of unrest in America and pray that the handover of power this week would go smoothly, without violence.
Lord, help us to support one another during this time and to hold on to the hope of better days to come for the sake of Christ our Lord, Amen
Hymn 182 Now thank we all our God
Go forth in the peace of God
And may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all this day and forevermore, Amen
Closing voluntary: Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G - Netherlands Bach society