Sunday August 22 2021
A warm welcome to you all to worship this morning. The intimations can be found on page 10.
Hymn 110 Glory be to God the Father
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Father God, You are wise,
and sometimes we are foolish.
Instead of listening to You,
we try to solve our own problems and make our own paths.
Jesus, You are the bread of life,
and generously give all that we need,
but sometimes we try to provide for ourselves,
or forget to share Your generosity with others.
Spirit of God,
You are faithful, and we are fallible,
forgetting to trust in Your promises.
God, gather us back to Yourself,
set our feet back on Your paths once more
and let us walk in Your footsteps as we go out into the week ahead for the sake of Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying…
Hymn 470 Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Reading: Galatians chapter 5:1, 13-15
1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Hymn 474 Hail to the Lord’s anointed
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsK43jU4yZs (for those who like a familiar but slightly unexpected tune!!)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Last Sunday afternoon I got the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do.
I drove a train engine!!
I mentioned this to somebody afterwards and he replied disparagingly: “You mean a computer simulator, or maybe a model train set?”
I assured him indignantly that it was neither of those. It was a real diesel engine on a real railway track. David and I were visiting the heritage railway at Warcop just off the A66 in Cumbria and we discovered that they offered what they called “Driver for a Fiver”: for £5 you could drive a diesel shunter engine on about four hundred yards of track . When we saw this, we decided it was too good an opportunity to miss, and off we went---carefully supervised, I may say, by a qualified engine driver. But as we rumbled along over points and along a straight section of track at the dizzying speed of four miles an hour, I thought “Michael Portillo eat your heart out!”
So there we were, chugging along, with the track rigorously directing us down the line towards the final buffer, with an engine whose controls consisted of a Forward or Reverse lever, a Throttle stick to go faster or slower, and a very large Brake handle if everything else went wrong. Not exactly the instrument panel of a Jumbo Jet, but nevertheless as I was trying to master the controls, I was glad the route was irrevocably set out before us. We were going only where the track would take us and nowhere else, and I did not have to worry about steering wheels or choosing alternative destinations.
In some ways that fact was very comforting as I figured out how to work the levers, and for a moment I thought it might be nice if life itself were like that---no awkward choices, no nasty surprises, no detours or diversions, complete certainty all the time about where we are going and how to get there. But then I began to wonder. After all, it was a fine thing to go down a railway track that way, but would I really want the whole of life to be like that? Would I really want to be carried irresistibly along a route I could not avoid? Indeed, I wondered whether it was even possible for real life to be like that all the time?
These questions were reinforced on that same day when we discovered in the nearby town of Appleby another thing I’d always wanted to see---the famous Appleby Horse Fair. It would be hard to imagine anything that contrasted more with that train ride than the Appleby Horse Fair. If the railway was the very picture of rigid order and control, the Horse Fair was the exact opposite.
This was hardly surprising: our language and the experience of our ancestors has taught us to think of horses as the very image of life barely under control, energy and enthusiasm trying to break out at every opportunity and do their own thing without constraint, quite literally “bridling” at any controls. We all know that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. And if we want the ultimate image of resisting overpowering compulsion, we say that even wild horses couldn’t make us do it.
Well, at Appleby, we didn’t see any wild horses, but we did see riders trying to get their horses into the river for a wash or to cool off, and some horses just refusing to go into the water. We saw horses being led down the main road, some tied to carts, but the foals being allowed to roam loose beside their mothers. The foals didn’t stray far, but they certainly found the spectators at the side of the road far more interesting than the trip planned by the driver of the cart, and they paid no attention at all to the cars trying to make their way down the street at the same time. It was not for nothing that signs as far back as the M6 at Penrith were warning about horse-drawn vehicles on the road.
As I thought about the rigidity of the railway tracks at Warcop in contrast to the lively unruliness of the horses at Appleby, it struck me that in many respects the contrast reflected the nature of life itself. On the one hand, we like order and certainty, and we like to know for sure where we’re going and how to get there. But on the other hand we want, as the poet said rather arrogantly, to be the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls. We want to chug along calmly in that railway engine and roam free at the same time.
This conflict is so deeply embedded in human nature, indeed is so deeply embedded in life itself, that the Bible writers could hardly avoid confronting it at every turn. And, not surprisingly, they found it very difficult to get a firm grip on the problem. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament it was often dealt with in the language of slavery and freedom. In very broad terms, you might say that slavery was being dictated to, as that train engine was by the tracks, and freedom was being able to roam free, as those horses would have liked. But the Bible writers soon realised that roaming completely freely could result in an aimless, pointless, and even chaotic existence. They saw that there could be no freedom in chaos because real chaos meant total disorder. Total disorder would make everything completely random, and that would remove any possibility of planning your life or controlling anything in it.
For the Old Testament writers the answer to this conundrum was the Law. The Law could give structure and order to your life and the certainty that, if you did what God ordained down to the smallest detail, he would be on your side when you needed him. If you stayed on the tracks that God laid down, you would get to where God intended you to be. But staying on the tracks was an absolute requirement for receiving God’s blessing.
And yet you could read the Old Testament overall as one long chronicle of individuals, and the nation as a whole, constantly going off the rails. Merely being ordered to abide by the Law was not always enough to keep people on the straight and narrow. The Bible writers regarded these constant lapses as examples of “sin”, of human moral failing. The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 17, verse 4, relays the statement of God to the people of Judah: “Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you.”
For most of the Old Testament writers, the solution was simply, as we would say nowadays, to “double down” on obedience to the Law. If your observance of the Law is inadequate, then strive even harder to be more obedient. But of course, at some point obedience begins to look like subservience, like slavery, and, as with those unruly horses at Appleby, most people bridle at being slaves.
When we look at this sad story with the benefit of hindsight, we may well think that the problem at the heart of the emphasis on the Law was that it completely failed to take account of human psychology and ignored that human tendency to seek to be the masters of our fate.
St Paul put his finger on this point many times in his writings, and he was clear that telling people to be ever more subservient to the Law was not what Christ came to do. Instead, Christ’s message was, above all, a message of freedom. Paul says this explicitly when he tells the Galatians in chapter 5 of his letter to them that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
A key point here is that this Christian freedom is based on what Jesus himself is quoted as saying in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, at verses 31 and 32: “If ye continue in my word…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Freedom comes from discovering what is true and right, so that one is free to use one’s life and one’s time on earth effectively and productively rather than wandering chaotically in a wilderness of misleading pathways and wrong turnings.
But Paul realised that this only goes part way to solving our problem because it still leaves open the question of what that freedom is for. Or, to put it another way, what is that truth that Jesus has revealed to us to be the basis of our freedom? As we have seen, aimless freedom may lead to chaos, and chaos actually prevents people from making the workable choices that they want to have freedom for in the first place.
Once again, St Paul saw the danger, and he tells the Galatians in chapter 5, verse 13: “You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” People who like to belittle St Paul take this sort of language as proof that he was some sort of Puritanical killjoy obsessed with the sins of the flesh.
But of course his meaning was much broader than that, and you can get an idea of what he was really getting at in Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of this passage. Peterson translates it like this:
“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and [thereby] destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.”
Later in Chapter 5 Paul sets out a long list of actions that are an abuse of freedom, and the central element in all of them is in one way or another the abuse of other people for our own selfish or vindictive purposes.
This emphasis on the effect on other people of the way we use our freedom must logically be the most important issue when we consider what our desire for freedom means. It clearly cannot mean the sort of freedom Robinson Crusoe had when he was alone on his desert island. His freedom had no moral or ethical limitations because everything he did affected only himself.
But we do not live on a desert island. We live in society. We live in community, and it is a community which, in the modern world, extends far beyond the boundaries of our village, our town, or even our country. In our freedom we have ethical and moral choices to make that can affect the whole of humanity, and, as the events in Afghanistan have shown with grim clarity, when we make those choices on the wrong basis, the results can be catastrophic. And that is true, not just for the people who are the direct victims of our mistakes, but for ourselves, because our mistakes can rebound on us when they create a more dangerous and chaotic world.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians foresees all these dangers and his antidote to them is to embrace a truly Christian idea of freedom.
One Bible commentator [Abingdon vol 10, pp545-546] has eloquently summed all this up in the following way:
“Christianity is a redemptive religion because it is the religion of truth; it is the truth about God, about man, and about human relationships…[In that truth Christians] find their freedom. The more Christian they are, the more free they become; the more God-centred, the less self-centred; the more spiritual, the less a slave to the things of earth, the flesh, and time.”
It is on this basis that Paul, a bit later in chapter 5, can say so beautifully that those people living in the Spirit of Christ will experience the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control.
To be able to live like that seems to me true freedom.
Hymn 534 Make me a captive Lord
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
We thank you for the many blessings of our lives.
But today we bring you situations, close to home and far away where your special care is needed
Be with our children and young people as they start and return to school.
Help them to learn and grow and flourish.
We pray for the children and families who are feeling anxious about the new term,
knowing that school isn't always an easy place to be.
We pray for the pupils and teachers at Gatehouse, Borgue and Twynholm
God of wisdom, guide our paths
Be with the people getting ready for the COP26 Climate conference in just a few months' time.
As reports are prepared and arrangements made,
give us bold ambition to make the changes we know are necessary
to protect the world You have created.
Let us not lose sight of the need for justice and accountability in decision-making.
God of wisdom, guide our paths
Be in and with our church,
as we grapple with the need for change
and the reality of a future that is going to be very different from our past.
Help us to recognise You at work already in our community
and to be listening for Your whispers of new possibilities
and ways of living out our faith.
God of wisdom, guide our paths.
We pray for the situation in Afghanistan,
Remembering those who are terrified and fleeing for their lives,
We pray especially for women and girls who fear what the future will hold under the Taliban,
Help the international community to do what it can to help so lives are not lost.
God of wisdom, guide our paths
And now Lord God we bring you our own prayers, in the silence….
We ask all these things in the name of Christ our Lord, Amen
Hymn 706 For the healing of the nations
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiIoXrApr4U (tune Corinth)
As we go out into the week ahead,
May God give us wisdom to know what is good
And let us see God's kingdom all around us
And may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with us all, this day and forevermore,
Continuing the train theme…
Services will resume again in the Village Hall in Borgue starting on September 5th at 12noon and continuing thereafter on the first Sunday of the month. We will be using the large hall to allow for great spacing and better ventilation. There will be hand sanitisers available and everyone should wear a mask. We will also need to take your details for track and trace. Please let people know.