Sunday February 14th 2021
A warm welcome to worship on Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 17th. The intimations are on page 8.
Let us worship God
Hymn 462 The King of love my shepherd is
Prayer of Approach and Confession
High in the heavens, yet kneeling at our feet,
Let us sing praises loudly,
let us pray quietly,
Let us read attentively,
let us act presently.
Let our words praise You,
Let our actions praise You,
Living, loving, eternal God.
As we draw near to You, may we find that You
Already are on Your way to meet us,
And more than halfway.
Bridging sin-gulfs, breaking sin-walls,
Your sparkling, irresistible love wins through.
Let us praise Your Holy Name!
Into every dark place,
Into every hard heart,
Into every narrow mind,
Into every shut mouth,
Into every closed eye,
Come with healing light to open up
And reveal to us not only Who You are,
But what Your love might be,
In us, through us, or even despite us.
Forgive us for choosing bleakness instead of blessedness.
Into our wintry worlds let the smell of summer come;
Let this be, in our lives, God’s February,
Redolent of new life, new light, new beginning, new hope.
May God, in infinite mercy, shine healing light
Upon all our living, that the life we live
May be a life lived to God’s glory, each day, each night.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying…
Hymn 123 God is love, let heaven adore him
Reading: Romans 5:6-11
6 For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. 7 It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. 8 But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! 9 By his blood we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God's anger! 10 We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God's friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ's life! 11 But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God's friends.
Hymn 187 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As I suppose just about everybody is aware, today is Valentine’s Day, a day that is meant to warm us with a glow of mutual love for those we care most about. But I have a confession to make: when I was at school, I used to really hate Valentine’s Day. Its main purpose seemed to be to offer all the other girls a chance for whispering and giggling in the corridors between classes about the many Valentine’s cards they all said they got. As I never had any contribution to make to that discussion, I always felt a bit left out of it all. I’m pleased to say that my life since then has given me a more positive view of the day.
And that of course is as it should be, since the school-girl trivialisation of Valentine’s Day is a far cry from the meaning of the saint’s day as regards both its historical background and what it really has to say to us nowadays.
History tells us that St Valentine was a 3rd century clergyman, possibly a bishop, who ministered to persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire. For the sake of that Christian ministry to his fellow believers he was evidently prepared to put his life on the line, and in the end he was, inevitably, martyred, probably on the fourteenth of February in 270 AD. His earthly remains were buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge on the northern outskirts of Rome. The Feast of St Valentine has been observed on February 14th since the year 496 AD when Pope Gelasius I included Valentine on a list of persons “whose names are justly reverenced among men.” Some relics of the saint are said to be enshrined in the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, a place of pilgrimage to the saint, especially on St Valentine’s Day, and there are also, astoundingly, said to be relics in a church in the Gorbals.
The impetus for my schoolmates’ enthusiasm for the day came much later, as Valentine’s connection with romantic love began to develop in the Middle Ages when people noticed that, at least in warmer climes, birds seemed to begin billing and cooing in mid-February as their thoughts turned to searching for a mate. So, at least, Geoffrey Chaucer suggested in a famous poem – The Parlement of Foules
But it wasn’t until the 18th Century in England that Valentine’s Day took off as a special occasion on which couples could express their love for each other, and soon our modern custom developed of presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending "valentines".
And so today, throughout the world St Valentine is very much connected with love, and it is appropriate that recognition of that should be connected with a Christian saint, since right from the beginning love has been at the very heart of the Christian gospel---not the giggly, embarrassing romantic ardour of my schoolmates, but a powerful force for good that must sometimes express itself even in the face of pain and sacrifice.
Love is something that radiates frequently from the pages of the Bible, but not always in a uniform way. As I was thinking about the topic of this sermon it occurred to me that we do see quite a different depiction of love in the Old Testament as compared to the New.
In the Old Testament we often read of the love between people, usually in language that is not too far from that in our modern Valentine’s cards. In the book of Genesis, for example, we are told of Jacob’s regard for Rachel, who is described as being “shapely and beautiful”--- unlike her older sister, Leah, who merely had “nice eyes.” (I suppose nowadays Leah would be one of those girls who are said to have an “interesting face”). Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the shapely younger daughter that Jacob falls in love with, a love so great that he is prepared to work for her father for seven years so that he can marry her.
King David is another Biblical character who loved, perhaps “not wisely but too well”. Apart from his dubious conquests (think of Bathsheba), there have for centuries been great debates over the nature of his love for Saul’s son Jonathan, since we find in 2 Samuel chapter 18 David recalling Jonathan with the words “How wonderful was your love for me, better even than the love of women.” And there was also the great love that David obviously had for his own son Absalom. Anyone reading the account of David’s profound grief at the death of Absalom in 2 Samuel chapter 18 could not doubt the strength of David’s feelings, despite Absalom’s treachery.
The New Testament, however, shifts the focus dramatically. The Scriptures turn from the personal love between particular people to the love of God for the whole of humanity. Probably the most famous verse in all of Scripture is that in John 3:16:
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have ever-lasting life.”
This is not to say that there is no mention of love between people in the New Testament. John is described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. When Jesus made one of his resurrection appearances to Peter at the end of John’s gospel, he asked Peter three times if he loved him, to which Peter, perhaps feeling a little hurt that the answer is not considered obvious, replies emphatically: “Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus extols the virtue of love for other people when he says: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
So clearly loving one another is a very important part of the gospel, in fact a Christian commandment. But interestingly it does not appear as one of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, so that we are told for example, in the fourth commandment, to “honour our father and mother” but we are not told to love them.
In fact the only time that we see the word “love” mentioned in the Ten Commandments is in the development of the third commandment when God says: “Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, for I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.” (Exodus 20:5-6)
And that is perhaps the greatest difference in the love that we see in the Old Testament and the love that we see in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God loves us if we love him and keep his laws. In the New Testament, God’s love is unconditional and love as an expression of our faith is meant to radiate out from us to the whole world.
Paul makes the point in Romans 5:8 when he says: “God has shown us how much he loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.”
Love in the New Testament is no longer a transaction between people and God but is now freely given by God through the death of Christ on the cross. Unlike the relationships of human beings, who may by their behaviour kill the love of others for them, God loves us anyway. Whatever we do, we can never put ourselves beyond the love of God for us.
So even if you have never been sent a Valentine’s card – take heart! The “Valentine” of God is worth far more. Amen
Hymn 193 God is love, his the care
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (Gwen)
It is with sadness that I have to intimate the death of one of our Twynholm members – John Gillespie who died early on Wednesday morning. In your prayers at the time please give thanks for John’s life and remember his wife, Rosie and the rest of the family.
Let us pray
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We thank you for keeping us safe through another week. This Valentine’s Day while we show love for each other in many different ways – cards, red roses, chocolates, a lovely meal, we remember that your love is far above our love and encompasses all humankind.
We thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, whom you sent to show us your love for us is so great, that he died as a sacrifice for all of our sins. We thank you that your love for us never alters; never changes and is everlasting – the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The same love as was shown to our Grandparents and is to us and our Children; everyone before and everyone still to come and your saving grace and mercy is for all your Children, no matter their colour, gender identity or creed and you ask us to show that same love to everyone.
God of love,
We pray for those many people in our world who have been deprived of love, who feel unloved, or for whom love has been painful, especially with the restrictions of the lockdown due to the corona virus.
We pray for those for whom love has involved pain; those who have faced the trauma of breakdown in their marriage, or experienced the collapse of friendships or romantic engagements; for those who have come from broken homes or who have become estranged from family and friends; those whose children have moved away to begin new lives of their own, or whose parents have become frail, confused and infirm; those whose loved ones have been taken from them by death and today we particularly remember the family of John Gillespie from Twynholm. We hold up to you his wife Rosie in our prayers. May the knowledge of your unending love be a constant source of comfort and inspiration to her and all who have lost loved ones at this time.
We pray for those who find it hard to love – those whose love has been betrayed, those who are scarred by bitter and painful experience, those who have been subjected to abuse, those afraid of showing their true feelings, and those oppressed by mental illness. Touch their hearts with the love of Christ.
We bring before you the complex world of human relationships, capable of bringing such joy but such sorrow, so much pleasure yet so much pain.
We thank you for the gift of love and all the love that surrounds us, but help us never to forget those who have lost love or been hurt through it. Restore their faith in what love can do and help them to find love and share it.
We hold up to you in love, and in silence all who lie heavily on our minds this day. Touch their hearts with the healing love of Christ Jesus in whose name we ask these things.
Hymn 519 Love Divine, all loves excelling
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
And 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 1 in F major: Allegro
We have not had any information yet about the embargo on gathering together for worship being lifted so I think it is probably safe to assume that there will not be any church services in our buildings in February. However, infection rates are beginning to go down so maybe we will see restrictions beginning to lift and at some point during Lent may find ourselves able to actually worship together in person. I will let you have further information as soon as I get it myself and in the meantime Reflections for a Sunday morning will continue.
Gatehouse Churches Together: Try Praying
During Lent, as we are unable to have our usual Lent lunches and meditations, we are joining the Try Praying campaign. You will notice posters going up in Gatehouse and Borgue on the Church notice boards and at the Community Centre and in Gatehouse there will be a Perspex box attached to the Church gates with booklets encouraging people to try praying.
World Day of Prayer Service
As it will not be possible to have World Day of Prayer services in person this year, there will be a Scottish wide live Zoom service on Friday March 5th at 2pm which can be accessed through the Zoom ID 895 9398 3883 with the passcode 901656.