Sunday February 21st 2021
Welcome to worship on the first Sunday of Lent. The intimations can be found at the end of the service.
Hymn 129 The Lord is King!
Prayer of Approach and Confession (Gwen)
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We come today on this first Sunday of Lent to worship you. We come challenged to look at how we conduct our own lives in parallel with the example of the way Jesus lived his life.
We praise you for your Son Jesus, for all he showed us during his time on earth; how he worshipped you often and at times without the trappings of the Temple about him, as we are having to worship you today and of how he went off alone into a quiet place to spend time communicating with you sincerely with all his heart. We have his example of how he related to other people, how he treated them with respect, kindness and compassion, no matter how different they appeared to him, and how he showed his love for them all, friends and enemies alike.
We remember how he wrestled with temptation just as we do; but he overcame his temptations and we ask that you forgive us when we fail to conquer ours. Help us to stay strong to resist the many temptations we face; help us and forgive us as your Son Jesus did for those he met in his time on earth.
Speak to us today and in the days ahead so that we may know you and love you better.
Help us to reflect on our faith, acknowledging our faults and accepting our weaknesses and to commit ourselves more wholly to you, and serve you more fully in serving and loving our brothers and sisters as our Lord, Jesus Christ did, and in whose name we further pray saying - - - - - -
Hymn 546 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
Reading: Mathew 6:5-15
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.
7 “When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. 8 Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. 9 This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven:
May your holy name be honoured;
may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.
Do not bring us to hard testing,
but keep us safe from the Evil One.’
14 “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.
Anthem: Standing in the need of prayer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Normally during Lent, in Gatehouse, we would be having a meditation in the Church every Wednesday, followed by lunch in the Hall, and Lent study groups would be running. It was the middle of Lent last year when everything suddenly came to a grinding halt because of Covid and I don’t imagine any of us would have thought that by Lent the next year, we would still be in the same position. But here we are.
However, although we are not able to do things together during Lent, Lent is a time when we particularly focus on God, and our own relationship with God. For many it is a time of self-deprivation and austerity with the aim of promoting a more profound spiritual awareness. And although we are unable to have the support and fellowship of others in church at Lent this year, we may usefully consider what we each can do in the quiet of our own homes.
One of the things that I know people try to be a bit more disciplined about during Lent is prayer. We have, of course, in Gatehouse, joined the Try Praying campaign and a box with the Try Praying books is now attached to the church gate.
Prayer is something which is common to all religions. We know that prayer is important to the Jews and we have many of their prayers preserved in the book of Psalms. It is duty also for Muslims and a devout Muslim prays five times a day. And if you visit the Tibetan Buddhist centre at Samye ling in Eskdalemuir you can spin the prayer wheels or join in a meditation session.
Prayer is also something even non-believers find themselves turning to at times. The morning of a job interview, five minutes before an exam, or the night a family member is critically ill can often see even atheists looking for help from a power beyond themselves.
Given this prevalence of prayer, it is perhaps surprising that prayer is still a great mystery to many of us. I’m often asked questions about prayer. Does it work? How does it work? Why should we pray? Why does God not always answer prayer? And the one that even the disciples asked: “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
The disciples were aware that Jesus prayed, and no doubt as good Jews they knew all the standard ritualistic prayers, so their question to Jesus implies that they were looking for something that went beyond ritual and touched instead the real spiritual life of each of them. And they knew that Jesus, as their great teacher, would know what that was.
The immediate response of Jesus was to give his disciples what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, the “Pater Noster”, the “Our Father”, as it is sometimes called. Down through the ages Christians have revered this simple and direct appeal to God, and Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land may even visit the Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s Prayer is displayed in beautiful wall tiles in just about every major language on Earth (including even Gaelic and Scots!).
It is not surprising that this prayer has meant so much to people for so long, even apart from the fact that it came from the lips of Jesus himself. It is a wonderful model of a simple and direct appeal to God about the basic elements in our lives as Christians. It guides us to honour God our Father, acknowledge our sin, petition for what we need as the essentials of life, and to express our desire that the Kingdom of God should reign forevermore.
Jesus also tells us that we should pray in private, in a closed room, on our own, seen and heard only by God, and that we should not use a lot of meaningless words, but instead pray sincerely what is in our hearts.
So the form and to some extent the content of prayer is presented to us by Jesus in the New Testament. But I suppose that when the disciples put their question to Jesus, they were not merely asking about form and content, because I suspect that they realised that beyond those things there was an even more important question. How do our prayers fit into God’s larger plan? How does prayer work?
I expect we all at times have had the experience of life seeming completely out of our control. So many things can make us feel like that – a serious illness, a stressful situation that we don’t know how to deal with, a difficult relationship which doesn’t improve however hard we try. The Covid crisis of this year has brought this feeling of not being in control of our lives to the forefront for many of us. I think it is often in these cases, when we don’t know what to do ourselves, that we turn to God in prayer. In that we are probably trying to find some support, some strength, that is beyond ourselves to help us cope with a difficult situation.
I’m sure many of you have found then that, if you are able to get away by yourself and have a time of quiet and prayer, it does provide you with a feeling of peace and the strength to face whatever lies ahead.
Even Jesus found this necessary. In the garden of Gethsemane, knowing what lay ahead of him, he went apart even from his faithful disciples, and spent time in prayer, communing with his Father in heaven, asking for God’s strength to get through what was coming.
So we can perhaps understand how prayer can help ourselves. A more difficult question is how it helps other people if we pray for them.
I read an interesting article a few years ago which said that research had shown that ill people who were prayed for got better quicker than those who were not prayed for. Now we might be able to explain this by saying that people who were being prayed for believed that they would get better and therefore did, and so it is all psychological. But the research showed as well that people who did not know they were being prayed for also improved more quickly. So far, science provides no explanation of that.
Praying, it seems, can have a real effect. But of course, at times, it can seem not to be the effect that we are looking for. Our prayers are not always answered in the way that we might expect, or indeed, want. I remember seeing Nicky Gumbel, in one of the Alpha course videos, saying:
“If God had always answered my prayers, I would have married the wrong person--- twice.”
Looking back, he could understand why God didn’t answer his prayer. Nicky Gumbel’s ideas about who was the perfect woman for him were not as wise as God’s ideas. That is the great problem in life: we just don’t always know what is good for us.
The husband of one of my ministerial colleagues in another part of Scotland has just been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a disease which in the present state of science has no cure. “Please pray for us” she said to me. But she didn’t ask me to pray that God would perform a miracle and heal her husband of MND. She asked that I would pray that he wouldn’t suffer too much, that God would bless the time that she had with him, and that God might use his illness to allow them to witness to other people.
This is not because she didn’t want God to perform a miracle and heal her husband. Of course she did. But she realised that, in the absence of a miracle, they were where they were and had to deal with that fact. How they dealt with it as a family was the critical thing now.
We all may find ourselves in a similar situation at some point in our lives, when things go wrong and the world is out of joint. But even when things are not so dire, we still need to be able to reach out in contemplation and prayer to the source of our spiritual strength.
So in this period of Lent, try to find more time to pray – for yourself, for others and for the world. You may well find that your relationship with God is deepened and strengthened and that you are more able to face the challenges which lie before us all.
Hymn 545 Lord teach us how to pray aright
Prayer of Intercession
It is with sadness that I have to intimate the death of one of our members and elders, Dr Stewart Hunter. In your prayers at this time, please give thanks for his life and remember his family – wife Val; children Ruth, Kirsty and Colin; grandchildren George, Fergus, Izzy, Finlay, Jessie, Marie-Elise and Madeleine.
Let us pray
Where angels fear to tread
comes Christ to walk
Feet firmly planted in the earth
that whatever lies beneath
there may be found a way through
and a route onwards to life,
shaped not just by earth
but by the heavens above
We pray You walk by the rivers
those that overflow and those that run dry
Where the course of life has taken strange turns
and the landscape shifted out of recognition
Where ancient routes are turned to silt
and there is little left to refresh us
We pray You walk in the wilderness
where makeshift homes are uprooted by powers that act without justice
That those who scratch a living might discover wells of water
Wherever the stones hurt our feet
wash the dirt clean from under us
We pray You walk in the city
amidst all the wealth that hides the poverty
Reshaping the history that built us up
yet breaks us down
many wander longing to connect in human touch
We pray you walk with us through the shadow of death,
Walk with Stewart as he passes into God’s nearer presence
Walk with his family – Val, Ruth, Kirsty, Colin, George, Fergus, Izzy, Finlay, Jessie, Marie-Elise and Madeleine,
through their time of grief and loss
We pray You walk,
tireless and strong, to all that awaits You
For unless You go
we cannot follow
and as You walk,
that we be bound in love to You and all mankind
for the sake of Christ our Lord,
Hymn 546 What a friend we have in Jesus
Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you all, this day and forevermore,
Closing hymn: I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
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 is 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.
Gatehouse Church Finances
Like many charities, the finances of the Church have suffered this past year because of Covid. We have not been able to do our usual fundraising, we have lost income from hall rental and we have lost income from not having services. Many people did move onto standing orders at the start of the Covid pandemic and we are extremely grateful to you for doing this otherwise our finances would be in considerably worse shape than they are. Nevertheless, we have still seen a deficit of £11,000 this year. If anyone else would like to move onto giving through a standing order, please speak to the Treasurer, Alexander McCulloch on 01557 814553 and he will give you the church bank account details. If you give to the Church, are a tax payer and have never signed a gift aid form and would be willing to do so, please speak to our Gift Aid convener Peter Carpenter on 814432. Thank you all for what you are doing to support the church financially during this time.