Sunday February 7th 2021
Welcome to worship on the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. The intimations are at the end of the service (page 10).
Let us worship God with this version of Psalm 8
Hymn 5 O Lord, our Lord, throughout the earth
Prayer of Approach and Confession (Gwen)
Almighty Lord God, our Heavenly Father,
To you be all Glory and honour and praise for all the things you have done for us. We praise you for the new growth we see around us; for the snowdrops with their bright white flowers, for the daffodil leaves already well grown and for the swelling buds on the trees and shrubs. We praise you too for the birdsong as birds pair up to start this years’ nest building and egg-laying and praise you for the rain that has freshened our natural world, cleaning out the rivers and filling up our reservoirs and ponds and giving us plenty of fresh water for our needs.
We confess that we take our abundant supplies of water and food, clothing and shelter and warm homes and relative safety for granted, we forget about those who struggle to have the basics of life. We still have pleas for fresh water so pumps may be located in places to access deep wells to pump water for drinking, for watering crops to grow food to eat and for toilets and for washing especially just now with the Covid virus.
We confess that while we have a choice of what food to eat each day, we don’t even spare a thought for those whose only choice is what the Food Bank has supplied, nor stop to wonder how the Food Bank continues to receive donations during lockdown.
We confess that while we have a roof over our heads and some warmth and may through despondency stay inside in our “shell” others have no homes; nowhere to go for shelter and warmth as so many places are shut due to the virus.
Open our eyes Lord, to be grateful for what we have: grateful to you and grateful to those who do make a difference in other people’s lives, especially the care givers and essential workers.
Forgive our failings Lord, help us to work toward a fairer life for all your children; our brothers and sisters in you, and together we further pray - - - - - -
Hymn 264 Judge Eternal, throned in splendour
Reading: Psalm 12
1. Help us, Lord!
There is not a good person left;
honest people can no longer be found.
2. All of them lie to one another;
they deceive each other with flattery
3. Silence those flattering tongues, O Lord!
Close those boastful mouths that say,
4 “With our words we get what we want.
We will say what we wish,
and no one can stop us.”
5 “But now I will come,” says the Lord,
“because the needy are oppressed
and the persecuted groan in pain.
I will give them the security they long for.”
6 The promises of the Lord can be trusted;
they are as genuine as silver
refined seven times in the furnace.
7-8 The wicked are everywhere,
and everyone praises what is evil.
Keep us always safe, O Lord,
and preserve us from such people.
Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:26-28
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
Anthem: Father hear the prayer we offer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
One of the most disturbing films that I have seen in recent years was The Magdalene Sisters, based on the true experiences of women and girls in Ireland over the past hundred years. This film detailed the lives of four teenagers who were sent, by their families or guardians, to work in what has come to be called “a Magdalene laundry”, a seemingly harmless term that concealed untold horrors. Each of these women was regarded as “fallen”. Margaret, the first character we meet, was raped by her cousin at a family wedding. Bernadette, an orphan and still a virgin, was sent because she showed too much interest in the opposite sex outside the walls of the orphanage. Rose and Crispina were both unmarried mothers whose babies had been taken away from them, and they had been sent to work in the laundry.
The Magdalene laundries were run by the Catholic Church in Ireland, and in the film Geraldine McEwan gave a very convincing and striking performance as the sadistic Mother Superior, who presided over a whole system of abuse. And lest you think such things were merely fiction to make a disturbing film, the official Irish government report last month into historic abuse at so-called “mother and baby homes“ made clear that such things were only too real---and, it seems, not only in the Irish Republic in Catholic institutions but also in Northern Ireland in some Protestant institutions as well.
One of the things which disturbed me about the film was that the Magdalene Laundries were not historical institutions from way back. The last one didn’t close until the 1990s which is during the lifetime of all of us. But even more disturbing, was the powerlessness experienced by the women there. They were completely at the mercy of the nuns running the institution. Even talking to someone outside the laundry was strictly forbidden. There was no escape. They had no money. If you ran away to your family, they only returned you and you were severely punished for escaping.
The only way to get out was if a member of your family came to claim you. This happened to Margaret after four years at the Laundry. Her younger brother, now grown up, who had been very puzzled by the disappearance of his sister, arrived to take her away. The other inmates watched enviously, people like Bernadette being aware that, as an orphan, no one would ever arrive to rescue her.
It was a form of slavery. The girls worked away in the laundry for their board and lodging and were stuck there forever in what psychologists would describe as a “total institution” enveloped in its own hermetically sealed system, cut off entirely from the outside world.
I could not help but feel a sense of the powerlessness of these women when I watched that film, and the same sense came back to me on Sunday night when I watched a programme by Simon Reeve, the journalist and traveller, reflecting on his journeys around the world. He was reminiscing about a visit he had made some years ago to a refugee camp in Kenya where he met a woman called Fatima. Fatima was a Somalian whose family had escaped the chaos and lawlessness in Somalia by fleeing to Kenya when Fatima was only 6. She had spent all the rest of her life living in the refugee camp.
Simon Reeve asked her what the future held for her. Was she, for example, able to travel to Nairobi, where she might find work? It turned out that Fatima had to always stay within a few miles of the refugee camp because she had no papers. So that was her life, and had been since she was six years old. She was powerless to change her situation, through no fault of her own.
More recently, Simon Reeve tried to find her again and see what had become of her but she had vanished into oblivion, a lost statistic in a vast sea of suffering.
Many of the people that Simon Reeve met on his travels were in similar situations. And he reflected on how fortunate he was to have a British passport which allowed him to travel just about anywhere he wanted in the world.
Or it did, until recently. During this past year, we have experienced a powerlessness that none of us have ever experienced before. We no longer have the freedom to travel as we used to, to visit homes of our friends and family, even to go to school or to work, to worship, to sing together, to go out for a meal, to have a party, so many of the things we took for granted are being denied to us this year. It makes it very difficult to make future plans. And to be forever in the uncertainty of this Covid situation would be very disempowering. Psychologists are even reporting what they call “pandemic burnout” in people from being “too stressed for too long”.
But in the end we can have confidence that the situation won’t last forever, and that knowledge is in itself empowering. We know that, if we can just hang in there and do what we can, there is hope of a better future.
But I am very aware that there are many people for whom there seems to be no brighter future, who are locked in a situation from which there seems no escape. While the Magdalene Laundries no longer exist, there are many other people locked into a similar and inescapable misery.
And the situation was no different in Biblical times. In both the Old and New Testaments, God is shown as being very much on the side of the weak and powerless and we see those in weak and powerless positions calling on him for help. This is particularly true in the Psalms. Psalm 12 verse 5 for example says:
“But now I will come,” says the Lord,
“because the needy are oppressed
and the persecuted groan in pain.
I will give them the security they long for.”
One way in which God does this is to work through the righteous. So a later Psalm, Psalm 82 calls on God’s people to “defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless. Rescue them from the power of the wicked.”
The importance of standing up for the rights of the weak and powerless is often repeated in the Old Testament. As well as the Psalms, we see it strongly in the prophets too. The book of Amos for example condemns those who oppress the poor and vulnerable and warns them that God’s wrath will fall upon them.
And in the New Testament, many of the people who come to Jesus for help are the powerless people in society, the sick, the lame, the women, the children. To all of these Jesus shows compassion and stretches out a hand to help.
St Paul takes the idea of powerlessness to a new level. For Paul, what is at the heart of the gospel is the fact that Jesus disempowered himself by allowing himself to be crucified on the cross. And so Paul often reflects on how, through weakness, we can become strong. He makes the point that many of the Christians he writes to in his letters, were not strong, powerful, influential people, but weak, flawed human beings. And God, through the death of Christ on the cross, made himself weak, in order that we may be strong.
Paul emphasises again and again that God does not work according to the standards of the world. Where the world worships strength, God calls the weak. Where the world worships riches, God calls the poor. Where the world worships power, God calls the powerless. As he says in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1:
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.”
And in one of the best loved parts of Scripture in Matthew chapter 5, the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that it is these sorts of people who will be especially blessed by God – those who are humble, the spiritually poor, the merciful.
When I think of these words and I compare the attitude of the nuns in the Magdalene Sisters towards those in their care, I cannot help but feel that it is the girls in their care, the supposed “fallen women” who will be blessed by God, not the Convent Sisters who used their position of power to abuse.
As J.K. Rowling, speaking through her character Sirius Black said in the 4th Harry Potter book: “If you want to know the measure of a man, look at how he treats his subordinates, not his equals.”
Which is something we may all wish to ponder.
Hymn 270 Put all your trust in God
Prayer of Intercession
Almighty and all powerful God,
We pray to you for the weak and powerless of the world
Those who yearn for change
But can find no opportunity to help themselves
We think of those in our own country,
The homeless and unemployed,
Those who are losing their business due to Covid 19,
Those who are depressed and lonely and cannot see a brighter future,
All those who are caught up in circumstances which seem to be beyond their control
And who feel unable to cope with the problems of life at the moment.
Lord of all, reach out in love
We pray for those in other countries and continents,
The poor, underprivileged, hungry and dispossessed,
Those who have been persecuted for their beliefs,
Or have been driven from their homelands as refugees,
Those whose labour is exploited,
Or whose livelihoods have been destroyed by famine, disaster or war.
Lord of all, reach out in love
Almighty and all-powerful God
Give strength to everyone who is powerless –
Strength to survive, to hope and to work for a better future
Give help to those who campaign for freedom,
And for a more just world.
Grant that those who are strong, may help those who are weak,
So that the voice of all may be heard
And the rights of every individual be respected,
In the name of Christ,
Hymn 737 Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTfypuXwrMA (sing along version)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BApf6cORPAQ (I felt this version picked up on the theme of empowering in the sermon – you wouldn’t have seen a mixed race choir and orchestra in South Africa when I was young.)
May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you.
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Be among you and remain with you,
Now and forever more.
Closing Voluntary: Albinoni oboe concerto op 9 no. 2 in D minor - second movement
The next Food Bank collection will be this Tuesday, 9th February, 9-9.30am at Kirkcudbright Parish Church.
Donations should be left in the porch at the side door to the right of the church.
A reminder of shortages this month for those of you still happy to shop:
Long life Milk
We have ample supplies of Pasta, Tea and Biscuits.
If this time is not convenient for you, we also have drop-off points in Kirkcudbright at the Coop and Keystore and in Gatehouse at The Gatehouse Stores or the Pend of 16 Fleet Street. Twynholm Church will be open on Sunday 7th February from 10-5 and donations can be left inside the door opposite the big main gate.
Thank you for your continuing support,