Sunday January 2nd 2022
Happy New Year! And a warm welcome to worship.
Hymn 236 March on my soul with strength
Prayer of Approach and Confession (by Gwen)
We thank you for bringing us safely to a New Year, witnessing once again to your great goodness to us as we celebrate the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ in our lives. He came to make you known, to guide us in your ways and to pay with his life for our wrongs. Down through the years you had guided your people Israel, calling us your Children; your Sons and Daughters from before time began and you continue to do so today.
When man went his own way ignoring you, you sent your Son as a baby, a helpless babe, knowing that then we would take him to our hearts and love him as you love us. We could follow his life as he set the example for our lives. We thank you for this season of Christmas and praise you for all it has meant to so many people over the years and continues to mean to us and to mean to generations still to come.
We praise you for the joy that this time of year has given to so many people with the nativity story, the Carols that we love so much, and the presents given with thought and love. We praise you for the happiness your light has brought into our world in this season of darkness; the Christmas lights banishing the darkness to let your glory shine from the faces of our loved ones. Yet we find that over the time of the Covid virus pandemic we have found it easier to forget you and fill our lives with other thoughts and deeds. We forget to be kind and helpful to others and we forget to worship you and praise you for what you have done in our lives. Forgive our omissions Lord God. Help us this New Year to reconnect with you as we ought and to do as you have commanded us to do and together we pray in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ saying: Our Father…
Hymn 270 Put all your trust in God
Readings: Psalm 103:15-22
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
1st Peter 1:23-25
Through the living and eternal word of God you have been born again as the children of a parent who is immortal, not mortal. 24 As the scripture says,
“All human beings are like grass,
and all their glory is like wild flowers.
The grass withers, and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endureth forever.”
This word is the Good News that was proclaimed to you.
Hymn 161 O God our help in ages past
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen advertisements, for all sorts of things, that assure you, in no uncertain terms, that the particular product is “made to last”. From frying pans to whole houses it seems that what customers want above all is the assurance that the thing will be permanent and unchanging for the rest of time.
We long for that sort of permanence and yet we are constantly being reminded of impermanence, and, if you’ll pardon the paraphrase of the hymn we just sang, we know in our hearts that time like an ever-rolling stream also bears all its frying pans away.
And in some strange way the New Year is yet another reminder of impermanence even while at the same time it brings us distant echoes of eternity. Quite arbitrarily we choose January 1st as a day when we consider that some things come to an end and other things begin, a day when some things fade and other things are renewed. And it is a day when things already begun seem to move into a new era which we hope will be better than what has gone before. Permanence and impermanence jostle each other at the same time, and for a brief moment we reflect on how we might improve and preserve what is good from the past while turning away from what we look back upon with regret. We want to make things better, and the coming of the New Year seems to offer us, at least psychologically, the chance to do that.
Behind it all, I suspect, is a longing for some feeling that we can achieve by our own thought and effort the stability and certainty we long for. We want to feel that, at least to some extent, our lives and our projects can in fact be made by us to last, and to last in the way we want them to do.
And yet at the back of our minds there is something nagging at us to suggest that it may not work.
And we are certainly not alone in this uncertainty. The Bible writers wrestled with the question constantly, and some were pessimistic. Ecclesiastes famously said that our striving is utterly vain and pointless, but even he was prepared to admit that there was a certain permanence in the constantly repeated cycles of nature. But most Bible writers saw the positive side of Nature’s constancy and linked that aspect of the world to the larger constancy and permanence of God’s rule over the Universe.
Some very diligent Biblical scholar has calculated that the words “forever” and “evermore” appear 650 times in the Bible, and that idea of permanence is often strengthened by being contrasted with images of things transient and fleeting: “the grass withers and the flower fades” as our Psalm said, and the Prophet Isaiah (Is 54:10) goes so far as to say that even the hills and mountains may perish. But through all this change and decay, God remains everlastingly the ruler of the Universe and his love endures forever.
And at the heart of the Biblical view is the question of time itself. The Bible writers saw God as the force that established and controls the Universe and they had the intuition that, overall, the Universe is permanent and governed by fixed rules that are coherent and that work towards positive ends. But on the other hand they saw that within the Universe there is constant movement, both in time and space.
With the benefit of science we now know that the Biblical intuition was correct. The large-scale relationship of the Earth and the Sun may be fixed for billions of years so that, for practical purposes, the Earth will always revolve around the Sun and the Sun will never start revolving around the Earth. And yet within that large-scale permanence every second brings change. Even as we meet here this morning for an hour or so the Earth will move about 66,000 miles in its orbit. In relation to the Sun and the Solar System, we are therefore not in the same place now that we were when we walked in the door: we are whizzing through space a hundred times faster than a jet airliner.
The fact that we can measure that movement both in space and in time is important, because it means that time itself is a sign of movement and change. The old hymn was quite right: time is an ever-rolling stream that marks constant change. Whatever superficial similarities there may be, today is in fact different from yesterday and tomorrow will be different from today.
The Bible writers saw that this conjunction of eternal permanence and time-bound change needed to be reconciled and could be reconciled, with perhaps the most poetic attempt at that being in verses 15 to 22 of Psalm 103. The Psalmist doesn’t try to ignore the constant change which time brings to us but he sees as well that it takes place within the larger shape of God’s unchanging mastery of the Universe. Perpetual change may indeed exist alongside everlasting permanence.
The Bible writers believed that the challenge this poses to us is to distinguish what is permanent from what is transient. We need to see what is worth concentrating on because it is permanent and what may be dispensed with because it is transient. This is what the Bible points us towards, as for example in 1 Peter 1:23-25, where we are reminded that through the life and message of Jesus we have been saved by an immortal God whose word “endureth forever”.
And although the Bible writers do not specifically make the connection, I think that the New Year is a good time to reflect on the things in our lives that are transient and of secondary importance and to consider how we might better come closer to the things that endure.
We carry with us many influences from the past and this is reflected by St Paul in his famous passage in 1st Corinthians chapter 13, verse 11 where he says:
“When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways.”
As we grow to adulthood in our Christian life, we join ourselves to the permanence that Jesus offered. As one Bible commentator has suggested, putting away the “childish” things we carry from the past is part of the process of progressive growth of our “knowledge and understanding of God and God’s way”. (Abingdon, vol 10 p190 on 1st Corinthians 13:11).
The New Year brings a renewed opportunity to confirm that, indeed, God was our help in ages past and remains our greatest hope for years to come.
526 This is a day of new beginnings
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
It is with sadness that I have to intimate the death of 2 of our Gatehouse members, Annie Cliff-McCulloch, who died on Tuesday and Peter Carpenter, our former Session Clerk who died on Hogmannay. In your prayers at this time please give thanks for their lives and Christian service and remember their families.
Let us pray
Good and gracious Father,
we have emerged from a difficult year,
and we give thanks for help found in times of illness, bereavement, perplexity and stress, and for all those who have served the needs of others during the pandemic.
At the start of a new year we bring You our hopes for the world and for its peoples.
Grant us peace in place of strife, a desire for justice instead of a dash for growth,
the building up of forests, not their pulling down,
the cleansing, not the pollution, of our seas, and in place of hatred, goodwill.
We pray for the Queen, and for all the Parliaments and Councils of these island in which we live.
Grant them wisdom and courage for this year ahead,
integrity of life, strength in every good resolution.
And for all who lead, in church and state,
grant humble hearts and minds to listen to You and others,
to distinguish the good from the bad, the wise from the foolish, the fruitful from the empty.
Lord, this year will bring its share of illness and bereavement and family conflict.
We pray now for those who already face these trials.
May they know Your healing and hope, and the good news of Jesus Christ
who is Lord of this life and the life to come,
Today we give you thanks for the life of Annie and hold before you her family, especially her daughters Rosie and Caroline, in their time of grief.
And we thank you for Peter, for his service to the church as an elder, Session Clerk and Gift Aid convener, and ask for your strengthening presence to be close to Fiona and the rest of the family.
And we bring you our own prayers now in the silence…..
Hear these and all our prayers for they are offered in the name of Christ our Lord, Amen
Hymn 235 God is working his purpose out
May you know how special you are in Christ, and in His service;
and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all this day and forevermore, Amen
Exit voluntary: Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor
Kirk Session Meetings
Elders are reminded that there will be a meeting of the Gatehouse Kirk Session on Wednesday January 5th at 7pm in Gatehouse Church to meet with representatives of the Presbytery Ministry and Resources Committee and of the Tarff and Twynholm Kirk Session on Wednesday 5th at 8pm in Twynholm Church for the same purpose.
Tarff and Twynholm Guild
Due to the Covid situation, the Guild meeting on 11th January has been cancelled. The speaker will be rebooked for another time and the Silent Auction can be held when it is safe to do so. Every good wish for 2022 is sent to all Guild members.