Sunday July 25th 2021

A warm welcome to worship this morning.

Let us worship God:

Hymn 512 To God be the glory

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CeBoSQsBR0

Prayer of Approach

Lord Jesus Christ,

Before we ever loved you, you loved us

Before we ever looked for you, you were seeking us out

Before we ever made a response, you were guiding our footsteps.

Always you have been there, taking the initiative,

Just as you did throughout your ministry

And even at the time of your death.

 

In love you offered your life

And in love you continue to reach out,

Never resting until our journey is over and the race is won

To you be praise and glory

Honour and thanksgiving, now and forevermore through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying

Our FatherÖ

Hymn 685 For everyone born, a place at the table

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfRSaFyfQP8

Scripture Readings

Readings: Proverbs  19:13-14  25:24 27:15-16

13 Stupid children can bring their parents to ruin. A nagging wife is like water going drip-drip-drip.

14 A man can inherit a house and money from his parents, but only the Lord can give him a sensible wife.

25:24: Better to live on the roof than share the house with a nagging wife.

27:15-16: A nagging wife is like water going drip-drip-drip on a rainy day. 16 How can you keep her quiet? Have you ever tried to stop the wind or ever tried to hold a handful of oil?

I John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. 10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.

Hymn 521 Children of God, reach out to one another!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmymplPCaj4

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

Over the past year, when so many people have found themselves either cooped up with other people or separated from them unwillingly, the question of relationships has been a hot topic in the media and in private conversations.

The ďagony auntsĒ in the newspapers have dispensed reams of advice about how to keep relationships alive when you can only see your boyfriend or girlfriend on a computer screen, or, conversely, how to stay on good terms with somebody you are seeing much more of at close quarters than you ever have before.

This discussion is no doubt well-meant and sometimes produces useful practical advice.  But one thing that has struck me is that it rarely gets to more fundamental questions about the essential points in our relationships: why they are so important in our lives and what it is that makes them good and necessary for us.  Relationships are, after all, a central element in our lives---a fact that the Bible writers recognised long before any newspaper agony aunt---and we need to understand them in all their richness and complexity.

I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago when I conducted a wedding that actually managed to take place, this time in Parton, one of Sally Russellís congregations that Iíve been looking after this year.  Generally, weddings have been a little bit thin on the ground over the past 18 months because of the Covid restrictions, although my diary for next year is already filling up fast as couples seize the opportunity to make up for lost time.

Perhaps because I havenít had a wedding for a while, I found myself pondering the question: ďwhat makes a relationship work?Ē  Iím sure we can all think of marriages which look on paper as though they would be perfect and yet they just donít work out.  And the other side of that is those relationships which seemed to the outside observer doomed to failure but that do actually last for a lifetime.

It has always seemed to me that a test of whether or not a relationship is healthy is whether being in that relationship makes you a better or a worse person. We can probably all think of marriages where one person in the marriage completely dominates the other person.   The dominant one is domineering and controlling; the other person lacks confidence and self-esteem and is constantly being put down.  One often thinks that such relationships would have been better never to have started in the first place.

And unhealthy relationships are no modern thing.  Our snippets from Proverbs demonstrate that.  Iím not entirely sure why it is always the wife who gets such a hard time in Proverbs but I canít help noticing that all the writers were men!  But I suppose we should at least give the men credit for trying to understand!

The other side of the coin are marriages where being in that relationship causes the couple to blossom.  We see people growing in confidence and self-esteem, or becoming more mellow and gentle as a result of their marriage.  The sum of the whole becomes greater than the 2 individual parts.

Of course our relationships with one another go much further than marriages.  There is the teacher-pupil relationship. We can probably all think of teachers who inspired us, who encouraged us to aim for the stars and whom we worked well for.  And then there were the teachers who terrified us, humiliated us, and whose classes we dreaded.  But a style of teaching which works well for one person, doesnít always work well for another.  Some people achieve more if they are pushed and challenged Ė other people dig their heels in and prefer to find their own way.  Like all relationships, it is never a case of one size fits all. But the key point in a teacher-pupil relationship is that it should always allow a pupil to develop their full potential and become more fully themselves.

Then there is our relationship with colleagues. There are people we find easy to work with, where our working relationship lifts our day and makes the world seem brighter.  And then there are the people we struggle to work with, where we feel like we are treading on egg shells in case we cause offence and whatever we do never seems to be good enough.  The first allows us to work to our full potential.  The second diminishes us because it doesnít let us be ourselves.

In the church, a central element is the relationship of a congregation with its minister.  In my work with Place for Hope I am sometimes asked to intervene in churches where the relationship between the minister and the congregation has broken down.  Sometimes this is because some people in the congregation have been behaving very badly.  But at other times you see a good minister and a good congregation destroying one another, and the reason is not because either the minister or the congregation is doing anything particularly awful but because the relationship isnít working.  And that is very sad to witness.  It can be caused by theological differences.  It can be to do with different styles of worship. But whatever it is, that minister is not the right person for that congregation. And the end result is misery for the minister and the congregation. And the only way out really is for the minister to move on or the Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral tie.      

So, a bad relationship can be poisonous, but  a good relationship, be it in a marriage, or at work, or in a church,  can help make us makes us better human beings, becoming and achieving the best that is in us. 

But is what is true in human relationships also true in the supreme relationship of our lives, our relationship to God?

That is a question that mankind has been pondering at least since the days of the cave men and it is not surprising that the answers have been many and various.  Thinking about our relationship with God raises our sights to an altogether higher sphere and what we think about God often depends on our broader understanding of science and philosophy.  Science has taught us, for example,  that our pagan ancestors were wrong to believe that there was a separate god of thunder and lightning who needed to be appeased with offerings and sacrifices.  And philosophy has encouraged us to think about our relationship with God in a more coherent and logical way, so that, for example, we feel justified in believing that a God of love could not possibly also be a God who authorised the violation of fundamental human rights or assaults on human dignity.

And this process of development and refinement is clear in the Bible itself.  We can see there how mankindís relationship with God has changed over the centuries.  In the Old Testament, we are often presented with the image of a God who needs to be propitiated. He wants his followers to keep his laws and he needs burnt offerings to appease his wrath.  God appears at times like a general or an emperor commanding his troops.

In the New Testament, however,  the picture we have of God and the relationship that he wants to have with his people is very different.  Here the relationship is not based upon appeasing Godís wrath, or slavishly following orders, but rather growing and fulfilling our potential through Godís love.

John put it very well in his first letter, in chapter 4, verse 10, when he said: ďIt is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.Ē

The unconditional love which God has for all of us means that our relationship with him can become something life-enhancing, freeing us from the burden of our mistakes and enabling us to become the people he has given us the potential to be.  The love of God liberates us in a relationship that will always be positive.  Our relationship with God, which we have through Christ, makes it possible for us to achieve far more than we could ever dream of otherwise,  because we know that our life can go forward empowered through the strength of him who loves us.

Thanks be to God.

Amen

Hymn 694 Brother, sister let me serve you

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQaOErUUjm8

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (Gwen)

Lord God, our loving Heavenly Father,

We thank you for bringing us safely through another week, a week of glorious sunshine that has brightened all around us showing the beauty of your creation in all its diversity from the tiniest flower and insect to the largest tree each with its own purpose in your great scheme of life.

We too, are part of your great plan, each of us as individuals but also together, especially today as restrictions have lifted further and we can feel a bit more like a congregation of your church. For this we thank you.

Yet we remember those who are not able to join us due to increasing frailty or illness and we ask for your continued care as we remember them in our prayers - - - - - - - - - - .

We pray today for those whose lives are less than what should be.

In particular we pray for those affected by the floods that have caused so much devastation in India and China as well as those recovering in Germany and Belgium and those affected by the storms down south in England and Wales.

We also pray for those caught up in the forest fires in America with the loss of lives, human and animal; loss of homes and habitat and we pray for all those who put their own lives at risk as they try and rescue the victims of these floods and fires.

We pray for all victims of all conditions against your plan Ė

For the refugee from war or famine and especially those who are risking their life crossing the channel in flimsy overcrowded boats after paying extortionate sums of money to traffickers.

For the homeless and others struggling economically as well as mentally due to this pandemic, having to try and rely on the generosity of food banks, clothes banks and others. Bless all who are giving and trying to help others as your Son Jesus did when he walked the earth.

We pray today for all those taking part in the Olympics in Japan and pray that they can do so safely and to the best of their abilities, bringing a beacon of hope to the countries they represent and to the world.

We ask Lord, for your continued care for your children; for our friends and families and especially those who lie heavily on our minds this day.

Silence -- - - - - - - - -.

These things we ask in Jesus name, Amen

Hymn 622 We sing a love that sets all people free

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhNr-diZxq0

Blessing

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:  Handelís organ concerto in F op. 4 no. 4 Movement 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zneiwx0nCe8