Sunday June 27th 2021
A warm welcome to you all to worship this morning.
Our first hymn is 512 To God be the glory
Prayer of Approach
We praise you for the faithfulness of your love
And the constancy of your purpose
We praise you that, although all else may change,
You stay the same
That though heaven and earth may pass away
Your word endures forever.
Teach us to live each moment in the light of that assurance,
Recognising that your promises in Christ will never fail,
And that the new life he has won for us will never fade
Help us to enjoy all the many blessings of this life,
celebrating everything you have so richly given us,
but help us finally to put our trust in your eternal kingdom,
in the one hope that will never disappoint us
by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying…
Hymn Through all the changing scenes of life
Reading: Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Hymn 454 A safe stronghold our God is still
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
One of the many things I have been missing during the Covid pandemic is the chance to go on a cruise. David and I love cruising – letting our floating hotel take us to new and exciting destinations every day while we only have to unpack once.
On some of the ships I have been on, a service of worship has been offered on the Sunday. This service has not usually been taken by a minister, but by a member of the entertainment staff – make of that what you will!
And I recall once a few years ago, as I was cruising across the Black Sea, the service being taken by a young girl called Kirsty.
Kirsty was more commonly to be seen singing and dancing across the stage with great gusto and commitment so I was very interested to see what she would make of her new and unaccustomed task.
Kirsty began the service by telling us how pleased she had been to be asked to lead the worship but how terrifying she actually found the ordeal once she was standing there in front of us. But she managed to master her nerves and decided to concentrate on what in church circles we would call a personal testimony.
She said she hadn’t been a Christian for very long, just about four years, and that before that, she had always put her faith and trust in how successful she was in life. But the problem she had found was that sometimes life didn’t go according to plan, and then she had nothing to hold on to, and she just ended up in a mess. It was then that she had turned to God. And now she found that, even if things weren’t going too well, she had something constant in her life, someone that she knew was always there for her, someone who would never let her down, someone who would help her through the difficult times of life. And that person was Jesus Christ.
This was a very heart-felt depiction of her spiritual journey, and , having so publicly bared her soul to us all, she started to cry. At that point a very motherly older lady in the congregation rose from her seat, went up to Kirsty, and gave her a big hug and a pat on the back.
I have to admit that all of this was a bit surprising. Kirsty was young and very good looking – tall, slim and pretty, with a beautiful singing voice and an attractive personality. She seemed to have everything, and it was hard to imagine life not going well for her. And yet, evidently, Kirsty had been no more immune from the trials of life than the rest of us.
Like the rest of us, Kirsty found that she needed something beyond herself and beyond what she herself could do when the going got rough.
As she was speaking to us about her turn to faith, I was reminded of the passage from Psalm 46 which we read this morning. Verse 1 says: “God is our refuge and our strength – an ever present help in times of trouble.”
In this Psalm, the psalmist pictures cataclysmic events as an image of the dangers and challenges that threaten our lives. The earth shakes and the seas roar, he says, and we may be inclined to treat this language as merely a striking metaphor. But he may in fact have been referring to actual experiences which his readers would have seen for themselves.
Because Palestine does actually sit on a seismic fault line. In 1927 an earthquake in Jerusalem destroyed or damaged some very substantial buildings, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And when I was working in Jerusalem in 1996, I was woken up one morning by the church tower in which I lived suddenly vibrating in a very alarming way for several seconds. It wasn’t quite like those pictures we see of earthquakes in Japan, but it was bad enough to make me afraid that the whole building was going to come crashing down over my head. Fortunately, that did not happen, but it was a striking reminder of just how powerless we can be when our lives are caught up by great forces and events that are completely beyond a human being’s control.
When we are faced with that sort of situation, the Psalmist makes it clear, as Kirsty on our ship suggested also, that the only way to cope is to put your faith in God and pray that he will keep you safe.
And of course that is good advice not only in the literal storms and earthquakes we may experience, but also in the metaphorical ones, because they can be just as disturbing and destructive as the physical upheavals.
If something terrible happens in our lives, we can feel as if the very earth we stand upon has been shaken, as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath our feet, as if the very foundation of our lives has crumbled.
We feel like this if someone we love dies, especially if the death is sudden and unexpected. We feel like this if we are given bad medical news. We feel like this if our spouse suddenly tells us they want a divorce. We feel like this if we lose our job. Our work, the people we love, our health are all part of the security upon which we build our lives, and if something happens to take any of them away from us, then it feels as if an earthquake has shattered everything on which we have hoped and relied.
And of course sometimes we can find that a more positive turn of events can also have earth-shaking consequences, consequences that challenge our preconceived ideas about where our lives are going and where we want them to go.
I often hear people telling me, for example, how the arrival of a new baby has turned their lives upside down. It can be a joyous experience but it can also be a time when we need especially to feel God’s strength within us.
I remember when I was a probationer at South Queensferry, the minister there commented that a number of young couples, without a lot of church connection, were nevertheless very anxious to get their first baby baptised. He said he thought the explanation was that the arrival of a new baby totally changed their lives. Suddenly there was this little person who was completely dependent on them for everything, and they discovered that they had taken on an awesome responsibility that they had not fully realised before. They felt the need of some sort of support from outside themselves, the security and blessing which only God could give. But by the time the second child came along, the minister said, the parents were sure they had it all worked out and they often didn’t bother to get that child baptised. Now that they thought they knew what they were doing, they no longer felt the need for God.
If this analysis is correct, I think it does emphasise the point that even not very religious people can suddenly discover their need for God when the upheavals of life make them realise that they can’t cope on their own.
For the author of our Psalm, and for the ancient Hebrews generally, God was particularly able to offer us a refuge and support in such times because he was, after all, the Creator of the Universe. He was therefore uniquely able to bring order out of chaos and meaning out of the seemingly meaningless events of life.
In that sense, we can in the end see this as a Psalm of celebration.
It celebrates the great truth that in all the chaotic and changing times of life, both in the present and the future, the one constant which we can hold on to is the strength and security and eternal love of God seeing us through whatever may befall us, now and forever.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn 570 When the storms of life are raging
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Loving God we thank you that you are with us in the good times of life
And in the bad
Today we hold before you those who feel that their lives have been shaken
And gone out of control
We think of those overwhelmed by tragedy
Or whose relationships have broken down
Those battling the rigours of old age,
Or wrestling with terminal illness
In pain of body
Or turmoil of mind
Today we pray especially for those in Miami where the tower blocks have collapsed
For those who have lost their homes
For those who have lost loved ones
For those who have been injured
And for all those who are involved in the search and rescue attempt.
We think also of those who are celebrating something good in their lives
The start of a new relationship
The birth of a child
In all areas of life where the world has changed, for good or for bad, we ask for your strength and security.
And now we name before you all those close to us, in the silence…..
We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Hymn 192 All my hope on God is founded
May the world continue to surprise us,
Love continue to astonish us
Life continue to captivate us
Faith continue to sustain us
And may God go with us always,
Now and forevermore, Amen
Exit Music: God is our strength and our refuge, Dambusters March
The minister in the Glenkens, the Rev Dr David Bartholomew, produces a service each week with background video shot in the local area and on June 13th and 20th he was videoing around Gatehouse. David has kindly sent me those videos as we thought you might like to see them. The one for the 20th even features the Manse garden!
June 13th https://youtu.be/jSOaZ9ktpdo
June 20th https://youtu.be/gf9Ve5t_AFY