Sunday October 10th 2021
A warm welcome to worship this morning
Hymn 52 How lovely is thy dwelling place
Prayer of Approach and Confession (Gwen)
We come this morning praising you for always being with us, to show your glory in all we see round about as we notice the changes in weather, temperature and the plants and trees as we slip into Autumn. We see less of the sun as the days grow shorter yet we know that as the sun withdraws, you Lord do not withdraw from us.
We are in awe of Your creation in all its rich power and diversity, amazed that You offer humanity insights into its workings.
We see the beauty as the trees and shrubs change colour, reminding us that you are the creator of all around us and we put our trust in you knowing that you have our best interests at heart.
We praise you too for staying with us in these times of uncertainty and upheaval. We become so pre-occupied with what we hear on the news about petrol shortages, toilet roll shortages, gaps on our supermarket shelves, the rise in energy bills, the rise in tax and the withdrawal of Universal credit top-ups. As we try to bring normality to our lives after Brexit and the Covid pandemic we wonder what kind of future we are in for.
All these things unsettle us and cause us to worry, to panic, to fear and we forget to turn to you and for this we are sorry for you are the one who knows our future. We are sorry too for our selfishness and greed in putting ourselves first without a thought about if there is enough for other people.
We don’t need to fear, for you have promised to be with us, no matter what we face and for this we praise you.
We have misused the time You have given us, pursuing our own desires instead of seeking the path You want for us. We are forgetful of loving our neighbour and following the example Jesus set for us.
Help us to follow his ways and we further pray saying,
Hymn 555 Amazing Grace
Readings: The Lost Sheep Luke 15: 1-7
15 One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, 2 the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” 3 So Jesus told them this parable:
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. 5 When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders 6 and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.
The Good Shepherd: John 10: 7-15
7 So Jesus said again, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
11 “I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. 12 When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep. 14-15 I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them.
The Prodigal Son: Luke 15: 11-24
11 Jesus went on to say, “There was once a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to him, ‘Father, give me my share of the property now.’ So the man divided his property between his two sons. 13 After a few days the younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. 14 He spent everything he had. Then a severe famine spread over that country, and he was left without a thing. 15 So he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to take care of the pigs. 16 He wished he could fill himself with the bean pods the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything to eat. 17 At last he came to his senses and said, ‘All my father's hired workers have more than they can eat, and here I am about to starve! 18 I will get up and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. 19 I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.”’ 20 So he got up and started back to his father.
“He was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with pity, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him. 21 ‘Father,’ the son said, ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.’ 22 But the father called to his servants. ‘Hurry!’ he said. ‘Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. 23 Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast! 24 For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.’ And so the feasting began.
Hymn 461 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
One of the most striking and moving images of Jesus in the New Testament is that he is “the Good Shepherd”, who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. And that is accompanied in New Testament thinking by the famous parable in which Jesus says that the recovery of the Lost Sheep brings more joy to the shepherd than the mere safekeeping of all the other sheep which are not lost.
The point of view in both these images is very definitely the point of view of the shepherd and by extension the point of view of Jesus towards those whom he has come to save. But it suddenly struck me the other night that there should, of course, be another point of view, because it occurred to me that there are actually two sides to the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.
That was brought home to me when David and I were watching the latest episode of the long-running television series Our Yorkshire Farm, which centres around the life of “The Yorkshire Shepherdess”. The shepherdess is a remarkable woman named Amanda Owen, a city girl who left her native Huddersfield about 25 years ago to work on the isolated farm of her future husband Clive Owen at Ravenseat, high above Swaledale in the Yorkshire hills. We’ve become interested in Amanda and Clive’s adventures after visiting Ravenseat Farm in August this year in a drive that went for mile after mile on a single-track road up over what, even in the summer, was some of the bleakest and most desolate uplands I’ve ever seen in England.
The television series typically follows the life of Amanda and Clive, and their nine children, over a farming year. The latest series began in January of this year with Amanda and her family facing a ferocious blizzard that suddenly swept down on the farm and cut off the farmstead from their flock of fifty sheep that were grazing even higher up in the hills. Snow drifts buried paths and fields, and as the storm raged, visibility dropped and the sheep were nowhere to be seen. Amanda and Clive, along with their children and sheep dogs, braved the bitter cold and howling wind to go out and trudge knee-deep through the snow in search of the sheep, but to no avail. Nearly half the flock had simply vanished.
For the Owens this had all the makings of a disaster, and as shepherds who cared about their flock they had to go on searching. Eventually after several days of tramping the hillsides they came upon a group of four sheep that were huddled together in a sheltered spot below the ridge-line at the top of the farm. The sheep looked thin and miserable after their ordeal, and no doubt, if sheep think about these things, they were wishing they had not strayed so far and got themselves into such a fix.
Amanda decided they could not immediately be brought down to the farm and, believe it or not, she arranged instead for her son to bring fodder and feed up on a snowmobile! The last time I saw a film of people using snowmobiles to tend their flocks was a programme about Laplanders and their reindeer in Finland, so that perhaps gives an idea of what life at Ravenseat Farm was like last winter.
Eventually it seems that the rest of the flock were found and, as with the shepherd in the Bible, there was much rejoicing in the Owen household as well.
That’s where the Bible story stops, and similarly the Owens moved on to other concerns too.
But it was at that point that it occurred to me that there is another side to all this. It is not just a question of what the shepherds experience, but also a question of what the sheep experience. The Parable of the Lost Sheep implicitly compares the shepherd’s lost sheep with a human being who has strayed from the path of God, and the parable is meant to provide a reassurance that God does not abandon any of his flock, however far away they may have wandered. But what we do not see is how that human being responds to God’s love and protection and where his life goes from there. And yet that must surely be a key element in the whole situation: what is the point of being rescued by the Good Shepherd unless it has the effect of making the future better and safer than the past?
I don’t suppose Amanda Owen’s four lost sheep thought much about that question, but it did seem, as they tucked into the emergency food brought to them on a snowmobile, that they were at least immediately glad to have been found and fed.
People are of course in a rather different situation: they can appreciate immediate salvation but they can also see things from a broader perspective. They can be thankful but they can also be thoughtful.
But how much do people actually respond to the blessings which Jesus has brought? How much do people ponder the meaning and effect of what has been done for them and in that way achieve a new vision of their future life?
One has to say that the Bible writers seem on the whole to adopt a rather cynical view, best encapsulated perhaps in that famous verse in Isaiah, chapter 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”
I detect in that passage a certain weary disillusionment with human nature, a sense that no matter how much God does for people they still persist in thinking that they know better than he does, that their way is better than his.
If that is what Isaiah means, then I suppose the simile of human beings as sheep is appropriate, because I imagine that Amanda Owen’s sheep will face the next blizzard just as heedlessly as they did the last one, having learnt nothing from what the good shepherdess has done for them.
But sheep, are, I suppose, what we might call dumb animals, and I remember somebody in Gatehouse once saying to me that sheep seem to have only one goal in life and that is getting themselves into as much trouble as possible.
But human beings have neither that excuse nor that goal. We should know better.
And here I think is where the parable of the Prodigal Son has much to tell us. In some ways the Prodigal Son is the very epitome of the Lost Sheep. He starts his life comfortably ensconced in the family home, lacking nothing, but he insists on wandering away to what he thinks are greener pastures, and off he goes, getting further and further away from where he really should be, until finally he is entirely cut off from his family, from his father, and from all the love and protection they can provide.
And here the story of our lost human sheep takes a different turn. Amanda Owen and the Good Shepherd of the Bible both had to go out into the wilds searching for their Lost Sheep, at some cost to themselves, but in the story of the Prodigal Son, we see---if I can put it like this---we see the sheep realising his own need for salvation and actively seeking it out after he repents of his former life.
Unlike Amanda Owen’s sheep, the Prodigal Son has learnt from his mistakes. He knows that his future must be different from his past, and he sees that the only way to make that happen is to return to his father, ask his father’s forgiveness, and accept in return all the love that his father has to give him.
And the Prodigal Son not only realises that this is what is best for him, but also understands that this is what his father is entitled to. When he tells his father in verse 21 “I am no longer fit to be called your son”, he is acknowledging that his father deserves better. The father’s wholehearted love deserves a wholehearted response from the son, and the Prodigal Son has finally realised this. And in doing so, he has shown the way ahead for all of us.
Because in the end, God’s love and our response are both part of the great story of salvation. When we are rescued in the blizzard of life, we should ponder what our Good Shepherd has done for us. And above all we should embrace the opportunity and hope that Jesus offers for a different and better life.
Hymn 462 The King of love my shepherd is
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (by Gwen)
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We come to offer thanks for the blessings that we enjoy. We give thanks for the many seen and unseen people who contribute to our daily life. We thank You for those who grow and prepare our daily bread, we thank You for those who develop and maintain the energy supply and transport systems that we have access to. We give thanks for those who work to keep us safe, those in the forces and the police.
Lord we are grateful for the array of carers who help to support us, those who work to heal us, those who help us in our frailty, those who help develop medicines to fight disease.
Almighty God, we thank You for the gift of Your word – ‘a lamp for our feet and a light for our path' and the example set by Your son, Jesus Christ. These are gifts beyond all measure.
For all this and much more we offer our humble thanks.
We pray for those who are caught up in wars in their country, those who have had to escape and become refugees, leaving everything behind, even family members.
We pray for those trying to escape poverty and trying to find a better life in a different country. We pray too for those who are hiding their poverty because they feel ashamed and a failure. Help us to reach out to them and help to remove the stigmas of mental illness, as we pray for all those affected by illness, whither physical, spiritual or mental, and pray for those affected by addictions.
We bring before you now, in the silence, those who lie heavily on our mind today - - - - -- - - - - we ask for your blessing upon them.
We pray too for those who are busy preparing for the COP26 conference and ask that you open our eyes to how we can change things to help our planet in a positive active way.
These things we ask in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Hymn 512 To God be the glory
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, this day and forevermore, Amen
Closing voluntary: John Stanley - Trumpet tune on the organ
Thank you to everyone who brought items for the Food Bank at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service. The next collection is on Tuesday morning. If you would like to donate you can leave items in Jim Logan’s Pend, 16 Fleet Street, today or tomorrow morning, or bring them to Twynholm Church this afternoon until 5pm. The door at the top of the concrete path will be left unlocked until this time and any further items may be left inside the porch at that door. Thank you.
Blythswood Shoe Box Appeal
Leaflets about the Blythswood Shoe Box appeal are available in the Church porch or from Jim Logan. Completed boxes can be left in the Anwoth Corner or with Jim Logan, 16 Fleet Street before the end of October.