Sunday September 12th 2021
A warm welcome to worship this morning. There are a number of intimations at page 9.
Hymn 445 Alleluia, sing to Jesus
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Almighty God, Creator, and Ruler of all,
we come this day to worship You
and to ask Your guidance upon our lives.
We come to be still,
we come to listen,
we come to sing praises,
and we come to offer ourselves to You.
Prepare our hearts to receive Your word
and uplift our spirits as we spend time together worshipping You,
so that when we leave this place of worship
we may feel renewed and refreshed.
You have asked us to bear fruit in our lives
and to share our faith with others.
Yet so many times we have failed You in doing this.
We have let You down and let ourselves down.
Our thoughts and words have failed You;
we have missed opportunities to speak up for our belief in You,
choosing to remain silent instead of witnessing for You.
Our discipleship has been weak and often non-existent.
We are ashamed of our weaknesses, faults, greed, selfishness, envy, and pride.
Our faith has been shallow, and we have failed You in so many ways.
In Your forgiving mercy and grace
cleanse our hearts and minds that we may better serve You
and so that we can feel strengthened
to follow You more faithfully each day for the sake of Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying, Our Father…
Hymn 129 The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
Readings: Matthew 8: 28-32
28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water
Acts 14: 8-18 Paul and Barnabas in Lystra
In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Acts: 17: 24-34 Paul in Athens
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Hymn 248 For my sake and the gospel’s, go
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Nowadays most people know of the writer G. K. Chesterton mainly as the creator of that priestly detective, Father Brown, and many people know of Father Brown because in recent years he has been very successfully recreated for a long-running television series. I can say that with some confidence because the last time I mentioned Father Brown in a sermon lots of people told me what great fans they were of the television programme!
It is not at all surprising that Chesterton made his detective hero a priest. Chesterton himself, in his writings and in his life, was an energetic and committed Christian, but, like Father Brown, a Christian who occasionally had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The result was often to produce some rather startling and thought-provoking ideas about Christianity, ideas that shed an interesting light on Scripture, including passages like those we read today from the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Acts.
In the first paragraph of his Autobiography Chesterton sets the tone for much of his life and work when he recounts his birth and baptism in London in 1874. He says he was baptized in a church on Campden Hill in Kensington, which he describes as “ the little church of St George opposite the large Waterworks Tower” at the top of the hill---and then he immediately adds: “I indignantly deny that that church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian!!”.
Chesterton was clearly a man with a sense of humour that bubbled up repeatedly in everything he did, and that was one of the things that still give his ideas about Christianity a stimulating freshness.
That freshness enabled him to look at incidents like the healing of the two men in Matthew’s story of the Gadarene Swine and see aspects most people would never think of. So, for example, talking about how Jesus healed mentally ill people in such cases, Chesterton says Jesus did that, and I quote, with “the tone of a business-like lion-tamer.”
Now, I doubt if anybody before or since ever pictured Jesus as a lion-tamer---but that is precisely the point Chesterton is making: namely, that the image we generally have of Jesus is of a person who would have been too meek and mild to accomplish all that he did accomplish. But the Jesus who transformed the lives of everybody he met, and who inspired Christians ever after, must actually have been a man of exceptional energy and dynamism, and a man who really could be said to have acted with the confidence and assurance of a lion-tamer.
So, when you think about it, Chesterton’s deliberately striking image turns out to have more in its favour than you might at first suppose. And that is worth bearing in mind because when Chesterton turned to a broader consideration of the Christian religion and its growth over the centuries, his views were equally striking, and equally thought-provoking.
A question that particularly interested him was how Christianity had managed to maintain itself in a world where there were, and are, so many other religious movements as well as so many pagan philosophies. How did Christ’s early disciples and their later successors manage to propagate a world religion in the face of so much opposition and so many contrary tendencies? Chesterton’s answer is the intriguing idea that the disciples were the messengers of a real Gospel, a genuine message of “good news”. Chesterton says: “Nobody else except those messengers has any Gospel; nobody else has any good news, for the simple reason that nobody else has any news.”
On a superficial level that is no doubt a very provocative thing to say because it means that Christianity really does have something new to tell people, while, fundamentally, other religions and philosophies are either telling people what they already know or are simply reworking solutions that have already been tried and have failed.
This is really a very profound suggestion. Chesterton is saying that the difference that makes Christianity stand out is that it is offering something unique, something that is new and that is “news”. Christianity is not saying “the world is an awful place so let’s rehash all the old ideas and see if they work any better this time.” Christianity is saying: “this is what the world can be because Jesus has brought the means of really making it better.” The good news of the Gospel is that things can be different, things can be changed, and it is part of the mission of Christianity to make that happen.
Chesterton sees no sign that other religions and philosophies can even come close to offering a way to achieve that transformation of the world which Christianity sees as both necessary and also possible through Jesus.
Certainly the pagan religions of New Testament times would really, as Chesterton implies, have found this doctrine astonishingly new and even incomprehensible because in those religions the main concern was fending off the wrath of the various gods with sacrifices and burnt offerings.
In the book of Acts, chapter 14, you can actually see a direct confrontation between the pagan and the Christian outlook, when the people of Lystra want to offer a pagan sacrifice because they think that Paul and Barnabas are gods after they have healed a crippled man. For the people of Lystra that was the only way you could relate to the gods: you offered them thanks for a particular kindness and you hoped that, properly bribed with sacrifices, they might continue to be nice to you. There was no idea of the gods themselves having a general programme for improving the life of humanity, and nobody sought such a thing from them.
In general, the pagan gods just played capricious games with the lives of men and women , and the gods cared nothing for the victims of their caprice. Thinking people in the ancient world actually did recognise how absurd such a religion was. And we can see from Acts, chapter 17, recounting Paul’s later experience in Athens, that in New Testament times many more people came to realise that the careless and cruel pagan gods were entirely different from the God of Love whom Jesus brought to humanity.
The early disciples, and the New Testament writers, emphasised this contrast between paganism and Christianity because they were convinced that Christianity offered moral and spiritual blessings that no other religion could. And Chesterton had no doubt that that was still true in modern times if you compared Christianity with any of the religious or philosophical alternatives. Christianity still brings not only “news” but also “good news”.
So when you delve into the implications of Chesterton’s remark, it does actually seem to stand up pretty well. And that is an important conclusion because it is the basis for Chesterton’s final assertion: namely, that Jesus inspired the “soul of Christendom” and it is this that has empowered Christianity to endure for two thousand years. And because of that inspiration from Jesus, then, as he says:
“the world within [Christianity] has been more lucid, more level-headed, more reasonable in its hopes, more healthy in its instincts, more humorous and cheerful in the face of fate and death, than all the world outside.”
It is a remarkable claim and one that to some extent every Christian needs to evaluate in the context of their own life and faith. But taken all-in-all, it rings true to me, and it does so for the reason Chesterton gives: that the soul of Christianity lives and thrives from the great inspiration of Jesus himself.
Hymn 681 Send out the gospel, let it sound (tune Gonfalon Royal)
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Almighty God, our heavenly Father
We thank you for the many ways you have shown your presence and your love for us over the past week. We thank you for the rain which refreshed the land and streams together with the warmth of the sun allowing our crops to continue to swell and grow ready for harvesting by us and the wildlife around seen or unseen.
We thank you for all of your creation and we are in awe at the beauty of our surroundings, yet we have seen, through our thoughtlessness, our carelessness and our greed, how easily, we have failed in our guardianship of our world. We ask that you, our Lord and Maker, will guide us into ways to make this world a better place, a fairer place, a kinder place for all the inhabitants.
We pray today for those whose lives are affected by wars; for Syria and especially Afghanistan. We pray for the Afghan people and we also pray for those who think they have the right to destroy other people. Lord we ask for your hand to be on the situation there and wherever there is discord.
We remember today all those affected by 9/11 and hold up to you in prayer all those who suffered the effects of this atrocity. We pray for those who died, those who survived, those who lost family and friends or who helped at the site of the Twin Towers or in hospitals, including the police and fire services. We ask that you will ease the grief and bring them hope for a brighter tomorrow.
We pray for all refugees, fleeing their country and looking for new land to settle in for whatever their reason. We pray that the dangerous practice of the exploiters and the human traffickers be stopped and safer journeys be made available.
We pray for those we know personally who are struggling in health, whither physically, spiritually or mentally and we hold up to you those who lie heavily on our hearts in the silence now - - - - - - - - - - .
All these our prayers we present in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Hymn 249 We have heard a joyful sound
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: Lemmens: Fanfare in D
Next Sunday the service will be taken by Mrs Gwen Corson. Gwen should also be contacted for pastoral emergencies until 23rd September, tel: 01557 870328.
Harvest Thanksgiving. Harvest will be celebrated in Gatehouse and Twynholm on September 26th . Please bring something for the Foodbank which we can bring forward during the service.
Guild Rededication. The Twynholm Guild will be rededicated during the service on September 26th.
Diary Deadline. The deadline for articles for the October/November Diary is September 22nd. Please make sure that Jim Logan has your contributions by then, firstname.lastname@example.org
The September collection for the Stewartry Food Bank will be on Tuesday 14th, from 9 - 9.30am at Kirkcudbright Parish Church.
Donations should be left at the right hand side door of the church.
We have plenty pasta, tea and biscuits, but welcome all other foods and toiletries and especially this month:
long-life milk (semi and full)
In Twynholm, the church door at the concrete path will be left unlocked after the service today until 5.00pm for any kind donations to the Food Bank. Thank you for your support.”
In Gatehouse, donations can be left in Jim Logan’s Pend, 16 Fleet Street or at the Gatehouse Stores.