Sunday Worship 1 November
Online Service prepared by Rev Susan Thorburn
Call to Worship
As we come to worship today, in your mind focus on an image of a father being with his children – playing with them, supporting them, walking and talking to them, comforting them. This is how it should be with us and God. A Father and His children.
Our opening hymn is Abba Father. Literally, Daddy (Abba), Father.
Listen or sing or read the words of this hymn – SGP 3 Abba Father
Abba Father let me be. Yours and yours alone.
May my will forever be ever more your own.
Never let my heart grow cold, never let me go
Abba Father let me be Yours and Yours alone
used with Permission Nathan D.
Let us Pray together
We bring ourselves to a moment of quiet, to a place of peace, to this place of safety and welcome. We bring ourselves to cast off the cares of the world and for a time to reflect
on you, Lord God, that our batteries may be recharged, our direction be refocused and
our energy renewed; that we may let go of things that hamper us and be free to care
gently for those we share time with. We come to you with our hearts full of love. Love for our friends, for our family, for our church and for our community. We come, however, with the knowledge that we sometimes fail to open our hearts to those we find harder to love. God, help us to love with open hearts.
We pray for our brothers and sisters in faith. We pray that they are safe and respected, whatever their faith situation. We pray for our country. For political divides and differences, and for communities ripped apart by conflict. Help us, Lord to love with open hearts.
We pray for marginalised communities who have been overlooked, taken for granted
and received hostile, violent and prejudicial treatment. We pray for our church, for when it has not been a welcoming and safe space for all. Lord, help us to love with open hearts.
We pray for ourselves. For when we have mistreated our mind, body or spirit and not
felt worthy of love. Parent God, you give us two important commandments: to love you with all our heart and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves. As we worship today, help us open our hearts and fill our homes and communities with love and praise.
Our lives today are filled with anxiety and fear. Out of fear we turn our backs on people in need and close ourselves away. Confusion and anger abound in our nation and also in our hearts. Forgive us when we have chosen the pathways of greed and fear instead of the high way of peace and hope. Calm our spirits and help us to again turn to you in love. Help us to obey the commandment to love our neighbour as we ourselves would want to be loved. Remembering that this is how you have loved us. We offer this prayer in Jesus name.
Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Many years ago, while holidaying in Malta, my husband and I allowed ourselves to be tempted to visit a local hotel where we were offered refreshments. Once there we found ourselves becoming the audience in what amounted to buying a share in holiday accommodation. Not just on the island of Malta but all around the world. My brain, until I was so bored that I switched off completely (awake but asleep), kept telling me that there was a catch. It sounded too good to be true. Eventually we would see it.
Reflecting on that experience, we wondered later why we had endured what had become a 3-hour presentation plus another half hour of hard sell. What had motivated us in the first place? We wanted to be polite, but we also had to admit we were partly motivated by greed.
Wrong motives can even slip into our service for the Lord. Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica “Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” Paul had the right to receive financial help from them, but he didn't want to be accused of unworthy motives. What motivates us?
There is a scene early on in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where the wizard Gandalf is addressing Bilbo Baggins, the aging hobbit who despite years of friendship, wisdom and care which Gandalf has offered to him, is becoming suspicious of the wizard’s motives. Bilbo has come to believe that Gandalf is trying to manipulate him. Finally, Gandalf gets fed up with this and has it out with the hobbit. He says (something like) ‘I am not trying to rob you or cause you harm, I am trying to help you.” I’m sure Bilbo must have felt rather stupid for mistrusting his old friend after that. But what motivated his mistrust in the first place? It is only later that we find out that Bilbo’s judgement is being impaired by an evil magic ring and that it is slowly changing him and making him mistake his loving friend’s help by making him think that everyone is against him. Perhaps you can relate to these situations. Maybe you have been there yourself, being lured into a situation you don’t want to be in. Or having a dark mood overtake your brain and convince you that the world is against you when the people closest to you are only trying to help you.
In many ways, it’s not surprising that we behave like that. Yes, we might not be influenced by an evil magic ring, but we are affected by the way we have been treated in the past, and by the society we live in. Sadly, many of us will have been manipulated by someone who professed to love us or fallen for a scam or con that began by appealing to our better nature. Sadly, not everyone who uses the word ‘love’, or even demonstrates a loving attitude towards us has our best interests at heart.
This seems to be exactly the attitude that Paul is warning against in today’s reading – he is persuading the Thessalonians that his love for them and his desire to share God’s love with them is not a clever trick. To put this verse into Gandalf’s phrase, we might hear Paul saying: ‘I’m not trying to trick you, I’m trying to love you.’
Love is at the beating heart of the Christian gospel. As we seek to follow Jesus and learn more about God’s plans for our lives, we have to come to accept that we are loved and learn how to love others. For some of us, this is difficult, as we wrestle with the imperfect models of love by which we have been affected. Perhaps we can relate to the character of Anna in another film – the modern children’s classic, Frozen. She thinks she is falling in love with a dashing, gentle, caring prince…only to discover that he is not what he seems.
Despite all this, despite the hurt we carry, despite the broken nature of human-love, we strive to know more of God’s love – this ‘love divine, all loves excelling’. And we hear that clearly in Jesus’ word’s today. In wrestling with the question of what is the ‘greatest commandment’, or the ‘most important life advice’, Jesus returns to two instructions, both of which centre on love.
Firstly, he echoes what his Jewish listeners would recognise from the Hebrew scriptures, this ancient instruction which Jews would have committed to memory and say regularly – ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind’.
It is this instruction to love God that helps us see beyond the way the world loves. It helps us move beyond the stories we have that compare with Anna in Frozen or Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings, where we are suspicious of love. In loving God, we come to see more of God’s nature, God’s love for us.
How do we express that love, or show that love? I would suggest that prayer is key. And I don’t necessarily mean lots of flowery words. As Mother Tereasa famously said when questioned about what she said when she prayed: ‘I mostly listen’. And when the response came, what does God say to you in prayer, she replied: ‘He mostly listens.’ Perhaps it is this divine listening, this holy listening, this deep listening that we need to practice in order to come to know God more, to show our love for the divine.
And if we show this love for God then, as Jesus reminds us, we will come to love our neighbours as ourselves. We will discover that this big love, this divine love, wants to be shared, wants to touch other people’s lives, wants to help heal the world.
It won’t be easy. Love is rarely easy. When you offer love, some people will think you are manipulating them, or out to rob them, or have other, worldly intentions in mind.
But that is a reason to keep loving, to keep seeking to heal the world. And, when you are feeling tired, or burnt out, come back to the first commandment, come back to listening, come back to your loving relationship with your creator. Draw strength from that – strength for the next neighbour who needs your love.
It’s worth ending with an aside that regularly accompanies interpretations of this passage. When Jesus says ‘neighbour’, we sometimes translate it in our minds to mean the person who lives either side of me, those in my street or – at most – my local community. But Jesus’ vision of neighbourliness is much bigger and broader than that. Of course we are to show love to our actual, literal neighbour – but the call doesn’t end there. This is an invitation into a global neighbourhood, where we recognise all people and indeed all of creation as part of God’s big village. Can we love across borders? Across the boundaries of race, wealth, class, gender, language, background, sexuality and religion? That, truly, is a love divine, all loves excelling.
To love is to get hurt, to get bruised. We will feel people’s pain with them, and we will feel pain when they reject us, let us down, or seek to manipulate our love for their own ends. But we will dust ourselves off. We will nurse our wounds. And we go again. Our world is crying out for more love, for a better kind of love. As the church of Jesus Christ, let’s show them what the word means. Let us be motivated by Christ and to live accordingly. Paul asks these early Christians to stand firm – let us do likewise knowing that we are not alone, knowing that we are prayed for, knowing that how we live affects other people, knowing that God is working within our lives.
Let us pray
Today let us give thanks for the gentle caring people in the world whose love of you radiates from their lives. For their gentleness of voice and touch, for their gentle smile, their listening ear, their quiet reassurance and understanding, their patience and perseverance with us. We thank you, Lord God, that you have touched the lives of these people and have enabled them to touch our lives and bring us to our faith and enrich our knowledge of you.
Living God, we come to you, the church of 2020 scattered to our homes, but together in spirit and love. We come to invite you to show us how to be your people today. In a world that regards the church as irrelevant or outdated, Show us how to love, guide us by your Spirit.
Living God, we hear the cry of injustice all around us: poverty, disease, the various impacts of Covid-19, homelessness, illness, pain and suffering affect so many. In a deeply unequal, unfair world, show us how to love, guide us by your Spirit.
Living God, show us how to be a church that responds to the issues of our time. So often we can be seen as detached, aloof or out of touch with the fast-paced world around us.
As we continue to show God’s love in the twenty-first century, Show us how to love, guide us by your Spirit.
Living God, help us to turn to you to find our strength. Help us to see in the life, death and resurrection stories of Christ an opportunity to transform the way we live and rebuild our society founded in love. Show us how to love, guide us by your Spirit. Living God, we have no mission but to serve you – we recognise our calling in your invitation to love one another. May we be the answers to prayers around this community and this world in the days and weeks to come. As we seek to be sharers of liberation, Show us how to love, guide us by your Spirit.
Unite us together as we say the Lord’s Prayer together.
Listen or sing or read the words of this hymn – CH4 519 Love Divine
1 Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heav'n to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation, enter ev'ry trembling heart.
2 Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into ev'ry troubled breast;
let us all in thee inherit, let us find the promised rest:
take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
3 Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never, nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.
4 Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be:
let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory, 'til in heav'n we take our place,
'til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all evermore. Amen.
Thank you to those who have taken the time to contact me. Take care out there this week.
May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this day and each day.
Rev. Susan Thorburn, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you choose to email me, please can you tell me who you are and where you live. Thank you.