Greetings from the Worship Team, on this autumn morning. At a time of change, when problems national and international, social and environmental, seem to be gathering around us, it is privilege and joy that we can meet together like this, in spirit if not in the flesh; and, as always, in the presence of One who never changes, in His love and mercy towards us.
As a congregation, we today give thanks for the life and service of Doreen Gilchrist; and we hold George, and all her family, in our thoughts and prayers.
Call to Worship
I will listen to what God the Lord says;
He promises peace to his people, his faithful servants …
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
That glory may dwell in our land. Ps. 85: 8-9
Hymn 37 CH3 (tune: as for Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God)
Praise the Lord! ye heavens, adore him.
Praise him, angels, in the height;
Sun and moon, rejoice before him,
Praise him, all ye stars and light.
Praise the Lord! For he hath spoken;
Worlds his mighty voice obeyed;
Laws which never shall be broken
For their guidance hath he made.
Praise the Lord! for he is glorious;
Never shall his promise fail;
God hath made his saints victorious;
Sin and death shall not prevail.
Praise the God of our salvation!
Hosts on high, his power proclaim;
Heaven, and earth, and all creation,
Laud and magnify his Name. Based on Psalm 148
Gracious God, our loving heavenly Father, it is indeed our privilege and our joy to come to you in prayer.
Grant us now the aid of your Holy Spirit, so that our worship, our prayers, and our meditations may be pleasing to you, and may draw us closer to you.
Wonderful Creator, we rejoice in the beauty of our homeland, and we praise you for nature’s bounty, and for the harvest of land and sea.
Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the salvation which you won for us, in your life, death and resurrection.
Holy Spirit of God, we rejoice in your guidance, your wisdom and your strength.
Great God, Father, Son and Spirit, we worship you.
Holy God, we remember before you our sins: we have been weak, we have been careless, we have been wrong. Hear us as we make confession to you……… Pause
Be gracious to us, Lord our God,
And restore us to fullness of life with you;
That mercy and truth may be our guide,
And peace be a pathway for our feet;
This we ask through our Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reading – Matthew 6: 5-15
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, (or do not bring us to the time of trial)
but deliver us from the evil one. (or from evil)
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
(the words: for your is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen occur in some ancient manuscripts, but not in the oldest.)
Hymn 76 CH3 (omit v.2)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of thy call,
As noiseless let thy blessing fall
As fell thy manna down.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire
O still small voice of calm!
Our Reflection today is about prayer – in particular, about our Lord’s teaching on what is, for many of us, a difficult topic. St Paul himself wrote, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, (Rom. 8:26). So we need not feel overwhelmed if we, too, sometimes find it difficult to pray. We should, however, remember that Paul also assures us that The Spirit helps us in our weakness – so we should not fail to ask the help of the Holy Spirit when we pray.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer is delivered against the background of Jewish religious practice. And when, in the opening verses of today’s reading, he tells the disciples what they ought not to do when praying, this reflects bad habits which had developed in Judaism, but which can also develop in Christian praying.
Devout Jews used a daily liturgy. In addition to reciting, every morning and evening, the Shema (that is, verses of Scripture from Deuteronomy 6: 4 beginning Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone,) there was (and is) a prayer liturgy called the Eighteen Blessings or Amidah, dating from the fifth century BC, which devout Jews recited three times daily, at specified times in the morning, at noon, and in the afternoon.
It is quite evident from the Gospels that prayer was a very important element in Jesus’ life, not only in going off by himself to pray, but also in taking part in worship in synagogue and Temple; and we have evidence from the book of Acts that the apostles continued the practice of prayer at the appropriate times: in Acts 3: 1 we read: Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon; while in Acts 10:9 we read About noon …Peter went up on the roof to pray.
These Jewish ritual prayers were very beautiful, and much loved by the devout; but inevitably it happened that they might be rushed through, or repeated mindlessly, by the less devout, or by those easily distracted. An additional temptation, for some, was to make a public display of piety when praying – it would be possible for a Rabbi or Pharisee to manage his day so that when the hour of prayer struck he was in a very prominent public place, so that people could observe his devotions, which he could lengthen out at will.
Jesus calls such a person a ‘hypocrite’ – a word whose original meaning was ‘actor’. We may recall his parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector who went up to the Temple to pray (Luke 18: 9). Acting out fake devotion in public to win the admiration of the gullible would, says Jesus, bring the actor no other benefit than that admiration – that would be all his reward.
Praying in public is not something that would generally spark admiration in our secular society, though it is of course not unknown for politicians and other public figures to use religious observance for their own ends. But the other temptations for the abuse of prayer are still with us – it is all too easy to gabble unthinkingly through a repeated, formal prayer like a grace, or the Lord’s Prayer, or like the liturgy of the non-reformed churches.
This is one reason the Reformers jettisoned so much of formal liturgy, replacing it with extempore prayer – which can, alas, humans being what we are, become equally long-winded and repetitious. The problem is not in the formal prayer, but in the person praying it! Formal prayers can aid us in our own devotions, in public or private; and set times for prayer might be a useful discipline. All this is not to deny that, in busy lives, a hurriedly murmured, spontaneous, few words to our patient heavenly Father can be as heart-felt as any beautifully-crafted prayer.
The Eighteen Blessings would have been prayed countless times by our Lord, and some think that he drew on those prayers in formulating the prayer he taught his disciples. The Blessings consist of nineteen short prayers (one was added some years after the original eighteen were composed.) The first three are praise of God, the next thirteen are petitions, and the final three thanksgiving. Each short prayer has a heading.
Here is the fifth Blessing, which is headed Repentance:
Bring us back to thy Law, O our Father;
Bring us back, O King, to thy service;
Bring us back to thee by true repentance.
Praised be thou, O Lord, who dost accept our repentance.
In that Blessing we find God addressed as Our Father – a phrase which has become so identified with the Lord’s Prayer that it is sometimes simply called the Our Father. These are two very meaningful, important words, which we may sometimes barely notice, as we move on to the petitions in our Lord’s short prayer. We will return to them at a later date: meanwhile, we should note that, throughout the Prayer, the words of possession used are not my and me, but we and our. It is as members of the believing community – of the Body of Christ – that we address God as Father.
The structure of the Lord’s Prayer resembles a simplified form of the Eighteen Blessings. It may be seen as made in two parts. The first part relates to the glory of God; the second part deals with human needs. Each of the petitions will be examined in closer detail at a later date: today we reflect on the underlying unity of the last three petitions.
The prayer for daily bread asks for the necessities of daily life – it brings the needs of the present before our Father.
The prayer for forgiveness recalls what is past, so brings the past into God’s presence.
The prayer for help in times of temptation, and deliverance from evil, commits our future into the hands of God.
In these three short prayers, we are taught to lay the present, the past, and the future before God’s grace.
But there is another underlying unity. When we ask for bread to sustain our physical lives, we remember God the Father, Creator and Sustainer of all. When we ask for forgiveness, we recall God the Son, our Saviour Christ. And when we ask for help in times of spiritual trial, we seek the strength and guidance of God the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, this short prayer taught by our Lord not only brings the whole of our lives into the presence of God; it also brings into our lives the presence of the whole Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. Thanks be to God.
Prayers of Intercession
Holy God, hear the prayers of your people, for a world in turmoil –
A world distressed by war, tyranny, disease, and strange weather patterns.
A world of beauty and of terror, of great goodness and great evil,
A world of great human achievement and of great human folly.
A world where natural disaster and human failings have brought about problems, to which human ingenuity has no answers.
Hear us, O Lord, for all who seek to bring relief to the suffering,
For all who seek to promote freedom, peace and justice,
For all who spend themselves in the service of others:
And we pray for a spirit of wisdom and reconciliation to guide the peoples of this world,
That all may know that this is your world,
And that all its people are your children.
God our Father, we bring to you our prayers for all who are in trouble or distress of any kind, silently naming before you those known to us in special need of blessing
We pray for those who are distressed by illness
we pray for those who mourn the loss of a loved one
we pray for all affected by poverty, or loneliness, or unemployment.
We pray for all who work long hours, or in hazardous conditions, to keep the community safe.
We pray for all who work in our health centres, pharmacies and hospitals
We pray for our schools, for pupils and teachers coping with changed routines
We pray for new students coming to our universities and colleges for the first time, in such strange circumstances, and for all students and staff.
God of eternity, Lord of the ages, we remember before you with gratitude all whom we have loved but see no more, who have been your faithful servants here on earth, and are now at rest in you. Keep us ever in fellowship with all your Church on earth and in heaven; and bring us, in your time, to rejoice with them in your nearer presence.
These and all our prayers we make in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn 681 CH3
In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here;
The storm may roar without me,
My heart my low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
Wherever he may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack’
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim:
He knows the way he taketh,
And I will walk with him.
Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where the dark clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure:
My path to life is free:
My Saviour hath my treasure,
And he will walk with me.
May grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, rest and remain on each one of us, now and always. Amen.