Invitation to worship
It is good to praise the Lord… to proclaim his love in the morning and his faithfulness at night.
We pray together
Dear God, we admit to you that we are not always the best that we could be. We are not always kind to others. We do not always sympathise with those who need our love and concern. We often fail to reflect the love of Jesus in our lives. Forgive us…
Despite our failings, you welcome us with open arms and encourage us on our way. We can go forward into the future assured of your constant companionship. Thank you, Lord. Amen
The lectionary at the moment is taking us through Mark’s Gospel, but there was a break in August, dealing with Jesus’ teaching about himself as he Bread of Life. Today we return to Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7, verses 24 to 37.
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue.He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosed and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’
It’s a puzzling and disturbing reading. Jesus is in a home, privately, and a Greek woman bursts in, asking him to heal her daughter. Jesus’ reply is quite brusque. ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ (‘children’ meaning children of Israel, Jews, and ‘dogs’ meaning, non-Jews like her). But the woman is quick- witted and is not to be put off. ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs!’ He realises that here is a woman in need, a fellow human being, and he responds. ‘Go home: the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and her daughter was well.
Why was Jesus so brusque, – and I dare to say it in all reverence – so racist even?
That is not our normal image of Jesus, but consider… he was the Son of God made man. ‘He emptied himself of all but love.’ He was no longer all-knowing, all-powerful. He was a human being, of his own day and age. And as such, he brought with him, as we all do, the mind set of his age, the times in which he lived. That’s what being human entails. It is quite familiar for us to think of the boy Jesus growing in wisdom and stature. And that was a process continuing throughout his life, as it is, hopefully, with us all.
We are people of our own day and age, formed by the world we grew up in…
The older among us will still remember the early post war years, when there was understandably much negative feeling towards Germans. That has now largely, but, sadly, not entirely gone. In the United Reformed Church’s many relations with the German churches, in which I have been involved, I have made many friends. We have grown out of old prejudices into a positive attitude.
But back to Jesus. Think of his positive attitude to Samaritans (non-orthodox Jews) in that familiar parable. And think, too, of his positive attitude to the soldiers who crucified him. Yes, ROMAN soldiers, the arch enemies of his people: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’
And as the man Jesus grew so massively in understanding and sympathy in his short life, he leaves us an example. May we follow it. Amen.
Our hymn this time is Singing the Faith 416 ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.
There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all gladness
In the joy of Christ our Lord.
Our prayers of intercession. Let us pray.
Lord, we sometimes wonder what difference our prayers can make. But then we realise that your Holy Spirit takes our imperfect prayers and, with those of others, turns them into a force for good. And so we can pray in confidence.
We remember, Lord, the land of Afghanistan. We pray that all those entitled to leave may get safely away. And we pray for the new government, that they may rule justly and with regard to the welfare of all. And we think of refugees arriving in our own land. May authorities, churches and the whole community give them a warm welcome. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
Lord, we think of all those affected by extreme weather events: the earthquake in Haiti, and floods and wild fires in so many other places. Be with those who have lost loved ones, and resilience and strength to all whose lives have been disrupted. Guide the authorities as they deal with the emergency. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In the past month, all churches were asked to pray about climate change. And we continue that theme now. Lord, remind us that we are stewards of your marvellous creation. Help us to live gently and do all we can to lessen the effects of global warming. Guide the delegates at the upcoming conference in Glasgow that real progress be made. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for our own Christ Church fellowship. As we return to this new normality, help us not to simply return to past ways, but enable us to discard what is now obsolete, and reach out yet further into our wider community and create links with them. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We think of those in our church community and others known to us personally, who need our prayers: the bereaved, people awaiting or receiving medical treatment, people dealing with problems personal to them. We remember them as we pause now… [pause] …Lord bless them and comfort them, and give them guidance and strength. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer..
Lord, we know that you hear our prayers and answer them according to your perfect will. Amen.
Be thou a bright flame before me.
Be thou a guiding star above me.
Be thou a smooth path below me.
Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me
now and for ever. Amen Revd Tony Coates