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Sunday 26th September 2021
Call to Worship
Leader : Let restless hearts be still,
let worried minds be at peace;
ALL : we are in the presence of God.
Leader : Let faith become stronger,
let hope become brighter;
ALL : we are in the presence of God.
Leader : Let love be known in our midst,
let the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts;
ALL : we are in the presence of God.
Hymn 113 – God the Father of creation
Gospel Reading Mark 9 : 38 – 50 Read by Hazel Watson / Morag Munro
Call to prayer
Prayer of Adoration, confession and renewal
we gather as your people to worship you,
to praise you for being here amongst us,
and to thank you that, for all your greatness and goodness,
you welcome us into your presence.
We come with all our weakness and with all our failings,
rejoicing that in Christ we have been made new
that, through him, you have set your mark upon us,
and called us to be your people.
We join together this day to lay our lives before you,
to step aside from the business and rush of life
our daily activities,
we come as complex people with
our doubts as well as our faith,
our sorrows as well as our joy,
our despair as well as our hopes,
we bring our whole self,
knowing that you welcome us
regardless of our faults and failings,
and so we come,
not with pride or any sense of conceit,
recognizing that you know us through and through.
Gladly we live and move and have our being in you,
and we ask your forgiveness for our own brokenness and the ways that we wound our lives,
the lives of others and the life of the world.
We ask your forgiveness,
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Help us to be truly holy people,
reflecting your love,
and showing your compassion
In the week ahead.
To the glory of your name we pray.
Sermon Mark 9: 38-50
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet he penned these words spoken by Ophelia “we know what we are, but not what we may be”. Our identity is something that grows over time, and is influenced by a multitude of factors. Identity formation is brought about by direct and indirect influences, whilst some contend it is largely forged on our own, most of our sense of self comes from the communities that we belong to, our family of origin, country, school, culture, our peer group, the experiences we are part of as we grow up. Arguably, yes, there is influence on our part through our own likes and dislikes, but they form part of our openness to other external experiences. In this sense we could say our identity is given to us, not purely created by us.
What makes you, you? How would you define yourself? By your accomplishments or your history, by past critical experiences, relationships, your CV? Who or what had the most influence in shaping your self-image, perhaps family or friend, or even the world of media and the overwhelming flurry of perfection that we try to achieve?
Before we descend down a veritable rabbit hole of introspection, and start analysing ourselves, identity is one of the key themes in the gospel passage we look at today. When reading or hearing this passage we are immediately gripped by the shock factor and disturbing brutality, exorcism, anger and outrageous statement. How can this be part of a gospel of healing and reconciliation, where is the part to love thy neighbour? It leaves us slightly taken aback, and not a little quizzical. And we can only imagine Jesus’ disciples similarly.
The community that Mark is writing about is struggling with their identity, who they are, what they believe, and what they might become. It is easy to think that this is Jesus giving his followers a telling off, and asking them not to focus on what people are doing around them, but instead focus on their own actions, on what really matters, on avoiding those pitfalls that would make them stray from the path before them as wholesome followers of Jesus.
Theologians when writing about these verses remind us that the early churches didn’t always agree. Mark is writing to address some of those problems his followers are having with other Christians. We understand the churches were not all united in their beliefs, sometimes they clashed with each other, and occasionally even berated one another over differences in practice and theology, which sounds not unlike the church today. In essence Mark is trying to help his congregation answer the question of who they are. Will they, he asks, define themselves over and against other Christians or will they discover their identity in their attempt to follow Jesus, to care for the vulnerable, and to avoid those things that are destructive to the community.
There may well have been pretenders or copycats of Jesus, and John in his naivety spots one, and tries to reign him in. In his eyes this man is robbing Jesus of his power. What if some of the passersby thought he was actually Jesus! To his mind he is not following Jesus rules, he’s not behaving as he should, he should tow the line and behave. Jesus will not be drawn into it, “stay focussed John, if this man is preaching for us, he is not against us, if he speaks good of me now, it will be hard for him to speak evil of me later. He’s an ally, not a foe”. But it shows that John had already created in his mind the identity of what makes a true follower.
The way of Christ is one of bringing healing and wholeness into the world. It is not about worrying what others are doing to facilitate creating the Realm of God. If they aren’t against us, they are for us. We need to attend to our own level of saltiness. If we pay too much attention to what others are doing, we’ve lost something vital and, perhaps, gained a millstone. How can we ensure that we are focused on being the salt that is so desperately needed in the midst of so much suffering?
Around the world there seem to be too many people crying out to have their story heard and believed. The people of Afghanistan, struggling to come to terms with a change in culture and reversal of equality for women. The bubbling uncertainty of world poverty and famine, which seems to have slipped from the news, yet millions still can’t afford food or the basic essentials to live. The increasing understanding of climate change and the effect on peoples lives.
It is hard to remain faithful when the world around, for some, seems to be in freefall chaos. Our God is a liberating God, and it is never God’s desire for anyone to remain trapped in suffering. Churches and people of faith can bring salt and light to the world, how do we regain our saltiness that flavours the world and heals the wounds. We are neither invisible nor insignificant, our identity matters.
Identity is a hard thing to discover, we don’t come into this world knowing who we are, where we’ve come from, or where we’re going. Which is why days like today are important. In the Sacrament of Baptism, whether we are the smallest baby or the oldest adult, God’s blessing on us shapes us and our identity, it flavours our history and sets our compass, it builds our culture and says something unique and caring about us and the community around us that supports, encourages and nurtures.
Our souls are precious, and we are to be refined, and preserved as if with salt, and so we in turn are to become the preservers, not of grotesque acts, but of peace. We are called to live up to the love that God has placed within us. For us to be whole people of God, we need to let our hands and our feet lead us, carry us, take us to where those who are in danger of stumbling are, so we can steady them and ourselves. Amen
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
Wise and comforting God,
you gather us each week
each from wherever our week has led us,
difficulties, concerns, joys and thankfulness,
and we come to you in prayer,
bringing with us the needs of the world.
We give thanks
that, despite our human frailty
and our sometimes weak hold on you,
we have confidence in the gospel
that nothing can destroy or spoil or wither
the hope and love that you have for us.
God, you have created a world full of abundance
teach us to live graciously in our sharing.
We pray for those whose identity
is shaped by scarcity;
food, clean water, shelter and healthcare.
We who have much are encouraged to live in generosity,
to be salt for the world
bringing back its flavour
so that many more may live lives
filled with variety, opportunity and health.
We pray for those whose identity is challenged,
where politics or regime have oppressed,
where exploitation has made people
a commodity to buy or sell,
where lives have been made less than they should,
may they be filled with the salt of life
to bring back flavour and fullness to their humanity.
Lord, you call us to be salt for this earth,
to be preservers of your peace,
as we travel today
passports of your humility
reaching out to the world around,
let us bring your light to shine, and love be known.
This we pray through your Son, our Lord,
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name
your kingdom come
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Hymn 616 – There’s a spirit in the air
Go now clothed in strength and dignity
Glad of Gods presence in your life,
His word to sustain you,
And let our actions arise from the wisdom of God.
Thank you for joining with me for this time of worship.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Be with you this day and everyday. Amen