Welcome to the Church
Jesus says “Come to me all who are weary, and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28,30).
So, trusting in that promise, we come to worship. The weary and the energetic. The burdened and the joyful. The old and the young. Those who know God, and those who seek God.
We come as one people from different backgrounds, with different expectations and needs, but we come together to praise God, who knows each of us and calls us to hear the scriptures read and seek God’s word in them and to pray for ourselves, each other, and for the whole world.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Lord, we come to you as we are, called to be your people. We praise you for all the gifts of human life, for the richness of creation, for our fellowship as your people, for the freedom to worship you, for the time we are able to spend wherever we might be honouring you.
We praise you because we are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are with us in the heights and the depths, you are a light in the darkness - your hand guides us, and holds us fast.
We praise you because even when we were far off, you sent your son to save us, to bring us back to you.
But Lord, we come to you as we are: aware of our own humanity, our own shortcomings, and so we confess:
We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
By what we have said, and by what we have left unsaid.
We have stood by and witnessed injustice,
We have stayed silent when we should have spoken out,
We have looked away from the suffering of others,
We have turned away from those who have cried out for help,
And we have not been merciful to those in need.
We have counted our own blessings,
And not been generous with them.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves,
And most of all, we have not loved you with our whole heart;
We ask you Lord to search us and know us,
To discern our thoughts, and for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Trust in God’s name.
Be assured of God’s presence, always.
Know that God hears our cries of pain and fear;
That even when we are far off, God reaches out to us in his son.
...hear then Christ’s word of grace to us: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Come as you are
Bible Reading: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25
Psalm 139 - The Inescapable God
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Every Breath You Take – Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
For the first ten days of July, Beth and I went on a driving holiday in western NSW. Regional NSW is still in drought, or recovering from drought, and/or recovering from bushfires, and part of our plan was to spend money in areas that need it.
And it was a great holiday, we went to many interesting places, we ate a lot of good food, we stayed in nice accommodation, we learned some things, we supported local businesses, and we had a great time. I thoroughly recommend it.
But, we were travelling in the Covid-19 era. And things are different. Some places are only just opening up for tourists – Parkes radio telescope (‘the dish’) had only reopened a couple of days before we got there. And they’d removed the outside door handle from the café, so they could absolutely control the number of people inside. Finding dinner in Bathurst on a Friday night was a challenge – because although most places were open, the four square metre rule meant that there weren’t many seats available. And most places we went, we had to sanitize our hands, and give our name and phone number in case contact tracing was necessary.
We’d driven through a couple of average speed camera zones, too – where they take a photo of your car at the beginning and end of a section of road to make sure you haven’t been going to fast. And, of course, between home and the blue mountains we’d driven on tollways, , so there would’ve been an e-tag record of our trip as well.
Many places preferred that we not pay in cash, and paying by card meant that there was another way of tracing us should that have been necessary, and Beth and I both had the Covid-safe app on our phones as well.
I think it if it were necessary to track where we’d been and who we’d had contact with, it would be fairly easy to do so.
There are often privacy concerns with such things, of course. But at least in the current circumstances, I found it reassuring. If I’ve been exposed to the virus, I’ll probably find out sooner rather than later, and if I’ve inadvertently exposed anyone else, then there will be a way (or many ways) for the authorities to alert them.
But I get people’s concerns with such things though. And I hope and pray that at some point we won’t need to undertake such extensive surveillance, and that we will, as a society, stop doing it.
Back in 1983, the band The Police, released a song titled “Every breath you take”. It topped the US charts for eight weeks, and reached number two in Australia. It’s gone on to be covered multiple times, used in advertising campaigns, and has even become a disturbingly popular choice for elevator music.
Of course, it came out the year before 1984, with the dystopian future portrayed by George Orwell in mind. And Big Brother watching , was reflected in the lyrics:
Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I'll be watching you
The musician, Sting, who wrote the song later said he was disconcerted by how many people thought the song’s tone was positive! He insisted it was about the obsession with a lost lover, the jealousy and surveillance -stalking- that follows. One couple told him 'Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!'
Rather than hearing the sinister Every Breath you take, every move you make, the couple had heard it quite differently; it was, to them, a song about being together, watching out for each other, knowing each other intimately well, a song about belongingness. The need to belong, to be accepted, is an important human need.
We have this need to belong, but we are often afraid of being rejected for who we are. Not just for things we have done, but for the thoughts that we might have. Things that we are embarrassed about, or afraid of people finding out about. We worry; if the people who love us really knew what we were like, on the inside, would they still love us? Our past, our darkest thoughts? Our selfish motives, our petty rivalries? If others were to search us, to perceive our thoughts and were familiar with all our ways, would they still accept us?
And today’s psalm has been used – is used – to tap into those fears. ‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… you perceive my thoughts from afar…you are familiar with all my ways’. We can so easily get an image of the ‘cosmic policeman God’. God sitting in heaven getting ready to throw thunderbolts at we unworthy sinners. The God who will smite those who displease him. Big Brother God. Every breath you take, every move you make, God is watching you.
And if you make just one wrong move… well ZAP! You’re done for.
But… I don’t think that’s not image of God that this psalm really gives: The tone of this psalm isn’t dark: It’s not a psalm of lament or fear; it’s a psalm of praise.
David knows that God searches him, knows him, perceives his thoughts, is familiar with his ways, and yet David’s response is not to cower in fear, but rather it’s to praise God!
David says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” - and remember this is David. Slayer of Goliath, but also King David: adulterer, murderer, liar… What an amazing thing to pray – I wonder how many of us would pray such a thing?
In fact, I understand that the original Hebrew can be legitimately translated as ‘I praise you because I am awesomely wonderful!’. How does that sit with you? Do you think you’re awesomely wonderful? Do you know many awesomely wonderful people?
I wonder… It’s easy enough to be modest, to see your own faults, and even easier to see the faults of your friends and relatives…
Of course there are many good reasons, biblically sound reasons, to not wander about claiming to be awesomely wonderful, but sometimes it is worth thinking about: We are all part of God’s creation, and, after all, we read in Genesis that ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (1:31a).
We do fall short of everything that God desires us to be, but God, the God who created us, calls us to be reconciled to him. God calls us to come to him as we are.
The fact that God knows us for who we really are - for who we are when no one else is looking - should not scare us. Think about it: for all the things David had done, God hadn’t struck him down. And whatever you might have done, or said, or thought, God hasn’t struck you down either!
That’s not to say that God doesn’t want you to turn away from whatever those things might be, to ‘repent of your sins’ as are fond of saying in in church. And it’s not to say there won’t be consequences to what we do wrong, either. But it’s saying that God is accepting of you.
So far from being scary, the fact that God knows each one of us so well, can be reassuring.
And it’s the not just God’s knowledge of us that is assuring, but also God’s very presence.
Things are always worse when you’re alone.
But this psalm reassures us that we’re never completely alone, “You hem me in behind and before, you lay your hand upon me”. Whatever dark place David was in, God was there. Whatever dark place we are in, God is there.
Verses 7 to 12 of this Psalm explore this further: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol [the underworld], you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast”
“If I say ‘surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not be dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (139:7-12)
Again, these verses are often thought of in a negative way, that David is contemplating fleeing from God, and deciding that such a thing is impossible. I suggest that David is contemplating the presence of God, rather than dwelling on the futility of trying to flee from God. The light that David describes is not a searchlight, seeking out a fugitive, it is a helpful light. And of course this imagery is echoed in the opening of John’s gospel, when John says of Jesus “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5)
So God knows us, and God is with us. God loves us. Even though God knows us, God loves us.
And then we wonder: Why does God love us?
I think that the Psalm does give us an answer – it might not be a complete answer, but I think it is a good one.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” says David, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in that secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God loves us because he created us: God the Father, creator and the giver of life. God cares for us as a parent cares for his or her children. We who have been made in God’s image are loved by the God who made us. We may have turned away from God, collectively and individually, but he made us, and he longs for our return to him.
Even when were are separated from God, God is filled with compassion for us and provides us with the means of reconciliation to him.
But we shouldn’t leave this psalm with a sense of smugness, we shouldn’t go away just being confident that God loves us and that we are, in fact, pretty awesomely wonderful.
Because, though we might be awesomely wonderful - fearfully and wonderfully made – we need to remember that were made that by God. However awesomely wonderful we may be, that doesn’t come close to the awesome wonderfulness of the God who made us.
This psalm is a song or prayer of praise, and it’s a great model of a prayer of praise for us. Our prayers are so often of repentance, of petition and of thanksgiving, and we seldom take time to offer praise.
This psalm is about God, not about us. It is very personal – it’s all ‘I’ and ‘You’ language, but it focuses on God, not David. It’s about how wonderful God is, but it is also about God’s relationship with David (and, it follows, God’s relationship with us). This is a psalm praising God’s knowledge, God’s presence, and God’s creativity.
And we can learn something about how we should be responding to God, relating to God, and relating to each other. The psalm reflects the profound connection between God and God’s people.
I mentioned earlier the human need for belongingness. We need to appreciate that need, and just as God meets that need, we should seek to do that as well.
And in saying that, that belongingness, isn’t just about God knowing facts about us. David says “you have searched me…”,“You discern my thoughts…”, “[you] are acquainted with all my ways”. At the risk of sounding like an insurance ad: it’s about understanding not just knowledge.
And when we do get to know people, get to understand them, then we need to be accepting too. Our getting to know people shouldn’t be an act of collecting facts about what’s wrong with people. We shouldn’t be judging – and while judgement is a theme that comes up often in the bible; the gospels, and Paul’s letters, make it clear the judgement is not up to us.
We need to be accepting, and that’s not really about being accepting of the hypothetical homeless person who happens to wander into a church on a Sunday morning. Rather, it’s about accepting the person who appreciates different aspects of worship. Or who dresses differently. Or who has a more liberal or more conservative understanding of God than you do. Or perhaps votes a different way to you.
But in all of this, we need to, as David did, take time to appreciate God, to realise how God knows us and to praise God in response.
Praise God because you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Every breath you take, every move you make, God is watching you.
But God is not just watching. God is there with you. God knows you. God cares for you. And God loves you.
Hymn: Jesus loves me
Gracious and loving God, the Psalmist reminds us that “You are our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble”.
Lord God, we feel deeply that our world is in trouble with the spread of the coronavirus.
There is a heightened sense of fear and anxiety about the future.
We ask that we may calmly and lovingly trust in You, and care for all who are affected by this pandemic. Grant them strength and wisdom. We pray for all who feel stressed and worried, that they might find peace and reassurance.
May all our congregations be places of empathy, compassion and calm, in all we face.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
for what shall we pray, O God?
where there is death, let us offer life,
where there is brokenness, let us be healers,
where there is loneliness, let us offer a welcome.
for what shall we pray, O Jesus?
where there is cruelty, let us seek justice,
where there is bitterness, let us sow kindness,
where there is hatred, let us offer hands of love.
for what shall we pray O Spirit?
where there is anger, let us be the breath of hope,
where there is violence, let us be peacemakers,
for what shall we pray?
for more tenderness than tensions, for more listening than lecturing,
for more forgiving than pointing fingers, for more concern for the forgotten than the favoured,
for more humanity than hatred.
hear our prayers, God in Community, hear our prayers, Amen.
“ Everyday Life” these are the lyrics of a song
Sung by a Band called COLD PLAY
What in the world are we going to do?
Look at what everybody’s going through
What kind of world do you want it to be?
Am I the future or the history?
‘Cause everyone hurts, everyone cries
Everyone tells each other all kinds of lies
Everyone falls, everybody dreams and doubts
Got to keep dancing when the lights go out
How in the world I am going to see?
You as my brother, not my enemy?
‘Cause everyone hurts, everyone cries
Everyone sees the color in each other’s eyes
Everyone loves, everybody gets their hearts ripped out
Got to keep dancing when the lights go out
Gonna keep dancing when the lights go out
Hold tight for everyday life….
At first light, throw my arms out open wide
O God, we pray this day:
for all who have a song they cannot sing,
for all who have a burden they cannot bear,
for all who live in chains they cannot break,
for all who wander homeless and cannot return,
for those who are sick and for those who tend them,
for those who wait for loved ones and wait in vain,
for those who live in hunger
and for those who will not share their bread,
for those who are misunderstood,
and for those who misunderstand,
for those who are captives
and for those who are captors,
for those whose words of love
are locked within their hearts
and for those who yearn to hear those words.
Have mercy upon these, O God. Have mercy on us all.
This is an expanded version of the The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
Our Creator, you are all around us and within us.
hallowed be thy name.
We praise you with many different names.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
Help us live as we understand we should from knowing you in harmony and connectedness with each other,
on earth as it is in heaven.
With all creatures of the earth, and with the earth and the universe itself.
Give us this day our daily bread,
Help us to use your resources wisely So that we might be sustained.
and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Help us take responsibility when we fail to live harmoniously,
And help us understand and forgive when others let us down.
And lead us not into temptation,
Let us know you well enough that we are not tempted to live outside of your love.
but deliver us from evil,
and empower us to work together to overcome evil.
for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
We believe that you created the world and that you will be all around us and within us forever.
Hymn: I will sing the wondrous story
St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans (12:6,8):
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:
whoever contributes, with generosity;
whoever gives help, with enthusiasm;
whoever does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
we set before you our gifts as signs that we are yours,
that we are committed to the mercy and faithfulness,
to the justice and peace, which Christ has come to bring.
Grant that in whatever we undertake
we may be empowered by your Spirit
to do it in the name of Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit for ever and ever.
As we finish our time of worship: The weary and the energetic. The burdened and the joyful. The old and the young. Those who know God, and those who seek God. Be assured that God knows you, that God loves you, that God is with you always, and that God calls you to him.
Even if you don’t feel it, you are created in the image of God and you are awesomely wonderful.
So as you go, go with the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This week's looking out: How Long?
Next Week (26 July 2020):
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Genesis 29:15-28 or 1 Kings 3:5-12
Matt 13:31-33, 44-52
1 Kings 3:5-12, Matthew 6:25-34
Theme “Wise choices”