Prayers of Approach
Gracious God, as, together, we come to you today, we acknowledge our mixed emotions and our differing gifts and needs. May a desire to serve unite us. May the truth of the gospel encourage us. And may the example of your Son inspire us.
We pray for all who come to worship today: for those who lead worship; for those who are worshipping for the first time; for those who come more out of habit than conviction; for those considering their vocation; for those for whom faith has become a struggle; and for those unable to get to a service today. Lord, surround each one of them – of us – with your grace, your truth, and your love.
We thank you, Lord Jesus, that you are our teacher and our friend. Encourage us when we are low, and challenge us when we are complacent; lift us up when we fall, and check our stride when we lack humility; that together we might live with honesty, serve with humility, and pray with confidence. In your name. Amen.
Hymn O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (R&S 187)
Readings: Micah 3:5-12
There is a radical streak running throughout the Bible that challenges human presumptions and invites us to see ourselves as God sees us. Not to put us down, but to encourage us to value ourselves as we are valued by God, who loves us and meets us in Jesus Christ. Today’s readings challenge us to make sure that power and status do not become more important than they ought to be.
Micah proclaims a strong judgement on the false practices of the rulers of Israel warning them against much the same attitudes and problems that Jesus condemns centuries later. Jesus laments much that has gone wrong in the practice of faith in his day. He accuses the scribes and Pharisees of not doing what they teach. He tells the crowd and his disciples that they have but one teacher, and one Father in heaven. He teaches about humility, contrasting its qualities with the ostentatious behaviour of those who seek to exert power and influence. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled; the humble will be exalted. Paul, too, writing to the Thessalonians, reflects on the power and importance of gentle, honourable behaviour.
Hymn Brother, sister, let me serve you (R&S 474)
I’m writing this at Westminster College in Cambridge where I am attending the URC Ministers’ pre-retirement course. It’s over 30 years since I began my ministerial studies here (and 15 years since I last visited) and it has been quite a time of remembrance – a mix of nostalgia, thanksgiving and spotting the changes among the still familiar features of the college. In some ways it is as if nothing has changed and yet there are many differences, some obvious, some not so. But it is the people who I shared time with here who loom the largest, some of whom I kept in touch with but others too who I had almost forgotten. They all influenced my life and ministry but it is mostly those who taught me who have left the greatest impression.
I can safely say that none of them were there because of the status and privilege it gave them but more out of a genuine desire to pass on the delights of studying God’s word and serving God’s people. They were not perfect, they made mistakes and I was frequently at loggerheads with one or another of them (though often the mistakes were mine) and with only one exception I trusted and admired them. Unfortunately it is not always so with teachers and leaders, as Micah and Jesus remind us.
Jesus challenges the false living of some scribes and Pharisees, and in particular their love of status, position and privilege. Like Micah, and rather like a modern-day whistle-blower, Jesus speaks out against malpractice. It is a sober message to the church of today, and to our own modern lifestyles. Speaking the truth, particularly speaking the truth to power, just as in Micah and
Jesus’ days, can be very difficult and in some circumstances dangerous, especially for so-called whistle-blowers.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood the Law to be a means to holiness by providing separation from the rest of the world. Jesus offers a radically different approach. He does not change the Law; rather he fulfils it, by showing that its purpose is not to make you different, but to make you godly. The minutiae of the Law are not as important as its overriding characteristics: love, mercy and justice. Holiness is what unites God’s people rather than offering separation from the world. How can our churches today fulfil our calling to be communities that strive for unity in individual and corporate relationships, so that we can speak into a fragmented and individualistic society?
Hymn I want to walk with Jesus Christ (R&S 367)
Prayers of intercession
Lord God, we pray for those who are carrying heavy burdens: those who carry the burden of grief and loss of loved ones. May they know your peace.
Lord God, we pray for those who are carrying heavy burdens: those who carry the burden of infirmity or sickness. May they know your healing presence.
Lord God, we pray for those who are carrying heavy burdens: those who carry the expectations of others, especially children and young people. May they know your will in their lives.
Lord God, we pray for those who are carrying heavy burdens: those who govern and lead us, those who teach, those who manage and administrate. May they know humility in their dealings with others.
Lord Jesus, you carried the heaviest burden of all – that we might be free: free to worship, free to live our lives without fear, content in the knowledge that your strength is sufficient for each day. Teach us not to burden ourselves.
Give us the strength to unburden ourselves as we bring to you the things that are troubling us.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In these troubled times when we feel helpless in the face of a violent world we pray for peace:
We pray for peace, where there is no peace: where words are not enough to bind the broken hearted, to heal the hurt, to erase the memories and bring back the dead.
We pray for peace, where there is no peace: where too few words are spoken to quell anxiety, to demonstrate love, to bring reassurance.
We pray for peace, where there is no peace: where too many words are spoken to scorn and deride, to spread prejudice and hatred, to ridicule and belittle.
We pray for the peace that comes when individuals put down their guns and stones, when neighbours forget that they have enemies, and when communities welcome the strangers within their gates.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the peace of the land we call holy; we pray for the peace of the world, the peace of creation whom God pronounced Good. Amen.
Hymn O Jesus I have promised (R&S 509)
Lord Jesus, lead us this week into opportunities where we can serve you by serving one another. Help us walk the week humbly with our God, uplifted by your presence, guided by your Spirit, and cherished in your love. Help us to look to the good of others, be great at giving encouragement, and to bless as we are blessed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.