Prayers of Approach
Father of light, of truth and wisdom, we worship you and adore you. Turn us inside out as we come to you today. Let our light shine through you in the darkness, most merciful and gracious God. Amen.
Unchanging God, refresher, healer and restorer, give us wisdom and discernment today, as we come to seek you and to hear you, to be still and present with you, to be transformed.
Open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. to be quick to see where you are at work; quick to listen for your word; quick to offer love and hope, and slow to judge.
May we bring to you not only the words on our lips, but the praise in our hearts. May we bring our honesty and bravery, our anxiety and fears, all that we carry in our hearts. May we meet with Jesus, who accepts us – flaws and all – with forgiveness and grace.
Hymn: Your words to me are life and health (R&S 321)
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
This week’s readings encourage us to examine our lives again and again, to make sure that our behaviour conforms to God’s law rather than to our own preferences and prejudices. Some Pharisees and scribes accuse Jesus’ disciples of eating with unwashed hands. Jesus tells the Pharisees that it is what is inside the heart that is important. He says that they honour God with their lips but not their hearts. It is not what goes into a person’s body that defiles a person, but rather the words and actions that can come from the inside.
The choices we make and the words we speak reflect what is important to us, the values that we hold. How do the choices we make reflect the values we hold? The purity of our faith is properly measured by the extent and effectiveness of our compassion and care for others.
Hymn: Come Lord, to our souls come down (R&S 361)
We all live with many rules and ‘laws’ in our daily lives, many of which we take for granted and are so ingrained that we hardly notice them anymore. But some practices and laws are more unusual and may bring us up short at times. Every so often someone makes a list of odd laws that are still in force. Here’s one that appeared in a newspaper a while ago.
The top ten weirdest laws in Britain today
1. All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the Reigning Monarch
2. No person shall, in the course of a business, import into England, potatoes which he knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, are from Poland
3. It is Illegal to be drunk in the pub
4. It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement (as well as any ladder, wheel, pole, cask, placard, showboard, or hoop) in the Metropolitan Police District
5. MPs are not allowed to wear armour in Parliament
6. It is an offence to be drunk and in charge of cattle in England and Wales
7. It is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances
8. It is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat (except door mats before 8am) in a thoroughfare in the Metropolitan Police District
9. It is illegal to jump the queue in the Tube ticket hall
10. It is illegal to activate your burglar alarm without first nominating a ‘Key-Holder’ who can switch it off in your absence
When first enacted these laws probably all had a good reason but now they seem rather strange. God’s laws have a much longer ‘shelf life’ being relevant for all time. However there is still a danger that we can misinterpret or ritualise God’s law to such an extent that we lose their true meaning. Moses, in instructing the people of Israel to obey God’s law, warns them not to add anything to it or subtract from it, but to live it.
Car number plates in some American states have catchphrases or slogans – e.g. the state of Illinois’ slogan is ‘Land of Lincoln’. In Missouri, it is ‘Show Me State’. As Moses speaks to the people of Israel, he asks them to show by their actions that they are obeying the law. They need to show that they belong to a nation of people who are wise because of the justice and wisdom of their laws, and because they follow them in the way they live.
We have sayings that express a similar theme – e.g. ‘actions speak louder than words’ – as well as, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the complete opposite. ‘Do as I say and not as I do!’ is the ultimate motto for the hypocrite. What we do matters, and what we do needs to back up what we say. Otherwise we qualify for Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees. How well do our actions match – and reveal – what we believe and say?
Jesus might have approved if the washing advocated by the Pharisees had been an act of kindness for someone who was vulnerable and needed protection. Washing our hands has become an important part of our lives since the pandemic, and is an effective way to prevent the spread of infection, but for the Pharisees it was merely obedience to pedantic rules. We have been encouraged to sing a song or a verse of a hymn to make sure we wash our hands for a full 20 seconds, and at the start of the pandemic it was quite amusing to listen to children singing ‘happy birthday to you’ as they washed their hands. But are we sometimes more dedicated to the idea of the ritual than to its practice and the reason for it – just as the Pharisees were to their rituals?
Things can very quickly become rituals and we soon cease to notice what it is that we are doing. What rules, written or unwritten, are important to us – or to our church? Are they justified? What might visitors or newcomers think about them? Learning to live as Jesus’ disciples should change us and inform the way we live with one another. We need to take time to learn from him and from one another, to share, love and care for one another, and support each other in our Christian values, so that our words and actions come from our hearts.
Hymn: Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us (R&S 373)
Prayers of Intercession
Lord we come to you with thanksgiving.
We thank you for our communities, that you have set us where you want us to be. Thank you for those who support us. and the strength you give us to help each other. Thank you that you can turn us inside out as we work together to make our communities the places you want them to be. Thank you for the strength to be doers and hearers of the word. Thank you that every perfect gift is from you.
God of justice, we live in an unjust world, but your blessings surround us, and so we pray for our world. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, for all the blessings we enjoy today.
We name in our hearts the blessings we enjoy today.
Blessed be God for ever.
We pray for those who are unable to join us today, because of sickness in body, mind or spirit. Lord, pour your blessings upon them.
We pray for those who know the pain of recent bereavement, or who still nurse a wound from past grief, Lord, pour your blessings upon them.
We pray for those who suffer violence and abuse, those caught up in war, or who suffer persecution for their faith,
Lord, pour your blessings upon them.
We pray for victims of natural disaster, earthquake, wildfires or floods, and those who suffer because of climate change,
Lord, pour your blessings upon them.
We pray for those who are hungry or homeless, Lord, pour your blessings upon them.
And we thank you, Lord, because your Word has comforted us. Blessed be God for ever.
Support us as we listen and decide, that we may become doers as well as hearers of the Word, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God for ever. Amen.
Hymn: Lord, thy church on earth is seeking (R&S 579)
Lord, go with us into our everyday lives, to honour you in all that we do and say. May our being and doing reflect your love and your grace. And when we next meet, may we recognise with thanks the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Prayers and other material adapted © ROOTs for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.