Prayers of Approach
God of all truth and all wisdom, of all authority and all power, we come together as your people in this place, to reflect on the words of your prophets, to be inspired by the words and actions of your Son, Jesus, to be challenged by the spirit of your laws, to discern the will for us individually and as a church, to offer you our prayers and praises, and to grow closer in fellowship with you and one another.
God, thank you that we do not have to seek you on our own. As the people who gathered in crowds and synagogues recognised together the authority of Jesus, so may we work together as a community to recognise your voice in our worship and our lives.
God of all ages, in you is found all wisdom, all wonder, all love. Lord Jesus, in you is found all healing, all truth, all goodness. Holy Spirit, in you is found all power, all cleansing, all enabling. And so, as one and as many, we lift our hearts to you in awe, in reverence and in humility. Amen.
Hymn To God be the glory (R&S 289)
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
In our reading from Deuteronomy Moses, speaking to the people, says that one day God will send another prophet like him. This prophet will speak God’s words with God’s full authority, such that anyone who refuses to listen will be held accountable by God. The people are also warned against listening to false prophets. An authentic prophet’s words will prove to be true.
In this week’s Gospel reading, people are astounded by the authority with which Jesus teaches. In the passage from Deuteronomy, we hear of a prophet into whose mouth God will put his words. Both of these readings encourage us to consider the authority of those who seek to influence us.
Hymn Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it (R&S 268)
‘Nice sermon/service today!’ They are words that I have often heard as people leave church, and I’m sure I have probably said them myself occasionally. How many times have you said something similar? It might be worth pondering, in the light of today’s readings, whether we are too comfortable in church? Are we challenged, excited, given hope or help or provoked to action or change? We do not expect services to be disrupted, or interrupted, except by late arrivals or crying babies! However, if you read about the occasions when Jesus attends a synagogue or the Temple, something unexpected almost inevitably happens. It is sometimes said that Jesus disturbs the comfortable, and comforts the disturbed.
Today’s readings are all about ‘authority’. Moses tells the people about the prophet who will be appointed by God as his successor, who will speak God’s words and who they are commanded to listen to. In Jesus’ time there was an urgent hope that the prophecy of Deuteronomy would again be fulfilled, that there would arise a prophet like Moses whose relationship with God would give new life to Israel. Jesus is explicitly recognised as one with such personal authority to bring the Scriptures to life powerfully in the present, ‘not as the scribes’ who only copied out what had been written in the past.
Mark tells us that the people who heard Jesus teach in the Capernaum synagogue ‘were astounded at his teaching.’ ‘Astounded’ is a very strong word. When were you last astounded by the teaching you heard in church? What on earth did Jesus say to create this effect? Were the hearers astounded not so much by what was said as by the manner in which it was said? We are not told about Jesus’ words, but about how he spoke them: ‘as one having authority’.
So where does authority come from and what does it mean to have authority? We often talk about power and authority as if they are the same, but although they do often go together they are in reality very different. Dictators have power (backed up by armed force) but do they have authority? Different types of rule and rulers claim authority from a variety of sources. Theocracy is rule from God, hierocracy by anointed priests, plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, and a meritocracy by those who deserve, are best fitted or have earned the right to rule.
In a democracy authority to rule is delegated by people voting who should represent them in making decisions on their behalf. It comes from the Greek words ‘demos’ – people – and ‘kratos’ – power or rule, so literally means ‘people power’. But what does ‘true authority’ mean, and where do we find it? Can anyone except God – or Jesus, ‘the Holy One of God’ – truly offer it? We have to find ways of dealing authoritatively with attitudes, beliefs and opinions that seem to threaten our own, but to do so while respecting the integrity of others. As Christians, we recognise God’s authority, and we look to both the words and actions of Jesus to reveal it. If someone claims to have authority today, we are right to ask: do their actions match their words? And what is the fruit of those words?
Hymn You are the king of glory (R&S 271)
Prayers of Intercession
Living God, we praise you for the people you have called to speak your words of power to us and to our world – words of life and death, of opportunity and risk, of comfort and challenge, of wisdom and clarity.
Help us to step out to the rhythm of their beat, the beat of justice, of compassion, of reverence for you, so that we might grow in wisdom and confidence, and sing our life’s story to the music of your gospel.
God of our impressionable world, we pray for the leaders of the nations, that they would be wise, just and compassionate as they exercise their authority. We remember especially those in power in Russia and the Ukraine, in Israel and Palestine, in Yemen and so many troubled places of the world. We remember the governments in the United States, and here in the UK, praying for all leaders as they discern the way forward amid the challenges of taking military action. May your truth be known, and your love be shared in Jesus’ name.
We pray for those facing health problems, for those who are vulnerable, for those who have no medicines or access to health care. We pray for the families, and friends of those who are ill, and those ministering to the dying and the bereaved. May your truth be known, and your love be shared in Jesus’ name.
We pray for those who feel overwhelmed by social or work pressures, for those whose relationships are at breaking point, or who are isolated or alone. We pray for those who have lost their lives to depression, and for their families and friends. We pray too for those whose lives are blighted by anxiety and stress. We pray for the health services and charities trying to support them. May your truth be known, and your love be shared in Jesus’ name.
We pray for your church – around the world and in our own community, we pray for creative ways to serve and to share, for courage and integrity as we listen and pray, for urgency and daring as we respond to the needs around us. May your truth be known, and your love be shared in Jesus’ name.
We pray, in a moment of silence, for all those on our hearts and for all those who have no one to name them in prayer. May your truth be known, and your love be shared in Jesus’ name. Amen
Hymn At the name of Jesus (R&S 261)
Lord, like your first disciples you send us out as sheep among wolves. Teach us to be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves. Remind us that your peace comes with us and your hand is there to guide and encourage. Amen.
Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.