You can watch this video in full-screen mode by clicking the symbol at the bottom right. To follow the order of service as the video plays, scroll to the bottom of the page, and adjust the size of your window to accommodate the video and the scrollable text.
If you prefer to listen to an audio-only version, you can do so here.
Order of Service
Introduction and Call to Worship
Our theme for today’s worship on this 7th Sunday of Pentecost is ‘THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS’. Let us therefore worship our God in Spirit and in Truth.
Our Call to Worship is taken from the words of the Psalmist from Psalm 85 verses 8 – 13:
Love and faithfulness have come together; justice and peace have embraced. Faithfulness appears from earth and justice looks down from Heaven. The Lord will grant prosperity, and our land will yield its harvest. Justice will go in front of him, and peace on the path he treads.
A Gathering Prayer
Almighty God, we praise you that you show us how to use our resources wisely. Help us, as we worship together, to learn more of your ways; to understand that our actions have consequences; and to seek your wisdom in making decisions that may impact on others. This we ask in Jesus’ name.
God moves in a mysterious way
Text: William Cowper (1731-1800)
Tune: London New – from the Scottish Psalter (1635)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession and the Lord’s Prayer
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we adore you as we lay our lives before your eternal throne. We thank you that we can come into your presence, knowing that you care about each and every one of us, and all our needs, however big or small, and are wanting to embrace us in your arms.
You created the heavens and the earth. You put stars into space and filled the mighty seas. Your power and your greatness is all around us—from mountain-tops to the minute detail of a tiny flower.
Thank you that your power and goodness is limitless. We know ourselves to be small in comparison, but you have revealed yourself to us in the beauty of creation and through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to demonstrate the extent of your love for all people everywhere.
Help us in this time of worship to adore and praise your holy name and give you the honour and glory due.
Most merciful Heavenly Father, we ask of Your forgiveness when we have not used our gifts and resources power to be a presence of good in our lives, fellowship, and community but rather used them for our own purposes and gain; when our words or actions have hurt and excluded others; when we have allowed greed, fear and pride to get in the way of the work of Your Kingdom.
Lord, in forgiving, renew and refresh us in Your way so that our thoughts, our words and our actions might glorify You and reveal Your presence and purposes in all that we say, think and do.
Our Father . . .
Introduction to the first reading
There is a theme throughout the Book of Amos that the people of Israel have assumed that God is always on their side. Not so, says Amos; God will judge his chosen people for their moral failings, just as God judges the conduct of other nations.
Reading – Amos 7: 7–15
Organ Interlude: Voluntary in F – Adagio – John Bennett (1735-84)
Introduction to the second reading
This passage from St. Mark’s Gospel is told in retrospect. It begins with Herod’s guilty conscience. Even the mention of Jesus’ amazing ministry immediately makes Herod fearful that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead to torment him. What follows is a tortuous backstory of self-interest, violence and abuse. It is a clash of spiritual and temporal power.
Reading – Mark 6: 14–29
The fame of Jesus had spread, and people were saying:
‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead’ [Mark 6: 14]
Politics and Religion Don’t Mix
There was a news item this last week that caught my attention, but I read with a heavy heart. The article referred to India’s oldest political prisoner, an 84-year-old Jesuit Priest Who was arrested in 2020 and charged under terrorist laws, being accused of orchestrating violence. It seems that Father Stan Swamy, a Priest and human rights activist had spent the last five decades fighting for the rights of a tribal community and was allegedly arrested on fabricated charges. Despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and then catching Covid in prison, the courts continually denied him pre-trial bail, resulting him tragically dying in a prison hospital. An opposition MP is quoted as saying: ‘it is the State that killed Fr. Stan Swamy, who was such a passionate crusader for social justice’. Others added: ‘he was one of the gentlest and kindest men I have known . . . even from prison he grieved not for himself but for the injustice suffered by fellow prisoners’.
We therefore add his name to the myriad of Christian martyrs who have tragically died as a result of them seeking to follow the Way of Christ, by critical word but equally by non-violent means. They have sought to embrace the values of the Kingdom of God which seeks justice and peace for all. Christ’s servants such as Oscar Romero; Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—to mention just three. Giving their lives as a sacrifice—paying the ultimate price for imitating Christ in this troubled world. Jesus said: ‘There is no greater love than a person lays down their life for another’.
This, of course, is nothing new: there are plenty examples in scripture where God’s messengers suffer. Even at the outset of Christ’s own life, his life was threatened by King Herod, his family managing to escape to Egypt and remain there until the threat was over, but 2,000 toddlers were tragically slaughtered in his determination to remove this Child born to be King. Then throughout his ministry the authorities were constantly finding ways to undermine or eliminate him. Jesus was aware of those before him who spoke out against corrupt governments & authorities, saying at one stage: `O Jerusalem, City that murders the Prophets and stones the messengers sent to her! How often have I longed to gather your children, but you would not let me’ [Matthew 23: 37]
A question hung in the air by supporters and critics throughout His ministry: ‘Who is this man?’ Mark gives the peoples’ answer to this question by recalling how he’s seen as John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other great Prophets. It’s somewhat ironic that the uneducated disciples recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, while Herod, likened to a graduate of the Eton of his day, is blind to his true identity and confuses him with John the Baptist in a likely twist of his guilty conscience, having beheaded him at the behest of his niece.
Yet this incident serve to heighten the central overlap of two stories—the death of John and the looming death of Jesus—both by a collusion of religious and secular authorities. The nightmare reality of John’s head on a plate is balanced by the nightmare prediction of Jesus’ own tragic death by crucifixion. Those who confront and condemn corrupt power as we discover too often, can risk everything—including their own lives.
Mark seems to emphasise that the chief actors in both deaths are anxious not to lose face. Herod makes a foolish oath to his niece in front of all the gathered leaders. It’s clear he couldn’t escape the consequences of his offer, which his wife knew only too well. Pilate also finds himself trapped by his reluctance to challenge the religious leaders and the crowd, and is forced to order Jesus’ crucifixion even though he recognises there’s no real justification. The voice of truth and reason is too easily silenced by the convenience of saving ones’ own skin or status.
The Jewish historian Josephus also writes about John’s death (Jewish Antiquities 18.5.2). In his view, it was a political murder, for Herod’s immoral behaviour contravenes the Law of Moses thus, in John’s eyes, making him unacceptable as the ruler of the nation, which he stated publically! Equally, Jesus’ death is shaped by an emphasis on his enemies’ assertion that he claimed to be King of the Jews, and thus was an imminent threat to the occupied forces.
Whether we like it or not, religion and politics are inseparable, and the story of both deaths is a stark reminder that those who seek to take a stand for justice for all can do so at a terrible personal risk. Jesus speaks about discipleship as ‘carrying ones cross daily; entering through the narrow gate; walking the extra mile; leaving self behind; loving ones enemy and praying for persecutors. [Matt 5] He knew only two well the demands that were laid upon himself and those who walked in his way, for he was quick to point out that it required sacrificial love that knows no bounds. Yet the justification is that we have received generously from the Lord, and therefore we ought to give back our lives in like generosity.
I’m reminded of the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola which I had to learn as a child:
Teach us good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will.
Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise
Text: Horatius Bonar (1808-89)
Tune: Billing – Richard R. Terry (1865-1938);
last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929-2019)
A Prayer of Intercession
God of truth and love, we long to be on your side for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, and so we pray for:
Wisdom to understand your will;
Courage to stand up for truth and righteousness;
A deep and trusting faith, that no matter what comes our way, we shall not be overcome or downhearted.
God of truth and love, we long to be on your side in the world, and so we pray for:
Wisdom to have true understanding of the ways of the world;
Courage to stand up against injustice and greed;
A deep and trusting faith, that despite the pressure we might face in living the ways of your
Kingdom, we shall not be overcome or downhearted.
God of truth and love, we long to be on your side alongside others, and so we pray for:
Wisdom to understand and meet the real needs of others, especially those who are crying out in pain or distress this day;
Courage to open ourselves to the cost of sacrificially loving as demonstrated in Christ’s own life;
As well as a deep and trusting faith, that keeps us always in your love, care and protection.
God of truth and love, we long to be on your side as a church fellowship, and so we pray for:
Wisdom to have a true understanding of your Gospel;
Courage to share its Good News with those we encounter each day;
A deep and trusting faith, that enables us to life according to your Will and purposes.
Lord, we now bring before your eternal throne those whom we know in need of our prayers, and we do so the quiet of our hearts and minds:
[a time of silence]
Lord, make us channels of your peace so that where there is hatred we might bring your love; where there is injury, offering your pardon; and where there’s doubt, may we reveal true faith in you. We ask this in the name of the One on whom we set our hope, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
To God be the glory, great things he hath done!
Text: Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tune: To God be the glory – W. Howard Doane (1832-1915)
Reading and Closing Prayer
We close this time of worship with a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus, and a closing prayer before I offer a blessing.
Reading – Ephesians 1: 14b–19
Heavenly Father, from the very beginning of time, we see the relationship between word and action—you spoke and it was so. As we prepare to return to the duties that await, may we be aware of our words and actions. May the Holy Spirit guide us, so that what we say and what we do reflects your kingdom, and breaks down barriers. This we ask in Jesus’ Name.
May the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us and remain with us and all whom we love, both this day and for ever more.
Organ Voluntary: Postlude in D – Healey Willan (1880-1968)