25 October 2020

This week, we extend a warm welcome to Mrs Sheila Telfer, and thank her for leading our service. Music has been recorded at Headingley St Columba URC and, where it is not in the public domain, is used under the terms of our PRS LOML Licence LE-0020656

Order of Service

Organ prelude: Voluntary in D – Vivace – John Alcock (1715 – 1806)

Call to Worship
Let us offer to God the gifts of our hearts:
our longings, and our love;
the gifts of our souls:
our prayers and creativity;
the gifts of our minds:
our thoughts and decisions.
Let us offer to God the best of all we are.

Meekness and Majesty
Words and music: Graham Kendrick (b. 1950)

Prayers of adoration, confession & the Lord’s Prayer
God of love,
you are love. Love is your being, love is your nature, love is your purpose.
You are the source of all love and we praise you, we worship you, we adore you.
We offer afresh to you all the love of our heart, all of our soul and all of our strength.
We rejoice in the love that you have for us and in the delight that you find in us as we express our love for you. We are amazed at the love you have for us and thank you from the depths of our being for the freedom that gives us to enjoy being the people you have made us to be.
As we rejoice in your love for us help us to demonstrate the integrity of our love by loving our neighbours as ourselves.
May our love for you be as sincere on Monday morning as it is on Sunday morning. May our offering of heart, soul and mind be as complete in the home and workplace as it is at Communion.
God of love, we celebrate again the wonders of your love and pray that the worship and service we offer may truly be filled with your love.
For Jesus’ sake we pray.

When our sharing of the gospel has been shallow:
Jesus, Lord and Messiah, forgive us.
When our words have been empty:
Jesus, Lord and Messiah, forgive us.
When we have given nothing of ourselves
and offered no kindness or depth of care:
Jesus, Lord and Messiah, forgive us.
When we have not lived what we have preached:
Jesus, Lord and Messiah, forgive us.

Reading – 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8

Organ interlude Prelude – Op. 105 No. III – Charles V. Stanford (1852 – 1924)

Reading – Matthew 22: 34 – 46


. . . nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Last week we heard Jesus answering a trick question posed to him by the Pharisees and Herodians and neatly dodging the trap they had set for him. This is followed in Matthew’s gospel by an account of a similar attempt by the Sadducees to trap Jesus with questions about the resurrection, but again Jesus responds in a way that both silences and amazes them. Today we have heard from Matthew how the Pharisees regroup for yet another attempt to discredit Jesus and this time their question focuses on what lies at the heart of their religion, the Mosaic Law, a constant topic of discussion in the rabbinic schools of the day.

Most scribes or lawyers are Pharisees and are committed to the “tradition of the elders”, that is human interpretations of God’s law. But their commitment to the tradition of the elders brings them into conflict with Jesus who says that they ignore God’s laws in favour of their traditions. The question “Which commandment in the law is greatest?” is not unusual. Rabbis routinely asked such questions of each other and their disciples in an honest attempt to plumb the depths of the law. The problem here is not the question, but the spirit in which it is asked.

The Old Testament contains 613 commandments, and there is no clear standard for judging which is greatest. In one sense, because God gave the commandments, all are of equal importance. However, rabbis spoke of some commandments as “heavy” and others as “light,” and there was an on-going debate regarding the relative importance of various commandments and how to summarize them for ordinary people.

Which commandment in the law is greatest?
Jesus responds You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This comes from Deuteronomy and builds on the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me adding on the requirement to love. It’s a text book answer that the lawyer would have found hard to criticise and Jesus could have stopped there, knowing he was on safe ground, but instead he chooses to continue adding and a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

In saying that the second commandment is like the first, Jesus means that they are related and have similar weight. Love of God naturally leads to love of neighbour, and love of neighbour is an integral part of loving God. So also, obedience to the two commandments — to love God and to love neighbour — work together to keep us on the path that God has created us to walk. As long as we observe both commandments, we can be confident that we are on that Godly path. However, if we choose to ignore either commandment we will soon find ourselves straying from that path.

Clearly the command you shall love does not mean the same thing in both commandments and in neither context does it refer to the sort of warm fuzzy romantic love we see portrayed in films. Love of God should be understood as a matter of reverence, commitment, and obedience, whereas love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being and their fulfilment, as our primary motivation.

The Pharisees are very comfortable with the former for to them the observance of faith is all about rules and rituals, and the letter of the law, but the latter is outside their comfort zone for, according to Jesus, the Law and the Covenant are all about right relationships with God and with creation. Jesus knows that true love for God is never an individual or an inward thing, but should be evident in all other relationships. Moreover to obey all the thou shalt nots is not enough; but rather we are called to be active as God’s people, living out the Creator’s love for his creation by bringing our whole hearts and souls and minds — our whole selves — to the task of loving.

But what do these commandments have to say to us today? How do we love our neighbours when we are not even allowed to enter their house or stand within 2 metres of them? There is a real danger as the months go on that we are all becoming isolated in our own bubbles and focused, even fixated, on our individual problems and worries. Yet the need now for empathy and healing and kindness towards our neighbours has perhaps never been greater. And as Christians, if we love God with all our hearts and souls and minds, then we must allow concern for others to flow from that love to encompass all who are struggling with practical and spiritual needs.

Right now our world is desperate for healing and wholeness and that can only begin with the actions of individuals to one another. With growing fears, anxieties and uncertainties, everyone could do with just a kind word or gesture, particularly at this time of isolation for so many. During the first lockdown we heard of many small and large acts of kindness as neighbours reached out to one another, people gave generously to support key workers and there was a feeling of camaraderie and we’re all in it together. But as restrictions eased there appeared many examples of selfishness of the worst kind, of verbal and physical abuse inflicted on shop workers trying to enforce the rule to wear facemasks in shops, of blatant disregard of the rules to social distance and of attacks on members of our emergency services. Now, with more stringent measures being enforced again and public unrest and dissatisfaction with the government rising, it seems the motivation to be kind to one another has begun to rub off again. A number of people in the public eye have tried to urge everyone to be kind, perhaps most notably the late Caroline Flack, who suffered greatly at the hands of internet trolls for a number of years and who in her suicide note left the plea that people should be kind. But still we hear daily of harassment of people in the public eye, or teenagers driven to desperate means by the cruelty of trolls on social media. Why does it seem to be so hard to be kind and supportive?

In our first reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians Paul recalls how he and his companions have depended upon their confidence in God in order to preach in the challenging circumstances that faced them in Thessalonica. But they have focused on spreading God’s good news rather than upon their own needs and have done so gently and tenderly like a nurse tending her own children. The passage concludes with the recognition that not only are they called to share the good news, but also to share their very selves. It’s a softer side to Paul that we don’t always see in his writing. Sometimes his views can appear forceful and dogmatic. But the gentleness that Paul describes here comes from strength. He had undergone a life-changing experience on the Damascus road, had struggled to become accepted as a leader of the Christian community. He had to be strong and yet as a result of all that he had endured, he knew that he himself was precious to God and that gave him strength, which he showed in gentleness to God’s other precious children.

As we wrestle with how to love our neighbours in practice when our church doors remain closed and our opportunities to mingle and converse are few, let’s be encouraged by the faith and persistence of the apostles, let’s be motivated by their willingness to put others before self, despite all the difficulties and danger they face and let’s continue to seek ways to express our faith and devotion to God through our service to our neighbours.


A new commandment I give unto you
Text: John 13: 34 – 35
Tune: New Commandment – arr. Lawrence Bartlett (1933 – 2002)

Prayers of intercession
Gracious God
Out of the generous love you pour upon us,
and the hope you hold before us,
and the faith that you inspire in us,
we offer you our prayers for the healing of creation.
We pray for a world battered by human greed, and desperate to be cared for.


God of love who calls us to love
Pour out your generous love upon us.

We pray for communities shattered by war and violence, and longing for peace.


God of love who calls us to love
Pour out your generous love upon us.

We pray for people suffering in body, mind and spirit, and seeking wholeness.


Today we pray especially for those suffering from Covid 19 at home and in hospital. We pray too for all key workers: medical staff, carers, administrators and cleaners who risk their own safety to care for others.
God of love who calls us to love
Pour out your generous love upon us.

We pray for those we know with particular needs, and hope for the assurance of your comfort. We think of those who are fearful, lonely, anxious or disturbed by the current crisis or other circumstances.


God of love who calls us to love
Pour out your generous love upon us.

We pray for ourselves in our need and our longing to obey, and to love you with all our heart, soul and mind. Teach us to listen, to follow and to act in love.


God of love who calls us to love
Pour out your generous love upon us.

Love divine, all loves excelling
Text: Charles Wesley (1707 – 88)
Tune: Hyfrydol – Melody R. H. Pritchard (1811 – 87); harm. R. Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958); last verse arr. N. Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)

Be willing to learn, willing to share,
willing to love, willing to care.
And be blessed in your journey of faith today,
this coming week and always.

Organ voluntary: Fugue from Organ Sonata No 2 – Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 47)