First service at St Peter’s following Lockdown

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Ex 33:12-22, Ps 99, 1 Th 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22. By Rev Ellie.

To the church of St Peter & the Holy Rood, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Thurso and Caithness. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Caithness, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we have among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.                                   

Thank you for your faith. Thank you for your trust that your Vestry would seek to do due diligence in regards to opening for services. 

“God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to God, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you [God] go with us? 

There is a saying: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Comes from the psalms. There is an issue with this though, because opposing sides in wars have used it to justify their actions. A belief indeed that if we’re doing something that we consider right, then it has to be right in the sight of the Lord – whatever the outcome or consequence. Can we really be that arrogant? Well of course we can, as arrogant as the Pharisees in our Gospel reading. “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” My training in theological reflection asks that I try and find a Biblical context that reflects a situation that is contemporary. I recently received an email that could be slotted into this scenario. I have to see what Jesus did as a response, and like him, I choose love as a response.

I choose to look around me and seek where God is already at work in our communities and pray and ask whether that is something He would like me to partner with Him. I would ask for God’s wisdom and discernment in going forward in that venture knowing that if I am not partnering with Him then I am working in my own strength and that is not a good thing. I want God to go with me as I go with Him, not the other way round. I am not asking God to go with me on an adventure that I have conjured up for no reason. 

Where is God working? Perhaps it’s on the sports field and, shock horror, not in a church at 10 or 11am on a Sunday morning. Where is God at work, already in the communities of Caithness? What is He calling us to?

“The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

As we come into God’s presence in our gathered way, once again, let us remember why we come. Let us remember those who are unable to worship alongside us for one reason and another. In this new normal, let us think how we as the people of St Peter’s want to go forward. We have had a halt of all the activities considered ‘normal fare’ of St Peter’s. There is a clean slate ahead of us – what is going to be added to it that shows the people of Thurso who we are? Who we care for? How inclusive will we be? Will we welcome everyone regardless of gender, sexuality or faith? Will we look outwards? There is nothing to keep us looking in to the church – because that has all been taken away. In this new normal, what are our values? What will be our mission? Perhaps you think these are too many questions to pose in our first service back, but they are questions I need you to think about.

I finish with the lyrics of The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman.

When the music fades 

And all is stripped away 

And I simply come 

Longing just to bring 

Something that’s of worth 

That will bless Your heart 

I’ll bring You more than a song 

For a song in itself 

Is not what You have required 

You search much deeper within 

Through the way things appear 

You’re looking into my heart 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship 

And it’s all about You 

All about You, Jesus 

I’m sorry Lord for the things I’ve made it 

When it’s all about You 

It’s all about You, Jesus 

King of endless worth 

No One could express 

How much You deserve 

Though I’m weak and poor 

All I have is Yours 

Every single breath

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