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A prayer based on Mark 10: 17 -31 and Hebrews 4: 12 -16. Prayed after singing “Open my eyes, that I may see

Jesus, Saviour, Friend,
you come into our lives
and you summon us out
beyond the safe places we try to create for ourselves.

We pray that you will open our ears
that we may hear the glimpses of truth you have for us
but, the truth is,
we do not always welcome your powerful Word.

You see us as we are;
you love us enough
to cut through our defences and excuses.
You summon us to live with
a vulnerability,
an openness,
a love
that is beyond us.

So we are grateful
that you do what we cannot do —
you walk with us along your Way:
you work within us,
setting us free from the things that hold us;
your Holy Spirit
takes what we offer
and infuses it with
mercy and grace beyond our own.

You entrust us with work more holy
than we would choose for ourselves.

Jesus, you have been through weakness and testing,
through disappointment and rejection.
You trusted in God’s faithfulness in all of that.
And in you, God overcame every power that binds us
and won our freedom
and gives us new life.

Open our hearts
to receive the mercy you offer;
open our lives
to receive the help you give.
Amen.

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Gracious God, extravagant, God,
your goodness overflows into our lives.
You pour out abundance,
you wrap your love around us all our day.
What a wondrous world you have created.

We give thanks for the bounty of the earth,
for those who work the land and harvest the crops,
for those whose work provides us with food on our tables.

We give thanks for those who work for healing
of our bodies,
of our minds
of the earth.

We give thanks for those who learn and teach
for wisdom and knowledge and guidance.

We give thanks for those who struggle for truth and justice,
for those who risk their lives for others,
for your people throughout the earth who seek to follow you,
for those who bear witness to your Way and your grace in our world.

Surrounded by signs of your care for us,
Immersed in your abundant gifts to us,
we turn to you in trust.

Move us from worry to peace
that rests in your good keeping.

Move us from anxious grasping to
living with open hands
and open hearts
and open spirits,
ready to receive from you
life in all its fullness,
the heights and the depths
permeated through and through
with your grace,
with you,
our Saviour,
our Redeemer,
our Shepherd,
our Lord.  Amen.

“Our mission to the world cannot make creation whole again, any more than we can create wholeness in ourselves or our churches. We offer the world only the grace of God, and that can never be confused with problem solving. It is high time we let go of all mission strategies that offer optimistic social agendas for the world. Instead, our mission is to live in the midst of brokenness that we cannot fix with a vision of God’s healing — healing from the damage people have wrought by playing god in the world”.
Craig Barnes in Yearning: Living Between How It Is And How It Ought To Bep. 174.

So often I hear or read advice to congregations about vision or mission statements that suggest that the church’s mission is about ‘meeting needs’. Congregations are to find a need in the neighbourhood that matches the interests, skills, and passion of their people. Then, they are to develop a programme or project that will meet that need.

I am troubled by that approach. It seems to me that it sets the church as one more provider of a product that others will consume.  How often have you heard someone suggest that one of the failings of the church is that it doesn’t advertise enough? That it needs better marketing?

I know that we are often not ‘on the radar’ for many people. Ask a stranger, “Could you direct me to  . . . Church?”  and there’s a good possibility that s/he won’t be able to do that, even if the church building is in sight. I also know that people often don’t know all that the church is doing in the community. Those are both indications that a congregation needs to get better connected with its neighbourhood.

However, I don’t think ‘church’ is a consumer product. I don’t believe that declines in participation will be fixed by better marketing. I don’t think that the mission of the church is about ‘meeting needs’ or fixing social problems.

I like Craig Barnes’ reminder that the church’s work is be a witness to and a foretaste of the healing and redeeming work that God is doing in the world. And, I am challenged by his comments that “our mission is to live in the midst of brokenness that we cannot fix with a vision of God’s healing”. That sets the church within mystery, within relationships, within a deep respect for the holiness of life. It seems to me that that is a better description of what we are about.

A prayer said after the hymn “We Praise You, Creator” in Voices United # 293 and based on Philippians 3: 1-16 and Mark 9: 38 -50

Holy God,
Creator, Ruler, Maker,
Sovereign most high:
we do praise you and adore you.

We praise you and adore you because
your grace dwells among us,
your love goes before us,
your Word is truth that makes our lives
true and holy.

We praise you and adore you
and find ourselves in the company
of a long list of women and men before us
who turned toward you
and trusted you with all that they are,
with all that they have.

From generation to generation
they spoke your Word and gave hope;
they embodied your grace and brought peace;
they walked in your Way and pointed to your truth.

And now, Lord Jesus,
 you have called to us to do the same.

You know us —
searching for ways to speak
hope
and peace
and grace
so that the next generation
is beckoned into trusting you
with all that they are,
with all that they have.

You know us —
our uncertainties
our doubts
our fears.

We hand them over to you.

In your mercy,
gather up our stumbling attempts
to be your witnesses.
Breathe your Holy Spirit
into our words and actions.
Then, open us to
your resurrection power
at work within us
and among us
and through us.

Surprise us
at every turn
and make our lives
a joyful hymn of praise.  Amen.

Assurance of God’s Grace: When you open a space for God, God pours the Holy Spirit into your life. The Holy Spirit works within you and gives you a heart that lives by the rhythms of God’s grace. Lean into this promise and live open to the world-transforming love of Christ.

Our lives are not just a series of disconnected episodes. Our lives are part of the story God is telling. Even though we cannot always see the design, God has a purpose that God is working out.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, says God, “neither are my ways your ways but the word I speak will not return to me empty. It will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 6-13)

God’s purpose is that we shall “go out in joy and be led forth in peace, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” That is where we are headed, where the journey will take us, where the story will end.

The stories in the Bible provide a roadmap that helps us find our way there. Some of the stories we shall not like but they are stories of the encounter between God and God’s people. They represent the accumulated wisdom of the people who had committed themselves to living in covenant with this God who kept speaking to them and shaping their lives. 

When we set ourselves within these stories — when we take them seriously and meditate upon their meaning; when we let one portion of them be interpreted by the rest of them; when we allow Jesus to be the final re-interpretation of the whole — they stop being strange, peculiar stories of a distant place and long-ago time. They become stories in which God is speaking to us. We hear for ourselves how much God loves us. We hear for ourselves the ways in which God is shaping our lives so that we become capable of receiving that love.

We do not always get the message. There are some parts of scripture whose meaning will remain a mystery to us. However, we keep at it. We keep making our lives available to these stories because, whoever strange the way they speak my sound, it is not a stranger who speak them to us. It is the One who has known us and loved us from the foundation of the world. It is the One who, in Jesus of Nazareth, went to hell and back to bring us home in peace and joy. 

A prayer: “Mark 4: 26 -34” and the song “Morning Has Broken“.

On this new day, we do praise you, O God.

We live in the midst of great mystery:
the mysteries of your Creation,
of night and day,
seedtime and harvest,
life and death and life after death —
all unfolding within your steadfast love and faithfulness;
the mysteries of love and beauty and joy
that come upon us unexpectedly,
surprising us
lifting us up into your Son’s community of grace;
the mysteries of your Holy Spirit
giving us courage and hope and strength beyond our own.

We gather the week that has passed
and set it before you,
seeking
waiting
hoping
that you will do your work of
creation and re-creation,
of reconciliation and redemption
of healing and renewal
in us
in this church
in our world.

We open ourselves to you,
Lord and Friend,
Saviour and God of all Truth,
so that,
at the end of the day,
we may praise you
with hearts and minds and spirits
made new in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A prayer emerging from 2 Corinthians 4: 13 -5:1 and the hymn “Let us with a gladsome mind”.

We  praise you, God,
for you are faithful and kind,
your mercies endure through all that life brings us.

We bring to you the week that has passed:
the moments when we were hungry and thirsty
for a greater sense of your presence with us;
the times when we were troubled and anxious
and could not hold on to your promises
to be our rock and our strength;
the experiences of joy and gratitude
when we knew ourselves deeply cared for by you.

We lay all that before you
and we open our hearts and minds and spirits
to your Holy Spirit.

Renew in us the confidence that
you are always at work,
breaking into our lives with
newness that is the abundant Life
that Jesus promised.

Renew in us the trust that
not a day goes by without
your unfolding grace.

Renew us so that we gladly declare:
your goodness is stronger than evil;
you love is stronger than hate;
your light is stronger than the darkness;
your truth is stronger than lies.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who comes to us
in this time together,
in both our weakness and our strength,
in the bread and in the drink
we share in his name. Amen.

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