17 July 2016 


Welcome            I waited patiently for the Lord’s help:
                           then he listened to me and heard my cry.
                           (Psalm 40:1)

Hymn 193          God is love, his the care


God of wisdom and love,
giver of all good things,
we thank you for your constant care over all creation.
In our weakness you are our strength;
in our darkness, light;
and in our sorrows, comfort and peace.

Yet we often forget to look for you,
or to listen for you.
While we aren’t looking or listening,
and are certainly not expecting you, you surprise us –

With a word, a sign, a touch,
a reminder that you are still here.
We may have forgotten you,
But you haven’t forgotten us.

Our life’s journey provides endless opportunities
to meet you when we least expect you.
In the midst of anger your calming presence.
In the midst of laziness your sharp rebuke.
In the midst of grief your soothing comfort.
In the midst of fear your steady hand.

Forgive us Lord,
when we don’t recognise you,
when we fail to hear you,
and when we decline to follow you.

At Pentecost the Spirit came as a wind,
without a word but with many voices.

Our prayers have many voices
but don’t always need words.
But when words are needed we can follow
Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, saying together
‘Our Father …’  Amen

Woman in a hat

An elderly man enjoyed a lively conversation with a woman in a hat.  As they were parting he said he looked forward to meeting her again and her husband too.  “Indeed you will” replied the lady “you are my husband.”

This wasn’t some doddery old man but a person handicapped by “face blindness” a total and permanent inability to recognise faces.  He could see her face in detail but his brain refused to find any recognisable pattern in what he saw.  Sometimes this problem occurs after a serious injury but it can also be present from birth, and can run in families.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be looking at your parent, partner or children, let alone friends or colleagues and fail, by sight alone, to know who they are ?

I heard this story told by the grand-daughter of the woman in the hat.  Face blindness runs in her family.  She told of an aunt and uncle who once spent some time at a party trying to work out how they knew each other!  She has on occasion failed to recognise her own children.   One of her sons, at a party with a pretty girl he’d known all his life, asked her name – “How strange” he said “I know someone else with exactly the same name”.  Her daughter often recognises people by their dogs –though that doesn’t seem so strange if you know the pedestrian traffic on the Kitleyknowe Road!

While the story teller has the face blindness disability, she does recognise voices and names; it isn’t that she can’t see, in great detail, but that she can interpret sound, but struggles with sight.  Her coping strategies for recognising people depend heavily on her listening skills, hence her proposition that listening is learning.  Of which more later in our service.

Hymn 164          God gave me eyes so I could see   

Reading             Psalm 1: 1-3
                          Psalm 40: 1-8     

Listening is Learning

The Psalms, which were written at different times, at different places, and by many different individuals, might best be described as a book of songs.  They offer us the perspective of an ancient people, who individually and collectively sought to know God, and to understand his ways and what he required of them.

They speak of grief and sorrow, happiness and joy.  They praise God and they challenge Him, all the while painting pictures of the world and of situations which we can recognise today.  They tell the story and experiences of the people of God.  We could think of them as popular music for all time, painting pictures for readers and listeners.

Psalm 1 is offered as a ‘song for the journey’.  It offers two ways of life which sit in conflict with each other.  There is no fudging, no sitting on the fence, no middle way.  Two different paths through life are offered – one faithful, one faithless.  The reader is left in no doubt which ‘way of life’ is the preferred option for those who seek to journey with God.

Of course, the concept of goodies and baddies is a bit simplistic.  But looked at another way, we can recognise the choices and paths we are invited to take when we choose to follow God.  It tells us about the strength God gives us when we choose to follow him and we are reminded that we can flourish and grow stronger when we choose to focus on how He wants us to be.

There are times in all our lives when we have to accept responsibility and take action.  Our faith, our sense of justice, our moral and ethical integrity find their true role in what we actually do and reveal themselves in the effort we exert, in our total giving of what we have, in our ability to work for the common good.  The way we choose to act indicates the values we live by; the approach we take to our fellows is the true indicator of our commitment to what is right and just.  So what are our best ‘moves’ in the business of being a disciple and what areas of our living need more work?

The disciples – the would-be apprentices following Jesus – were often looking for the quick route to glory and tempted to hurry through to victory without wanting to do the hard-yards.  Under pressure, they’d even denied and dissembled to get their way.  And yet their Master was forever setting them straight, not by firing the weak, self-regarding or selfish candidates (he’d have had few followers taking that approach); but by letting them make the inevitable mistakes and then taking the time to show them and teach them who they really were.  In his company, there was nothing to be gained by being false or taking short cuts, but everything to be gained by facing up to the truth of who we are. 

Each of us is a unique blend of personality, intellect, education and experience; how we use our gifts is our own particular genius.  We tend to think of genius as abnormally high mental capacity, a very big number in an IQ test.  But the idea of genius is much more fertile than that – it is also the celebration of what is good and right and true about each one of us – the gift we offer just as the wise men offered gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Our God given gifts and talents are tools given to each of us to use or abuse as we see fit.  Like garden tools we can use them, and keep them in good order so that our gardens can be productive and life enhancing – or we can leave them in the shed and find sustenance elsewhere.  But when we allow these gifts to flow freely, to work in our minds and hearts, they can dramatically change our lives, and touch all those around us.  If we are to make best use of our talents we need to be open to promptings and possibilities, we need to be willing to act.  All rather ‘motherhood and apple pie’ – who would disagree with these principles?  But as a colleague used to ask in the face of such generalities “Aye, but what are you going to do about it?”

Listening is a talent we can all apply.   Listening –as in taking notice of and acting on what someone says; responding to advice or a request.  Not just hearing then, as in “ I told her over and over again, she heard me but she wouldn’t listen”.

A particularly telling example of the power of listening comes from Woman’s Hour serial on Radio4.  It was part of a dramatisation of interchanges between an operator and callers to an imaginary Ambulance Service call centre.  Carrie is an ambulance call handler. She never knows what the next emergency will be or the effect it might have on her.  And sometimes you have to listen hard to find out exactly what’s going on.

Operator     Ambulance Service, is the patient breathing and conscious?
Caller         Do you do deliveries?
Operator     Sorry?
Caller         27b All Saints Road.
Operator     OK.  What’s going on there?
Caller         I’d like to order a pizza.
Operator     Madam, you’ve reached emergency 999.
Caller         I want a large pepperoni –  with extra mushroom and peppers.
Operator     You know that you have called 999.
Caller         Yes.  Do you know how long it will be?
Operator     Do you have an emergency? Is there someone there with you so you can’t speak freely?”
Caller         Yes
Operator     Are you injured in any way?
Caller         No.  Do you know how long it will be?
Operator     I have a police officer on his way to you now.
Operator     Can you stay on the line until he arrives
Caller         No.  See you soon. Thanks.

Operator comment after the call.  “There’s a difference between hearing and listening.  That’s the first lesson in this job.  Management will push you to hit your targets and keep the call rate turning over.  But if the caller isn’t telling you what you need to hear make sure you are listening for what they’re not saying before you make any assumptions”.

Taken at face value this was initially just another error call which might well have been cut off before the real message was recognised.  That thought prompted me to wonder how often we may hear but not understand God’s messages to us – maybe because we are too busy to listen, too sure we already know what is needed or not open to hearing because there’s so much ‘noise going on around us’.

Psalm 1 provides two conflicting perspectives on life – two paths, choices to be made; the easy path for those who will go their own way regardless or the narrow path of those trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Yet it ends with a powerful note of confidence that makes it a perfect opening for the whole collection of psalms. 

Psalm 40 begins “I waited patiently for the Lord’s help; then he listened to me and heard my cry”.  What follows is a song of praise and commitment.

“I have always spoken of your faithfulness and help.
In the assembly of all your people
I have not been silent about your loyalty and constant love.”

Listening is a talent we use every day, the question is what do we learn as we listen and what do we do about what we have learned?

Dear Lord, as we go from this place
help us to listen not for the words alone
but also for the underlying message,
and give us wisdom to and recognise where we can help.

Make us thoughtful listeners
but also generous in our words and actions,
so that we can be trusted encouragers and enablers,
nurturing and sustaining growth
in the world and in the church;
partners with you in recreating a world
where potential is realised
and your children are freed to live life in all its fullness.

Hymn 465          Be thou my vision


Dear Lord, we accept that learning is knowing
not just what to think, but how to think;
not just cramming in, but teasing out;
not just information,
but knowing where to look for the answers.  

Thank you for those
who have taken time to teach us,
who by their patience and skill
have shown us how not to repeat our mistakes:
parents and friends,
teachers and lecturers,
colleagues and children, and
those who have walked the way before us.

Lord, you are never too busy to hear us.
Help us
to have time to listen to our children
with their endless prattle;
to have time for our old folk
with their repetitive reminiscences;
to have time for our demanding friends
with their boring tales;
to have time for disabled companions
whose speech is slow or indistinct.

Help us to make time to hear them all,
And in hearing them to listen for you.
especially when it seems that the voice of scoffers
is so much louder.
We thank you for the times we have known
your smile of encouragement.

We pray for those who are fragile or brittle
because they have been hurt or rejected
one time too many.
Their sorrows are so overwhelming,
their pains so great,
their loss so deep, their fear so big,
that life can seem anything but defined
by your ever-present love
and marked instead by a sense of being abandoned.

We pray for all those people:
that they might know you care,
for all people at all times:
weeping with us all in our sorrows
(especially today the families and friends of the dead and injured in Nice, and those who will live in greater fear in Turkey, whether they have reason or not);
singing in our celebrations;
breathing in us peace and strength
and unexpected joy. Amen


God who delights in us, may we delight in you
and offer you the best we have in the good days
and the bad, for you never fail us.  Amen


Hymn 577          Christ be beside me


May the love of the Father enfold us,
the wisdom of the son enlighten us,
the fire of the Spirit inspire us;
and may God’s blessing
be with us always.

Sung Amen