Sunday Worship – 23rd August 2023

(All our songs this morning are from Mission Praise (MP) Hymns & Psalms (HP) and Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at Calverley Methodist Church and has been prepared by Rev Phil Drake our Circuit Superintendent Minister. In this service we think about how we treat those we regard as ‘outsiders’, and how our perceptions and understandings of others can be changed. Reflections are offered based on a recent experience of visiting the Isle of Skye.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Call to worship

Come to meet the God who embraces the outsider. 
Come to pray to the God who hears the cries of the voiceless. 
Come to listen to the God who calls us to change. 
Come to worship the God who brings life and healing to all.

Song – Praise with joy the world’s creator

Or, MP 376Jesus put this song into our hearts

Prayer of approach

Living God, we come to you with our needs and our longings. 
We come conscious of all the barriers that stand in our way 
– our own weakness and frailty, our lack of courage, our rejection by others. 
We praise you that in Jesus you meet us in our weakness, 
give us new confidence and strength, and welcome us whoever we are. 
And so we come, trusting in your love, and knowing that in you 
our faith is restored and we are made whole. Amen.

First reading: Psalm 133


We have just returned from holiday on the Isle of Skye. It is a beautiful island with a dramatic landscape of mountains, lochs, and free-flowing waterfalls. One of the places where we went walking was the location known as Brothers’ Point (Rubha nam Brathairean in Gaelic). It is a distinctive shaped headland next to a secluded bay made up of large, rounded stones and flat platforms of rock.

The name, Brothers’ Point, is a reminder of a part of its story when it was occupied by a group of Christian monks, most likely followers of St Columba, in the seventh and eighth centuries. It would have been a hard life exposed to the elements of wind and rain with only the roughest of dwellings for shelter.

In recent times a plaque has been erected, displaying words from today’s lectionary psalm that we have just heard read to us: ‘How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity’. For Columba’s followers their unity would have been expressed in their life together, tackling its challenges and as they conducted their Christian mission in Skye. Their work would have brought them closer together, though no doubt there were disputes as well as harmony. Applying the psalm to the life of the modern church immediately raises the challenge that the psalm references only men and not women, and so several of the more recent translations have changed the wording to read ‘brothers and sisters’ or ‘kindred’ rather than ‘brothers’ alone. What we see there is an attempt to bring a new understanding of what it means to live in unity and to show an inclusivity in the living of the Christian life. Such unity, where it exists, is a blessing and an outpouring of the grace of God – the gift of life forevermore.

The Isle of Skye seems a long way away to us. It would take eight hours of non-stop driving to get to the southern end – and another hour and a half to travel right to the top. Indeed, we took our time and spent a leisurely three days travelling through Scotland before arriving at our destination. When we look at a map of the British Isles, our perception is that Skye is on the edge of things, a remote part of the UK. Yet in St Columba’s time it was probably seen differently. With no easy means to travel on land, especially in the highlands of Scotland, the sea routes were the equivalent of today’s motorways – the quickest and easiest ways to get around. Regular trade routes traversed the west coast of Britain, and Skye would have felt to be much more in the centre of affairs than it feels to us today.

In our service today we are thinking of those who are on the margins of society and face the challenge of how those on the edge of things might be placed at the centre of our concern; and how we might come to understand that those who seem very different to us are embraced by that same inclusive love which embraces us. In our next hymn we express the unity to which we aspire, and then turn to the gospel to explore how those things which separate us from one another might be challenged.

Second reading: Matthew 15.21-28


In times gone by, getting on to the Isle of Skye meant taking the ferry from the Kyle of Lochalsh. However, for the last 28 years it has become a lot simpler since the opening of the road bridge that now spans the waters where the ferry once ran. In our gospel story today, we see the building of a bridge of connection.

The central point of the story is the separation between the woman and Jesus. It is a separation marked on the one hand by culture –the woman came from an area north of Israel around Tyre and Sidon, and whose people were viewed with hostility by the Jews. Jesus is clear that his mission is to the Jewish people. There would also have been a separation in the eyes of those Jews who would have viewed the woman as likely to be unclean. But the woman’s challenge to Jesus, that even the dogs eat the crumbs from under the table, results in an unexpected response from Jesus, who recognises in her a great expression of faith.

To go back to Skye – although the main ferry crossing has gone, it is still possible to travel to the island by ferry a little further west from the small village of Glenelg, where a ferry service is run from April to October by the local community. We only came across it by accident, travelling on a very windy road to the south of Skye on our way to view sea otters and sea eagles.

It is a very unusual sort of ferry – in fact it is the only one of its kind in existence in the world today, as a manually operated turntable ferry. So, when we had joined the five other cars on the ferry (six is maximum number of vehicles), one of the boatmen then swung us around so that we would be correctly positioned for disembarking over at Glenelg.

The point I want to make about the gospel story is that meeting someone very different to us sometimes requires us to make a turn-around in our position. Our old attitudes simply will not do if we are to make a positive connection with the other person. This does not mean that we lose all that we are, and become wholly like the other person, but to recognise that within our differences – and indeed because of our differences – is all that is required to make a good and healthy relationship.

There are those who still rue the building of the Skye bridge, arguing that it has changed the character of Skye and taken something away from its distinctive identity. I share something of that mindset in that the easiness of the transfer from one side of the strait to the other removed something of the sense of discovery and adventure that a ferry journey can bring. The bridge has certainly made a difference to the island’s connection with the mainland, though whether for better or for worse I will reserve judgement. But I am glad that I made the Skye crossing both by bridge and by ferry, and for what it has taught me about the significance of discovering and making new connections.

Prayer of confession

Welcoming God, we come to you with our prayers of confession,
asking that you will change and renew us. 
When we exclude others because of prejudice and fear,

God, forgive us, and change our minds and our hearts. 

When we value outward show above genuine compassion,
God, forgive us, and change our minds and our hearts. 

When we feast on your goodness and deny others a share in your riches
God, forgive us, and change our minds and our hearts. 

When we value our own thoughts and opinions above your truth and your word, 
God, forgive us, and change our minds and our hearts. 

When we turn your gospel into rules and regulations instead of life-changing hope and promise,
God forgive us, and change our minds and our hearts. 

Welcoming God, forgive us; help us to be renewed by your grace
so that we may open ourselves to meet you in unexpected ways 
and find our lives transformed by your accepting love. Amen. 

To think about:

1 Who do you consider to be those on the margins of society? In what ways is the church already responding to those on the edge, or how might it do so in the future? What might your church learn from the experience?

2 In the gospel story, the woman lays claim to the crumbs that fall from the table. The service at Calverley, on which this written service is based, will include the sacrament of Holy Communion in which bread and wine will be shared. You may wish to take a small piece of bread and reflect on the words of the Syro-Phoenecian woman. As you hold and eat the bread, humbly ask God for a share of his blessing.

Prayers of intercession

Welcoming God, we bring our prayers for those who are the outsiders in our society. 
We pray for those in poverty, living on the crumbs and scraps of others’ riches. 
We pray for those who are denied the basics of living, 
food and water, shelter, housing or healthcare. 
We pray for those who have no place of safety, 
for refugees and asylum seekers who have no home to call their own. 
God of the outsider, we pray that you will bring healing and welcome to all. 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Listening God, we bring our prayers for those who are denied a voice. 
We pray for those whose voices are silenced 
by the denial of human rights and freedom of speech. 
We pray for all those who are prisoners of conscience, 
suffering because they have taken a stand for justice and freedom. 
We pray for those who are excluded and pushed aside, 
mocked, insulted or abused for their race, gender or sexuality. 
God of the voiceless, we pray that you will give power and hope to all. 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Faithful God, we bring our prayers for all those who struggle with faith. 
We pray for those for whom faith is lifeless, stifled by rules and regulations. 
We pray for those for cry out in desperation, feeling that their prayers are unanswered. 
We pray for those who feel unwelcome at your table, 
excluded by their own weakness or the prejudice of others. 
God of the gospel, we pray that you will give living, life-changing faith to all. 
In the name of the Christ who brings welcome, hope and change, 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us. Amen.

Song – StF 255, HP 139 – The kingdom of God is justice and joy

Or, StF 685, HP 758, MP 329 – In Christ there is no east or west

The blessing: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all forevermore. Amen.

Acknowledgments: Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayers taken from Roots resources, copyright Roots For Churches Ltd. Photos, Philip Drake.

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