Worship for Sunday 25th February 2024, by Peter Smith

Opening music – Precious by Vicky Beeching

Call to Worship (from Psalm 22 NRSV)

All the ends of the earth shall remember
   and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
   shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,
   and he rules over the nations.

HYMN Bless be the tie that binds

Blest be the tie that binds
  Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
  Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne,
  We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one—
  Our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes;
  Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
  The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
  It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
  And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives

Our courage by the way:

While each in expectation lives,

And hopes to see the day.

From sorrow, toil, and pain,
  And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and oneness reign
  Through all eternity.

J Fawcet.

Prayer of approach (Jim Cotter © Cairns Publications)

Let the whole earth be joyful in you, O God.

Serve you with gladness and celebrate your Presence with a song.

For we know that you are creating us, you made us, and we belong to you.

We are your people, and the sheep of your pasture. 

We find our way into your gates with thanksgiving, and into your house with praise.

We give thanks and bless your holy Name.

For you are gracious, your mercy is everlasting,

And your faithfulness endures from generation to generation. Amen


Collect for the day (MWB)

Christ, Son of the living God,

who for a season laid aside the divine glory

and learned obedience through suffering:

teach us in all our afflictions

to raise our eyes to the place of your mercy

and to find in you our peace and deliverance.

We make our prayer in your name.  Amen.

Reading Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Reading Romans 4:13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Our next hymn reflects the call to follow and anticipates the Gospel reading

HYMN Will you come and follow me

   1      Will you come and follow me
        if I but call your name?
        Will you go where you don’t know
        and never be the same?
        Will you let my love be shown,
        will you let my name be known,
        will you let my life be grown
        in you and you in me?

   2      Will you leave yourself behind
        if I but call your name?
        Will you care for cruel and kind
        and never be the same?
        Will you risk the hostile stare
        should your life attract or scare?
        Will you let me answer prayer
        in you and you in me?

   3      Will you let the blinded see
        if I but call your name?
        Will you set the prisoners free
        and never be the same?
        Will you kiss the leper clean,
        and do such as this unseen,
        and admit to what I mean
        in you and you in me?

   4      Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
        if I but call your name?
        Will you quell the fear inside
        and never be the same?
        Will you use the faith you’ve found
        to reshape the world around,
        through my sight and touch and sound
        in you and you in me?

   5      Lord, your summons echoes true
        when you but call my name.
        Let me turn and follow you
        and never be the same.
        In your company I’ll go
        where your love and footsteps show.
        Thus I’ll move and live and grow
        in you and you in me.

John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958)

Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 673
Words: © 1987, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH  Scotland.  <www.wgrg.co.uk>

Gospel Mark 8: 27 – 38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’


It seems a basic human characteristic that we like to put people in clearly labelled boxes all nice and tidy or is that statement just putting people in a box because that’s how I think?

We just need to think of all the angst that is created just because we ask people to use they/them instead of he/him, she/her.  Its amazing how many experts on language suddenly emerge from the woodwork.  I’m with Miriam Margolyes, what does it matter if it makes someone feel included and respected (she may have used some stronger language).

I’m reminded of being out walking with Outdoor Lads, the gay outdoors activities group, on one occasion.  A middle aged woman going the other way was obviously confused by a group of twenty plus men walking together.  “What are you?” she demand, to which I replied “Well my Mum told me I was a boy.”  Not the answer she wanted but it was the only one she was getting.  It seemed we just didn’t fit her world view.

It can of course be a dangerous question when we ask of others, who do people say that I am?  But Jesus took the risk.  He gets the response:  Elijah or one of the prophets – which you can expect as it was believed that his return would herald the coming of the Messiah.  But John the Baptist?  A contemporary? Mind you even when you tell people some one is dead they don’t always believe you – just how may sightings of Elvis have there been? 

Then Jesus turns up the heat on the disciples – but who do you say that I am?  And we think just for a moment that they have got there when Peter says you are the Messiah.  At last they have twigged.

But no sooner are the words out of Peter’s mouth, than he gets that harshest of rebukes. Get you behind me Satan. 

We are back to labels and expectations.  Peter must have had a clear idea of what it would mean to be God’s anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  Surely the arrival of such a person would mean the restoration of Israel, reform of the temple, David’s heir on throne and the Romans gone.  It can’t possibly mean suffering and death for one anointed by God?

But clearly Jesus had his own ideas (God’s ideas) about what it meant for him, he takes the label, changes the title “The Son of Man” and redefines what this means – if he is to be true to his calling, if he is to show God’s love and question the religious and secular powers then it is going to bring him into conflict with the those very same people.  I don’t think we have to assume that Jesus knew in detail what was going to happen to him – that plays down too much that he was fully human – but we do see that he was no fool.

Labels, titles, names, we can either accept them with all their baggage and other people’s expectations, or we can confound their expectations and make the label our own.

I’ve been thinking about this because it is LGBT+ history month, and people I know have been asking on Facebook about that history within the Methodist Church.

When I first came out as gay man, we would correct ourselves and remember to included those who are bisexual – LGB.  Since then we have continued to add letters – LGBT+ (or sometimes LGBTQI+). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex and others.  Like everywhere in life, there are those who sneer muttering and mockingly speaking of the alphabet people.  I’ve been thinking about that and I rather like the name – the alphabet people – those who include not exclude, putting more chairs out and making the circle wider.  See how an insult can be turned around? (by the way I don’t think this has caught on yet – I’m just floating an idea so be careful what you say and to who).

I used to regularly wear a small pink triangle enamelled badge, turning the symbol imposed by the Nazis into a one of self-identification and affirmation.  When then enamel fell off once, a friend used pink nail varnish to replace it.

And you will have heard people use the word queer about themselves in a positive way, reclaiming an old pejorative term – I would recommend not using it of someone else unless invited to do so.

Mark reports Jesus as saying:  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  And I completely understand that in the context of Jesus’  life and ministry.  To be one of his disciples at that time, in that context, demanded a hundred percent commitment with the very real threat that they might lose their lives. And we know that for the majority it only after the resurrection that though the gift of the Spirit that they have the courage and strength to really be followers of Christ. 

What I don’t think it means is that every disciple is called to martyrdom – Christ died once for all we don’t need to do the same.   Neither does it refer to difficulties, aches and pains and inconveniences of daily living -, Oh she’s a martyr to her feet etc.

Nor does it imply that we have to grin and bear injustice and pain, to settle for what life has thrown at us because that is somehow our cross to bear.  My friend Ian used to say that his favourite Great Aunt (born circa 1900) was one that did what was socially unacceptable.  She walked out on her husband, taking the kids with her, because she was no longer prepared to scream quietly so the neighbours didn’t hear. She did that not just with the judgement of society ringing in her ears, but with the economic hardship it brought as well.  In the language of today, she ceased to be a victim of abuse and became a survivor.

You may have heard of Stonewall, the LGBT+ charity that works for equality and inclusion.  It takes its name from events in the USA.  Judy Garland died on June 22nd 1969. She was popular in the LGBT+ community.  On June 28th, the police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York, a regular occurrence when staff and patrons would be arrested, dragged roughly to the waiting police vans with more force.  Normally they went quietly. But not that night, and the riots went on for 6 nights, kick starting a movement for justice.  Some said it was because people were already upset about Judy’s death, which is how myths start.  The drag queens were in the forefront of the struggle.  People no longer prepared to play the game according to the oppressors rules.

Take up your cross, is not a justification for anyone, including members of the LGBT+ community to quietly put up with injustices and discrimination, and endure petty minded prejudices.  We are not called to suffer in silence.

Besides which, the phase “take up” suggests a positive action, a decision on the part of the follower to do something – not have something visited upon them.  It is I believe a call to discipleship, to follow Christ summed up in the words of the hymn we sung by John Bell. 

        “Will you leave yourself behind
        if I but call your name?
        Will you care for cruel and kind
        and never be the same?
        Will you risk the hostile stare
        should your life attract or scare?
        Will you let me answer prayer
        in you and you in me?”

HYMN I vow to you my friends (tune Thaxted)

Note: This hymn offers us a vision of change and transformation, but also of reconciliation in the last line.

I vow to you, my friends of earth, all worldly things above,

Entire and whole — yet broken — the service of my love:

The love that dares to question, the love that speaks its name,

That flowers still in barren ground, yet hides no more for shame:

The love that struggles through the pain, and whispers in the night,

Yet shares its secret with the world, to bring the truth to light.


This is that other country we heard of long ago,

When called to be the spies of God where milk and honey flow:

A world where hurts find healing, where all th’oppressed run free,

Where friends who have been sore betrayed each other truly see:

It is our earth, transfigured, new, where wars and hatreds cease,

Where spy and friend walk hand in hand in Christ our Lover’s Peace.”

©Jim Cotter


Prayer of confession – Peter Smith with the Collect for Lent (MWB)

Let us confess or sins in penitence and faith


For the times when we sung all are welcome, but added except for..

Loving God, forgive us.

For the times we have assumed we know, and not listen to what others are saying

Loving God, forgive us.

For the times when we have forced others to wear the labels we want them to, and not let them be themselves

Loving God, forgive us.


Almighty and everlasting God,

you hate nothing that you have made,

and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent.

Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,

that we, worthily lamenting our sins

and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may receive from you, the God of all mercy,

perfect remission and forgiveness;

through the merits of Jesus Christ,

our only mediator and advocate.  Amen.


Prayers of intercession

We have been asked to pray for…


For all who face discrimination

That they may know they are loved as children of God

 For those who face imprisonment because they love someone of the same sex

That they may know they are loved as children of God

For rulers and leaders who stir up the mob and spread hatred

That their hearts may be turned to justice

For rulers and leaders who deny human rights

That their hearts may be turned to justice

For all who pursue war and violence

That they may seek peace

For all who suffer in body mind and spirit

That they may know God’s presence with them

For the Church that led by the Spirit,

We may share God’s love and welcome all God’s children. Amen


The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn StF 345 And can it be

Note: I think of this as my coming out hymn! Its not just that verse 4 reflects the experience of taking ownership of a key part of who I am, but I felt I’d arrived at a “no condemnation now I fear”. Not a bad place to be.

    1      And can it be that I should gain
          an interest in the Saviour’s blood?
          Died he for me, who caused his pain?
          For me, who him to death pursued?
          Amazing love!  How can it be
          that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

   2      ‘Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies!
          Who can explore his strange design?
          In vain the first-born seraph tries
          to sound the depths of love divine.
          ‘Tis mercy all!  Let earth adore,
          let angel minds enquire no more.

   3      He left his Father’s throne above —
          so free, so infinite his grace —
          emptied himself of all but love,
          and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
          ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
          for, O my God, it found out me!

   4      Long my imprisoned spirit lay
          fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
          thine eye diffused a quickening ray —
          I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
          my chains fell off, my heart was free,
          I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

   5      No condemnation now I dread;
          Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
          Alive in him, my living Head,
          and clothed in righteousness divine,
          bold I approach the eternal throne,
          and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 345 .

Closing responses (© Elizabeth Stuart from Courage to Love)


Those who work for change suffer resistance

So make us strong

Those who do new things sometimes feel afraid

So make us brave

Those who challenge the world as it is arouse anger

So grant us inner peace

Those who live joyfully are envied

So make us generous

Those who try to love encounter hate

So make us steadfast in you. Amen



And may the blessing of God,

Creator, love maker, pain bearer

Be upon us all, now and forever. Amen


Closing music – Over the Rainbow