Sunday Worship

Sunday Worship

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Ian:   Good morning. The General Assembly meets about ten minutes’ walk from the church here, in a famous building at the top of the Mound.  Every year millions of tourists pass by its grandeur in a breathtaking setting beside Edinburgh Castle, perhaps unaware that at the Assembly since 1560, crucial matters at the centre of society have been intensely debated, and momentous decisions about Scotland's spiritual life have been weighed up in great hearts and great minds.


The Assembly Hall is built of historic stones, but the Assembly’s theme for this year is ‘Living Stones’, and we will reflect on that this morning.  First, the choir sings an introit by Edinburgh composer Noel de Jongh:  ‘O sing unto the Lord a new Song’.


Introit:  O SING UNTO THE LORD A NEW SONG   (Noel de Jongh)


IAN:   We come from scattered lives to gather for worship

ALL:     To seek our unity in the Spirit

To seek the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

To seek the peace of God


IAN:   This is the day that the Lord has made

All:       Let us rejoice and be glad in it


IAN:    Let us worship God in one of the key Psalms sung every year at the General Assembly - Psalm 100.




IAN:    Let us pray,

Loving creator of all,

keep us always open to your presence.

May our praise blend

with the whole song of creation.


SUSAN:  God in Christ,

cornerstone of our fellowship and faith,

we Your living stones

come to worship acknowledging

our part in

Your grand design.


IAN:   Living God,

if we have lost lustre

become heavy,


dead stones,

then forgive us.


SUSAN:   Let us be open

to be chiselled or polished

until we fit

Your present purpose for us.


IAN:   Compassionate God,

we reflect on the week which has passed,

its mixture of the regular and surprising;

moments of great happiness or sadness

let us bring them to your strengthening comfort

in the stillness.




SUSAN:  Your Spirit interprets

our deepest longings

so we praise You

for Your limitless love and mercy.


IAN:   Now we are ready

to receive Your Word to us.

Refresh us as we receive it

that we may be energised,

with passion and purpose.

As we pray together saying:-


ALL:  Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.   



SUSAN:  Old Testament Reading  Psalm 107: 1,2 29-32       

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures for ever. 
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble 
29 he made the storm be still,
   and the waves of the sea were hushed. 
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
   and he brought them to their desired haven. 
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind. 
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
   and praise him in the assembly of the elders. 

IAN:   The choir will now sing an anthem composed by the young Scottish composer, Stuart Murray Mitchell, who is one of our choirmembers  - ‘My Life Flows On’.


Anthem:  MY LIFE FLOWS ON  (S. Murray Mitchell)


GEORGE:  New Testament Reading 1 Peter 2: 4-5, 9-10       

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 
10 Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
   once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.

IAN:   We now sing a favourite Psalm of many people:

To Brother James’ Air, Psalm 23, “The Lord's my Shepherd”.

Hymn CH4 16  THE LORD’S MY SHEPHERD (Brother James’ Air)


IAN:   The two key roles at each General Assembly are the Moderator, who serves for one year and chairs the debates, and the Principal Clerk who is the chief administrator.  Our first reflection this morning comes from a gentleman who has served with distinction in both roles, and as Principal Clerk for some 14 years occupied a ring-side seat at the Assembly - Dr Finlay Macdonald.


REFLECTION  - Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald

The General Assembly is the Church of Scotland’s highest court – and it can be solemn, humorous, argumentative, conciliatory, tedious and exciting.  But at heart it is a spiritual body, seeking to order the life of the Church in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Each day opens with prayer and praise where the singing, especially the Scottish metrical psalms, raises the roof.


The living stones of a General Assembly are, of course, its members - ministers, elders, deacons, youth representatives, ecumenical delegates and visitors from around the world. But let me share some other ‘living stones’, in the form of lively moments from the past.


In 1601 the General Assembly met in Burntisland, a small town on the River Forth across the Firth from Edinburgh. King James V1 himself was present, and one of the matters discussed was the need for a new translation of the Scriptures. Two years later came the union of crowns, with James’ move to London, and eight years after that, in 1611, the King James or ‘authorised’ version of the Bible duly appeared. The accessibility of the Scriptures was a vital Reformation principle and the beauty and majesty of the King James Bible remain a landmark legacy of that time.


At so many moments, the Church has wrestled with difficult questions, raising debate that can be painful in wider society as well as in the churches.  In 1986, the year of Chernobyl, the Assembly was asked to declare its unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons and call upon the government to cease further development of such weapons. This was the culmination of many years of deep soul-searching, of impressive and moving debates on both sides of the argument.  Many speakers stressed the concept of just war, and of the deterrent and consequent peace-preserving effects of such weapons. On the other side of the case was a Fife elder, a retired colonel, who in previous debates on the subject had powerfully supported the deterrence argument. But, for him, Chernobyl changed everything; so much so, that he told the Assembly, and I quote: ‘Now if I were ordered to press the button for a first nuclear strike I would not be prepared to do it. I would shoot myself first’. The motion was carried.


The business of the week ahead will inevitably include internal church affairs, as well as matters of wider social and political importance: but in addressing them in a moral and theological context, the Assembly asks its most important question first: how do you love your neighbour as yourself in today’s world?


I want to close with two more very powerful Assembly moments from my own experience:


In 2010 Professor Mona Siddiqui became the first Muslim to address the Assembly. Our ecumenical spirit today embraces a strong interfaith dimension.


One notable ecumenical breakthrough was in 1975 when the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Thomas, later Cardinal Winning, became the first Roman Catholic to address the Assembly since the Reformation. The archbishop spoke memorably of ‘a silence of 415 years being broken’ and asked: ‘What do brothers say to one another after such a silence? Surely, he continued, ‘they ask for forgiveness.’ What was the response of the Assembly? In a most moving gesture, and mindful of Christ’s prayer that his disciples might be one, they stood to a man and to a woman and together recited the doxology; ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost’.


As living stones we live not in pious isolation but in lively community with others – built into a spiritual house whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ.



As we prepare to sing together again, I find myself reflecting that as we read scripture, sing praise and pray through our differences, there is hope.   In a church which, along with the wider church, is changing and often challenged, we can retain our confidence and be encouraged when we realise that disagreement and change are part of our whole story.  The Apostle Paul brings this to the fore repeatedly through his wonderful metaphor - the body of Christ. “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it.” 

One of the Kirk’s contentious issues over the last decade has been the debate over gay clergy, which yesterday led to the approval of legislation that will allow for the ordination of ministers or deacons in civil partnerships.  It has caused divisions; but on all sides, most of the time, there has been a desire to work through the issues prayerfully.  This matter will remain a painful one for some; but I have been moved by the breadth of conversation and consultation, and the careful and respectful dialogue which has surrounded the decision.

So it seems appropriate now to sing Psalm 136, which is well known throughout the United Kingdom and reminds us to be joyful – ‘Let us with a gladsome mind praise the Lord, for he is kind’.

Hymn CH4 93   LET US WITH A GLADSOME MIND   (Monkland)


IAN:   Our second reflection this morning is from Dr Sheilagh Kesting, who was born in the Outer Hebrides.  Sheilagh was the second woman to be Moderator.


REFLECTION -  Very Rev Sheilagh Kesting

The reading we heard earlier from the first letter of Peter reminds us that, like living stones, we are called to be built into a spiritual house, and to proclaim God’s acts.   As Moderator, I was acutely aware of a spiritual belonging that supported and sustained me as I responded to the demands of the year.


In my day job I am the Ecumenical officer of the Church of Scotland.  That means I am used to seeing what we do as part of a bigger, global picture of Christians who belong to different church traditions and whose Christianity has been shaped by different cultural contexts.  Some of that was reflected in my year but I also had a tremendous insight into the reach of the Church of Scotland into the wider society of Scotland and with partner churches across the world.  I met with young people recovering from addiction, children in schools, civic, political and business leaders, people who don’t necessarily have any connection with any church but who nonetheless value the interest the Church takes in them and the help it can offer.


I had two overseas visits, both of which have poignant significance for us today.  I visited Vanuatu, now sadly suffering the devastation of the recent cyclone.  I remembered, with them, the missionaries who had brought Christianity to their islands, many of them from Scotland, when the islands were called the New Hebrides.  Their parting gift to me - two handsome sets of books - reflected how they both honoured the history of this mission and understood how their Christian faith might relate to the islanders’ traditional customs.  I remember their smiling faces. Today the Church in Vanuatu is being supported by churches around the world as its people struggle with the loss of thousands of homes and the huge devastation of fisheries and crops.


My other visit was to Lebanon and Syria - both much in the news lately.  In Lebanon I met with religious leaders, including Armenian Christians, descendants of those who fled across the mountains in winter-time carrying the bones of their dead, during the Armenian genocide the centenary of which was marked last month.  To this day, the Armenian community in Lebanon bears testimony to the resilience of people of faith in their search for peace. 


In relation to Syria, I find it hard to imagine Damascus today after over three years of war.  And I think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have spilled over into Lebanon, a country already coping with Palestinian refugees who have been there for over 60 years now.  I remember the Iraqi Christians who surrounded me after I preached in Damascus – refugees from the Iraq war and how they are now refugees again as Christians flee for their lives to surrounding countries.  I remember meeting the Grand Mufti of Damascus and realising the significance of being recognised as a woman church leader.  He had been a signatory of a letter written by Muslim leaders, many from the Middle East, to the Pope and through the Pope to all Christians calling for Christians and Muslims the world over to build peace together.  Between us we represent more than 50% of the world’s population:  if Christians and Muslims can live in peace there is hope for peace in the world.  I recently met one of my colleagues from Lebanon and I was pleased to hear that there are still some religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, in Syria who maintain good relations with each other – a small sign of hope for a battered region. 


In my home I have a bishop’s staff – not something you would expect to find in a Presbyterian home.  It was given to me by an Archbishop in Damascus and is a constant reminder to me of the plight of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular.  


The love, courage and determination to live by their values, which I have seen in so many wildly-contrasting settings overseas and within these shores, inspire me to this day.


FRANCES:  Let us pray,

‘The earth is the Lord’s.’

Lord, you created the heavens and the earth.

light and colour;

trees and flowers;

all living things;

for ancient rocks and flowing streams;

for all that there is to see, smell, touch,

to taste and hear, we give thanks.

It is a gift that we may lift up our hearts in praise.



Lord Jesus Christ,

Build up our homes in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom,

In Syria, in Iraq, in Nepal and in every nation:

So the anxious may find peace;

The sad may find comfort;

The hungry may find food;

The weary may find rest.

Lord , Help us never to be dead weights

ALL:    Rather to be the living stones for you




Response:  Spirit of life, fill us with your love


GEORGE:   Build up our community:

Where the isolated may find friendship;

The marginalised may find welcome;

The unloved may find acceptance.

Lord , Help us never to be dead weights,

ALL:    Rather to be the living stones for you


Response:  Spirit of life, fill us with your love



FRANCES:   Build up our nation, loving Lord,

Bless Her Majesty the Queen and our new members of parliament,

As well as all those entrusted with the care of our society’s fabric.

May they use their skills, their calling, their hard work

To fashion communities of grace and understanding,

Where generosity of heart and mind and soul

May be not only the gilding of our daily life

but its very core.

Lord , Help us never to be dead weights,

ALL:    Rather to be the living stones for you


Response:  Spirit of life, fill us with your love



GEORGE:  Build up the Church,

So that all Your children may find their place,

Unique and special,

Chosen and essential to the living edifice,

Dreaming dreams, and living gloriously the joy 

of a faith that edifies everything that life should be.

In the name of our Saviour, our cornerstone, we pray.



IAN:  We prepare to go out into the world, sustained by hope in the love of God.  Our final hymn:  ‘All my hope on God is founded.’


Hymn CH4 192  ALL MY HOPE ON GOD IS FOUNDED  (Michael)



IAN:   We the church on earth now scattered from this time of unity

to be living stones in the world


ALL:      Sharing our unity in the Spirit

 Sharing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

 Sharing the peace of God


IAN:     This is the day that the Lord has made

All:        Let us rejoice and be glad in it.



Organ Voluntary   J.S. Bach    Praeludium in C   BWV 547


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