Sunday 25th July 2021

Reading: Mark 6:14-29

Reflection

Earlier in the year from January through to April we spent fourteen weeks journeying through the Gospel according to Mark. This is one chapter we did not visit. John is there during both Advent and Lent telling us and everyone with ears to hear to repent. It may surprise you that although John is very much high profile from almost the opening words of the gospel, other a few sort of one-liner references, it is not until now in the sixth chapter we encounter him again and it’s not really him we meet with but rather it is an update on how life has been for John. In fact, it is an account that is looking back on how John’s life had come to an end. What startling news reporting this is. The man who baptized the people in the River Jordan is dead. The thundering prophet has been beheaded. Mark makes this latest announcement with a thud, no build up, no gentle introduction to soften us up for the blow about to be landed on us. Some were saying John the baptizer has been raised from the dead. What!? John, dead? Mark has our attention from the outset and the details soon follow. John’s prophetic voice had got him into trouble. He charged the highest ranking local bureaucrat with making an unlawful marriage, that ensured his fast track into prison. Herod Antipas had put aside his legitimate wife to marry his half-niece, Herodias, daughter of one of his half-brothers and the ex-wife of another. Herod is employed by the Romans to govern part of Galilee. He is a somebody, and his new wife doesn’t like being scolded and certainly not by a lunatic nobody. Imprisonment ought to have silenced John but Herodias wants him dead, and we already know she’s going to succeed. It is as though we are standing in the wings as this non-masterpiece of theatre unfolds. Herod was both puzzled by John and attracted to him. Apparently, he wasn’t too afraid to listen to what John had to say. It was Herod’s father who ordered the slaughter of male infants when he learned of Jesus’ birth. Herod the younger is content with imprisoning this holy man, but his wife is up to something, and when we lean in closer we hear there’s going to be a birthday banquet. Banquets mean drinking and dancing and a loosening of the kind of self-control that could otherwise keep an innocent man alive.

As soon as we hear of the banquet we know the date of John’s death. The foolish promise is made by Herod, a man overfilled with wine and food, besotted with power and with the youth and beauty on display. The words he uses when he makes his fatal promise have been used by another king long before him. In the Book of Esther, Queen Esther used the drunken promise of a king to save her people. The queen in our story uses the promise to ensure a murder. Once the dancing daughter has done her job, she has to run out of the room to ask her mother what to ask for. It’s a little detail that heightens the suspense. When the request is finally spoken, the words “the head of John the baptizer” are made. The girl may have been a pawn up until now, but this little queen-in-waiting adds a gruesome detail of her own. She is the one who asks for John’s head “on a platter.” And she wants it right now. What on earth is this awful story doing here? The story starts with questions about who Jesus really is. Again and again the stories of Jesus and John connect, even before birth we learn their mothers are cousins and other similarities unfold in both their stories. John is the one who is preparing the way. John has a message to give for the people he has a dedicated group of disciples; Jesus’ ministry follows a similar pattern. The innocent John is killed by powerful people who are threatened by his truth telling. Jesus, too, dies at the hands of anxious political authority. Herod knows that John is not deserving of death; Pilate tries to derail Jesus’ execution. It would appear that speaking the truth in the corridors of power can lead to some kind of danger, doing good and doing right things does not always protect you from being badly hurt no matter who you are, master or disciple. Just before John’s beheading, Jesus sends the twelve out to teach, preach, and heal with nothing to sustain them but their faith. After the gruesome platter is brought into the banquet, the disciples return to Jesus and report their success. Another one of those Markan sandwiches that we uncovered earlier in the year where one story is topped and tailed by another. Good and successful ministry, it seems, happens right alongside violent opposition. Is it enough to make some people choose a safer course in life rather than being a disciple of Christ? It just might be that’s the message for us today at our time of the journey with all that is going on. Could it be that when we try to follow Christ, we follow too safe a course, we are quite happy sitting in that mighty comfortable seat at the banquet, simply waiting for others to do the work. If nothing else, this story reminds us that it can be easy to dismember our faith in order to not risk standing out. By the same token, we decapitate what we say we believe in when we neatly place it into a Sunday ritual behaving as though it was something that has little or nothing to do with the rest of our lives. The story of John’s beheading is shocking, and it’s meant to be to shock us out of complacency in a faith that comes at little or no cost. But all of us who would follow Christ are called to confront, as well as we can, the wrong we see around us, and confrontation is never comfortable. To pay that price is to stand with many who followed the path that John prepared for the One who came after him. May we too be willing to follow in the ways of Christ our saviour and Lord and never shy away from standing for the truths that he reveals.

Sunday 18th July 2021

 Sam 17; 38 – 51

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’

45 David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When Facing a Giant 

Little David facing Goliath the giant is one of the best-known stories in the Hebrew Bible.

There is something about the little guy gaining victory over the big bully that strikes a chord in the human heart, something that resonates with our sense of fairness and the right.

Indeed, it is a common theme that has taken shape in countless novels and movies.

The story embodies the hopes of all persons who are facing an overwhelming power or force of evil that there is a way to overcome and be victorious.

But I must confess that for a long time I resisted preaching on David slaying the giant because of the violence and bloodshed involved. Christians, I believe, should be nonviolent and should work for peace whenever possible.

There is something about David lopping off the head of Goliath and then dragging it across the battlefield that doesn’t set real well with rational, compassionate Christianity.

I.                  But as we think about giants, we realize that giants come in many forms and fashions.

And squaring off with a giant doesn’t always mean the shedding of blood. We might define a giant for this morning’s purposes as any powerful or overwhelming force that oppresses, robs of life, destroys human dignity, or feeds on injustice.

Individually we face giants.

Individuals may face the giant of discrimination in the workplace, or the giant of prejudice in the community, or the giant of a debilitating or life-threatening illness.

At some point in our lives many of us, or someone we love, will face the giant of depression.

And collectively we face giants.

As a church, we face giants in our culture that seek to defy and work against the cherished principles that we stand for.

As I said, giants come in many forms and fashions.

II.               But how do we confront the giants of life?

What resources can we draw on?

There is a lot to be learned from this ancient and well-known story.

In spite of his eagerness to show off on the battlefield, David demonstrates some important qualities of leadership in this story.

May I suggest to you that the five smooth stones that David gathered from the stream can be symbolic of five “spiritual stones” that enable us to face the giants of life.

The first smooth stone is courage.

In facing Goliath with courage, David drew on his strengths and gained confidence as he remembered how he had attacked the bear and lion.

To face a giant with courage is to go forth in acting on our strengths and not trying to compensate for our weaknesses.

“Courage,” someone has said, “is fear that has said its prayers.”

 “To be this church  in this country, in this day takes courage.”

But more important, David’s courage also rested on trust in the power of the God of Israel.

Thus trust is the second smooth stone for facing a giant.

Whereas his opponent trusted in javelin, sword, spear, and armour (shall we say military strength, missiles, ?), David trusted in the deliverance of the Living God.

 David realized that there are resources beyond the technology of kingdoms.

 More and more as we go on with the Christian life we learn the absolute power of Spirit over circumstances.”

3 Trust helps us to tap into that Spirit.

Trust in God gives us hope that there is a way into the future when there seems to be no way to go.

Dr. Robert Schuller tells of listening to a prominent German psychiatrist speak on the topic of depression and how many of his patients had sat under analysis for months without any sign of recovery.

Then one day a spark would appear in their flat, dull eyes: “it was the spark of the birth of hope!”

4 Hope is the force that helps us face the giants of life and see a way when there seems to be no way.

The fourth smooth stone is truth.

As we face a giant, we best know that we are in the right, that truth is on our side.

Abraham Lincoln once told some visiting ministers that he did not worry whether God was on his side or not, “for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right,” he said.

It was, Lincoln said, “my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” When we are absolutely, one-hundred-percent certain that we are in the right! and truth! is on our side, then we are ready to speak truth to power, as David did.

And the fifth smooth stone is honour.

Bringing honour to God’s name.

As the story tells it, David was incensed at Goliath’s mockery of the God of Israel.

 David did what he did so that the honour of God’s name might be restored. Whatever we do, whatever problem we face, it is imperative that our conduct, and response are such that God’s name is honoured, and not defamed.

What giants might we see on our horizon?

And what five smooth stones will accompany you as you face the giant down?

With the right approach, giants can be felled.

Who would have thought a few decades ago that the giant of communism and the Berlin Wall would be knocked down, or apartheid in South Africa would be defeated and many other wrongs brought down?

5 As we think about the giants of our world, what is required of us is not a passive, inactive posture.

6 No, when facing a giant, what is required is courageous action, based on trust in God, with hope that positive change is possible, as we speak truth to power and seek to bring honour to God’s name.

Courage, trust, hope, truth, and honour—

five smooth spiritual stones for facing the giants of life.—

Amen.

Sunday 11th July 2021

Principles of Prayer

Luke 11:1–13

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to walk beside Jesus daily during his ministry here on earth?

It must have been exhilarating for the disciples as they discovered week-by-week and month-by-month the depth, the power, and the spiritual insights that radiated from this man, Jesus.

 It took a long time, but it finally became clear, this was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 It had been clear from the beginning that Jesus’ whole life was different: his words, his personality, his vision, his control over demons, his miraculous acts.

Surely, this man could give them anything they wanted, but Luke does not record any such requests from the disciples up to the time of this passage in Luke 11. “Lord, teach us to pray” is their request.

Why would the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray at this particular time in their journey with him?

 I would suggest that over the long journey they had come to realize that prayer literally saturated Jesus’ whole life.

 Every significant decision, every miraculous event, every movement in his ministry was preceded with prayer.

In the midst of a busy schedule, he always found time to retire for prayer. He sought the Father’s direction in choosing his disciples.

He demonstrated prayerful dependence on the Father by “looking up toward heaven” before he fed the five thousand or raised Lazarus from the grave.

Prayer had made a difference, and they wanted to learn how to pray the way Jesus did.

It seems worth noting that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to show them how to pray; they knew how.

There was something more about Jesus’ prayer life they need to emulate. His prayer life was so endowed by the very spirit of God that it stood apart from anything they had experienced before.

They knew by now that if Jesus could “teach” them to pray, they could become true disciples.

Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ request gives us a guide to true spiritual depth.

It directs us to a life centered in God.

I.                 A pattern for prayer.

 It would appear that Jesus did not mean for his words to become a rote prayer that the disciples should learn and repeat continuously; rather, he gave them a pattern for prayer.

 First, begin with God, not ourselves.

Prayer should be centred on God.

How often do we begin our prayers with our thoughts centred on ourselves?

I think Jesus is saying, “If you start with your thoughts and mind centred on God, everything will be in the right perspective.”

Second, pray as a child.

By praying to God as Father, we place ourselves in our born-again relationship to him.

We proclaim our dependence on him as our Heavenly Father.

The heavenly family relationship is affirmed.

Third, pray to honour God’s name: “Hallowed be thy name.”

 Hallowed means “to make holy.”

 Far too often we take the commandment that forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain to mean that we should not to curse or swear.

 I don’t think that is what it means.

Rather, it means don’t claim to follow God and then fail to act accordingly. In some ways, “hallowed be thy name” is the same idea.

May my life proclaim the holiness of God.

Pray for God’s will on earth.

 Pray that the Kingdom of God will come to earth and, as Matthew puts it, “thy will be done.”

Maybe it goes a little further and says let the Kingdom live in me.

 Pray for physical needs.

God created us whole persons. He is concerned about us as whole persons. He knows we have physical needs, and it is not wrong to take those needs to him.

Pray for spiritual needs.

Pray for our own spiritual needs.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

We all need forgiveness.

Pray for our relationship to others.

Pray that we will reflect the forgiveness of God in our relationships to others.

Finally, pray that we will not be overcome by temptation.

Temptation is real, and only with the power of God can we overcome the evil one.

11  The purpose of prayer.

Jesus is not explicit in teaching his disciples about the purpose of prayer, but it is implicit throughout the prayer.

Prayer is about relationships.

We have a family relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Families need to communicate.

This communication can take place as the individual lifts up his or her prayer to heaven, and it can take place as a congregation lifts up its corporate prayer.

Our Heavenly Father is ready to give us good gifts if we are willing to ask for them.

If an earthly father will not give a scorpion to a child who asks for an egg or a serpent when he asks for a fish, how much more does God want to give his good gifts to his children.

And the greatest gift would be the gift of the Holy Spirit.

111                    Persistence in prayer

Too often we take the parable in Luke 11:5–8 to indicate that we need to keep pounding on the door of heaven until we receive what we want.

This is not what Jesus is teaching his disciples.

He is teaching them that one who is consistent in prayer will find God’s answer.

 He follows the parable with these words: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

In other words, “pray.” James reminds us, “You have not, because you ask not” (James 4:2).

If the disciples could only pray like Jesus, they knew they would be the kind of disciples he had called them to be.

The same applies to us.

 If we can pray like Jesus, we can be the disciples he has called us to be.     

Amen.

Sunday 4th July 2021

Some who have small parts in the Bible

Simeon and Anna Luke 2 22-36

Simeon and Anna were part of the faithful remnant among the Jews who were looking and longing for the coming of the Messiah.

Unlike the others, Simeon had received a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen “The lord’s Christ,” The Messiah.

Luke tells us that Simeon was “Righteous and The Holy Spirit was upon Him”.

The Holy Spirit was resting on Simeon continuously, which was rare.

Clearly, he was a man who lived his life in a manner that was pleasing TO God; who was careful to perform all the religious duties required he was open to God at all times.

So, it was no coincident that Simeon was in the Temple courts on the very day and at the very time that Baby Jesus passed through in the arms of his parents.

Mary and Joseph had brought Him “To Present Him to the Lord”.

And go through the ceremonies prescribed by the law v23 -24.

All those who officiated at these ceremonies involving Jesus were in attendance simply because they happened to be on duty at that time;

But Simeon was present because he had been “moved by the Spirit to be there.”

So, who was Simeon?

In view of the description, it looks like he must have been a Priest, or at least worked in the Temple.

But there is no evidence for this.

Apparently, tradition has it he was 113 years old.

But again, it is not substantiated.

However, it does seem likely he was elderly.

How long he stood watching parents coming and going with their babies we don’t know.

Imagine his excitement when the Holy Spirit directed him to Mary and Joseph.

This was the divine appointment he had been waiting for, for years.

Clearly there must have been something about Simeon that persuaded Mary and Joseph to allow this complete stranger to take their precious Baby off them and hold Him in his arms up high.

On seeing Jesus, Simeon was now happy to die in the knowledge that he had seen the Messiah promised, by God.

After years of waiting, he was holding the baby who had come to bring salvation to the whole world.

The Holy Spirit had opened Simeon’s eyes, this was the promised baby.

Having praised and thanked God for the child.

Simeon then turned his attention to the parents who were still in a state of shock and amazement at his words.

Simeon prophesied that Jesus would have the effect of splitting people into two groups;

 those who were for Him and believed in Him.

And those who were against and rejected Him.

People would not be able to remain neutral about Jesus.

As Simeon was speaking to Mary and Joseph an elderly lady appeared on the scene.

Isn’t God’s timing always perfect!

Her name was Anna, she had been a widowed after seven years of marriage and was very old.

Luke describes her as a Prophetess her devotion to God was shown by the fact that “She never left the Temple but worshiped day and night, fasting and praying.

She too must have been led by the Spirit and brought to this divine appointment.

Her initial reaction on seeing the child was the same as Simeon.

“she gave thanks to God.”

Their praise was inspired by the Holy Spirit and must have sounded good to God.

Notice that Anna didn’t just praise God!

She also made known what God had done.

She clearly recognized the baby as the promised Messiah.

Because she went out of the Temple and spoke about the child to all who were looking and waiting for the coming of The Messiah and what He would do.

And shouldn’t our lives include those same elements; praising God, and telling others what he has done?

After all, how are people going to know about God’s salvation if we don’t tell them?

Simeon and Anna both had divine appointments.

Dare we pray that God give us Divine appointments today with people we can share our faith- – – – -telling them What God has done for us!!!!! In our life.

Sunday 27th June 2021

Reading 2 Peter 3:14-18

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our LORD’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Reflection

And so we reach the closing of Peter’s 2nd letter. Peter has led us, in my opinion, on a very stimulating journey and this morning we are more reflective as we think about journeys. From the very opening in Peter’s 1st letter, which read, ‘Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: grace and peace be yours in abundance.’ To the closing words of his 2nd letter that we read this morning, ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.’ It has been a journey that has invited us to think about our role as the church here on earth and how we interact with the wider community. There were many words of encouragement, even when persecution and bad times surrounded the early church and how all of this translates into our situation for today. I hope we have found encouragement along the way and I hope also we have been met with a challenge or two for that is how life feels. Peter draws to a close his letter by offering both. All that he has written in the previous chapters are applied across the church encouraging us to live a righteous life that we should be at peace with Christ and enter into this new heaven and earth. Instead of fearing what lies ahead we ought to be living our lives with a confidence in Christ that we should be unashamed to call him Lord. Of all the planning we do over a lifetime how many times have we moved from plan A to plan B and then further on down the line until when the time comes we may even find ourselves on plan ZZ.

Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary and our family were joining with us for a BBQ in the garden the rain was falling from early morning and so we had to think of alternatives if our 1st plan was scuppered, thankfully the weather came good in the end. Peter is asking the question what plans would we make if we knew the time and the hour of Jesus return. How would we plan for this? Do find ourselves in such a place that we would have to turn our lives around in preparation or are we living in such a way that we are ready whenever the time comes, that plan is not ours to schedule but it is God’s. Peter also reminds us of the other great letter writer, the apostle Paul, who also wrote about the return of Jesus and how we ought to be ready for that day. Peter mentions that some of the writings of Paul may be difficult to understand but we should not be discouraged by this. Indeed, some of the false teachers are taking Paul’s words and distorting them to suit their own needs. Peter urges us not to do likewise. Be on your guard he says. Do not fall from the secure position in Christ that we have. Grow in grace and knowledge. Christianity is not a religion that does nothing more than make us feel good and be happy. Christianity calls on those who believe to follow Christ. Christians therefor do not follow a religion we follow Christ. We get to know him in a personal way and this grows into our faith communities. As we grow in his grace then we follow his commands and through knowledge of him we grow in his grace. And of course we do feel good and we are happy when we get to this place of relationship and understanding. Peter has shown us that Christ is our example. Peter has shown us that Christ is our goal. Peter tells us that Christ will return according to God’s timing. He then finishes of his letter by referring to those in the church as dear friends and urges them and us to be on our guard. His closing words, ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen’

In John McLeod’s poem, ‘It’s The Journey That’s Important’ the closing line is, “It’s the journey that’s important, not the getting there!”

I offer the following for your prayer time or times of thought and reflection –

The journey we are on: Where have we been, where will we go?

The people with whom we journey: Our friends and family.

The journey of our church: our church community and the service we offer.

Sunday 20th June 2021

Reading 2Peter 2:1-13

Reflection

My thought bubbles were circling around holding opposing things alongside one another as I was preparing my sermon the other day. The tensions of life. Living in the midst of a storm be it physical or psychological and being able to come through the other side safely. Living as someone who has lost their way in life and somehow being able to find salvation. Living in a world that is not short of tension and yet somehow finding a way to live in harmony with others. Peter writes in a very open and frank manner that appeals to me. There are troubles and we are in the midst of them. There is no carpet to lift the corner and sweep the unwanted stuff under. There is no fence to sit on and remain undecided about how we will choose to live our life. The journey we are on may well look different from others because our journeys are unique but we are journeying together. I thought about the word tense and other words that derived from it. I recounted my time in the agricultural industry and the phrase, ‘tensile strength’, came to mind and how that was used in describing how something holds itself together. Turning to my bookshelf and the trusty old Oxford Thesaurus I explored the difference between compressive and tensile strength? Tensile strength resisting tension, being pulled apart, and compressive strength resisting compression, being pushed together. Ultimate tensile strength is measured by the maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before breaking. All of us live with stress and tension in our lives.

I ask you, ‘have you ever experienced a more stressful time in the last twenty or thirty years?’ Tomorrow Scotland kick-off their Euro Championship competition and I for one am very stressed out. I did write this before last night’s event during the Denmark game and we thank god that the young man has pulled through. Starting tomorrow my tensile strength or put another way my stress level will be that of a Kit Kat. It will not take very much to push me beyond the limits of breaking point. And as if to prove a point right at this very moment in writing my sermon my computer decided to close itself down for an update. No warning, no opportunity to save any work I had already done just a blank screen looking back at me as I frantically tried to remember what I had written and where I thought I was going to go with the rest of the service. I had the thoughts swirling round in my head but not as yet down on paper so to speak. Remember I said I think there will be times when reading this letter, we may need to be brave enough to admit the issues that Peter writes of to the young church of his day are just as real in our churches of today. Are these things we need to face up to? Are we being pulled apart? Are we being pushed together? How far will all of that need to go before breaking point is reached? Peter highlights very clearly that life is a journey with tensions. Firstly, by looking out through the windows and how the world outside views the church inside. Then of course he steps out and looks back in through the same window and relates some of the ways the church on the inside is viewing the church on the inside. And to be really honest neither view appears to be a kindly vision. In his Old Testament examples Peter raises opposing tensions, as he looks back, who is lost and who has found salvation? The angels who have fallen through their rebellion against God and will be awaiting judgement. Peter offers this image of three very different ages in the life of the earth. The ancient world destroyed by the great flood but the righteous Noah and seven others are saved. The destruction of evil in Sodom and Gomorrah but the saving of Lot a righteous man. By giving these examples Peter writes of what lies in store from God in his day for those who are false teachers. Holding side by side the apparent opposite emotions. Can we live with healthy tension that allows harmony to flourish between us? And the answer to that lies in the following chapter. Finally, by looking forward Peter makes reference to a time when the heavens will disappear with a roar and the earth will be laid bare. But in his role as pastor, as shepherd of the flock, he also points to a new age as yet still to come. When we can look forward to a new heaven and a new earth just as God has promised. The three great ages of the journey of earth. A phrase I have used in the past comes to mind I and want to close by repeating it, ‘we have to hold these things in tension’. God will lead us through.

Sunday 6th June 2021

Reading: 2Peter 1:12-21

Reflection

Peter opened his letter by speaking about the dangers that can possibly lie within the church itself. He writes to the church encouraging it to be knowledgeable about Christ and have true knowledge of the scriptures. You may remember towards the end of my sermon last week I Quoted verse twelve and this morning it is our opening one. ‘So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.’ This morning Peter moves us on a step. He knows his own life will soon be at end. He was an eye witness to the earthly Ministry of Jesus. Now he fears that he may be witnessing something more awful then he cares to imagine, a young church straying from the teachings of Jesus. I wonder if when writing this he considered the possibility this may well be the last offer of guidance they get and that could ultimately lead to their last chance of stopping the rot and working in a positive way to stem the deterioration and indeed turn it around that the church may not only stop itself from imploding but may move to a place of evangelism and growth. I wonder if this may be the first point in which we are brave enough to admit that the church of today may well be facing the same issues and Peter’s words still hold validity. I want to concentrate our thinking around the closing five verses of our reading today; verses 16 to 21, in which he reminds the church of the glory of Christ. Peter assures the people that their grounding for knowledge is not in some made up airy fairy stories, cleverly invented, as he puts it. He and others can give a first-hand account on the life of Jesus as they were eye witnesses.


He gives examples such as the baptism of Jesus when the voice of God was heard. He recounts that mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration and the glory of Jesus shining all around. He takes them back even further as he mentions the Old Testament prophets and how they spoke many prophecies concerning Christ and Christ had fulfilled them all during his lifetime, confirming everything written about him. Peter reminds them and us that they spoke the word that God have given to them and those who spoke their own prophecies were not from God at all. A reminder for us all that the Old and the New Testaments are both sources of the true knowledge of God. The Old Testament written over a period of one thousand years. From the first five books sometimes called the books of the law written around 1400BC until the final book by the prophet Malachi around 400BC. Copied by scribes down through the centuries and passed from generation to generation. As each new copy was transcribed the previous one would be destroyed sadly, meaning the most ancient ones no longer exist. The earliest copy of the entire Old Testament we have today was written in the 10th century AD.

Ingrid and I have visited the Qumran caves in the Judean Desert were many scrolls were found in the mid 1940’s including writings from the prophet Isaiah. Of course they are known as the dead sea scrolls and contain sections from almost every book in the Old testament. These scrolls were copied during the first and second centuries BC and with only minor spelling differences and style they are exactly the same as the 10th century AD version. Thus proving the accuracy of the scribes in keeping the word true as it passed from one copy to another. That gives us confidence that what we have in our Bibles today are accurate copies from the original text.


Mostly written in the Hebrew language by the times of Jesus the common language used was Aramaic.
Most educated people across the region used the Greek language. This led the Old Testament to be translated from Hebrew, which was not widely used or understood to the more available Greek around 200BC. And when New Testament writers refer to the Old Testament it is in this Greek translation rather than the Hebrew they refer and of course we know this Greek was the language used to write the New Testament, beginning about twenty years after the death of Jesus, having told their experiences of knowing Jesus teaching others by word of mouth. The Gospels tell us about the life of Jesus, the book of Acts about the early church and the letters about some of the trials that arise in that early church. Our Bibles are unlike any other book. They were written by men who were inspired by God and led by his Holy Spirit in their writings. We can see the characters of the writers shining through. God’s word recorded by man, not dictated but inspired and guided. Many historical and archaeological discoveries have confirmed the truth of the Bible writings. And of course it is not only our minds we need to engage when reading our Bibles, we read with our spirits too or we may miss that deeper understanding of the knowledge of God which Peter writes of as he pens the final verse in our reading today. ‘For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

Sunday 30th May 2021

Reading: 2Peter 1:1-10

Reflection

Last week we took a break from the writings of Peter. We had come to the end of his first letter the week before and we celebrated Pentecost last week and even in amongst all of that Peter played was a central character. This morning and over the next few weeks we will look at his second letter as we discover much about this remarkable man, his witness for Christ and the part he plays in the building of the early Christian Church. I remember the summer of 2005. I was in the middle of my training for Ministry and had no summer placement to do that year. I applied to what was National Mission and they found a full-time placement for me at Gairloch in Wester Ross.

All around that beautiful part of our country you simply get spoilt for views and every time you turn a corner in the road, at the time, single track with passing places thankfully now upgraded, another part of God’s creation stares at you with even more splendour. Of course if you know the West of Scotland you will know the midge. That lovely little flying beastie who spends its entire life in pursuit of your blood. I remember one night in particular. I was in the house and remembered I had left something in the car. As I looked out I thought it was a bit strange that somebody had fitted one of those black vinyl roofs to my car. On closer inspection it was an entire army of midges covering ever square millimetre of the roof. It is quite amazing how all of a sudden that important thing in the car became quite irrelevant and could wait until the morning. But rethinking this whole episode in the light of this reading has made me reconsider things. This is what had actually happened. The thing that might bite was now in control of what happens. Instead of thinking how can this threat, this menace be overcome, the easier option was to stay indoors until morning and satisfy myself with the thought that the threat will be gone in the morning. The threat had been allowed to become the driving force. Although the authors and the people in our Bibles would not be familiar with all of this I do wonder if in some ways the troubles they encountered were not unlike our encounters with our beloved wee friend the midge. As soon as one attack on the church had been dealt with another came flying right back in. It appeared that new dangers were simply waiting round every corner to have a bite. There were even times when it looked as though these dangers were swarming around in great numbers. There was the group denying that Jesus was God when that had been dealt with along came a group that said Jesus was God but he could not be fully human. The apostles were constantly dealing with attack after attack. They met head on the whole challenge of legalism only to meet the group who said they were simply free spirits, therefore anything goes. There were churches gathered together inactive and huddled away simply waiting for the return of Jesus and they had their counterparts who had given up all together on any return happening during their lives. This is the setting for Peter’s letter.

It is a response to a jumpy church with different views on many things, a young church that was a bit on edge and rather jumpy at times. His first letter was more centred on dangers and fears from outside the church with persecutions coming from all quarters and how the church people lived facing them. Now his focus centres on the church within and I’m sure we would all agree this is a much more difficult challenge to face. It can be far too easy to point the finger away from yourself and say there is the problem. It’s over there and its them that’s causing it. But now Peter is looking inwardly, how many of us are comfortable even contemplating that we are part of the problem rather than part of the solution? These opening verses tell us a great deal of what will follow. It mentions often knowledge and how this must be used in our deeper understanding of Jesus. One of the other midges that is hovering around, and arguably one of the most dangerous, capable of sucking more life out the church than any of its wee pals is the false teacher midge. False teachers will stir up discontent, they will stir up dissent, they will cause brothers and sisters in Christ to fall out and even to part ways and separate from one another. The false teacher will question the most basic doctrines of the faith in a skewed fashion and all of this, Peter writes, if kept unchecked will lead Christians into immorality. Peter calls for a return to the truths of the Gospel and even in the verse immediately following those we have heard this morning he writes, ‘So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.’ That in essence is the backbone of this letter. It is not so much about new teaching but rather there are a series of great big warning signs about pitfalls endangering the church from within. As we journey through Peter’s letter we will find his answer to false knowledge is the true knowledge of Christ. As we journey through Peter’s letter we will find his answer to immoral living is to live in a moral way. Let’s journey through and try to place ourselves in the place of the original audience. What are the dangers they faced and where are the parallels for us today? I close by repeating verse eleven from our lesson today, ‘you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

Sunday 23rd May 2021

Reading: Acts2:1-21

Reflection: Is Holly Holy?

Let me explain why I have called this reflection, ‘Is Holly Holy?’. In a previous charge one of the primary schools I used to visit wanted to sponsor a cow in a country where people had less than them. This they did and in promoting their adoption of the animal they got various materials together. Things like posters etc. and this allowed others to join in on the young people’s vision. One idea was to get t shirts printed with a picture of a cow and the name of the cow they had adopted. You may have gathered the name they chose was, ‘Holly’. When I went into the school one day the head teacher gave me a gift of one of the said t shirts. The staff though it quite appropriate to give this one to the school chaplain as it was just a wee bit inaccurate. Here is that t shirt and you can see the problem as it reads, ‘holy cow.’

There is a real challenge in Pentecost. Like us today, those who experienced this magnificent revelation, had seen much of what they took to be normal life had changed beyond recognition. Like us today, they may have been feeling afraid or uncertain after all the events they had faced in the not so distant past. We can imagine Jesus’ disciples reflecting on things that were happening before he died, how he tried to tell them what was going to happen and how in many ways they were deaf to it. Understandably they were afraid and didn’t know what to think when he told them they would be scattered, when he said that his ‘hour had come’, and then when it did happen…

Like us today, how they must have had a heavy heart in their loss. We all know that feeling of loss.

As individuals and as a group they struggled. Like us today,there will be the time when they/we will understand and then they/we will speak plainly about the Father and the kingdom. It must have seemed to some of them that everything was coming together. Jesus spoke of the Spirit, that would be with them, they would be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And then they still could not believe what they saw, him lifted up to the heavens. Of course they believed in who he is. How strange that the deepest pain that can be felt could turn into the deepest joy. This Spirit he speaks of sent by him how could they be afraid?

So they waited. And then it all began. The universal nature of Pentecost is evident in the different languages listed. It is evident in the different gifts listed in 1st Corinthians. Not all gifts given to all people but rather given to individuals by the one Spirit. Gifts given to various people at various times as is fitting for that person’s service to God. Something very different are the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians. The fruits of the Spirit should be evident in all Christians at all times. It could be argued that the fruit of the Spirit is more important than the gifts, it is certainly more universal.

The challenge of the Spirit of Pentecost is to make real the universal nature of what God is doing in Christ. A realisation that, just as the good things of the faith cannot be restricted to any one group of people, neither can the good things of this earth be denied to all.  They are not for some to enjoy at the expense of others. They are for all, as Christ is for all. Love has to be seen in action. The Spirit of Pentecost is free moving, disturbing barrier-breaking and challenging. The Spirit of Pentecost is an inspiring spirit that emanates from the very life and nature of God as lived by Jesus.  So we ask, ‘Is Holly Holy?’ surely all good things done in faith for the well-being of others, even if not done perfectly, as we too are not perfect, when blessed by the Holy Spirit of God becomes Holy.

Sunday 16th May 2021

Introduction

Some words from the service of ordination of elders in the Church of Scotland. ‘There are different gifts,

but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different people in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purpose through them all. Each one is given a gift by the Spirit, to use it for the common good. We have the joy of using our gifts as members of the Church of Christ, which is his body continuing his ministry in the world today. Those who are chosen for the office of the eldership have the particular responsibility of caring for God’s people and exercising oversight and leadership. Christ calls us all to share in his ministry. Over the last year, possibly more than ever in our lifetimes, the role of the elder tending their flock has never been more needed. Over the fifteen months or so I have written updates to session members and asked that elders pass this on to their district members. Keeping, or at least, trying to keep everyone up to speed with what is happening has been a challenge for many people in many areas of life but we, the church, have this readymade network that ought to have allowed all of this to operate more smoothly.

Reading: 1Peter 5:1-11

There are few passages which show more clearly the importance of the eldership in the early church. As Peter writes to the elders he does not hesitate in calling himself a fellow elder. The history of eldership is an important and ancient office across society. Jewish origins of eldership can be traced to the days when the children of Israel were journeying through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Remember in the Old Testament when the burdens of leadership became too heavy for Moses to bear on his own.

Seventy elders were set apart and granted a share of the spirit of God. Elders became a permanent feature of Jewish life, they are to be friends of the prophets and advisors to the kings. They are colleagues of princes, involved in the administration of the affairs of the nation. Every village and every city had its elders. They met at the gate of the village or city and dispensed justice to the people. Elders were the administrators of the synagogue overseeing good government and order within the synagogue. The supreme court of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, included elders along with the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees. In the book of revelation there is that heavenly image of twenty-four elders around the throne elders are woven into the very structure of Judaism in its civil as well as its religious affairs. There is also a Greek background. Within Egyptian communities we find elders to be leaders of the community responsible for the conduct of public affairs. In Asia Minor the members of councils and corporations were called elders, similar to our local councils dealing with particular issues that have a more direct effect on our daily living. Long before Christianity both in the Jewish and in the Greco-Roman world the title of elder was a title of honour. When we turn to the Christian Church we find that the apostle Paul ordaining elders in every community to which he preached, and in every Church which he founded. In his farewell letter to the elders in the church at Ephesus Paul sees them as the overseers of the flock of God and the defenders of the faith. We learn from James that the elders had a healing function in the church through prayers and anointing with oil. And from the pastoral letters we see that the elders were rulers and teachers. When someone enters the eldership, the oldest religious office in the world, no small honour is conferred upon them. When someone enters the eldership, no small responsibility falls upon them. That person is ordained to be a shepherd of the flock of God and defender of the faith. What Peter writes is applicable not only to the eldership but also to all Christian service. The office is to be accepted not by coercion but willingly.

This does not mean it is to be entered into lightly for the person entering must firstly engage in some self-examining. The office of eldership is not to be seen as a means of making personal gain. Peter makes a point that is for ever valid, no person should accept office or offer service for what they can get out of it.

The driving desire must always be to give and not to get. The elder is to accept office as a shepherd and as an example of and to their flock. The great characteristics of the shepherd are selfless care and sacrificial love for the sheep. Anyone who enters the office with the idea of exercising authority or becoming a powerful ruler has got their whole point of view upside down. For the office of eldership is given by the grace of God and not earned by any merit of our own. Peter identifies himself as a fellow elder. He does not speak down to them, he speaks alongside them. He does not separate himself as somehow being raised above them. He shares the Christian problems and Christian experience with them. He, of course, has his memories of Jesus and it is these memories that colour the whole passage. You can imagine him as he speaks his mind being filled as the memories come flooding in. Peter was a witness to the suffering Christ, eager that the people be resolute in their loyalty and faithful in their service. Peter is remembering both the experience and the promise of glory. The reference to Jesus as Shepherd would come to Peter from a whole series of conversations. But I wonder if the greatest influence of all comes from Jesus calling himself the good shepherd ready to lay down his life for the sheep. The privilege of being the shepherd of the flock of Christ was for Peter the greatest privilege that any servant of Christ could enjoy. The reward of love was the appointment as a shepherd.