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.

Sunday 9th May 2021

Reading: 1Peter 3:8-18

Reflection

Peter wants to make sure that the church knows it place and role in the world. He wants us to understand properly the duties of the church as a body. Remember, he has given us instructions as to our individual way of life, but now he wants to talk to us as a group. He has already referred to the church as a spiritual house being built up by God, and now he’s going to tell us a little more about what the purpose of the spiritual house is, and how we should integrate ourselves into the world. He is not saying in order to live in harmony we should simply avoid arguing with each other, he takes us beyond that, we should be caring in a meaningful way, and thinking about the same things together, we should be discussing the things of Christ. As each day we strive to be more Christ like we therefore must be trying to discern God’s will for us and his church.

This no doubt involves being sympathetic and empathetic with each other. To be of one mind and in harmony we need to show compassion to each other. There is a sharing in this journey through the life of faith that we experience together and for it to be complete and honest we need to share in the laughter as well as the tears. The times of joy and the times of sorrow. It will call on us to show a humbler side to our nature. You cannot think anyone to be better or more worthy than the other for in this there is no humility, there is no harmony and there is no unity of mind. Throughout the gospels we encounter Peter; pushing his way to the front or making big bold statements. Every listing of the disciples names him first. He is always portrayed as a likeable man with a big heart and his enthusiasm could never be questioned. He was a man with many rough edges. His emotions often swung like a pendulum. Courageous and brave to doubting and afraid. Here, towards the latter stages of his life, Peter is definitely displaying signs of mellowing. So much has changed in a relatively short space of his life. He is now using words such as humble and submit, not the Peter we were first introduced to. There is no brash aggressive style about him now. Peter has taken heed to the teaching of Jesus and to the specific instruction he gave to Peter, ‘feed my sheep.’ Peter has transformed into this tender shepherd who is guiding his flock with care and attention offering hope in their darkest of times. Offering them a future filled with goodness as they journey through a present day that is filled with evil intent towards them. As we have journeyed from the Gospel according to Mark directly into this letter of Peter that change is dramatic and stark. Immediately before our reading Peter is counselling wives and husbands how to care for each other in gentle and loving ways.

This is the man who sliced of the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus and now he speaks of submission. He protested long and loud when Jesus spoke of his death and now he is commending this suffering as the way for us. Peter writes about the church integrating into the world because what Peter is going to tell us is that we are no longer truly a part of this world. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah in verse 14 he writes, ‘Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened.’ The world is a place that fears the loss of wealth, the loss of status, the loss of health and even death itself. Peter assures those to whom he writes that these are things they should no longer fear. The first duty of the church is its duty to God. Peter wants us to understand that the church is something unique in the world a body belonging solely to God, a group that is to be entirely dedicated to God and to His service. Peter wants to make clear to the church the duty of the church is in the world and not “to” the world the duty of the church is always to God. Peter is telling us that as believers we are on a spiritual journey with God. He warns the church against getting involved with fleshly lusts which war against the soul for they inhibit our journey as spiritual pilgrims. The more we tie ourselves down to the physical, the more we try to satisfy fleshly desires and lusts, the less time we have to grow in Jesus Christ.

Those fleshly lusts Peter is referring to are not all things we would necessarily think of as “bad” things. It can be anything that we overindulge in at the expense of our relationship with God. He says in our hearts we are to have Christ set apart as Lord. This leads us into an explanation of why Peter is taking us down this road. ‘Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.’ Here is reason to abstain from fleshly lusts, our conduct toward those inside as well as outside the body of Christ really does matter. Peter says the only defence we have to any accusation against our faith, our church, our life, is to be able to point to our actions, all of us together, as a church, and be able to say “That’s not true. We live the way we say we live, because we are trying live the way God wants us to live.”

Sunday 2nd May 2021

Good News Bad New

Isaiah 40:3-11 (NRSV) (Isaiah 11:9-10 NRSV

There’s a humorous story of a teenager who comes home and tells his dad: “Dad, I have some good news and some bad news about your car.

The good news is—the air bags work.”

What makes that story humorous is the fact that imbedded in the good news is the bad news.

Our text today in Isaiah 40 in some ways begins like that.

We hear God saying, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”

 The pronouncement of comfort is indeed good news, but imbedded in this pronouncement is the fact that there must be something uncomfortable at hand.

You don’t need to be comforted by good news if you are not experiencing any bad news.

The words of Isaiah 40 are speaking into a very disturbing deliverance of bad news.

This bad news is recorded one chapter prior to our text today. The news in chapter 39 is so bad that the book of Isaiah is often divided at chapter 40 as a “second Isaiah,” and some scholars even attribute the writing of chapters 40 onwards to a different author.

Have you ever had news so bad that everything changes so dramatically that you don’t even feel like the same person anymore?

We will let the scholars sort out the literary changes, but for you and me, we may need a dramatic switch from bad news to good news like we see from chapter 39 to chapter 40. But first, let’s deal with the bad news.

In chapter 39, Isaiah speaks of a future day when Jerusalem would be destroyed.

This took place about a hundred years later, in 586 BC.

Ten years before this destruction, Judah was crushed by the Babylonians.

The city was captured, A mere decade later, Judah was again attacked by the Babylonians, but this time the invaders utterly destroyed Jerusalem.

The walls were pulled down and the temple was burned.

If you want to get a better sense of the bad news Isaiah is proclaiming, you can read the book of Lamentations, After reading Lamentations, you would read Isaiah 40 as the good news that this horrible nightmare would come to an end.

God was going to deliver and restore his people.

As we read this good news, we can bring our own bad news to mind.

We may not be dealing with such atrocities as recorded in Lamentations, but we too are only one chapter removed from bad news.

For some, it seems the entire past year has been a year of bad news.

For others, it may be some bad news you received last year or last month.

Or perhaps you were given some bad news this week.

 If you happened to listen to the news or watch it on TV recently, no doubt you were given a heavy dose of bad news in some form or another.

Bad news seems to speak to us at every turn.

But God chose in chapter 40 not to remain silent and to share his good news of comfort, and he has chosen today to speak to us words of comfort to help you face whatever challenge lies before us.                                                              

 So, let’s look at this good news recorded in the first 11 verses in chapter 40.

The first thing we notice is that God is telling messengers to speak his words of comfort.

 And that message hasn’t changed. When one is called to speak God’s words to God’s people, he is called to speak good news. This doesn’t mean that we have to ignore all the bad news and pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does mean we bring a message of comfort and hope in the midst of it.

 The good news in Isaiah 40 does not dismiss Israel’s sins, which have landed them in exile, but it reminds us that sin is not God’s focus; deliverance and restoration is the focus of his good news. The text begins with God’s voice of comfort.

Then we have three other voices enter the scene to “preach” this message in their own words. Each messenger has something to contribute to the overall message of good news the Lord is delivering.

 Clearly God wants this message to be heard.

He is not content to just say it once. He keeps speaking to us by sending different voices to deliver the same message—like a lover who uses many forms of communication to “speak tenderly” to his beloved who is estranged.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a letter, a phone call, a text, a Facebook post, a pigeon, a poem, or a smoke signal.

He or she will keep speaking through chosen instruments until he or she hears his words wooing her back to him.             

 As we examine each of these three voices that God speaks through, we tune our ears to hear the voice of the Father speaking to us personally, deliberately, and passionately.

The Lord will not rest until the good news of his love for us becomes the final word over all the bad news we are facing.

So, let’s examine each of these three voices to hear what he has to say today.

Voice 1: A Royal Revelation and Restoration

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5 NRSV)

These verses pick up on some royal themes by using cultural terminology.

The imagery used of preparing a highway in the desert probably draws from the Babylonian religion that would build special processional roads where they could display their gods before the people.

It was a sort of parade of the gods, you might say.

But the highway Isaiah is talking about is to lead away from Babylon across the desert back to the promised land.

 It’s the Exodus all over again.

In this procession we have on display the true God of Israel, who delivered them from Egypt.

The phrase “prepare the way of the Lord” also tells us the king is returning to the throne.                                                                     

This returning Lord and King is depicted as doing two things. First, he engages in a major restoration of the landscape.

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

This is metaphorical language and doesn’t mean he is talking about changing Jerusalem’s topography.

In using images of making things smooth and level, he is letting us know that this King will set things right.

It’s another way to speak of the proud being humbled and the lowly being exalted.

Things will be put back into proper balance and the rough edges will be smoothed out.

 This text is picked up in the Gospels to point to Jesus as the ultimate new king who comes with a royal restoration.

Jesus is the king who fixes things the way they should be.

Jesus is recorded in his ministry as healing the sick, restoring the blind, feeding the hungry, forgiving sinners and raising the dead. When King Jesus embarks on his royal projects of restoration, it is on a scale best depicted as earth shattering. The second thing depicted in this passage is that this returning King will bring a Royal Revelation.

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

To speak of God’s glory is to speak of his true essence—to see him for who he is.

Jesus, the true King, is the one in whom we see the glory of God. In Jesus we come face to face with who God is, and he is glorious indeed, a God full of grace and truth, a God who loves us with his dying breath.

This revelation leads us from the bad news of bondage that might indicate that God is against us or means us harm.

God is for us even when our sins plunge us into the bondage and exile we deserve.

He doesn’t leave us there; he reveals and restores and brings us home.

Voice 2: Unfailing Faithfulness

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8 NRSV)

These verses deliver some wonderful good news that at first may seem a bit insulting.

Basically, it says that it is not up to us.

 Now, if all your efforts have landed you in the horrid situation of exile that Isaiah has proclaimed, this comes as a welcomed announcement.

What wonderful news to know that God is not leaving our salvation up to us.

You know we would mess that up in a hurry.

The poetic language of flowers and grass contrast the frail, fading and fleeting nature of our faith with the sure and unfailing faithfulness of God’s word in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is God’s promise kept.

Jesus as God’s Word is the last Word, and it is never taken back. We can count on it with our whole being, as it “will stand forever.”

Voice 3: It’s Personal

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 11:9-10 NRSV)

The sweeping pronouncement of good news that “all people shall see” is marvelous to behold.

The first two voices speak of this good news with tremendous global and national implications.

But this third voice lets us know that we do not get lost in a crowd.

This good news is for us personally.

You will never hear God say, “It’s not personal, it’s only business!”

 God is a personal God as Father, Son, and Spirit.

His good news is to you as a particular person in relationship with this tri-person God.

This final voice moves closer to speak to the people of Jerusalem in personal ways.

Listen to this voice, not as a voice to the world or to the nation of Israel, but to you personally:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:11 NRSV)

God chooses in this passage to speak to you tenderly today.

 He is not coming with a booming voice of judgment or power.

 He comes as a caring Shepherd full of humility and tenderness. He comes with a gentle touch for those who have tender wounds. He knows you personally and particularly.

 He knows the bad news you are facing, and he knows the heaviness of your heart.

He carries you in his arms to heal and lift you up.

 Jesus is this Good Shepherd.

Jesus is the good news that the Father wants you to hear today. The bad news is coming to an end. The good news has arrived in Jesus. And this is a word of comfort indeed!

Amen.