Sunday Services

Sunday Church Service

[in place of Sunday Worship, 24th May 2020, Haddington West Church l/w Garvald and Morham may it please God to bless what is offered here, gather us in Christ and lead us into His truth]

True life is all about knowing God and knowing Jesus.

It is centred on our relationship with God, and that relationship comes through knowing Jesus. When Jesus prays for us, he is after something deep in us and in the heart of God.  Jesus did not pray that all believers would agree. The source of our unity is not in human structures or denominations. It is in Jesus Christ. Our unity gives us strength in difficult times, for there really is strength in numbers. It reminds me of some of the words in the song “United We Stand”. It was recorded in the late 1960s by a group called the Brotherhood of Man. The words I am thinking of are:

For united we stand. Divided we fall

And if our backs should ever be against the wall

We’ll be together. Together, you and I

In order for our unity to be successful, we have to learn to work together in the things we are to do.  When we pray together and work together, it increases our capacity to do God’s work in our world.

 

In our Gospel reading today John 17; 1-17 Jesus prays that he would glorify the Father (v. 1). Simply stated, Jesus lived to glorify his Father and that people would recognize the importance of his Father.  We often say of some people who think they are important that they are throwing their weight around. If anyone could have thrown their weight around it would have been Jesus. But instead he sought to show the importance of God. He wanted people to understand and recognize the weighty importance of God in their lives. He lived his life so that God would be glorified (v. 4).  If anyone could “bask in the glory” for what they had done it would be Jesus. But Jesus chooses not to bask in his glory but rather reflect that glory back to God.  Jesus prays that he might receive glory (v. 5). This is not a self-serving request; he’s simply asking to receive back what was his to begin with. Remember Jesus gave up his rights as God and became a human, in fact, a slave, and then died on a cross. Jesus laid aside his preincarnate glory with the Father when he came to earth to be born, to serve, to suffer, and to die. Since his work on earth is finished, he is asking that his preincarnate glory be given to him again. The reason is that the Son might glorify the Father in heaven.

Jesus is not asking here for a return to a heavenly status quo where he can forget that the experiment of the incarnation ever happened; he is praying for a new situation of increased knowledge and glory, where his disciples are included in the relationship between Father and Son, caught up in this mutual giving of glory, like so many mirrors reflecting the eternal light.

God’s glory is everywhere, but it is not always visible. Sometimes a moment of glory precedes a separation, as it did for the disciples on the mountain-top. Sometimes glory is hard to recognise, as it was for the disciples before the crucifixion. Sometimes glory is hidden, as it was for the suffering Christians. But the glory of God persists.  “I’m praying for you.”  When I hear those words I feel a peace in my heart. I know that the person who said this cares for me. What if Jesus said, “I’m praying for you”? How would that make you feel?  Well I can tell you in verse nine he did, and still prays for you and me continually. This prayer was prayed just before Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Knowing that his death was imminent, you and I were on his mind. How’s that for love? Especially when it was when the people were crying out that Jesus was incompetent and time for his death was coming ever closer, he pleads with God for the people. How’s that for compassion? His thoughts during the final moments on earth are not on himself, but on others.  This prayer is the greatest prayer every prayed and the greatest prayer every recorded. They reveal the heart of Jesus in a unique way. 

Why did Jesus pray this prayer? Clearly he was readying himself for what lay before him and the suffering to be endured for our sins. But he also had you and me on his mind. He was praying for us. He knew, we could face opposition and suffering in our lives. And certainly at this time when we are locked down outside our normal world as we see it. We need even more his words, his protection, his care, his joy, his glory, his love. As a people we need to be unified and sanctified for the world to know Jesus.  With Jesus’ prayer as a model, our prayers are to reflect the will of God, not our will. Jesus had a much higher purpose in mind than merely taking care of our needs and wants. Through his praying he shows that prayer’s highest aim is not to get our will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth. 

Christian tradition affirms that Jesus was fully God, but yet also fully human.  As fully human, he had limitations of time and energy just like we do.  Jesus did not heal, visit, or teach everyone.  In the midst of never-ending demands, his life was directed by his mission from God, not the urgent needs of the moment.  His divine calling was not to work twenty-four hours a day, but to do the will of his Father.  There was clearly an unending amount of work for him to do—always more people to heal, more people to save.  But yet at the end of his life he prayed that he had fulfilled the work his heavenly Father gave him to do.

That Jesus did not endlessly make himself available to meet the needs of others is important for us in developing a theology of boundaries, rest, and renewal.  This is a particularly crucial consideration for those of us who feel indispensable in the face of the never-ending needs we encounter in our lives, whether at home, work, or church.  If Jesus was fully God and fully human and yet needed to retreat from the overwhelming demands of life to rest and renew, how can we do any less?  Jesus understood what we too often forget. Bodies cannot be everywhere or do everything.  Bodies need rest, food, water, and companionship.  As a result, we will need to respect our God-given bodies / limits and those of others.

Like Jesus, God has not called us to meet the endless needs of the world, but to do the will of the one who has sent us into the world in our body, in our family, with our personality, and with our energy level.  In order to respect our internal, biological rhythm, we will need to accept our limitations and acknowledge when we have done what we can.  That Jesus did not heal or minister to everyone will help free us from much of the false guilt we may feel about being all things to all people at all times.  When we have done what we can, we can trust God and then let go of the rest. There will always be more work than can be finished in one day, whether at home, work, or the church.  For this reason, it’s important for us to come to a point at the end of each day where we can say to ourselves:   I’ve helped everyone I can.  I’ve loved with my whole heart.  Now I am going to leave the rest for tomorrow and to God.”  Like Jesus, we can lie down and rest at night, confident that God continues to save, heal, and work while our bodies and minds are refreshed by the gift of sleep.  United with God we stand together, You and I. Amen.

We are sent out into the world as Jesus’ disciples to love as he loved. Do not fear! You are not sent out alone. As you go remember you are one of God’s beloved children and let the love of God bring you joy. You are one of Jesus’ disciples and let the teachings of the teacher live in your life. You are filled with the Holy Spirit and let the Comforter be your companion on your way.

Go in peace!  May God Bless you all.

 

JOHN 14:15-21 YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

You just call out my name

And you know wherever I am

I’ll come running, to see you again.

Winter – spring – summer - or fall  

All you have to do is call

And I’ll be there  

You’ve got a friend.

 

The song – of course – is “You’ve Got A Friend” – written – I think – by Carol King – and made famous by James Taylor. It’s a beautiful song with a beautiful message of commitment and love. Please wait to sing the rest of the song until after you have finished reading the Message.

We all need friends. Especially at this time when we cannot meet up with each other. It is so good we now have the technology to be able to skype each other or just a telephone call it makes these times much more tolerable. We are glad to have our friends – someone to help when the chips are down - someone to talk to when you were lonely -- someone to listen to your problems -- someone who cared -- someone who would love you even if you were in the wrong? Or you were glad you had a friend like that? Wouldn’t it have been nice at those times in your life to have a prayer? Wouldn't it have been nice to talk to God and know that He is listening?

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am I’ll come running to see you again. Winter – spring – summer - or fall, All you have to do is call and I’ll be there – You’ve got a friend.

It is good to know that God is also your friend?  That God loves you and will help? Because, if God loves you, you are not hopeless! If God will help you, you have hope! If God loves and will help you, things will work out! If God is your friend – then you can make it through the hard times in life.

Philip Yancey is the author of the book Where Is God When It Hurts? He talks about interviewing the beautiful people -- famous football players -- movie stars -- authors -- TV personalities. He talks about how we idolize them -- how we want to be like them -- how we want to know every detail of their lives -- their clothes -- their romances -- even their toothpaste. Then he goes on to say:

"Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience, these our 'idols' are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met. Most have troubled or broken marriages. Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seem tormented by incurable self-doubt.” (Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?)

"Tormented by incurable self-doubt!" Hard to imagine, isn't it! But we know that it's true. We know about their broken marriages -- their addiction to drugs and alcohol. We know that their talent has a dark side. If the beautiful people find themselves "tormented by incurable self-doubt," we need not feel odd if we, too, sometimes feel lonely -- isolated -- uncertain – like we need a friend. That is part of the human condition.

That is how Jesus' disciples felt -- lonely -- isolated -- uncertain. Like they needed a friend. You might even say that they felt betrayed. Jesus was talking about leaving them. He was talking about dying. The disciples had made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. They had staked everything on him. They had walked away from their fishing businesses. They had left home and hearth. They had allowed themselves to believe that Jesus was the one who would turn everything around -- would make everything right. They had believed that he was the Messiah -- the one who would save Israel. And now he was talking about leaving them. Can you imagine how they felt? The sense of betrayal! Why had Jesus asked them to follow him if he intended to leave them? Why had he brought them this far only to abandon them? Jesus knew that his disciples were afraid – that they felt that they needed a friend -- so he made them a promise. He said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." A friend. In the original Greek, the word we translate as "Advocate" is "parakletos." So what? What does "parakletos" mean? Well it means "someone called in to help in your hour of need. A friend. Jesus, knowing that he would soon ascend back to the Father, promised his disciples a "parakletos"– someone on whom they could call when they needed help -- someone who would be there for them in their hour of need. A friend. Jesus promised that this friend would be with them forever. That is where we come in. The friend -- that Jesus promised to these first disciples is available to us as well. This friend -- is there to help us when we need help – to guide us when we need guidance – to steer us rightly – to protect us from harm. When Jesus talked about “the friend “-- He was talking about the Holy Spirit – God's Spirit dwelling within us – God's Spirit living in our hearts. The promise that Jesus made to those first disciples is a promise to us as well. Jesus has made it possible for us to have a friend-- a helper on whom we can call in time of need – a friend – God with us – God dwelling in our hearts. Jesus is saying – in effect –

You just call out my name, And you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again. Winter – spring – summer - or fall, All you have to do is call, And I’ll be there – You’ve got a friend.

I found this item about Colonel Thomas Schaefer, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran when that embassy was overrun and the Americans taken prisoner. Colonels are seasoned veterans and tend to be strong -- and Schaefer was no exception. However, being taken prisoner in a hostile nation -- not knowing if he would ever see his family again -- held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with nothing to read and nothing to do -- Schaefer found himself at the edge of his limits. But he was a Christian, and so he got down on his knees and prayed, "God, I cannot handle this. I need your help." He says, "And I got it!" He received the help that he needed to survive those long, seemingly endless, days of captivity. The friend -- the Holy Spirit -- gave him the strength that he needed.

All I know is, “the Lord did provide as he promised and coming to trust in him is enormously encouraging to me as I face the future."

As you see from the example, those who live in the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot expect easy lives – Jesus never promised us a bed of roses – but the Spirit helps us to prevail no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Earlier in this sermon, I mentioned Philip Yancey, who interviewed football heroes -- movie stars -- television personalities -- only to find that these beautiful people had feet of clay -- that they were "tormented by incurable self - doubt!" He went on to write about the other side of the coin -- people whom he calls "servants" -- missionaries -- doctors and nurses working in Third World countries -- linguists living among primitive people in remote places, often for decades, to translate the Bible for those people. Yancey says, “I was prepared to honour and admire these servants, to hold them up as inspiring examples. I was not, however, prepared to envy them. But as I now reflect on the two groups side by side, stars and servants, the servants clearly emerge as the favoured ones, the graced ones. They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, 'wasting' their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated. But somehow in the process of losing their lives they have found them." (Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and has delivered on that promise. Those of us who believe in Christ can expect the Spirit to help us when we need help -- anytime -- day or night. The only question is whether we will follow faithfully. If we will, God will bless us with lives that become stronger day by day -- with faith to drive out fear -- with lives solid at the core.

You just call out my name, And you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again, Winter – spring – summer - or fall, All you have to do is call, And I’ll be there – You’ve got a friend.

 

"O Lord, help me to understand that you are not going to let anything come my way that You and I together can't handle. Amen.

Yes, you’ve got a friend! Amen.

 

The Spirit beside us

John 14.15-21

Jesus promises his disciples that God will send the Spirit of truth, who will be with them for ever. He reminds them that those who love him are those who keep his commandments. These are the ones to whom he will reveal himself

Spirit of truth, come close to us. Unite us into the body of Christ. Enable us to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Help us to support and encourage each other. Help us to love as we are loved. Spirit of truth, come and abide in us. Amen.

Gracious God, we come before you, drawn by the power of your welcoming love. We come with our sorrows and joys. We come with our expectations and apprehensions. We come with what we have done. We come as who we are.  In your love we find peace and hope. God of love, we are sorry that at times our love for you falters; that we have wrong priorities; that we overlook your guidance. O God, forgive us. O God, renew us. Loving Saviour, we are sorry that we disobey your commandments; that we fail to love; that we walk by on the other side.
O God, forgive us. O God, renew us. Spirit of truth, we are sorry that we disregard your presence; that our thoughts and feelings are unrighteous; that we follow the world’s way.
O God, forgive us. O God, renew us. May your presence abiding in us lead us in the right way, in the name of Jesus. You make yourself known to us, and you are present in our lives even though we do not always recognise or acknowledge you.

For all that you are, we thank you, loving God. You do not leave us orphaned, but embrace us with parental love that encourages and comforts us. For all that you are, we thank you, loving God. You ensure that we are not alone by filling us with your Spirit of truth, that inspires and empowers us.
For all that you are, we thank you, loving God. Thank you, Father, for your presence,
your love and your encouragement.  Amen.

Prayers of intercession

Dear Lord, we bring into your love those who do not know you and your love; those who have turned away from you; those who struggle to accept you; those who refuse to listen.
May your love touch them, and transform their lives. Dear Lord, we bring into your love those who need parental love; those who are alone; those who are abused; those who are neglected. May your love touch them, and transform their lives. Dear Lord, we bring into your love those who seek the truth; those who work in the justice system; those who campaign and advocate on behalf of the voiceless. May your love touch them, and transform their lives. May we show the power and presence of your love in our church, our community and our world – for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

Service for the 10th May 2020

2Pt.1,2

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

1Pt.2,2-10

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone has become the cornerstone,’ and, ‘A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.                                                                                           

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

Dear friend

In Lk.21,33 we find Jesus saying: “Heaven and earth will pass away”. The manner in which he put this was unscientific. Nonetheless it was a true statement of what is now a scientifically established fact. And though this is not the main point to be made, it is remarkable that Jesus should have said this many hundreds of years before science was to be clear about this. However, what is far more important and noteworthy is that the above was only half of a sentence and that he introduced the second half by saying: “but…”!

Now, again, this was not him being scientific before the age of science. He was not saying: “…, but don’t worry, this event is a long, long way off.” Nor was what followed a common-sense conclusion or general comment on the fact that heaven and earth will pass away. What he did say I will come to shortly. But before that, I want to pause here and give us time to be intrigued, perhaps astonished, so that we might the better understand. Because if Jesus was not making a scientific conclusion or some general common-sense comment, introducing it with the word “…, but”, then what could he have been referring to? What alternative could there be?! ‘Heaven and earth’, that is everything, is it not? Surely, it includes all that we are, all that is life and all that life is. Heaven and earth passing away means everything is passing away.

And this is true, isn’t it? We all must away, subject to this law of decay which determines that what comes to be must cease to be. Life, at the end of the day - is it anything other than the time-bound attempt to carve out a space in which to flourish and grow before waning and ceasing to be? Life is what we manage to wring from what is inevitably passing away. We grow for a time, we enjoy what we can, then we depart. And all the time we are facing the threat of departure. In fact, is the threat of the virus and our fear not what it is because of the truth that heaven and earth will pass away? The virus threatens our very being, because our being, of a ‘heaven and earth’ kind, is such that it will pass away.

At this point let us ask ourselves if we think this is true – is the truth and is all the truth? We may do, even though, strange to say, our heart desires otherwise. But we should be clear that if this is what we think, we do so because we believe it, not because we know it, which we simply can’t.

But now, hopefully, here, where at the root and centre of our being we find faith, we may begin to understand why Jesus would not full-stop after the words “will pass away”, but continued to say “…, but…”. Because faith is a thing by which one may grasp more and understand more. And this is what he said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

The significance of this, where it is heard, cannot be overstated. And the Christian faith must not overhear it. It means that by hearing his words as one who belongs to him – Jn.10: “My sheep hear my voice” – I have my being in that which shall not pass away! It is a spiritual thing. But as such it is life proper.

There is – and only faith grasps this – a way of being which subsists in the word of Christ Jesus, is by this way in him and through him. It exists not by the stuff of ‘heaven and earth’ but by the word of Christ. As I hear his word, this word makes me in him what I am and what I shall become. The passing away of heaven and earth shall not be the passing away of what I am and shall be by his word! So Jesus says to those who belong to him: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” And again, after this: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn.15, 5.7-8) He is speaking of a new being, of ‘being’ proper and of life proper.

The point of this lengthy introduction is that it may help us get what Peter says verse 2 of our passage: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Because the growing he is speaking of, is that of the spiritual being, and is itself a spiritual process. But it is the proper growing of our proper being, even as it is hidden under all the processes belonging to the ‘heaven and earth’ realm which will pass away!

When we speak or hear of ‘growing’ we find it difficult, tied to heaven and earth as we are, to think of it in terms other than natural growth. We find it difficult to think that leaving ourselves entirely to the word of Christ could be our growing, to entrust ourselves fully and without qualification to him to make of us what he will, to believe and hold that in him our being is not about passing away, not about decay, nor about all the ways in which we make, and think we have to make, things grow (even Christians, even churches!), but that it is about “life to the full”, about “being built, as living stones, into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”, that it is about God’s mercy, about God declaring us to be His people on the strength alone of Christ’s death for us to which we are being conformed so as to be raised in him to our proper life (that is: grow!).

Therefore, let us crave the word of Christ, because in it he is himself present with us and we are present to him, and through him our being is with and in God. For the word of Christ is to our proper being and proper growing what its mother’s milk is to the newborn infant: it craves it because it is meant to grow and by drinking does just that.

Dear friend, you have the word of Christ. It witnesses to you your givenness to sin and death, your need of God’s mercy. It witnesses to you that God showed you mercy through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for you sins and was raised from the dead for your justification, giving you the right by sheer grace to belong to His people. Will you not hear this word in repentance and faith? And in this word have your being, not to belong to all that is set to pass away, but to grow towards that which shall not – declaring “the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                AMEN

“Dear Lord, we thank you that our life is hidden with you in God. Strengthen our faith according to your word that what is now hidden shall be revealed and that though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. In your mercy through the Spirit grow us into that spiritual house that we are meant to be, to the praise and glory of God. Amen.”

1Pt.5,10

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

[take time to intercede before God for the cause of his Gospel, for going concerns, in thanksgiving and faith; the Lord’s prayer;                                                                                                       “You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” -Ps.10,17]

 

 

[Here again is something in place of Sunday Worship (3rd May 2020) while a gathering together is still unfeasible and church services are suspended due to the corona virus outbreak.

The Lord lives and is the same, yesterday, today and for ever: In his name and for his sake this meditation on Ps.23 is offered – may it please him to bless it.

“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures for ever, his faithfulness continues through all generations.”  - Ps.100]

1Pt.1, 2-4:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.  – Psalm 23

Dear friend

If you know Jesus Christ and call on him as your Lord, you will know what Isaiah meant, and Peter too quoting him in his epistle to the church, when he said: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” (Is.53, 6/1Pt.2, 25) Because you now recognise it in the life you led before you came to Christ. Factually true before you knew him, you now see more clearly and more deeply that and how it was just so. Your journey to Christ may have begun when and because you realised that you were lost in some way. Or it may be that you found Christ and then began to realise the extent of your having “gone astray”. Either way, how truly this “going astray like sheep” applies to us and in how many ways our lives manifest it, has become evident and clearer as you looked at things through the lens of God’s word and supremely Jesus Christ on the cross. In fact, even now that you are a Christian you continue to discover how this metaphor of ‘sheep turning to our own way’ still applies, and this keeps you in need of the Shepherd who laid down his life for you.

Psalm 23 with its imagery of sheep longing for green pasture, threatened on all sides, having to manage difficult terrain and arid places, and a shepherd who is eminently good to his sheep and guides them with a sure hand to green pastures and along the right paths, manages to capture a sense which many people find expresses the sense they have of their own life and situation in it. Mirrored in it appear our experiences of how fragile life is and prone to disorder, of uncertainty about what lies ahead and exposure to all kinds of dangers and risks, of how we all search for the right way, always targeted by forces that push and pull us to where in the end we do not want to be. There appear also our longings and questions, for answers and for certainty: Who will lead us and whom shall we follow? In the dark valleys – are we in the end alone? Or who is with us? Is this the way I’m meant to be on and which leads to life? What and where are the “green pastures and quiet waters” we long for? What threatens us and puts them beyond our reach? What holds me and watches over me come what may?

In times such as we are now going through, we may find that these words once again speak more distinctly into our ears and search the heart. The uncertainty we have been thrown into may lay bare to us once again the significance of these words and the one they point to.

Who is the Lord? This indeed is the question, because he is the shepherd! Those whose shepherd he is are not shepherd-less! However helpless the sheep may be in themselves and in the world, however helplessly they may be lost or get lost, they are not without their helper nor without his strength and gracious guiding to see them through and safe. It is indeed all a matter of who the shepherd is and of being able to say: “The Lord is my shepherd”.

Who is the shepherd? In Jn.10 we hear of one who will say “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” – Jesus Christ. But before he does, in the same context, he speaks of “robbers and thieves”. That is, he speaks of those who offer themselves to you as shepherds, who make sure you have no need for the “good shepherd” and should not belong to him but to them; who want you to see them as being in the know about the right way and how to reach the “green pastures”, who claim your faith and your hope – only, however, by this way to rob you of everything that the good shepherd who knows the way means for you to have! When shepherding costs, when it becomes a matter of sacrificially taking the place of the sheep to ward off danger, these shepherds will drop you like a hot potato and run. To entrust ourselves to those who are not the good shepherd as though they were; to entrust ourselves to them with our soul, with life’s progress and outcome, blessing and fruit; to disregard over their words, their ideas, boasts and claims, to listen to his voice - is to leave ourselves helpless in the dark valley, without the hand that yields the life giving power of the shepherd’s “rod and staff” (=the word of God), shut up once more to uncertainty, fear and the fragile state of a self-ordered life, strangers to life’s fullness and to hope, with no table prepared for us in the presence of the enemy that is sin and death (those powers of disorder!), and when our days are numbered, complete like a river at the point of joining the sea, there is no flowing into the glorious Day of the Shepherd, the longing and desire of the sheep. Robbers and thieves indeed! Rightly does Jesus warn of them as a great menace to the sheep. Shepherds though they may pretend to be, good they are not. One is – the Lord.

“I am the good shepherd”, says Jesus. “And the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Here, dear friend, is the great invitation to all, ready for faith to pick up and follow, to know the truth of which Psalm 23 speaks, to know the comfort and own the vision that lie within it. Here is the entry point, the gate through which one enters into life with the one who is the Lord, who laid down his life and rose from the dead, who is with us in the darkest valley so we need fear no evil and whose goodness and love shall follow us all the days of our life and ensure that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn.10, 10), yes, shall dwell in his house for ever.   AMEN

“Lord, we come before you with joyful hearts, acknowledging that you are God. It is you who made us, and we are yours, your people, the sheep of your pasture. In your mercy help us to hear and discern your voice amidst the noises in and around us so that in all the fear and perplexity we encounter on the way we are guided to your peace and in your strength to your joy. Amen. “

[Intercede before God on behalf of others – thinking of the troubles our times are facing, of the help needed, of the prayer our Lord taught us, and bringing all our concerns before God with thanksgiving]

 

Sunday Church service

[In place of Sunday Worship (26 April 2020) here are words on an aspect of love, in particular the “sincere love for each other” of 1Pt.1,22. May it please God to speak to us through his word and may He give us grace to ponder it carefully. Again, as it is offered so let it be received – prayerfully, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace and peace be with us all.]

2Pt.1,1-2:To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. – 1Pt.1, 17-23

 

Walking down the road and having to cross it in order to avoid passing another person too closely, waiting outside shops while at a virus-safe distance from others, making sure you do not infringe the 2-meter rule of social distancing – this is now behaviour that has become quite familiar to us. Some of the familiar ways of social interaction had to be abandoned. We now all have to practice social-distancing. The socially familiar hand-shake, for instance, is now quite an alien concept and simply not done.

Of course, this is not for ever. It is a temporary measure, put in place in order to combat the spread of the virus in our society and in our communities. As such it is intended for our and everybody else’s good.

The reason for mention it in this place is that it may illustrate – I hope it does that in some measure – the fact that faith in God works in a similar way. Though in the case of faith it is about something far more fundamental. Also, unlike social distancing faith is not a temporary measure but a lasting, ultimate and the socially properly decisive one. Social distancing seeks to tackle the troublesome interference of the virus in our society. And the plan is, of course, for things to return to normal asap. Faith, however, is put in place to tackle a far more fundamental as well as far more troublesome interference, one which requires not a return to what is considered ‘normal’ but healing at the root. Like social distancing, faith involves a process of making us become familiar with what used to be alien and become unfamiliar with what used to be familiar. Unlike social distancing, however, because it has to go so much deeper, faith is a one-way process.

The good intended by social-distancing is protection from the virus. That is commendable as far as it goes. But the ills at the root of life and society are thereby not helped. They are not reached by vaccines or any of the things we manufacture in our factories and laboratories, or the like. They need the good that is pursued by faith – love. Because of this connection between faith and love Peter homes in on it in this way: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Here is the ‘recipe’ for healing. 

When we see how carefully and diligently the measure of social distancing is observed, helped by a ready fear of becoming ill and losing one’s life as well as by a constant stream of newsroom chatter, how much more ought we to see those who believe in God through Jesus Christ whom He raised from the dead, who are therefore no longer subject to the old fears and who have God’s promises, seek carefully and diligently faith’s fruit –which is love?

Indeed, we all need to hear Jesus’ reordering of priorities: “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt.6,33) There is a truth to be prioritised, a truth which we can, and must, grasp with both our hands and all our heart: it is that our faith in Christ makes things new – makes us new. I say ‘with both our hands’ because only by recognising that we are what faith makes of us can and will we begin to do what faith wants of us – that we “love one another deeply, from the heart.”

The thrust of what Peter says aims to show you and me what faith in Christ, that is what Christ through faith in him, makes of us. And what faith does – and here is the parallel of sorts with what’s happening under social distancing – is to make what is familiar become alien and what is alien become familiar. We have to let it do that.

Peter puts it slightly differently. Faith, he says, makes us foreigners where we were at home, and makes us at home in the things that were foreign to us. Now do we not, if we have faith, have a lively sense of this, even as this process of change is not yet complete? We still sense, do we not, the old unfamiliarity with prayer to the Father, with the notion of God’s impartial judgment, with what it means to fear God, with love being the fulfilment of his law. These things are alien to the way the world thinks. Just imagine you mention to one the judgment of God or pray in a godly way in full view and in their hearing, or say that love does not sin and that sin cannot be love. But there is a sense in which these things feel alien to us still even now, even though they feel so less strongly. We have not become fully foreign to the things in which we used to be at home, “the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors” is still beckoning us to be at home in it.

Yet we are redeemed from this way. And we know that we are because we are more at home in the things that once were alien to us, as alien as they still are to the world: We have begun to fear God, with the result that our old fears are losing their grip over our hearts, we think of God more in terms of his own word and less in those of our own thoughts, we are less reluctant to call on God from the heart and we want to know how to pray, we see God’s law in a different way and use it to give us light, we ponder God’s work in our lives in judgement and grace, we have begun to see with eyes of love and to know that love is what we owe.

Dear friend, this change is a process still underway, a work in progress. The cause of this process, which is also its engine,  is faith – faith in Jesus Christ, in the fact that he has died in order to redeem you from the realm in which you were at home, familiar with what is alien to godliness and sincere love, to make you at home in what was foreign territory to you – prayer to your Father in heaven  because Christ has reconciled you to Him, and a will out of sincere love for all who are His to love deeply, from the heart.

This faith let us nurture by seeking Christ in repentance and faith. So we become at home in the things of God, in His kingdom, even as we become foreign to the empty ways of sin and fear, through the living and enduring word of God. AMEN  

 

“Lord, in your mercy help us to reorder our lives in the light of our redemption. Knowing you we become free from worrying too much about our worldly needs and about what life owes us and we begin to think instead of the love that we owe for your sake. You are the truth which sets us free. Keep us in it, we pray, as we give you thanks and praise. AMEN”

 

[take time to pray – recall God’s mercy, intercede for others, cast all your cares on God and commit your ways to Him, hold Him holy in your heart; the Lord’s Prayer]

Hebr.13,20-21:

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen


Sunday 18th April 2020

[In place of Sunday Worship here are words on the theme of hope, in particular the “living hope” of 1Pt.1, 3. May it please God to speak to us through his Word and may He give us grace to ponder it carefully. As it is offered so let it be received – prayerfully, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace and peace be with us all.]

Gal.1 3:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1Pt.1, 3-9

Dear Friend

Many, in commenting and advising on the situation we find ourselves in with regard to the threat posed by the corona virus and the measures taken to combat it, have spoken about ‘hope’. Surely not without reason or justification. If anything insists on being victorious, on prevailing against a threat that is facing us, it is hope.

Indeed. Hope upholds the fighting spirit; it refuses to be defeated, become apathetic, lose courage, yield to fear etc. Without the hope that we will eventually overcome this threat, that the sacrifices required are worth it and that perseverance will pay off, how can there be trust that doing what is advised is the right thing to do? How can there be trust in the authorities and the common, unified response that they seek?

Yes, hope in this situation is vital and it makes a lot of sense to invoke it. Like a shipwrecked person is kept afloat by a raft of some sort, eventually to make landfall, so hope keeps us afloat on a storm-tossed sea of uncertainty and threat to try to regain solid ground. And the “floats” of hope, the things that can inspire hope in us, are for instance the expectation that work on a vaccine is progressing, that the measures which are in place are doing good, that various strategies are effective, and so on; but also good and kind things that happen which we hear about or are engaged in, the experience of life-affirming moments.

Now all this is well and good and useful in its way. But it stands in contrast to a hope which Scripture calls “living” and which the Christian has and draws on. It is a “float” which in truth is a very present rescuer who has every which means at his command to secure rescue.

We all by virtue of being human, of having been born into this world, can hope and do so. We have an inborn faculty to hope. But our hoping is limited in its reach (because it is based on matters limited to this world and to this life) and our hopes are easily confounded. Much as our hoping is helpful in navigating life, it is confounded by sin, by sorrow and by death. What is the hope that lights up the darkness of sorrow, and of sin, even of death? Peter reserves the word “living” for the hope that does.

Jesus speaks of the kind of hopes man holds out against the darkness. In his parable of the rich farmer he describes a man whose hope is in the shape of a bigger barn which he wants to build for himself so he can store in it his riches, which – so is his hope – he will then live off happily for the rest of his life. Jesus concludes: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk.12)

Blow up this kind of hope to the n-th degree, yes to gaining the whole world, says Jesus elsewhere, put your hope in the fulfilment of every desire you may have to satisfy it, - it is of no profit if you lose your soul over it. The question Jesus makes us face is: What is left for a hope that is not anchored in God? for all that we treasure if we are not rich with God?

The Christian has a hope which will not be confounded – he has a living hope. He has it by virtue of being “born again” – that is, he has it because he has come to faith in Jesus Christ. It is a living hope because it is not made by us and does not subsist in us, but is made by God for us and subsists in Jesus Christ. I will point out two things of what Peter says about God’s work of hope for us.

(1) God made for us this hope “according to his great mercy” – meaning we have hope because through Christ’s death on the cross we receive God’s mercy and grace, the forgiveness of our sins, are given a Saviour who died in the sinner’s place and so abolished death (2Tim.1,10), even for the sinner that he may live. Sorrows may pierce, sins accuse, death frighten – yet the Christian has a hope that conquers all: God’s mercy in Christ’s death – described by the prophet in these words: “Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is.53, 4-6)

(2) God’s work of hope for us was made “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” – meaning that as Christians we have our own resurrection to look forward to even as we bear our own cross, that what Jesus by his resurrection left behind and overcame we shall too, and what he rose ‘into’ we shall inherit: “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Dear friend, yours by faith in Jesus is a hope that cannot be shaken, freely and fully established  by the mercy, love and faithfulness of God, a hope which, the more familiar you are with the ground of it – Jesus Christ – the more you will trust to keep and guard, strengthen and guide you.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  AMEN

 

Lord, when our hopes and fears lead us astray and we forget that in you we have a living hope, have mercy on us and give us grace to place all things into your hands, knowing that you care for us and remembering that you said: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Amen

[take time to pray, bring all your cares before God and seek for His peace to be made known to all, for His will to be done and give thanks; the Lord’s Prayer]

Easter Sunday – Worship/Message   

Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

“We are here to give you the good news, that God has fulfilled the promise by raising Jesus from the dead.” (Acts 13, 32-33)

“Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!”

Prayer:

Glory be to your, God, our strength and our redeemer. The vacant cross and the empty tomb vindicate your claim that the love which suffers is the love which saves.  So fill your people with joy and your Church with celebration that the world may know that your holy Son Jesus is not a dead hero we commemorate but the living Lord we worship, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be our praise for ever. AMEN

Collect:

Lord of life and power, through the mighty resurrection of your Son, you have overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life. Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and for ever. AMEN

A hymn:

‘See, what a morning, gloriously bright, with the dawning of hope in Jerusalem; folded the grave clothes, tomb filled with light, as the angels announce Christ is risen!  See God’s salvation plan, wrought in love, born in pain, paid in sacrifice, fulfilled in Christ the Man, for He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

‘See Mary weeping, ‘Where is He laid?’ as in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb; hears a voice speaking calling her name; it’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again! The voice that spans the years, speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us, will sound till He appears, for He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

‘One with the Father, Ancient of days, through the Spirit, who clothes faith with certainty, honour and blessing, glory and praise to the King crowned with power and authority! And we are raised with Him, death is dead, love has won; Christ has conquered; and we shall reign with Him, for he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!                                                                                                                                             [Stewart Townend and Keith Getty]

Reading:

Jn.20, 1-18

V.16-17: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’. She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Dear friend.

In one of Jesus best-known and best-loved stories – the parable of the prodigal son – we hear of the father saying to the servants as he instructs them to prepare a celebration feast after the return of his son: “Let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And the same he says to his other son, the older brother, who had refused to join in the celebration: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Lk.15, 11-32)

This is quite a striking way of putting it! I hope you think so too. Because how was the son ‘dead’? In what sense was he dead? He had only left for a while and then returned! Why does Jesus, who does so deliberately and thoughtfully, use the words ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ with regard to the prodigal son and his whereabouts? What is he saying, and what does he want us to understand, about our own whereabouts? What is it that is going on here which will shed light on the significance of his own resurrection, his own ‘was dead, and is alive’, the significance of what he says as the risen Lord: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev.1, 18)?

Well, it is this: Jesus has the right way round, what the world has the wrong way round. To the world’s mind the son is alive – after all, he walks and talks, makes plans and decisions and friends, he laughs and cries, he falls on hard times and plans for better, he is anxious about things and seeks a way out etc. Surely, these very things mean he is not dead but alive, they are only possible because he is alive! You see, to the world’s mind life is the thing that makes everything else possible until death puts an end to it. And the greatest pain and sorrow death causes, and why we fear it so, is that it breaks, destroys the relationships we stand in.

On this understanding it makes little sense for Jesus to say ‘he was dead’, he should perhaps better have had the father say ‘he almost died, but thanks goodness he is alive!’ Yet he did not. Because the truth is the son died when he removed himself from the fellowship/ communion with his father!

What Jesus says is that life (which when it is life is not subject to death) flows out of one’s fellowship with God. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (Jn.17,3) But what proceeds from life that is not in fellowship with God is death – bears the mark of it and is subject to it. That is what Jesus points out by calling the son in his parable ‘dead’.

Paul reckons in the same way when he says of those who have come to Christ: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world.” (Eph.2, 1) He refers to what it is that removes a person from the fellowship with God – our sins with which we sin against him. It is sin which casts us into the hands and power of death. Is not the fear which is pressing upon us and the brokenness of human fellowship a sign of this?

But now there are also the words ‘…is alive’! In order to hear them we must behold the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is alive! His resurrection is to all who receive him the ground of their renewed fellowship with God the Father! “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1Jn.1, 3-4)

From the moment of his birth he was given the name ‘Immanuel’ – a program of what his life was to be all about: God with us, that is man brought into fellowship with God through him who bears the sins of the world. And his resurrection is the seal on it, God’s Yes and Amen!

Let us hear it again in Paul’s words, following on from what is quoted above Eph.2: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” (vv.4-7)

Dear friend, Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! And his is the living, all-conquering voice that says to all that belong to him and come to him in faith: “Fear not!”

Let us think of this and hold fast to it in all prayer and rejoicing. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col.3, 1-4)

                                                                                                                              AMEN

’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’ … But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”  - 1Cor.15, 54-58

Take time to pray, giving thanks to God for the resurrection of Christ and his presence with us always and praying for everything that is on your heart on behalf of others for Jesus’ sake; Ps.145, 18: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

“Lord, at this Easter time we ask you to increase our faith, our hope and our love. Give us the faith that overcomes the world and enables us to face both life and death calm and unafraid. Give us the hope that looks beyond the mortal life and grasps hold of the things unseen and eternal. Give us the love that binds us more closely to one another, and to you our risen Lord; to whom be all glory and praise, dominion and power, now and for ever.” AMEN

“Help us, O Lord our God, to hear and obey your call to us, as those who have been raised with Christ, to seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at your right hand; that our thoughts may be set on heavenly things, not on the things of earth, and we may be partakers of his risen life until we are manifested with him in glory.” AMEN

 

Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father. Set out, then, on a new life with Christ.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all

                                                                                                                                    AMEN