Sunday Services

Service for use at home

Sunday 16th January 2022, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany , Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church           

                                  

‘Given as water, but drunk as wine’

                                                                                                                                                    


Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

Live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. – 1Thess.2,21

 

Collect: Grant that your people may shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

Thanks be to God

1  Father, never was love so near;
tender, my deepest wounds to heal.
Precious to me,
Your gift of love;
for me You gave
Your only Son.
        And now thanks be to God
for His gift beyond words,
the Son whom He loved;
no, He did not withhold Him,
but with Him gave everything;
now He’s everything to me.

2  Jesus, the heart of God revealed,
with us, feeling the pain we feel.
Cut to the heart,
wounded for me,
taking the blame,
making me clean.
And now thanks be to God . . .

Words and music by Graham Kendrick

 
 
 

 

Jn.2,1-11 ‘Jesus turns water into wine’

Dear friends

John calls this event a “sign”, meaning that it tells of things not immediately apparent, but hinted at on a deeper level. There is more here, he says, than meets the eye, and we only use rightly or beneficially what he tells us if it helps us to understand something of the work and purpose and presence of Jesus that this event itself does not fully disclose but does in some way suggest and point to. Because it is a sign, we will not lift the treasure hidden within it if we do a surface search only. The effort that will repay with joy must be willing to look more deeply.

But we may begin by asking: How does John know? How does he know it is a sign, one that tells us something more and deeper than just the fact that Jesus did an amazing thing and performed a miracle, giving delight to the people concerned and us a fine story?  The answer can only lie in Jesus’ own behaviour and words. Only they can legitimise the claim that here is a sign which leads those who follow to a joy of knowing something that is best and most appropriately symbolized by the joy of a wedding feast!
And that is indeed where the answer is. Had Jesus not said and done what he did, John could not speak of a sign that led him and the other disciples to “believe in him”.

We must realise that Jesus does not just “happen” to be at the wedding party, merely as a guest and in a way that, to him, is unconnected to his ministry (to what he has come to do for the world!). He is there for a purpose and with a purpose, and this purpose is that of his ministry – to be the Redeemer!
What Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come”, shows that Mary connects his presence at the wedding with the purpose of his ministry. That is why he replies to her indirect call for him to help the situation in the way he does. He is saying to her: “I am not here to sort this problem as though this is what my ministry is about. But the event of this hour that you are about to witness will show you something about my ministry when my hour that has not yet come will do so: when I will sort the problem that I have come to sort, when I will give the help that I have been sent to give.” For our understanding of this we must connect Jesus’ word ‘my hour has not yet come’ with the words ‘my hour has now come’ which he says to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.
That Mary, his mother, understands what Jesus says to her is clear from what she then does by turning to the servants and saying to them: “Do whatever he tells you.” For she understands that Jesus is about to do a sign which shall symbolically intimate “his glory”, that is, what his ministry is set to accomplish (=what God through Jesus does for us!). Indeed, Mary’s words to the servants of the wedding feast are themselves heavy with meaning about Jesus’ ministry and the glory of salvation (redemption). They too are “sign”: The servants serve the wedding feast best when they do whatever the Lord tells them. Mary’s words pre-figure what Jesus himself shall teach regarding our redemption; for instance, when speaking of his second coming: “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns”; or when he says to his disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn.15,14)

And so now, what of the event itself? What are we to understand through the way Jesus involves himself in the situation through the miracle of turning water into wine? What of the reaction of the master of ceremony and of the effect of the miracle on the disciples?

It is important to be clear about 2 things. Firstly, that the language of wedding and wedding feast is used in Israel to describe the coming together of God and man in true knowledge, to describe the intimate fellowship with God for which man is created and to which he is called, to describe the purpose of God to rejoice over his people ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride’ (Is.62,5). And secondly, we need to be clear about where the event for Jesus begins. The situation to which Mary alerts Jesus by saying, ‘They have no more wine’ is one of an approaching catastrophe, of festive joy on the brink of doom. These words are like a judgment on the party, a judgment that spells its end.

But now if we step away from the sign-language of this event in order to behold what it says about the situation into which Jesus has come to minister – to redeem us! -, we are made aware of what our situation is and how it is in need of redemption, of God’s saving intervention.
Are we alerted to it, to our situation? Are we alerted to the fact of what is lacking? To the fact that what is lacking is the knowledge of God? Are we alerted to the fact of how little the knowledge of God has come to mean and cost, as though it were not true that ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1Jn.4,8)? Of how the image of God lies discarded on the face of a humanity that wants to be its own maker and would not know of either sin nor grace? That there is ‘no more wine’ – the knowledge of God suppressed by which we would direct our own steps in wisdom and holiness, do all things for his sake – which because of that would all be light! – in love and unsurpassed joy? Are we alerted by the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst that there is ‘no more wine’, that we have run out of road in our attempt to get away from God and make Him in our image, that our sins know us and put us in the way of the approaching catastrophe that is God’s judgment?

Dear friends, Jesus is so alerted; and it is this truth of our situation to which his ministry responds. ‘His glory’ is revealed precisely through the way in which we come to know and love God in him, in accordance with the mystery of the incarnation, Jn.1,18: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” And at the heart of this is a miracle, of which the turning of water into wine is a figure. It is a figure of the miracle of the incarnation, of Jesus himself in whom are united the natures of both God and man.
Given as water but drunk as wine, the miracle of Cana that saved the wedding feast, is a figure of Jesus’ self-giving in his death and his resurrection. What is given in Jesus on the cross is God’s judgment on our sins which he bore in our place; and what is received in him is the forgiveness of sins, is grace, is righteousness, is deliverance from judgment, is knowledge of God in the love He has for us (- wine, wedding joy!).

Dear friends, the taste of the truth of Christ is not one the joy of which fades in those who know it, or becomes stale over time, or diminishes as knowledge of it increases. Not, it matures, for the knowledge of God is joy of the kind that shall not end. And like the disciples understood the sign “and believed in him”, so let us understand and entrust ourselves to him, in faith to do whatever he tells us to, for this is the best and the knowing way to serve him and the joy he gives.          AMEN

 

Lord God, you have made us for knowing you, and therein lies the fullness of our joy and the praise of your glory; your entire creation longs for the day when your children shall be revealed. For our sins and the evil of our hearts we do not know you in the strength of our own wisdom and understanding. All attempts are but a foolish feeling around in the dark, even as it creates darkness. Indeed, how silly and vacuous all our pronouncements are revealed to be – how dark our own light – when Your light finds them out. We thank you that you have committed all things to your Son and have sent him to make you known. ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Through him we know you, in whom our blindness is removed and sight is given for seeing and knowing. In your gracious love let us not lose sight of him, who is the desire of every nation, but know him, and in him you, faithfully and increasingly – in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the praise and glory of your name. Amen

                                                                                                                                                               

 

- take time to pray before God, in the name of Jesus Christ and with thanksgiving, all the concerns He has laid upon your heart

 

 

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

May the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shine in your hearts, transform your lives, and brighten the world.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 26th December 2021, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church           

                                  

‘A revealing childhood’

                                                                                                                                                    


Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman. – Gal.4,4

Collect:
Almighty God, who have shed upon us the new light of your incarnate Word. Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 
 
 

The light of Christ

        The light of Christ
has come into the world;
the light of Christ
has come into the world.

1  All men must be born again
to see the kingdom of God;
the water and the Spirit
bring new life in God’s love.
The light of Christ . . .

2  God gave up His only Son
out of love for the world,
so that all men who believe in Him
will live for ever.
The light of Christ . . .

3  The light of God has come to us
so that we might have salvation;
from the darkness of our sins
we walk into glory with Christ Jesus.
The light of Christ . . .

Words and music by Donald Fishel

 

 

Reading: Lk.2,41-52

Dear friends

Only 2 days ago we sang in our Christmas Eve Service the words: “Silent night, holy night! Shepherds first saw the light, heard resounding clear and long, far and near, the angel-song: ‘Christ the Redeemer is here, Christ the Redeemer is here.’”
Here in the story of the 12-year old Jesus we glimpse something of the redeemer he is going to be and of his redeeming work. Of the 4 Gospel writers only Luke tells us of this episode in Jesus’ life. The others relate the truth and way of our redemption through Jesus Christ in its actual development as it unfolds in the ministry of Jesus which begins with his baptism. Of course Luke does that too, but before he comes to the particulars of Jesus’ ministry he relates this event from Jesus’ childhood so as to add yet more context in order to improve our chances, as far as it lies in his power, to really understand and come to know who Jesus is and what he has come to do. [In a time where truth is often treated as though it were all make-belief and a matter of personal choice, should we not appreciate the intention to ensure that none of it should be lost to us and that we should not be lost to it?] It is, then, the idea of the Christ-Redeemer and the redemption he brings that shall guide our thoughts as we ponder this passage.

Now, one of the central agents in this story is not very obvious, especially perhaps not to our times. But that says nothing about its importance, in fact it is pivotal for the redemption of humanity. I’m talking about the law. Actually, none of it would have happened if it hadn’t been for the law. It’s there in the occasion of the event. It is in accordance with the law that Mary and Joseph go up to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover, and the 12-year-old Jesus is there because he is now responsible before the law and sufficiently mature to be subject to it.
The thing to note here is this: that the Son of God came and was made subject to the law. That is what it meant for the Son of God to become man, to take the form of our humanity, for the Word to become flesh (Jn.1,14). Only under the law was he truly like us, only under the law was he truly in our place, only under the law was he truly where we are. That is why we hear of Jesus learning about the law and asking questions about it in the temple, and why the passage closes with the words, ‘And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’ He is spoken of here not in his divinity, but in his humanity, which he shares with us and which we therefore can share with him.

Paul captures all this clearly when he says in Gal.4,4: ‘But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.’

“To redeem those under the law” – this is what is hinted at in this childhood episode, namely that this is Jesus’ office, his job.
In the words of the 12-year-old boy to his parents, ‘Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?’ he is also pointing to the way that lies before him, which will lead him to the cross and which has this “I must” about it, beginning to end. ‘I had to be in my Father’s house’ – why? ‘Because it is my task to redeem those who are under the law.’

But what of the law (and we are speaking of the law of God, known in our hearts and consciences, if not in our memory from our education and upbringing) and being under it?
In the story there is the moment of realising that something is wrong and of realising what is wrong: Jesus cannot be found among them. “Is he not with you?!” “No, he is not; I thought he was with you!” And they need to turn around in search for what they lost.
This is a story which paints in outlines almost too faint to see a very profound truth before us of the way and need of redemption: That we are under the law becomes clear in our realising that something is wrong and what is wrong: that we cannot find our humanity, that we have lost it.
It is the law of God, is it not, that points out what is wrong and opens our eyes to it. And when it does we know that we are under it, that it accuses and condemns us, that ours is a lost humanity.  
Now I guess that we can all see the connexion between the accusing and condemning law and the realisation that something is wrong. But there will be, and there are, those who will point out: Look, if it wasn’t for the law, this would not have happened, had they not gone to Jerusalem, they would not have lost Jesus. So, should it not be argued that there’s more chance for humanity if we are less concerned with God’s law? This is indeed how many think and therefore avoid connecting the fact that something is wrong with God’s law and hence with sin (the transgression of it).
But let us be careful not to forfeit the redemption Christ brings by following this argument. The law did not cause Mary and Joseph to lose Jesus, if it had, guilt would rightly belong to the law. It was not the cause, but it was what? It was the occasion for the cause to seize upon!
And this is the heart of the problem that Christ the Redeemer has come to answer: The law of God provides the occasion for sin to seize upon it and do wrong; it does not cause sin, but it results in a humanity under the law, accused and condemned, lost and locked into its sin.

Mary and Joseph do the right thing. Going in search of what they lost, they turn! (think: the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents!). They find it in what Jesus calls ‘the house of my Father’, the temple, where he is because he wants what the law wants, because what he is about is fulfilling the law. ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he replies to his mother when she rebukes him. And in these searching words lies the following reasoning: “I am not the one who is lost, being here in my Father’s house I am not the lost one; I am not the one accused and condemned by the law, because I seek what is my Father’s; and what is the law but the occasion to do my Father’s will? As should be the case for all. If you knew that, truly knew that, you would have known that I must be here. It was always going to be here, in my Father’s house, that you were going to find what you lost.”

Dear friends, this story, like an artistic study of what will turn into a magnificent painting, indicates what is to come. Jesus will restore to all who come to him their lost humanity, redeeming their lives from sin and death, by taking from them the condemnation of the law (fulfilling and satisfying its demand by dying for the sins of the world) and through making a way for sinners to dwell in the house of God – ‘to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’, says the risen Jesus to his disciples whom he calls my brothers as he ascends into heaven! (Jn.20,17) – in love for his law and in fellowship with Him and all who are his.

‘Did you not know, that I had to be in my Father’s house?’ the 12-year-old Jesus asks his parents. And should we not know, all the more so because Jesus has finished his task of our redemption, that what Jesus came to do was to return us to the love of our Father, to life with Him and in Him, to obedience to His will as His children, to give us victory over sin and death, fear and despair, to restore humanity in his image. Should we not know that that is just what he has done and that faith knows and shall see it?   AMEN

 

Lord God, You made Your Son who knew no sin to be sin for us, a man under the law like us, to carry not his own but our condemnation, so that in him we might become Your righteousness, might receive what we have lost. You let him be taken by the sins of the world and by death, so that by his resurrection we might receive his life, and the purity of his service to You might transform ours. So in love You opened Your arms wide towards Your world in mercy and grace to bring us home to Yourself. The name of Jesus is synonymous with joy, peace, hope and love, grace, new beginning, eternal life – give it a ready welcome in our hearts where it may put to an end our fears, our unbelief, our selfish ways, and Christ may reign to the praise and glory of Your name. Amen

 

 

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings; ]
we give thanks to God, and praise His holy name, for the blessings He poured out in the coming of Christ, which are recounted at Christmas all over the world; we pray that by receiving him we may grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man; that His joy may come to take residence in our heart such that our mouth overflows with the telling of the good news to others;  
then we plead for the lost, the broken, the sick, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…; we think of the Philippines, Afghanistan, Madagascar, of places and hearts that are home to violence and hatred, persecution and oppression, extortion and exploitation;
we pray for a resolution to the migrant crisis on our borders and elsewhere, for a mitigation of the tensions between nations that might lead to war, for diplomatic efforts to bring peace to areas of conflict, for the victims of famine and of war;
we pray for our friends, brothers and sisters in Siliguri; for boldness in the church in its task to serve God, for a pure heart and renewed resolve to obey his will; for upholding the church in the witness to the love of God;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for respect for the rule of law, for our communities and those who serve its welfare;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

Look forward in hope to the coming of your Saviour, prepare the way for Christ your Lord; welcome him with love and faith when he comes in glory.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 19th December 2021, 4th  Advent, Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church           

                                  

‘The visit and the announcement’

                                                                                                                                                    


Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

Rejoice, daughter of Zion! I am coming, I shall make my dwelling among you, says the Lord. – Zech.2,10

Collect:
Heavenly Father, you chose the Virgin Mary, full of grace, to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour. Fill us with your grace, that in all things we may embrace your will, and with her rejoice in your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AME

 
 
 

Joy has dawned upon the world

1 Joy has dawned upon the world,

promised from creation:

God’s salvation now unfurled,

hope for every nation.

Not with fanfares from above,

not with scenes of glory,

but a humble gift of love:

Jesus, born of Mary.

2 Sounds of wonder fill the sky

with the songs of angels,

as the mighty Prince of Life

shelters in a stable.

Hands that set each star in place

shaped the earth in darkness,

cling now to a mother’s breast,

vulnerable and helpless.

3 Shepherds bow before the Lamb,

gazing at the glory;

gifts of men from distant lands

prophesy the story.

Gold, a king is born today,

incense, God is with us,

myrrh, His death will make a way,

and by His blood He’ll win us.

4 Son of Adam, Son of heaven,

given as a ransom,

reconciling God and man,

Christ our mighty champion!

What a Saviour, what a friend,

once a babe in Bethlehem,

Now the Lord of history!

 

Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

 

 

Reading: Lk.1,39-45

Dear friends
The reason that we today hear and know of a visit that took place so many years ago in the hills of Judea between two women of seemingly little account requires some explanation. We find it, of course, in the fact that the women involved were both expecting, that the child in particular that was growing inside one of them – Mary – was not just going to be of some consequence for a few, but was going to be of eternal consequence for all – through all the generations down to our own and beyond this to the one which shall be the last.
This visit, brought about by the expectation of the coming of this child, foreshadows and speaks of the visit that his coming involves you and me and all of us in, in which we shall ourselves be the intended addressee of the Lord’s favour, shall ourselves know the joy of having new life growing inside us!

Yes, things of great consequence were the order of this visit in the hills of Judea all those years ago, things of the Almighty who has undone the might of the ruling and the powerful, has sent the rich away empty, but has lifted up the humble (see Mary’s song of praise – Lk.1,46-55!).
From the events that in the course of a few short years would follow this visit, we know that if the ruling powers (Herod; Jewish leadership) had known of it, they would have sought to make sure that this new life would not see the light of day. They would have realised then, as they came to realise later, that if this new life were allowed to be, its weakness, the humility of its form, its purity, would rule to make the weak strong and bring down the powers that drive the aims of the powerful.
But this matter of “had they seen/had they known” and this matter of the fear in the response of the powerful and the ruling to this child, tells us something of great importance: that the ability to see this child and know what is given us in him and to receive him, is not in our power or by our power unaided – it is by faith. In fact, all human highhandedness before God, by which man serves himself, is put to an end and is judged in the coming of this child. And faith alone will see, because faith is where the humble dwell and where those who live by it shall be (the) righteous (ones).

Dear friends, let us look at this visit that Mary paid to Elizabeth and see therefore some of what it tells about faith and what it receives through the coming Saviour.
First we notice that Mary ‘hurried’; we are not told that she ‘went’ but that she ‘hurried’. There was an expectant urgency to her undertaking. The new life that was growing inside her filled her with a longing to praise and to thank God, recognising what He had done for her (!), and to share what the angel had told her about the child she was carrying. But faith will do likewise. The new life that shall grow inside us when we receive this child will fill the heart in such a way that it overflows in praise and thanks towards God and with a desire to give of itself to others and share what was received. Let us learn as we look to the coming of the Saviour to expect this and to seek it with urgency as his gift to us and his life in us.
Then there is Elizabeth, the child in her leaping for joy at Mary’s greeting, and her being filled with the Holy Spirit. But what this tells us is that faith, in receiving Jesus, will give rise to joy: The child to be born comes to bring joy! “Don’t be afraid,” says the angel announcing his coming, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” It is the joy of salvation! Not the joys of the world which as Jesus teaches in the parable of the sower end up suffocating life, but this:
The joy of one lost and given up on who is searched for and found and wants to share his joy with others; the joy of one wounded who is being healed; the joy of one under the sentence of death because of his guilt who is given not just reprieve but full pardon and is restored to the fellowship of the righteous; the joy of one burdened and weary who is given rest; the joy of one at war with himself, with others and with God who is given peace such as he could not find and the world cannot give; the joy of one under the fear of death who is given eternal life.  And where is this joy but through the coming from God of the One who reconciles the world to God through taking away the sins of the world in his own death on the cross and procures the forgiveness of sins for us all. The nature of this joy is our return to God – to know Him, to know the love the Father has for us, and so have fellowship with Him and with one another. And what does this joy do but seek to honour the author of it in thankfulness towards him and love towards others?
Of it we learn by the words of Jesus to his disciples: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn.15,11) Or in John’s first epistle: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1Jn.1,3-4)

Dear friends, the life that grows inside Mary is conceived by the Holy Spirit – John’s leaping for joy at his coming is a sign that he is the Son of God. The new life in all who receive this coming Saviour in faith is also conceived by the Holy Spirit, it is the power through the Son of God to become children of God (Jn.1,12!).
And does not the visit of Mary’s to Elizabeth show us that the Holy Spirit of God who through the coming of the Son of God – heaven’s greeting of mercy and grace! – in all who receive him conceives new life – his life! -, does so through that which brings the Son of God into the world: Mary’s womb, that is: the Word made flesh, that is: the Word of witness:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1Jn.1,1-2)

May the Holy Spirit fill us, and all, as we hear the word of the coming Saviour, that we may know the joy of receiving him and of having what He is: God-with-us, sonship, forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. AMEN

Lord God, you bless all the world in the richest possible way through your Son who by his coming into our world and assuming our flesh has become the fulfilment of all your promises, the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of life. If we are rich in ourselves before you, we are sent away with nothing of his; if we are poor and have nothing in ourselves that we would boast before you, we are given all of it. How wonderful and vast is the depth of your wisdom in judgment and grace! Give us, we pray, as we await his coming to believe that the promises, which you most certainly fulfil, are all owned by Jesus and through him by all who are his. Amen

 

 

 

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings; ]
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we pray that Jesus may be honoured in the hearts of all who await his coming and hear his voice;
we pray that as John heard in Mary’s greeting the coming of the Lord, so it may be heard in the proclamation of the gospel this Christmas time;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the sick, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we pray for a resolution to the migrant crisis on our borders and elsewhere, for a mitigation of the tensions between nations that might lead to war, for diplomatic efforts to bring peace to areas of conflict, for the victims of famine and of war;
we pray for our friends, brothers and sisters in Siliguri; for boldness in the church in its task to serve God, for a renewed resolve to obey his will;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for respect for the rule of law, for our communities and those who serve its welfare;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

Look forward in hope to the coming of your Saviour, prepare the way for Christ your Lord; welcome him with love and faith when he comes in glory.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 5th December 2021, 2nd  Advent, Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church           

                                  

‘The coming word of God’

                                                                                                                                                    


Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

The Prophet of the Most High will be the Lord’s forerunner, to prepare his way and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. – Lk.1,76-77

Collect:
Almighty God, you sent your servant John the Baptist to prepare your people to welcome the Messiah. Inspire the ministers and stewards of your truth to turn our disobedient hearts to you, that when the Christ shall come again to be our judge we may stand with confidence before his glory; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

‘God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray;
O tidings of comfort and joy comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy!’

 
 
 
 
 

Reading: Mal.3,1-4 / Lk.3,1-6

Dear friends

The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.’ I single out this sentence because you might overlook in the busy-ness of what is going on around it, what a momentous thing it is when the word of God comes to someone in order through their voice to be spoken to others. Where the word of God comes you have divine activity!
Let us make space for this. Let us clear out those rooms in our hearts and minds that are made for receiving the messenger of good news, but are so often filled with much clutter and junk.

The word of God came to John’. Through his voice it comes to us all who await the coming of the Saviour, for it is this coming that John pointed to. What came to John is the word of God that went before the word that ‘was God’ and ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. (Jn.1,1-14) This connection between the word of God that came to John and the word that was God and was coming into the world (our world!) is all important, because it’s both of the one divine saving activity. In his Gospel the Apostle John put it in this way: ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.’ (Jn.1,6-9)

The word of God came to John .. in the wilderness.’ Now there is a curious thing here, I wonder if you noticed it. On its way to John in the wilderness, as it were, the word of God passed straight by Tiberius Caesar and the entire machinery, so highly effective, of Roman administration, went straight past Herod and Caiaphas the high-priest, past Rome and Jerusalem; it left to one side those great centres of power and learning, of aspiration and influence, of ideals and religious thought, where connectedness was all the rage and where progress was the name of the game. Why so?
Did it signal that the political, cultural and religious elite, the combined powers of wealth, dominance of all sorts and knowledge had no need of the word of God?
This may indeed have been the opinion of those who at the time looked at John in the wilderness as nothing more than a curiosity. And it may be the opinion today still of those who regard the preaching of the gospel as more or less a curiosity, not a means of serious preparation and repentance, but at best one of moral entertainment.
But is the truth not this? That the bypassing of these (all these!) splendid monuments to human accomplishments, self-belief and progress expresses divine judgment on all human promises of salvation?
Let not the heart be taken in by promises of salvation which rest on human activity and self-belief – that of others or your own. The promise that the salvation of our lives and of the world can be placed in our own hands ignores fundamentally our accountability before God and the reality of sin. Instead let us go to where God’s word came, to John in the wilderness, and hear his voice, not as those who promise salvation or seek it wherever it is offered but as those who seek it where it is promised.

Because here is promised the coming of God’s salvation!
And having noted that the word came not to the great centres but to John, there is now another thing we need to note as we prepare for the coming of God’s salvation, such that we receive it: For the word of God that came to John in the wilderness – should we not ask whose word it is?
But it is the word of the God of comfort and joy! In the words running up to the ones about the voice in the wilderness Isaiah says this: ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’ (40,1-2)

Here too, as we hear of comfort and joy, it is important to understand this in terms of divine action done for us and to us, and not in terms of human action done by us!
I recently happened to hear an announcement of a news item to come later on in the program on the radio about somebody who would be giving “wise words” (yes!) about making our experience of Christmas this year (more challenging circumstances) still one of comfort and joy. My heart sank at the prospect of hearing yet again many words about comfort and joy, involving many things from baking and tinsels to atmospheric lighting and having friends and family round, all at a modest budget, but unable completely to address the real issue and bring the comfort and joy the heart longs for, because they do not account for God nor for the word He sent: no words to tell us to prepare and get ready for God’s coming so that we may know the comfort and joy that He alone is the author of!

The word of God came to John .. in the wilderness’: If in our advent celebrations and Christmas preparations we do not in some sense leave our “Rome” and “Jerusalem”, get ourselves up and away from those cultural and religious comfort zones and playgrounds, and take ourselves into the wilderness that is God’s word, to hear and do it, we shall be as unprepared as anyone in “Rome” and “Jerusalem” for God’s divine activity that brings comfort and joy.
And being unprepared, dear friends, is that not to prepare oneself for the side of divine activity that is the coming wrath?  ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’ (Mal.3,2)

And when we take ourselves into the wilderness that is God’s word in the voice of John, we learn that it is our sin and our awareness of it that prepares the way for the coming of God’s salvation. ‘He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance of the forgiveness of sins.’
Dear friends, the picture of nature rolling out the red carpet for God’s coming through valleys being filled in and mountains and hills being made low, is an illustration that says: The heart that knows of its sin, its unworthiness before God, its disruptive nature towards what is made for goodness and holiness, the love it has for self and the rule of self, and recognising as much by repentance, is rolling out the red carpet for the coming of God’s salvation. Through the One who is coming this heart will know the comfort and the joy that God alone is the author of, and that will be a new birth unto life. Let the heart hear of the coming of its comfort and its joy. AMEN

 

Lord God, to your name be all praise. You have not left the world to its own devices but have sought it in love and mercy in order to enable in man a change of heart so we should not perish, but have everlasting life. All people will see your salvation. So says your word. And so does your Word, even our Saviour Jesus Christ. Grant us, gracious God, to come away from the proud places the heart likes so much to occupy and recognise our heart for the wilderness it is, that we may know the comfort and joy of your coming. Help us to take to heart your word of salvation in the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ.   Amen

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings; ]
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the sick, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we pray for a resolution to the migrant crisis in Belarus, on our own borders, for a mitigation of the tensions rising between the nations, for diplomatic efforts to bring peace to areas of conflict, for the victims of famine and of war;
we pray for our friends, brothers and sisters in Siliguri;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for our communities;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

Look forward in hope to the coming of your Saviour, prepare the way for Christ your Lord; welcome him with love and faith when he comes in glory.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 21st November 2021, Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church           

                                  

‘Boasting about tomorrow’

 


Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

The Lord has established his throne for judgement. He it is who will judge the world with justice, who will try the cause of peoples with equity. – Ps.9,7-8

 

Collect:
Almighty and everlasting God, it is your will to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, our Lord and King. Grant that the peoples of the earth, now divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his gentle and loving rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, now and for ever. Amen

Above all

1  Above all powers, above all kings,
above all nature and all created things;
above all wisdom and all the ways of man,
You were here before the world began.

2  Above all kingdoms, above all thrones,
above all wonders the world has ever known;
above all wealth and treasures of the earth,
there’s no way to measure what You’re worth.

        Crucified, laid behind the stone;
You lived to die, rejected and alone;
like a rose trampled on the ground,
You took the fall and thought of me, above all.

Words and music by Lenny LeBlanc
Words and music by Paul Baloche

Reading: James 4, 13-17

Dear friends

Faith is a work in progress. It is something that needs working at. Authentic faith is conscious of the disparities that exist between faith and life, aware of the ways in which one’s life (actions, desires, words) testifies to a lack of faith, to a weakness of faith, in some or in many regards. In fact, a real and authentic faith will betray its presence (at one point, anyway) by a willingness to question any sense that one has arrived, that faith has nothing more to learn, doesn’t have to progress, has no need to grow.
James’ letter to the church clearly works on the assumption, which he shares with other writings of the NT, that faith is a work in progress. He highlights various areas where faith comes in for being worked at, where it needs to mature. He is in his approach a bit like a father who, having just read his child’s school-report, says little about all the good stuff, but zooms in fairly directly and in the main on the comments at the end of each subject which identify and specify the areas that need working on. What James is doing, in a way, is apply the findings of a report looking into the church’s faith, with the aim of directing the faithful (=believers) to work at their faith ( - through prayer and an attentive searching of the Word! - )  so that this faith may improve its yield for God in good works. 

The issue here which James sees a need for faith to be concerned with is over something which on the surface of it seems rather minor, in the sense that we find ourselves struggling to understand how it should be so problematic. It appears in people saying: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” What is the problem with this for faith? We have all said something similar, perhaps do so even now. Is James saying that it is wrong and godless to plan and look ahead? But if it is not, surely it is legitimate to assume you have some time ahead? Or is it the focus on business as such and on making money that is the issue? But that is not the case either, because James doesn’t refer to it again. Nor is it unethical, biblically speaking, for someone to need to secure an income or do so by running a business.
This being so we might be tempted to think that the people James has in view are a certain type who just need to learn to adopt a bit of modesty and moderation in the assumptions they are making – something we might already be doing!  But if so, we fail to see what is going on below the surface, as it were.
Modesty and moderation are good attitudes and it is surely right to encourage them. But James is not speaking of a lack of modesty and moderation. Because what he says about such talk is that it reveals people who boast in their arrogant schemes and whose boasting is nothing short of evil (v.16). Now you don’t refer to a matter that is easily dealt with, a light “problem”, in such serious terms. When he uses the expression ‘arrogant schemes’ he is, I believe, consciously referring to the story of the tower of Babel, and the term ‘evil’ is used for something profoundly wrong and sinful.
So let’s ask again: What is it in such thinking that is deeply at odds with faith and reveals the need for faith to work at overcoming it so that faith is not itself overcome by the evil of it?

The problem of such boasting lies in the fact that those who make it commit a twofold evil: (1) they deny God the recognition (acknowledgment!) of his God-head, that He is God, and (2) they credit themselves with what they deny God and what is his. This is the point James is making when he says: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Both of these things are corrosive to faith: The refusal to acknowledge God’s sovereign power and his knowledge of all things, even the end from the beginning, and attributing mastery over time and knowledge to man himself. Because if faith goes along with this, what happens is that it will cut itself from God’s providential care and from God’s guidance: there cannot, for obvious reasons, be a full-bloodied trust in God’s providential care, nor will there be a real seeking of his will and guidance, no counting on the Lord who sees and knows and cares, and no reckoning with his will, might and wisdom.

It is on faith, therefore, to work at overcoming this kind of thinking, this frame of mind which is so pretentious and moves in a world of wrong (godless) assumptions, and not yield to it. As James advises: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this and that.’”
Which means faith’s attitude and thinking, for it to be faith, ought to be this: To yield oneself to God’s providential care and to his guidance by trusting in his word and obeying his will – Prov.3,5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight.” And to trust God and obey him in the midst of life as it is – limited, vulnerable, fleeting, prone to many a misery, coming one day at a time, each filled with its own set of troubles, but ready to yield to the will of him who knows what his children need, what they suffer and how to help.
Such trusting and obeying does not preclude all planning or forbid a person to seek an income or to use his reason to decide what to do and where to go. But it means that that’s not done apart from faith, under misconceived assumptions, but that it’s done out of faith, from within faith, and therefore seeking to be in agreement with God’s providential care and guidance.

Dear friends, James says that such trusting and obeying, when we prove it is not in our power to do as we ought, proves us to be sinners, it means we sin. He is not saying this because he wants to separate those who can do it from those who can’t, those who do from those who don’t. The word ‘sin’ is there to guide our hearts to the forgiveness of sins as the way in which the heart learns to trust and obey – that is, to Jesus Christ, who died for our sins so that we may live for God – may begin to trust and may begin to obey through the power of grace at work where Christ is received.

                                                                                                                                                                                     AMEN

Lord God, in whom the lost find a saviour and the dead find life, maker of heaven and earth in whom is our help, to your name alone be all praise and glory. In adoration we bow before you, and joining all who confess your name we acknowledge that you are God, that all our time stands in your hand, that there is not a word we utter that you do not already know and not a thing in the world that is not what you know it to be, that we cannot place ourselves or be placed where you do not see and nothing is hidden from you, that you set limits that cannot be exceeded. Yes, you are God and nothing you will can in any way remain unrealised. In all, and infinitely so, you are good and just and true.
Trusting you and obeying your will should come ever so naturally to us and be our glory and crown, yet we have fallen far short of this glory. Lord God, forgive us our sin of ascribing to ourselves the power and wisdom, belonging to you alone, which enables us to walk in the path that leads to life. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake who is your power and wisdom and lives to be the strength of our trusting and obeying. In his name we pray.

 

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings; ]
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we pray for a resolution to the migrant crisis in Belarus, for a mitigation of the tensions rising between the nations, for diplomatic efforts to bring peace to areas of conflict, for the victims of famine and of war;
we pray for our friends, brothers and sisters in Siliguri;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for our communities;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

Now may the peace of God which passes all our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 31 October 2021, Harvest Thanksgiving Garvald and Morham                                            

‘A matter of the heart’s instructions’

                                                                                                                                          
Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

God cares for the earth and makes it fruitful. He crowns the year with his good gifts. – Ps.65,9.11

Collect:
Almighty God, we offer you hearty thanks for your goodness and care in giving to us the fruits of the earth in their seasons. Give us grace to use them rightly, to your glory, for the relief of those in need, and our own well-being; through Jesus Christ the living Bread, who came down from heaven and gives life to the world, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

All things praise Thee

1  All things praise Thee, Lord most high,
    heaven and earth and sea and sky,
    all were for Thy glory made,
    that Thy greatness, thus displayed,
    should all worship bring to Thee;
    all things praise Thee: Lord, may we.

2  All things praise Thee: night to night
    sings in silent hymns of light;
    all things praise Thee: day to day
    chants Thy power in burning ray;
    time and space are praising Thee;
    all things praise Thee: Lord, may we.

3  All things praise Thee, high and low,
    rain and dew, and seven-hued bow,
    crimson sunset, fleecy cloud,
    rippling stream, and tempest loud,
    summer, winter – all to Thee
    glory render: Lord, may we.

4  All things praise Thee, heaven’s high shrine
    rings with melody divine;
    lowly bending at Thy feet,
    seraph and archangel meet;
    this their highest bliss, to be
    ever praising: Lord, may we.

5  All things praise Thee, gracious Lord,
    great Creator, powerful Word,
    omnipresent Spirit, now
    at Thy feet we humbly bow,
    lift our hearts in praise to Thee;
    all things praise Thee: Lord, may we.

                                                Words by George William Conder

 

 

 

Reading: Deut.8,1-10 and Jn.6,24-35

Sermon:

Dear friends

Let’s talk about hands. Some are aesthetically pleasing, some are less so; some are small and some are big; some are beautifully proportioned and some not so much. Differences of this kind may matter on some level, but you will agree that what is ultimately important about hands, really, is whether they do what they are supposed to do (big or small or whatever). When we ask, however, what hands are supposed to do, we find that soon our focus shifts from the hand as such, its look and appearance and dexterity, to the heart, because we realise what hands are supposed to do is to carry out the instructions coming from a good, upright, loving heart. So the question: “What do my hands look like?”, matters far less than the question: “Are they kind hands, the sort of hands they are supposed to be?”

The point I want to make in connection with harvest and thanksgiving has to do with this issue of what a thing is meant for and is supposed to do, in distinction from its appearance and uses that are forgetful of its true meaning.
In the passage we read from Deut.8 God’s people are called to consider what all they have received at the hands of God is supposed to do, what it is meant for.
For the use of all that they have received, that is its purpose, is not fully realised in the immediate benefit the people derive from it for themselves or in the uses they put it to when these are self-centred and self-glorifying. Because what they are supposed to do, what they are meant for, is to prompt the heart to attend to that which will enable it to be alive – in the way the Bible understands this: alive to God and one’s neighbour in love; in other words, to that which will enable the heart to give the sort of instructions to the person that are good, upright, generous, loving, and righteous.
And what enables it in this way is the word of God – hence the call to attend to it and let God’s gifts, whatever they are in size and appearance, prompt and encourage one to do so. “.. to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”

Have you ever heard such a thing?! And if you have, did you listen? I rather hope, of course, that you have. I hope this is not like foreign music to your ears. Yes, would that every day, and this day in particular, we saw what we have been given – the harvests, the food that we eat and the means we have to secure it, the fruitfulness of people’s efforts on and off the fields, the ability to produce and often abundantly so – and let it prompt us to praise God and seek and search out his word so that we may do it ( = that we may not just ‘have’ but may live)!
Yet, I rather think that we may know too much (still) in our selves of this attitude which God is here warning his people about – the attitude of mistaking having much with living: of considering the end of what God gives us to be of course whatever immediate benefit it yields for us, the right use of it to be a matter of how we like it for ourselves, in line with instructions proceeding from a heart that is ruled by greed, fear of missing out or love of money.

This concern is illustrated quite straightforwardly in the parable Jesus tells (Lk.12,13-21) of the rich farmer whose fields (ground) yielded an abundant harvest, too big as it turned out for him to store it all. So he asked himself what he should do. (This bit is about the heart’s instruction regarding the question what to do!) He decided to expand his storage facilities so that he would be able to use all of it in the pursuit of his own personal welfare and wellbeing: “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But that very night God recalled that farmer’s life, saying, ‘You fool, … who now will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ The heart’s instructions that he had followed were all wrong. Jesus finished this parable with the words: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”
This sounds the same note made also in Deut.8, for this is how the passage we read goes on – with a warning to his people not to forget “the LORD your God” or fail to listen to his word, because doing so would make their hearts proud, effecting what kind of instructions would proceed from it. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.” (8,17-19)

Dear friends, we rejoice at the plenty of our harvests and are grateful for all the ways in which our needs are supplied. And we realise also the temptation, inclination, to forget the Lord our God and what his gifts are meant for, to hold it all without regard to his word. (In this context: Can we fail to notice the deafening silence in regard to God and his word in the conversations about abundance and want, environmental issues and social justice?)
The heart is forgetful, it wants to instruct as it pleases. But what all harvests are meant for is to be received as the means for us to be rich towards God through carrying out cheerfully and without worrying his word/will – the instructions proceeding from hearts that are loving, compassionate, generous, giving, pure (hearts at peace because on friendly terms with God!).
This, as Jesus points out, is not in the gift of the world’s abundance and the satisfaction one derives from it, but in the gift of what he calls ‘the bread of life’ for those who receive it.
Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir’, they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
                                                                                                                                                               
AMEN

Lord God, you have supplied us with your good gifts – a token of your generous love; you have blessed the work of many hands in many places and have let their labours be fruitful; you have caused the earth to yield its fruit, to provide us with plenty of food and fill our hearts with joy. We thank you and we praise you, the giver of every good gift.
Let not our heart grow proud over the abundance of your gifts, but give us a huger for your bread from heaven, even Jesus Christ in his atoning sacrifice for our sins, and that we may eat and believe, so that our heart may instruct us to praise you, use what you give us wisely and share willingly and cheerfully our plenty with others. Amen

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings; ]
we pray for God’s blessing on our farmers, those involved in the production and distribution of food, charitable organisations like the Foodbank etc.; we seek for light into the darkness of hunger and poverty, for humbleness to recognise our calling to serve;
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for our communities;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

Now may the peace of God which passes all our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 10th October 2021, Haddington West with Garvald and Morham           

                                  

‘Two kinds of wisdom’

                                                                                                                                                  
Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

If we belong to Christ, it is all God’s doing; it is God also who has set his seal upon us, and given the Spirit to dwell in our hearts.  – 2Cor.1,21-22

 

Collect:
Almighty God, in our baptism you adopted us for your own. Quicken your Spirit within us, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth and serve you with thankfulness of heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Reading: James 3, 13-18

Sermon:

Dear friends

The question James is asking here is surely meant to address us directly: “Are you wise and understanding? Has your faith made you wise and understanding?”
Let us receive this question in good faith, not as a provocation or a veiled rebuke or intended to cast us into doubt. Let us receive it in good faith, because we know that genuine faith produces what James calls ‘a harvest of righteousness’, and wisdom and understanding have a part to play in this. This harvest is not the fruit of human self-belief and autonomy but of faith in the true and living God. That this is so we know by faith, for it is said, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ (Rom.1,17) Are we wise to this, are we understanding?
Let us bring to mind that it is not the wise who says in his heart, ‘There is no God’. It is the fool (see Ps.14), who does not therefore understand, and is not able to act upon, “what God has freely given us”, and never has that gift of faith which is “the mind of Christ” (1Cor.2,13.16!)

The question “Are you wise and understanding (in your faith)?” is yet another and further way, then, of asking after the fruit of the kind that indicates the presence of genuine faith. And it could also be posed in this form: “Do you have the mind of Christ?”
Do we? This is the same question but in a more focussed way. Underlying it is the truth that faith in Christ yields for the believer the mind of Christ: Through the operation of the Holy Spirit in them, the faithful, by way of faith, begin and learn to see as Christ saw, to know what Christ knows, to understand as Christ understands, to engage in the way that Christ did.
Now of course, believer and church can resist this, and there is something that does this – sin. Which is why when sin goes unchecked or is un-repented of, the resistance to the growth of Christ-mindedness in life and church is strong. Only grace can overcome this, and grace does, it is a greater power than that which resists. Therefore, the grace of God is the light of wisdom and understanding.

But what is Christ-mindedness? How do we know faith’s wisdom and faith’s understanding? In a crucial passage in Matthew Jesus says this: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt.11,27-29)

Here we learn what Christ-mindedness is: gentleness and humility of heart such as was displayed in and by Jesus.
Do our deeds express this, asks James?  For only if they do, do we prove that we have learned what Christ through faith is teaching, do we prove that we are learning from him. James, in other words, says, ‘Look at your practice, for it is your practice that announces the presence or not of wisdom and understanding.’ In a way, James proposes, in the interest of wisdom and understanding (Christ-mindedness), that a searchlight be switched on and an investigation be made: An investigation into what our practices – what we do and don’t do, say and don’t say – say about the inner drive that gives rise to them.
But if we do this, it may well be that we find in ourselves the same or similar drives that James perceives in the church and the believers that he addresses – namely, bitterness, envy, selfish ambition in the heart (the seat of these drives). We may find that our speech and our actions, as well as what we don’t say what we don’t do, at bottom show us to be concerned with ourselves first, seeking our own advantage; to hold grudges against others; to be self-righteous and therefore judgmental towards those we don’t think measure up, to excuse our own faults but lay the faults of others clearly at their door.

What to do, dear friends, when presented with a sight of ourselves that is not pretty (in spiritual terms)? James reckons that at this point there is a strong impulse to recoil/turn away: To save yourself this unpleasantness through denial (better to continue in an illusion that is comfortable than be exposed to a truth that is not), or even to excuse it (to yourself) by boasting that it teaches you so much about grace!

Let us not yield to such an impulse, it is not wise nor understanding, it is not a mark of Christ-mindedness. It would be a failing to realise the connection there is between such bitterness, envy and selfish ambition in the heart and what it gives rise to – disorder.
And disorder, dear friends, is very bad news: It is order undone, it is the undoing of what binds things together, relates them one to another in truth (communal flourishing). In James’ words: “But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” 

But instead of yielding to this impulse to recoil from such finding ( = that there are deeds and that there is speech that reflect this wisdom from below, and that we have so done and have so spoken), we must let what we find move us to consider what wisdom and what understanding make for order, to consider the mind of Christ.
And the mind of Christ is this: It is ‘first of all pure’: it doesn’t look at another with a desire to judge but a desire to save and heal, not with a desire to exclude but a desire to embrace, not with a desire to use for selfish purposes but a desire to restore to God’s order, it delights in the will of God and his goodness and feels keenly the burden of sin on all of life, and is prepared to carry it, it is gracious and hopeful and trusting and rejoices in obedience to God;
it is ‘then peace-loving’: it is not interested in being right for the sake of being right, it abhors all power games and in all matters pursues peace even at a cost, it is never vengeful but seeks for all to ‘go in peace’;
it is ‘considerate’: seeing in everyone the image of God and honouring that image in everyone;
it is ‘submissive’: it gladly submits to the will of God and is passionately on the side of truth and seeks what benefits the other;
it is ‘full of mercy and good fruit’: it answers wrong with right, bad with good, error with loving correction, it bears out good knowledge with good actions and good words;
it is ‘impartial and sincere’: itself completely truthful and without guile it insists with gentleness and patience on truthfulness in all matters and is not swayed by flattery, fooled by pretence nor taken in or tempted by grandstanding and posturing and self-importance.

We can sum up Christ-mindedness, the wisdom and understanding in the heart that makes for order, by saying: It is those deeds and words by which the burdened and the weary hear us say, ‘Come, and let us share that rest that we have found.’

Dear friends, we learn such wisdom and understanding from Christ, as we join the weary and the burdened, join them with our own weariness and our own burden, and hear him say to us: “Come to me, and I will give you rest. I will show you the way of wisdom and understanding and be with you on the way to guide and uphold you. I will not ask what I do not first give, and in doing what I ask, your soul will know rest.” For this is what his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection is saying. And is it not what his words are saying to all who come?    AMEN

Lord God, help us in your mercy to be free to say to the burdened and the weary “Come!” and do for them what Jesus did for us. It is not your kind of wisdom to have but not give, to know but not share, to judge but not save, to see and to recoil; too often that is our wisdom. Create in us, we pray in Jesus’ name, a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Amen

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings;
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for our communities;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

Now may the peace of God which passes all our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

Sunday 3rd October 2021, Haddington West with Garvald and Morham          

                                  

‘The perils of the tongue and the power of the Word’

                                                                                                                                   
Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

Send out your light and your truth to be my guide; let them lead me to your holy hill, to your dwelling place.  – Ps.43,3

 

Collect:
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered by your Holy Spirit into one, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

 

Reading: James 3, 1-12

Sermon:

Dear friends

James finds in the church a readiness to teach which produces an environment for faith and in the church which is detrimental to their flourishing. Too many folk are eager and encouraged to teach in a way that affects things negatively. Whatever the motivation and desire to teach in the church of these teachers may be, they divert faith from its path, the church’s teaching. There are too many words, with the result that the Word of the church suffers; there are too many teachers, with the result that the teaching of the church suffers.

James considers this a problem serious enough to lay down this warning and seek to put on the brakes on this proliferation of teachers. It indicates a problem that affects not those who teach, but believers more generally, as becomes clear when he speaks about the tongue and the need to tame it.
But he does first address this problem of the increase of teachers. Let us ask: Why is it a problem? (Perhaps James is just fearful of his own position as teacher?) Things develop, don’t they, in teaching? Who is to say that new revelations and insights cannot be given, which new teachers pick up? Are not the new teachings from the Spirit too? And so on.
The crux of the matter here lies with the church’s teaching. You see, it is the church’s teaching whereby faith and church came to be; it is also that whereby faith and church come to be and whereby the church grows and prevails against all opposition.
It is this circumstance precisely, this causal connection between the church’s teaching and the church’s being, that led the church to define the scriptures of the New Testament over against the increasing number of writings and teachings which were not of that whereby church and faith came to be (!), and which were lacking the authority and authenticity belonging to the Apostles who were witnesses of the Saviour’s resurrection. The need for defining the NT (and say ‘no’ to other teaching) arose from the recognition that the teaching of Jesus and about him – his life, his words and works, his death, his resurrection and the proclamation of it by the Apostles –, which had led people to faith and gathered them together as the church, retains its place and function in the life and the work of the church. This teaching of the church is not like a founding document which has an honoured place in the church’s history and memory, but which for direct influence needs amending all the time. It is that whereby God makes known the mystery of salvation, it is the message of which it is said, ‘Faith comes by hearing the message’ (Rom.10,17).

So what we see in James is an awareness already that the inflationary increase of teachers and their words masks a weakening influence of the church’s teaching and its word through a weakening regard for it and dependence upon it.
The seriousness of this is underlined by the reminder of judgment: “we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That is: To distort the teaching whereby God makes known the way of salvation, to speak words that pretend but fail to make known and to serve the truth of God, renders a teacher more culpable: Not only does he cause damage, he then also prevents healing; not only does he deprive man who needs healing, he deprives God who wants to heal man and has given the Word and the Spirit to achieve it!
The church’s teaching ought therefore to be of primary concern to the church and to faith, both of which live by this that its message is proclaimed in words of truth and faithfulness. To guard the church’s teaching - from those who would distort it, from those who would subject it to their innovations, from those who would instrumentalise it for their purposes, from those who would hold it captive to their cultural outlook and to the spirit of the age - is not optional nor is it ever unnecessary (or a done job): it is a matter of survival and a spiritual necessity.
This area of our faith, of Christianity, is one where the pivotal place of the word and the use of words is most apparent. It matters greatly what is said and what is not said and whether what is said is true and whether the truth is heard.

And when we see this, we also see that it is not the only area. In fact, in all areas that we are called to live out our faith, the way we use words – what we say and what we don’t say – has huge impact.
Indeed, James reckons that if we managed to speak truthfully at all times, if we used words with true knowledge and would never stumble when we speak, we would not in our heart be subject to those desires and fears which come to be expressed in words that hurt, destroy, betray and hide and suppress the truth. James: “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”
Here we have an important clue why James speaks of the power of the spoken word and the need, consequently, to tame one’s tongue. It is because genuine faith is about cohesion, about fellowship; it is because faith brings together what stands apart, controls and overcomes that which divides, separates, corrupts and subjects us to death. Faith is nothing if not a most powerful cohesive, to bind us together: and at the heart of it is communication.

Let us approach this again from the following angle: The scientists tell us that there are 4 fundamental forces of nature which govern and regulate the behaviour of matter (to hold things together!) - they are the strong and the weak nuclear force, electro-magnetism and gravity. Their values have to be “just so” in order for things to be held together such as to enable life – and astonishingly, against almost infinite odds, they are. There are millions of ways that their values could have been different, with the result that we wouldn’t be here, yet they are what they absolutely and without margin for “error” had to be. One may well ask if there is not another force required which is unlike these but defined them? But of more import it the observation that none of these forces bind humanity together or govern the behaviour of creatures that are not just bodies but are souls / spirits. Here we can begin to see something of the character of this other force that is required – that it is spiritual and that it communicates.
This force works through the Word – In the beginning was the Word (Jn.1,1). And this reasonably explains why the ability of the (human) tongue to form and speak words (to communicate!) carries such power. And therefore, why it is that:
by the power of his tongue man can destroy – think in this age of the internet in particular of the damaging effect of words on reputations, careers, prospects etc.;
by the power of the tongue man crushes and shames, divides and alienates, corrupts and sets things in motion that are simply evil;
by the power of the tongue man can withdraw love, silence the truth and cover wrong, can make the bad sound good and the good sound bad, can hinder every kind of flourishing.


Consider this power which the tongue yields that you possess and with which you communicate. And consider carefully! These deeds of the tongue, says James, because of the nature of the ultimate force that is God’s Word, originate in hell itself: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
And such is its activity that it would be foolish to think ourselves to be in control of it or able to tame it. Compelled by desires and fears living deep within us, the tongue will do their bidding. “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Let us not underestimate, or play down even, the power of the tongue to be quite deadly, by saying that surely James is exaggerating somewhat. How far back do we have to go when last our mouths ran away with us and we said things we thought we’d never say, said things we wish we hadn’t, things that cannot be unsaid, that leave scars? And how much, do we think, of what we have said and of what we have left unsaid, is the same as what we should have said or even meant to say?

But it should not be like that. Because by the tongue also are spoken those words that have the power to heal, comfort, strengthen, counsel and bring together, words speaking forgiveness and mercy, speaking love in truth and the truth in love. It is therefore a real anomaly and self-contradictory, for a Christian to feel free to use words of praise and faith in his relationship with God, but in his relationship with other people, esp brothers and sisters, use words that are neither true nor kind and should simply not be said, not to use words that help and build up etc.

Dear friends, the tongue, for the power it yields, is a part of the body most in need of redemption. And it is not irredeemable, there is a force that can tame it and it is the effect of the sanctifying work of the Spirit of God in our life. “A good man”, says Jesus, “brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Lk.6,45) The grace of God by the death of Christ for our sins draws the poison out of the heart that humbly seeks it, and the grace of God through the resurrection of Christ by the Spirit fills the heart with new life, so that filled with the word that is Christ the heart may learn to speak this word.

Here is the source which as we drink from it in repentance and faith brings cleansing to our tongues.

                                                                                                                                                                                          AMEN

Lord God, you spoke through Jesus Christ once and for all for our salvation, and he now intercedes for us before you. Grant that we hear what you are saying in the power of your Spirit, so that our tongue may become an instrument for good and for blessing. Amen

- time of prayer / intercession – [ what concerns we have on our heart we pour out before God and seek in thanksgiving the gifts of His blessings;
we ask to discern His judgments and for a spirit of understanding and repentance, for mercy and an end to the spiritual ignorance whereby we fail to reject and abhor sin and wickedness;
we plead for the lost, the broken, the lonely, the abandoned, the persecuted, the suffering…;
we think of the victims and the ongoing trouble of the pandemic in our country and around the world and pray for those who care for the ill and for those tasked with keeping the people safe and for faith and courage…;
we pray for the authorities and those in leadership, for our communities;
we thank God for His guiding and keeping, for all the ways in which we discern his helping hand;
we pray:]

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

Now may the peace of God which passes all our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN

 

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