Away back in early OT times, when Moses was leading the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, he appointed elders, senior men, perhaps, people of wisdom and stature in the community, to help him judge the various disputes that happened among the people. After Moses, in the time of Joshua and for many years after him, the land was at war both with external neighbours and within its bound, the various tribes of Israel finding it hard to live alongside each other. Disputes were usually about land. And the people had forgotten all about God and what he had done for them. So in the end God raised up leaders, called Judges to bring them back into line. There were 12 Judges described as such, up until Samson, the strong man, whose strength disappeared when he had his hair cut – remember that story?
Nothing changes, and we live in just as turbulent times and we still need leaders. But of course we need sound leaders, dare one say God-chosen leaders. The hot gossip of course at the moment is the corruption of people in power, not just in our country, but all over the world. People who think they can get away with anything if they are in position of power or control. And no, it’s not a party political sermon!
One of the most shocking revelations for me in recent weeks has been the discovery that so many young girls in the 50s, 60s and 70s, having discovered that they were pregnant, were forced to give up their babies for adoption, and often without any notice at all.
When I was much younger, I was aware, and you would be too, that there were people always adopting children. It seemed there was an endless supply of babies ready to be adopted. NowI know why. What I didn’t understand then was that behind all the statistics was so much pain.
And what made it worse was that most of these young women, often only 17 years old, were shipped off by their mortified parents to church-runmother-and-baby homes, where they went through their pregnancy hidden away from their neighbours, and then had to suffer excruciating pain in childbirth with no anaesthetic, all intended to be punishment for what was seen as their terrible sin of getting pregnant. No accusations at all for the men who got them into that situation.
All of this is coming home to roost in today’s, dare I use the word, ‘woke’ culture. Nobody is quite sure what ‘woke’ means but it is certainly pointing up that there is one set of rules for some people and a completely different set of rules for others. It all depends who you are, what colour you are, what sex you are, and how much money you might have. It seems that not a day goes by without some headline focusing our attention on some influential person who has overstepped the mark in one of a variety of ways and is trying to sweep what they’ve done wrongunder the carpet. One rule for them, and another for everyone else.
But it is the victims that really matter. And the big worry that comes out of the adoption and all the other scandals is what kind of society we are allowing ourselves to become. Do ordinary people not matter? We seem to have lost the plot in morality, in compassion for others, in understanding?
And we haven’t learnt a thing from past errors. It’s something that is frequently said today regarding the various mistakes made early in the pandemic, that we need to learn from what we did wrong before. But do we? The details might change, the background to the story might be different, but essentially we are in a very self-seeking society, with the big boys, and girls, dictating what we have to do to play our part in combatting the effects of the Virus.
We, as a Christian country, need to get back to scriptural values. But, as we all know, not all scripture describes people who are squeaky clean. I could take you to stories about David that would demonstrate his weakness in sexual terms, and also to other stores that would shock you for the level of violence and killing that was sanctioned by God. However, the message we have to try to get over today has to be the NT message – tolerance, of compassion, understanding, if we really are expected to be sent out to do God’s work for him.
I reckon we need to take Paul as our example. Here was a man who wielded all the power of the Pharisees over the embryonic Christian communities. Wherever he encountered them, he sent in the heavies to break up their meetings, exerting unnecessary power and violence over these essentially good, loving and forgiving people. But then post Damascus Road transformation, when we was given this thorn in the flesh, he recognised where true power lay – NOT in false human assumption of power, but in recognising your weakness. And that goes for all levels of society. For in the end of the day, it’s the mighty that fall! Amen.
So let us bring our prayers to God. Let us pray:
Father we thank you for life. For beauty, for the wonders of this world and the stars and galaxies that we are only beginning to learn about. For families, for friends, for teachers, and all who implant goodness in our live. Above all for Jesus, and all that he taught us. We ask that in today’s world his teaching may be a call to send us out with nothing other than a desire to help others for his sake.
As we contemplate the world around us, so we recognise the needs that are there, many of which are never met. The world still has poor people, hungry people, and there are always victims of terrorism, and cruelty. To say this is nothing to do with us is wrong. We are all part of the sin of this world. And though’ many of the troubles that we hear about are not in our neighbourhood, or even our land, they are still committed by people who are part of our humanity.
So we pray for those who live in other lands, which are struggling to find enough vaccines for their people, while we are stockpiling supplies for a booster vaccine in the autumn.
We pray for those who have to contend with extremes of climate – drought or monsoons, both of which drastically affect their crops and their livelihoods, whileweworry about a few weeks of no rain.
We pray for those in our own cities and towns that now have to depend on food banks while some, or most of us can choose online or in the shop what we want.
Father the inconsistencies of all of this are the result of our poor management of the resources, which you have given so plentifully.
Help us to be so grateful that we have enough, and so aware of those who don’t that awe cannot fail to respond, in whatever way possible. And help us above all to remember that our strength is made perfect in weakness.
We bring before you the people we love – our families, our friends, particularly those with specific needs – sickness, unemployment, homelessness, or any other problem. Wrap your cloak of love and protection around them and keep them safe. And help us to keep our eyes on the goal of this earthly race, looking to Jesus as our guide and companion, and seeing Jesus in all other human beings, our neighbours, our friends, even our enemies, so that your love can reign in our world, today and forevermore. Amen
Good morning to all friends of Oxnam Kirk. Here is my message for what is often described as Low Sunday, called that probably because of the contrast to the high point of Easter Sunday. I took a look back on my talk for the equivalent Sunday last year, and was very interested to see that we were in a very different place then from where we are now. Well, that’s an understatement, if ever there was one, but this sentence in particular jumped out at me:
The fascinating thing that I have noticed (this is me writing last year), is that we have moved right away from the blame culture! Party politics, and its daily points scoring, have gone out of the window, and everyone is openly working together. Well, you can believe that if you want to.
Yes, we are in a totally different place now from last year, because nearly 32 million people have been vaccinated against Covid-19, and something around 5 million of those have had their 2nd jab. Statistics are showing a clear reduction in the numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths - a lot of it of course due to people obeying the rules, but undoubtedly also because of the vaccines. But are we really all working together for the common good?
Just mention the word Astrozenica, and it throws up all sorts of doubts and disputes. Just introduce the idea of Vaccine passports, and you get the same kind of arguments, albeit not on an international scale. Just list the countries that are missing out on vaccines because of the greed of the rich countries, and you get the likes of Greta Thunberg on your tail.
We all know that the Astrazenica dispute is caused by seeds of doubt that have been sown in people’s minds. Doubt about whether I will get a blood clot, doubt about how long the vaccine will last, doubt about the availability of the vaccine for all.
And the reason for the doubt ties in very well to the church’s theme for today - Thomas the doubting disciple, who was not prepared to believe, unless he could see for himself. You remember the story. Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room. They were so excited to see him alive but Thomas just wouldn’t believe them. Then a week later, he was with them, and Jesus came again, and this time, seeing the wounds for himself, he was in no doubt that it was the risen Lord.
So long as he couldn’t prove to himself that Jesus was alive, he wasn’t prepared to believe. Is that not kind of similar to the sceptics in Europe, who are not prepared to accept that the Oxford vaccine is safe, and therefore are laying their own people open to a new wave of the virus. The problem of course is that there is still so much about the virus and its mutations that we just do not know. And when you don’t know, and you get conflicting reports, how can you really believe it is safe?
Thomas was labelled the Doubter, and perhaps a wee bit unfairly because he was really a seeker after truth. We know that Thomas had two names, but did you know that at one point he had three names? Didymus Judas Thomas was his full name. Didymus comes from the ancient Greek word duo, for two, therefore a twin, and Thomas comes from the Aramaic word, thoma, which also means a twin. So his given name was Judas, although clearly not the Judas who betrayed Jesus. Now here’s a theory that has been propounded recently, which would give you real reason for doubt, if you believed it.
There were a few other Gospels doing the rounds in the first and second centuries. These included the Gospel of Marcion, the Gospel of Mary, of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas and others - all written to portray the life and teachings of Jesus. But only the four that we know - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - were considered authentic enough to make it into the NT canon.
The Gospel of Thomas was reckoned to be the earliest of the others to be written, although it was only discovered in 1945 in caves in Egypt - a bit like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It begins like this: “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down.” It’s a collection of sayings, purported to be from Jesus.
Those words are similar to the beginning of John’s first letter to the early church. This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: only John goes on,God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practising the truth.
It’s a question of what the truth is. Thomasgoes on in his Gospel to quote the saviour as saying, “Brother Thomas, now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself”.’
And now the bit that’s preposterous, impossible to believe - an American NT scholar, Bart Ehrmann, argues that this is strong evidence that Jesus had a twin, and that it was Thomas Didymus, and that he was the one who was actually seen after the resurrection, which over centuries has become misconstrued to be Christ rising from the dead. Well! Believe that, if you will!
But there is a further interesting detail in that Mark and Matthew both tell us in their Gospels that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas - Judas Thomas? - although there’s room for a different kind of doubt there, because of the way Jesus, especially towards the end, spoke of his mother and his brothers in a generic way, as tho’ all friends were his brothers. So was Thomas a twin, a twin of Jesus? Daft question, of course, because all you have to do is think back to the birth in Bethlehem. No twins there! But still the basis of argument isa bit like today, not just in the Astrozenica debate, but in all political debates, who do you believe? Which one is telling the truth? (That is today’s question.)
I go back to what I said before. Thomas the disciple, was not so much a doubter as a seeker after truth. He was, after all, the one who challenged Jesus to show them the way, when Jesus said he was going to the Father. And Jesus declared, ‘I am (not only) the Way, I am the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.’ And that’s what Thomas discovered in that locked room. He saw without doubt from Jesus’ wounds that the truth of God’s love was that he, Jesus, had indeed died and was now alive again to promise them all life everlasting.
No wonder Thomas responded with the unequivocal claim, ‘My Lord and my God’. And Jesus said, ‘Thomas, you now believe because you have seen for yourself. How much more blessed are all those who believe, without having seen.’
And for the vaccine waverers and Astrozenica sceptics,the truth is staring them in the face. The numbers speak for themselves, and as for me, I reckon, having had both jabs, I am living proof that it is to be trusted.
Song: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia, give praise to his name.
So let us pray: And on this day when with Thomas we acclaim the risen Christ, so we bring before you all who need to be reassured of the truth which Jesus brings. Especially at this time of such sadness for Her Majesty, the Queen, we pray that your living presence will not fail, and that she will be upheld in your everlasting arms. Be with all the members of her family, who have lost such a pivotal figure in their lives. Be with all others who have also lost a loved one at this time - people in our families, people known to us, people of great faith, and people of none. May the support of family and friends pave the way for the discovery that all life begins and ends in you, and so may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, be with you all today and always, Amen.
Good morning, and a very happy Easter to you all. Last Sunday, the church remembered the triumphant arrival into Jerusalem of Jesus riding on a donkey, the symbol of humility. Jesus knew that the way ahead was fraught with danger, but still he came, because it was what he had to do.
At Oxnam Kirk today, we are hearing a song about the donkey. The children waving branches and raising their hands when the song calls for ‘Hosanna!’. Let’s hear the song.
SONG: Jesus rode a donkey into town
So as well as recalling the Hosannas that were sung on Palm Sunday, we are remembering today the fact that Jesus had much to endure between that day and Easter, and much of it caused by two of his disciples, the one who betrayed him, Judas, and the one who denied him, Peter.
Two days ago, on Good Friday, the church remembered the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, but today we celebrate the fact that his sacrifice was full of love and full of promise, when he burst from the tomb - the glorious ending of a story of betrayal, denial and immense fortitude. It is a message of hope for our world today, which has been in captivity to Coronavirus for too long. It is a confirmation of the spring hope that is bursting from the ground at this lovely time of year - bulbs and spring flowers defying the frosts of winter, and the hope that we all have now of a way forward out of Lockdown.
Every now and again, however, there is a story of one that does not survive. And Covid 19 has reminded us of this sad fact. I have had two beautiful azaleas on either side of my front path for the last ten years. A glorious burst of pink blossom every year, and I have lovely photographs to prove it. But they have always been early, and so, with the late frosts that we are so used to having, they have usually died down far too early. Last year one of them showed definite signs of demise, although my neighbour was confident that it still had life. However this year, it has most definitely found it impossible to come back to life.
But the significant thing is that the remaining bloom, which in the last few weeks hasshown a glorious display of lovely pink blooms, was the victim of last Thursday night’s sudden frost. And, like every year, it has succumbed, and within one night, has died down. And it happened on Good Friday, the day that the lord of life was put to death.
It reminded me of one Easter Sunday morning when I was minister of Kelso Old, my church officer arrived at the church to find the beautiful display of daffodils on the back path along from the car park, decimated. Sixty seven daffodils, no less, had been broken by vandals, and hung like limp blooms. But it gave me a wonderful Easter message, for, despite the destruction, I knew there was the promise that next year, they would without doubt come back to life. And that is the Easter message that we have to proclaim today.
Death is not the end, however horrible or tragic it may seem. That is what was made clear on that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and found the stone had been rolled away. Having called the disciples, they came running, and, mystefied, they returned to the city. Mary however remained by the tomb, crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, sitting where Jesus’ body had lain, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t recognise him.
He asked her, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, Mary said, “If you have taken his body away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go too him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
And Mary knew, and we know. This was the Lord, risen as he had promised. This was the Easter hope.
So let us pray:
Today we bring our prayers to you, Lord God, for those who need the Easter hope.
for those locked in by hurt, and loneliness and grief.
for those locked in by addiction, and hunger, and poverty.
We pray that, inspired by Your Good News this Easter Day,
we may bring our practical care and help to those who call out,
and also to those who are silent,
and in our lived-out faith and love, show no partiality
as we bring what hope we can to those in need.
Today we pray for our nation, for our Queen,
and for those who shape the future of our country and our world.
In times of uncertainty make us confident with kindness.
In times of frustration, make us gentle with vision.
Help us to be the Easter people that are needed to bring light into our world.
Lord Jesus Christ,we pray for the Church, that in our work and witness. we may be generous in our believing,
and joyful in our serving.
Help us to blend tradition and newness,
to keep our faith and work a power for good,
and a dynamic for reconciliation and renewal.
This Easter Day, this new beginning, this time of lifting up,
lift up our heads and hearts, lift up our eyes and voices,
for our Lord Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
And there is hope!
Throughour Lord, who broke the barrier of evil and lives now and forevermore, even Jesus Christ,
And so may the blessing of the risen Christ, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, bring you comfort, and surround you with peace, mercy and love, today and every day, Amen
Good morning to you all. The big talk this week has undoubtedly been the public reaction to the murder of Sarah Everard, and the subsequent scenes on Clapham Common, when the police went in ‘studs-up’, as The Sun reporter described it, ‘at a vigil for the young woman allegedly murdered by one of its own officers’. Shocking, as are all the stories that have followed on from this. And within days of this happening, Holyrood passed a new bill and Westminster is debating one that, while no doubt being well-intentioned, will fail to address the root problem. Male domination of women.
The statistics tells us that every 3 days a woman is killed by a man. That’s 2 a week. Sadly so many of these crimes happen in the home. Thankfully not many at the hands of a policeman. While it’s true that most murder victims are men, Sarah Everard’s awful fate was an incident at the extreme end of a spectrum that women seem to have to navigate every day. And sadly not just young women. So the big call is how do we as a society respond.
A recent slogan I saw was: ‘Protect your daughter, educate your son’. It has to start in the home and at school, where boys need to be taught about respectful relationships with girls, and combating the accepted stereotypes of masculinity, based on matcho aggression and domination. So it becomes the responsibility, not just of women holding on to their keys in their pocket as a possible weapon, but of men on the streets, making sure the woman walking in front of them is not scared of the footsteps behind her. So cross over the road before the woman has to do just that.
It seems to me that in all of this, as in the pantomime going on at Holyrood, euphemistically called the Alex Salmond Affair, the people who lose out are the women - the innocent victims who have to suffer and who end up having no voice.
But I want to encourage you to think about this- these women’s suffering is not unlike the suffering of one other - this time a man, and a man known to us all - Jesus of Nazareth.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent and used to be known as Passion Sunday, that is the first day in Passiontide, which is the two week period leading up to Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday. Passiontide is when the church focusses on the suffering that Jesus went through before being put to death - murdered, you might say.
Jesus was victimised in a not dissimilar way to what we hear happening to many women today - think of those scenes in Clapham Common. He was not listened to, physically manhandled, abused, murdered by the very people who should have had his interests at heart. So while there are similarities between the suffering of some of today’s victims and that of Jesus, let me tell you another fascinating theory which flies in the face of those who think that women are the weaker sex.
The year after I left New College - that was 1987, there was a big international conference about women in Beijing. A few of my fellow students attended, as did one of my lecturers and they told me about it. One of the major outcomes was that women were able to identify with the blood of Jesus on the cross more than men, because of their monthly cycle of blood, and also the blood involved in the birth of children. WOW!
It reflects the ancient theory that the power of blood, the life-blood, was something to be feared. When the book of Leviticus came to be written, several centuries before Christ was born, the scribes who worked out in detail the small print of the Law, included restrictions about not touching a woman who was menstruating or one who had just given birth - not because they thought blood was a sign of weakness, but because they were afraid of it.
One of today’s readings is from the Letter to the Hebrews, which was written to the early Christians, who were heavily persecuted. Nothing worse than being sent to the lions in the Colosseum. In chapter 5 we read, ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.’
In other words, Jesus, the ‘victim’ became the one through whose blood the rest of us are saved from our sins, and even from the last enemy of death. So Jesus’ command to his followers to take up their cross and follow him was not just an injunction to bear suffering nobly, but to fight the evil in our world, fight for justice and the poor and oppressed.
So if Sarah Everard’s death and that of other women can act as a catalyst for change, then surely they will not have died in vain.
Let us pray:
Lord, have mercy - Kyrie Eleison
Gracious and loving God, during this season of Lent, as we journey with your Son to the cross and through the cross, we admit that we are fearful. We are scared — scared to let go, scared to join in, scared to open up. We are scared to open our hearts, our time, our homes and ourselves.
Yet, Great Comforter, we come to you so that we may articulate and share one another’s fears and burdens, as we know you always receive ours. Hold in your healing embrace, all who need you this day. Breathe new life and purpose into all who are suffering, in pain, or wandering in the wilderness, unable to turn to you. Lord, there are so many in need of your loving care in this broken and hurting world.
Christ, have mercy - Christe Eleison
Holy One, our grief hangs heavy as we reflect on Sarah Everard’s murder, and recall the killing of so many other victims. Sow a seed of guilt and need for repentance in those who see themselves as above the law. And strengthen those who confront this evil with courage to bring about a world which promotes truth-telling, accountability, and mercy. We see the effect on us all of the killing of George Floyd, and how the world at large is beginning to take a stand against racism. Father, we hold up to you any known to us personally who have suffered in these ways.
Lord, have mercy - Kyrie Eleison
And so may the blessing of God he Father be with you, may the blessing of the beloved Son be with you, may the blessing of the perfect Spirit be with you. May the blessing of the three be poured out upon you and your loved ones, serenely and generously this day and always, Amen.
Good morning to you all, on this, the fourth Sunday of Lent.
As Jesus was teaching the people, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
Today is Mother’s Day, and this year it is set at the end of a week which began with International Women’s Day, but throughout which we have heard disturbing stories of how badly women have been treated, on the streets, in the office, in the home.
In the first reading set for today, we join the people of Israel on their long 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. It’s a veryodd passage, especially for us to hear on Mother’s Day, but we’re going to listen to it nonetheless. Numbers ch 21, vv 4 - 9:
4 They traveled along the route to the Red Sea. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (That was the manna!)
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
It’s hard to imagine that this weird little passage would have appeared on any radar screen, if the author of John’s Gospel had not picked it up and allegorised it. In Chapter 3 of his Gospel, John is recounting Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the curious Pharisee who came to see him under darkness of night, and having baffled the learned man with his talk of being born again, he suddenly refers to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. He says:
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
So what has lifting up a snake in the wilderness got to do with our world today, on the fourth Sunday of Lent?
Well, clearly the people of Israel were terrified by the appearance of the snakes, or fiery serpents, as one translation describes them. And many of the people died from snake bites, which they understood to be a punishment for having complained to Moses, and through him to God, about the lack of food, lack of water, lack of the amenities they remembered in Egypt, despite the fact that they were slaves there. They knew from the plague of snakes that they had done wrong and their plea to Moses was, please ask God to get rid of the snakes. God didn’tget rid of the snakes, but he gave Moses the tip about how to heal the people. The snake itself would heal them, just as snake venom in very small doses might have healing powers today. But the instruction to create a bronze snake on a pole was a bit beyond belief. However, those who did obey and looked up at the snake werehealed.
It’s not a big leap of imagination to see why John used the story to show his readers that when Jesus was lifted up, first of all on the cross, then out of the tomb, and finally up to heaven, it was all echoing Moses’ lifting up of the bronze snake to heal the people, because it was for the salvation of God’s people.
The relevant point for today, I believe, is that the people were aware that they had done something wrong, and wanted to atone for it. That’s surely something that our generation today could well learn from? We live in such a confrontational society. There are no winners - only losers. No-one wants to take responsibility for having made a mistake. Everyone seems to want to tell you how brilliantly they have done, whatever it is. And at the same time, all are far too ready to point accusing fingers at whoever thinks differently from them.
It seems that love and compassion and tolerance are fast eroding from our society. We all thought at the beginning of the first pandemic, when restrictions were new and challenging, it was so good and new that everybody was looking after their neighbour, helping in all sorts of ways, keeping in touch with people on their own, getting to know people they had only previously nodded to in the street.
A year on, it seems that some of that has been lost. And we are bombarded with sound bites on social media, the press, the television, that we are living in a world which is no longer safe - not safe for women walking home at night, not safe for women at work, or even at home, not fair for black people, too easily condemned, picked on, murdered, not always safe for people travelling abroad, not even safe for asylum seekers coming here for the good life, not good for children living in poverty.
So how do we get back to normal? Well, the whole point is that ‘normal’ is not what we should be getting back to.
Let’s go back into the wilderness, and the bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole. There were two different words used in that story for the snakes. The word for the ones that attacked the people is sometimes translated ‘fiery serpents', because it’s linked to the Hebrew word for ‘fire’. It is not a million miles away from the Hebrew word for ‘bronze’. One is nachosand one is nachoseth. There you are! Easy to confuse. The serpents on the ground were the cause of the people’s death, and the serpent on the pole was the solution.
And the only solution to the infestation was for the people to look directly at the bronze serpent, to name the poison, to face the plague honestly, own up to the sins and doubts that brought the serpents to them in the first place. In other words, to be restored, they had to repent of their behaviour which brought them to the face of death.
And so to us today. When will we as a society be ready to return to life by looking honestly at the death-perpetuating sins in our world. Racist behaviour, harassment of women, climate change folly, ignoring child poverty.
To be healed as a human race, we have to recognise the source of death, even if it is ourselves. And turn away - that’s what repent means - from ‘the way we’ve always done things’, and begin to do what Jesus taught, simply to love others as we love ourselves. And that is why it is paramount that we in our time look straight up to Jesus on the cross for that’s what will save us. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.
SONG Lord, I lift your name on high
So let me end with a prayer for Mother’s Day. Let us pray:
Lord our God, you created us human beings, male and female, each with our valued role to play in the continuation of the human race, and in the nurture of your earth. On this Mother’s Day, we remember all mothers, young and old, who have played their noble part in the development of the next generation. We give thanks for our own mothers, whether alive or gone to glory, for mothers and grandmothers in today’s generation who often have so much pain to live through, and many of whom have had to juggle home schooling with their own work and home. We pray especially for those who have lost a child, at whatever age, during the pandemic, and we remember particularly the mothers of that list of 118 women read out in Parliament on Thursday, who must never be forgotten. Father, you know each one, and you know the pain of each mother. Bless them with the peace and comfort of your presence, through Jesus Christ,
And so may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and he fellowship of the Holy Spirit surround you and yours, and keep you safe today, tomorrow and forever, Amen.
Good morning, everyone. In a week which has had its fair share of drama, the story that caught my attention was nothing dramatic - not the Salmond/Sturgeon affair, although I admit to being more than a bit fascinated, nor the Duke of Edinburgh’s heart operation, but a nine-year old blind boy in war-torn Yemen, who, when his teacher was not able to come to school one day, stood up, and taught the class. Mimicking the way the teacher did it, having the pupils repeat after him a whole list of words one by one, bullet-like, the boy saw the importance of giving his fellow classmates continuity and a reason for living.
The whole situation in Yemen is far worse than any of us here are having to experience. Hardly any buildings are left standing from bombs and gunfire, children have to rummage through rubbish for food, and there’s little or no access to safe drinking water. And Covid has struck. How on earth does that situation compare to what we have to deal with over here, especially in the Borders?
Well of course it doesn’t, but the common factor is the humanity that is born out of suffering. It’s the Christian story - the story that this season of Lent is pointing to. The cross, only some people have to carry a much heavier cross than others.
Nine-year old Ahmed, that wee blind boy, goes to a school which is right on the front line. The children can hear the ongoing gunfire and shouting from the front-line. They live in daily fear for their lives. But the 100s of children that still go to school, do so because they are desperate to learn, and to better their lives. The staff don’t receive salaries, because of the ongoing war, and when they can’t come in, for any reason, Ahmed steps up and takes over, teaching things he has learnt from them already.
He says they need more walls, windows, chairs, blackboards. He can’t see any of them but he knows that the other children need those, and he stands up in front of them when the teacher’s not there, and teaches them without any of those aids. It’s more than Christ-like, not just having courage, but thinking of others before himself.
Yesterday morning I was involved in a meeting of my old school colleagues. There were 16 of us on the Zoom call, and we talked amongst other things about what the best thing had been about Covid and the worst. The answers were many and varied, but a common factor was the resilience of people who are finding it hard - people just getting on with it, or discovering new things to do and not feeling sorry for themselves, but just making the best of things in difficult circumstances.
It’s a thought that is reflected in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, one of the readings set for today. In Chapter 18, he says this:
When you were called, not many of you were wise, not many were influential, not many of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the word to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him.
Paul was writing to people in first Century Corinth, which was a bustling cosmopolitan city, in an imposing position between Europe and Asia. The very fabric of life was success and influence, you could say more of ‘Me’ culture than a ‘Me Too’ culture! Those with flair, persona and from the right social group would be the ones who would come out on top. Strike you as familiar?
At my school meeting, some of them were talking about fascinating local initiatives started up in Lockdown to help neighbours, and still ongoing - people cooking or baking and delivering meals to whole groups of people in their community, shopping or picking up prescriptions for those unable to do so themselves - ie seeing the needs of others and going out of the way to help.
But the great decisions of state, especially about Covid, are made not by these people, but by the kind of people Paul was addressing, and that is so often the way in the western world - we are governed, inevitably, I suppose by privileged people, who don’t have to struggle the way others do, and often make decisions, or behave in a way that is absolutely not an example to others. Many of these could learn from Ahmed in Yemen.
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, serves as a reminder. Let me read just a few verses from Eugene Peterson’s version, the Message, for this seems quite appropriate for us today:
Mary, the simple young girl from Nazareth, who discovered she was carrying God’s child, said,
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now. Amen.
SONG: It's me, Lord, standing in the need of prayer
Let us pray: Lord God, we pray for Ahmed, that little blind boy, and all innocent children caught in war-zones, especially those who do what they can to help others. All they want is a chance to better themselves. Father, walk with them and lift them out of danger and fear.
We pray for the people of Myanmar, and Hong Kong, whose voices have been silenced by force. Father, may those who have seized power by undemocratic means discover it is not the way to true victory, for that is only won through the example of Jesus Christ on the cross, living for and loving the world,
We pray for the families of all those who have lost loved ones, not just to Covid, but from other illnesses, because of Covid - those who would have been able to treated, were it not for Covid, those in other parts of the world, who do not have access to PPE or medical care to treat Covid.
We remember those in our own land who are still victims of the virus, hearing that so many people are now vaccinated, with hope for the future, but they are still struggling, and those who may have to live for years with the aftermath of Coronavirus in their body. May they hear the word of Jesus, that says, Come to me, all who are weary, take my yoke upon you and I will give you rest.
And so may the blessing of the Son of God be yours, the blessing of the Creator Father be yours, and the blessing of the empowering spirit be yours, surrounding you and filling you generously today and every day. Amen.
Good morning and it’s good to be with you.
There has probably never been a year when so many new words, or hitherto unknown words have entered our daily vocabulary. Words like epidemiology, lockdown, asymptomatic, Astrogenica. One word that wehaveknown but that has become an everyday word is ‘Quarantine’. Quarantine is like self-isolation, except that is applied to people who have flown in from one of the red list travel ban countries. And it has to be done in a specially designated hotel, not at home. Some people are calling quarantine ‘imprisonment’!
Now here’s an interesting fact. The word ‘Quarantine’ comes from the French word for 40 - quarante. And 40 is a very significant number when we think of the season of Lent. We know that the children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land, and Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert being tempted by the devil.
But 40 was also a significant number way back in the 14th Century, when the Great Plague was ravaging Europe. When ships that had come from infected ports arrived in, for example, Venice, they were required to sit at anchor for 40 days- a quarantine period - before being allowed to dock.
The 40 days of Lent today are circumferenced by the symbolic burning of the previous year’s Palm crosses. The residue being used to ash the worshippers - a dab of ash on the forehead - on Ash Wednesday. And the priests says ‘Remember you are as dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the Gospel.’
So our 40-day journey to Easter is a reminder of our own mortality. Not to scare us to death, but paradoxically to make us more alive. Let’s find out why I say that, and where else to look but the Bible?
And I’m going to read a few verses from Genesis 9, a story that our schoolchildren will maybe know better than some of us. The story of the Flood, the Ark and the rainbow. All very topical.
God is setting out his covenant with Noah, and he says,“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Amen.
Rainbows have taken on a new significance in this last year. They have become a sign of gratitude for the self-sacrifice of workers in the NHS and other key workers during the pandemic. Originally, it was a sign of promise and welcome - an Ark over all people - a safe place. Here’s an interesting twist to the story…..
It was originally recorded in writing by the people of Israel at a difficult time in their history- when they were in exile from their homeland - a time of chaos and total distress. And when the people saw a rainbow in the sky, it was for them a sign of hope, a reminder of the covenant between God and all the earth, when God said that the waters of destruction would never again return in like fashion.
The rainbow in the sky was an unstrung war-bow pointing away from earth, not as a sign so much for humanity, but, according to the text, as a reminder to God. So the Scripture offers a provocative insight. If God wants to stay in relationship with humanity, then God must change, from an Old Testament God to, if you like, a New Testament God - swopping vindication for forgiveness, anger for patience, wipe-out for steadfast love. From now on, when God sees the rainbow in the sky, it is God who has to remember his covenant with his people - never again will a flood wipe out the human race, even when humanity is disloyal. That’s some promise, but it is the NT promise. And it is manifest in what happened to Jesus.
Symbolised at his Baptism, when he went down into the waters of the Jordan, and then rose again out of the water to new life. And then at his temptation, when he identified with us in our times of trial and testing, showing that he will be alongside us in all our faults and failures, and help us finally to overcome.
HYMN: Be still for the presence of the Lord
So let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you refused to turn stones into bread. Save us from using our power, however little, to satisfy the demands of selfishness in the face of the needs of others.
Lord Jesus Christ, you refused to leap from the temple top.
Save us from displaying our skills, however modest, to win instant popularity in the face of nobler calls on our abilities.
Lord Jesus Christ, you refused to bend the knee to a false god.
Save us from offering devotion, however weak, to cheap or easy religion in the face of the harder path on which you bid us to follow you.
And as we are bidden, we offer our prayers for the world.
Lord God, come alongside everyone mourning the loss of a loved one.
Come to hospital rooms where people are still dying.
Come alongside weary front-line workers and care home staff.
Come alongside the elderly in nursing homes longing to see their families.
Come to schools trying to find ways to teach children safely while this virus is still in our midst, and to the laboratories of scientists as they learn more about this virus, and its variants.
Come to places where vaccinations are being administered.
And to areas where people are nervous about having thevaccination.
Come alongside those who have not left their homes for months and those who do not have a place to call home.
Come to the halls of government where politicians set the course of our future.
and to courtrooms where judges determine fates.
Come to homes where people cannot escape abuse and violence.
Sit alongside young people experiencing mental trauma.
Come to desks of furloughed workers.
to the picket lines.
to the empty storefronts.
Come alongside us all in our time of trial,
And give us peace and hope
through the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Friend, who taught us to say the Lord’s Prayer together, Amen.
Good morning, and it’s good to be back with you after a couple of Sundays away. Like so many people during this time of Covid restrictions, I have been involved with a family bereavement, and experiencing at first hand all the problems of the regulations, my heart goes out to all families who have had to go through this. And only two things to say - first that the reduced numbers present at the funeral make the event a very personal one, and second, by contrast, the fact that so many distant family members and friends are able to watch the service on the webcast brings a heartening response after the event.
And so I am back with you on the first Sunday of Lent, after nearly a whole year of Lockdown. Of course it has not all been bad, and we have one word now to hold on to, and it’s not Vaccine! It’s ‘Perseverance’. Perseverance gets you there! Nasa’s amazing success in achieving the safe landing of their rocket on Mars, after a 7 month journey, and not only that, the fact that it was able to take selfies of the landing, and send a helicopter to reconnoitre the landscape, is just mind-blowing. And it is all in a quest to find out if there have been other civilisations elsewhere in the universe.
I remember when I was young, a fun phrase was ‘The Martians are coming.’ Well, maybe future generations will discover that they have indeed been ‘here’. Certainly it’s a long-term project and the name ‘Perseverance’ is a good one, and also a timely reminder for us that we have to keep on keeping on, following the rules, and being patient as wegradually move forward towards a time when things will be better, even if different from what they used to be. Perseverance is also a good word for Lent, for it is a time when we all need to keep focussed on Jesus, and his journey towards the Cross, which after all is the centre of our faith.
Today’s Gospel reading is from Mark, and the relevant verse for Lent from Chapter 1 simply says that ‘The Spiritdrove Jesus out into the desert, where he stayed for forty days, being tempted by Satan. Wild animals were there also, but angels came and helped him.’ Mark doesn’t tell us how he was tempted, but two other Gospels do - Matthew and Luke, and it would be good to see how these temptations relate to our situation today, and how the way Jesus overcame them can help us with our perseverance through today’s trials.
The first temptation was to remind him that he was hungry. In the desert, there’s not much food, not much water, although if you know the terrain, you canfind a little. Jesus has been there for weeks on his own, and along comes the Tempter, saying ‘Here’s a stone. You are the Son of God. You can turn this into bread.’ Satisfy your hunger.
Well, in this last year, it’s true to say that we had all been deprived of things we wanted - we’ve all been longing to be able to spend time with family and loved ones, to hug, to get away on holiday. And none of that has been possible, without the danger of the virus spreading. Which is why the word ‘perseverance’ is so important.
Jesus’ response to the Tempter was ‘Man cannot live on bread alone, but on theword of God.’ And that means that our cravings, our longings, have to be subject to the common good - obey the rules, do what God wants for his world.
Next temptation was about being above danger. The Tempter whisked Jesus away to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem and told him to jump. He would be fine, land safely because God had said angels would protect him. And hey, what a sensation that would cause!
And here we are, with not one vaccine, not two, but three on the go and a whole lot more promised all over the world. Surely we humans can be in control of this virus. We can get back to normal and be safe. Yes, but who are we kidding?
Jesus’ response this time was, ‘Don’t put God to the test!’ Don’t think that because you believe you can get on top of this, that it will all be OK for you! You still have to persevere, still have to obey the rules, for a long time to come.
And finally, the Tempter’s ultimate enticement - Power! He took Jesus up to a very high mountain and showed him all the great kingdoms of the world spread out beneath his feet. ‘You can have all of this in your power, if you will only bow down and worship me!’
Well, there you are! It’s today’s world in a nutshell - all the so-called great nations vying with each other - Russia, America, at least under Trump, China, Iran - which one has the greatest - and we might say, the most unscrupulous sense of power in today’s world? The litmus test is - which one serves its own people the least!
But the desire for power does not just belong to the big nations. It can destroy our own lives, individual and corporate too.
Jesus’ response to temptation no. 3 was, ‘Go away, Satan. Worship God and God alone.’ And it was then that the angels came and ministered to him, not in response to a cheap wager with the devil, but because he had been faithful to God.
And that is what we must persevere with most - putting God first, worshipping him, and him alone, and that is how we will overcome all the other trials of this wretched pandemic.
HYMN: Seek ye first the kingdom of God
Lord God, in our prayers we think of the difficult journeys in life encountered by so many people in the world. We pray for all those who find the lockdown conditions so hard to bear, people who have not seen their loved ones for months, elderly relatives hoping to be able to see their family for one last time, people caught in war zones, or in the poverty trap.
We pray for all those involved in the development and the roll-out of the vaccines, asking that as well as making sure our own vulnerable people received the jab, that we also make sure that those in deprived countries in the world do receive their fair share of the vaccine, for until we are all vaccinated, none of us are safe.
And we pray for all those in positions of authority, in our home nations and across the world, that none may see themselves as better, or more important than any other, but that all may truly work together for the greater good of all God’s people.
And may the blessing of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you all, today, tomorrow and forever, Amen.
Good morning to you all. Can you guess why I have a broad smile on my face? Yes, you are right! I got my jab this week! And at very short notice, which has pleased me no end. But not only me, many of my friends and family in different parts of the country have also been vaccinated. It’s not that I have any magic powers, but for once, the UK seems to have got its act together, and I so much hope that many of you listening to this message will also have had your first jab. Of course this happens against the backcloth of that grim milestone of deaths across the country. So any good news is inevitably tinged with grief and sadness.
But without doubt the big word of the moment is ‘Vaccine’. Now here’s a thought for my Sunday message. The phenomenal speed with which the many scientists across the world have been developing so many effective vaccines links up in my mind with one of the readings set for this Sunday. It’s the very first healing story in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 1.
Jesus and his disciples had gone up to Capernaum in Galilee, where Peter’s wife’s family came from. And on the Sabbath, that would be the Saturday, they went to the Synagogue, and as Jesus always did, he began to teach, and teach with authority. In the middle of his talk, a man came in, who was clearly disturbed, and began shouting out to Jesus. Sadly, we still occasionally see this kind of thing happen today, sometimes out in the street, or even very occasionally …in church. ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’ This man shouted out. ‘Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!’
It was as though there was a demon in him, despising, provoking Jesus…
And do you know, it has struck me right from the beginning of the pandemic that itisas though there has been a demon around today doing just the same.
Just as soon as we seemed to be getting on top of the virus, either with the various lockdowns, or through the development of the vaccines, it has reappeared in a different form, as though to say, ‘Ha, ha! I can show you, I’ve got something else up my sleeve’.
And sure enough, the Christmas easing has its negative effect, a new variant of the virus appears, and that infamous ‘R’ number starts creeping up.
So Jesus’ response to the demon in the man is “Be quiet! Come out of him!” ……And whatever it was shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. Clearly all the people who saw it were amazed, and asked, “What is this? A new teaching—and with such authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
Wouldn’t it be interesting to think therefore that, through the new vaccines, Jesus could actually be speaking with his authority to the demon that has stalked the globe for the past 11 months, telling him to stop this desperate round of killing human beings whom God has created? ………..
Oh, yes, but there is another danger. In the introduction to Part 5 of David Attenborough’s new series ‘A Perfect Planet’, we hear these words: ’Planet Earth was perfect. And now a new force is sending our perfect planet off balance - humans!’
And so, even in this new exciting development of the vaccines, even if they have the authority of Jesus to drive out the demon virus, we humans are waging a new war with ourselves. It’s called the vaccine war.
Now let’s hope, let’s really hope that it does not develop into something disastrous, but when we hear the EU disputing about the distribution of vaccines, even threatening a to close a border, and also read about vaccine hijacking, when rich countries hog the supplies, and poor countries like Malawi hardly get any, we’re back to the age-old problem of human greed, And Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’
Oh that Jesus could stamp his authority, not just on the demonic forces around, but on humanity at large, so that our world would become a place of peace, where we all live and work together in harmony.
But we know that he can stamp his authority on us as individuals. That is, if we let him. All we need to do is to open our hearts to him, and he will do the rest.
SONG: Let there be peace on earthen let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be,
with God as our Father, brothers/sisters all are we.
Let me walk with my brother/sister in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now;
with every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
to take each moment, and love each moment in peace eternally,
Let the be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
We thank you for days past and for days to come,
But we thank you more for the gift of this day,
Carved from a year of pain, awkwardness and difficulty.
So many of your children are no longer able to share this day with us;
Let their suffering not be in vain.
Forgive us when we search for reasons for the crisis
Still being borne by this planet, with the UK
Still in the eye of the storm.
We pray that, as the vaccines are produced,
Great thought might be given to the needs of poorer nations,
Unable to compete with the more powerful.
May your people in every country, see the compassion,
And the wisdom,
Of ensuring vaccine is available for all,
Whatever their status.
“Who has ever mastered heavenly knowledge?
Who has ever caught the wind in his hand?
Or wrapped up water in a piece of cloth?
Or fixed the boundaries of the earth?” (Pr. 30)
Even these questions are too much for us.
Yet we ask for the vision, the power and the will,
To fulfil Jesus teaching, for his sake, and so may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all today, tomorrow and forevermore, Amen.
Good morning, and may the peace of God be with you all. I don’t know about you, but I often I find myself reading, not just one book, but two at a time. I absolutely love opening a book and starting to read - and I’ve even been known to have three on the go!!
The two I’m on at the moment are very different from each other. The first is by the late and eminent Scottish journalist Kenneth Roy, whom Magnus Linklater once described as the ‘conscience of Scotland’. I was first introduced to his fascinating writing in the Scottish Review, a weekly magazine which he founded, and which pops into my inbox every week. His last actual book, is entitled, ‘In case of any news’, and is remarkable as he chose to write it in the last four weeks of his life, when he was suffering from terminal cancer. He died in November 2018. It’s described as a diary of living and dying, and is also a sort of autobiography, because while writing from his hospital bed about this experience of dying, he also reflected on his earlier life.
You might know, some of you, why I am particularly engaged with such a subject, having just been through my brother’s final illness, and observing how he handled it. Neither my brother Edwin, nor Kenneth were overtly religious - especially not Kenneth Roy, although as I so often find, those who profess to having no religion still like to leave the door open when the chips are down.
The second book I’m reading is by Tom Wright, currently Research Professor at St Andrew’s University, Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, and a former Bishop of Durham. It’s a short and very readable study about God and the pandemic. The kind of book I know I will pick up and read many times, totally Bible-based and full of ‘Aaaah!’ moments.
Reflecting on what some might call conspiracy theories - that’s very much an in-phrase at the moment, Tom Wright challenges those who say that the pandemic is a sign of the End, or God judging the world and urging us all to change, he decries those who are in the blame culture - it’s the fault of the Chinese, the government, the World Health Organisation, and he invites us not to ask the question ‘Why?’ But ‘How?’ - how do we cope with it.
Away back in July, when I went south to see my brother, I said to him that there were a lot of people in Scotland who were holding him in their prayers, because they were concerned about him. He smiled and said, ‘You can tell them it’s working!’ And I know it was, because, while the terrible disease was going to get him in the end, he faced it with incredible courage, grace and dignity. He just got on with it.
Kenneth Roy in his hospital bed, writing about his experience of dying, maintained his distinctive wry sense of humour - I found myself laughing several times, and while asking questions of his family, and his adopted family, the nurses and doctors that cared for him, about their beliefs, he was clearly anxious to confront what, if anything, he did believe himself. It was almost like a thread running through the book, but sadly in the end, he chose to side with the 18th C philosopher, David Hume, who believed that annihilation was what lay ahead. It was sad because it didn’t quite seem to fit the nature of Kenneth’s search.
He could well have benefitted from reading Tom Wright’s little book. For Tom turns his whole focus on Jesus, and his life’s work, and how that relates to what is happening to us. What is certain to me is that we didn’t come here for a party. We came here to learn, about God, what God has done for us and how God wants us to be, in his world.
And the answer to that is surely to follow Jesus, and acknowledge why he came to earth. It all focuses on the suffering of Jesus, and why it happened.
And Tom Wright points us in the direction of John’s Gospel, chapter 3, and verse 16. Wonderful verse:
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might not die, but have everlasting life.
And the suffering of Jesus is the inevitable path we have to follow here on earth to win the ultimate prize. Not necessarily suffering all the way to the cross, as he did, but certainly not shunning the pain. Those of you who have been through the experience of bereavement know all about this. But we must also know that God is in the struggle with us. And that is what makes all the difference.
Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and I will give you strength. So my advice to you is to lift yourself up, shoulders hooked on to his yoke, and take his strength on you to help youbear whatever comes your way.
SONG: Lord of life, we come to you
Lord of all, our Saviour be,
come to bless, and to heal
with the light of your love.
Through the days of doubt and toil,
in our joy and in our pain,
guide our steps in your way,
make us one in your love.
Let us pray: We lift our hearts to you, Lord God, in this season of Christian Unity, when we are all bidden to love one another, whatever our belief pattern, and whatever our hopes. Let us all acknowledge that you are Lord, no matter how we might address you, or what we might call you. Confirm in our hearts without doubt that you are there for us, and that yours is the strength that gets us through.
Once more we pray for all those caught up in the pandemic - especially for the front-line staff, stretched to the limit in many places. We pray for those endeavouring to roll out the vaccines, against such conflicting and changing information, for nearly one million families in this land who have lost someone to Covid in this last year, and never forgetting the families across the world, especially those in war-torn lands, and other countries so affected by poverty and hunger, and having to struggle on top of all of that with a deadly virus.
And finally we pray for ourselves. Be in each home, isolated from friends and family, endeavouring to stay safe, keep warm and well. And Father, be with those who have have found it so hard to deal with life during the pandemic, and especially the families of those who have not found it possible to go on. Assure them of your mercy, your love, your protection into all eternity, and peace at the last.
And so may the blessing of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit enfold you and your loved ones this day and forevermore, Amen.
Good morning and a warm welcome to you all.
The windows of heaven are open, whether we realise it or not.
The Spirit is moving like a dove whether we welcome her or not.
This is the new age of Christ whether we serve it or not.
This is the hour of salvation, whether we celebrate it or not.
So here we are again! Who would have thought last March that when we turned into this new year 2021, we would be in this situation with regard to Covid which all of our political leaders agree is worse than it was back then? There has been so much death and disruption already, and few of us thought it could ever get worse, what with the double whammy of Brexit and Covid attacking us. But now we have all been shocked at what has been going on across the Atlantic. What is happening to humanity, this race which God created in his own image, and said that it was good?
One of the set readings for this Sunday is the story at the beginning of Genesis, the creation story, where we discover that all that was made was said to be good. The words of Hymn No 228 reflect on the theme of creation:
1. God who made the earth declared it good in the beginning
planned a time and purpose for all things that were and would be.
While earth remains, there will be seed-time and harvest,
summer sun and winter moon, the dead of night, the bright day.
2. Though humanity defied the Eden God had cherished,
God did not despise the world; its worth he always could see.
3. God, in Christ, then came from paradise to imperfection,
repossessing earth and people through a tomb and tree.
4.Wood though felled to earth produced a flower that will not perish,
seed, though dead and fallen, burst to life and rose up again.
And the Gospel reading for today is about what it is that brings us back to life. It’s the story of the Baptism of Jesus, as described by Mark:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’
Many film directors have tried in the past to portray the baptism of Christ in their movies about Jesus with varying success. This had never happened to any human being before, and although Jesus was clearly human, the sign from heaven was the first indication that he was also divine.
And his Baptism was the symbol of the purpose of his coming to earth - to take our sins on himself and die for them - that was the going down into the waters of the Jordan, and then to rise from the grave - that was the coming up out of the water - bringing the promise of new life.
Mark, if you like, is suggesting that through Jesus, the Son of God, a new creation is about to take place, through the Holy Spirit. We’ll ask in a moment what this means for us in our pressurised situation, with the race between Covid and the vaccine, facing the unknowns of Brexit, and contemplating the rise of extreme right-wing factions at the heart of democracy. But first listen to the words of this hymn, very short, very pithy, written by Leith Fisher, a former minister of Wellington Church in Glasgow.
1. Out of the flowing river Jesus ascends, baptised by John, waiting the sign.
2. Out of the open heavens God’s Spirit comes down like a dove in peace and power.
3. Out speaks the voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, chosen and loved, my own delight’.
4. Out through the life of Jesus God’s word of love, calling in grace, comes to our lives.
5. Out in the world we live in, we will make known the love revealed through God in Christ.
One commentator put it this way: God has tornopen the heavens and come into our troubled times on earth. Not only that, He has come into ourlives so that WE can make God’s love known in our troubled world. It is ourpurpose as followers of Christ to point through the signs of death and sin around us - to the hope of new life. But it’s not easy. And yet, it all depends on the way we look at things.
And so, as we face 2021, with the ravages of Covid-19 still to be played out, and no doubt many more lives to be sacrificed, we have the good news of two vaccines already being rolled out, and a new one soon to be available. But that is not enough. We too have to play our part. And our part is to be guided by the love of Jesus, and the love of our fellow human beings. So we must try to obey the instructions, however complicated - in order to save the lives of others.
As we face life outside the EU, with extra paper work required from Brexit at the ports beginning to cause frustrations and inevitable delays, we have to remember, whatever way we voted in 2016 that we are where we are, and make the best of things. And trust that our politicians will use the new opportunities to best advantage. For, let’s remember, we have been through worse times than this.
As the US faces the uncertainty of what yet could happen this side of Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, let alone during the next four years, while many dictatorial regimes rub their hands with glee, we have to play our part in ensuring that extreme views on any subject have no place in democracy, or indeed in life. We have to remind ourselves and others that God created the human race in his own image, and that was good. And also that it was for us all, good and bad, that Jesus died. We have to play our part in the expansion of the good among the human race.
And if, out of any of these three scenarios that we face in 2021, we appear to be the losers, then again we have the answer in Jesus. See how he faced life, see how he faced death, and we need have no fear.
So let us pray.
We hold in God’s lightallacross the continent of Europe who yearn for deep peace and unity. After four years of debate and recrimination, we pray that people who hold very different views and understandings may see the benefit of setting aside their own entrenched positions and discovering the advantages of peaceful co-existence.
We hold in God’s light all who live with anxiety, fear, dread or despair across our globe in the face of the pandemic, those in the caring professions, especially the nurses and doctors in intensive care, so overburdened, fearful and distressed at this time.
We pray for all those who are struggling with other health problems, for those who have lost someone throughout this pandemic from other causes as well as Covid. We pray for those who have lost their jobs, or their businesses with the double knock of Covid and Brexit.
We hold the people of America up to God’s light, so that the evil that has found such an easy way of shocking the whole world this week will be revealed as it truly is, and that those who counter it with good may come out of this whole sorry episode with the ultimate victory of life over death that comes from Jesus.
And we pray that the Prince of Peace may remind us that we are his body, his hands, his feet, his eyes, doing his work.
And so now go in peace; may this day, this year unfold as it should; and may the Lord, mighty God, bless and keep you forever; grant you peace, perfect peace, courage in every endeavour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Good Morning and a Happy New Year to you all. I wonder whether any of you can remember a more turbulent turn of the year? Surely not since the two world wars of the last century, have we turned from the old year to the new with such uncertainty, confusion, and desperate longing for things to get better.
We should traditionally have made some resolutions by this time, the kind that probably end up being broken long before January is done. However, at the end of an extraordinary year, with so many resolutions already broken, so many targets missed, so many lives shattered in one way or another, I wonder if there isany point in making New Year resolutions for 2021? The world is so volatile and no-one knows what is going to happen next.
Take the pandemic. Much has been written about the effect it has had on us all, and much blame has been apportioned. I for one would certainly not like to have been a politician making decisions on behalf of the nation.
And yes, it is good that the vaccines are being rolled out, and maybe some of you know people who have already had their first one. But, as we keep being reminded, we still have to keep our guard up, still follow the restrictions, however confusing, in order to contain the virus as much as possible.
We all know, however, that there are people out there who continue to break the rules, even sometimes those who actually set the regulations. But it is easy to forget - who among us has not accidentally found themselves inside a shop, having forgotten to put the mask on, and then sped out with embarrassment! Others have flouted the rules with little thought for the harm they might be doing to others, feeling deprived if they can’t do their own thing, or …..go to a party!
And then there’s Brexit, another reason for uncertainty as the 31st December approached, despite the good news of a last minute deal. And here’s a thought. If we have a choice in the way we behave regarding Covid-19 and its mutant strains, surely we also have a choice as to how we cope with Brexit.
None of us yet knows, despite the deal, what we are going to experience, in economic or personal terms. But as a nation, we have lived through two world wars and more besides. And so this New Year gives us a new and splendid opportunity to take stock, and see how we, as individuals, are going to face it all.
For we surely we have the advantage. Let me remind you of what Isaiah said:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and she will give birth to a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.
It’s just over a week since we celebrated the birth of that baby, God extraordinarily being born in human flesh, come to live as we live, to suffer and die as we do in order to give us strength to cope with whatever lies ahead and to bring peace to our souls. That is a hope, I am convinced, that is far more reassuring and far more lasting than all the vaccines or deals with the EU that we humans can produce.
Let’s pray: Father God, in this time of uncertainty, you are the constant, with us from the beginning, the Alpha …. and the Omega, with us at the end. We praise you that the infant child is the embodiment of eternal truth, justice, and joy, not just for Christmas, but for all time and all creation.
Light has come into the darkness and confusion of our world. So as another year dawns, may we each take a moment:
- to recognise where the light appeared in our life this last year - because it did!
- to recognise who wasthe light - and it may have been more than one person!
- to acknowledge how youwere the light for someone else in need - because you were!
- to recognise where and how you have experienced lovethis year - because you did!
- to recognise who showed you the love - for there was probably more than one person!
- to acknowledge how youexpressed love to someone who felt unloved - because you did!
Spirit of God, rescue us from despair and give us hope, trusting in your promise of making all things new. And start with me, with us, with our communities, our leaders whether religious, political, business, fiscal, social, educational or health.
We look forward to the possibilities of protection now that three vaccines are approved for use in different countries. We pray for a fair distribution so that all nations, regardless of their economic wealth, can help protect their people. We pray for patience so that we can all battle through this prolonged crisis knowing that we are all in it together and that we cannot rest until all people the world over have been vaccinated. The fact that the virus is mutating similarly in different continents simultaneously underlines the fact that we are all one body. May the world recognise that the one who came into human flesh did it for us all, no matter our colour or our creed, so that we might all be released from our divisions and our hurts, and recognise our need of God, however we acknowledge him.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Little baby in a manger down in Bethlehem,
Born for us on Christmas night to save us all from sin.
They call him Wonderful, Counsellor, evermore the same,
Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Jesus is his name.
They call him Wonderful, Counsellor, evermore the same,
Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Jesus is his name.
Well, it is definitely going to be a different kind of Christmas this year. Covid has seen to that. And by all the noises that we keep hearing from various sources, the fact that it IS to be a different kind of Christmas means that many people think we are missing out on something. Stephen Jardine in the Scotsman called it a ‘stripped back version of the greatest celebration of all’. But is that such a bad thing?
The fact that we can’t meet in large family gatherings, go to pre-Christmas office parties, even share in our much-loved carol services, means, according to many people, that we are somehow deprived!
However, it may be that because of the restrictions and the way people are forced to make contact in different ways, the Christmas spirit could be more alive this year than any other.
Let’s think about this, and first let me take you back to my childhood, growing up, as I did, in a Church of Scotland Manse. Yes we celebrated Christmas, but more in a secular than a spiritual way. Christmas services in church were still considered far too papish. New Year was the time to celebrate in Scotland, even in church.
So having come through a long post-Reformation period of strict Calvinistic sobriety, which extended to decorations as well as church services, we in the Church of Scotland have finally realised that the remembrance of Christmas is actually Biblical, and not just for the Roman Catholics! Easter may well be the centre of our faith, but we couldn’t celebrate Easter without Christmas, nor shouldwe celebrate Christmas without the recognition of Easter. God’s purpose in sending his son into this world was not just that we could have a good time. He came to save us. The two are closely connected. Listen to these words from John’s Gospel, chapter 3:
Reading John 3: 16 - 21
16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour.
19 This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil.
Christmas, however, is about more than just remembering that Jesus came to earth in order to light up the darkness of the world. It should be the acknowledgement that Jesus came to light up mydarkness - to make a difference to my life.
Emmanuel, God with us, means that we are never alone, whatever terrible things might happen to us - the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of money, or independence - no matter what, God is with us, on the spot to help when things get difficult.
So the important fact is that we need this Christmas more than any other. Over 4,000 Scots have died from Covid-19, our hospitality sector is on its knees, many businesses simply will not survive. But for those of us still standing, we need this chance to recognise the one who has come to help.
And here’s another thing: this Christmas we need to take a moment to reflect on why it is better than the ones we are missing. Because we have stepped off the merry-go-round of commercialism, we have a great opportunity now to think about what it really is about. The difference that God coming to earth makes to my life.
Let me tell you again - I’m sure I said it before - what my brother said to me when I told him that there were lots of people in Scotland who were holding him in their prayers. He smiled and said, ‘You can tell them it’s working!’ And that’s exactly what happens - however bleak the future is looking, God is with you, giving you the strength, the grace, the courage to cope with whatever situation you’re in.
And the situation that so many of us have beenin these last ten months is basically isolation. However much we have got to grips with Zoom, WhatsApp etc, the biggest loss has been not being able to come together with people - in church, in cafés, restaurants, at work, in choirs, clubs, even outdoor gatherings.
For, as John Donne famously said, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ We need each other. But before we can have someone befriend us, we need to be a friend to others. A wise writer, as it happens a women, posted this thought:
“I think that outreach is what keeps us grounded in these uncertain times.” I think she is right. There is something very grounding about immersing myself in problems which are not my own. If I canexpose an injustice that I see in front of me but am not personally experiencing, then surely I am helping to bring the mystery of God to light.
And isn’t that what incarnation is all about? To let God dwell within and work through us? To say, “Yes,” I will be open to God’s actions within and through me to the wider world. So as you journey through this last week of Advent, may you take time to think about the ways in which you have been invited to bring the mystery of God within - to light?
HYMN: Love came down at Christmas
Let us pray:
Come now, O Prince of Peace, make us one body.
Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.
With heavy hearts, we come to you during this time of waiting, this time of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the One who is God’s incarnate Love. Only this year, this time, looks and feels and is very different, as all the world shudders under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. And so, we hold in our hearts all whose families have been affected and ask your abundant mercy to shower down upon them all in this hurting world.
Come now, O Prince of Peace – for we ARE one body.
Come, Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.
Even as we pray for reconciliation and peace, we pray that people of different race may be honoured, rather than abused, that children in Ethiopia and other war-torn countries may have access to food and shelter, and that young people in Nigeria and elsewhere may be protected from extreme terrorist groups.
Come now and set us free, O God, our Saviour.
Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile all nations.
Even as we long for reconciliation, we learn that a new Cold War threatens the free world. We hold up before you all those with broken relationships in the home, the work-place, and pray for harmony and peace.
Come, Hope of unity, make us one body.
Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile us all to you and to each other.
All of these things we pray, O God who comes to bring us hope. Remind us of your unchanging love for this hurting, broken world, and fill us with the certainty that we are indeed ONE body.
And so may the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wrap you in peace, joy and love this Christmas, and forever, Amen.
Good morning to you all. I don’t know if your street has been like my street in Melrose. But as we get nearer to Christmas, more and more lights bedeck the houses. I’m quite glad we’re not actually a street with Santa Clauses and reindeer flashing across every garden and every house, but the lights we dohave are very attractive, and what I notice is that, however much you get used to new lights appearing, your eye is drawn over and over to them. There is a definite fascination with the Christmas lights. I could sit and watch them for hours.
But I suspect that most people are not aware of the significance of the lights. They’re not just there to brighten the dark nights, although they certainly achieve that. But in the early days, when they decorated Christmas trees with candles, people knew that they symbolised the Light of the World to come in Jesus Christ. But of course nowadays candles are too much of a hazard, so we splash out with all this neon and LED lighting, and instead of a meaningful candle flickering in the darkness, the sky, the gardens, the houses are ablaze with lights of all colours.
Light features at the beginning of John’s Gospel.
READING: JOHN 1: 1 - 3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.
I don’t know if you are aware that right now we are in the middle of the Jewish Hannukah festival. Lasting for 8 days, it’s known as the Festival of Lights, because of a miracle that happened during the 2nd century BC. That was a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Judea had been taken over by a tyrant Seleucid king from Syria, Antiophas III, who forced the Jews to worship Greek gods. He had a statue of Zeus, the main Greek god, erected in the Temple and allowed pigs to be sacrificed within the Temple grounds - pigs being unclean animals in the eyes of the Jews. It was sacrilege.
Jewish rebels, under Judas Maccabeus, fought for 3 years for their freedom, before they managed to drive the Syrians out of Jerusalem. Next task was to re-dedicate the Temple for which they needed olive oil to light the menorah, that was the seven-branched candelabra that burns in the Temple, representing the branches of human knowledge, symbolically guided by the light of God represented by the central lamp. The seven lamps were lit daily from fresh, consecrated olive oil and burned from evening until morning, But on this occasion, the Temple having been desecrated, they could only find enough oil to keep the flames burning for one night. A plea went out to find some more oil, but it took all of eight days, by which time only one lamp remained lit. However, it meant that the miracle light of the eternal flame waskept alive. The Temple was purified once more, and the Festival of Lights celebrates God’s victory over evil.
That is so like where we have been in recent months in regard to Covid-19. There has been a desperate race against time to roll out a vaccine. Meanwhile, the situation got worse and worse, and even when we began to get on top of it through all the restrictions, the second wave hit, and they are now even talking of a third post-Christmas wave. And even the fact that the vaccine isnow being rolled out does not all of a sudden mean that we are clear. Yes, we have hope. Yes, we know there is light at the end of the tunnel!
But we keep being told to remain vigilant. Stay alert, keep watch. The virus is still there. It is still deadly.
Back to the first chapter of John, when John the Baptist is introduced.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the 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. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.
That’s the real reason why we should stay alert, and keep watch. John was preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. And what that required in John’s book was to repent, turn from our sins, our bad habits, our selfish ways, and shine our pure light out to the world.
SONG: This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna Let It Shine
So let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we bow before you in these dark days of winter. We kneel before you in these grey days of Covid-19, aware of the hope we have - that the darkness will not put out the light. We give thanks for the scientists in Brussels, in Oxford, in Russia, in America, in China, who are all developing vaccines. We give thanks for the thousands of volunteers who put their lives on the line to test the vaccines. We give thanks for the NHS staff who are administering the vaccinations. And we give thanks for the NHS staff who have had once again to deal with the second wave of the virus. We may not be out clapping them in the street as we did before. But we remain full of gratitude for all they do for the sake of others.
At the same time, we pray for all those people who have been waiting for nearly a year for operations which, in the face of Covid, are not considered urgent, but whose lives are none-the-less in danger, especially those awaiting treatment for Cancer or heart disease. Lord, this is a time of so much struggle for so many people. We pray to you that the light of hope might not be extinguished, but remain pure and able to bring healing where needed. And for those who, we know, will not survive the pandemic, or will come to the end of life from other causes, we pray that the doorway that opens ahead of them may be filled with your pure light, a light that will never end,
And so may the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit shine on you and on your loved ones, wherever they may be, this day, and forever more, Amen.
Good morning to all Oxnam members and friends. This week we have had the amazing news that the UK has approved the roll-out of the Pfizer Vaccine, which will be available in Scotland next week - and that it willbe delivered to Care Homes. For 9 months we have all been living in the hope that a vaccine might indeed be developed, and be successful.
Now we live with a new hope - that life willbe able to get back to ‘normal’. So, although it won’t happen in time for Christmas this year, maybe by Easter we might be able to open the church to a larger congregation. Easter could well be the new ‘Christmas’. And who knows, the Oxnam Valley Voices might be able to cast off the name of Cat’s Chorus on Zoom and get back to having real concerts! And sporting events will be able once more to attract large crowds. We have been living with hope and now it seems that hope is to be made real.
It is part of the human make-up to live in hope: one of the great motivators in life. There’s a sentence often used in a funeral service - Without God we have nothing to hope for. With God we have nothing to fear.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, the former Chief Rabbi who died recently, believed that it was the ancient Hebrew people who invented the concept of hope. He once said that while the Greeks had given us the dramatic notion of tragedy, it was the Jews who gave us the lasting concept of hope.
And it is true that the people of the Bible have lived with hope, right from the time when Abraham heard from God that he would be the father of a great nation, living in a land far away, but promised for him. And then later, when Moses led his people out of captivity in Egypt to the same land promised to Abraham. And much further ahead, the hope in the prophetic times that there would be peace in the land - the lion would lie down with the lamb. Dream on!
Cue for an Advent hymn, Kathy Galloway’s lovely words set to Kingsfold, a well known tune.
HYMN 291: When out of poverty is born a dream that will not die
It’s from the landless weary folk, Abraham, Moses and others in the Old Testament, that we learn to greet the promised day. They endured slavery, exile and separation, but they still looked forward. Their stories point to a time when the Messiah wouldcome, bringing peace. And in our time, we still have hope that, no matter what happens, the best is yet to come.
So for us in this Advent season, our hope is made real in the birth of Jesus, God creeping into humankind, almost unnoticed, in a tiny baby. Promising a new life, both now and to come. St Luke gives us Jesus’ words of promise:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Not sure whether we are there yet, because looking back over this past year, with Jonathan Sach’s contrast between tragedy and hope in mind, there is no doubt that it has been a year of tragedyfor 60,000 families and more. On the political front, truth has been the victim of our times. And we have never known such testing times in our Church life as we adhere to social distancing and public health restrictions.
In fact, since the end of the Second World War there has never been a more important time for God’s people to look forward with hope. But the hopewe must have is something more than an expression of mere optimism. We get too many sound bites from the politicians in that vein.
Henri Nouwen, the much-quoted Dutch pastoral theologian, wrote: “Hope is trust that God will fulfil his promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”
The fact that WE have a vaccine now waiting to be rolled out, of course makes our hopes real, we are in good hands, we will be free from the scourge of Covid. But we’re not there yet. Within that perceived reality, there is still room for a new hope.
We still have questions to ask -
- when will we really see the Care Homes being vaccinated - staff and then residents?
- how long will the vaccine work for?
- how many people will agree to be vaccinated?
- how well will we, as a society, obey the regulations, when we think we are safe with the vaccine?
- when will our church be able to open as normal?
There is always room for hope, as God’s people, and in Advent, the fact that we have hope is our story. It’s a story of the grace, mercy and peace of God that we look for at Christmas, because the coming of the Christ-child will turn the world over and bring peace, joy and love to reign over our hearts and in our communities, no matter what happens.
So for our Advent prayers, we are led first of all by Desmond Tutu, and then by St Benedict:
Let us pray:
In the beginning was God,
Today is God, tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God? He has no body.
He is the word which comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.
Gracious and Holy Father,
grant us wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
hearts to meditate upon you,
and life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.
And may our journey through Advent enable us to see Jesus ahead, Jesus with us and Jesus for us.
And so may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all, this day, throughout the season of Christmas,
and for evermore, Amen.
Good morning to all friends of Oxnam Kirk. With all the discussions that are going on at the moment, we could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is not actually a religious festival, but rather a commodity to be handed out, or taken away, by our political leaders.
For many people, the announcement that we are going to be allowed to travel to be with our loved ones for up to 5 days at Christmas has come as a real gift - even if it is only 8 people and from no more than 3 households, and even if at that, grannies are not to be kissed! Meanwhile many others are much more cautious and feel that this Christmas window is not so much a blessing as a potential curse, because of the threat of further spikes, and more lockdowns. So theyare resolved that theirChristmas will happen either online or later, after we get a vaccine. One thing is certain, this Christmas will be different.
This battle over Christmas is happening just as we start the season of Advent, when we shouldreallybe focussing on the coming of the Christ-child into our world to bring peace, whether we celebrate it in church or privately at home. This should be a time of preparation, of waiting, of anticipation, of hope, nota time of confrontation with human beings set against each other.
The real problem is that Christmas haslost its religious significance for so many. It’s now seen by too many people just as a family festival when the most important thing is that families get together. Yes,that does make it the season of goodwill but it’s got very little to do with the main character in the story. I heard one of the panel on Question Time this week say, ‘People don’t have to have Christmas if they don’t want to. Feel free!’
And so while the world out there argues about whether I am allowed to see my grand-children, if I had any, or travel 400 miles to see my sick brother for a short period over Christmas and then worry about whether Iwill contract Covid-19, or I might have infected my brother or anyone else, I would prefer to prepare myself to receive the amazing power, grace and courage of the Christ Child that will help me get through the changes that will inevitably happen in my life - and in yours.
Getting the message of the coming of the Christ-child across is more important than ever this year, especially when so many people havebeen and are,on their own, self-isolating or just not able to see their families. They and all of us need to know that there is one who never changes, one whose faithfulness endures to all generations; one who has established the earth, and whose coming we have this glorious opportunity to remember this year, as every year.
SONG: Wait for the Lord, his time is near,
Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.
Let us pray:
God of the Advent promise,
We come on our journey to the place where the promise is renewed.
Even in the darkness,
We look for the light of your presence to be revealed.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
God of the Advent promise,
We come on our journey to the place where hope is renewed.
Even in the midst of all that we have faced in times past,
We trust in the hope that does not disappoint.
God of the Advent promise,
We come on our journey to the place where we must wait for a time.
Even though we have waited in times past,
We gladly do so again trusting that our waiting shall yield the coming of God.
God of the Advent promise,
We come on our journey to the place of anticipation.
Even though we do not yet see,
We anticipate the good gift that you will offer.
God of the Advent promise,
We come on our journey to the place where we resolve to journey on.
Even though we have travelled through hard times,
We go forward, trusting in the promise: Immanuel, shall come to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
And may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit be with you and all whom you love this day and forevermore, Amen.
Good morning to all friends of Oxnam. We live in very strange times don’t we? Quite apart from the effect the Coronavirus is having on us all, we are seeing an increasing number of tin-pot dictators, all over the world, who will not accept the result of their so-called democratic elections. And the frightening thing is that these self-styled rulers - be they Alexander Lukashenko ain Beloruss, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and up to his death we would have said Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and of course everybody’s favourite, Donald Trump! - all of those have an enormous number of followers.
So what does the Bible say about all of this, and how should that impact on us in today’s world.
Well we begin in the Old Testament, in the 1st Book of Samuel, and Samuel the prophet is an old man. His two sons are clearly not following in Dad’s footsteps, and the people come to him asking for a king to rule over them. Samuel was a holy man, and prayed to God, and was told that the kind of king the people wanted would be totally focused on himself - it was always a man! - and bettering his situation. But God’s advice was, if they want that king of king, give it to them.
So the people got their King - Saul was the first, but it wasn’t too long before he fell out of favour with God. And after Saul, there was David, held up as the doyen of all kings, but then others followed who turned out to be a mixed lot. So whether having a king was a good thing or not remained to be seen.
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, when we focus on the Reign of Christ the King. It was in 1925 that Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King, as a corrective to a major worldwide shift toward nationalism. Interesting! Such a different kind of reign from some of our earthly rulers. You might remember the conversation between Pontius Pilate and Jesus on the subject of kingship. You can find it in John’s Gospel, chapter 18 at v 33:
Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and the totally bamboozled Pilate asks ‘What is truth?’
So that takes us today toDonald Trump. In the recent ‘Donald Trump Story’, shown a week or two back, someone said he had been greatly influenced by Norman Vincent Peale and his lasting best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking. But to my mind, Trump has hijacked Peale’s positive thinking.
The problem with the Donald is that he was a reality TV star, chairing ‘The Apprentice’ amongst other things. And for him, virtualreality has become the real thing. What is truth? For Donald Trump there is no truth, except what he believes. That becomes the truth for him. And with the influence of Norman Vincent Peale’s book, anything that he believes is possible. You just believe it, and that is the truth.
So we won’t hear the end of the election rigging argument until he is frog-marched out of the White House, and maybe not even until the next election.
But why does nearly half of America go along with him? The phrase ‘crowd fever’ has an ironic ring to it, considering the rate of the spread of Coronavirus over there. Wherever Trump goes, his adoring legions follow. But there is no doubt in my mind that people in crowds do get carried away. Just think of the crowds outside Pilate’s house baying for Jesus’ blood. I would almost guarantee that not all of those people, if asked individually, would have agreed with the reality of what was happening.
And another feature of our modern day leaders, particularly politicians, is confrontation. Just think of that first Presidential debate. That was reality television if ever there was. Absolutely not the real thing.
And we could ask our own politicians the same thing - ‘What is truth?’ Because the most important thing seems to be that whatever is asked, or whatever the opposing side says, it has to be countered. The blame culture, and grievance politics have taken over.
Well, it is surely not the way Jesus wanted it to be. Ruth Harvey, who is currently the leader of the Iona Community, was the speaker at the Denis Duncan lecture last week, and her subject was ‘Healing and Reconciliation’. She said lots of interesting things, and the whole event, with questions and answers, and a couple of medics throwing their thoughts in as well, was thought-provoking, but one thing stuck out for me. And it was this:
When it comes to mediating a conflict, the mediator must get inside the thinking of the accuser. She described a case she had been involved in, with the Church of Scotland’s ‘Place for Hope’ project, where she discovered that the only way she could achieve anything in that situation was to listen carefully and try to get inside the head of the accuser, in fact lose herself in there, and truly understand their thinking, and then take it forward.
Now I was involved in a case - it may have been the same case, at an earlier stage, and our Committee did not do as Ruth said. It all seemed so obvious from the other side, but because we did not allow ourselves the time to get inside the accuser’s head, the accusation was dismissed, but, as with Donald Trump, the case rumbled on for a long time. Ruth may have been the one that brought it to a conclusion.
The yardstick against which we must measure all rulers, all political leaders, all who place themselves in authority and judgement over others has to be Jesus: how much does self get in the way, and how much is Jesus allowed in?
I said earlier that the jury was out about whether having a king or queen was a good thing or not. Now you may be an avid watcher of the latest series of ‘The Crown’, but there is no doubting that the real Queen we have has the highest of standards, when it comes to setting values. And that has to be because she is not afraid to declare her faith openly in the real King.
When King George IV was about to be crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1936, Leonard Small, the then Moderator of then C of S was commissioned to welcome the two young princesses at the West Door of the Abbey, to await the arrival of their parents. Just as a comment, Dr Small said to P Elizabeth, ‘Are you excited that your father is going to be crowned King?’ And she replied, ‘My Daddy says there is only one king, and that is Jesus!’
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
Let us pray:
O Christ, what can it mean for us
To claim you as our king?
What royal face have you revealed
Whose praise the Church would sing?
Aspiring not to glory’s height,
To power, wealth, and fame,
You walked a different, lowly way,
Another’s will your aim.
Though some would make their greatness felt
And lord it over all,
You said the first must be the last
And service be our call.
O Christ, in workplace, church, and home
Let none to power cling;
For still, through us, you come to serve,
A different kind of king.
And so may the blessing of our God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, fill you, enable you, and guide you through these difficult days, and be with you every day from today and for ever more. Amen.
Good morning and a warm welcome to our Communion message. Ever since the 15th of March, the last Sunday we were in Oxnam church before Lockdown, no-one has known when, or indeed if it was all going to end. And now, despite living in Tier 2 of government restrictions, with the hope of moving to Tier 1, we still don’t actually know when we will get through it all.
And yet, just this week, or was it last week, we have discovered that there IS going to be light at the end of the tunnel, with the announcement from Pfizer that their latest tests in four different countries have shown 90% success rate in controlling the virus.
Since then, all sorts of biochemical companies are claiming to be nearly there with other vaccines, so this long period of trial and tribulation will, it seems, at some point, come to and end, and life will get back to ……. No, not going to say it! People’s expectations are high about what ‘normal’ will be like, but so much depends on us. For we are not there yet, and we are still called to be vigilant.
Not for the first time, this journey through Coronavirus has reminded me of the long wearisome journey that the people of Israel had to make through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Towards the end of the journey, Moses became aware that he was not going to make it. He was clearly an old man by this time, although it was God’s pronouncement that, because of the waywardness and impatience of the people on the journey, he would not in the end cross over to the Promised Land. However, he was given sight of it, from Mt Nebo in present day Jordan, right over the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, from Jericho in the south up to what is now the the Golan Heights.
It must have been a terrible let down for Moses, having led his people all this way, and through all these years, for this one purpose, to reach the Holy Land. However, he saw the importance of preparing the people for entry into that Promised Land. They should remember to love the Lord their God, keep his commands, decrees and laws, and walk in obedience to him. Then they would find blessing.
In an impassioned final song to the people, Moses told them: Choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It’s the constant cry ever since Moses brought the tablets down the mountain, obey the Lord’s commands.
And so our part today is to be obedient, obey the rules, and wherever possible, be grateful for what we have, and not be bitter about what has been taken from us. And when it’s the life of someone we love that has been taken from us, as it is for so many, we must try to focus on the positives. I was speaking to a friend just last week, who lost her husband a couple of months ago. He was a colleague and a really good friend of mine too. And his widow kept saying how fortunate she was, that she had family around her, and had such happy memories, and we agreed that it was her gratitude that was helping her be strong throughout the ordeal of bereavement.
But there is another death that carries even more meaning for us all, and that is the death of Jesus Christ, who, for our sakes, took the burden of our sins on himself on the cross, and then overcame death by rising from the grave that we might have the promise of eternal life.
And this is what we remember today as we share in our Communion. You may like to get a piece of bread, a glass of juice, wine, or even a cup of coffee, as we prepare to share the special event.
Eat this bread, drink this wine,
Come to me and never be hungry,
Eat this bread, drink this wine,
Come to me and you will not thirst.
On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, he broke it and said to his friends around the table, this bread it my body. It is broken for you, Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way, after supper, he took the wine, and having given thanks, he said, This cup is my blood, shed for you. Drink you all of it.
Holy holy holy, Lord God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest.
So as Jesus lifted his face to heaven, so let us pray,
Heavenly father, we thank you that we can share this memorial of your death for our benefit in our own homes, separated by Coronavirus, but united in Spirit. As we remember the sacrifice he made for us, in order to bring unity and healing on earth, so we pray for all those who continue to suffer in this new wave of the disease. We pray for the troubles all over the world, Governments set against people, disastrous flooding in the Far East, fires burning valuable forests, refugees seeking a new safe home across the world. Father, may we, who know the Lord Jesus, and are strengthened by the sharing of this sacrament, do our part to make our world a better, saver, healthier place. For the sake of Jesus. Amen.
So on the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it and said, This is my body, it is for you. So I invite you to break a piece of bread and share it in memory of him.
And after supper he took the cup and having given thanks, he offered it to his friends, saying, This cup is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Drink it all of you, and so I invite you to take a sip of your glass, or your cup and remember him.
And so, united as we are in the remembrance of Christ’s body and blood, may we each go into this new day, and this new week strengthened, emboldened to stand up for Jesus, to speak his word, and to live his love.
And so may the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and with all those whom you love both near and far, today and for evermore, Amen..
One of the things I was acutely aware of when I first started my ministry in Kelso in 1989 was that it was never easy to winkle out of the veterans the story of their particular war experience. They all seemed pretty tight-lipped about it. And it seemed to me that, because of all they had gone through…. not knowing if they would see another day, discovering that it was their best mate whose plane had been shot down, or in fact losing a limb, the only way they could handle it was to push the memories right to the back of their minds. PTSD was not yet properly acknow -ledged and people preferred just not to talk about it.
But when it came to the 50th anniversary of the ending of the war, and more particularly the 60th, I noticed that people did start to talk, and all sorts of interesting stories began to emerge from ordinary people. It was as though it had now become important to pass their experience on - tell the next generation before it was too late what their fathers and grandfathers had gone through for their sake. ‘Tell them that for their tomorrow, we gave our today.’ So for the last 25 years, all sorts of stories have been immortalised in books, films, documentaries. And heroes like Tom Moore, Harry Billinge and other elderly veterans have become an inspiration to us all of courage, cheerfulness and determination.
And young people today are finding new ways of keeping the memories alive. Eight-year old Maisie Mead from Derriford near Plymouth, whose father is an injured army veteran, and whose grandfathers were both veterans too, wanted to rename her road from Bluebell Street to Poppy Street, and, with her 4-year old brother, fixed poppies on every lampost, and created a poppy field in her garden for neighbours to add their poppies to. Not only that, she knew why she was doing it. She knew what it was all about.
Telling the young people what has happened in the past and why they should remember has always been important. And perhaps the most obvious case of that in the Bible stems from the time of Moses and the people of Israel on their long journey to freedom in the Promised Land. Having lived, and multiplied, in Egypt over 430 years, since the time of Joseph, their final years were desperate as they had become slaves under the despotic Pharaoh Ramases 2nd, who had them building cities and palaces for him under desperate conditions. And they longed to be free. So God came up with a plan to get the people out, involving all sorts of horrible plagues, and ending up with a very dramatic escape, in true Charlton Heston style - through the turbulent waters of the Red Sea!
But in order that the people would not forget what had happened, they were given detailed instructions for a memorial meal - the Passover,and everything about the Passoverwas highly significant, and they would surely understand why - as we today are taught to understand the significance of some of our war symbols. The lamb would remind them of the blood daubed on the doorposts of the Jewish homes (the poppy reminds us of the blood shed on Flanders field); the bitter herbs symbolised the years of oppression under the Pharaoh, (Wilfrid Owen’s poems recall the desperate conditions in the trenches); and the unleavened bread reminded them of the hurry in which they had to leave before the Angel of Death came and killed the first-born sons (the new Normandy memorial for which Harry Billinge finally managed at age 93 to raise £1 for every soldier who died in the landings - one of them died in his arms). It’s the poignancy of it all that makes it so memorable.
There were further, strange instructions for the people of Israel, which were so detailed they could have been a set of instructions for Tier 5 of Coronvirus!
But more important was this instruction, from Exodus 12, v 24:
v 24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshipped.
The important thing was that, as they journeyed towards the Promised Land, the children, growing into adults, would remember that it was God who had saved them. And as they continued on that long and arduous pilgrimage through the wilderness of Sinai, often complaining that God had abandoned them, they were reminded over and over again that God waswith them - in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, guiding them surely towards their new land.
It is one of the sure tenets of our faith that God is with us always, especially in the darkest scenes of our life - even in war-time. And it was King David who affirmed from the time of his confrontation with Goliath through his many battles with all the enemies around, that God was always with him in battle. In fact David carried the Ark of the Covenant, that was the box that housed the scroll containing the Law,wherever he went, into battle and all, in the belief that God would protect them.
Listen to these verses from Psalm 20:
6Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with mighty victories by his right hand.
7Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8THEY will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright.
9Give victory to the king, O Lord;
answer us when we call. Amen.
And David did, famously, kill tens of thousands of the enemy. While it’s a bit Trumpian in its sentiment, David certainly felt he was protected by the Lord, in the many hairy moments of his life. But of course it is far too facile for usever to think that because God is with us wewill win every battle? That’s not the way it works. But as any reading of war records will show, the role of God’s representative, the padré, is still vital in warfare.
I read a wonderful book by Pat Leonard, who was a padré in the 1st World Warserving first of all with the infantry in the trenches and then with the Royal Flying Corps. It’s a fascinating read, eye-opening in its description of the role of the padré. The padré doesn’t justify the fighting on God’s behalf - that’s what human beings do. But Pat Leonard was busy all the time, not just tending to the wounded, burying the dead, and writing letters to the bereaved families back home, but also trying to bring a bit of normality into human life in the field of war. He was forever organising boxing matches - he was a keen boxer himself, and other sporting events, getting the men round the camp fire for a sing song, finding interesting supplies of local food, all in an attempt to raise the morale of the men. He didn't particularly like the Germans - which Brit would when they were under attack all the time? - but when he observed three Huns being killed, he wrote ‘I suppose they are somebody's darlings.’ And that of course is the pity of war.
In 1981, I had the privilege of going to Frankfurt to sing in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ in the new Concert Hall, built in the ashes of the old Opera House. It was an amazing event, organised in conjunction with Coventry Cathedral.
The ‘War Requiem’ had been written in 1961 for the opening of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral which had been bombed in the war, as had Frankfurt, and so they brought together German and British performers - the large Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus, and a mix of British and German soloists. The atmosphere was amazing, and the most poignant moment was when Thomas Hemsley, British baritone, stood at the front of the stage, a large German orchestra behind him, an enormous, and predominantly German audience in front of him, and sang Wilfrid Owen’s telling words: ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.’ And that is why we must tell our children to remember.
Jesus told his followers, 2000 years ago, that were would always be wars and rumours of wars, but that this should not alarm us. But he also told us that we should love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. And that is the test, because warfare starts in the human hearth, and if I can love my enemy, and you can love your enemy, then maybe, just maybe there might be a chance of peace on earth.
So let us pray:
Father God, we stop and listen on this day of remembrance, our thoughts and hearts full of memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the field of two world wars, in order that we, the ones who came after, might live in freedom.
We give thanks for this ultimate sacrifice and pray that the next generations will commit to remembering the lives that have been given for their sakes, that we all might find peace in this world. for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so may the grace of the Lord JC, the love of God and the fellowship of the HSp be with you all for evermore, Amen.
Hello and welcome to all friends of Oxnam Kirk. Today is known in the Liturgical year as All Saints, coming hot on the heels of Hallowe’en, which is really the Eve of all Hallows, or All Saints.
And although we probably won’t see it this year, this is the season when children traditionally dress up as ghoulies and ghosties and try to scare us and trick us into giving them sweets, a custom that probably originates from an ancient Celtic pagan festival called Samhain at the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, when people lit bonfires to scare off the evil spirits. But essentially it was a period of remembering the dead, not just the ghosts, but the saints, and martyrs and the ones we call the faithful departed. And over time the name Hallowe’en took on its own identity. But today it’s the good ones we focus on.
Saints aren’t just people who have lived and are no longer, like Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most recent to have been elevated to the sainthood by the Pope. There’s a lovely children’s hymn about the saints, written away back at the beginning of the 20th Century, but it explains just who the saints really are.
Hymn: I sing a song of the saints of God
One of the things I find myself engaged in a lot these days is remembering with thanksgiving all the people who have influenced me in my life, and still do in one way or another, saints alive and saints long gone. And we need to be thankful for them, for they are thents during these past 6 months - NHS frontline staff, and also the many people who have put themselves out to help others, business leaders as well who have used their skills, their machinery and technology, to make and deliver much needed food, medical scrubs, and ventilators. In a way it’s a shame that we’ve stopped clapping them all, for they say ‘a thankful heart is a happy heart’. Appreciating what people have done for you.
The Bible says a lovely thing about the source of all of this. It’s in John’s 1st letter, chapter 3: 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And WE ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech only but with actions and in truth.
And Jesus, in that great scene of the last Judgement described in Matthew chapter 25, commended those who went the extra mile and helped their neighbour in need, the saints of all time for whom an inheritance has been prepared from the beginning of time. But we have to remember that it must not be the main reason we do good deeds - ie to win a reward, on earth or in heaven. As children of God, it is what is expected of us, in response to what Jesus has done for us.
The book of Revelation describes an amazing scene at the end of time - a great plain with thousands of people dressed in white robes standing before the Lamb on the throne. And someone asks, who are they - those people in white robes? And the answer: ’These are people who have come from the great tribulation, and they’ve washed their robes, scrubbed them clean in the blood of the Lamb.’ The great tribulation is understood to mean the afflictions of those hard-pressed by the calamities of war and trouble. They have stood the test and come through with shining colours - white robes! And for them there will be no more hunger, nor thirst, because God will look on them with favour, and bring them to the springs of eternal life.
The Communion of Saints which forms an integral part of our church prayers, remembering those who have died, refers in traditional theological circles, not just to the past, nor indeed to the saints alive today, but also to those still to come - a humbling thought, and for all of themwe also have to give God thanks, in the knowledge that whatever tribulations we have to face - be they Coronavirus, unemployment, famine, natural disaster, asteroids hitting the earth, there will for ever be saints doing God’s work.
So let us pray:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Living God, we are conscious today that we come into your presence not alone, but in the company of the saints of God
and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
We remember all those who have given life and nurture to us.
Especially those we dearly love, but are no longer with us.
We pray for all those who have suffered loss at this time,
asking that they may know the presence of the One
who has promised to wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We hear again the Word of your enduring presence.
asking for ourselves, and for others,
that we might know the healing power of God.
And we recall the hymns of faith that echo in our hearts,
and encourage us to anticipate the praise of heaven;
offered to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
BLESSING So,dear friends, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
And to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and evermore! Amen.
Good morning to you all. So this week’s big story has been the stand off between the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Government over the imposition of Tier Three status to the city, and particularly perhaps the defiance of Andy Burnham. And last week-end, we had the unbelievable story of all those football fans, including groups from the Borders, openly defying instructions, and travelling to Carlisle or Blackpool to watch the Old Firm clash in a pub, so that they could have a pint while they cheered their team on with a whole lot of others.
So today’s theme has got to be obeying the rules, or not obeying them! I heard a commentator this week say that at the very beginning of lockdown it was easy, because people were for the most part obeying the regulations. But now, it is reported that a quarter of all British people openly admit to not following the rules. ‘Hands, face and space’!. Of course the situation is not helped by the behaviour of some people in high places who should have known better - and we all know who they are!
But there is nothing new under the sun. The human race has been disobeying rules for ever and a day, in fact ever since Adam and Eve famously disobeyed God’s rule about not eating the apple from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Led on by the serpent, you will remember, who deceived them into thinking that God was wrong when he said they would die if they ate the apple, just that they would become like God, knowing Good and Evil. Andthatwas the temptation that was too great to resist.. God wasn’t actually wrong, of course they would die eventually. But if they had just eaten of the other tree - the Tree of Life. Ah yes!
The Old Testament is full of examples of people disobeying God’s instructions. When Moses was up Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people lost patience, having waited all of 40 days since their leader disappeared up the mountain, and so instead of waiting to worship God at the altar Moses had already prepared, they decided to create their own god in the form of a Golden Calf, fashioned from all their jewellery which they’d melted down, and they danced a ritual dance round it. God had said, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and him only’, and ‘Thou shalt have no graven images’. But the people had lost patience with Moses, and for that matter lost patience with God.
In contrast, Abraham, who had been given the most impossible of all instructions, obeyed them to the letter.He was told, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. - hundreds of miles away away to the west. I will make you into a great nation, and you will be a blessing.’
And Abram uprooted himself and has for ever been held up as the greatest example of obedient faith down through history. So let’s hear a wee song from the folk tradition:
SONG: How can a young man lead a life that's good?
By obeying God’s commands.
How can he do the things he knows he should? -
By obeying God’s commands.
I keep his word in my heart,
That I might never sin,
I study all of his ways,
To keep me pure within.
But perhaps the most bizarre of all the stories of obedience or disobedience is one that comes from the early church, as told in the Book of Acts.
Peter and John had just had an altercation with the Jewish leaders, because they were openly preaching the Gospel of Christ, and had just healed a man who was lame from birth in Jesus’ name. Clearly they were attracting large crowds and the authorities didn’t like it. But then we hear about the way the rest of the believers responded: This in Acts Chapter 4 at v. 32:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all, that there were NO needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
So that was the benchmark. These were the rules - understated, but well understood and indeed followed by the fellow believers. It’s not one rule for one and another rule for the next person, especially when it comes to your possessions. But then in the next chapter, ch 5, trouble:
A man called Ananias, one of their number, sold some property and instead of sharing the proceeds, as they had all agreed, he kept some of the money back for himself, only handing over a percentage of the profit for the common good. Now we may not think that was too heinous a crime,
We don’t know many of the details, but his action was clearly not in the spirit of the community of believers. And what made it worse was that Ananias made thepretence of having given allthe proceeds to the common good. So what then happened was this bizarre punishment. First Ananias and then his wife Sapphira, who was in on the deal, dropped dead.
Hard to believe, but it’s just a story, buta story with a big lesson, none-the-less.
There is usually a consequence for disobeying the rules. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and compelled to till the ground, and to suffer pain in childbirth.
The people of Israel who had journeyed with Moses did not in the end get to see the Promised Land - it was only allowed to the next generation.
So how does it impact on us in our day. Some of you know that I am quite good at breaking the rules! I was a naughty child, always disobeying my mother, but I remember everything I did wrong, because in those days parents were allowed to smack their children. My mother wielded the slipper, and so I remember what I did wrong! And I just like to say it was character building!
Shortly before I retired from Kelso, I broke a different rule. I was about to marry the Duke of Roxburgh’s daughter, and we so longed to have the church painted - it was in a terrible state. With a complicated sequence of events, and a very tight time schedule, it was not possible to get the relevant permissions from Presbytery or even church headquarters in time, and the decorators had already begun, because we thought we were following guidelines. However, it came to the point that we had to go with it, and of course, despite everything, it was a good decision, and everyone was very pleased. But it wasn’t hurting anyone - that’s my justification!
So as a minister, I am not squeaky clean! But have tried to obey rules when they affect other people. And so now I have a dilemma. Some of you know that my only surviving brother is struggling now with the final stages of cancer. I have visited twice during lockdown, but now, as things are getting much more complicated with two different Tier systems going on, and regulations tightening all the time. London may well be in lockdown any minute. It’s already in Tier 2. So what do I do? Well I think the only thing I can do is what we should all do - hold my situation up to God, and ask him for guidance and strength to do what’s right.
It may well be that I am not able to get down again. But that’s no different from the many people who at the beginning of the first Lockdown, were not able to be with their loved ones at the end, or even at the funeral. Community matters, and when we are all under the same restrictions, is it worth breaking the rules?
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your Word is our command. Your Word is a word of love, for our neighbour as for ourselves. Help us to see the opportunity to show that love in all whom we meet. Help us to become pure within by obeying your command to love. Amen
Good morning, and welcome to you all. I wonder if you are any clearer in knowing what you are allowed to do at present and with whom? Apparently we can meet up with 6 people from 2 households in a restaurant, as long as it is before 6pm, and with no alcohol, or up to 10pm outside, with alcohol, but we cannot go and visit our neighbour, unless we are in a bubble with them. And can anyone describe to me exactly what a bubble is? I was in a bubble with my niece when I was down in London in July, cos I was staying with her, and could only visit my brother and his wife for meals in their garden round the corner. But when I came back up home, that bubble ceased, and Helen, my niece, then reverted to her former bubble with her parents, so when I went back down recently, and stayed in her house, things were slightly different and so she moved out and stayed with her parents round the corner, and we shared meals on FaceTime. No immediate contact for me with her parents because I wasn’t in their bubble. (I hasten to add I was there primarily to conduct the funeral of a friend.)… So you create a bubble with someone you might be seeing every day? - is that how it works? Probably someone in your immediate family circle, or a close friend.
I feel a wee bit bereft now, because I am no longer in a bubble! My neighbour has created a bubble with another neighbour, but I can only talk to myneighbours outside, and only from one other household at a time? Oh, it is confusing!
Then there is another new phrase being bandied around this week. Circuit breaker lockdown. These clever phrases! I think this means a temporary but total lock-down which will act as a circuit breaker and stop the virus in its tracks, just as a special switch stops the electrical circuit from overloading - at least that’s the theory. The whole purpose of course is to keep us all safe, for it’s only when we aresafe that people can go back to work and begin to rebuild the economy. Of course opinion is quite divided on it all. And while we live in hope that a vaccine willbe developed at some point, we have meanwhile to rely on a not-yet-full-proof test and tracking system. Because we know that the only real way to keep clear of the virus is to isolate yourself from it.
So from these two ideas, I have a story for you - a really well known story in the Bible. Here we have a bubble - a family bubble, who are in splendid isolation from the rest of the world. Who am I thinking about? - Noah and his family! Now in going into the Ark, Noah’s family were escaping, not from a nasty virus, but from something that God thought was far more serious.
The background to the story, in Genesis Chapter 6, is this. At the time of Noah, the population was expanding and with it the incidence of evil. Evil had of course been around since the very beginning - remember the serpent and the apple in the Garden of Eden. But now, with the intermarrying of a race called the Nephilim, who were very large in size - some called them fallen angels, with humans, it seemed that the human race had been corrupted, and, according to the story, God regretted creating the human race. Of course it’s just a story to indicate a much deeper meaning. But there was one good man, with whom God waspleased, and God gave instructions to Noah - detailed instruction for building the Ark.
The Ark was to be built with all the waterproof material known to man, and was to be a safe place for the 40 days and 40 nights of continuous rainfall, and the subsequent Flood. Throughout the ages, the Ark has become a symbol of the Church, a safe place for God’s people, and of course the rainbow is the constant sign of God’s promise to the human race.
But staying safe wasn’t the whole story - it never is with God. The first thing that Noah did when he came out of the Ark was to build an altar to the Lord, and make sacrifice of some of the animals. And God was pleased, that’s what God wanted from his people. But you know, that must have created a bit of a problem. If Noah sacrificed some of the animals, how were they going to be able to multiply? Just think about that, for that was part of the bargain - that those people and pairs of animals that came out of the Ark should multiply and spread their goodness over the whole earth. Answers on a post-card!
But Noah’s side of the agreement was also that he must not eat live animals - nor must he or any other kill another human being, because lives are sacred to God. And from God’s side, the promise is for ever and a day. Nevermore will He cause a flood to destroy the whole of the human race.
Meanwhile, if we think of the Ark as a symbol of the Church and its safety from the dangers of the world, it is interesting that churches are not featuring in the latest round of Covid restrictions. Perhaps the politicians are finally recognising that church is a safe place, a good place to be, a place where the faithful can find peace and meaning throughout all the turmoil of this world, in the presence of a God who keeps his promises.
HYMN 153: Great is Thy Faithfulness
So let us pray: Faithful God, we bring our prayers to you in this ongoing uncertain time, when many of us are confused, not sure of how the regulations work for us, when we see so many people openly disobey the instructions, and when the insidious problem of people losing their jobs and not having enough money to pay their bills hovers in the background.
Help us to hold on to the safety of knowing that you are with us, that we can put our trust fully in you because your promises are real and active,
Fill our hearts with thanks for the good things in our lives, even the bad things which might teach us a lesson, so that we may learn to ride above the difficulties we face.
Meanwhile the world over, people face problems far in excess of ours - corrupt rulers, fear in the streets, homes blown to pieces. Back home many people have serious health problems unrelated to Covid.
So may our faith in you be unwavering, as Noah’s was, and bring us at the last to the rainbow of hope in the sky.
And so may the grace of the Lord JC, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit fill your lives now and always, Amen.
Good morning to you all. So what do you think of the newest restrictions? Will they make much difference to you? Maybe not, but they are certainly going to make a difference to many people, and many businesses, particularly in the central belt.
Of course the debate really centres around how much people areor are not obeying the instructions. We’ve all seen and heard reports of the raves, the garden parties, the house parties etc. And perhaps we’ve even witnessed ourselvespeople going around in public places with no face covering. Yes, they may be exempt, but it usually seems to be younger people. Although with the incidence of the virus reducing in the universities, it’s good that students are in general now being commended for their behaviours.
But in relation to this week’s announcement from the Scottish Parliament, I do wonder how many people will conform. Remember when the 10pm curfew was introduced, there were scenes of crowds of young people drinking outside, boldly claiming that they had just moved the pub outside. So also now, the danger is that with pubs and restaurants closing for 16 days, many people will just move their parties indoors to their houses. And is there not a risk that because it’s not allowed, they may overstep the mark and drink more. And that’s when it can start causing real problems, which we see so often on the News.
This reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago. It was on a Saturday night - a party night, and I was woken by a noise at my door. I thought someone was putting something through my letter-box. So I got up - it was 4am. Thought first of all that it wasmyshadow in the glass panel at the door, but then the door handle moved! Ooaahh! I went into the lounge and saw a young man walk along in front of my big window to the end of the house. I raced through to the kitchen, but he didn’t come round the back, because I heard the front door handle go again. He was muttering in between trying the handle. I thought he was drunk and said, ‘Just go home!’ But he kept trying the door handle, muttering to himself, and walking along to the end of the house and back again.
So what do you do in that kind of scary situation? Ring the police? - but the chances of the police being in Melrose at 4am are slim. So I did the next best thing - rang my neighbour, and he came out, and sorted it, guiding the young man out of the street and in the direction of Gala where he said he lived. We think he was confused, after a night of alcohol or maybe drugs, into thinking that he lived in my street, and four houses along. Which is why he persisted in trying to get in.
Now the question is, should I have done what my niece said she thought I would have done - invited him in, given him a cup of tea, listened to his story and offered to take him home? Sorry, no I didn’t, but it was something equally unexpected that happened on the road to Jericho in one of Jesus’ stories. A man had been robbed, beaten up, and left lying on the road. Three men had come across him, but two of those, religious men, passed on by, not wanting to get involved, or perhaps scared they might become a victim themselves - I think that was me! For how many people do go to help someone in distress, and end up injured themselves - and then there was blood on the man on the road, and going anywhere near blood was against the Jewish religion. So two men didn’t get involved, but the third man, an outsider, a Samaritan, stopped and helped, went the extra mile in fact by taking him to a place where he could be cared for. It was my neighbour that was the Good Samaritan for me that night.
But it did make me think. We must not be too quick to judge other people, whatever state they are in.
And what about the young people today? - the ones who will be affected by this two week closure of pubs and bars at 6pm. Do we think they will behave badly if they flout the rules? Are they not victims too, like all of us, of Coronavirus and the restrictions imposed on us. Well perhaps weshould go the extra mile to try to help and encourage others in this incredibly difficult time, rather than being too ready to point the finger.
For Jesus asked the question: which one of those three men who walked by wasthe neighbour?
SONG: 1. When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there?
When I need a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour and the name don’t matter,
Were you there?
2. I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
3. I needed a shelter, were you there, were you there?
4. Wherever you travel, I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, It is when our freedoms are restricted that we really appreciate the life that you give, and the freedom that you have won for us over all evil, even over death. For the fact that we can call you our Father, and Jesus our friend to help in time of need and distress, we give you thanks. To know that we are loved, no matter what.
We pray for our community at this time - a time of sadness for some, a time of frustration and anxiety for many, a time of constant reordering of our lives for all.
Help us to help each other through this time of Coronavirus. Help us always to appreciate what we have, and not to regret what we don’t have. Take all thoughts of envy and malice from our hearts, and fill them with your love, your joy and your peace.
And may the blessing of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer surround you and fill your lives always, Amen.
Telephone number to hear the message on Direct telephone link: 01897 404770
Good morning, and I hope you are not too disconsolate with the fact that we are still under pretty strict restrictions. One of the big problems at this stage of Coronavirus is the fact that there has been quite a lot of confusion. That’s probably an understatement! Many instructions seemed to have changed - I think Sir Keir Starmer listed 11 different U-turns by the UK government, most famously in the exam fiasco, on both sides of the Border. Added to which, what we hear from Westminster is often quite different from instructions coming to us from Holyrood - so it’s all pretty confusing, and that’s without Wales and N. Ireland. It’s probably the same with churches. Depends where you are, whether the church is open for services, or private prayer or not at all, although that decision ultimately lies with the individual church.
And for those who travel across the border, yes you know that you can only see 6 people in a gathering, but from how many households, and does that include children? And anyway that’s just for just now. In a couple of weeks, it’s could well be different……. At least the 10 o’clock curfew on pubs and bars seems to be universal!
And as for the latest confusion among the student population across Scotland, there have been too many messy contradictions which don’t tie up, so the students are confused, and now feel got at, being told not to socialise - unless of course they have a casual job in a pub or a café! They’re warned not to go home at the week-end, and maybe not even at Christmas, and if they break the rules, they could well find themselves kicked out of university. That’s a terrible threat. It’s another fiasco likely to be replicated in England very soon as the universities there go back.
More than anything, we crave some continuity - both of operation and of communication, but it does seem lacking, and it’s possible that we might be living with confusion for some time to come.
Now I don’t know why, but this reminds me of one of Jesus’ stories - Jesus told several stories about two sons and this one….is unusual, at least I think so. It’s Matt. 21 at v. 28:
28 “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said,
‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Doing what you say you are going to do, and sticking to it seems like a good policy. Better still, think through what you want to do before you tell people. The ‘Do as I do, rather than as I say’ proverb has much to recommend it.
In relation to this, as you know, we had our first Sunday service back in Oxnam Kirk and, while it was so good for the few who were there, it we perfectly understandable that many folks did not want to brave the conditions. It is interesting that having opened the church, albeit only for one service a month, there are still people that are anxious, and do not want to be compelled to come into the church, especially when it is eminently not the same - no hymns, no hospitality afterwards, no handshaking, etc, and perhaps more importantly no pew cushions, although I am certain you could bring your own cushion, as long as you take it home again! Some want to come, others can’t bring themselves to come, and we have to recognise that. We all prejudge the situations we face, especially this one.
Let me tell you that Jesus continued his parable with this comment:
‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John (that’s the Baptist) came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.’
Over at Earlston, we did a small poll of the congregation, and discovered that it wasn’t necessarily those who attended church regularly who want the church to be open at this point, and it’s perfectly understandable, because of the anxiety - but it was surprisingly those who never darken the door who thought it should be opened. Jesus’ parable is so true to human nature.
And so as we await further pronouncements about Covid-19, and wonder how long they will last, and whether they will apply to us or not, we can only pray for those involved in the decision-making that they will have the goodwill of all the people at heart.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, as we embark upon this precarious new period in our experience of Coronavirus with tough new restrictions being imposed, with confusion in the communication of those restrictions, variations across the country, and neighbours being encouraged to report on those who break the rules, we pray for those caught up in the middle of it all - particularly our students, called back to college, but finding themselves isolated, and deprived of all the normal attractions of student life, socialising, making new friends, face to face tuition, and being supported by their families. We pray for those working in care homes, living with the fear of further lockdown, and the resultant effect on their residents’ mental health. We pray for all who are anxious about moving from the house, and whom they might come into contact with, and we pray for all those struggling with a condition other than Covid-19, whose treatment, or expected operation has been on hold for months.
Father, help us to find our peace in Jesus, for he has given promises to us, promises which will not be broken, constant support in all our needs, and most of all compassion for those badly done by, and love for all. So may grace, mercy and love from God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit surround you and your loved ones this day and forever, Amen.
And a wee Celtic blessing for you:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
Wherever he may lead you,
May he guide you through the wilderness,
Protect you through the storm,
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you,
May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
Good morning and welcome to our Sunday message at a time when we are precariously living on the edge of anther wave of Coronavirus. What have been the good things and what have been the bad things that have come out of our experience to date? If I were to ask you to write them down - good and bad, I wonder which list would be the longest!
The good things - the sense of community it has engendered, especially at the beginning, with resilience groups making sure that everyone in the community was well looked after - shopping and all of that; the way that businesses and individuals have stepped up and used their equipment to make up hospital scrubs, or provide free meals, with delivery; the government’s furlough scheme; the discovery of technology, allowing people to keep in contact with each other both far and near, and have access to church services and messages. The list could go on.
And the bad things - the people who disobey the rules and put other people’s lives in danger; people who find they have to self-isolate and therefore can’t get on with the work they are perfectly fit to do; people who have had to travel long distances to get a test, only to find that there are none available; people who were not able to be with their loved ones at end of life, or even at the funeral; and more recently people not able to give their elderly Mum or Dad a hug after 6 months of absence - just a wave from behind a screen and a facemask. That list could well be longer.
We have all had very different experiences of Lockdown, and what has been good for one hasn’t necessarily been good for someone else.
Like having to stay at home - it’s been great for me, and I’m sure for many of you too. I’ve been able to stay in touch with people, by phone or email, and do a lot of the things I normally do, just online. But for many people, being closeted at home has been a disaster - perhaps with an abusive partner, on a 4th floor flat with two young children, or just plain lonely.
It is always possible to see everything from two different sides, and the way we respond depends on where we are in it all. There are two stories in the Bible which illustrate this. The first is in the OT, when the people of God are being rescued from captivity in Egypt, and on their long journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, they get hungry, of course they do, and don’t believe Moses when he says that God has promised to provide.
One morning they wake up to find manna on the ground. Now manna was not like steak and chips.
It was a sweet, sickly substance, which at least satisfied their hunger. You know, sometimes very little can fill the gap. Every day thereafter there was exactly enough for a day’s supply, and if they didn’t eat it on that day, it went rotten. And on the sixth day there was a double portion because the 7th day was the sabbath. But the people ignored the instructions and ate up the double portion on the 6th day, complaining when they had none left for the sabbath. God had provided enough but they wanted more.
And that’s exactly what happened in a story Jesus tells, about the owner of a vineyard who hired some casual workers, with a promise of what they would be paid. The owner was a generous chap, although some of his workers didn’t think so, when it came to the end of the day. He paid the first workers what he’d promised - a day’s wage. And then as the day wore on, he took on some more workers, and later still some more, presumably because he needed all hands on deck to finish the work. And no doubt delighted that he got it done, he paid all those who had worked a shorter day the same as the others - a full day’s wage.
Now what would you have felt about that? - ’It’s not fair?’ Of course it doesn’tsound very fair, but the owner of the vineyard wasn’t doing anything wrong. He simply paid the workers what they had been promised - and that was enough to live on - a day’s wage. (smile) There’s always a different way of looking at things.
What we have to remember is that God isgood, and God does provide what we need. It’s how we deal with that that causes all the problems in the world.
Greed is not part of God’s economy. Rather, if we appreciate what we have rather than complaining about what we don’t have, ie live by gratitude rather than by envy, then God will help us find a way to cope.
So with Coronavirus, however hard it might be, we need to appreciate and give thanks for the good things, and learn that God always uses these badexperiences to teach us trust, dependence on each other, and humility. For at the end of the day, the last will be first, and the first will be last.
So we are going to sing, Pamela from the Roxies leading us, Give thanks with a grateful heart. The words will come up on the screen.
SONG: Give thanks with a grateful heart
So Let us pray:
Father God, at this precarious time, when none of us knows how things will develop, we open our hearts to you, the giver of life, responding with gratitude for all the good things that we have in our lives - families to love and be loved by, comfortable homes, a beautiful countryside, friends to support us.
And we bring before you all those who find it hard to count blessings, because they have so much less in their lives than we have. An unhappy home life, no money coming in, not able to hug the people they love, especially grannies and grandpas,
We remember all those who have lost someone during Lockdown, from Covid or something else, and who have not therefore been able to grieve in the normal way. We remember those whose special days have had to be postponed - weddings, big birthday or anniversary celebrations, and we ask you to forgive all those who, despite the regulations, have gone on to have their parties, because of sheer frustration.
Father, help us to be an example to all who find it hard. Keep us mindful of your love for us, and your provision for all people, and we ask it in the name of the one who went without, so that we might all find life.
And so may the grace of the Lord Jesus, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the H Spirit be with you all, and remain with you and your loved ones, today and always, Amen.
So welcome to our Sunday message. I hope you are all keeping well and continuing to stay safe. There seems to be no end in sight to this Coronavirus saga. Yes, the country’s getting back to work, and most importantly, the children are back at school. But the number of people infected is growing again, and steadily, even the number of deaths, although still small, is creeping up again. And all of this despite the repeated warnings and advice from the politicians and medical experts.
And so from tomorrow, we will be under the Rule of Six - slightly different in Scotland from south of the Border. No more than 6, from 2 households, in Scotland, can meet together, but under 12s don’t count. And it applies to outdoor gatherings as well as inside, although, interestingly enough, weddings, funerals, and possibly even church services have not been affected by these reimposed restrictions.
And at Oxnam, we will be opening the church next Sunday for a service at the usual time of 10.30am, and we’ll see how that goes. Anyone who would like to come should ring Morag McKeand (840284) to guarantee your place. No pew cushions, no singing, therefore no hymns books or Orders of Service. However, we will be together, and for those who are anxious about coming out, this video message will continue to be sent out on Facebook and by email.
So whose fault is it that we seem to be going backwards? Such a lot of blame is being laid at the feet of our young people. ‘It’s their fault!’ ‘Don’t kill your grannie!’ ‘They’re not wearing masks!’ This in response to the reports of large parties in gardens, outdoor raves and the like. But is ittheir fault? No-one can grudge young people the desire to meet up with their friends, after 6 months of being grounded. Even elderly folk have been missing the companionship of their friends, although certainly now appreciating being able to see the grandchildren again. But with lockdown easing, how easy IT IS forall of us…….. to get it wrong!
You go to help your neighbour with a problem, and all of a sudden you are well within the 2 metre regulation space. You endeavour to make outdoor meal-times safe spaces, and find yourself passing by someone at very close range, same in the shops.A workman come to your house to do a job, and he is wearing a mask, but are you? It’s all too easy to forget, in the moment of doing something else, that we have a serious responsibility to others.
At the same time, we look at the example that we have from someof our leaders. We all know there have been some high profile people who have let the side down, and the response from ordinary people in the community is, ‘Well. If they can do this or that, then why can’t we?’ And I read yesterday that people in Edinburgh are disobeying the new 20mph regulation because they think the police have got enough to deal with. So which of us really is to blame? For many young people are now struggling to cope mentally during these hard times, while older people who are happy to be getting outside more, just forget. With the enemy out there, invisible, carried around by people with no symptoms, blown around even in the air, none of us can let our guard down, for the responsibility rests on us all.
Wise men from the long history in the Bible have all agreed - we all share responsibility. Solomon, no less, in the 1st Book of Kings, chap 8, says this: When they, your enemies, sin against you - and when they come to their senses, and repent and plead with you, saying, ‘We have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’, then hear their prayer and forgive them, for they are your people and your inheritance.’ That’s powerful stuff.
‘Love your enemies, not just your friends’. That was Jesus’ way of saying the same thing. And the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes sa, ‘Surely there is no righteous man on earth, who does good and never sins.’ How true!
But now let me take to just outside the Temple in Jerusalem, where a crowd of pious Jews are attacking a woman who was known to be sleeping around - an adulteress no less! And Jesus comes on the scene, and what does he say? - ‘Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.”And all those self-righteous men shamefacedly turn and leave. ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’
There is no doubt, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So we can take back that finger that’s pointing to someone else, the young people, the party poopers, the over-confident. We need to help each other, challenge each other when we forget, and with grace and humility recognise that it could well be us who are responsible for the world’s problems.
SONG: 493 It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer
So let us pray: Heavenly Father, in such a time of uncertainty and turmoil in our daily lives, we turn to you. For you are the rock on which our lives are grounded. You are the source of all comfort, healing, and strength. We know that you watch over all that happens to us. You grieve when you see us disobey the rules, you long for us to turn back to you, and live our lives according to your commandments.
We pray for all who are anxious because they have discovered, following testing, that they have contracted the virus. For those who have suddenly been told they need to self-isolate. For those who find it all hard to believe because they don’t have any symptoms.
Lord Jesus, you are the great physician, the over-arching healer, and we ask that your power and grace may flow over each one of us, enabling us to be sensible, to have kindness and understanding, and to be able to forgive others when they find it hard to conform to all the regulations.
We ask this in the name of the one who took our sins on his own body on the cross, and who lives and reigns that we might have renewed life, both here on earth and in the life to come.
And so may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you, remain with you and all whom you love, this day and forevermore, Amen.
Good morning and a warm welcome on behalf of Oxnam Kirk. Today I want to share with you a new interest which I have developed in the latter part of lockdown. Well I haven’t developed it as such, rather it has come to me through other people.
Many of you, I know, will have spent the early, sunny days of lockdown in your gardens, keeping them tidy, rearranging things, and possibly experimenting with new plants. I have a reasonably sized garden, front and back, but gardening has never really grabbed me. Clearly, for the sake of the neighbours, however I have to keep it tidy and as free from weeds as I can, but I really prefer to pay someone else to do it, while I pursue other things, and then I can stand back and admire it. I have some very nice plants in the garden, so it’s good to show them off to best advantage.
However, at the beginning of lockdown, everybody in my street was given two little pots with pepper plants in them. It was a competition - see who can grow the most, and the biggest peppers! I was certain I would come last.
However, placing them by the window, with a lot of sunlight, they started to do what all plants do when you keep them watered. They started to grow! And now, having been repotted, and about to be repotted again.
And really it was nothing to do with me! Yes, I did remember to water them, but other than that, it was all up to nature . This is the second yellow pepper I’ve had so far, but there are loads of little babies coming on both my plants. And, as I say, it was nothing to do with me!
Now, I’ll tell you another story. My sister-in-law in the south gave me an Aloe Vera plant. Very kind of her. A little cactus thing, that apparently you cut bits from, and use as a salve on burns or scrapes, and for countless other medical uses.
So when I came north, I carried it in a tiny pot carefully placed in a used yoghurt carton, and it fitted very nicely on the back window ledge of the car, wedged between two sort of furrows in the ledge. It was a long journey - I had two stops on the journey, one overnight, and didn’t get home till the evening of the second day. By then I didn’t feel like emptying the car until the morning, which I did, but I completely forgot about the little plant on the back window ledge. In fact it lay there over about four days of glorious sunshine……. Yes, you know what’s coming! When I finally remembered to look, it had completely wilted - poor little Aloe vera plant.
However, I brought it inside, gave it a nice drink - not too much cos it is of the cactus family, and placed it on my bathroom window sill - where I could talk to it several times a day! And guess what? A few weeks on, it is definitely resurrecting itself . Three of the strands are standing proud, and even those that seemed to have completely wilted are beginning to come back to life.
Now from this, I am guided to two particular Bible passages. The first is from Paul, writing in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 3. He is chiding the people for following this leader or that, and he says,
After all, who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God's servants, by whom you were led to believe. Each one of us does the work which the Lord gave him to do: I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters, because he makes the plant grow.
And how true I have found that to be.
And I have to tell you about my new toy, which I was also given when I was south. It’s a ‘Grow your own’ kit - a what? It which helps you regrow vegetables once they have been used. How on earth does that work? Well, here is a leek - well it was a leek, (picture of leek re-growing)and after I’d used it for supper, I then put the root part into this container, which keeps it watered, and look what is happening. My niece has one that grows and grows, and then she cuts a bit off it, uses it, and it grows again.
So now let’s listen to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
What a lesson in humility for you and me!
And picking up on the words from Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6, let me sing you a wee song which I wrote a few years back:
SONG: Listen for the Lord and do not fret about the morrow,
neither what to eat, nor what to drink, nor what,
God made your life to be much more than food or clothing,
listen for the Lord, and you will know his care.
Listen for the Lord, and be not anxious over what you wear,
lilies of the field do neither toil nor spin,
God made the flowers in the wild to show his glory,
listen for the Lord, and be arrayed like them.
Listen for the Lord, do not be fretful o’er tomorrow’s cares,
do not add a burden to the day’s concern,
God clothed the grass, and gives you all you’ve ever needed,
listen for the Lord, and of his kingdom learn.
So let us pray:
Lord, God, we give you praise and thanks for the miracle of nature, by which you make plants and flowers and fruit to grow in abundance. We acknowledge the responsibility you have laid on us to care for the earth and to nurture all things that grow from it.
Forgive us when we fail to care for others, when our own lives seem too busy, too preoccupied with other things for us to stop and look and listen, and appreciate.
Help us to live each day as it comes, not to fret over tomorrow, but to put everything into your hands. Help us to love your creation as you love it, to love other people as we love ourselves, and to live up to the example of Jesus, who gave his life for us.
And so deep peace of the running wave to you,
deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you,
Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world to you. Amen.
Hello, and welcome to this week’s Sunday worship message.
Grace, mercy and peace to you all from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So the Scottish schools are finally back - and for the most part everyone is relieved that it is so, even the children, especially the children, who would not normally look forward to returning to school. But after nearly as many months as they usually have weeksoff in the summer, it is very different this year. Five months away from friends and the discipline of the school day has been a real disruption for the children and their parents. Many of the older children had to forego their end of school celebrations, including their prom, those leaving primary school were not able to have a preliminary day in the big school before moving up. And I heard just this week about a university student, hoping to spend the 2nd year of her course in France, whose arrangements are very much in doubt.
But probably the most significant and longest lasting feature of schools in 2020 is what we’ve just experienced with the exams. Variously described as a fiasco, shambles, and the biggest U-turn in history, it has prompted the powers that be south of the Border to create there what looks like an equally botched job, whereby pupils are being told they can choose whether they are judged on the results they have been given, their mock exam results, or the results of a follow-up exam in October. And of course everyone is concerned about the knock-on effect on university places and ultimately job prospects.
On top of all of this it’s confirmed that we are now officially in recession for the first time in 11 years. We’re being told that we may have up to 4 million people unemployed by Christmas, with High Street stores, pubs, and goodness, maybe even football clubs going to the wall. Times are not good.
And if we thought things couldn’t get much worse, there’s the weather - freak thunder-storms and the Stonehaven disaster, to mention only one caused by landslide around the world. Meanwhile in Lebanon, not only have they the Coronavirus to contend with in an economy that is crumbling, but they now have the aftermath of a mini-Hiroshima to deal with.
It seems that the world has been abandoned by God. Many people would want to cry those words, as did Jesus on the cross. He wasn’t the first to cry ‘My God, why have you abandoned me?’ Psalm 22 was believed to have been used in the Temple worship to recall the distress and alienation of the Jewish people while they were in exile:
1. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I have cried desperately for help,
but still it does not come.
2 During the day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer;
I call at night, but get no rest.
3 But you are enthroned as the Holy One,
the one whom Israel praises.
4 Our ancestors put their trust in you;
they trusted you, and you saved them.
5 They called to you and escaped from danger;
they trusted you and were not disappointed.
(Then, grovelling in self-pity…..)
6 But I am no longer a human being; I am a worm,
despised and scorned by everyone!
7 All who see me make fun of me;
they stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
8 “You relied on the Lord,” they say. “Why doesn't he save you?
// If the Lord likes you, why doesn't he help you?”
Why doesn’t he help you indeed? Well, the Psalm does go on to praise God for subsequently rescuing his people.
But today, we might ask the same questions: why has this pandemic dealt the world such a drastic blow? Why has our schoolchildren’s education been affected in such a major way? Why are so many people facing a winter of discontent, if not years of downturn, with job losses and bancruptcies? Where did this Coronavirus come from to cause such a universal disruption?
We’ll never know the answer to the big question, but we do need to find hope, and today there arevoices of hope. I believe many of them come from our young people, expressing very sensible opinions, as of course do some of our very old people. One young girl spoke of the need to come up with a new and more realistic method of testing school pupils. Exams should not be the only way, she said. And another two young people have sung the praises of the apprenticeship system. I hadn’t appreciated that you can have apprenticeships in all walks of life, and these two youngsters were saying how glad they were they hadn’t gone to university, which would tie them into long-term debt, but were delighted to be paid to learn on the job. And of course we’ll never forget Greta Thunberg. A quote sent to me this week, from a John Chittister in the States, said this:
'We are in the midst of the world's fastest transformation.
In times of major transformation, two things occur:
a sense of breakdown - and a sense of possibility or breakthrough.’
The break-through that we need to help us through this and any time of transformation or change comes through Jesus. When he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, aware that his life was in grave danger, he prayed to God to take away the suffering that he was about to face on the cross, but then, quietly putting his trust in God, found his prayer changed into this: ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’
I firmly believe that even when things are bad, there is always a helping hand, signalling the way to overcome.
Let me leave you on a personal note. I recently visited my brother in London. He is sadly struggling with cancer, but being incredibly brave, and just getting on with daily life. I said to him that there were a lot of people in Scotland who were holding him in their prayers. He smiled and said, ‘You can tell them it’s working!’
So let us pray:
Loving Lord, We pray for our world, as we move these days through all the difficulties, tragedies, deaths, recoveries, and more challenging conversations around Covid-19. We pray particularly for those dealing with coronavirus in India, the United States, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and here in the UK. No one person is experiencing this on their own. Teach us that our responsibilities are bound with each other and with the planet. Be with those who are grieving or anxious and in social isolation. Guide each of us towards a fuller understanding of this disease and what we are learning from it regarding our interdependence on others and on the created world. Above all, help us to put our trust in you, the source of all life, the giver of beauty, joy and love. Bless our families and our loved ones, keep them safe in your arms, both today, tomorrow and into all eternity, in the name and for the sake of Jesus, Amen.
SONG: 1. Be still and know that I am God
2. I am the Lord who saves and heals
3. In you, Lord God, I put my trust.
And so may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit surround you and your loved ones and keep you free from harm in his love, today and always, Amen.
Hello, and welcome once again to our Sunday video message. I’ve missed you for the last two weeks, but I’ve been in London visiting my family, and enjoying a change of scenery. I don’t know about you but when I go a-visiting, especially to people I haven’t seen for a while, I often end up having really fascinating conversations. And so it was this time, on my way north, I stopped for lunch with some good friends in Rickmansworth. John is a retired vicar, and Cherith sang with me in the BBC, so we always have stimulating chats. And this time was no exception.
We started talking, inevitably, about lockdown and the effect it was having on the church at large, and how the lesson to be learned from it all was that the church really has to change. In his years as a Church of England vicar, John had encountered so many examples of rigid beliefs and self-righteousness. We might call it the ’aye been’ syndrome! But during this period of lockdown, the church has been catapulted into discovering new ways of doing things that we all thought were impossible. Perhaps the most sobering thing that we’ve learnt from Coronavirus is that we needn’t be so dependent on our church buildings. With live-streaming of services, and many local offerings of worship available on Facebook and YouTube, many more are, and will be able to connect with the church from home. And of course the new telephone link is an absolute boon for those who are not online. Same with the different church meetings which have carried on apace on Zoom. Of course we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that the increase in online numbers will be replicated when Lockdown finally opens our church doors. But we can see it as a wake-up call to the church.
The comment was made, interestingly enough, that when we all voted in 1973 to join the Common Market, the powers that be, predominantly the Civil Service, were much more keen to stay OUT of the Common Market, simply because the way things were operated at the time, suited them. No disruption to their daily routine. It’s a different story now. The same power-holders want us to stay IN the EU, maintaining the status quo, because that is what now would suit them best. It’s the same ‘Aye-Been’ mentality. The same fear of following a different path ie the way we’ve got used to doing things is the way we always have to do them.
So from that, we got into talking about different religions. John spoke about a holiday they’d had in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, and how they had met some people who had asked John if he had ever visited a mosque. No, he hadn’t, and so they invited him to come and join them. He was wary of going inside to be with them, but in the end, he was able to stand quite close and watch. And what impressed him so much was that, when they knelt down, and indeed bent down to touch the ground with their heads, they were simply ‘worshipping’. And a Psalm came to his mind, Psalm 95: 6-7:
6 Come, let us bow down and worship him;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 He is our God; we are the people he cares for, the flock for which he provides.
We call him Lord, they call him Allah, but who is to say that he is a different deity. Allah’s followers were obeying Psalm 95 exactly, just as we should do. So does it matter what we call him?
Now this brings me to a letter I saw in the Scotsman just this week. It was in response to an article, speaking about the difficult things in life, and how the Christian hope comes in such circumstances, not from anything that we human beings do, but from the death and resurrection of J.Christ.
The letter that article provoked, was a tirade against the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, angrily suggesting that turning to imaginary friends does not help us cope with the complexities of life. Then, with equal fury, the writer categorically claimed that Jesus had been a mere human, the Son of Man, and that no way did he rise from the dead. I couldn’t help smiling when I read it, and thought I wouldn’t have to wait too long for a strong reply. And it came, just a day later, from a former Free Church Moderator.
As expected, he quoted several Bible passages, including one from the OT Book of Daniel, in which Daniel had seen a vision of one ‘like a son of man’, to whom was given divine attributes. Proof that the term ‘Son of Man’ as used by Jesus did not just mean a human being. But he also quoted Jesus referring on several occasions to God as his Father. And then, more significantly, when Jesus was asked outright at his trial, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ He responded simply, ‘I am’. That’s in Mark’s Gospel ch 14. Now the subtlety of the name would have been lost on Pilate, but ‘I am’ was the name God used when asked by Moses at the burning bush, ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am’, the same answer as Jesus gave. And significantly, when used by God, it is in the present tense. God is alive, and worthy of our worship, whatever name we choose to call him.
So not only does the church have to open its doors and break down its walls, but it has also to be less exclusive. We’re all different, and what one person likes may be anathema to another. There is room for all. And doing things differently does not make us any less human, any less loved by the one wecall Lord, the one whom we as Christians believe came in Jesus Christ, died for us, and rose again to promise eternal life, enabling us to cope with anything that may come our way. So we’re going to sing a Taizé song, in Latin, but with simple words about loving other people.
SONG: Ubi caritas, et amor, ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.
Where there is charity, and love, where there is charity, there God is.
PRAYER AND BLESSING
And so a single prayer for this week, for the people of Lebanon, the Christians, the Druze, the Muslims, all having to pull together in their terrible hour of need. We pray for those who have been traumatised, both humans and animals, by the blast, for those who have lost homes, businesses, loved ones, all source of food, and we also pray for those most at guilt for allowing the tragedy to happen. May they be brought to justice, and their mismanagement act as a warning to others always to think of the greater good before their own desires. At the same time, we pray that your love will be shown in the humanitarian response from across the globe, reflecting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whom we call Lord.
And so may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be will you and keep you and your loved ones safe today, tomorrow and forevermore, Amen.
Friends, this will be the last of Marion’s messages for a couple of weeks, as I am heading off to London on Tuesday to spend some time with my family. I will be back on the second Sunday in August.
By thenwe don’t know where we will be in this Coronavirus saga. Still in Phase 3, probably, as they have said that will last longer than the other phases. Certainly at the moment we are keeping a close watch on the places and areas where there are known to have been increases in infections. People are nervous as the opening of High Street businesses is being encouraged, especially when the Chief Scientific officer is stressing that people would be wiser still working from home, if they possibly can.
In any case it’s a whole new world out there, with face shields, as well as masks, and designated lanes for people to walk in the shops and garden centres. But it’s not always possible for people to keep 2 metres apart, at work or even walking down the street. We see it on television, celebrities and politicians, when they get together - are they always maintaining the 2 metres, or even 1 metre apart? And how easy is it to forget when you meet someone down the street, or in the supermarket, and, say, if someone is trying to pass, you find you are a lot closer than even one meter - especially, I would think, if you are already living within a family, and not having to keep your distance from them.
But look across the Atlantic to what is happening there. Really worrying in Florida, California, and Brazil, but think of the persistent turning of a blind eye to the medical and scientific advice in those places. I read about a church in Tennessee which reopened on 31st May after an extended period of closure, and they held services for some weeks, until Covid-19 struck hard. They had put in place a plethora of measures to keep folk safe, but one thing the pastor had not insisted on was the wearing of face masks. Now he regrets his folly. But you can’t rewind the clock.
In the latest issue of Life and Work, Ron Ferguson, a former leader of the Iona Community, now in Orkney, speaks about the ‘Great Crisis’. Others have said that future generations will measure dates as pre- or post-Covid-2020. Ron speaks about his new grandchild, and how that generation is going to have to pick up the bill for the mess which our generation has created. Part of the problem, he says, is that over the past few decades, we have lived in thrall to the widespread myth of perpetual progress. Its siren call leads to a cliff edge.
The fact that prophetic voices have been warning us for generations shows that there is nothing new under the sun. Right from the beginning, Adam and Eve were warned against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And what did they do? They ate the apple, in an attempt to become like God and found themselves banished from the Garden of Eden.
Then when Moses gave instructions to his people to wait for him, while he went up the mountain to commune with God, the people lost patience and created a Golden Calf for themselves to worship instead of God.
And what happened? Moses smashed the Golden Calf, and the people were humiliated and had to crawl back shamefacedly to God.
Much later, the prophets warned the people over and over again against disobeying the commandment to put God first. A quick look at the book of Amos for example shows us that society 8 centuries before Christ was very much like today - big disparity between the rich and the poor. Powerful people controlling those who have less, and even church leaders impervious to the needs of the poor. In other words no-one listening to the warning signs. And history shows that the result of their disobedience was the destruction of their land and the exile of the people.
The question for us today is - has it taken the pandemic of 2020 for us to realise how much like lemmings WE had become, hell-bent on getting more stuff, measuring success by the number of possessions we had? The fact that we have all been forced to stay at home now in a much reduced world should bring us to our senses, and make us realise there are far more valuable things in God’s creation for us to appreciate.
It’s almost as though God has become a frustrated father, and said, Look, I’ve sent floods, I’ve sent fires, I’ve sent pestilence and famines. Will you now just go to your room and don’t move out until you’ve learned how to behave! The truth is - God is a loving father, who just longs for us to do the right thing - to care for the poor, feed the hungry, be respectful of others and their needs, and, far from demanding more for ourselves, give thanks to God for all he has already given us. If we finally learn that lesson, then maybe, just maybe, we might be able to find the right way ahead.
So we are going to sing a fun little song about obeying God’s commands.
SONG: How can a young man lead a life that's good, by obeying God's commands.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, when you came among us, you proclaimed the kingdom of God in villages, towns, and lonely places. Have mercy upon all who live and work in our beloved Border land. May our health care providers receive the resources they need to save lives, especially as they begin to deal with non-Covid problems.
O God,we ask you to be very present in the cities of the whole earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate racism and violence so that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfilment of their humanity.
We pray for our religious leaders and essential workers.
We pray for ourselves as we grapple with the lies of omission from our history lessons.
We pray for health-care workers and death-care industry personnel.
We pray for those facing unemployment.
We pray that scientists may not be at war with politicians, but that all may learn to work with humility and grace, especially alongside those who have different opinions.
And so may the unity of the triune God be our example and the blessing of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit keep you and yours in health and wholeness both today and always, Amen.
On Demand phone message is uploading and should be on the line soon. 01835 555457
Good morning to you all. Marion here sharing my Sunday reflection for Oxnam Kirk and friends and friends. This week has seen churches encouraged to remember yesterday’s 25th anniversary of the Sreberenica massacre, when more than 8000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered and thrown into mass graves by raiding Bosnian Serb forces towards the end of the Balkan War. In 2020, with our own particular problems to deal with, many of us might wonder why we need to dwell on that particular atrocity. However, our Moderator bids us do so, for some very good reasons.
I remember when it was all happening in 1995. I was staggered that such a close group of six neighbouring countries, which had formerly been one great holiday destination -Yugoslavia - could now be so much at each other’s throats. / And I remember thinking about Scandinavia where my brother had lived (Norway) for forty years. Those three countries - Norway, Sweden and Denmark were not the best of friends. That was a surprise, and indeed Neil used to say that Danish wasn’t a language - it was a ‘throat disease’! Oh dear!
And I used to wonder, what about our Border rivarly - so vocal on the rugby terraces? Could this sort of thing ever happen to us? Well it did, with the Border Reivers in the Middle Ages, and what about William Wallace, and then Robert the Bruce. God forbid, never again, but you never know!
The Moderator warns that it’s never been more important than it is now that we remember what happened to those families in for example Sreberenica, because it’s too easy to allow ourselvesto slip into the same dark places. We are perfectly aware that there are divisive voices in our communities, doing their best to emphasise difference and to exploit what’s going on in the world for their own ends - political or financial. These voices, he says, must not prevail - and it will require all people of goodwill to do more than simply be idle bystanders. And the anniversary of a massacre like that of Sreberenica should serve as a salutary reminder.
This is why it is important that the church today vigorously continues the work of Jesus Christ, proclaiming to the world that we were made to be at one - at one with God and at one with each other. It’s what Jesus prayed for, shortly before he was put to death - unity. We read that in John’s Gospel Chapter 17 beginning at v. 9. Jesus speaking to God: 2’15”
9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine; and my glory is shown through them. 11 And now I am coming to you; I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, so that they may be one just as you and I are one.
18 I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. 20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message. 21 I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. 22 I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: 23 I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me, Amen.
Being at one was what Jesus’ farewell prayer for his disciples was all about - and it was delivered in a world which, like ours, was badly divided. Not only was there division between Jew and Gentile, Roman and Greek, but also within each community. Goodness, even his disciples couldn’t stop bickering.
You might think that today’s volatile world, goaded by racial hatred, poverty, hunger, religious bigotry and fake news is worse than it’s ever been, but the basic problem is unchanged over the centuries and across the world.
We were made to be at one, with God and with each other. But right from the very beginning, when Cain murdered his brother Abel, it was clear that the umbilical cord had been well and truly broken, and we were going to have to work at it, in order to keep in harmony with each other, and with God.
A number of years ago, when I was in training as an Assistant Minister at Colinton in Edinburgh, I remember working with a group of four families to create a family service. They were all members of the choir and therefore a musical bunch. The theme was ‘harmony’ and they began with a small orchestral group playing a ‘chord’ - but a ‘duff’ chord, not at all harmonious! The question - how to reach harmony with each other. So they started with the first violin, one player playing a note - to begin with a bit of a rough scratchy note, which had to be worked at to make it into a beautiful sound with vibrato. Message - you have to be at one with God before you can begin to be at one with others. Then another string player was added, and the same process happened, until it was a pleasing chord. Then a wind instrument and finally brass and in the end it wasbeautiful, but only because each one had to work at it individually to reach the goal of harmony.
What a message for us all. Why blame other people? It all begins with me. Get myself right with God, and then all will be well, as this fascinating poem by Clive Barker tells:
“I dreamed I spoke in another's language,
I dreamed I lived in another's skin,
I dreamed I was my own beloved,
I dreamed I was a tiger's kin.
I dreamed that Eden lived inside me,
And when I breathed a garden came,
I dreamed I knew all of Creation,
I dreamed I knew the Creator's name.
I dreamed--and this dream was the finest--
That all I dreamed was real and true,
And we would live in joy forever,
You in me, and me in you.”
We’re going to sing now one of my favourite hymns - very simple, by Frances Havergal to the lovely haunting tune St Bees:
Hymn - Take my life, Lord, let it be consecrated, glad and free
And a simple prayer:
In remembering Srebrenica this week-end, with deep shame and sadness, let us apply ourselves to working for reconciliation, understanding and peace in our world today. And let it begin with me.
And a blessing which also was sent to me this week.
Bless to us, O God,
The moon that is above us,
The earth that is beneath us,
The friends who are around us,
Your image deep within us,
The rest which is before us.
And may the blessing of God, the Father, God the Son and God the holy Spirit remain with you and your loved ones, today and forever, Amen.
Hello, it’s Marion Dodd with you again, and I have a story for you today. It’s a story that I know you will all know well, but you have to listen very carefully. Because it’s the story of the Pee Thrittle Ligs.
There was once a pither mug, who had pee thrittle ligs. This pither mug told her pee thigs, ‘You pittle ligs must trout ot into the world and fork your see-tune. So they did.
The pirst fittle lig san a maw with a strundle of braw. ‘Please, man, give me strat thaw to huild a bouse.’ So he did, and the pirst fittle lig huild a STROUSE of HAW. Along came the wooked wilf, docked at the knoor, and said, ‘Pittle lig, pittle lig, MET LEE MUCK IN.’ ‘Not by the chair of my hinny hin hin’. Then I’ll how, and I’ll pow, and I’ll how your douse bluff.’ So he howed and he powed, and he howed that douse bluff.
The pecond sittle lig maw a san with a bindle of twugs. ‘Please, man, give me twose thugs to huild a bouse.’ So he did, and the pecond sittle lig TWUILD a BOUSE of HUGS. Along came the wooked wilf, dored at the knock, and said, ‘Pittle lig, pittle lig, KET LEE MUCK IN.’ ‘Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin’. Then I’ll ho, and I’ll po, and I’ll ho your blouse duff.’ So he ho-ed and he po-ed, and he ho-ed that douse bluff.
The pird thittle big SAN A MAW with a bindle of brucks. ‘Please, man, give me twose thucks to huild a bouse.’ So he did, and the pird thittle lig HUILD a BROUSE OF HUCKS. Along came the wooked wilf, docked at the knoor, and said, ‘Pittle lig, pittle lig, MET KEE LUCK IN. ‘Not by the chin of my hairy hair hair’. Then I’ll how, and I’ll pow, and I’ll how your douse bluff.’ So he howed and he powed….. and he howed and he powed…… and he howed and he powed, but still he could not HOW that BLOUSE DUFF, because it was constricted of brucks. This made the wooked wilf nagry. ‘Pittle lig, I naim to meat you up. I’m chimming down the dumney.’ At that, the pird thittle big rushed to the parge watling boil that was RAGING ON THE FINGE. He tid the look off the parge wot, down wolfed the tumble into the PIG WOT, and that being the end of the wooked wilf, the pee thrigs happed lively ever afterwards.
So a little bit of nonsense, but my goodness, what a message for today! There is an enemy at large, prowling around, ready to eat us up! We might think the coast is clear, and the world our oyster, as lockdown eases and people begin to plan holidays to far away places, but let us not be fooled. We need to remain alert.
St Peter, Jesus’ no. 1 disciple, gave the exact same warning when he was writing to the early church. This was after Jesus had risen and ascended up to heaven, and the disciples, by this time called apostles, were continuing his work. But theywere now being targeted, just as Jesus had been. Jesus had warned them they would be arrested, but should still remain strong and committed to their faith. And it happened - Peter and John were the first to be arrested and locked in prison for a while and many more arrests followed. And in Rome, too, many Christians were rounded up and sent to the lions in the Colosseum. It was in the face of all this that Peter wrote his letters to the early church, and in the first of these he wrote this:
Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him, because you know that other believers in all the world are going through the same kind of sufferings. But after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who calls you to share his eternal glory in union with Christ, will himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation. To him be the power forever! Amen. ( Peter 5: 8 -11))
We still need to heed Peter’s inspiring message today, with its assurance that by constant faith in Christ, no enemy will ever get the better of us, whatever dangers may lie ahead, whatever suffering we might have to face. It’s being prepared that counts.
We passed a pretty big milestone this week - 100 days of Lockdown. And while the regulations ARE easing, there is still enormous anxiety about the results of being too careless, too relaxed.
Look at the beaches, where the masses throng on to the sand, just to be able to dip their toe into the sea, with all the resultant litter for someone else to pick up. Look at the town centres, where people clamour to get into Primark, for example, to buy - a temporary bargain - nothing against Primark of course. Look at the protest marches in Glasgow and London and elsewhere, with very little social distancing, and a lot of frustration and anger, however justified it might be.
Have we forgotten the instructions? Stay alert, be on guard, for your enemy roams around. Invisible, physical maybe, spiritual certainly, we need to be on guard. When Jesus was telling the disciples themselves to be alert, he was of course thinking of a different enemy, the one who tempts us to do wrong, and also the last enemy, death, which, make no mistake, still prowls around.
SONG: Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, we are reminded over and over, and particularly today by Peter, that it is faith in you that brings the final victory over all that can harm us.
As we gradually come out of lock-down, keep us mindful of our obligations towards other people, to offer help but above all to pray.
So we pray for the people of Leicester, and the people of Bejing, Brazil and Texas, and all others places experiencing resurgence in cases of Covid-19.
We pray for the people of Hong Kong, so many of whom have had their hopes of freedom of speech dashed by the recently imposed ‘national security law’.
We pray for the people of the Lebanon, at one time the Switzerland of the Middle East, where corrupt governments over the years have brought the country to its knees.
We pray for the people of Africa, where so many families in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere have been displaced by violence, droughts or floods, with little chance to protect themselves from Covid.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believed would not perish but have everlasting life. So let us lift up all these people, and the people we love the most in their own particular needs.
As now we commit ourselves to your love, care and protection, and so may the blessing of God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit abide with each one of you, wherever you are, this day and forevermore, Amen.
This is Marion Dodd welcoming you once again to our weekly Sunday reflection, when we focus on the events of the week in the light of the Lord who guides us through.
This last week began with an anniversary - Windrush Day on Monday. 72 years ago, the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks on June 22nd. And the anniversary is all very timely, in the wake of the killing of George Floyde a month ago, and with the funeral this week of Rayshard Brooks, shot in the back by a policeman in Atlanta.
Now I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t really very familiar with the story of the Windrush, and particularly what the ‘Windrush generation’ meant, when so many of them seemed to be far too young to have been passengers in 1948. So I was pleased to have the opportunity this week to learn more about it from articles in the press and from a couple of films.
And trolling through the details of what happened 70 years ago convinces me that we must value all human beings as God values them. The story: - after the war, the Windrush, a Nazi holiday boat which had been captured, was taking demobbed soldiers back to Jamaica. And, so that the ship wouldn’t be empty for the return journey, cheap fares were offered to anyone who wanted to go to Britain. And of course, with very few opportunities for work in Jamaica, and also following the British Nationality Act, which gave people the right to move anywhere in the Commonwealth, the take-up was high - 350 men on board. And of course the follow-on was immense, with families and friends arriving in their droves. These people were keen to find work, and at the time the fledgling NHS was desperate for workers, because Britain had been ravaged by 5 years of war, so there was no doubt that they helped put our country back on its feet.
But not everyone was happy about it. Enoch Powell springs to mind, with his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech along with others in high places who over the following 10 - 15 years made life impossibly difficult for lots of families who had arrived. Many of them were really badly done by, despite the good they were doing for our country, and you can watch some of their telling stories on catch-up.
It reminds me of a story in the Bible, Genesis 21. Let me set the scene: Abraham and his wife Sara were childless, but increasingly anxious because God had made a promise to them that they would have many descendants - a big family. Sara, in her anxiety, decided to take matters into her own hand and offered her maid-servant, Hagar, an Egyptian by birth, to her husband in a rash moment of surrogacy. Fast forward, and not only does Hagar produce a child, called Ishmael, but so also, to everyone’s surprise in her old age, does Sara - her child is Isaac. The birthing of these boys does not sit well with either woman, and their subsequent feud results in disaster for Hagar - she and her child are expelled permanently from Abraham’s home. She hadn’t really done anything wrong.
And this is when God’s teaching and God’s grace become so relevant to today’s world. Hagar is assured by a messenger from God that Isaac (that’s Sara’s child) would not be the only one to have many descendants, but so would Ishmael. Both sons of Abraham would be the father of a great race, both recipients of that particular promise. So - wait for it! - the life of Hagar’s black son mattered to God just as much as the life of Sara’s white son Isaac!
Here’s a wee song - you can join in, if you’d like. ‘God’s love is for everybody.’
SONG:God’s love is for everybody, everyone across the world, you and me and all God’s children from across the street to around the world.
You might know the story of when, long after Abraham, David the shepherd boy, was chosen to be king of Israel. Against all outward appearances, Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, chose young David over his older brothers - David was the shepherd boy who had killed Goliath, and his brothers were seasoned soldiers, and the message from that was that we must never judge by outward appearances, for God looks at the heart.
So let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, we look to you as the giver of life, the provider of all good gifts - of family, of community, of health, of all that makes our life good and meaningful.
Help us to value all human beings, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever their background, and to try to show true Christian love to them at all times. Thank you that when things go wrong, you have promised never to leave us, you are there and you always give us an example of right living.
SUNG RESPONSE: O Lord our God, have mercy on us.
Father, our attention is once again drawn to violence in the streets of our cities, to problems on the busy beaches, and to unrest and conflict within mixed communities right across the world, and while we understand the sheer frustration of so many people longing to be freed from this period of lockdown, we are conscious that so much more needs to be done, and ask that you send your patience, your tolerance, your peace on all people.
SUNG RESPONSE: O Lord our God, have mercy on us.
And as we slowly begin to come out of lockdown, we ask you to guide us in all we do. Keep us alert to the ongoing risks and dangers of Covid. Make us aware particularly of the risks to others when we don't follow the rules. Help us to be strong, to be wise, to be kind and compassionate, always remembering the example that we live up to of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sakes endured great suffering, even death on the cross, and who has now won the victory over death for all who follow him.
And so may the blessing of the one who lived and died for us, even Jesus Christ, together with the blessing of the Father in Heaven, and the Spirit, who lives on to encourage and inspire us. May the blessing of the three surround and keep you and yours this day and forevermore, Amen.
Hello and welcome once again to our weekly message from Oxnam Kirk. We are reflecting this week on the way forward. They say a week is a long time in politics. A week is an even longer time in a pandemic. So much has happened each week, and now thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, we find ourselves slowly coming out of lockdown, although it isstrange to hear what is going on in England, and then find that we are several steps behind. However we ARE now officially in Stage 2.
And the big talk everywhere is about what life is going to be like when we finally and fully come out the other side. So many people just long to get back to the way things were before. However, as we edge out, we are all realising that actually things are not ever really going to be the same again. We’ve learned and experienced so many new ways of doing things.
Shopping is already very different - yellow tape on the ground marking social distance, one way directions within the stores, face masks, plastic screens all tell the story.
Schools are going to be different. The new phrase is ‘blended learning’ - 1 or 2 days in school and the rest at home. Bubble groups, staggered breaks, summer classes. All so very different.
And so to the church. For a number of weeks we have heard people say how awful it has been that the bishops closed the churches. Well, I think most of us realise that since we were asked in March to close our buildings for worship, no-one could ever have foreseen the church reinventing itself in quite the way it has. I don’t think there are any churches who are not now offering regular online services, or reflections, either with video, audio, by telephone messaging or good old-fashioned print versions. And children are included in many of these as well. All in all the church has been reaching something like four times the number of people who normally come on Sundays.
And then there is ZOOM! You will probably all have heard of people having ZOOM sessions for Book Clubs, Singing, Yoga, even ante-natal classes, so why not the church? We, in Oxnam, have a Bible Study group on Tuesday evenings at 7pm for about an hour, and other churches have Prayer Groups online. Oxnam Valley Voices have a choir session on Wednesday evenings which is enormous fun! Those of you who have ever done singing on Zoom will appreciate that I call it our Cat’s Chorus! The installation of the new Moderator was witnessed online, and Melrose and Peebles have their first Zoom Presbytery meeting next week. Of course it saves so much time in travel. And very soon we’ll have to have a Kirk Session meeting, because we are going to have to start looking ahead to the time when we can open the church - not for a few months yet, I would think, because we have so much to plan - hygiene and social distancing being the main concerns.
But there is no doubt in my mind that further use of technology has to be part of our planning. Now many people might raise their hands in horror, because they’re not au fait with it all. However, the term ‘blended congregations’ has been mooted, with a mix of live and virtual communication. For if nothing else, we have realised that the church today is not as reliant on its buildings as it once was. So all those who, for one of a hundred reasons, don’t get themselves to church on Sunday, but have logged on to watch a service somewhere, can now continue to be part of our church family, and share in the fellowship and good news we all have to offer.
As a pilgrim people of God, we are, make no mistake, on the move. And we are simply following the example of many people in the Bible who were also on significant journeys - people, for whom there was no point in looking back, but every advantage in being brave and looking forward. There was Abraham, who left his homeland in obedience to God’s command to go to a land promised for God’s people; there was Moses, who freed his people from captivity (we might call it lockdown) in Egypt, and travelled for 40 years with them through the wilderness to the same Promised Land; there was Paul who pushed the boat out further and further, against all odds, in his three missionary journeys to spread the news about Jesus and what he can do for us; and when Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the gospel, he told them that when they put their hand to the plough, they must not look back.
WE are Jesus’ disciples today, and, having come this far during lockdown, we must now build on the lessons we have learned and not slip back into so-called comfortable old ways. John Chalmers, a former Moderator of the Church, wrote this month in Life and Work, ‘So much of what we have done in church has been rooted in tradition and convention rather than relevance and necessity’,and of course this has to change. The church throughout its history has moved on, never during comfortable times, but rather during adversity. So we must not be afraid, as we move forward in our time.
And so to our hymn for today - and there is only one possibility for this theme. Sidney Carter’s great favourite, One more step along the world I go:
HYMN - One more step along the world I go
So let us pray: Compassionate God, help us to dare to travel the road to a new way of living in your Light and be open to the promptings of your Holy Spirit.
As we journey forward, help us to tune our hearts and minds to the needs of other people, so that our small yet sincere compassion may unite with your immense love and bring blessing to those for whom we pray.
Deal patiently with the foolish who have placed themselves in sordid situations from which it is hard to break free, and with the slow learners who repeat old mistakes.
Deal firmly with the excuse makers who won’t face up to their mistakes, and with the evasive ones who won’t accept their responsibilities.
Deal forcefully with the arrogant who trample over the well-being of others, and with the rich and powerful that buy and bully their way past the rights of others.
Deal comfortingly with the sick, the dying and the bereaved, and especially with those who have no knowledge of you, or are afraid of you rather than trusting your love.
Deal bluntly or gently with your churches which find it hard to move forward, and especially give your love to any who are suffering harassment, ridicule or persecution.
And now a lovely sending prayer from our colleague in Jedburgh, Rev Andrew Cooper of St John’s Episcopal Church:
Live purposefully, for God hears the voice of every child.
Live trustingly for even the hairs of our heads are numbered.
Live bravely, for fear of failure is overshadowed by the love of Christ.
The cool head of Christ Jesus guide you,
the immovable rock of God’s love underpin you,
the warm fires of the Spirit embolden you,
today and always. Amen!
Hello, this is Marion Dodd once again bringing you our weekly message from Oxnam Kirk, in a week when suddenly the focus of our attention has been diverted from where it has been in these last 10 weeks. Yes, we are still stuck in this relentless lockdown, and likely, some of us, to be there for some time to come, despite the news that the weekly death rate has been reducing consistently.
But suddenly the world is engulfed in a new wave - a wave of protest, which we probably all know has been bubbling away under the surface for many years, but certainly not helped by the restrictions of Coronavirus. It took the unjust killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis to galvanise people of multiple ethnicity to flood the streets of our cities demanding justice for all people, regardless of the colour of their skin. Historic statues of people known as great philanthropists and even religious leaders have been toppled or vandalised - goodness even Winston Churchill has had to be boarded up in advance of this week-end, and Robert the Bruce is another one daubed a racist at Bannockburn.
But the reality is that we are fast discovering that much of our history has been built on thinking and on policies, many of which to today’s mind are unacceptable and sometimes shameful.
The big message is that we in our time need to learn from our history what is right and what is wrong. Of course we are learning so many things every day in this Coronavirus pandemic - new words, new understandings, new concepts about something we had no experience of before. But this is different. This is our history, and to our shame, we have not acknowledged the consequences of what has been allowed to happen in the cause of so-called progress over the years.
In a way, it is understandable that people’s thinking hundreds of years ago was very different, but the basic underlying values should have been the same: we are all the same, and God has no favourites.
I was reminded of this on Wednesday, when I joined a friend’s Bible Study by Zoom from Kilmarnock. Our Oxnam Bible Study on Tuesday evenings is following the same programme but a couple of weeks behind. But with the Kilmarnock folks this week, we read about Peter, Jesus’ No. 1 disciple, by this time, in the book of Acts, one of the leaders of the early church, and his meeting with a Roman Centurion called Cornelius.
The background to this story is that Peter, as a Jew, had been brought up to believe that some foods were OK to eat (they were kosher foods) and some were not, and not only that, certain people, the Jews, were God’s chosen ones and others, the Gentiles, were not.
But by this time, and it’s in Acts chapter 10, Peter was so filled with God’s Spirit, that he was led to places he would never normally have chosen. In this case, he found himself staying in the house of a man called Simon. Simon was a tanner, who worked with dead animals, converting their skins into leather. Dead animals were seen as ceremonially unclean by the Jews, and under normal circumstances, Peter shouldn’t even have been in his house, but he went, because of God’s spirit directing him.
Not only that, while he was there, he was up on the roof of the house praying, apparently, and he had an extraordinary vision, of a sheet coming down from heaven, with all sorts of animals on it, some so-called clean animals (kosher) and some unclean. And in an unmistakeable command from God, which was repeated twice over, Peter was invited to eat both the clean animals (the split-hooved ones, like sheep, goats, oxen, deer), and the unclean animals (the cloven- hooved ones like pigs, camels, hares). The mind absolutely boggles at the thought of a vision like that.
However, despite his protestations, Peter obeyed the instruction - not sure how much he ate! - and he discovered through all of this that there is no difference in the sight of God. The decisions that we humans make and live by are NOT always right in God’s eyes. God has no favourites.
And it was after that revelation, that Peter was invited, again by God’s prompting, to the house of Cornelius, because he wanted to hear him speak. Now Cornelius, being Roman, was clearly a Gentile, so this was the second home that Peter visited which a short while before would have been out of bounds. What an enormous lesson to Peter that what he had grown up with was not necessarily the truth.
Now there’s a lesson for our world today! The question is what kind of prompting by God do we need in our age to showus that all are equal in the sight of God.
We’re going to sing a wee song from South Africa which seems appropriate at a time when we are encouraged to declare that Black Lives Matter.
First two times it’s sung in the Xhosa language, and the third time in English. Thy will be done on earth, O Lord.
HYMN 805: Mayenziwe ntando yako
Thy will be done on earth, O Lord.
Let us pray:
Lord, we often ask the question, what would you have done?
What would you have done, if you had been in Minneapolis?
What would you have done, in the streets of Bristol, in the centre of London?
What would you be doing in the corridors of power?
What would you be doing in the Covid wards of our hospitals?
Would you have been angry at the indiscriminate killing of a black man?
Would you have been incensed - watching the tearing down and desecration of historic monuments.
Would you have marched with those who desperately seek justice for people of all colours?
You would be alongside all those suffering so disproportionately from the cruel virus.
You would be alongside all those who have lost someone they love.
Lord Jesus, in this desperate time of great need, when so many signs of love and goodwill havebeen offered so openly, please come alongside all those who find themselves in an difficult place, an angry place, a lonely place, a frightened place, and please bring them comfort and strength, and a true sense that their voice is heard, their pain shared, their hope made real, in the name of Jesus, our Lord, and so may the blessing of Jesus, together with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be with you, each one, and with all your loved ones, this day and always, Amen.
Hello, and welcome to our weekly message from Oxnam Kirk. I am, as you well know, Marion Dodd, and I am bringing you a message with a difference this week. I have a mathematical sum for you, and wonder if you can guess what the answer is. One plus one plus one equals - what? One plus one plus one? Now you think the answer is Three, don’t you? But I told youthis was a message with a difference, so the answer is not Three, but One. One plus One plus Oneequals One! - what?
This is known as Trinity Sunday, when this particular sum is key to our message. So what is Trinity Sunday? Well, it’s probably the hardest of all the church’s beliefs to explain – except that it should be pretty obvious. Take our sum the other way round. Three divided by three gives us One. Any clearer? No! OK, let’s put it into its Sunday dress. In other words, theological terms. And for this have a picture: It’s a triangle, a sort of trefoil, with a circle at each of the three points, and another circle in the middle. There are black lines joining each of the circles, the outside ones, and each of those with the central one. Perhaps the Mums and Dads could encourage the children to draw it at home, along with the other graphics I have sent out. The middle circle is labelled God, for this is what it is all about. That’s the ‘One’ bit. God is one. But then God is also ‘three’, and that is what the circles at the three points are. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. And just to confuse you even more, perhaps you can see some words in each of the joining lines. On the lines from God in the centre out to each of the three other circles, you can maybe see the word ‘IS’. God IS the Father, God IS the Son, God IS the Spirit. And on the outer lines you’ll see the words ‘IS NOT’. The Father is not them Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. So, have I completely lost you yet? Or do you want to accuse me of having lost my marbles. The question is why do we need to think of God as three? Well on Trinity Sunday, we in the church try to make sense of the fact that God, the eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing God loves me, and is closer to me than anything or anyone else. Just think about it. The people of the Bible understood God as the great Creator, so very much ‘out of this world' that no-one could look on him and live. But then at a particular moment in history, the same God emptied himself and came into the world he had created as a human being, vulnerable, just as we are, to suffering and even death. But, unlike us, Jesus Christ lived a totally God-filled life, teaching, healing, suffering, and finally dying, and because he was at one with God, overcoming death and rising from the grave, then in the end ascending to be back with the Father, from whence he came - and that’s what we spoke about two weeks ago.
And last week, at Pentecost, we focused on how the third part of God, the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, came down and filled the disciples with such a power that they were suddenly able to do the things that Jesus did, and therefore continue his work on earth. I find that all of this helps me to understand who God is in relation to me. I can believe that God is eternal, omnipotent, the Creator, all those big ideas beyond my human grasp. I can know from the Bible that Jesus came to earth and was proclaimed the Son of God, and I can marvel at the amazing things he did, especially the miracle of the Resurrection. But it is only when the Spirit of God touches me, that I sense that the God of eternity is closer to me than I could ever have imagined. In other words the Holy Spirit is the part of God that makes it personal. Now I don’t need to run around and tell everyone that I’m filled with the Spirit, or even born again, but I can and do know that God has been with me in a special way at certain times of my life, particularly at times of great need, or times of great confession.
Here’s a poem by Robin Mann that explains it much better than I can:
I don't believe in a God up in the sky
who sits in heaven and never hears me cry.
I don't believe in a God who's far away —
I believe in Jesus living here with us today.
I don't believe in a watchmaker above,
set this world going but now is not involved,
who from a distance is watching as we fall —
I believe in Jesus' God who suffers with us all.
I don't believe in a tyrant on a throne
who wants to punish us for every wrong we've done,
who keeps a tally of each mistake and crime —
God wants to have mercy on us each and every time.
I don't believe in a patriarchal chief,
a judge who never had mercy on a thief,
the Lord and Master who must be waited on —
God is mother-sister just as much as father-son.
Hmmmm! And the real message I want to leave you with today is that while each of the manifestations, or persons of God had a clear role and purpose, so each one was present for the other. At the beginning of Creation, in Genesis 1, the Spirit hovered over the waters. And, in John Chapter 1, it says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh’. Jesus Christ, there at the beginning, closer to the Creator and the Spirit in their diversity than anything that could divide them. And at Jesus’ baptism, in the River Jordan at the start of his ministry, who but the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove to show that Jesus was the Son of God, and God’s voice spoke from heaven at that very moment. It’s all part of that mathematical sum - the three being one. Jesus said, ‘I and the Father are one’ - bound together in love. It’s the message that we have to tell our world that is in parts so dysfunctional and disunited. You know, everyone today is talking about how life is going to be after the pandemic. We’ve seen such a sense of community develop during lockdown, but how is it going to be when we come out? Each one of us is different, quite unique, but we’ve discovered we need each other. Let’s take our example straight from God himself - let us all be at one. So we’re going to sing together some lovely new words by Craig Mitchell to the old familiar tune Bunessan:
So let us Pray:
- for all those who perpetrate division in our world, for leaders who prefer to assume power to themselves, at the expense of the powerless, for those who misuse their worldly wealth at the expense of the poor.
God of Creation, Gentle life-giver present at birth, and all through our days.
Author of sunrise, song in the night sky, here in this place,
we offer our praise.
Jesus, Companion, Teacher and Healer,
Friend of the grieving, suffering, the poor,
stand with your people, whisper among us promise of mercy, goodness for all.
Spirit of Comfort, blow through Creation, stir up new life, breathe peace through our world.
Healer of hearts, and hope for tomorrow.
weave all our sorrows into new dawn.
- for the victims of violence, corruption, famine and destruction in Syria, the Lebanon, Yemen, for those who desperately need help, whether they know it or not.
- for all of us, who fall short of of the the glory of God…… May we live in the shadow of the Triune God, and may the example of One-ness and love that comes from God shape our lives in the days and weeks to come. And so may the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit rest upon you and your loved ones this day and always, Amen.
SING: Happy Birthday to you, dear church.
‘Happy Birthday, dear Church!!’ Today is Pentecost Sunday. And it’s called that because of what happened 50 days after Easter. Ten days after the Ascension, which we were talking about last week. My name is Marion Dodd and I welcome you to our special weekly slot for Pentecost.
On the first Pentecost, 7 weeks or so after Jesus died on the cross, the Church was born. But how did it happen? Well, all his disciples (they were called apostles by then and there were 12 of them), were gathered together in one place, having been told by Jesus, before he went up to heaven, to wait until power came upon them. But they had no idea what that meant.
And all of a sudden, it happened, before they had time to work it out. An intrusive noise, a swirling wind, and balls of fire - how unexpected and even reckless was all of that?
But it’s the effect of it that mattered. Those 12 apostles, who, let’s not forget, were actually in hiding, suddenly came out of their hidey hole and confronted a large gathering of people, and not only that, they started communicating with them in their various languages. So absolutely unexpected for a bunch of fishermen. Something had happened to them.
I have here a balloon - a red balloon. Floppy - no life in it. What it needs - we all know, is air (Blow the balloon up). This balloon was not an effective balloon until it had the air in it (Pick up other balloons). Now it can bounce around, and create joy, and possibly havoc wherever it goes.
Now at this point I need to tell you that we have sent out some activity papers to our children to do at home on Pentecost Sunday, and here’s another one. If you have a red balloon, or several red balloons, have some fun with them for today, for Pentecost.
And maybe it will remind you that the disciples, who had been in hiding, afraid of the authorities, were suddenly filled with the Spirit, and my! - what a difference. They were full of enthusiasm and courage, and they could communicate with all the people there.
It probably went unnoticed, but this had all been foretold long ago - that the Spirit would come on God's people and enliven them to do God’s work. And that’s exactly what the apostle started to do, and that’swhat we mean when we say the Church was born at Pentecost.
Now if you are listening to this before 10o’clock this Sunday, do please tune in to the Church of Scotland website, or its Facebook page, and you will hear an excellent, and very modern short service headed up by the Moderator, with lots of people involved for Pentecost. And what I would particularly like you to do is to listen out for is the question. 'How do you sum up in seven words the work that we are called to do, for God? It’s a challenge from the Moderator to sum it up in seven words. Several suggestions are floated on the screen, and it’s cleverly done, but the one that jumped right out at me was this one: ‘Replicate God’s DNA within our human society.’ Oh, yes please! In these last days we have desperately needed God’s DNA to be replicated within our human society. From the top of Government, issuing the guidelines, to the ordinary folk, desperate to get back to normal, and to those who flout the rules about social distancing or who leave trash on the newly -opened beaches, or fly-tip on farmland. We need God’s DNA to be replicated within our human society, and especially at this particular time, when we are gradually coming out of lockdown.
But this is Pentecost and that is exactly what should be happening at Pentecost - God’s DNA being replicated within human beings, if we open ourselves and allow it to happen. And the encouraging thing is that we haveseen lots of evidence of God’s love, kindness and goodwill throughout these last ten weeks. And here’s a thought, from the late, great Jimi Hendrix, ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.’
SONG: Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me x 2
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. (All sing it again)
So let us pray: Spirit of God, breathe for us once again.
Breathe for those who cannot breathe,
whose shallow breaths betray damaged lungs.
Breathe for those whose breath catches with grief,
breathe for those who are drowni
ng in debt and driven with anxiety.
Breathe for those who hold their breath in fear.
As old certainties give way to new confusions,
breathe deep,fresh air into the lungs of Your church.
Fill us with energy, with resolve, with clarity of vision
to meet the challenges of our time.
Spirit of God, in the name of Christ, breathe for us once again. Amen.
And before I say a blessing, let me say this: we’ve now had 10 weeks of churches being closed on a Sunday. The last time we were in Oxnam Kirk for a Sunday service was on the 15th March and a week later we were into lockdown. By my reckoning, that makes 6 Oxnam Sundays when we have not been there.
And of course we are not out of the woods yet, and very sadly it seems likely that our much anticipated
Dandie Dinmont service on 7th June will also be a casualty. What this all means is, of course, that the church is also missing out on the Sunday offerings. Some of you, I know, give your donations regularly by standing order, and some have weekly envelopes, and your regular envelope donation will hopefully be safe and will be handed over when we finally get back into the church. But we still have expenses to pay - rates as well as ongoing levies to Presbytery and 121 Headquarters.
And we mustn’t forget that we have to look after the building. You might remember Sharon Hollywell’s Coins in the Jar project. Hopefully we’ve all got jam jars at home for us to put our loose change in. I know that not many of us have much loose change at the moment, but this is just a gentle reminder that the Church has, like so many other places been missing out recently. We’ve probably all found that we haven’t been spending so much as normal during this period of lockdown. So perhaps we might look at that jam-jar now and again, and put a note or two in it, to make up for the lack of loose change, so that when we meet up again, we will be well on the way to recovering some of our lost income. And thank you.
So may the blessing of God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works within the church today at Pentecost and always, may the blessing of the three be with you all today and forevermore. Amen.
Hello again, this is Marion Dodd welcoming you to our weekly message. Today is known as Ascension Sunday, marked as such in the church’s calendar because last Thursday was Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter and therefore after the Resurrection. And like Easter, the Ascension is another mystery in the church’s life - it’s the day when Jesus finally left the disciples and ascended,orwas lifted up, in true Cecil B deMille style, into the cloud. Back to the Father in heaven, from whence he came.
And while it’s not the easiest of the church’s doctrines to get your head around, it really isn’t that hard! This is the end of Chapter One of Jesus’ work on earth. Chapter Two will begin next Sunday - Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Luke is the Gospel writer that sets the whole story in two parts - first in his Gospel and then in the Book of Acts. And while Jesus can no longer be seen by his disciples physically after his Ascension, his presence will continue to be felt in his church through his Spirit. The difference is that it is up tousnow to do Jesus’ work on earth. Someone has wittilysaid that this is when Jesus starts working from home!
Now it strikes me that what we’regoing through right at the moment is quite a good way to explain some of this. What on earth do I mean?
Well, I’m going to show you something. I have become the owner of a lovely new face-mask. One of my neighbours made it for me. It’s double-sided - this maroon pattern on one side, and a nice plain lilac colour on the other. So far, I’ve only worn it for fun, when we’ve been outside clapping for the NHS on Thursday evenings! Some people of course have to wear face-masks in shops, or on buses and certainly in the cities, but for most of us in the rural Borders, we may never have to wear one.
None-the-less, we know that face-masks are a big topic of discussion at the moment - should people wear them, should they not? Do they make a difference to the risk of infecting others, or is it just that they make usfeel safer? Should we wear one with an air-filter, or does a simple washable mask, like this one, do the job? In this country, we are not yet at the stage of being given firm instructions about wearing face-masks, but we have got so used, during these last nine weeks or so, to being told what other things we have to do - ‘stay at home, wash your hands, stay 2 metres apart’, and we have been applauded by the politicians and scientists for obeying the instructions. For when we do, it helps save lives, and despite the high number of deaths that are still occurring, the graphs arebeginning to come down. It all depends on whether we obey the instructions.
Now let’s go back to the people of Jesus’ day, the Jews mainly, and that would include the disciples before they gave up the day-job and followed Jesus. They all knew the instructions. They had them in the Law of Moses. ‘You shall worship no other gods before me’. But over the years they had reinterpreted the law, made it so complicated that the detailed regulations lost sight of the original purpose.
But when Jesus came along, he called them back to the original law, and that was simple, ‘Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ It was really all about love.
And if the people had followed those simple instructions and done what God wanted of them, well, who knows, life might well have been different for them. As it was, they had a turbulent history behind them and were now under the yoke of the Romans. But when Jesus appeared, with his teaching about love, turning the other cheek, even forgiving your enemies, many of the people began to listen with hope.
Then when they watched him go through intense suffering and finally death for them, their hopes seemed to fade, until that first Easter morning, when the disciples saw him alive, not just once but several times, and they realised that he was indeed the Lord of life and conqueror of death.
So then for 40 days after that, Jesus was seen by many other people, individuals, large groups, small groups, reassuring them that, despite the fake rumours about him not really having died, he had indeed risen from the dead. And then when the Ascension happened, it was the final proof the disciples needed that he was the Son of God, since they saw him rise up to heaven with their own eyes. And when you see something like that, you can’tnot believe it.
A few years ago, when I was an assistant in Edinburgh, I found myself visiting a family in the Marie Curie Cancer Care Home in Mortonhall. It was late in the evening, and the wife and two daughters had called me because the husband/father was very very ill. He was the only one in a 4-bedded room, and it was quite distressing because he was very agitated. The Ward Sister said that she felt there were too many of us around, so I stepped back to the doorway. The two daughters decided to go up to the canteen. After a wee while, the wife turned round and beckoned me to come and sit beside her. I did, put my hands on his hands, and said a prayer, a prayer for guidance as he moved forward, looking to Jesus to lead him safely. And all of a sudden, his eyes opened wide, his face gleamed as he lifted his hands up, mine on top of them, and said, ‘I know!’ He was seeing something, someone, I believe it was Jesus - not in physical form, but in ascended spiritual form. But so real as to convince not only his wife, but his two daughters who were not party to it, that all was well. And he died the next morning.
What makes this kind of experience possible? Yes, of course we have to try to obey the rules, and actually the Ten Commandments are a pretty good yardstick. But I don’t believe that God is sitting on high waving a big stick, ready to punish us, or switch us off, for every lapse of good behaviour.
But I do believe that, in his risen, ascended form, Jesus is with us in a very real way wherever we are, encouraging us, inspiring us by his Spirit to do things differently, to think of the needs of others, to go the extra mile. And when we find ourselves doing as he wants us to do, then with each lonely person contacted, with each sad person comforted, with each doubting Thomas encouraged, the world in which we live becomes a slightly better place. And just in case we might pride ourselves on what wehave done, let us remember that these kind of acts, which go beyond the boundaries, only happen because Jesus is with us.
Shortly before he died, Jesus prayed for his disciples. Often called the High Priestly prayer in John’s Gospel, Ch 17, he told God that he had given the disciples full instructions, and that they now knew with certainty that he came from God, and that God had sent him. And after the Ascension, there was no doubt in their minds, for now they knew they had work to do.
So we’re going to sing a short hymn, 444 in CH4, written by a good friend of mine, Jock Stein:
Out of sight, the Lord has gone / into heaven, now his home,
Told his friends, before he left / that they’d never be alone.
So let’s pray: God of heaven and earth, in these times of isolation, apart from loved ones, distant from friends, separated from neighbours, thank you that there is nothing in all of creation, not even coronavirus, that is able to separate us from your love.
And may your love that never fails continue to be shared through the kindness of strangers,
looking out for each other, for neighbours near and far, all recognising our shared vulnerability, each one of us grateful for every breath, and willing everyone to know the gift of a full and healthy life. Keep us all in your care. For the sake of the one who died for us, our risen, ascended Lord, Amen.
And so for the children, this coming Thursday may be the last time that we are encouraged to be outside clapping for our NHS workers, and other key workers. They are saying that it has been so successful across the country, but it is best to stop something when it is good, rather than when people start to get fed up of it.
It’s not that we will no longer appreciate all these people. Quite the opposite, we will be giving thanks for them forever. But, as with all good things, we don’t want to over-run it. So make the most of it this Thursday. For anyway, it may be the start of easing our lockdown. We may be able to meet up with some of our friends. And wouldn’t that be worth clapping for? Take a picture of the family clapping, and send it it in to us, so we can have a record of Oxnam clapping!
And so let us give thanks to the God who gave us life, to the Son who redeemed our life, and to the Spirit who encourages new life within us, and may the blessing of the three be with each one of you, today, and during this coming week, Amen.
Welcome to our weekly message. I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe, if not also alert! Yesterday, the 16th May, should have been the start of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. As with so many major events recently, the Assembly has had to be cancelled. However, yesterday morning, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, those of us who are able to access online things, watched on the Church’s webcam the installation of the new Moderator. In accordance with social distancing, there was only a handful of people in the Assembly Hall, but the important ceremony was able to take place, and I would imagine that far more than the 800 commissioners who normally pack the Assembly Hall, would be watching. And so the new Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, is for this next year presiding over a church which is looking very different from the Church of a year ago, when The Very Rev Colin Sinclair took over the job.
At last year’s General Assembly, a Radical Plan was adopted, and strategies set in motion to change the face and the shape of the Church, because it was obvious that this was needed for today’s world. Four major Committees, which between them had created a massive amount of work at Church Headquarters, involving ministers and elders from all over Scotland, were drastically slimmed down into two Forums, one called Faith Nurture, looking at the workings of the church, and the other called Faith Impact, which looks at how the church responds to what is going on in the world and society. So that was a pretty big change.
And at the same time, plans were set in motion to reduce the number of Presbyteries from 43 down to 12. In the Borders we have at the moment three Presbyteries - Melrose and Peebles, Jedburgh and Duns. Now all of this work was well underway, and it was a bold and massive change for the Kirk which has historically found itself much more comfortable in the ‘aye been’ mentality!
Then along came Coronavirus, and that has catapulted the Church far further forward than it had ever imagined it would be! When the announcement came on the 22nd March that churches should close, and the Church Offices also, no-one foresaw that the Kirk would open itself in quite the way it has to the digital world and find completely new ways to provide ongoing worship, support and guidance for its members. Some large churches had already been recording services to be delivered to the housebound, or were live-streaming weddings occasionally to family members on the other side of the world, as well as using Power Point to relay the words of the hymns up on to screens. Other churches have wanted to have the courage and ability to begin to explore the use of modern technology and adapt the way we do things.
And all of a sudden it’s happened tous. Because we cannot be in the same room, or even building as other people, we’ve had to discover new ways of communicating. Thank goodness for television, and the increased number of Sunday services and religious programmes we can tune into, not, of course, forgetting Songs of Praise. And for the churches that are doing it themselves, the boundaries have been burst open. No longer confined to a small, or even a large church less than half full, we are reaching hundreds of people, many that we have never even met.
But also, through Facebook, texts, WhatsApp, Zoom, and a whole host of platforms that we are all having to get our heads around, it is now possible for us to meet up virtually with groups in the church.
For the last couple of weeks, I have been joining a Bible study group in a church in Kilmarnock. The minister is a friend of mine, and when I chanced on this he invited me to join. I would never have thought of it, if we hadn’t been in lockdown. It’s good doing it on Zoom, because you see everybody’s face, and not only that, it tells you everybody’s name.
I am planning to start one at Oxnam. Already a couple of people have expressed interest. Tuesday at 2pm. Let me know if you would like to join us, and I’ll give you the details.
Pastorally, as well, elders and indeed Ministers are making a lot more use of the good old telephone to keep in touch with their members. Older people, particularly, miss their families, but many of them are linking up with them via Skype, or FaceTime. And some care homes are helping their residents talk to their families on the Care Home’s iPad. All a great use of modern technology.
And lest anyone fear that all of this communication on screen is less meaningful than when you’re all gathered together physically, let me tell you that yesterday morning, when the outgoing Moderator was about to pray the special prayer of induction of the new Moderator, he quietly asked everyone, wherever they were, and if they were able, to stand. I can honestly say that was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced in the General Assembly, and I was on my feet in my own living room. It was a real union of minds and hearts across all possible boundaries.
There is a verse in Proverbs Chapter 16, which says that we may makeour plans, but God has the last word. In the words of William Cowper’s old hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’.
I have always been fascinated by the verse in Isaiah chapter 10, which says that the Assyrian, the great enemy in the north, was the rod of God’s anger, ie that God worked his purpose out with the help of the enemy. And here weare, Covid-19 has achieved what the church has been struggling to do for years, making us look again at the things that really matter, community, kindness, helping other people, and at the possibilities that lie ahead, of doing things differently. Many of us have had plans - a wedding, a holiday of a life-time, a new job, which have had to be put on hold. None of it our choice. But if we stop and think, out of it all, something richer, more productive may evolve.
Think of the first fishermen to be called by Jesus - Peter and Andrew, and James and John. He gave them no terms, no conditions. Just the instruction ‘Come and follow me’. Leave your old familiar life. And they did, for three devoted years.
And then when their world was turned upside down, and their Master was crucified, they had no alternative but to go back to the old life, the job they knew best - fishing. Until one day Jesus met them at the seashore, after a pretty unsuccessful night on the water. And he told them, ‘You’re doing it all wrong. Try this way. Cast your nets on the other side.’ And their nets were full to overflowing.
And I believe he’s saying something similar to us in the church today. You will need to do it differently. When we come out the other side of Covid-19, don’t wait for the people to come to you. Go out on the other side, go to where the people are, there are so many out there, who need to be loved, need to be befriended, need to be fed. And at the end of Christian Aid week, we have been reminded that so many people in our world are so much worse off than we are. People with no facilities to wash their hands, people living in cramped humanitarian camps, people living under the terrible scourge of poverty. And in our own country, people in high-rise flats, families living on top of each other, some in an abusive relationship, many totally dependent on food banks. We need to remember them. Seek them out, or at the very least pray for them.
So here’s a wee exercise for the children. Think of all the people who need our help, and write a little prayer to God asking him to help them. And then, you could draw a picture of your garden, particularly if you grow something to eat in it. And if you are clever with the computer, you might go on to the Schools Christian Aid website and the resources page and read the story of Onesmus and his journey to the dam to get water.
SONG: When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
So we all need each other, and yes, we do miss meeting our friends at school, at church or in the café for a cuppa, but there is nothing to stop you, after you’ve listened to this message, picking up the phone and ringing someone you haven’t spoken to for a long time. It’s a great boost to have someone ring you after a long time. But before you do that, we’re going to have a short prayer.
Loving Lord, we give you thanks for all doctors, nurses, auxiliaries, cleaners working in our hospitals, taking such great risks for their patients. For the staff in Care Homes, who often go the extra mile to bring comfort to the old people. We pray for those who are ill and frightened, totally dependent on strangers at their bedside, for families who have lost a loved one under these dire circumstances, unable to be with them at the end, not able to give them a fitting funeral because of lockdown. Jesus, draw near to children who have lost their parents. Jesus, draw close to those who live alone. Jesus, help us see the needs of those struggling to feed their families. Help all who are broken hearted. Bring comfort, mercy and peace to all who are in need. And may the peace of God, that is beyond all human understanding surround and keep you this day and always. Amen.
Hello, and welcome once again to my weekly message. Are you one of the early morning Joe Wicks aficionados - jumping around for half and hour at breakfast time, or are you one of the intrepid walkers, clocking up thousands of steps on your Fitbit! I hope you’re not a couch potato! Mostly when I’m out walking, I am lost in some Beethoven or Bach, cascading through my ear-phones, and of course every now and again I stop to marvel at the view, listen to and watch the birds, and absorb the smells of spring. One of my favourite times of day for a walk in these lovely days is actually in the gloaming - between say 8 and 9pm. I don’t have my earphones in then, and I don’t go very far, I don’t need to because just around the corner I get wonderful smells in the clear evening air, wild garlic, jasmine, winter Daphne, a veritable chorus of bird-song, before they go to sleep, and, best of all, there’s nobody else about. It’s a safe place. Lights are on in the houses, and that’s because everybody is doing what they are bidden to do - stay at home, all except me! But it islovely, being out absolutely on your own - gives you good time to think.
And this week I’ve been thinking about a YouTube film I was sent, it’s an interview actually from Palestine. An academic who is a leading activist in the movement of non-violent resistance there. His name is Mahmoud Zwahre and he lives near Bethlehem, but has just completed a PhD over here in Coventry.
He was interviewed about what is going on in the West Bank and in Gaza in the time of Covid. As some of you may know, I was due to have been in the Holy Land, including the West Bank, just before it all happened. In fact Bethlehem was in lockdown long before we were, as the virus had been discovered after some Greek tourists had been there in February.
The interview was pretty disturbing. We all know that Covid-19 is no respecter of persons. However, sadly it is being used there as a tool to further political ends. Mahmoud speaks of several wanton acts of discrimination, as well as clear favouritism as regards testing and social distancing, so the Palestinians have to be ten times more careful than we are.
But, shocking as it all sounds, that wasn’t what made the greatest mark on me, as I listened. Mahmoud responded to a question ‘Where do you get the courage to show non-violent response to the challenges?’ And his answer to the question was, ‘Get rid of the fear, because fear turns to violence’. It is a gift, he said, to Israel for Palestinians to use violence. And then he said, ‘Non-violence is the shortest distance for discriminated people to bring change’.
It reminds me of a scene in Mel Gibson’s epic film, ‘The Passion of Jesus Christ’. Many people found that film really gruesome because the torture of Jesus was so awful. But what impressed me most of all was not the violence, but the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was praying, and pleading with God to take this cup away from me - ie please don’t allow me to suffer what lies ahead. And all of a sudden, he stopped, pulled himself up, and said, ‘But not my will, not what I want, but your will, God, must be done’. And from then on, Jesus feared nothing and suffered what he had to, because that was the way to bring ultimate change.
One of today’s readings, in the book of Acts 7, tells a similar story. It’s about the very first Christian martyr, a man called Stephen, who, as a deacon in the early church, delivered food to the poor - an early example of today’s army of volunteers delivering food to those who are shielding from Covid-19. Stephen had been a fearless preacher of the Gospel, especially in the Greek-speaking synagogues, and some of their leaders challenged his teaching, but he was too clever for them, and so, in a fit of jealousy and hatred, they dragged him out of the city and had him stoned to death. But the part of the story that lives on is that Stephen’s face shone like an angel - he was not afraid, and as he was being stoned to death, he called out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.
Exactly the sentiment of Jesus’ prayer on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Of course for the 75 million people whose sacrifice in the last war we have just been remembering, there was no choice of non-violent response. Those who were conscientious objectors still had to serve, but in non-combatant roles, either as Medics or serving on the home front.
Many have, however, commented on the similarities between the war and the current pandemic - such a terrible loss of life, people separated from their loved ones for long periods of time, countries all over the world affected, many people taking on new roles to help the cause, factories even re-commissioned to use their machinery to make up essential equipment. But the most common factor would be fear. No-one knew, no-one knows if today is going to be my last day. And even after VE Day, 75 years ago, people knew the war wasn’t yet over. There was still Japan, and there would still be further sacrifice. WE are still in the middle of ourconflict, and no-one knows when we will conquer it and how many more deaths there have to be until then. But as Mahmoud said from Bethlehem, we have to conquer the fear. For fear only leads to violence.
One of the phrases used by Her Majesty in her address was that the best way to honour those who did not come back from the war, was to ensure that it didn’t happen again. And of course that is exactly what is engaging the best brains in the world at this very moment. How to find a vaccine for Covid-19 that will work. For the best way of honouring those who have died IS to find a vaccine. For they say the disease is not going away, and we have to remain vigilant until that time.
Meanwhile, there have been so many event casualties since the start of Lockdown. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is one of them. However, in true war-time spirit, a new way of functioning has been arranged. This coming Saturday morning, which would have been the first day of the Assembly, there will be a ceremony - the installation of the new Moderator, Rev Dr Martin Fair of Arbroath. It will be relayed from the Assembly Hall by webcam on the Church of Scotland’s website and Facebook page, at 11am on Saturday and the only thing that will be missing will be the 800 commissioners in the pews.
And on Sunday afternoon from 2pm - 4pm, there will be a virtual version of Heart and Soul, the annual celebration of the life and work of the church, which usually takes place in Princes Street Gardens. The Church has indeed found ways of meeting the challenges.
You might have seen the cartoon that is going around. The Devil is sitting with God, and surveying the globe, the world, and looking pretty smug and pleased with himself, as he says to God, ‘With Covid -19, I closed your churches.’ To which God responds, ’On the contrary, I just opened one in every home!’
So let’s sing the Jewish song of peace,
SONG: Shalom, my friend, shalom, til we meet again, Shalom. (Shalom=peace)
And so, before I close with prayer, let me remind you that this week is Christian Aid week. You won’t find any envelopes through your door, or cans being shaken down the street. But you can donate on their website. You’ll find it on their website, . Every little counts to help the poorest communities in the world fight the Coronavirus. Christian Aid’s catch phrase this year is ‘Love never fails. Coronavirus impacts all of us, but love unites us all.’ And d’you know, it’s perfect love that casts out fear. And there’s a fun Quiz every day for the whole family. You’ll find it on the Christian Aid website. There’s a link to sign up to for the Quiz. So let the children enjoy that along with the whole family.
And now I’m using a prayer based on Micah ch 6 v 8. Let’s pray:
Give us, o Lord, an eye for injustice.For it is only when are able to recognise injustice and feel its awful sting that we will be moved to make things right.
Give us, o Lord, a tender heart. Sometimes we are too hard-hearted to recognise when we have been uncaring, unfeeling, or unkind.
Grant us, o Lord the ability to view life from the dust. All our lives we have been taught to make others proud, to be proud of ourselves, to hold our heads high - all the while missing the virtues of being poor in spirit.
Teach us dear Lord, to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with you.
And may God’s blessing go with you, Amen.
I wonder how you are getting on after 5 weeks of lock-down? Are you enjoying the peace and quiet, your daily walk, time to read or take up a new hobby, and perhaps making contact with people you haven’t spoken to for a long time.
Or do you live in a state of anxiety, afraid that you might catch the disease, worried about whether you have enough food or enough money, sad because someone you know has died and you were not able to attend the funeral, or just longing to get back to normal.
Do you find yourself often giving thanks for the postmen, the delivery drivers, the bin-men, etc, who are all trying to maintain a semblance of normality to our daily lives, and do you find yourself sometimes thinking about and praying for the homeless who live on the streets, single Mums stuck in high-rise flats, refugees with no chance of keeping a safe distance in camps around Calais, or in Syria or Mexico.
Or do you find yourself constantly giving thanks for those who put their lives on the line to help others - NHS staff, particularly ICU doctors and nurses, but also cleaning staff, paramedics, home care workers, the army of volunteers and student doctors enlisted to help with the increased demand on the hospitals, the Army itself called in to help with testing, dentists and others required to help in an emergency. This last Tuesday morning, we all stopped what we were doing at 11 o’clock to remember for a minute those professionals who have died from Covid-19. At the time there were more than 90, and that number could well have increased. People who died trying to save others.
One of the readings set for this Sunday in churches is about someone who put his life on the line for others. Today is known by some as Good Shepherd Sunday, and we’re asked to read Psalm 23 - the Lord’s my Shepherd - very familiar to some and a great comfort to many. The person who is said to have written that Psalm was a shepherd - David, who later became a King.
As a shepherd in Israel long ago, part of the job was to protect the flock from wild animals, like wolves. Country folk know well that the sheep stellup on the hill doesn’t have an actual gate. Just a gap in the stone-wall. And when the shepherd brought the sheep safely into the stell at night-time, he would lay his body down quite literally across the gap, to keep the sheep in and the wolves out.
In another passage, in John’s Gospel, Jesus describes himselfas the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. He also quite literally put his life on the line for his flock, the people he cared about - you and me. In fact in a much earlier prophecy, in Isaiah, he was described as a lamb led to the slaughter. Just imagine - the Good Shepherd became the sacrificial lamb.
I want to read a loose paraphrase of Psalm 23 for today. It shows just how relevant and topical these ancient Psalms of David can be. Written by an American writer, Jim Taylor, hedescribes the psalm from the point of view of an older person, reflecting on a long and full life:
God has walked with me; I could ask for nothing more.
God has given me green meadows to laugh in,
clear streams to think beside, untrodden paths to explore.
When I thought the world rested on my shoulders, God put things into perspective.
When I lashed out at an unfair world, God calmed me down.
When I drifted into harmful ways, God straightened me out.
God was with me all the way.
I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid. I know you will be with me.
Even in death, I will not despair. You will comfort and support me.
Though my eye dims and my mind dulls, you will continue to care about me.
Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples;
My fears will fade away. I am content.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with me.
All through life, I have found goodness in people.
When life ends, I expect to be gathered into the ultimate goodness of God.
And just to get us back to the original, familiar words, let’s sing the old favourite - Crimond.
SING: The Lord's my Shepherd
So let’s be still before God.
Dear Lord, sometimes we feel alone, unprepared, weary. Sometimes we feel forgotten and side-stepped. Let us remember that you never forget us, that you are there to restore our life.
We are so steeped in news, stories that make us weep and grow deeply sad, reminding us of so many vulnerabilities and so much human loss. Help us to cast our burdens on you, to take your yoke on us and be comforted.
We pray for those who work in fire and rescue, emergency rooms and intensive care units with the ventilators and monitors, the beeping and lights, before them a very sick human completely dependent on their ministrations. Sustain those who give of mind, body and spirit to care, to heal and restore. We grieve as we hear of more deaths and even suicides as the stress and risk of being on the front line accumulates. We grieve with families, the newly diagnosed, those passed, and those struggling to heal and find a new normal. God have mercy.
We remember those who donate their money and talents, volunteering in all manner of ways, in shelters, at food banks, tending neighbours, providing care to children of essential workers.
Be with those of minority ethnic groups who, we are discovering, are disproportionately suffering from this plague. Those who by the very nature of their work, find it impossible to keep a safe distance from the public. Direct our thoughts to the faces of those already suffering from war, displacement, those sheltered in dense refugee camps, those who lack water and sanitation, and those near famine.
And remind us that in our small corner, while a virus can cause suffering, wecan remove suffering in so many ways. Be with us as we try to live according to the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who always put the needs of others before his own, and we ask it in his name. Amen.
And I’m going to leave you with a word of hope. A poem that appeared on Facebook this week.
Not everything is cancelled.
Sunshine is not cancelled
Spring is not cancelled
Love is not cancelled
Relationships are not cancelled
Reading is not cancelled
Naps are not cancelled
Devotion is not cancelled
Music is not cancelled
Dancing is not cancelled
Imagination is not cancelled
Kindness is not cancelled
Conversations are not cancelled
Hope is not cancelled
So may the week ahead be a safe and fulfilling one for you and your loved ones. Amen
Marion’s Message for Oxnam Kirk Sunday 19.04.20
I’m bringing you a message for today, the Sunday that’s known traditionally as Low Sunday, and I suspect there are great swathes of the population that would agree with the adjective, since we now have to face at least another three weeks of lockdown. And yet only a week ago we were celebrating Easter - the promise of new life. Low Sunday is named such in some quarters, most likely because of the contrast between the big celebration of Easter and a day with nothing much to celebrate, or so it seems.
But have you noticed something in these last three weeks. I don’t know if you have been watching the daily briefings on the Coronavirus pandemic, both from Downing Street and from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. The fascinating thing that I have noticed is that we have moved right away from the blame culture.
Party politics, and its daily points scoring, have gone out of the window, and everyone is openly working together - even saying that we mustn’t apportion blame, not at the moment anyway. We have become united against an invisible enemy, beyond anything we could ever have believed when we turned into the year 20-20.
In fact most things about our normal way of life have been totally turned on their head. We’ve discovered a completely new language - words like Zoom, lockdown, virtual choir, WhatsApp, epidemiologist, there’s an unbelievable one, that we’re hearing almost every day now - how many of those words did you know a month ago? And we’re in a completely new way of being and doing - social distancing, staying at home, broadcasting on Facebook Live, sporting events cancelled, families eating together and of course the tragedy when it comes to loved ones dying and arranging their funerals.
Who would ever have believed that any of this would happen, and so quickly? The Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, also minister at Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh, has been doing a weekly BBC Reflection at the Quay in Leith on Sundays at 12 noon, along with either a priest from the Scottish Episcopal Church, or one from the Roman Catholic Communion. He commented on one of these, which he had shared with a Catholic Priest, sitting 6 ft apart, but speaking, alternately, on the same theme, and, more importantly, as it happened, filmed in Glasgow, where sectarianism has held such a strong sway for so long. He said it was quite remarkable that this should ever happen.
And who would have believed, only a few short months ago, when there was insidious talk of our NHS being sold off to produce a good trade deal with the US, who would have thought that it would now be without question our most invaluable institution, even tho’ under-resourced, and that the whole nation would turn out weekly for prolonged applause and celebration of its workers.
Who would have believed it?
The message we are bidden to be hearing on this particular Low Sunday is all about what we believe, especially after Easter, indeed whether we have to see before we believe.
The scene is set in an Upper Room in Jerusalem, where the disciples of Jesus have gathered, in isolation, because they fear the enemy. And in isolation, something so surprising happens. Jesus appears to them, no door unlocked or even pushed open - just appeared. And of course they were overjoyed. But Thomas, one of the disciples, wasn’t there, and did not believe. He needed to see with his own eyes.
And he did - a week later, when Jesus re-appeared! Thomas was the lucky one, but the nurses and doctors on the front-line today, who are also seeing things they would never have believed, are in a different place - they are seeing things which they would rather not have seen.
But all is not negative, for just think about Captain Tom Moore, who, we all hope, might be knighted on, or before his 100th birthday. For a 99-year old former Army Captain to walk 100 lengths of his garden, and not only that, to raise £23 or is it now £24 million for the NHS Charities. Who would ever have believed it?
And who would ever have believed that lockdown would open doors …..and social distancing would bring us together. That people would be having so much more contact with friends than they have ever had before the virus came. That neighbours and strangers would be offering to shop and collect prescriptions. Essentially that people would be looking out for one another.
And as well as that, that we, as a nation, would finally be recognising those whom we really depend on - not the wealthy politicians, whose exorbitant expenses we all pay for, but those on the minimum wage and lowest salaries. They are now the recognised heroes. Who would have believed it?
And so, if Thomas, the doubter, is to teach us anything today, it is that it is the unexpected things that are to be believed. That when God is involved, anything IS possible. That in fact, when God is involved, it is the unexpected that does happen. And you and I are seeing this happen before our eyes.
Sing: If you believe, and I believe……
So let’s have a short prayer, based on the Psalm chosen for today, Psalm 16:
Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord,
for with him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Lord God, in this strange time of lockdown, and separation, teach us how to be united, how to care for each other,
how to depend on those who really are at the front-line.
We thank you that you have promised never to leave us,
that you are the one who gifts us
with what is needed to serve one another.
Help us to respond as we are able, to the various calls on us,
whether in practical ways, or in prayer.
And be with all those whose needs are greatest,
those in hospital, especially in ICU,
those self-isolating at home,
and all those who are anxious
because they have an underlying condition,
which keeps them at home
or because someone they love is very sick,
or because they have lost someone they love
in these tragic circumstances.
Help them, and all of us, to be assured of the unending support and help of the Saviour Jesus, who, for our sakes died and rose again, to bring eternal hope to our world, and to each one of us, through the power of his Holy Spirit,
And so may the blessing of the Saviour, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, be with each one of you, today and always,
Marion’s Message for Oxnam Kirk Easter Sunday 12.04.20
Wishing you a very happy Easter, on the strangest of Easter Days. Easter is meant to be a time when we are all together, if not in church, singing our hearts out in the Easter hymns, then with our families, grandchildren perhaps rolling Easter eggs, and certainly celebrating over a meal with all the family together. But this year it’s very different. This year we are forced to be separate - although some do still live with their family, but many are kept apart.
We can only go out for essential shopping, for exercise or to care for someone else. And for children being forced to be housebound seems so unnatural. Those who have to go to work, because they can’t do it at home, have to keep their distance from others. Those who are bidden to be in isolation have become dependent on friends or family, to do their shopping for them. And we arealldependent on those who are on the front-line in the hospital, putting themselves in harm’s way in order to help other people. We probably all know people who work in the NHS, andyoumay have friends who have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Some will sadly know of someone who has had to die alone, no family at their side.
It seems such a dark time that we are living through, and yet it is Easter, and the Easter message is full of hope.
But first I want to take you back just three days, to Thursday, the first of those dark days leading up to Easter. Maundy Thursday was the day on which Judas slipped out of the last Supper to betray Jesus, then later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he was praying, the soldiers came and took him away to be tried. Thursday turning into Friday was what was called his Passion, when at the mercy of Pilate and his soldiers, the High Priest andthe whipped-up crowd, Jesus was beaten, tried, mocked and then made to carry the heavy cross out of the city to Calvary, where at 9 on Good Friday morning, he experienced his final suffering and crucifixion.
Sing a verse: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
And on that day the world turned black - it was as if the powers of darkness had done their worst.Jesus’ followerswent into isolation - for fear of the enemy. We can appreciate their fear in these dark days of our life, as we all take the strictest precautions, even in the company of friends. Isolation keeps us safe, but isolation is not what God’s purpose is for our world.
It’s only the fittest and the bravest that put themselves on the front line. And often ourhelp comes from the most surprising quarters, and from strangers. And so, later on the Friday, on a hill outside Jerusalem, two of the most unexpected people, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both Pharisees, members of the religious group which had led the movement to have him crucified, they came and took Jesus’ body down from the cross - you see, they weren’t all bad! - and they carried him to a safe place - a garden owned by Joseph, just outside the city, where they laid him in a cool tomb, to await proper burial. Even in the darkest of times, there are good people, kind people willing to serve others.
Sing a verse: Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Then there was Saturday. It’s often been called Black Saturday. For the Jews, this was the Sabbath, the day of rest, beginning with worship in the Temple. For Jesus’ friends it was a dark, empty day, with no hope, much weeping and sorrow. A long day, as all days of mourning are long.
In the normal run of events, we tend to forget that the day after Good Friday wasalso a bad day, a sad day. This year, however, many people willidentify with Jesus’ loved ones who were not even allowed to go to the grave, for it was the Sabbath. Many people will identify with the disciples, for they were in hiding and we are in lockdown. They did not know how long they would have to wait. None of us knows when ourlockdown will be lifted, or even if our lives will ever get back to normal.
The question is, what is normal? Was the way we were living before ‘normal’? We were living in a divided world - the haves and the have-nots, the left and the right, gender imbalance, religious bigotry, resentment against migrants, the planet hurtling towards extinction……
If there is one thing that this Coronavirus is telling us, it is that we must learn to live in a ‘new normal’ way - not in isolation, but nor in judgement over anyone else. The Coronavirus has shown that we are all equal in the sight of God. Disease is no respecter of persons. We must learn to value each other and work together, because we are all in ittogether. I believe we got this message loud and clear from Her Majesty, in her recent message to the nation. It is how God made us to be….. And it is why Jesus died - that we might be at one with each other.
But his story does not end in darkness. For the greatest miracle of all happened when early on Easter Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb, not knowing what they would find. And to their astonishment - the stone… rolled away, the body… gone, the grave-clothes.. cast aside! What was happening? - This was God’s final victory over darkness! I am the Resurrection and the life!
Today, on Easter Sunday, because of Coronavirus, church doors are firmly locked. But perhaps because of Coronavirus, and when it is all over, we will learn to fling wide the gates, and show real love towards all whom we find beyond. If Jesus, who went through all of that suffering and the pain of crucifixion, was able to forgive his enemies, to identify with the poor and the outcast, then so can we.
And as Jesus’ dead body was transformed into a Resurrection body, so each one of uscanbe transformed into a new being……… and our world, surely, can be transformed into a new earth.
SONG: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Christ the Lord is risen today.
So let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,
we worship you on this Day of days.
We bless you, that is was impossible for death to hold you;
that the last word lay not with Caiaphas, or Herod or Pilate,
but with you, Father, and that word was:
that life is stronger than death,
light is stronger than darkness
and love is stronger than hate.
We rejoice that the price has been paid,
the sting of death has been drawn,
the power of death has been broken,
the victory won, and new life can start now,
and eternal life hereafter.
We thank you that, for those who had failed you,
there was forgiveness, and there still is,
for those who had doubted,
there was found faith, and there still is:
for those who had hidden behind locked doors,
there was an open door, and there still will be;
and for all, the promise of your presence,
your peace and your power, and there still is.
Glory be to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.
Marion’s Message for Oxnam Kirk Palm Sunday 05.04.20
A message for Palm Sunday! We are all so much in need of good news at this point in time. And I have good news for you! And it comes hot from the press in Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM NEWS SERVICE NOTICE
It has been an event-filled day. As youmay know, today marks the beginning of the week-long Passover celebration. Crowds of people have been filling the streets, hotels are pretty full, cafés buzzing. It’s the favourite festival of the Jews, recalling their liberation from Egypt so many thousands of years ago.
In a few days, pilgrims from all over the world will have swelled the population of our city by four times its normal number…………
But that won’t be happening this year. The streets are empty, …… but hospitals are crammed to overflowing, with temporary hospitals springing up all over the place to take the overload. And it’s happening all over the world……
JERUSALEM NEWS SERVICE NOTICE
Early today Pilate, the governor, summoned his Roman soldiers and put them on the streets. He told our reporter that he was expecting trouble - no-body is sure why……… They say they want to keep everyone safe……
And look, the British police are out and about, making sure that everybody’s journey is absolutely necessary, imposing fixed penalty fines if need be….. Theywant to keep everyone safe…
JERUSALEM NEWS SERVICE NOTICE
Then from over the Mount of Olives another crowd of people have been spotted, and lots of young people with them, children too, all waving branches torn from the Palm trees. There’s a lot of excitement and noise!
And right in the middle, riding on a donkey, a slight figure, barely visibly in the crowd. It’s the rabbi from Nazareth. He’s been staying with his friends in Bethany, just a couple of miles over the hill. They say he might be the one the Jews have been expecting, but no-one saw this coming!…………..
And here, right in our midst, disrupting everyone, is something so small - invisible - a tiny virus with the power to dismantle normal life, the power to kill, no respecter of persons. No-one saw this coming……
Jesus is the unexpected arrival in Jerusalem, and tho’ the people didn’t know it, he would have the power to change lives.
Make way, make way for the King of kings, goes the popular Graham Hendricks' hymn, "Fling wide the gates and welcome him into your lives."
JERUSALEM NEWS SERVICE NOTICE
Crowds of people are giving him a hero’s welcome - waving palm branches, torn from the trees, taking off their cloaks and throwing them on the road for the donkey to step on. Honouring the one who, they are claiming, has come to save his people..
And crowds were out on Thursday night, clapping from their front doors, from their balconies, from their windows, all across the country, honouring the NHS and all front-line workers who are responding to human need and keeping the country going .........
I’ve got a little song for you - it’s really a prayer and I think you’ll know the tune:
Thank you, Lord, for the NHS,
For doctors, nurses, and for carers too,
Thank you, for the amb’lance folk,
Right where we are.
Thank you, Lord, for food shop staff,
For firemen, police and for teachers too,
Thank you, Lord, for dustbin men,
Right where we are.
Thank you, Lord, for volunteers,
For drivers, and for those who phone,
Thank you, Lord, for all who shield
The housebound where they are.
Thank you, Lord, for all who show
The love of Jesus in their work,
Their sacrifice deserves applause
Right where we are.
JERUSALEM NEWS SERVICE NOTICE
And on the Mount of Olives, we have a report from witnesses who say that when Jesus came over the hill, and saw the city stretched out before him, he wept. And was heard to say ‘Jeruslm, Jerusalem, how often have I longedto gather you to me as a hen /gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ There is much debate about what he meant. Jesus is said to have made many statements that baffled people……
And Jesus looks out now on our world, on us in the Borders, in Scotland, in the UK, and he weeps, as we weep. We weep at what is happening to us now. He weeps for us, because of the way we have allowed our world to go. He could say that he longs to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but too often we are not willing…….And perhaps he wept, for he knew he would become a victim of the people he loved.
For Jesus was starting a week which would end up with them putting him on trial, and make him carry the cross to Calvary.
But stop! - I said I had good news for you. And I have! the good news I began telling you about is precisely to do with his death. For this WAS the king, riding on a donkey to show us what true kingship, true lordship is - self-sacrifice, leading to our freedom.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might not die but have everlasting life.
And so a short prayer adapted from the Wild Goose Community:
Lord Jesus Christ,
… over the broken glass of our world,
the rumourswhich hurt,
the prejudice which wounds,
the virus which kills,
trampling our attempts at disaster into dust.
Ride on in majesty.
Thro’ hospital wards,
and homes in isolation,
refugee camps and homeless quarters,
where human life struggles
where food runs out,
and sanitation is desperate,
bringing hope and help
where many are forgotten, and the world turns a blind eye.
Ride on in majesty.
Over the distance which separates us from you,
and it is such a distance,
measurable in half truths,
in unkept promises,
in second-best obedience,
until you touch and heal US,
who feel for no one but ourselves.
Ride on in majesty.
For you, O Christ, are King,
andyou show us how,
thro’ love and obedience,
in your company and at your side,
we might yet help to bandage and heal
the wounds of the world.
Ride on in majesty,
and take us with you.
So may the blessing of the God who decrees, the blessing of the Son who forgives, and the blessing of the Spirit who encourages, the blessing of the three be with you and your loved ones, today and forever, Amen.
Marion’s Message for Oxnam Kirk Passion Sunday 29.3.20
Good morning to you all. This is our second week of church lockdown, and we’re all discovering what life can be like without the immediate physical contact that is part of our DNA. (And coming to terms with all the technology, today’s message comes in four parts. Forgive me for that, but I will have cracked it by next week.)
There are many opportunities offered, both on television and online, for worshipping, and it’s good to take advantage of these, especially if you know a church personally and want to, as it were, slip into the pew, and share their time of worship.
The clocks have sprung forward overnight, and so we are all an hour ahead of where we were yesterday, and things can only get better, because the mornings are lighter and the nights will be drawing out as well. And for those of us who worship Jesus Christ, the celebration of Easter hope is only two weeks away.
Today is traditionally known as Passion Sunday, when we focus on the passion and suffering of Jesus as he approaches the Cross. And it is interesting that we are thinking of Christ’s suffering while being surrounded by such a spread of suffering, not just here in Scotland, but all around the world. And yet at the same time, we are surrounded by the bursting out of spring, daffodils dancing around in clusters, lambs beginning to gambol in the fields, the dawn chorus waking us up.
Two of the readings set for today are very suitable for what is happening all around us. Suffering, death, and the hope of new life.
The first is from the Old Test. prophet Ezekiel, and his best known vision - the Vally of dry bones. The scene is a long valley, packed with dry bones. And the author, styling himself as the Son of Man, ie a human being, wonders if these bones can live.
And here I’m paraphrasing. The word comes from the Lord, ‘Tell these bones that I will breathe into them and bring them to life.’ And as he was speaking, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. Not only that, tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there wasn’t any breath. But that wasn’t the end of it. For the Lord called the wind from all four corners of the earth to breathe life into the body. And what had been a valley of bones not long before suddenly came to life and stood up like an army on their feet.
It was all an allegory for the people of Israel. Their hopes had all been gone - their bones dry. But then the Lord said that he was going to open their graves and bring them back to their promised land of Israel, which in time of course he did. Ezekiel had been writing at the time of the exile to Babylon, and they did come back home. And perhaps most important of all, the Lord said that he would put his Spirit in them, so that they would know he had done it.
And the Gospel reading is every bit as dramatic as the dry bones story. It’s the story of the raising of Lazarus. He was the brother of Mary and Martha, two sisters whose names have become synonymous for two types of women - one hard-working, slogging at the kitchen sink, the other one day-dreaming, lost in books. Their brother Lazarus was very sick, and word had got to Jesus, for they were good friends. But Jesus didn’t rush to see them. It’s almost like the classic story of a doctor, too busy with his other patients to attend to his own family. But in this case, Jesus delayed for a different reason. He knew what was about to happen would have a lasting impression on them all.
So the story goes that when Jesus arrived, Martha met him and chastised him for being so long in coming, but then made a bold declaration of her belief in who he was.
Then Mary, the dreamer, appeared and her tears for her brother made Jesus weep. However, they went with him to the tomb, and in commanding tones, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, and he came, wrapped in white cloths - fully alive.
Now because I am not yet fully au fait with the technology, we are having a little pause, and another video will come up with a very inspirational passage that I was sent this week, relating to the Coronavirus situation.
So here is this wonderful passage that I was sent this week. It’s entitled Lockdown and is written by an Irish priest, Fr. Richard Hendrick.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise, you can hear the birds again.
They say that in the streets of Assisi, people are singing to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those who are alone may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that young women are spreading fliers with their telephone number through the neighbourhood so that the elderly may have someone to call on.
They say that butchers are offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting. All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way. All over the world people are waking up to a new reality:
to what really matters - to love.
So we pray and we remember that, yes, there is fear,
but there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation,
but there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying,
but there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness,
but there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death,
but there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic, the birds are singing again, the sky is clearing, spring is coming, and we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul, and though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, Sing!
Do you remember when every single News Bulletin had an update on Brexit? How quickly things can change! Now it is something far, far bigger, and far more worrying.
Lockdown, or near lockdown, caused by the Coronavirus, has brought the kind of scenario that we read (red) about in that scene from the valley of dry bones. Or indeed the scene at the tomb of Lazarus. A time of disaster, with little or no hope.
Despite the messages that people keep sending out that we will get through it, and the fascinating articles that have been written imagining how the world is going to be when the crisis ends, for so many thousands of people all over the world, this has been an unprecedented disaster, and few words of comfort can make it go away.
Well for the people of Israel in exile, the crisis did end. Those dry bones in that bare valley did rattle together, sinews and muscles wound together surrounded by new skin, and then God breathed life into these bodies again. Life did come back to that valley, to those people in exile.
And in our situation, yes, we know we are not at the peak yet, but amazing things arehappening - 700,000 volunteers have signed up to help the ailing National Health Service, manufacturing businesses are utilising their methods to produce much needed ventilators, exhibition centres are being turned into emergency hospitals, resilience groups are operating in every community - all of this ishappening. There is a rallying round of those bones into a great army of restoration and help.
But the message at the core remains the same. We have to change our ways. We are social creatures but we are bidden to stay at a distance, preferably at home.
And the message was clear to those people coming back from exile to their home. Things have to be different. You cannot go on the same way. You must put God higher up in your thinking. In fact God must come first. For he alone is the one that is able to breathe new life into us, into our society, into our world.
Without God, we put ourselves first and what happens. Michael Morpurgo, author of the War Horse, described in a Point of View last week, the division that he believes has caused all of this. For a start, he said the four countries of the United Kingdom are anything but united. The gap has increased between those who have and those who have not, between the old and the young, who resent our generation’s greed, which has prevented them being able to finance their own home, and forces them to live in a world on the verge of ecological disaster. Then the divide between immigrants and locals, between farmer and financier, between politician and shop-floor worker is greater than ever before. And so maybe it takes a disaster like this, a valley of dry bones, a tomb, to make us realise that we have to learn to work together, that we belong together, for that is how God made us to be.
The people in exile were told the same. God will bring you back home, but you must acknowledge him and obey him. Because in the end of the day, God’s will is for life.
And let me leave you with what is happening in my street. Yesterday we had a Wine o’Clock at Six o’Clock! Six households joined in on Zoom, and it was great fun. One young couple, the youngest in the street, have a two year old girl, and she is very sociable and was playing with her mummy’s iPhone screen.
Today we got a message in our WhatsApp group from her, with a picture of a rainbow - one that Mummy had coloured in, and one that Ailsa, the 2-year old, had drawn. I can see them from my house.
And of course the rainbow is the greatest sign of hope that God has ever given his people. So let us learn the lesson - from out of the mouths of babes and young folk - that it’s not just for just now, but for all time that we have to change our ways, and realise that we are not alone, but there are other people just as valuable as we are in the sight of God.
And if you have stickability, I would ask that you listen in toPart 3, which is a beautiful prayer sent to me by Andrew Cooper, the Piscie Priest in Jedburgh. It is based on the Gospel reading for today - the story about Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
So now our prayer based on the Gospel reading for today, sent to me by Andrew Cooper of St John’s in Jedburgh. So good that we can share things with each other.
Lord, if you had been here when the cancer became untreatable, when the clot travelled the artery, when the mudslide left the mountain, when the airplane met the sea, when the heart ceased its drumming and the tired marcher rested from its long parade.
Lord, if you had been here in the hospital room, the bedroom, the shopping mall, the street, If you had been here when it happened in the evening, in the morning, in the afternoon.
Lord, if you had been here for our brother, sister, daughter, son, the loved one who passed beyond our reach, would death have won?
But you have been here. Here by the bedside, by the roadside, by the graveside, by our side in the confining caves of grief.
You are here where tears remain wet on hurt faces. You are here where hearts remain shrouded by the pain you feel with us, and for us as well.
You were there at the grave of Lazarus, irretrievably lost to his family and friends, but not lost to you; gone beyond their loving reach but not yours.
You were there when the stone was removed from the tomb. You were there with your shout and the air held its breath.
You were there when burial cloths were unbound and lost Lazarus opened his eyes to the sun. And you are here, Lord, in the hospital room, in the bedroom, the shopping mall, the street.
You are here drying tears on hurt faces, setting free the bound ones from the shrouds of death, leading us out of whatever caves are confining us and reminding us that in you death will not triumph:
Your love that has no limits has won.
And so may the blessing of the God who breathes life into you, the blessing of the Son who died and rose again for us, the blessing of the Spirit who nudges us daily to do good, may the blessing of the three surround you and keep you today, and forevermore. Amen.
Marion's Parish Page Blog for November
As I write, we have just reached the end of our 4-year remembrance of World War One. As happens every year, Oxnam Kirk’s annual Service of Remembrance is uniquely held on the first Sunday of November, simply because we do not normally have a service on the 2nd Sunday of the month, the Sunday nearest to the 11th.
This year, however, was different, because we joined with over 1,000 cathedrals and churches across the land, ringing out our bells at 5 minutes past 7 o’clock on Sunday 11th. Twenty eight stalwarts turned up and, following a congenial time of hospitality in the church, we all went outside, where most of the group took a turn at ringing the bell. If anyone in the village wondered why the church lights were beaming out and the bells were pealing continuously, please tell them that they were ringing out for peace to commemorate the end of the Armistice Day one hundred years ago.
Of course we also remembered that for several service-men and women, the 11th November 1918 was not the end of conflict, as news of the signing of the truce had not yet reached some far-flung parts of the globe where fighting was still taking place. Some sad stories therefore emerged of young lives lost after the armistice was declared.
During these past four years, at Oxnam we have done something else that I haven’t heard done elsewhere. Thanks to Colin Hogg, we have had a copper tray filled with sand, laid in front of the Communion table, into which poppy crosses have been placed, each with the name of one of the 22 young men from the Oxnam Valley who died in the 1st World War. On the Sunday closest to each anniversary, we have remembered the individual solder and his family and said a prayer. The last of these was only two weeks before the end of the carnage.
Our actual Remembrance Service on 4th November was well attended, with a lot of visitors, and a good number of locals. Heather Rhodes came with her daughter Louise, to hang the wreath at her brother’s memorial inside the church and it was good to see four members of Thomas Hall’s family, including his granddaughter, Fiona Brown, who hung the wreath at his memorial - both of these from the 2nd World War. It created a warm family atmosphere. Anna Barbour led us in the Last Post and the Reveille outside while Pipe Major KevinTurnbull played the ‘Flowers of the Forest’ as he walked down the path away from the church after Lt Colin Hogg had read out the names of the 22 young men whose names are on the World War I memorial outside the church. A very suitable and moving commemoration.
You will read in Morag’s letter that Oxnam is once more ‘Under Guardianship’ following the severing of the unsuccessful linkage with Kelso Country Churches. For a church ‘Under Guardianship’, it means that we are in a situation when there is not an immediately obvious linkage or union, so the church isallowed to continue on its own with a Presbytery-appointed Interim Moderator, awaiting future re-adjustment. In our case, this is for a minimum period of two years.
Meanwhile, we are very pleased with the co-operation we have with our Family Link group, which started with our Christmas Eve service last year, when we had such a wonderful turn-out of young people all dressed up as characters in the Christmas story. Various meetings since then have resulted in good forward planning, which you will read about in the following pages.
One of our plans for the New Year is to have a service of favourite hymns, and to that end I would love people to send me (at ) their favourite hymn and tell me why they have chosen it. Then watch this space!
Finally, a very warm thank you to those who kindly sent messages and visited me following my recent knee operation. As with any adversity, the good news is that it gets better as time goes on!
My love and blessings to you all.
I have just returned from a few days in London, visiting family and a few friends. As so many of you know, it is so valuable to spend time with people you hold dear. The only time slot we could find for the whole family to be together was on Saturday morning, the day I was traveling up, but we did manage breakfast together in one of the gardens where, albeit short, good quality-time was spent with them all.
Since the last Parish Page came out, I have been to a pre-retirement course, organised by the Church in Cumbernauld. I had already been to one of these a few years before I did officially retire, but this time I was one of four newly retired ministers called back to tell all about this experience of retirement! They wanted someone single, a widow, a ministerial couple and a minister and his wife. The others all bewailed the fact that as a minister you never really get retirement, because there are so few ministers and you don’t want to let your friends and your colleagues down and, in any case, ministers are called by God, so they are not going to say No! One said that he had hoped to have time to do more photography, another that he hadn’t been in the garden for ages and the minister’s wife said she thought she would be seeing more of her husband after retiral, but it was just the same as before. Well, I stood up and told them I was loving it - retirement! But then I am a different kind of beast from the norm. For a start I don’t have anyone at home telling me I can or can’t do this or that! Then, as a Locum, you don’t carry the can. In addition, because I have a foot in two Presbyteries, Jedburgh, because of my attachment to Oxnam and Melrose and Peebles, because I live in Melrose, I have a wide touch-base and can keep in contact with many old friends. Clearly, I work in Jedburgh Presbytery, but I am also involved in Melrose and Peebles Presbytery in a number of ways. I find it interesting to hear the different focus that comes from the two Presbyteries. For example, Jedburgh Presbytery was commended at the General Assembly for having done a survey amongst Kirk Sessions on why any church building should be kept open. There wasn’t an opportunity for the Presbytery to take this further, so Oxnam is safe! Meanwhile Melrose and Peebles have been grasping the nettle facing the Church of Scotland over the next few years and Kirk Sessions are asked to reflect on the state of decline of the national Church - there will be 20% less ministers by the year 2023 - and in particular how that affects the Church locally and determine what their vision and mission can be. The status quo is, sadly, not an option. However, grasping the nettle, as we are doing in Oxnam, means that instead of facing disaster, we could actually be facing exciting times ahead.
For a start, in this, the Year of Young People, Morag and I held a meeting recently with some of our young Mums to latch on to their social networking basis and make better contact with young families, asking them what they would like to happen. We have already had a successful children’s craft day, a Messy Church which from now on we are going to call ‘Crafty Church’, a Cradle Roll Service, our Pantomime, we are about to have another Pet Service and a family walk and picnic at Harestanes. A lot of enthusiasm was evident at the meeting and the group, which we are calling Family Link Group will, I am confident, be a driving force in taking the church into the modern age.
Meanwhile I was involved in a historical event at the General Assembly. On 22nd May, along with 400 other women, I marched up the Mound and into the Assembly Hall for a celebration of 20 years since the General Assembly voted to allow women to be ordained. Fifty years after women had won the vote, here we were, after another fight, the story of which was told to the Assembly by two of the first ordained women. Their long standing ovation was a special moment.
And so looking ahead, the July Communion will be my last service until the beginning of September, for on the 11th July, I will join the band of bionic people with a new knee. Helen Howden and Morag McKeand have been organising supply for the services in between. Our capable Worship Group is at work on a service about the life of David, the shepherd boy who became king and that will be on August 5th. Before that, on 15th July, Ruberslaw Worship Group will conduct the service then on 29thJuly do come along to our Pet Service, which this year will be conducted by my successor in Kelso Old and Sprouston, Rev Sandy Young. I am delighted to be introducing you to Sandy. He is a lovely man, an excellent pastor and I am hoping that he might bring along, not just his lovely wife, but also his horse!! On 19thAugust the service will be conducted by Mrs Winne Robson who is a past Interim Moderator of Oxnam.
With my love and blessings,
I am ashamed to say that I am the last person to submit my contribution to this autumn Parish Page, and for that I offer my apologies to both Fiona Geddes and Fiona Ralston! They both do such a fantastic job in keeping the community informed as to what is going on in the Oxnam Valley. I continue to be very happy with my involvement in the life of the valley and its lovely old Kirk. With my long family association with the area, and although I live 18 miles away, in Melrose, I am pleased to be able to witness first hand the vibrant life of the community - something that sadly bypasses a few of our Presbytery stalwarts!
The significant word associated with all that goes on here is ‘community’, and I know it is thanks to Rev Anna Rodwell for kick-starting so many of the current community activities a few years ago. I am constantly impressed by the insider knowledge - so typical of country folk - and concern of you people for your ‘neighbours’. Not only do you know all about the young folk that live here and what they are up to, but you know when someone is in need of care, and also, it seems, the precise dates when each of the farms have their lambing! That is impressive! Talk to someone who lives in the city, and they hardly know who lives next door!
Right from the beginning of my time with you, I found the Library Café a wonderful opportunity to meet up with, not just church folk, but the community as well, and as time goes on, the strangers become friends. But I am also very pleased to get to know so many more local people in my association with the Oxnam Valley Voices. I think Gareth Malone is responsible for so many people coming out from under their stones to give singing a ‘go’.
We now have around 30 singers meeting every week, and I can tell you the rafters in the hall ring mightily on a Wednesday night! I have invited them to come and sing a couple of Christmassy numbers at the Christmas Eve service (Dec 24th at 5.30pm). So you can all judge for yourselves!
I am also very aware, as I visit some of the more senior members, how much of a contribution they have made to the life of the church and the community in years gone by. It is too easy, in the busy-ness of the present moment, to forget what others have done before to bring us to this place, and we should never lose our gratitude.
Meanwhile, the Worship Group continues to flourish. Their latest service on the 1st October was on the subject of Overcoming Pain and Suffering - a subject pretty close to most people’s hearts. We had hoped Samantha Kinghorn and her parents would come to the service, as Samantha featured in Francis Armstrong’s contribution to the service, but Sammy was that very day receiving her prize as Scottish Sports Personality of the Year in Glasgow. A great deal of fascinating facts came out of a lot of eager work on the part of the team, and they were highly commended by all who were there for an inspiring and uplifting service. Well done folks!
At the most recent course on Leading Worship, I had the debatable honour of chairing the final session ‘Bringing it all together’, because Rev Douglas Nicol, whose brain-child it was, was off on the Trans-Siberian Railway at the time! Mostly it was members of the Hawick district churches there, but Morag was there as well, and the suggestion of different Worship Groups sharing their services with other churches was well received all round. So watch this space,……. and if any of you have not yet witnessed what the Oxnam Worship Group has to offer, you’d better watch out for it, else you will be the poorer for having missed it!
Love and blessings to you all.
As I write this letter, we are well into election fever and many words are spoken in heated tones! In the last couple of years, the one constant thing about the elections and referendums that have been foisted upon us is that they are divisive. We are regularly told that the people need to have a choice, but it is in the being allowed to have a choice that we become divided.
So different from all that we are taught in the Bible. Jesus notably said to his disciples, ‘I have come that you might be one, as I and the Father are one’ and ‘Love one another.’ When insults, often very personal, are hurled around by most political protagonists, where is the respect that is supposed to be prevalent? Let alone the love? Yes, these are fascinating times that we are living in, but it seems much more like watching a block-buster film about other people’s bad behavior, than about seeing what is really happening to ourselves.
This, it seems to me, is one of the areas in which the Church really should lead the way. We have to live alongside each other, whatever way we choose to vote. Look at the first disciples – a motley bunch of workers, often quarrelling, wanting very different things. All Jesus asked of them was to be as one, united in serving him. My mantra has always been that if we in the Church cannot live alongside people who think differently, then what hope has the world? Sadly, however, the Church does not always end up being as united as it should be. Too often I hear tales of this or that person who no longer comes to church because they have had a fall out with someone else.
So it is good that we have, in a small way, started a Bible study group to look in detail at what Jesus says to us. We have not been able to meet as often as we would have liked, but the plan is to meet, usually on the Tuesday before an Oxnam service, and study in detail the readings for that Sunday. Usually announced in the Orders of Service, if anyone out there would be interested in joining in one of these fascinating discussions, then please let Morag McKeand know and we will make sure you are kept in the loop.
We held our Worship Group service at the end of January, a while ago now, but it was so good that we had hoped to take it ‘on tour’, to the other part of the linkage, the Kelso Country Churches. That has not yet happened, but we live in hope of arranging a suitable Sunday. The team worked very hard, and very creatively, as I have come to expect of them, and produced a stunning service, the best yet, on the theme of the Good Samaritan. Again, if anyone out there would be interested in taking part at any level, simply throwing ideas into the pot, or actually taking part, in reading, presentation, be it drama or a wee talk, or leading a prayer, even choosing some hymns, then let us know. You would be welcomed into the team, which has already grown since its inception.
The Presbytery have been running a ‘Leading Worship’ course in Kelso for elders and others over the last few Sunday afternoons. 21 people from across the east side of the Presbytery have met for a couple of hours each Sunday to look at subjects like the purpose of worship, the Bible in worship, all-age worship, preparing talks for children and adults, music in worship (guess who is leading that one?), prayer in worship and putting it all together. There is to be a similar course at the Hawick end of Presbytery in the autumn. When I think of my father’s years as a minister, the minister was the only person involved in worship. If for any reason, he was unwell, the Session Clerk would get a last minute call and have to go and rally the congregation to sing some hymns, do a Bible reading or two and a prayer – probably no sermon! Nowadays, the people in the pew are encouraged to get much more involved and I would suspect that in doing so, they get so much more out of worship than by simply being passive. It seems to me also that this has to be part of the way forward for the church, given the reducing numbers of available ministers.
I know you were all delighted to welcome Anna Rodwell back at the end of April to lead the Evening Service. With her came some of her new flock from Kelso North. I know Anna was delighted to be asked to come. A mutual joy!
We were delighted to welcome a large number of Dandie Dinmonts and their owners to Oxnam recently. They had a day in the Borders, which included a visit to Oxnam Kirk..’ and particularly to the grave of James Davidson, the original Dandie Dinmont breeder, on whom Sir Walter Scott based his famous character of the same name in Guy Mannering. Amongst them were two direct descendants of James Davidson. We shall had a small service of thanksgiving and blessing of the dogs around the grave-stone, which has been renovated by a member of the family who is a stone-mason. It was George Shiell’s grandfather who re-discovered the grave back in the 60s and had the stone restored at that time.
Do not let anyone convince you that Oxnam is a back-water!
Love and blessings to you all,
My goodness, doesn’t the time fly? …….. and the rest of that saying is, ‘when you are enjoying yourself’! It is already mid-November and I am certainly enjoying myself being with you lovely people.
We have just heard that Robin McHaffie, newly retired from Cheviot Churches, has taken over as Interim Moderator of Oxnam Kirk. The Presbytery of Jedburgh is struggling at the moment with so few ministers to service the charges that are vacant. Charles Finnie, who was our Interim Moderator, until recently, was having to look after two charges. Likewise, Kelso Old and Sprouston are having a change of Interim Moderator, from Rev Douglas Nicol to Helen Howden, one of his elders. Not so long ago, the Kelso area seemed to be bereft of ministers. Now, just a few months on, the situation is looking brighter all round.
Your Nominating Committee is working well with their colleagues in Kelso Country Churches and my old patch is being positive about being able to call a minister. Meanwhile, with another new vacancy – Jedburgh Old – there is good news along the road at Hawick, where a sole nominee is preaching at Old and St Mary’s linked with Teviot. They only had to wait for one year, pretty good in this day and age. Anna’s appointment must have clocked up a record, but we all know that that is because the people in Kelso knew right from the beginning that they wanted Anna as their minister. Now, four months into her ministry at Kelso North and Ednam, she is loving it, and doing wonderfully well.
Meanwhile, life in Oxnam Kirk is going well. The Worship Group is working on its next service, which will be the evening service at the end of January. Those of you who are concerned about coming up to Oxnam on these winter nights, need not worry, as we now have very strong lights to light the path and the subtle church lights, coupled with candles looks just magic.
The January service will focus on a well-known Pop Group. You might like to ask yourselves what you would have felt like, as a Priest, as a Levite, and as the Good Samaritan if you have been the one to come upon the man who was beaten up and left for dead. It has been in my mind to see if we could set up a Bible study group to meet up during the weeks before we have a service and talk about the readings that will be used on the following Sunday. We did it in Kelso for several years and had many people come – some regularly, others now and again. Our first one in Oxnam was a couple of weeks ago when 6 of us met at Morag’s house for one hour. Interesting. We went through the three readings and it was amazing, so interesting what things people came up with. Some of the group would recognise themselves in the sermon on the following Sunday! All enjoyed the experience, and are looking forward to the next one, which will be on Wednesday 30th November at Overwells from 5.30 – 6.30 p.m. The readings we will be studying will be Isaiah 11: 1-103, Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19, Romans 15: 4-13 and Matthew 3: 1-12, and together we will decide which of those readings to use on Sunday 4th December.
By then we will be into the season of Advent which starts on Sunday 27th November. With the world frenetically preparing for the big day, let us not lose sight of the kind of preparation we, as Christians, should be making. Making room for God in our lives so that the world around us may be a more peaceful, self-less place. With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, it makes the actual Christmas-tide busier than ever. This year we are hoping to have two Baptisms and the Oxnam Valley Voices at the service on Sunday 18th, that should be a bit of a party, then we have the usual happy family service on Christmas Eve, and as usual a night for surprises! Followed by a more meditative service on Christmas morning. It is the season of goodwill and great joy and it is my great joy to know that we have many different people come to all these services. Oxnam Kirk will certainly have the rafters raised!
With Christmas greetings, blessings and love to you all
I am writing this on the deadline day, but happy to have left it until now, because I am, as we all surely are, full of the joy and celebration of this last weekend, when in three action packed days, we all gave thanks for the amazing long life and service of Her Majesty the Queen and her Prince Consort, Prince Philip. The television coverage of the Thanksgiving Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the Trooping of the Colour and the amazing street party and Patron’s lunch in The Mall have given us all much food for thought and discussion. The weekend has also given so many communities a great opportunity to get together and have their own celebrations, whether a street party, a festive meal or even a special thanksgiving service.
Last week I was out and about wearing my roving hound hat as I interviewed some key people for a special Cross Borders programme on TD1 Radio which went out on Sunday 12th June, and can be accessed for a month on www.td1radio.com > LISTEN AGAIN > CROSS BORDERS. Among my interviewees were the very new CVO, Sir Gerald Maitland-Carew of Thirlestane, who was the master-mind behind all the Border events and Major General Jeremy Phipps of Bonchester. Among other exciting things, like a birthday cake competition, they laid on a red London double-decker bus to come and pick up the elderly folk from Weens House and take them along to the festivities at Laidlaw Hall in the village. Not only that, the London bus was charged with going back and forwards along the country roads, picking up more people. How I would have loved to have been able to ride on a London Bus in the country roads outside Hawick! Lauder outshone everywhere else with an action-packed day, starting with a church service, then a football competition for girls (!), a major picnic in Thirlestane Castle grounds, with all sorts of activities and interest, a family concert and ending up with a ceilidh. All of these events were attended by 11-year old Evie Archenhold who was Queen for the Day!
My best quote of the day, however, came from an 11-year old boy in my own street in Melrose where we had our own right royal Garden Party. I had interviewed my neighbour, whose garden was the venue, and also Jamie and Lucy Whiting who live in the street. Lucy had been train-bearer to the Melrose Queen a couple of years ago and Jamie had been the lucky Melrose Primary Pupil to win a Golden Ticket for the first train ever on the new Borders Railway. They were both very responsive, but the best two quotes, which I am sure the Queen would have loved to hear were the following: I had asked the children who the Queen’s husband was and after a bit of doubt and unknowing, I ‘helped’ them by saying it was a Duke…… ‘The Duke of Wellington’ came the almost immediate reply. Even better was his little sister’s comment that at their school they had been encouraged to write an imaginary letter to the Queen inviting her to come to their special summer fayre in her honour. The invitation added that she should be fit and ready to join in the Beat the Goalie competition!!
Back at Oxnam, the Worship Group are creating their own fun in the planned service for Sunday 17th July. Focusing on the theme of the two sisters, Mary and Martha who were, with their brother, Lazarus, good friends of Jesus, they are including a mini-drama which involves some people who are new to the Worship Group. If you are free that Sunday, I would say ‘Don’t miss it!’
But more importantly, things are now happening on the vacancy front and after the 21st June, the service of Linking with Kelso Country Churches, Oxnam will be freed from any anxiety about its future. You will, when the Nominating Committee finishes its work, no longer need to fear a potential future without a minister. I have been assured that I can remain as your Locum Minister until such time as the Committee have presented you with a sole nominee and you as a congregation have voted in favour of that person as your minister. Yes, shared with the Country Churches, but that rota will not be too hard to work out and I believe none of the churches will lose out on services.
I look forward to seeing how it does work out.
My love and blessings to you all.
The service centred round a drama of the story of Jesus visiting the sisters. Mary (Val Hunter), was lying on her tummy on the floor reading an enormous tome. Bob Anderson was brother Lazarus, anxiously waiting for Jesus’ arrival. Margaret Clayton was the over-anxious Martha, busy in the kitchen, which, for the morning, was the organ cubicle, pots and pans on display. Then signs of someone arriving outside in the graveyard! – it was Jesus (Colin Hogg in an amazing white gown – see picture). Thus began a warm welcome from all three siblings, an intense discussion with Mary about the book she was reading, and other deep matters, while Martha kept interrupting with the ‘important’ matters of a cup of tea, biscuits, lunch etc! The rolling pin was a big feature, shaken in frustration – ‘She lives here too! Why doesn’t she do any work. I do everything!’
The significance of the story, coupled with what happened to Cain and Abel, was cleverly brought together by Geraldine Strickland in her address. ‘A few thoughts’ is how she described it, but all agreed that this was a masterly compilation of thinking about sibling relationships from someone who was an only child. Both stories were marked by misunderstandings of God’s position. Why on earth should God prefer Abel’s offering of lambs over Cain’s offering of grain? And why should Jesus say that Mary had chosen the better way to be? – i.e. sitting at his feet, rather than dealing with the traditional Jewish imperative of house fellowship (cups of tea, biscuits etc). Geraldine concluded that we need to see the bigger picture, and recognise that all of us are valued, whatever our gifts, skills and interests. God loves us all.
The prayers were beautifully contributed by Francis Armstrong, with Colin, Val and Margaret praying for the world today, a world which was reeling from Brexit, troubles in Turkey, terrorism in Nice, Paris and other places, not to mention the migrant situation. None of us should cease our prayers for all these things.
Hopefully we will have an opportunity soon to share worship skills with our friends in the Kelso Country Churches. They have long experience now in lay- led worship, although not, I think, the team-spirit that marks Oxnam’s offerings!
We had great plans for diary dates to fill our calendars, but, as they say in the best of circles, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’! However, looking ahead to autumn 2016, we have a Pet Service on Sunday 18th September, and hope a good number of folks will bring their pets, at least the ones that are transportable, and weather permitting, our worship that morning will be in the car park field.
Harvest Thanksgiving is on 16th October. We hope there will still be evidence of the meadow flowers which were sown by the Sunday School as part of the national church’s campaign to transform local spaces into beautiful, colourful wildlife havens in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday.
On the musical front, and as part of our Fund-Raising campaign for the year ahead, we had planned to have a Vocal Workshop Day on a Saturday in October, but the Oxnam Valley Voices, whose plans must take precedence, have a date in their diary for a concert in Oxnam Kirk on is Friday 30th September. Having been asked a few months ago by some people in the Kelso Country Churches if I was planning a Messiah from Scratch, I put to the Kirk Session the possibility of having a ‘Come and Sing Messiah’ in Oxnam Kirk sometime in the New Year. This would essentially be a FUN day, and we would chose the best known items in the Messiah, and invite soloists to inspire us all. I feel sure we could attract enough choral singers with experience of the Messiah to come and be the backbone of the choir. But perhaps, as you read this, you are tempted to go up into the attic, find that old copy of the Messiah that you know was there, dust it off, switch on the CD, or Spotify, and listen over the next few months, so that you, too, could come and be part of a unique event for Oxnam.
I send you all my good wishes and many blessings for a happy summer and autumn.
The world around us, however, does not seem to have learned its lesson. Indeed, the nations seem to have discovered ever new and horrific ways of harming each other. Now, more than ever before, the world needs people of faith to be praying for the world, and using their influence around them for good, and not for evil. I heard someone say on the radio this week that we human beings all have within us the capacity both for enormous evil and enormous good. So which are you and I going to use?
Some of our Kirk Session, and indeed members, attended a recent Presbytery meeting, at which they witnessed an embarrassing and unnecessary display of petty behaviour. This was a meeting of Church leaders across our immediate Border area, which sadly demonstrated the worst kind of behaviour of human beings, one to another. It was all to do with what was on the agenda. As a minister, sadly, I have experienced this kind of thing in the church before, and of course am not proud of it. But just this last week, I attended another, secular, meeting at which I witnessed a more appalling outburst of venom, face to face. And I thought the church was bad!
As you and I can be inspired by godly people to better ourselves, so we must never be dragged down to a lower level of behaviour, especially in public, by people who ought to know better and be a good example. Our example must remain the finest – that of Jesus Christ, in whom there was no evil at all, but who forgave those who wronged him, and indeed who sacrificed himself in the face of all those who would harm him, in order to give us that greater hope, that we must live by, that beyond this life is a far greater reward. I have a fridge magnet that says: ‘Work for the Lord. The pay isn’t much, but his retirement package is out of this world!’
And one of the blessings of this new period in the life of Oxnam Kirk is the setting up of a Worship Group, and the amazing first service which they created and delivered for us on Sunday 19th of July. A lot of preparation had gone into that service which told the story of the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey one hundred years ago, and the effect on the Oxnam Valley of the loss of four young soldiers,* and other Borderers. We learned that the reason for the campaign was to win control over the Dardanelles, a narrow isthmus which flows into the Sea of Marmara, and thence to the Black Sea, where Russia, one of our allies, was under attack from Turkey, who had signed up with Germany.
Our warships were wary, however, of the mines under the water, and so a ground offensive had to take place, and while the Scots involved attacked with customary gusto, it all ended in failure. Nearly 700 Borderers were killed. In the service at Oxnam, we were also privileged to see a number of mementoes from war-time which people had brought – medals, a death mask, letters, photographs – and the congregation were able to pour over these after the service. But meanwhile, Val Hunter gave us a moving account of the duties of the padrés – arranging and taking services, especially Communion services early in the mornings when the men had to go to the front, helping the medics bring the wounded back from the front line, burying the dead, and finally helping the relevant Captain to retrieve personal items from the clothing of dead soldiers, and sending these, along with a letter of condolences, to the family back home.
It was all so informative, and worshipful as well. Congratulations to the team. It puzzled me, however, when I heard about the uncle of an elderly man, father of very good friends, whose funeral I took in Winchester, Hampshire, recently. The uncle in question. Lt J.H. Pritchard, had fought in France in the Great War, been wounded, but went back, then was killed in 1917 at Bullecourt, near Arras, and his body never found.
In 2009, a French farmer was clearing one of his fields, at Bullecourt, and his metal detector traced an identity bracelet and a signet ring on the remains of two bodies. Two other bodies were also found but without identifying marks. The question I asked was why was there still a ring on one body and a bracelet on the other, when the Padré would have checked the bodies. But of course in the shelling as the men went over the top, so much earth would cover them and so many thousands more, that these bodies had never been uncovered until recently. Imagine the pride and honour for Lt Pritchard’s family to attend a ceremony in April 2013, at which these men were given full military honours, in the presence of Prince Michael of Kent, the Colonel in Chief of the Honorary Artillery Company, the regiment the men had served with.
Prior to our Gallipoli service, on the 31st May, we held an evening service, it being the 5th Sunday of the month. It was also Trinity Sunday, and we focussed in a couple of different ways on the fact that we in the Church of Scotland are a Trinitarian Church, which understands our God as being in three persons, God the Creator, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We looked at a picture of an ancient Russian icon, painted by Anton Rublev. Entitled ‘The Trinity Icon’, it depicts the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, when he was visited by 3 men of God at the Tree of Mamre. Their purpose was to tell Abraham and his wife Sarah that they WERE, even at their great age, going to have a child and through that child would father a great nation – the Jews. Of course the painting has a lot more meaning to it, and that was pointed out in the service.
Then we heard an amazing story of an American man trying to come to terms with the loss of his young daughter, and finding answers, not in reasoned argument, but in three astonishing people, living together in The Shack, which he discovered was exactly where his daughter was murdered. Each of these three people, in very unconventional form, depicted one of the persons of the Trinity. And in a very moving story, this man discovered that it was right in the place of his greatest pain that he would find God through these three fascinating, distinct and totally surprising characters, who, bound together by an amazing love and super-human understanding, finally healed his troubled soul.
Since my last blog, we in Oxnam have lost another dear friend in Frank Clayton. On one of my first Sundays at Oxnam, I was told there was someone who had a 90th birthday on that day. So what else but to sing ‘Happy Birthday, dear Frank’, which we did. Sadly the whole of the following year was a struggle for Frank, and he finally found his peace in June of this year. A beautiful service was conducted by Anna Rodwell, with Frank’s favourite music being played. The tribute is available to read in the most recent Oxnam Parish Page.
On a happier note, I conducted a wedding at Oxnam early in August. Tom Elliot and Lauren Hughes from Hindhope finally tied the knot. We are all delighted because Tom and Lauren’s two children, Lucy and Jack, were both christened in Oxnam Kirk – Anna did both of those. The wedding took place on Friday 7th August, amid great festivity. Congratulations to Tom and Laura.
And more recently, the Worship Group delivered another thought-provoking service on Sunday evening, 30th August. Focussing on three Bible stories about Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, the group offered thoughts from a ‘Thomasina’ (Morag McKeand), about the puzzling statements Jesus had made to his disciple. Known as ‘the Doubter’, Thomas has always been a sort of role model for those of us who have found belief in Jesus hard to take.
I hope and pray that you and I will be able to find that faith in Jesus really helps us when the difficult things come our way in life.
Blessings for a good autumn season,
* Thanks to Colin Hogg for organising the cleaning of the World War I memorial on the wall of the Church. In these memorial years, it is a very fitting memorial to the lads of the Oxnam Valley.
It’s the same with life, All our lives are so changeable – turbulent bits, calm bits, beautiful bits, sad bits. And in order to get us through the sad bits, we must consciously appreciate the beautiful bits. This was the strong reminder given to us all at the recent funeral of Diana Cairns, whose tragic death on 6th April shocked the valley. However, her funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life – all that she was and contributed in such a variety of ways to the community, and to her family and friends. People had been asked to wear a bright flower, and that added to the sense of celebration and peace. Our deepest sympathy goes to Jamie and Andrew and the whole family, together with her friend David.
Our Worship Group have been meeting over the last few weeks to plan the first of a new kind of service, which will be led for the most part by those in the team. We had hoped the service would be in May, but now we find we have to postpone until July (19th), which is probably more appropriate, as we are addressing the effect on the valley of losing so many young men at the Battle of Gallipoli a hundred years ago, and the first of our young men died in July. We hope to have a most interesting service, and are still open to hearing any stories, or receiving mementoes from people who had a relative in the Great War, or knew of soldiers who fought in it. If you have some information, do please let us know, and we would be happy to include mention of these.
I was delighted to be able to bring my Roxburgh Singers to Oxnam for a performance of Fauré’s Requiem on Good Friday. Despite the fact that there were several competing events on that evening, we had a great audience and raised £609 for Combat Stress, the charity that offers packages of care tailored to the diverse needs of war veterans. For any who might like to hear the Singers’ next performance, Saturday 16th May sees us perform ‘The Armed Man’ by Karl Jenkins and Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Chichester Psalms’ in Melrose Parish Church. 7.30pm. Tickets £8.
Then our next evening service will be on Sunday 31st May, and I hope to introduce a different kind of service, focussing on a Bible character with a different approach to worship – perhaps some drama, and peopleinvolvement. Watch this spot, or better, come on the 31st May at 6pm!
Set high on the hill, the path up to Oxnam Kirk has been chilly some of these Sunday mornings, but the warmth of the interior and the lovely people make it a joy to worship there. It is a building which seems to retain the excitement and buzz of the bigger services, even on what might be called ‘normal’ Sundays, for we’ve had several big services with a packed church and lots of children. Surely one of the favourite sights was at Emilia Cairns’ baptism in January, with big sister Imogen and all her pals, dancing in front of the Communion table as we all sang ‘The Lord of the Dance’. In December we had Alaina Whittaker’s baptism and in October it was Benjamin Proudfoot (of Shiel family fame!) Of course the Session Room is not big enough for all the children to pack into while adults get on with the rest of the service. after the baptisms. But pack in they do, and we know that they have a fun time. Get praying for a successful outcome to the Summer House project!
Christmas Eve was another pack out, with several Dads cajoled into taking part along with our three stalwart Sunday School girls, Amy, Charlie and Anna. Dads were impromptu shepherds, who were dressed up in the aisle and played their part admirably. We found kings from among the children in the church, and almost all the little girls present came up to put on a tinsel headdress and be an angel. I think everybody felt involved. And of course ‘Rumplestiltskin’ took the wicket – what a wonderful atmosphere with the church on that January afternoon, full of children enjoying the Northumberland Theatre Company’s fantastic performance.