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Trinity 1

(1 Samuel 8:4-20; (11:14-15) Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1, Mark 3:20-35)

Who is your leader? No, really? Is it the person who shouts the loudest? Is the one who commandeers as if you were all employees? Is it the one who stands ceremoniously at the front? Who is your leader? What, if you lived at the time of Samuel would you expect of a king? Protection? Direction? Someone to fight your battles? What if… that direction didn’t suit your needs? What if… that direction coerced you into doing something you didn’t want to do? What if… that direction made you worse off than you were before?

Now, I am not going all political here, even though the ability to reflect on the current political climate is something you could liken the readings to. No, what I want to look at is how you look after number one. Yourself.

If I were to read out the questions I began with, and you thought about applying them to your own lives, I wonder what answers you might have.

Who is your leader? Who dictates to you how your life should look? How you act? How you are with others? Who snaps his or her fingers and expects you to jump? Personally, the answer once upon a time was ‘How high?’ but I’m not so sure that is a response that I will give now.

Who shouts the loudest? Perhaps this isn’t a who? Perhaps it’s a what? In my life these have four legs and breathe. When they shout, I know about it! 

And so, we move to the query about battles – someone who fights battles on behalf of us. If I asked this query in a Sunday School, the answer would come back ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’. Which is right, but only when we have sufficient grace to understand that retaliation is not grace filled enough and that God asks us to do so much more than that. 

In the battles that Jesus or God fight on our behalf, we have the gift of prayer – a dialogue, a conversation between us and God. A direct line. We don’t need an intermediary – a king or queen to fight our battles for us. And that is something that the people in Samuel’s time did not understand.

In our Psalm today:

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;* you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.  The Lord will make good his purpose for me;* O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands. 

In the words of Paul, from our second reading, – this slight momentary affliction… we extend God’s grace to those afflicting us, we increase thanksgiving and glory to God. Note, however, that this does not mean never disciplining or explaining to the one being mean or harsh or haughty that damage is being done. This isn’t about quietly loving and feeling weary that a situation or person doesn’t appear to change. It’s about being able to maturely approach others, listen, gently suggest, enabling a cohesive and supportive transition in whatever is required.

That is how we can work together, united. That is how we can ensure that our leader remains God. The one whom we come together for, for worship, in this building, in our communities, and in our lives. If we feel listened to, we will be able to work together. 

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

That I hope is fairly obvious. But what I think is really important is to come back to ourselves, and work out who is the leader there.

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

It always puzzled me that there was this section on a kingdom and a house and whether or not they were divided or united and then this sentence about a strong man and whether or not his house can be plundered. So here’s a few thoughts.

Imagine being so assured. You know who your ancestors were, you know who you are. You have social standing, and you have a good home. Actually, you have a great home. It’s full of laughter and it’s full of children. People look up to you. They pay you homage. Gifts come in from people everywhere. You are so popular. Then someone sows a seed of doubt. Very quickly, one of your closest friends is placed under suspicion by other members of your family. You support your friend, but others go against that. Suddenly there are two sides, two factions. You find it so wearying. You’re exhausted in trying to prove your friend’s innocence. People start shunning you and you begin to doubt yourself. What if… The doubts grow and grow. Now you’re mentally drained, and all you want to do is curl up in bed and for everyone to go away. Why can’t life go back to the way it was? Who was doing the leading? Who was doing the fighting?

The mind of the strong person is now tied up, mentally drained and physically exhausted, and now his or her confidence, self-esteem, way of life can be attacked with impunity. His or her ‘house’ can be plundered. The person loses their self-worth. The strength has gone and is replaced with vulnerability. Who is your leader? Who dictates to you how your life should look? How you act? How you are with others?

If, in that state of vulnerability, you’re told by others how your life should look and you simply accept that… what has just happened? You’ve given people the right to enter your life and do with it as they please. Suddenly you’re dancing to their expectations. The phrase ‘under the thumb’ comes to mind. In very simple terms, others have tied you up and can now easily influence you. 

We come back to who is our leader? Is it the one who shouts the loudest? Or is it someone else entirely, who has this soft calming presence – a being who we can’t quite touch. Who walks with us, talks with us, sits with us at table? Who has the ability to take the anxiety from us, and leave a deep peace that no-one but no-one can ever give us? Who, when we stop running around to others’ beck and call, is always constant, gentle, reassuring. We can sense who in our friends and families allows that presence to permeate their lives – they are our sisters and brothers. They are the ones who will ensure that people aren’t tied up – because their focus is on God. They are the ones who will ensure a house or kingdom or church is not divided – because their focus is on God. 

Together you will stand, divided. Divided is not a place – mentally or spiritually that I would like to see any one in. So let us focus on standing together. Gracefully, lovingly. Let us show the world as it passes through Thurso how united we are and how much in love we are with God. Let us enter these this next year with prayer, taking everything to God, and listening to his deep, quiet, still voice of calm. 

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;* before the gods I will sing your praise. 

I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,* because of your love and faithfulness; 

For you have glorified your name* and your word above all things. 

When I called, you answered me;* you increased my strength within me. 

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Amen.

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Harvest Festival, St John’s.

by Rev Ellie.

(Deut 8:7-18, 2 Cor 9:6-15, Luke 12:16-30)

What does Harvest mean to you? What does it mean to town dwellers? What do you think it means to those who live their entire lives in cities? Who perhaps have never left the council estates? Don’t tell me that no one ever lives their lives like that because there are families, generations who have never seen the countryside. There are ministries and missions that aim to take children into the countryside, to give them, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.

Because there is something that no one can really identify and put their finger on that aids are relaxation, allows us to ‘chillax’ by taking a walk through the countryside. Something that grounds us, seeing plants and trees grow without hindrance, nurtured yet untamed.

Perhaps it is primaeval, knowing that plants just get on with growing, or a turn into a state of dormancy over the winter months without the need for constant input from humans. Of course, there are very few parts of Scotland that are truly wild, that haven’t had any input from humankind over the centuries. Most of our land has been improved or semi-improved over the centuries, or perhaps the land has been desecrated and semi-desecrated depending on whether you view it as human progress or human invasion of land and habitats.

Our need for food and a wide variety of food for our discerning taste buds requires evermore exploitation of the land and seas around us. We missed the Sunday set aside for celebrating creationtide, but I think it ties quite nicely with Harvest. Celebrating the good things that God has provided for us. Okay, so the potato harvest for some of us (me in particular) hasn’t been ideal (I have handfuls of small and tiny potatoes). And over the past few weeks we have seen silage, cereals, hay and straw all being either bagged or trussed up ready for the winter.

Our farmers have had a few hard years. Long winters, with extra food needed while livestock has been kept indoors longer than normal, drought, floods, unseasonably cold and dry summers that have limited the root growth of crops, thereby starting growth and the maturity of grains. I wonder how much of that has come to our attention? So what does harvest mean to you? Perhaps you could take your pen and paper and write down what you think it means? 

Our readings today paint a discordant picture… One with ‘entry to the land of wheat and barley, vines and fig trees and pomegranates, the land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing;’ one that is about the cheerful giver, giving as he or she is able; and a reading that decries the storage of more and more for oneself.

Thinking about the Gospel reading where the wealthy landowner has his life demanded from him reminds me of the time that the Jews were in Exodus, and eating manna. If they gathered more than they needed, the manna turned unusable. There was enough for everyone, and no one went hungry. But by all accounts, the manna wasn’t exactly going to meet the desire of those with discerning taste buds. But the people of the Exodus would enter the land of abundance.

If we take the last two readings – 2 Corinthians 9 and Luke 12, and break them down into the basic components, we are left with the attitude with which one views God’s abundance. Either we are cheerful in giving away what God has given us (and this feeds into the parable of the talents were one person buries the one talent given to him/her, and the other two invest their talents) or we become miserly and overprotective of all of what we have. What feeds into that is suspicion, suspicion of others that they might take away what we consider ours.

The harvest, and a celebration of harvest must once upon a time, been such a simple affair – simply celebrating what has come from the land, and what we can store up for the winter. Communities would have worked together – tattie harvesting (labelled by some now as enforced child labour), scything, and so on. The community worked together for the good of the community. Because as a community we have the strength to withstand in a way that isolated individuals cannot. That is why, even with the dispersed and get a church model that we have today, we must continue to check in with one another. 

Harvest for me includes foraging from the hedgerows. For me that starts in summer, with elderflowers so I can make my own cordial for the rest of the year. Elderberries, plums, blackcurrants, cob nuts (if you’re lucky) and so on. What do you do with your harvest?

What else can be considered to fit in with this harvest theme? Let us look at the second reading again.

The point is this: the one who says sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who says bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.

Paul isn’t writing about an actual harvest of greens here. He is writing about the attitude with which one approaches life. Your gain will be little in comparison to the one who says bountifully. God does not judge here – Paul does not say that something sparsely is wrong, but it is how the sewing is done that concerns him. Joyful giving of money, of effort, food, or kind words, of positivity overflows with many thanksgivings to God. I wonder what you sow? What do you sow into each other’s lives?

In our reading in Deuteronomy, we see part of the speech given by God to the people, through Moses.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, the land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters, a land where you will lack nothing. You should eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Do not say to yourself, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth. “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Everyone can enter this good land, but not everyone will appreciate what they are given. The warning is there from God: your wealth does not come by the power of your own hand. It is the lord your God who provides for you. Let us give thanks in the words of the apostle, Paul:

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

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Trinity 11: Sunday August 23rd, 2020 by Rev Ellie

Readings: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1–8, Matthew 16:13–20

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’

I wonder how many of you at some point can say to yourselves that something was revealed to you by God and not by humans. Perhaps it was a feeling, or a dawning realisation, or a point that you can identify in your life where you suddenly knew God, or something of God in a way that you didn’t know before. 

Sometimes, I feel, we are too shy to talk about these moments. But in fact, these moments are the points in our lives that help us to build and move in faith. God is alive, he is lives in us and we in him. If we choose to, we can allow God to reveal Scriptures or situations to us where the first activity we are expected to do is to pray. Much of what God reveals is to us, personally, and to pray into that revelation. That is our faith. Our spirituality is bound up in our decision to follow Christ. 

During one of my holidays in a remote part of Scotland with no mobile reception, a friend of mine suddenly popped into my mind. I knew in that instance that another friend had asked her to marry him. When I returned home a few days later, I sought my friend and that engagement was confirmed. Sometimes we might have what we call ‘gut-instinct’. These, I believe, are part of the spiritual connection we have with others. Sometimes of course, we can go so far off in the other direction that there is no spiritual connection, but instead, what we are experiencing is all in the mind.

The mind and knowledge can be a mixed blessing when it comes to choosing to follow Christ. If we’re not careful, the mind leads the way. We aim to garner knowledge about God while choosing to be in utter control of our lives, thinking that is the way of Christ. Yet, Paul in his letter to the Romans – one of the last letters he wrote, incidentally – requests we should not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order that we might discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The mind, in control, seeks those things that the world expects – dominance, rule, importance, success. Fear can often accompany these, as losing control or importance downgrades us in the eyes of the world. But we are not of this world. We are in it, but not of it. Paul writes of grace:

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.’

Paul never met Jesus. Paul wasn’t taught by him – he wasn’t one of the disciples. Having learned the rabbinical teachings of the Law, he knew off by heart what we know as the Old Testament – the Hebraic Scriptures. These Scriptures were what he was using to persecute new followers of The Way – the new movement that gathered pace after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, before it was known as Christianity. Where therefore did Paul gather his knowledge, his theology?

It was grace that brought Paul to Christ. His single point of conversion on the road, followed by three years of unlearning and relearning the Scriptures. That shows us some of Paul’s character. He was so single minded and focused that it took a visual showdown to wake Paul up to the reality of a God who is loving, kind and compassionate. We will never know if there were several ‘coincidental’ encounters before Paul was blinded where God was trying to get his attention. Certainly, I always find with hindsight that there are a number of incidences where God has nudged me in one direction or another. But he gives me the choice whether to follow up on that nudge. 

Moments of epiphany like that aren’t always experienced. Some of us take years, if not decades, to realise who God is. Some people retain the mind as being the focal point of their worship of God, and some go with their heart. Often though I suspect that it is a mix of the two. We cannot simply make the difference of heart and mind a dualistic comparison. But it is something I think we need to be aware of. Knowledge of God is not the same as knowing God.

If we return to the Gospel passage, knowledge of God is quite clear in the first response Jesus receives. A hedging of the bets. “And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Knowing God comes in the next sentence. We will never know when that moment occurred for Peter. He might have been carrying around that understanding for some time before voicing it.

Then comes the revelation of that meaning. “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

Reread my last paragraph again. And if necessary, again. So often we don’t think about our actions having consequences. Our words reverberating through space and time. 

Knowing God comes through prayer, through our lives and our devotions. Through the way we use our gifts according to the grace given to us. We are not limited by the list that Paul provides. These are examples of what is good and kind. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection. Be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

Please pray with me…

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Reflection for Sunday 26th July. Acceptance and trust, by Alan Finch

Genesis 29:15-28; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

I was really intrigued by the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel so I went searching about for inspiration for this reflection and found some very interesting views on how to look at this story, and specifically a lady named Mandy Smith (on a website ‘crosswalk.com), who is an ordinary woman but who had an out of the ordinary take on the story which inspired this reflection.

So I begin by looking at the story in Genesis 29:15-28 where we see that Jacob was working for his uncle Laban who said that family or not you should not work for nothing; what payment do you want.  Jacob (who fancied Rachel) said to Laban that if I work for you for 7 years will you let me marry your daughter Rachel and Laban said – Deal.  When the 7 years were up Jacob asked for Rachel’s hand and a big party was held to celebrate the marriage.  Laban though had other ideas for he had an older daughter Leah and tradition in their country was that the eldest should marry first so Laban got Leah to go to Jacobs’s tent in the evening and sleep with him thus consummating the marriage.  In the morning when Jacob arose he discovered the switch and was more than just a bit hurt at being deceived and after some words with Laban agreed that he could marry Rachel but only after spending the marriage week with Leah AND work for another 7 years by way of payment.  

Jacob was angry about the deceit, and I reckon that must have been tough on Leah being classed as second best which would put a barrier between Leah and Rachel as they had to ‘fight’ for Jacob.  Indeed such was the rivalry that at one stage Leah bartered some mandrake root as a price to pay for Rachel to allow Leah to sleep with Jacob.   If that was not a complicated triangle enough both women had hand maids (servants) who they in turn got Jacob to sleep with (marry) and between the four women the 12 tribes of Judah were born.

Sometimes I forget that the bible has some ‘raunchy’ parts even by our standards today; love triangle(s) since there were 4 woman and 1 man involved together; Jealousy, deceit and throughout it all is the hand of God.  

Now I realise that times have changed (thank goodness I do not think I could cope with 4 wives!!) 

It must be remembered though that Jacob was no stranger to deceit, because he was the person who managed the process of deceiving his twin (but older brother) Esau out of his birth right. Now it is his turn to have the tables turned against him and it was Laban, the father of his beloved Rachel who does this by switching out one daughter for the other on the night Jacob expects to consummate a marriage with Rachel.  Maybe this was God’s way of reminding Jacob of his prior life when he schemed to displace Esau’s birth right? 

Well I suppose we might have little or no sympathy for Jacob given his previous behaviour but it becomes quiet clear as we read through this story that Laban and Jacob’s own mother were just as manipulative in getting Jacob deceived.  This is then a family of people who are deceitful even if they did not think they were being bad.  However it is very interesting that even if the family was ‘bad’ God can and does (thank God) still work through people’s imperfections and bring about good; important because it affirms that even when we disappoint God, the promises that God has made will still be kept.

And that’s not all – over time, Jacob also marries Leah’s servant Zilpah, and Rachel’s servant Bilhah, and as we all know, among these four wives he fathers twelve sons who become the heads of the tribes of Israel – Jacob’s new name, given to him by the stranger with whom he wrestles all night beside the river Jabbok (Israel means “he who wrestles with God”).

So Jacob was drawn to Rachel because of her beauty unlike God who looks inside and sees as greater worth to the kingdom, not the outward beauty but what lies in the heart within. We as humans do like to make our appearance as good as we possibly can because we know that what matters to another person is our outwards appearance, although as we all get older that will fade. Maybe we should be taking a leaf out of God’s book and look deeper into another person before judging them solely based on appearances next time. 

But be rest assured that God is in this story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel because we see how God worked through this family to bring about His will; by the sons born from all four women who eventually make up the twelve tribes of Israel. So for sure this story says that things aren’t always as they seem.

In the case of Leah, she was rejected, dealt with the emotions of jealousy, and her deep desire to be pursued and came to the realisation that although her own sister Rachel was wanted and pursued, Rachel herself had her own problems and feelings of jealousy and anger to deal with; and Jacob had not made those go away.  On the contrary he had in effect made them worse.  What Leah found was that putting her trust in her Lord meant that no one could take that trust away and that God (her Lord) was always true and would never stop loving her.

So we are then reminded that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t always end up with us being the most ‘fancied’ one or the main attraction or most popular, or the most beautiful.  Neither are we promised a pain free life but what we are promised to receive is much, much more.  We are promised in return for our trust in God, the security of God’s love.  We are assured that He will always put us first in His pursuit of us, and has a burning desire to use our lives for His glory; and in that we can be certain.

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Curate’s Letter: Life as normal? Or, life as God wants it?

One of the things I remember reading near the start of this lockdown was a conversation from a mother to her daughter. Her daughter was bored, soon after lockdown began. The mother urged her daughter to keep a journal because she said that in decades to come, the daughter would recall the events around the pandemic and relay them to her grandchildren. Into that journal would go the best and the worst, because that is what happens when you write a journal. Emotions and facts are poured into the pages, that as soon as the page is turned, are kept hidden, until someone years later opens the journal and reads of the struggle of life under lockdown.

Last month I asked if we were up for the adventure of life after lockdown before we know what’s coming. I’m still asking that question. Most of us probably want things to stay as exactly as we can control. But that’s not what life is about, is it? Life itself isn’t black and white, it’s neither one or the other. Controlling others’ lives is neither freeing for ourselves, or for the people around us. For example, dictating who should sit on church committees because ‘they’re not like us’ shows a distinct lack of compassion. Perhaps you think the word ‘dictate’ is too strong a word? Perhaps I should describe the mechanism of exclusion and elitism? Perhaps I should describe it as privilege, in the sense of white, middle-class, and in the ‘in-group.’

It should be a privilege to serve on Vestry, to come alongside others who, like you, are struggling in their spirituality but want to serve God. It should be a humbling experience to serve God in any way we can – whether that is in the community, or in church. We should be open to explore others’ points of view with a wide variety of backgrounds, colour and ability. We should be willing to include anyone who wants to serve God, understanding that in our diversity the church has a greater chance of survival.

As the different regions of the UK begin to ease out of lockdown, we wonder whether life as normal will continue? Perhaps, for some of you, life has continued as normal and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Perhaps you’re wondering when church as normal is going to get going. I put it to you that church ‘as normal,’ here in Caithness wasn’t exactly welcoming to many people I have spoken to. I would include words that I have used elsewhere – such as white and middle-class and who’s in (and therefore who’s excluded).

Over the past few months, I have rung around a great many people, seeing how they are – rather than focussing in on the few who I know struggle or are housebound. I have spent much of my curacy saying sorry to people who have been hurt by anger in the church, those who wish to control, those who wish to have things exactly the way they want, those who have excluded others on some extraordinary impolite basis. And I am still saying sorry. The numbers of people whom I have not reached has vastly reduced, and I now have over one hundred people regularly receiving from the church across Caithness. That doesn’t include associated people in the care homes or other community initiatives.

I can now count on two hands those across Caithness whom I have not managed to reach for one reason or another. To those, if you’re reading this – I would love to make contact.

I, personally, don’t want to go back to ‘church as normal.’ As it was. I would love to see a church that is vibrant, welcoming, as diverse as it can be. No longer white, middle-class and privileged. And I can imagine some of you saying that introducing change like that is too fast, or it’s up to me to do all those things. I am not the church. The two churches in Caithness are not mine, but then again, neither are they yours. They belong to God and we, as a team, need to steward them with hearts full of care and compassion. Reaching out to those who no longer pop in – either on a Sunday or any other day of the week. 

Another quote I saw early in lockdown was an imagined conversation between the devil and God. The devil claps his hands in glee at the church buildings with their doors shut, and says ‘See… I have stopped church in its tracks.’ And God turns around and responds ‘Ah, but now I have church in every home.’

The paradox of lockdown of the church buildings was done out of love, and the gradual and cautious opening up of them will be done with love as well. The Vestries are working through guidance that the College of Bishops have issued. They will need to discuss all of the implications and prove to their diocesan bishop that they can meet all of the requirements before the church doors open for private prayer. 

In the meantime, services and Evening Prayer continue online – with as much access as we can provide. More people are accessing services online than physically come into our church buildings. What does that say about our attitude to Sunday services and church in general? Last month I wrote that we have to learn to let go of that way of ‘doing things.’ We have to let our favoured ways of doing and being church slip away. Church is not there for our possession. The church is not an object that can be misappropriated for our own means.

Life as God wants it doesn’t have ‘I’ in it. It doesn’t have self-justification, and apologies – saying sorry  – doesn’t come with a ‘but’ in the sentence. Life as God wants it is full of grace, it listens and is compassionate. It reaches out, out of our comfort zones. Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. This love was poured out on us at Pentecost, and it is up to us all to share it with everyone. Regardless of status, colour or ability. With hearts full of care and compassion, the church – the people – is embedded into the community, rather than sitting on the side-lines watching the world pass it by. There is no age-limit to bringing in that sort of change. All that is required is a compassionate heart and a willingness to pray. 

This, then, is where we need to begin. To understand that church is not a business and cannot run on a business model. It is a living, breathing organic structure that needs to flex and change and adapt as circumstances require. Prayer should be at the heart of all we do and say – it is only by submitting ourselves to God as individuals that what we do and the way we see others will begin to change. Prayer will help our way out of lockdown, and prayer will enable the Church in Caithness to grow. Please pray with me…

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Reflection for June 21st 2020

Compassion, Kindness and Provision – Remembering the Persecuted Church

by Sue Berry

ReadingsGen 21:8-21, Matt 10:24-39, Rom 6:1-11, Ps 86; 1-10, 16 17. 

Today our reading in Genesis looks at the distressing circumstances faced by Haggar and her son Ishmael who have been cast out and left to wander through the desert. Whilst in Matthew’s gospel, the reading focuses on Jesus’ words of warning and encouragement to the disciples, about what to expect when the gospel is shared. He encourages them not to fear. Woven through both stories are the compassion, faithfulness and provision of God in the face of persecution. 

Abraham has two sons. The first, the son of a slave woman, is born out of Abraham’s and Sarah’s understandable doubts that God promises will be fulfilled. The second child is born to them in their old age against all odds. During a household gathering both Ishmael and Isaac are playing and enjoying themselves, all however is not well. Sarah does not want to see the son of a slave woman as a reminder of her long wait and sorrow to inherit along with her son. She wants this slave woman to be cast out; Abraham on the other hand doesn’t want to do it. Ishmael after all is his son too. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah wants. It is through Isaac the promise is fulfilled. However, God reassures Abraham that Ishmael too will be the father of a nation. Abraham rises early in the morning, puts food and a skein of water on her shoulders and sends away his son with the boy’s mother to wander in the wilderness. She has nowhere to turn no options to return to the household she’s left and is facing a perilous situation. 

Hagar places Ishmael under a bush not wanting to see him die. She lifts her voice and weeps. God hears the boy and an angel speaks to her asking why she is troubled, telling her do not be afraid. God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. She is instructed to lift up the boy and take his hand. They are given a miraculous provision of water and life.   God is bringing new life to both Abraham’s and his sons in their stories. Ishmael’s story tells us about God’s care and providence. We cannot limit God’s mercy. God hears the cry of the abandoned. God hears the cry of the outcast and God saves.

In the passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus brings a message of encouragement to his disciples and tells them not to fear. Three times in this passage Jesus tells them not to be afraid when persecution happens as the good news of freedom in Jesus is shared. Jesus assures them that the truth will be revealed there will come a day when things will be seen as they really are and the power of the persecutor and the heroism of Christian witness will be seen at their true value, each will have its true reward and justice. Jesus encourages them to change their focus and to have a reverent fear for the Lord God, who has the ultimate authority and who can take the ultimate actions in his judgements, which have eternal rather than temporal consequences.

In the early church the Apostles were to die for their faith as they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. They underwent suffering and persecution as their stories unfold in the book of Acts and elsewhere. Persecution has followed believers down through history.

For millions of Christians around the world today, following Jesus is a highly dangerous activity and at the very least it means facing abuse and discrimination, imprisonment or even death. Many lose their livelihoods or their homes. Families disown their Christian members turning their backs, severing relationships and causing multiple hardships. Millions have to keep their faith hidden, because following Jesus puts them outside the law. Following Jesus sets people free. To those in power – the dictators and religious leaders, the violent extremists, the rubber-stamping bureaucrats, freedom is a toxic substance. Despite the danger Christians in these countries are still sharing the good news of Jesus. In North Korea, Iran, China, Nigeria and in places where persecution is happening – Jesus Christ is building his church. It is growing.

Jesus also reminds his disciples of God’s compassion and provision. In his illustration of the sparrow a bird that appears to be of little value. God sees the sparrow’s activity (the word fall in the reading means to hop around, alight on the ground to feed and so on) and cares for it. How much more then that He cares for people. In the Genesis reading we see Ishmael and his mother suffering through the actions of others, abandoned and rejected. In the second we see that persecution will come to the disciples; both had consequences and outcomes which God would work in and through. 

God is in control and sees the bigger picture. The instruction not to fear is highlighted in both readings. In these times fear has abounded much, affecting human behaviour with difficult consequences. Jesus wants us to know that he sees all the details of our lives. He wants to meet our needs, walk with us through the difficulties, bringing His hope, His compassion and His love to where we are. We are not forgotten; we are loved with an everlasting love and nothing can separate us from it. Whatever we may face we have one who intercedes for us Jesus Our Lord and Saviour. 

The following prayer reminds us of those who suffer, of all who are persecuted and those who are responsible. 

Father, thank you for inviting us into your family. Help us now to listen to your voice and know your presence each day. We pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who may be feeling lonely or isolated. We pray that they would be encouraged and supported at this time. We remember those are imprisoned because of their faith in You. We ask that they would be strengthened and know your presence. We pray for those dealing with trauma, violence and loss. We ask they would know Your comfort and peace. We pray for those who are vulnerable in the global coronavirus lockdown. Help Your Church to share Your Love and light, even in the darkest situations. Help us to live out our faith with greater boldness and passion. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen      

by Open Doors

If you would like to find out more Open Doors serves the persecuted church world-wide information and prayer resources can be found at www.opendoorsuk.org. The image is by Elizabeth Lay: God will take care of you.

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June 14th: The First Sunday after Trinity. By Rev Fran.

Genesis 18:1-15;     Psalm 116:1; 10-17;   Romans 5:1-8;    Matthew 9:35-10:8

Like many people in this unexpected new world we have, I have found that seemingly unimportant events happen which have had a greater impact than  I expect.    One early morning in the glorious sunshine of April, a sudden flash of gold held me mesmerised.    A pair of goldfinches (I think) were settling on the topmost branch of a bush in the garden.     Glowing and illuminated by the sun, they started to sing their hearts out.   Wonderful.

Another mesmerising event was to come across the Self-isolating Choir singing the Halleluia Chorus.   Another is that a pleasant person whom I have not seen for over a decade, delivered an order to my door.  Another is being able to attend worship services all over the world.    The list could go on and on.

Today’s readings from the Old and New Testaments reflect a brave new world for the characters in them. Abraham welcomed his visitors, not knowing who they were and his brave new world started then following from when God changed his name from Abram to Abraham many years previously.    In Hebrew the name Abram had the meaning “noble father” and Abraham that of “father of one great nation”.   He was to be the ancestor of Jesus as Matthew emphasised at beginning of his gospel and so  his nation was not to be a local but a global one – the  nation of those whose belief is that Jesus is the Son of God.  

Sarah’s name too had been changed from “princess” to “Princess” – and her brave new world meant that she gave birth (hard enough at any time, but worse the older a person is) and because of that meeting under the trees at Mamre  Abraham became the ancestor of Jesus, and the father of a nation of believers.   St Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).    Great changes indeed for Abraham and Sarah.

The Gospel reading tells of great changes  and brave new worlds for the many who were healed from “every disease and sickness”  by Jesus and for the disciples who were given authority to “drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness”.   Social, possibly psychological, changes for the sick who could then go about a normal life of work, such as, attending the synagogue, being a member of a family, meeting their friends.  For the disciples too,   no longer pupils but recipients of the gifts of healing, of exorcism, of raising the dead.  A brave new world for them, socially, psychologically and emotionally, and they would need to be brave to use those precious gifts.

But one of the by-products of change can be loss.   For many in our new world,  the greatest loss is the loss of freedom, the loss of the familiarity of what was before the pandemic.    The things taken for granted, popping out to the shops, visiting neighbours and other small events, or the big things such as moving house,  visiting people who mean a lot in our lives, attending funerals, getting married.  

In its wake, change can bring grief to a greater or less extent.  Christians express their grief at not being able to attend church to worship and pray in the company of fellow believers.    Virtual services are a change and are inspiring, but they can emphasise what we have lost, not just a building, but the body of believers together and the loss of that togetherness may have psychological and emotional  effects.

The excerpt from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, headed “Peace and Hope” in my Bible, gives a message for this time in our history when he sums up our belief in his description of the faith which we have.   His letter talks of the faith which Christians have, that Jesus died so that everyone can approach God knowing that they are loved by Him, each and every one, in this new world of ours, and that the Spirit has been given to encourage and complete this knowledge.

To hold on and increase our faith in this time is a challenge which has been given   this year by the changes in society and life-style.   May we all accept this challenge  and help others to do so.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians (3:3) Paul reminded them that “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”    Something for us all to remember. 

Above all, remember that God does not change.      Amen.

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Curate’s Letter: Living ‘in-between times.’ June 2020

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

This seems like a completely different world to the one we’re in, one where the hypocritical shambles of the PM’s advisor, the breach of the instructions given, and the government’s defence of him has Twitter all aflame.

Jesus’ ascent into heaven looks like the epitome of social (or physical) distancing. His ascent, according to Paul, was way above the highest heaven – far above what humans could ever consider attaining though any spirituality. Jesus’ ascent wasn’t to put distance between him and us – there had been enough of that, with the God of the Old Testament. The angels standing with the men explain that to them, while they gaze at the sky. He will come again in the same way. The disciples lived in the now and the not yet – the ‘in-between times.’

But there’s a paradox in his ascent, because although he ascended to (what was understood as) heaven, which in first century thinking was above the clouds, he’s also present with us. Jesus isn’t found only in heaven. He’s here on earth, in the nitty and the gritty, in our homes, in our lives and the overwhelming sadness and grief that so many are experiencing during lockdown.

Lockdown is also a paradox because it is in love, and our compassion on others, that the disciplined decision was reached to help shield people from this virus. The churches are not shut to maintain distance but to keep you safe, yet our hearts break when we cannot meet in person. We live in the now and the not yet – the ‘in-between times.’

Yet through all of this, Jesus remains with us, while also being with his Father. The Bible is full of paradoxes, and this is no different. Jesus’ ascent points the way to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes like a rushing wind. From that was the birth of the Church.

Back in the first century when the disciples were still gazing upward long after Jesus had disappeared from their sight, perhaps they wondered if they had to get to heaven to meet with Jesus and the Father. It’s not so much as about waiting to get to heaven, it’s about understanding that Jesus and God are present here and now as we go into the world and witness to God’s love. Our lives before death are as meaningful as life is after death – it’s not just about salvation. God is here, in our brokenness, in the ‘in-between times.’

Pentecost doesn’t come immediately. Perhaps that’s what the disciples were waiting for. Perhaps we would like something similar? To come out of lockdown with no fear for our lives and just return to what was our normality. But the longer we wait, we realise there’s a dawning realisation that we won’t be returning to the old ‘normal.’ That, like Jesus’ ascension, has passed. We have to learn, like the first disciples, to let the ‘old normal’ go, let Jesus go, let our favoured ways of doing and being church go. We simply cannot hold on to Jesus or possess him, or appropriate him for our own means. He showed us that. And the Church, the body of Christ, has to change too. 

In the ‘in-between times,’ as the disciples waited in Jerusalem, I’m sure they asked ‘What now?’ We’re no different. Lockdown has brought us and our ways to almost a complete standstill. Between Ascension and Pentecost there’s a wait. We don’t know how long the first disciples had to wait, and we have to wait alongside them. What is God trying to teach us in these ‘in-between times?’

Pentecost will come. The tongues of fire will land on the people, and their hearts will set aflame with the love of God. Better this, than Twitter aflame with judgement. Because judgement is not love. And we have the discipline of love, as disciples of Christ. Love in the face of danger under lockdown was to help shield the vulnerable, the weak, the poor and the frightened. 

Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. This is why we gather to encourage each other and help the community around us. This love is our witness in everything we do and the source of our compassion. This love is outpoured on us at Pentecost and enables the whole community to witness to each other and share the love of God.

In these in-between times, we wonder what the future holds for our country, our economy, our society and the Church. But we do know with certainty that Pentecost will come. It happened then, and it will come for us. We know that we are asked to be adventurous, to be creative and bold. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but the trick is to learn from our mistakes and head ever into the future, without looking back.

Ascensiontide – the in-between times between Ascension and Pentecost – asks us if we are up for the adventure before we know what’s coming. 

Curate’s Letter: June 2021

Andrei Rublev’s Troitsa: The Trinity

Rublev’s icon of the Trinity. May 30th is Trinity Sunday and I explained why we celebrate the Trinity. This icon isn’t used for Trinity Sunday, but Pentecost where the descent of the Holy Spirit is understood as the revelation of the triune God.

Looking back at our journey thus far from Holy Week, we’ve participated in the Passion, the anguish and torment of ‘not my will, but yours,’ through to the celebration of the risen Christ on Easter Day. Then, the feast of the Ascension which paved the way for the Holy Spirit to descend at Pentecost. Now we begin our season of growth. Echoed in the greening of the trees and fields, where plants are growing rapidly as if to catch up where they should have been weeks ago.

Everything finally seems to be ordering itself back into some semblance of normality, and then … this icon. Iconography has its own rules on perspectives and how faces look but this icon compels me to look and look again. I find it odd, yet compelling. I have struggled each time with the odd perspectives until I discovered why they have been drawn in this manner. Though the drawings may seem completely against the rules of perspective and in one way they are. They go against the grain of our perceived normality.

Much in the same way as Jesus’ life did here on earth. He did not conform to the ways of this world and invites us to walk with him along a path that seems odd to the passer-by. Rublev used a technique known as reverse perspective, so that the point of convergence is you and the subjects in the painting are much nearer than you would consider. Normally we would expect to look at a painting as through a window, with the point of convergence way off in the distance. We observe paintings from a distance – there is as much space as we would like between us and it – we can keep our distance.

Not so with this icon. We are immediately subjected and included in the drama that unfolds before us. Much can be said about this icon and how it depicts Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a manner that is intricate and carefully thought out. It depicts the triune God but involves us as we are the point of convergence of the perspectives. But what does that mean for us?

Icon painting does have its own rules, rejecting much of traditional painting techniques. It does not conform to the world, and therefore can teach us something about the Christian perspective of reality. The observer is no longer just an observer of the painting; reality does not begin with us, and we cannot subject it to our criteria. Rather, Rublev ensures that we are the point of convergence of all that goes on, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as part of our being. The triune Godhead illuminates us. We can only be illuminated when we subject ourselves to that point of convergence and allow the Holy Spirit to lead, inspire and help us discern what is of God.

To ask God to lead in our lives is not an easy task. A key aspect of this is openness and vulnerability. We mustn’t try to force things, rather allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, who transforms our lives through baptism. And it is through the Holy Spirit that we receive inspiration and revelation for the teaching of the Church.

As we enter a season of new growth, both liturgically and with the easing of lockdown, where do we look for the illumination that God provides for us in our lives? This will be unique to you. It will be in what you find life-giving. 

As we find our way forward, as individuals and as a community of believers, let us remember that we are part of God’s picture of life, and we are drawn into a new creation. One that has God at the centre, where we are his, and He is ours. 

With every blessing,

The Baptism of our Lord

By Rev Ellie. Readings: Gen 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Today marks the Baptism of the Lord. We moved from his birth on Christmas Day to his naming and circumcision; and on to the Epiphany: The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles when we celebrated that God’s intention was to include the Gentiles (people like you and me) from the very beginning of Jesus’ life. We celebrated alongside the Magi, the astrologers (peoples of other faiths). Our tradition of celebrating the Epiphany comes from the Eastern Church, which celebrates both the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ on the 6thJanuary. The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord is also referred to as the Theophany or the Manifestation of God as God revealed himself in three ways at the point of baptism. In the Western Church we have separated the two feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism.

So, let us fast forward twenty odd years to the scene by the River Jordan. The writer of Mark’s Gospel begins with no preamble about childhood or genealogy. Instead, he dives into setting the scene for John the Baptist as the precursor for the ministry of Jesus.

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 

“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’’”

John is likened to Elijah – a prophet in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair. This connection is repeated elsewhere in the Gospels (Luke 1:13, 16-17; Mt 16:14, Mk 6:15; 8:28, Jn 1:21). 

Mark is letting us know that John’s ministry immediately preceded the ministry of Jesus. He places the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at the point of John’s arrest, thereby using John’s ministry to endorse Jesus.

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Remember too that John the Baptist is Jesus’ second cousin. Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John were cousins. Both men were born miraculously, and both are part of God’s plan of redemption. 

John’s nickname – John the Baptist or John the Baptizer, comes from his practice of immersing repentant Jews in the river Jordan. One of the commentators I read in preparation (Hurtado) suggests that immersion may have been a relatively new practice in the Jewish religion but may also have developed from other sects where regular immersion was required as part of their purification rituals. John’s rite of baptism was different in that only one immersion was required for the Jews’ repentance. 

Many of us forget that people weren’t called Christians until much later – at this point of the story unfolding before us in the Gospel, there were only Jews and non-Jews. In our reading from Acts, on the other hand, we learn of a group of disciples. We learn that they were baptized with water – John’s baptism. And they learn what we have learned from the Gospel passage: “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” This is the only case in the New Testament where people received two baptisms. One suggestion is that the first baptism was not a Christian baptism in the name of Jesus. This throws up more cans of worms than we have time for but suffice to say, we all only need one baptism in God, and I don’t think we need to be rebaptised in order to receive the Holy Spirit. That happened at the point of our baptism, whether we are aware of it or not.

The characteristic and essential feature of the ceremony of Christian baptism is that it is performed in the name of Jesus and is an outward and public sign of our journey with Christ. The renewal of our baptismal vows at various points through the Church year are our public affirmation of what we believe.

Going back to the reading from Acts, we are told that Paul laid his hands on them and then they began speaking in tongues and prophesied. One way of reading this passage is that in order to have the Holy Spirit, one must speak in tongues. I disagree with that interpretation. Speaking in tongues and prophecy are two supernatural gifts along with many others. One may or may not have the ability to speak in tongues while still filled with the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands should not be associated with the sudden ability to prophesy or speak in tongues. 

The laying on of hands was and is a prophetic act. It was, and is, a gesture welcoming the people into the fellowship of the church. However, it also served and still serves as a conduit for the Holy Spirit. It just happened that on that particular occasion, the effect of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was shown through charismatic manifestations. 

Going back to the Gospel reading, we read that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. And we have what the Eastern Church calls the Theophany. God revealed himself as the Holy Trinity – God spoke from heaven; the incarnate Son of God was baptised, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. Being blameless, Jesus did not need the baptism of John but through the act of baptism, conferred the power of the true baptism on to the waters.

The same spirit that descended on the waters was also present in the beginning. “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” (Gen 1:2). Thus, we are presented in the Gospel passage with a new beginning: a new creation. Jesus comes to repair that which Adam undid. He does this as the Lamb of God that take away our sins.

The following quote is by Joseph Ratzinger: 

Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realised what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.

Joseph Ratzinger

Thirty years had passed before Jesus began his public ministry – that which we have recorded in the Gospels. We can suggest that there was a lot of thought and preparation that went into forming the man we read about. In Israel, one reached full maturity at the age of thirty and could become a master. Jesus came of age and began his public ministry. In his baptism we encounter a different dimension of the Epiphany that we celebrated last week. In Baptism, not only is Jesus the Christ to Israel, but also the son of God to the nations.

In his baptism and ours we have entry to heaven, the Holy Spirit came and dwelt within, and we become part of God’s family. Because we are baptised only once, we seek to renew our baptismal vows on a regular basis, to remind ourselves what baptism is all about and why we chose baptism or our parents chose for us.

Welcome: Reflection – The Baptism of Our Lord

By Alan Finch.

We are now into Epiphany; a word with more than one understanding especially for us as Christians.  One meaning of the word epiphany is a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of something that is very important to you and secondly, at least for us as Christians it is describes a powerful religious experience.

For us as Christians our Lord Jesus coming for baptism and then receiving the Holy Spirit is indeed our Epiphany.  We see the Spirit from God alighting on Jesus in the form of a Dove and from that moment forward Jesus changes He is seen by the people as the one who brings Hope and that an end is in sight; being baptised with the Holy Spirit means that life is everlasting as became clear as Jesus’ ministry unfolded.

It was John’s role as prophet to foretell the great story of salvation as known in the person of Jesus Christ; well, that role is fulfilled with Jesus’ baptism today.

John is sometimes seen as the last of the old order: the last prophet in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the last to baptise with only water; not also the Holy Spirit, and the last to demand repentance before the immanent coming of the kingdom of God.

For Jesus proclaims over and over again that the kingdom of God is not something in the distant future but has drawn near to us; it is here, and now. No longer coming, or far off, or even just the other side of a thin divide; but here, very near us.

Mark’s gospel starts, with no birth story or indeed the story of a twelve-year-old ‘wowing’ them in the synagogue; Jesus is at the start of His ministry at approximately thirty years old. And from this moment, the moment of a simple ritual of living water, Jesus is changed. No longer just the son of a carpenter, no longer a refugee in Egypt, no longer just another human being to walk the face of the earth.

He moves on from here to teach in synagogues and have all people sing his praises. He will heal the sick, and make the dead live again. He will preach, and perform miracles. He will astound people with his teaching, and confound us even today by submitting to death even death on a cross.  And he will then appear again over forty days until he ascends into heaven, prophesying of his return in glory to judge the earth; a second coming which we are still awaiting, two thousand plus years on.

In the beginning, people knew him as that clever boy, Joseph’s son and the next he’s revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one—God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.   It is in and through his baptism, that Jesus seems to have become an entirely different person.

It’s as if the waters of his baptism have revealed the true Jesus; somehow changed him, made him into who he truly is, giving him the power and inspiration to begin a mission and ministry that will forever change the world.

This is not unlike our own baptism: Now none of us is the Christ, but each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased. We are forever changed and transformed in that moment of baptism, we continue to be changed and transformed sometimes in small ways yet other times in bigger ways which is the situation that continues throughout our ministry on earth, no matter what your ministry is; none being bigger or better than anyone else’s ministry.

So just as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit so, we are commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the good news of God’s love for humankind from the moment of our baptism.

So how does this Epiphany reveal itself in our lives?  Well, it’s about knowing that we have been forever changed through accepting God is working in our life.  That we are cleansed of sin and been accepted completely into the body of Christ’s Church been given the courage to persevere, and a spirit to know and share the love God, along with the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

Baptism is an amazing gift. By it, we share in his death and resurrection and through it, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit   But along with the gifts we receive comes a great responsibility. We are no longer simply to live as ordinary people in the world but are bound to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour; to reach out with all our resources for justice and peace among all people; and to look for and serve the Christ in everyone we meet.

Those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians are called to live a different kind of life, a life set apart from the world around us and yet somehow also very much in its midst.

A life forever changed and forever changing, searching to proceed on our journey going from strength to strength in our determination to reveal God’s Kingdom, where we are, amongst the people we serve.

Through baptism, we are forgiven, loved, and free to become more fully who God has created us to be; living members of Christ’s body, incarnate examples of divine love, living examples of God’s glory here on earth.

But just as Jesus’ ministry was unique to him, each of us is called to our own unique ministry. We are called, in fact, to grow into the fullness of ourselves as we were created by God to be.   Part of our life after baptism is to discern just who we are called to be, and then to live it out as fully as we can — with God’s help.  The creation story is not over; it is not finished; God is still creating and has declared us as co-creators, co-authors, of the next chapter.  Tomorrow is up to you so during this season of Epiphany it should be a good time to spend some time remembering our role as the Body of Christ in mission to the world. It is also a good time to renew the work of discerning who God has called us, individually, as a community, and as a whole church, to be.   Because whether or not you saw the Dove alight on you, whether or not you heard the voice say it, you are a Child of God, a beloved one, and with you God will be well pleased.

Amen.

The essence of God

Gen 1:1-5, 12-19, 1 Jn 1:1-9, John 20:1-8, by Rev Ellie

St John the Evangelist: Patronal Festival

There’s a reason St John has his patronal festival straight after Christmas – it’s not some random placement in the liturgical calendar – it’s because what John writes about is so integral to our faith. There’s a reason why John 1:1-14 is read out every single Christmas at one of the services. John is the only Gospel writer who actually tries to wrestle with the very essence of God. Who he is. Not what he did. Not a factual account with retrospective insertions, or the fact that Jesus had Davidic ancestry as you’ll find in Matthew. But actual theology. ‘Ology’ the study of ‘theos’ God.

I am going to speak on John, even though we have the Gospel passage on Mary Magdelene inadvertently becoming the first missionary of the Resurrected Christ. A woman who stays at Christ’s side – both when he was on the Cross and there at the empty tomb. Mary was the first person to speak with the risen Christ. Mary was the one who shared that information with the others. A woman. A story that has a much greater impact than history has ever given her credit for.

Genesis 1

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”

John 1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

“In the beginning. We have traced what we have seen and heard, from the beginning.” Each of the Gospel writers does this – each has their own particular slant on what is important to them, in the beginning. But John does something different to the other three – Matthew, Luke and Mark. He actually tried to wrestle with the very essence of God. Theos. The study of God. In the Gospel of John – not the passage we have today, but in the first chapter which you’ll have heard over Christmas, there is poetry interspersed with prose. Similar to the Psalms, and parts of Isaiah. These nuances are lost in more contemporary translations, but worth looking at. The prologue at the beginning of the Gospel John relates back to that of Genesis.

In the beginning – the very same phrase is used in the Greek translation of the Hebraic Scriptures – what you might call the Old Testament. In Genesis, the reference is to the beginning of Creation, in John’s Gospel, it is to the absolute beginning in the sphere of God. Creation is not mentioned until verse 3! The parallels continue with themes of word, creation, light and darkness.. 

We should remember that the creation of each stage in Genesis is as a result of God’s word. In St John’s Gospel, the creation is seen as coming into being through the Word. In Genesis, God’s word creates light, and St John’s Gospel references the Word in relation to humanity in terms of light. We have the word play with light and dark, where in Genesis it relates more to ‘day’ and ‘night.’

More importantly, we have the deep study of God that takes the meaning of the Word. In the beginning was the Word. There are many descriptive terms for God, and in the Hebraic Scriptures you’ll find that he most often referred to as The LORD. So, the use of the Word, has a precedent. 

One of the commentators, I read in preparation, writes:

some have seen a possible influence from Stoic usage, in which the Logos stood for the rational principle guiding and directing all things. But in Stoicism this principle alone was regarded as divine, so that there would’ve been no precedent for the notions of both God and the logos existing together.

We find the same in the first letter of John, though it’s not as intense. It’s not as deep. It’s as though the writer of this letter understands that people just simply cannot grasp the immense essence of who God is. 

1 John 1

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” 

Yet again, we have another perspective on our engagement with who God is and what he means for us. This letter unpacks the prologue of the Gospel of John in a way that makes it more digestible. Easier to understand.

We have moved from the notion of light and dark to the reference of God and Christ being the light of all people. In John’s Gospel, the Word was already pre-existent. It simply was in the beginning, and at God’s side. God spoke and the Word created. What God was, the Word was.

“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,”

An emphatic statement about the role of the Word in creation. A good summary of Genesis 1, isn’t it? Without God’s Word, creation wouldn’t have come about. 

I’m going on a small tangent here, for those of you going ‘yadda, yadda, yadda, thinking about evolution.’ Had it ever occurred to you that the way in which the Genesis story was written actually reflects the way in which the theory of evolution is put forward? Evolution: Big Bang, light and dark, water, land and air, amoeba, fish, plants, animals, humans. We in our enlightenment accept this is the way that we have evolved into the superior beings we are. One question, I leave with you from my tangent: how did the creators of Genesis all those thousands upon thousands of years ago know what we have ‘discovered’ in the past 200 years? How did they know?

So, back to the Word and “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life.’ John has now associated the Word with life and light. 

“In him was life, God’s energising and life-giving power, sustaining created existence in relation to its creator, and the life was the light of humans, displaying and communicating to knowledge of God to humanity.

In the opposition between light and darkness, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. As well as ‘overcome’,you could use ‘to grasp/comprehend/understand’ as well as ‘to master/overcome.’”

In the letter of John,

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

It’s pretty self-explanatory. If we choose to do something that is not life-giving, or encouraging, then we do not live in the light. 

If we want to build people up in their faith, put a desire in their hearts to want to come to church – in the words of the Epistle writer:

“we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

If we walk in the light, we should have no fear. None. No fear of those who wish us harm, be it physical, mental or spiritual. The darkness has no place in the light of Christ, it simply cannot overcome. We come to this building, for fellowship. For encouragement. In joy, peace and love. All those things we spoke about during Advent. 

Let us continue in that, holding each other up when faced with whatever adverse circumstances come our way. Support each other when behaviours should be questioned, help out and work as a team for the good of this church in this town, sharing the light of Christ as a united entity, knowing that what we have in Christ, this Word, this light, is what Christ wants for the rest of the world.

Remembrance Sunday, 2020

By Barrie Cran

Seventy-Five years ago the guns fell silent at the end of the second world war, firstly in Europe and then in the Far East. Humanity seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, the suffering was over, At last the horror that seemed to envelope the world, and that impacted upon serviceman and woman, as well as millions of civilians, had ended and there was a dawning of a new peace.  “Our boys” would come home; things would be better; the killing was over.

Of course, it didn’t really turn out like that.  “Our boys”… and don’t forget the many girls, remained on active service, in places of danger across the world.  They still do today.  Wars didn’t end then.  Fighting restarted in Europe and the far east almost immediately.  Anyone remember, or even heard of the Greek Civil War?  Round one was in December 1944, it didn’t finally finish until 1949!  Vietnam started with the first IndoChina war in December 1946.  There are still armies fighting in various forms today.  We still have UK troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan along with ships, submarines and aircraft deployed around the world.  I wonder if this is what was expected when VE and VJ days were celebrated all those years ago.

So, if nothing has changed, why is it important to remember still?  In a world where natural jeopardy in the form of COVID and other things seems so real, why do we, in church, take time to remember those whose task it is to be bearers of arms?  Don’t worry, I am not about to give discourse on Just War theology, nor am I going to preach on pacificism.  But I passionately believe it is important to remember, to stand alongside those who suffer, because that is what Jesus would do.  Jesus would look at the individuals who go out to fight, and to suffer.

We all know that war has terrible consequences and we talk of sacrifice.  But these are not saints who set out for martyrdom or some great vision of righteousness.  They weren’t then, and they aren’t now. So, who are these people whose names are on our memorials, whose hands put the stones in the form of ship’s names above Loch Eribol?  Why did they go, why do they still go?  They are very ordinary people; people like you, people like me.  And they do it for many reasons.  In past wars like the first and second World Wars there was no choice.  The government decided and they did because they had to, because it was expected of them, because the fate of the nation depended on it.  Some went willingly, others reluctantly, but they went, many never to return.  They are buried where they fell in carefully tended war graves around the world, or still in their ships and aircraft deep under the ocean.  We cannot know what the people behind the names on the memorials across our country and county actually thought, but we do know they went and did not come back.  We may never have known them in person, but we should remember them.

But today we are in a different world with the people doing the fighting, at least in our armed services, as volunteers.  They volunteer for many different reasons, some for the glory, some because for them it’s the right thing to do.  Some because that’s what the family business is, and they follow their father grandfather or even older brother; to them it’s what’s expected.  Some do it because the army, navy or air force gives them the family, security, belonging and respect that they have never had.  The concept of running away to sea is very much alive and well in the 21st century.  It’s not for us to judge their motives, but it is for us all to remember. 

Through films and television war can seem very familiar to us all.  Somehow, we can all become part of it, have an experience without having to face any danger ourselves.  The film Saving Private Ryan was remarkable for the accuracy of the way that the reality of the D Day beaches were shown.  It is the only film I have ever seen where the response was silence.  When it finished everyone, including a bunch of “see the funny side of everything” submariners, left the cinema in a silence that lasted some time.

So how much more unsettling is the reality.  The waking up to a funny whistling noise, followed by dull crump fairly close by and only then alarm sounds.  Walking down a dusty road not knowing who the friend or who the foe is.  Giving and receiving communion wearing pistols and carrying live ammunition, the body armour and helmets piled up at the back of the dusty room that doubles as a temporary church.  The wearing of heavy, cumbersome and hot body armour under a blazing sun.  But this is just a scratching the surface of a life that it is for most people, outside comprehension.  A life of tension, of uncertainty, of risk, of comradeship, amazing self-sacrifice, of beauty and indescribable horror, of laughter and tears; of love and hate.   We cannot understand but we must remember.

And yet in the midst of all this, Jesus is there.  He is there not because we deserve it.  He is there, not because he is on “our side,” but He is there because people are suffering.  He is there because His creation is broken.  He is there because He is love and reaches out to us.  He does not care that we have brought this suffering upon ourselves.  He does care for those who suffer, He does care for those caught up in the terror, the tragedy, the chaos, the hurt, the grief, the destruction that comes from war.  He is with the suffering innocents; those caught up by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Those who live in places of conflict and hate.  If Jesus can be there, we must remember.

And we should be there too.  Be there in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our actions.  We are called to remember all those who give and all those who suffer.  Many countries have their tombs of the unknown soldier.  For some they are places of idolisation, a focus for national pride, a rallying point in times of conquest, full of symbology that inspires the next generation to martyr themselves.  But for other countries they are places of reverence.  The tomb of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey is NEVER walked on.  Even Kings and Queens being crowned, Princes and princesses being married, dignitaries being buried, go round it.  Princess Elizabeth stopped to place her wedding posy on it when marring the future King George. If the highest in the land can remember, so can we, so must we.

We must remember what they have done for us, give thanks and then work hard that the sacrifices they have made, however, wherever and whenever they were made, have not been made in vain.

In the words that the US 4* General commanding all the forces in Iraq during my time there used to close every daily briefing,

“May God Bless all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines”

Amen.

November 1st 2020 – All Saints/All Souls

The Sermon on the Mount, by Neil Thompson

The Gospel today, as you have all just heard, is the beginning of what has become to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It is fairly early on in Jesus’ Ministry and word has got around about this new preacher who can not only teach but can heal people as well. Jesus has begun to draw the crowds so he goes up onto a mountain, (we don’t know which mountain), with his disciples and the crowd follow and sit around him and he begins to preach to them.

Now as a lot of you no doubt know from personal experience preaching or giving a sermon is not an easy task. To some it means a lot of hard work in preparation while to others, perhaps the gifted few, it just comes naturally. (You could say it is a gift from God). Sermons by definition are a means of giving advice. In my dictionary one definition is “to give advice in an offensive, tedious or obtrusive manner, a harangue”.

Well I wouldn’t go quite as far as to agree with that definition although no doubt, in the past, sermons may well have been delivered in that manner but nevertheless a sermon is a way of getting your point over and Jesus on this occasion has lots of points to get over. In fact the next three chapters in Matthews’ Gospel are devoted to what he has to say. There is still debate amongst scholars about the exact theological structure and composition of the Sermon but it is generally acknowledged as containing the central tenets of Christian discipleship. Notable amongst what he has to say is his presentation of the Beatitudes focusing on love and humility rather than force and mastery and for his teaching of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ as a way for all of us to pray.

He certainly seems to have got his points over and kept the attention of the crowd as it says at the end of chapter seven, “When Jesus had finished this discourse the people were astounded at his teaching; unlike their own teachers he taught with a note of authority”. That is another point about sermons or speeches. If you give them with an ‘Air of Authority’ then people are much more likely to believe that you are telling the truth and will listen and follow your guidance. Jesus, of course is not the only one who has given a rallying sermon or speech with great effect on the people and not always for the good. Hitler was a great orator who coerced and bullied the people of Germany into many despicable acts. On the other hand Churchill rallied the people when they were at their lowest ebb by his stirring speeches to resist the Nazi enemy. Martin Luther King taught black and coloured people to stand up for their rights and protest against inequality and paid with his own life.

Free speech, of course, is one of the most treasured freedoms that we have in this nation of ours. The right to express ones views freely without fear of imprisonment is considered a basic human right and is much envied by those countries where to speak out risks arrest and beatings. In the sixties when a student in London we sometimes went along to ‘Speakers Corner’ at the edge of Hyde Park where anyone could get on their ‘Soap Box’ and preach about anything they liked (as long as it was not obscene, blasphemous or insulted the Queen). Many famous people in history have spent time there putting over their views including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, Kwame Nkrumah and the Revd Donald Soper. Jesus of course when he was giving his sermon on the mount was using the opportunity to exercise free speech but was already beginning to come to the attention of religious leaders who were jealous of his success and were beginning to plot against him, leading of course to his eventual arrest and crucifixion.

So how does today’s Gospel relate to the theme of ‘All Saints’ and for that matter ‘All Souls’. Well in those first few lines of Jesus’ sermon many of the attributes he talks about are exactly what someone who has been raised to Sainthood possesses.  Righteous, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker and of course many were persecuted because of righteousness, were falsely accused of evil and lost their lives. Also Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted’ telling us that God will be there to help us in our grief for our loved ones who have died

So as we commemorate the Saints and all that they did and we remember those who have gone before us we can be comforted and can rejoice in the fact that God is with us every step of the way.

Curate’s Letter: November

We have succeeded in opening both Episcopal churches in Caithness. Gathered worship is happening once again, albeit in a different fashion from what we are used to. Teams from across both congregations are enabling this to happen, safely and in accordance with both government and SEC guidance.

Pastoral practicalities are being worked through as we adjust to this new normal. For me, as Curate, this includes pacing myself along with the symptoms that are now being called the ‘long tail of CoVid.’ Like many people I may never know for certain that I have had this virus (back in April) but I do have long lasting effects particularly in the form of fatigue. Therefore it is with regret that I am not providing a Curate’s Letter for this month’s Outlook, as I do need to look after self.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (25th October)

Deut 34:1-12, 1 Th 2:1-8, Mt 22:34-46. By Rev Ellie.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. What two commandments? The first one ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Comes from the second part of Shema, which is the standard prayer that all pious Jews recite daily. Jesus then added another phrase that was popular amongst early Christian writers, but had never been used in this manner. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. The second phrase, Jesus says is ‘like’ the first. From that, we can infer that the phrases do not mean the same thing.

Your love of God, your following of Him is first and foremost. But a very close second is how you love your neighbour. Are you generous, kind, loving towards your neighbours? Then that abundant grace reflects your personality and your ease with yourself, and that you are comfortable in yourself. The opposite therefore must also be true. Stinginess suggests a miserly nature, one that begrudges others’ lavish abundance. We see that elsewhere in the Gospels, for example the expensive jar of nard that was poured on Jesus’ feet and Judas’ response.

Coming back to today… ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ In other words, Everyone is your mirror. Herman Hesse wrote in 1919’s Demian, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him/her that is part of yourself.” I am reminded of the saying from earlier in Matthew’s Gospel; “How can you say to your neighbour, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” That saying can be applied so often in our lives, in all sorts of different situations. Where it is pointed out to us that what we dislike about someone, is already an issue in our life. I use it as a check. What is annoying me about a person? I then ask God to show me where that same issue is in my life and work through that with Him.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Carl Jung is quoted as saying: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Everyone is our mirror. Yet, we are also asked to see Christ in everyone we meet. It’s a stark juxtaposition and can it make for uncomfortable bedfellows.

Kolyanne Russ, a blogger wrote that [sic]: “Most of the Times, We Hold Others to a Standard We Impose on Ourselves.” And that can lead us to despise others who don’t meet our ideal. Yet, that goes against what we know about God. He doesn’t ask for His ideal. He doesn’t ask us for our ideal. No. He asks us to come as we are, broken, ragged, hurt, despised. And he loves us just the same. And he loves each of us equally, without any caveats. He loves us with all his heart, unconditionally. So we come back to these two commandments.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. I’ve always had an image of a tree with a broken branch which represents the Law and the Prophets, and wondered why that branch was mostly broken. Reading about this passage in ‘Feasting on the Word,’ I think my image isn’t actually that far from the truth. These two phrases, that are ‘like’ each other, but not the same are represented by the tree. All the Law – what one is allowed or not allowed to do, and all the Prophets tenuously hang on to the love that God has for us and the love we have for God. 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ In this statement we’re asked to hold nothing else dear. There is no Law that comes anywhere close to the love that God has for us and that we should have for God. The phrase that is like this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ sets a standard, in that if you see everyone as a mirror and therefore see yourself warts and all, you are then able to see how you may improve yourself. Remembering of course, to take the log out of your own eye first before attempting to remove a speck from your neighbour’s eye.

So how much of the Bible is given over to the Law? We know that most of what we call the Old Testament is a social history of the Jewish people. But how much of that is Law? The traditional term for the first five books of the Bible is the ‘Pentateuch’ or ‘Law.’ The Hebrew word ‘Torah’ that is usually translated ‘law’ has a much broader meaning than what we have in English. Torah derives from the verb ‘to teach’ or ‘to instruct.’ Think briefly of the ten commandments. Think of the way you might have been taught them ‘Thou shalt not…’ or ‘You will not’ or ‘Don’t do…’ I wonder if it would change our perspective if we were to look on them as instruction. ‘Please don’t…’

All the laws and ritual legislation found in the Old Testament are not restrictions hemming God’s people in – rather they are part of God’s wisdom. Much in the same way that we conduct our church services today. We are provided with a liturgical framework to help guide our thoughts to the point of where we ask for God’s forgiveness, and having received of God through the Eucharist, we go out on His great commission. That is why all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Without these two commandments everything else is dross. The social history and Paul’s letters and the Psalms are nothing without love. 

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ What does that look like? It looks like this.

“I will worship, with all of my heart
I will praise you, with all of my strength
I will seek you, all of my days
I will follow, all of your ways

I will give you, all my worship
I will give you, all my praise
You alone, I long to worship
You alone, are worthy of my praise.”

                           Jeremy Camp.

Reflection for the 25th October

Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6,13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46. By Barrie Cran, Lay Reader.

Collect:  Lord God our redeemer, who heard the cry of your people and sent your servant Moses to lead them out of slavery, free us from the tyranny of sin and death, and by the leading of your Spirit bring us to our promised land; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

How often of you dreamed about something that you really, really want?  Have you worked for it, striven for it, given things up for it, done everything you can for it, just to have it snatched from your grasp just as it seems to be in sight?  The pain, the anguish, the frustration, the anger even, that we feel when that happens is raw.  There have not been that many things I have experienced like that; perhaps I have been lucky or perhaps I just havened dreamed big?  But I have had friends who have, for no fault of their own, had their dreams snatched from them.  I have seen the disappointment in their eyes, the dropping of their shoulders.  In those few times when it has happened to me, I have just had to go for a long walk all alone – just me without any platitudes or kind words, no matter how well meant.

 I wonder what was in Moses’ eyes as he stood there and looked over the promised land in the certain knowledge that he would not set foot in it.  After all that he had done from the time he was called, very reluctantly, to be the leader of Israel.  Through those difficult times with his own people, let alone with Pharaoh.  Through standing up for his people when they did wrong.  Through the wilderness.  Yet through all those things he was not to get the reward, in spite of being in rude health as they may say.  Instead he died at the Lord’s command.  The end of Moses’ journey is, in our eyes, so near and yet not quite there.

I wonder how many of us felt like that when the numbers started to go the wrong way and restrictions started to return?  Perhaps the better story is the return to the wilderness when Joshua and the spies returned from their trip and the leaders were afraid.  Either way the promised land has been shown and then taken away, in Moses’ case for ever.

As we go into another period of increased restriction, this time coupled with evenings drawing ever in and weather getting steadily more autumnal, the temptation can be to lose faith in ever getting out of this situation.  And it will seem like its going on for ever.  I can barely remember what a normal day was like, I can’t really remember what the old routine of a trip home every month with a late night drive back from the airport ready for Monday morning at work.  These are all distant memories now in an old world where things seemed so established.

But we should think back to what others have been through and they survived and indeed thrived.  And we have a promise that is implicit in Jesus question; a question in two parts.  What is the messiah and whose son is the messiah?

While this was a question aimed at those who thought they new better, it is also a question laden with hope for us.  We know that the Messiah is the route back to God!  We know that the Messiah is David’s son Jesus.  Maybe the religious elite of the Jews did not know this, but we do!

And so we must take comfort from that knowledge, we must have faith in that knowledge because it is wonderful news, even in the dark and cold evenings of October when the world around us seems hostile and dangerous.  Because knowing the messiah gives us hope beyond today, and tomorrow.  It gives us hope for the end of times because we have a loving Messiah, a redeeming Messiah.

So, I take comfort from Moses’ long journey.  He struggled, he thought himself unworthy.  He pushed back and sometimes gave up, well almost.  He even pleaded for himself and his people and led them through dark, dark days of hunger thirst, rebellion and uncertainty.  And at the end of times he did not, at least by earthly standards, get the prize of the promised land.  That prize was taken by another.  Like Paul he suffered greatly for following God’s ways.  But like Paul he was a man of God.

My inconveniences and annoyances are as nothing compared with what others have been through, and indeed go through.  We have been freed from the tyranny of sin and death by the Messiah and that is such a great thing that it can transcend all our current problems and cares and worries and concerns.  Whether they are about our lives, whether they are about our families, whether they are about our work and workmates, our finances.  Whether we feel isolate or afraid.  Whatever these cares we must remember that there is a promised land, and the Messiah will lead us there, even if we can’t see it at the moment.  We may not know the route or the timing but be can have faith that it does exist at the end of days.

So just as Moses sight was unimpaired and his vigour unabated when he saw the promised land so we can also have confidence.  Moses didn’t throw a tantrum and shout “darn” (or something similar), Moses had faith and we should have faith that we have the Messiah.

So as things get dark outside, and maybe in our hearts, let that glimmer of faith, let the light of the Messiah shine through and show us that promised land.  It is there for us, even if we can’t quite see it at the moment, it won’t be snatched from us at the last minute, we will cross over that river.