Articles

Hymn for Easter III

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 20:16

With many thanks to Ian Lawson, our Director of Music

http://youtu.be/sdbfAzLrffw

O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,

how sweet their mem'ry still!

But they have left an aching void

the world can never fill. 

 

The dearest idol I have known,
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne,
and worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

                                                                William Cowper (1731 - 1800)

Tune CAITHNESS - melody from the Scottish Psalter of 1635

Sermon for Easter III - Thanks to the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 20:10

Easter 3 Year A 2020

Today’s Gospel story of the encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus reminds of us a wisdom that it easily forgotten in times of fear and stress; the difficult truth pithily expressed by the Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Cleopas and his companion have lived through what seems to them a tragic disaster, the crucifixion of their Lord and the extinction of all their hopes. They are returning home from Jerusalem in despair. They have heard others testifying to the Resurrection but for them that news is so improbable that it is impossible to believe. The unrecognised stranger who accompanies them on the road to Emmaus encourages them to revisit the scriptures in which their beliefs are grounded and to find there teachings which make sense of the traumatic experiences of the past few days and of the testimony to the Resurrection which they have heard.

This a helpful Gospel in a time of anxiety, uncertainty and the grief for it reminds us of the truth that the Risen Christ walks alongside us, even in those times when it is difficult or impossible to recognise his presence. Even in that difficulty, that impossibility, Christ is with us, the Christ who, on the Cross questioned the absence of God, using the words which begin the twenty-second Psalm:

“My God, my God, who have you forsaken me?”

For Cleopas and his companion, the move from despair to hope, from a sense of God’s absence to a realisation of the presence of the Risen Christ, was possible because they stopped talking and started listening. At the beginning of the passage we read that:

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

The talking and discussing were, perhaps, the reason why they were unable to recognise that Jesus was present with them. It was through listening that they began to gain the perspective that would enable them to see that Jesus was present rather than absent. When they reach their destination they want to go on listening, they ask their unknown companion to stay with them and it is then, in the moment of the blessing, breaking and sharing of the bread that they recognise Jesus and recollect how they felt during the walk with him:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

An experience of that “understanding of life backwards” of which Kierkegaard wrote. And so the story reminds us of the value, in dark times, of stilling our hearts, of listening and of engaging with scripture.

The Road to Emmaus was also, for Cleopas and his companion, the road back to normal life. They had been followers of Jesus. They had expected him to inaugurate a new order and to put everything right and those hopes had been dashed. They were returning to the jobs and routines that they had abandoned when they became disciples. They were seeking the comfort that normality can bring.

For us at the present, the road back to normality seems very inviting. If only it was possible to visit relatives who stay in care homes. If only we could get back to having friends round for a meal. If only I could hold that birthday celebration. If only we could go on holiday. If only the shops could re-open. If only the churches could re-open. It’s a natural and understandable instinct. In so many ways it is a good instinct, because (as we are painfully discovering) there is much in our normal lives which is good and fruitful. But the present crisis challenges us to think carefully about the normality to which we might return. It was not a normality that was safe, comfortable and just for everyone.

The rough sleepers of Edinburgh were not being housed in the relative luxury of the Old Waverley Hotel. Is the return to normality for them going to mean joining the queue for the limited shelter offered by Bethany, the Salvation Army and other charities or camping out in the waste ground by the former Murrayfield railway station? The care workers, many of them from abroad, who have risked and, in some cases, lost their lives looking after vulnerable people during the Pandemic were mostly earning the minimum wage, though their work is skilled and requires deep human resources of patience and love. Is a normality which values them so little one to which we should return? It was normal for a high proportion of flats in our city centre to be advertised on AirB&B for short lets at high rents rather than available to local people for a fair rent. Is that a defensible normality? Among the results of the lockdown have been cleaner air in our cities, cleaner rivers and a drastic reduction in car use and in air travel. Will a return to normal mean a return to dangerous levels of pollution and the imminent threat posed by global warming?

A return to normal was not to be the experience of Cleopas and his fellow traveller. They had thought that Emmaus was to be there destination, but it turned out to be a turning point. Recognising the Risen Christ led to them returning to Jerusalem and witnessing to the Resurrection. Their discipleship was renewed and, according to tradition, Cleopas went on to be one of the Seventy Apostles, one of the leaders of the early Church. That’s a reminder of our calling to pray that for us and for our leaders, the Pandemic may be, like the disciples’ journey to Emmaus, an eye-opening experience. Let us pray and work for a new normality, informed by the values of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Amen

 

Amen!

Submitted by Dean on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 12:36

I recently finished Stephen Cherry's writings for Lent and Easter entitled 'Barefoot Prayers'. It is a collection prayer poems and a companion volume to 'Barefoot Ways' which takes one thorough Advent and Christmastide. I very much like his pithy words and thoughts and have found myself pondering his phrases as I go about my daily routines. The last prayer poem for Easter is entitled 'Amen':

"Amen:

I have never started a prayer with that word before.

Yet it is right.

Amen:

This one-word sentence says enough.

Amen:

Acceptance. Gratitude. Joy, perhaps.

Amen:

pause for breath. Look up. Take another step.

Amen:

Desire expressed. Longing left. Hands open.

Amen:

Request for answer. End of me. Over to you."

Like Cherry, I have never thought of starting with 'Amen' as a prayer and doing so really makes one think about what prayer is and how we articulate what we want to say to God and why. 'Amen' is a word of hope, reading, gratitude, acceptance and dependence. It sums up all we feel about God and all we try to comprehend at the same time. 'Amen' in itself is a good prayer for God knows what our prayers are before we say them. God knows the cares and concerns we carry in our hearts and God helps us to express them, no matter how poorly we feel we do. Sometimes 'Amen' is perhaps all we can say or pray but as Cherry suggests 'Amen' in itself is enough and says it all anyway. 

In this time of pandemic when words fail us in prayer just say 'Amen' and God will know all that we want to pray.

AMEN

 

 

 

 

A sermon for Easter II (Low Sunday) 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/04/2020 - 12:35

Low Sunday 2020 Year A Easter II

In Roman Egypt travellers sailing down the Nile would invite the local priests on board:

“… to give lectures on the greatest geographical issue of ancient times: the source of the Nile. Did it flow into Africa from the River Oceanus that encircled the earth? Or did it burble directly from the ground? And how did it flood like clockwork every year, without any rains? … Itinerant ivory traders knew that the Nile’s tributaries were filled by springtime rains in the mountains to the South (in modern Uganda). But the reports of these rustics were dismissed out of hand by all respected ancient thinkers: Any idiot could see the sun’s heat actually increased the farther south one travelled, singing men’s skin to the colour of ash, so these verdant mountains could not exist.”                                           Tony Perrottet in Route 66 A.D.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”                                                                                                                                               John 20:25b

I have never had a problem with Thomas’ doubt. Actually, I know myself well enough to say that I too would have disbelieved my friends and thought them mad, telling me that Jesus was alive. I would really have wanted some proof before I would have said I believed he was not dead. Many of us are like this, I suspect. We like to be able to see things or experience them to believe them to be true or real. There are very few of us who would take the word of another in something as remarkable as the resurrection!

I feel a great empathy with Thomas and this Gospel passage is one that speaks deeply to me. In fact Thomas is one of my ‘saintly heroes’ and I have an ikon of him permanently on the mantel shelf in the drawing room. He gives me encouragement to go on even when I feel overwhelmed with questions and doubt about my faith and the institution of the church.

It does seem absurd that a man could be raised from the dead, especially after he has experienced such a horrendous death. Like Thomas I am someone who likes proof of such things but I don’t always accept what I see as proof either. When I was studying science at University I used to argue that there were no scientific facts per se but only observed phenomena, which may or may not be as we had interpreted them. I was always seeking a deeper answer and meaning and as a result somewhat sceptical of what I first saw or was told. I think now that I must have been a complete pain! But it does explain to me why I feel comfortable with a ‘grey’ faith and ‘grey’ theology.

What I mean by this is that, as I perceive it, there can never be any black and white answers to questions of our faith or to questions about God. How can we ever say that this is so or that is so? Take scripture: I have never been able to accept the idea that it has to be accepted literally because it was in some way ‘dictated by God’. I know that the Bible as we have it was put together by a committee or ecumenical council, when the assembled theologians voted on which books went in and which books were left out. This is not to say that the Bible is wrong but more to acknowledge that it contains within itself enough for our salvation. That it is not to be taken literally but interpreted through prayer and thoughtful study. For me the idea of adopting a literal understanding of scripture is to try and encompass God in a collection of human words. And, I don’t think that God can be encompassed and controlled in that way – for who is greater; the Creator or the creation?

Yes! I am a good liberal and I am not ashamed to be such either. In bits of the church today, you get the idea that there is only one way to believe in God and his works. I find those who believe they have the ultimate understanding of the mind of God scary because you have to be ‘perfect’ before God will love you and I have always believed that in his death Jesus proved that God loves each of us just the same. Jesus did not die for selected sinners but for all of us to prove the extent of God’s love for ALL of us.

Desmond Tutu reinforced this belief in an inspiring sermon he preached in 2004 at Candlemass:

“How incredibly, wonderful, it is that God says to you, to me: ‘There is nothing you can do to make me love you less. I take you, I take you very seriously, I take you – you- body and soul, you the visible and the invisible of you, I love you, I love you, I love you’.”

This is my hope that I am loved for me by God just as much as you are loved for you and my hope finds proof of this in Thomas’ scepticism.

Picture it: Jerusalem spring 33 A.D. -ish. A room in a locked house. A group of friends, except Thomas, the followers of a crucified preacher have gathered to mourn the loss of their leader. Then suddenly, he’s there among them! They must have been ‘gob-smacked’! How did he do that? Was it really him? Did he not really die? Wow! It is not surprising that Thomas couldn’t get his head around the idea that Jesus had returned to them from the dead.

Then the following week the disciples are gathered again and this time Thomas is with them and Jesus appears again and this time encourages Thomas to feel his wounds, to prove that he is not a fake. This for me is proof of love.

Jesus need not have returned and satisfied Thomas’ doubt but he did and he did so because he loved Thomas as much as the others and wanted him to know that he was alive, not dead.

It’s a bit like hearing that an old friend is in town and that some of your mates have seen him but you haven’t. You might be left feeling somewhat left out or snubbed – only to get a visit from your friend who says they wanted to spend time with you on your own because you are special to them. You’d probably feel very loved knowing how important you are to your friend.

This is what Jesus was doing. He was telling Thomas that he was important to him and that he understood why he could not believe what the others had told him. Couldn’t you hear yourself say:

“I don’t believe you. Come on that is too fanciful; you must have been hallucinating or drunk?”

For me it is Thomas’ very human reactions that encourage me to believe in the resurrected Jesus. I have never seen Jesus but yet I would want to say that I know him and am loved by him. I say this because of the ways in which I experience him in the love I receive from others. Jesus, I believe, is a loving presence in all of us – whether we acknowledge him or not – and the Gospel accounts of his life and ministry are there as examples of how we can lead a good life in the service of others. And in attempting to live this life we come to know Jesus better and feel bound to others who are trying to do the same.

Jesus led a life fuelled by love and that love can fuel the lives we live for it is that love that binds us together and it is that love that enables us to do the things we thought impossible – like touching Jesus’ wounds.

I will always be a sceptic but if Thomas is anything to go by, then I think I am in good company. So take heart all of you who doubt like Thomas, for doubt can lead you to truth. It may not be an easy path to follow but it will be a fascinating journey.

Amen.         

There is however one thing I am not a sceptic about and that is the source of the Nile in Uganda. I have actually put my finger in it!

Easter Week 2020

Submitted by Dean on Wed, 15/04/2020 - 15:01

This year, for all of us, Easter has been celebrated very differently. Many have worshipped at home joining in the Spiritual Communion as I have celebrated the Eucharist at Church. Others have followed one of our Bishops offering the Eucharist from somewhere in Scotland and live streaming it to the web and others will have followed services on the television or radio. Our church buildings may have to be closed but we are still able to be 'church' and to inter-connect with each other as we worship our God. 

If Easter teaches us anything then it is that things can and do change and can be renewed in different ways. When Jesus rose from the dead he came back changed in some way. In fact his followers didn't recognise him initially, he was different. The church and ourselves included have had to learn, in these past few weeks, how to be different and to do 'church' in new ways. Using the website, facebook, live streaming etc. are new ways to many of us but to others they are quite familiar but at least many of us now have experience of these ways of doing things and that is all for the good. For those very familiar with these approaches it is perhaps an opportunity for them to engage with church for the first time or to re-engage after a lapse or time away and for the church it is good that we are reaching out to more people in new ways. Being different or doing things differently is always a challenge but it is a challenge our Lord calls us to accept. 

This 'lockdown' time is a challenge in so many ways but the unexpected blessings it is also giving is a gift. Time to learn new skills and to reach out to so many in new ways; re-connecting or connecting with friends old and new and simply finding ways of being church that are both familiar and new is exciting as much as it is terrifying. Our faith in Christ is always new and never static. We can always discover new things about Jesus and his Father as we pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Above all things at this time it is prayer, whether it be private or 'on-line' or whatever - that is the most important thing we Christians can be doing. Prayer is the thing that unites us with God and each other and it is prayer that we can offer when we simply do not know what else to do. Prayer is never wasted or futile, it shows our care and concern and our hope for better things in the future. 

Keep on praying for all at this time; those in need, those on the front-line and those anxious and confused: 

Loving God, source of healing and comfort, fill us with your grace; that the sick may be made whole, that those who care for us will be strengthened, that those bereaved will be comforted, that the anxious will be calmed, and those most vulnerable be protected in the power of the Spirit, in the faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.