Meditation 11

1 THESSALONIANS 5: 23 – 28
We now come to the close of this first letter. There is a benediction, a plea and then finally an instruction followed by the grace. Just as the letter began with peace and grace, so it ends with peace and grace These two virtues sandwich the content of the letter providing the context for all that all that Paul had written. Above all be at peace, above all know the grace of Jesus Christ and exhibit that grace exhibit that peace. How much more effective would our churches be if grace and peace bracketed all that we did?
So let’s hear the scripture now: –
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
When I was in Pakistan, one of the concepts that I became very familiar with was the idea of the extended family. It was exemplified at Christmas. The matriarch and patriarch of the family that gave us our meals lived with the older son and family. But at Christmas the other sons came home, one from the UK and the other from Saudi Arabia. They were laden with gifts. I could not believe the extravagance of gifts that were being given. In talking to the older son however I realised what was happening. The older son stayed at home, had a fairly good job as a head teacher but his main task was to look after mum and dad. The other brothers tasks were to provide for everyone. Their better paying jobs in the UK and Saudi Arabia afforded them a much more luxurious lifestyle, or at least it would have done. However, most of what they earned was put into the family pot. The lifestyle of the older son, his family and the parents was much enhanced by the contributions of the other children. There was a family continuity and solidarity that you do not see in western families any more. There was self-sacrifice to pursue a common goal, the family property was managed on behalf of all the family. It was not just going to go to the older son on the father’s death. It would remain in the family as a whole and the others would contribute to its upkeep. There was a family solidarity that was quite an eye opener for two young lads from the individualistic west.
It was a way of looking at family that could have been very insular. But it was not. For the extended family, the cousins etc were just as much part of this and their welfare was of importance too. It also was not a closed shop. Within a very short period of time we were being referred to as brothers by the older son. Within a couple of months we were welcomed as just as much a part of this extended family as mutual trust developed. Being considered a brother was a huge honour and showed just how welcoming the family were.
This idea of brotherhood and extended family were very much part of society in Thessalonica in the first century. It made conversion to Christianity a major step. After all, such was the antagonism between the church and society that by becoming a Christian you cut yourself off from your extended family. That is why Paul stresses again and again brothers and sisters. Paul is encouraging the church in Thessalonica to become the replacement extended family for all who become part of the fellowship. The trust, support and solidarity that they once enjoyed in the family unit was now replaced by the trust, support and loyalty of their brothers and sisters in the faith. It is worth reflecting on how this idea of brothers and sisters in the faith, the extended family and the welcome to extend the family further might influence how we emerge from lockdown and this whole crisis. We have done a good job of supporting one another through this time, we now have to continue to demonstrate this mutual care as we go forward, remembering that we will not all come out of lockdown together, it is likely that some with stay in isolation longer and even once we are given the all-clear, should that happen, there will still be issues around employment, financial stability and mental health that will continue to affect our community for months, if not years, to come. With families being increasingly separated and scattered around the globe this is not just a pandemic problem either. We nee, as a church to be the extended family for each other as we live in such a globalised society. How well we are the extended family that Paul hopes for us will determine much of our future.
We are called to sanctify ourselves. The other way to phrase that which is more used today is that we are to continue to grow into the likeness of Christ, maturing in our faith so that in our thoughts and by our actions we display Christ’s character more and more through ourselves. This maturation is a deliberate process we are encouraged to undergo through prayer and bible study, constantly seeking to put into practice in our lives what we learn and how we develop.
We finally get to the verse which stimulated this whole study in the first place. Verse 25. Brethren pray for us or as the NIV translates it, more in keeping with today, brothers and sister pray for us. I started this study by saying how we are only going to get through this lockdown period supported by each other in prayer. We are only going to get through the period of easement and the months that follow by continuing in prayer. Prayer is the basis for all we do, the foundation of our life as a church, as a community, as a fellowship so I covet your prayers and I want you to know that I pray for you. I pray through the membership list, I pray for the church as a whole, I pray for all those that are now part of our fellowship, albeit through the power of technology. Brothers and sisters pray for us, pray for us as se seek to move forward out of lockdown, pray for us as we seek to be the church God has called us to be, pray for us as we seek to encourage our whole community to be brothers and sister in Christ.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, evermore. Amen.

Midweek meditation

1 THESSALONIANS 5: 12 – 22
I think for some of us, particularly at the moment we will find one of Paul’s instructions in this section particularly hard. Give thanks in all circumstances, for all things. Can you give thanks when you have not been able to see your loved ones in ages. Can you give thanks when your partner of many years goes into hospital, you cannot visit them and the next thing you know is that they have died from covid? Can you give thanks when you have been laid off, you are struggling to pay the rent or for groceries? Can you really give thanks? Wouldn’t it be easier and more accurate to say, give thanks in most circumstances, or as much as you are able? One writer suggested this nautical analogy:-
That has to be one of the most adventurous voyages of thought ever embarked upon the rough waters of reason, and logically it seems destined for shipwreck.
But Paul does not qualify the statement, not in one little bit. The other imperatives in this section are equally as all encompassing. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. So how do we make sense of this in a way which does not leave us disheartened because of our struggles to live up to this calling?
I believe that there are two things to bear in mind. First of all. This letter was not written to an individual. It was written to a church, a group of people. Remember what I said a few weeks ago, we need to read the new testament as Jane and her fellow southerners would read it. Give thanks, y’all, in all circumstances. Rejoice y’all. Keep praying, y’all. These instructions are given to a body of believers, not individuals.
A body is an interesting thing. One of the things that I have learnt about the body through growing up with partial paralysis is that when one part of the body is weakened often other parts will be strengthened to compensate. If you are so unfortunate to see me in my shorts you will notice my left leg is bulkier than my right. My left arm than my right. In the same way the body of Christ can compensate. I am sure that many of you are struggling to give thanks at the moment while others find it easier. That’s ok and that is a part of what it means to be a body. There are aspects of our situation today that causes me tremendous grief and sadness. I have to admit that at the same time I am not missing being out almost every evening which means I am getting to spend more time with Jane. Just as someone might get upset because it rains and ruins their barbeque, someone else might be delighted as their crops needed the water. In everything, as a body, we can give thanks.
Another way to look at this is to look at two basic truths which, I would suggest does make it possible, even as individuals, to give thanks in all circumstances. The first truth is that worship is the context for the whole of life, not just one hour on a Sunday morning. In Karl Rahner’s words, everyday life must become itself a prayer. If all of life is worship for those who seek God’s will then thanksgiving is a necessary and inevitable by-product. That is why Calvin objected to the term Eucharist, for the Lord’s Supper as he promoted the fact that all of life should be lived in thanksgiving to God and eucharist means thanksgiving. We therefore, to use Calvin’s picture, all live eucharistic lives 24/7. Therefore ot quote one theologian, whether good or bad be the lot, a life of worship means perpetual thanksgiving.
The second truth presupposes that it is life’s depths and not its shallows that must arrest our attention. Paul Tillich speaks of the depth of existence that is the ground of our historical life, the ultimate depth of history. Thus Tillich calls us away from the shallow waters of superficial determinants which we see as being good or bad things happening to us. Instead he calls us out to the deeper waters where weightier truths make it possible to always give thanks. These weightier truths we have already seen, the gift of faith, the joy of salvation, a life hidden with Christ in God. These are things that our present circumstances cannot touch. These are things which go deeper than simply our own happiness or unhappiness due to present circumstances. These are the eternal things, the really meaningful things. These are the things that go beyond what moths can eat or rust can affect. Society tries to make us believe that life on the surface is what counts. We live in a pleasure seeking, superficial world. Yet that is not our natural habitat.
I remember when on holiday in Madeira being told I had ot try this particular fish. It was a local delicacy. A strange fish its skin was black. It lives most of the time in incredibly deep water, such as the water that surrounds the volcanic island. It is only at night that it comes to the surface. So, the fishermen of Madeira go out at night to try to catch this elusive creature. In the same way we live our most joyful and thankful lives when we live in the depths, remembering the eternal truths enjoying the knowledge of our salvation in Christ. That is not to say that we should not come up to the surface every once in a while like the Madeiran fish. It is good to enjoy a nice meal, the escapism of a film or a play or a concert. But we must not live on the surface for too long. We must return to the depths if we are to keep our spirit of thanksgiving.
Even this lockdown time is producing things of great joy. People in their distress have been turning to the faith, have been tuning in to live stream services, have been watching live studies such as this. They have found comfort and strength in these small acts of worship. They have found access to be easier as they don’t have to walk into a strange place and feel everyone’s eyes turning in their direction. Through acts of ministry such love your neighbour we have thrown off the shackles that so often hold us back and demonstrated a real concern and love for those around us. The elders have done a tremendous job, calling round their districts, getting in touch with people, showing care and compassion. They say there are silver linings with every cloud, there have even been silver linings through this crisis. So do give thanks. Give thanks in all circumstances and whenever you can. Live life at the deep end remembering all our Lord has done for us and rejoice.

Meditation 9 1 thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13 – 5:11
One Of the ways that people try to cope with tragic situations is with humour. Just yesterday I saw two good examples. One based on an advert for a well known chocolate treat just asked has anyone tried giving 2020 a snickers yet? The other simply stated that it was amazing how badly we are screwing up an apocalypse on the easy setting and that we’re clearly not ready for zombies or aliens! This of course is a very modern view on the apocalypse. Apocalyptic literature from the Bible is actually very interesting and very poetic.
Generally speaking, apocalyptic material tends to be written in times of crisis. The exile in Babylon led to the writings of Daniel and Ezekiel for example. The horrendous persecutions of the first century led to John’s writings from Patmos and even here in Thessalonians we get some apocalyptic material as Paul is so very aware of the hardships that the Thessalonian believers were having to put up with at this time. They were being shunned by society, persecuted by the authorities and having to put up with all manner of abuse for their new religion and so Paul looks to reassure them. So he writes to them of the end of time which is not just the summation of Christian theology but also the systematic counterpoint to creation. In more recent times you see the same longing in the spirituals written by the slaves in America and also the Sankey and Moody hymns that became so popular in the 19th century which were predominantly about future hope rather than present reality. Hymns such as “when the roll is called up yonder and the sweet by and by.” For those living in substandard housing provided by the industrial owners, who had to work gruelling 12 hour shifts in horrendous conditions for little pay singing about heaven on a Sunday somehow made the hell on Monday that little bit more bearable. Unfortunately this desire, while providing hope for the distant future does nothing to change the lot of those in the present and immediate future. By eclipsing the question of what will last in favour of looking at what comes last the present is ignored. Yet that is not what good eschatology will do. Good eschatology will emphasize that which is lasting and trust God to reveal in time what comes last.
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Day of the Lord
5 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
As Professor Elizabeth Barnes wrote: – “The same God who creates the world and redeems it from its fallen state is the God who wills its completion and draws it towards its final destiny. In the sense, therefore, that all life is lived towards its end, every moment has eschatological significance. In the homespun words of another, “we write our own epitaph,” by the lives we live moment by moment. Fraught with eschatological meaning, our decisions and actions have eternal significance. They either enact that which is ultimately lasting or do not.”
Paul’s writings to the Thessalonians does that. The work of the Thessalonian community was arduous. Their hope was tentative. Their loved ones were dying. Their decision to become believers resulted in great political costs and hardships. They were trying desperately to hold on to Paul’s teachings, to believe that Jesus would come again as promised. So, Paul set out to comfort them in their intense grief. He encourages them to have faith and hope. This is not the end of the story there is more to come.
I read this week an autobiographical story of a boy brought up in an intensely charismatic church community. Every Easter they would gather in the local cemetery before dawn for a sunrise service where the preacher, this boy’s father, would get the congregation worked up that this was the day, this was the day of the rapture. He describes how every Easter he expected to hear the blast of trumpets, to look up and see Jesus descending while the graves of all his faithful ancestors would burst open as they rose again. They listened, they prayed, they hoped, they cried and they sang. And while there was no rapture in a way Christ did come down. God was present and they were transported to a different dimension, even just for a moment. A moment when with their friends and relatives around them they felt a real presence. They felt the connection between heaven and earth. As the writer describes it he said, while we waited for it to happen we looked around and it was already happening. The cemetery on that Easter dawn became what our spiritual ancestors might refer to as a thin place.
According to the history it is likely that Kinnoull Parish Church started as a Celtic Christian community by the river crossing for those on pilgrimage to St. Andrews. Founded in memory of St. Constantine who was the Scottish King Constantine II who abdicated to become the Abbott of the Celtic monastery in St. Andrews our ancestors here would have understood the idea of a thin place. Iona was considered a thin place where heaven and earth seem to meet, time has no markers and the boundaries of past, present and future melt into one dimension. To describe that cemetery therefore as a thin place is to say that on that morning, just as Paul predicts in his letter, heaven and earth connected. However when Paul directs the Thessalonians to consider such a confluence he does it in such a way as to direct their attention to the present. Don’t spend your time wandering around looking up to the sky. Instead look around you in the here and now, to remember God is here already. Look around and see his presence here and now. Even at this time of crisis, when everything is upside down and topsy turvy, in the midst of the anxiety over covid 19, the frantic worry, the insecurity and loss realise that heaven and earth have already begun to connect. God has already come and will come again soon. By our words, by our actions, by our love we make this a thin place and the thinner this place becomes the more people will be touched by heaven, feel God’s presence and realise the importance of those things which are of eternal significance. Comfort one another with these words.

Meditation 8

Meditation 8
1 Thessalonians 4: 1 – 12
Good morning and welcome to this, the eighth of our lockdown meditations. Before I begin there is one announcement that I would like to make. This Saturday should have seen the opening of the General Assembly and the election of the new Moderator. As the Assembly has been cancelled the special commission that is always appointed at the end of an Assembly to make any necessary decisions between assemblies has acted to elect the Moderator Designate, Reverend Martin Fair as the new moderator. His installation will be broadcast on the church of Scotland website at 11am this Saturday.
As some of you know, one of the things I used to do a lot, but had not done much of in a while has been cycling. The big joke when I was at university was that we realised, due to the milometer on my bike was that in any given year I was riding more miles on my bike than my mother drove in her car. Well thanks to the lockdown I have been getting out on my bike a lot more. I have been enjoying the quieter roads and going on a couple of hour long rides a week. But these have not been up in the woods of Kinnoull hill or Deuchny these have been road miles. With the bicycle I have, off road biking is a definite no-no. The tyres are ultra thin, the wheels have a large diameter and the gears are higher. There is no way I can cycle on woodland tracks the bike was just not designed for that. In the same way if, when I am riding I come across someone heading to a mountain bike trail but riding on the road I soon overtake them because their bike is not designed to be that fast on tarmac. It really is a case of using things for what they are designed to do to get the best from them. In the same way we were designed by God for a specific purpose and we only perform to our best when we live according to our purpose. Recognising that idea is crucial for understanding this section from 1 Thessalonians. Let us read then what Paul wrote in chapter 4 verses 1- 12.
4 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honourable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
If you recall, back in an earlier study I told you that Paul and his companions had been forced to leave Thessalonica before they really wanted because of opposition in the city. This opposition made spreading the Gospel, even among residents of the city, very difficult. So how do you spread the Gospel and bring in to your new movement when you are effectively banned from sharing your new faith? This is an issue that existed in Thessalonica back in the day and still affects Christians in places like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan today. You share it by your behaviour and your demeanour, by how you act and the attitude that you have. Paul’s contention is that we were not designed and built to live lives of sin, but just as my bicycle is not designed to travel on dirt tracks so we are not designed to live immoral lives. So his contention is that if we live differently to the way the world generally lives, if we live more moral lives we will be more content, more at peace and more joyful and that joy will then prove attractive to those around us who will ask us what the source of our peace and joy might be.
Christian morality is comprehensive by nature. It is to do with the individual, the community and God. Paul here addresses individuals, but he does so in relation to others. We do not live in isolation usually. Our present condition is extreme to say the least and even now in our self-isolation we interact with others through various media. Sadly, there has been a tendency within the western church to reduce sin to the idea of psychological dysfunction and salvation as an inward feelgood factor. You cannot do this however if you keep in mind the communal aspect of sin, that what you do affects those around you. That when you sin you sin against God and other people. C.S. Lewis sums it up very well by saying this:
“Morality….sems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole… what tune the conductor of the band, ie God, wants it to play. If we miss the importance of these three elements , our lives will never arise above the din of society.
The last thing I want to point out about this passage is that towards the end Paul makes sure that the Thessalonians do not revert back to any sort of parochialism. Instead he challenges them to extend their love to all, transcending short-sightedness and selfishness. When a church feels threatened there is always a danger that it goes into self-preservation mode and becomes insular. I have seen this too often sadly. The result of such insularity is always the same. It cripples both spiritual growth and church outreach. Those outside the church are left with the impression that the church seems to think itself either as being too good for the rest of society or on the other hand not worthy of their consideration. The more we reach out, the more we extend our love to the rest of the community and address their concerns, minister to their needs while at the same time displaying joy, hope and peace the more the outside world will wonder and start to desire that love, joy, peace and hope for themselves. The hotline that we set up at the start of this crisis is a case in point. It has not gone unnoticed in the community. I know for a fact that non-church people have started to watch the online service because of the impression they have developed of Kinnoull church because of the hotline. So be encouraged. Ministry does not go unnoticed. The way we are does not go unnoticed. Paul urges the people of Thessalonica to love the people of Macedonia more and more. I urge you to love the people of your area more and more that in all things God in Christ will be glorified and we live to our purpose for which God has called each one of us.

Meditation 7

In this section Paul continues to pour out his love for the people of Thessalonica. His relationship to the church here was so different to his relationship with other churches. For example, the church in Corinth was always causing heartache. They had a long and stormy relationship. The church in the region of Galatia was always listening to outside agitators and again causing problems. However, none of these sorts of issues seemed to raise their heads in Thessalonica and so they were able to have a long friendship and love which surpassed his relationship with the other churches. Thus, you have his intense desire to be with them, to enjoy fellowship with them, to worship with them. I hope that, that if nothing else, this period of lockdown may have made you experience something of that desire. I know I long to worship surrounded by all of you again. Preaching to an almost empty church and doing these videos are simply not the same as being able to interact with you all, see the smiles, and even sometimes the frowns, on your faces while I lead and teach and preach is something I am missing to my very core.
Yet for all the church’s success, Paul’s thanksgiving for them is interrupted in verse 10 when he tells them that not only does he want to see them again, he also wants to supply to them what is lacking in their faith. He does not elaborate on what it is. He might even not know at that time, what it is, but he knows that something will be lacking and it is this that we will focus on this morning.
But first let us actually hear what Paul wrote: –
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
One of the repeating themes in Paul is his determination that every church exhibits the triad of graces, as one theologian described them. The triad is faith, hope and love. Certainly, if every church exhibited and focused on keeping the faith, keeping hope alive and loving everyone who they encounter, as well as God; then the church would be a vibrant and happy place. So often church’s and indeed ministers will focus on one or the other, maybe two out of three but keeping an equal emphasis on all three is vital for the ongoing life of the church. At this time, I believe the one that has been most difficult to encourage has been hope. The seemingly never ending linking and uniting of churches, the constant concern over a lack of ministers and shrinking numbers in the pews has been such a concern that hope seems to have gone out of the window. And yet there is hope. As Billy Graham once famously said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.” I think we forget this from time to time. We are so focused on the present reality that we forget the future glory. Yet interestingly in this difficult time I actually see more reason for hope. The number of you watching and reading this weekly meditation is far higher than the number we usually get for midweek Bible study. The number of people watching the live stream is far higher than we usually get on a Sunday. There are real signs of hope just as there were real signs of hope in Thessalonica.
The second thanksgiving that Paul mentions is the fact that the people of Thessalonica received the message that Paul brought as being the Word of God. They did not shrug it off or dismiss it, but received it eagerly and responded to it with commitment.
The third reason for his thanksgiving is one which is more difficult to express. In verse 10 he says that he looks forward to re-joining them so that he can supply what is lacking in their faith. To understand why that is a reason for thanksgiving you have to understand something of Paul’s wider theology and that Paul does not know what is lacking, he just knows that something is lacking.
This is the so-called apocalyptic realism of Paul. The realisation that we live in a time when all is not yet complete. Yes, Christ has died, has risen and ascended into heaven. Victory over sin and death is complete, but there are still manifestations of the old age remaining. There is still sin, I still sin, you still sin. There is pain, there is suffering. We have not yet reached the time when the climactic event that will consummate the new age already begun becomes a reality. Therefore we, like the people of Thessalonica live in this strange period between the already of what God has done for us in Jersus Christ and the not yet that awaits us.
This is a hard thing for any church to grasp. No matter how successful (however you want to measure success, and that is a topic all in itself) a church is there is always something lacking because of the intrusions of the old age. As much light as the church may bring to others and as much good as it will do for the community and the world, there is always something lacking. There is always something that needs the attention of church leaders there is always something for us to pray for in the life of the congregation. We are a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. That is why when people say the church is too full of hypocrites we can respond by saying, there is always room for one more. We are never perfect we are always undergoing change always, hopefully growing closer to Christ although we will never attain the fullness until that climactic day when he returns.
There is a tension throughout Paul’s writings between the already and the not yet. It is a tension that we have to constantly struggle with. Whatever we are, we are by the action of the grace of God already and always active in our lives. The value of the not yet dimension of God’s work, however, is that no one can claim perfection, as if the sanctification process, the growing into the likeness of Christ is ever complete. Vestiges of the past will always intrude, even if only in our memories as if they are not quite dead but only wounded and still seeking to recover.
This is why we must all set a goal for our lives. The goal has to be to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit, that guarantee of the new age’s consummation, and to read the Word, study the Word, put into action the Word and wait with trust and diligence for the full transformation of our lives.

A New Hope

Now I do not usually write about predictions. Predictions are very unreliable. But I want to make a prediction regarding this evening. Jane will come home from work, I will have our favourite Chicken salad with walnuts and grapes ready and then we will sit down to watch “A New Hope”. It is May the fourth so we will watch the film that gave us the phrase, may the force be with you. The First of the Star Wars films. But watching “A New Hope” in the middle of a pandemic is no bad thing. Don’t we all want a new hope at this time. I touched on it a bit yesterday in my sermon. We all hope that the sense of community is retained. Many of us have enjoyed the quieter roads and getting out on bikes, wouldn’t that be nice to be retained, many of us are realising that the really important people in this world are not the ones usually valued by the old normal of a worldview that supports greed, tax evasion and selfishness. There are so many who are wanting the new normal to be very different from what there was before, let’s see if we can make it happen. It is up to us to make a new hope a reality. let’s not let this opportunity pass us by.

Scottish Churches prayer for 7pm on May 3rd

We pray:
Good Shepherd, watch over us today
In all we face and experience.
Never leave us or forsake us
And journey with us always.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Good Shepherd, you know us
As no-one else knows us.
Guard us and keep us,
As you guard and keep those whom we love.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Good Shepherd, we pray for the sick and the lonely;
For the anxious and the bereaved;
For those whose pain is beyond our comprehension.
We stand with them and commend them to your care.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Good Shepherd, we pray for the carers in hospitals and in homes
And for all who serve the needs of others.
May the example of living compassion
Inspire us in our care for others.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Good Shepherd, you know the depths of our heart
And the fears which are ours.
Speak into the depths of our heart
And calm our fears.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Good Shepherd, you know us by our name
And our identity is not hidden from you.
Gather us to yourself as a Shepherd gathers the sheep,
That we might know your Name.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

1 Thessalonians 3: 1 – 8

Good morning and welcome to the 6th of our lockdown meditations. Here we continue to work our way through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Today we start on chapter 3, a section that one person has labelled “a visit of consolation in hostile times” let us hear what Paul wrote.
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.
If you remember, Paul and his group founded the church in Thessalonica, however due to opposition from the authorities they had to leave sooner than they wished. As a result, they had not been able to give as much training or instruction to the young church as they had wanted to give. They therefore had concerns about the young church and about how it would manage once they were gone. So, once they were able they sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they were doing, continue the instruction and strengthen them in these hostile times.
There is much that we can learn about the stresses of leadership, the value of teamwork and the trials that can affect churches. One of the things that I find on holiday is that I can never totally switch off. If I am out for a walk, out on the bike or doing some other activity which is not preoccupying for my mind I will start thinking about the vulnerable people in the congregation, those who have been going through a tough time immediately before I left, those recently bereaved or those in hospital. It is the same during this lockdown. My mind is jumping around all over the place thinking about this person or that. How are they doing, how are they coping. So, it is with Paul Silvanus and his group. They could not stop thinking about the young church they had left behind, so as soon as it was practical they sent Timothy to check on them and encourage them. Paul sent Timothy because he knew Timothy would be a team player, that he would not use this as an opportunity to raise his own standing in the church but simply to encourage the young church and bring that encouragement back to the other leaders. That Timothy does this so effectively is a big credit to him. But it also shows how important teamwork is.
Never have we seen this as a church like we are today. I have urged the elders to really step up to the plate and be proactive with their districts, checking on them regularly and feeding back any information which is relevant to me to follow up. It has shown the real benefits of Presbyterianism and the elder’s district and it has enabled me to focus on the most vulnerable by following up on the calls I have received from the elders. In a time of crisis like this the value of a team is unquestionable and the Session is a team. I rely on the elders to give me information and they rely on me to follow up in an appropriate manner. I believe that this has led to a rejuvenation of our districts and will be a major blessing for the church as we move out of our lockdown status to whatever the new normal becomes.
The second thing of note from this passage is Paul’s mention of the tests and persecutions that the church in Thessalonica was undergoing. Most of us have not had to really suffer for our faith. Most of us have not had to face death threats or the possibility of losing our homes or our jobs because we attend a church. But that does not mean that we are not tested from time to time.
We can be tempted to ease up on our commitment. It does not matter if I miss this Sunday and anyway it has been raining all week and I have not managed out on the golf course.
We can be tempted to lose our convictions. These are very intellectual people who are playing down the divinity of Christ, maybe I should too.
We can be tempted to relax our morality because, if the media are anything to go by, everyone is doing this anyway and I do not want to be any odder than I am anyway!
One of the commentators that I was reading suggested that if you are not suffering because of your faith it is because you are succumbing too readily to your desires.
I wonder what tests you are struggling with during this time of lockdown? What is causing you the most spiritual angst? I would invite you to let me know your struggles. Email me your concerns, let me know so that I can be praying for you in your times of trouble. It is such a blessing to my own prayer life if I know specifics that I can pray for in relation to my congregation and friends. This is another aspect of teamwork and we should not forget it. Every blessing as you go through the rest of this week. I look forward to joining you again on Sunday as we look at what Jesus meant by saying he was not only the good shepherd but also the gate for the sheep.

Sunday Worship

In this unprecedented period we are always trying to improve the way we help you to worship at home on a Sunday. To this end, thanks to the help of Martin and Access AV’s Greig, we have linked up my laptop to the live stream equipment so that every Sunday now we can show the words to a hymn that David will play so that you can sing along in your home. We hope that you enjoy this opportunity. Tomorrow we will look at the disciples who in their lockdown decide to take a walk for their daily exercise and end up in Emmaus. We will sing “Thine Be The Glory.”

1 Thessalonians 2: 17 – 20

1 Thessalonians 2: 17 – 20
Marva Dawn, a Lutheran theologian once wrote that we all need to become s outherners, that is from the southern united States, in order to read the Bible correctly., because to inhabit its world is to speak about our lives as y’all (plural) instead of you, singular. Most of the descriptions and commissions in the Bible are in the plural not the singular. Be blessing those persecuting you, y’all, Y’all consider it all joy brothers and sisters, when y’all fall into diversified testing. Do not be thwarting the Spirit, y’all. And then of course there is my very favourite example which is the more correct version of Philippians 4:4 which we usually read as Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice. It really should read, keep on rejoicing, y’all. It is difficult to always be full of joy, as an individual, but as a church collectively we can know that continual joy.
Marva Dawn goes on to say that it takes compelling training for church members to learn to read the scriptures in that way. It takes a long process to change the western individualised vocabulary that is ruining the church. If we could stop thinking about ourselves in individualistic terms and recognise that everything in faith is communal, contingent and corporate, we would find life and affliction and our work in the church much more bearable.
Of course, this makes this period of lockdown all the harder. When you are starting to get a sense of community, of shared life, work and witness and all of a sudden it is stripped away and we are having to be individualistic in our studies, prayers and even to an extent our worship, it goes against all that we are striving for in the church and as a church. How can we keep on rejoicing y’all when we cannot be together?
Joy is one of the topics that comes up in our reading from Thessalonians today and how we keep on rejoicing in these present times is key to our survival in this time. Let us hear what Paul wrote:-
1 Thessalonians 2: 17 – 20.
Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians
17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
Joy comes in a number of forms. Some works of visual art evoke joy, some sights evoke joy, some pieces of music evoke joy. I remember being in a small art gallery where the paintings were ok, but nothing had really inspired me. But then I turned a corner and there in front me was a work by Claude Monet. I felt the joy well up inside me, this was in a different class altogether from the others works we had seen. There is vantage point on Kinnoull Hill where I will always pause when walking the dog. The view is stunning, there is always a different interplay of light and shadow and I again feel a great joy. When I hear Judas Maccabeus, the tune for Thine be the glory, Beethoven’s Choral fantasia or on a different level, Rush’s Spirit of radio, I feel joy. Yet these are not the joys of which Paul speaks. For these are transient and can be removed by a loss of sight, a loss of hearing or nature’s destructive path. The joy of which Paul writes neither originates from , nor depends on transient forces. It can experienced by women and men who can claim it personally but it is not private, an isolated joy. It is both a hope for concrete benefits in the future as well as a present reality.
This is the joy that breaks through the gloomiest of lockdown days to cheer even the most disheartened. It is a joy that does not come from changing and changeable circumstances but by the presence in our lives of the Holy Spirit. It is a joy that can move a man to write such a great hymn as it is well with my soul even just after hearing that he had lost his whole family at sea. It is a joy that can transform incomprehensible sorrow through a tireless declaration of the believers peace in God.
Paul was desperate to have fellowship again with his friends in Thessalonica, just as I am desperate to share in fellowship with you, t be able to pray together, sing together, work together for the glory of God. Yet Paul was prevented as indeed I am prevented at this time. But that did not rob him and his companions of their joy, just as we must not let this period of lockdown rob us of our joy. We still enjoy the peace of God, we still hope for a time when we can fill the church once more we still know that we are loved just as we love him who died for us. No government restrictions, no microscopic virus, no fear of what might happen can remove that joy from us. So keep on rejoicing y’all, our glory and our joy.