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Good Friday – Meaning

HOLY WEEK – FRIDAY
FINDING MEANING IN THE LOSS
So far this week we have looked at the five stages of grief first described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and how they go along with the events of this week. These five stages are not meant to be prescriptive, a method of tucking away messy emotions into neat boxes, but they are meant to be descriptive of a genera process. Everyone grieves in their own unique way and may cycle round these emotions and go back and forth between a couple from time to time but most people will recognise them as a basic pattern.
Yesterday we dealt with acceptance as we considered Jesus final prayer to God, Father not my will but thine be done. He accepted God’s will, he accepted what was to befall him and he seemed to find a calmness in that acceptance. As we accept the reality of the loss we have experienced we too can achieve a sense of peace. But we should not think that this means that the grieving is over, in fact it is quite dangerous to see in the acceptance a sort of finality.
This is what David Kessler, Elizabeth’s co-author in later years realised in the death of his own son through a drug overdose. He wrote: “I have come to realise that there is a crucial sixth stage to the healing process, meaning……In this stage we acknowledge that although for most of us grief will lessen in intensity over time, it will never end. Loss can wound or paralyse, it can hang over us for years, but finding meaning in the loss empowers us to find a path forward. But if we allow ourselves to move into this crucial and profound sixth stage – meaning – it will allow us to transform grief into something else, something rich and fulfilling.
To find meaning on Good Friday we have to turn to John’s account of the crucifixion. Here we find these words:-
17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews”, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’
22 Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
‘They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.’[a]
So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman,[b] here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
The death of Jesus
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
It is finished, or more accurately, it is accomplished. Here is the meaning behind the loss of Jesus, here is the meaning behind the loss for Jesus of his relationship with his Father. Here is meaning that reverberates down through the ages, even to you and me. It is accomplished. All the sins committed in all the world have been forgiven. Jesus has accomplished what the Father sent him to achieve and in that accomplishment there is meaning for all who love him and put their faith in him. So often we look at things happening around us and we shake our heads at the pointlessness, the meaninglessness of it all, but not on this occasion. There is deep and profound meaning for all who seek it.
We will find meaning in the loss of this past year too. In reading David Kessler’s book I have realised that in a way entering the ministry was my way of finding meaning to the loss I experienced due to paralysis from a very young age. I realised that I could use my experience, to help others going through physical losses of this type, and I have, on a few occasions when people have suffered head trauma and we have been able to chat about my experiences in a way to help them through theirs. Candy Lightner in a similar way founded Mothers against drunk driving after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver as a way of finding meaning, john Walsh started the TV show America’s most wanted after the murder of his son. Now most of us will not found national organisations and find meaning on such a grand scale but we can find meaning in the smallest of moments if we look for it and make a point of creating it. That meaning can be found in the death, in the loss, in the event, in the life of the person you loved or in your own life after the loss. There is no set pattern to you being led to deeper questions and even deeper answers. It can come from creating rituals that commemorate a life or a contribution that honours that person. It may cause you to deepen relationships with those still with you or invite back into your life people from whom you were estranged. It may be just as simple as giving you a heightened sense of the beauty of the life we are all so privileged to have as long as we remain on earth.
Now each of us will find our own meaning from this time of loss. Will it, as I hope, lead to greater collaboration with the community council and St. Mary’s Monastery to find ways to minister to our community? Has it rejuvenated our Elder’s districts as they have proved so important during this time? Has the increased contact we have had with neighbours led to new and deeper relationships? Have the online offerings reached new people and brought them closer to God? We will all find our own meaning, but I would urge you to work your way through your emotions until you find your own meaning to the events of this last year and find peace. God bless you. Amen.

Holy Week – Thursday

HOLY WEEK MEDITATIONS
THURSDAY – ACCEPTANCE
So far on our journey through grief we have looked at denial, anger, bargaining, deep sadness or depression and now we come to acceptance. In her understanding of the grief process this was Elizabeth Kubler -Ross’s final stage. It was only after her death that David Kessler, her co-author later in life recognised a sixth level which is finding meaning in the loss. So today we look at the importance of accepting the loss we have suffered as a result of the pandemic while recognising that even Jesus had to accept the loss that he was about to suffer for your sake and for mine.
It is important ot state from the outset that this is not about being okay with what has happened. This is not the case. How can any of us be ok with the tragic loss of life over this year, the jobs lost, the businesses that have gone under, the stress that business owners have felt trying to care for their workers yet cut costs to keep the business afloat. How can you be ok with not seeing loved ones for a year, eighteen months or in some cases even longer. We can never be OK about loss such as this but we can eventually come to terms with the loss that has occurred and recognise that the new reality is the permanent reality and accepting it. We may never like this new reality, but healing does not mean liking it means accepting so that you can slowly move into this new reality in a healthy manner.
Healing will look like remembering, recollecting and reorganising to fit in with the new reality surrounding us. We must try to live now in a new reality which includes the virus, the possibility of annual injections and having to be fluid in holiday plans because of reimposed travel restrictions as required due to new strains, new outbreaks and further deaths. In resisting this new norm, at first we might want to maintain life as it was before the pandemic but in time, through bits and pieces of acceptance however we will discover that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has forever changed and we must adjust. The more our identity was shaped by things that have changed, the more difficult this adjustment will be. As we heal however we will start to put the pieces back, maybe in a slightly different order and a peace will descend.
We see that in Holy Week as Jesus prayed in the garden. Listen to how the events unfolded according to Matthew:-
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’

42 He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
Here we see in stark relief the grief and sorrow of Jesus. Luke says he sweated blood such was the grief and intensity of his prayers. For the young boy Mark, who was the only witness to these events as the others slept, this must have been terrifying. You witness here the bargaining, if this be possible take this cup away, the deep sadness or depression heightened by his closest followers inability to stay awake and then finally acceptance as Jesus submits to his Father’s will with the words, “may your will be done.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in describing one case study, involving a young man killed in a parking lot after being caught in the crossfire of some gang violence, says this, “acceptance is a process that we experience, not a final stage with an endpoint.” I think that this is important to recognise. It would be too easy to say, I have accepted what has happened, now let’s just get on with life as if nothing has happened. But that is not true acceptance, that is reverting back to stage 1 and denying the reality of the past year altogether.
For the father of the boy shot by a gang member, he thought he had reached the point of acceptance until the gang member convicted came up for parole five years later. The proceeding were brief and parole was denied. But the father was more struck by how quickly it happened and the tears of the convicted man’s father. For the first time he realised that there victims on both sides of the gun. He walked over and shook the man’s hand and as he did so his anger was replaced with curiosity. He wanted to know about the father and hat had led him to that place. Over the next couple of years they started to meet regularly and they formed an alliance to help gang members stop the violence and find their place in the world. They went from school to school telling their story. His acceptance was deeper than he ever could have imagined.
We too can eventually accept the new reality around us. It will not stop us harkening back to the way things were. Goodness we all know that folk in the church are good at that. Remember when the Sunday School was full, remember when nothing was open on a Sunday so there was nothing to detract from worship. We will still remember, it is not as if our minds will be wiped clean of memories. But we will slowly accept that things are different and we have to do things differently. Already there are green shoots of hope. There is willingness in the community council and at St. Mary’s monastery to continue the partnership that was formed to create “Loving Your Neighbour” in order to continue to discover the needs in our community and to minister to those needs. We are looking at grants to help us adapt and thrive as one grant is even called. There is even possibly a grant that we can access that would help us to employ a mental health and well-being nurse, part-time most probably, to help with the emotional trauma of this year.
Jesus managed, through intense prayer, to accept his new reality. We can too and you never know, just as we will find meaning to the loss of Jesus on Good Friday so we might find meaning in this time of grief and loss. But to hear about that you need to come back tomorrow. May God bless you.

Wednesday reflection – Depression

WEDNESDAY
DEPRESSION
Welcome to this meditation for the Wednesday of Holy Week. As we are processing our sense of loss and grief that we are experiencing during lockdown so we process the anticipatory grief that took place in what we call Holy Week all those centuries ago. So we have looked at denial, anger and bargaining. Today we move on from bargaining, which so often dwells in the past to be firmly in the present. In some ways this next stage is the most dangerous. After all how do you differentiate between clinical depression which needs professional help, counselling and even medication to the deep sadness and depression of loss? In our pastoral counselling course we were told that one particular lecture was the most important one of all. That if we learnt nothing else to keep this one lecture uppermost in our minds and that lecture was about knowing when you were out of your depth. Knowing when you needed to find a way to get the person referred for professional hep. Get it right and you could save someone’s life, get it wrong and the results could be calamitous. Nowhere is that more relevant then when helping a person through this stage of grief.
In this stage empty feelings present themselves and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. The depression stage feels as if it will last forever. But this is not mental illness, this is merely a very important response to the deep loss you have experienced. In this stage we tend to withdraw from life, we are left in an intense fog of sadness, wondering if there is any point in going on alone or even at all. The alarm goes off, it is morning, but you really do not care. You do not want to face the day, you cannot even find a reason to get up. To get up out of bed might be just as well climbing Everest. You simply feel heavy. Everything seems empty and pointless.
You sense something of Jesus deep sadness at the reality around him in his concern over Jerusalem. Listen to his words now:
37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Here you see the intense love of Jesus for the people and for the City of God. It is seen again in the shortest verse of the Bible, Jesus wept. Jesus is weeping for what might have been, what could have been and what should have been. But knowing what lay ahead simply broke his heart. I would suggest that this was probably the most intense sadness Jesus felt during his earthly ministry until he experienced the separation from his Father on the cross.
If grief is a process of healing, as I suggest then this intense sadness which is depression is a part of this process, and a necessary part, unpleasant though it may be. When you realise what is happening you might try to snap yourself out of it and seek a way out. But as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests, “ Seeking a way out of depression feels like going into a hurricane and sailing around the perimeter fearful that there is no exit door. She suggests that you see it as a visitor, albeit an unwelcome one. They are visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire and sit with it without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore the loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience the depression in that way you will find that it will leave your life as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it might return from time to time, but then that is how grief works. As I said on Sunday, part of my sense of loss over this year has been the milestone events that we have not been able to be present to celebrate, James finishing at the Police Academy, his wedding, watching Thomas paly for his University and now we can add Thomas’ 21st. Sometimes I find myself simply looking at the photographs, picturing the event, imagining that I was there, putting myself in the picture. That is what helps me to get over the intense sadness of not being able to be there. You will I am sure be developing similar coping mechanisms as you process your own grief.
I think one of the things that we have to be careful about regarding this particular stage is that society has no room for depression. We seem to have a desire to stamp it out at every opportunity, hence all the medication that is available. It is important to differentiate between depression as a normal stage of grief and clinical depression which is a quite different animal. If we try to treat grief depression as clinical depression then we will never process our grief in a way that is healthy and lead to a sense of healing. Likewise if the grief depression becomes clinical depression then again we find ourselves in difficulty, hence the importance of that lecture in New College and the need ot be able to sense when something is getting out of control.
As difficult as it is to endure and also to monitor, depression has elements that are helpful in grief. It slows us down and allows us to really take stock of the loss. It helps us rebuild from the ground up clearing the deck for growth to occur and takes us down into the deep places of our soul that we would normally not explore.
It is this stage of grief that is taking its toll on our medical and emergency services at this time. Because people do not recognise the effects of lockdown and the pandemic as being like a loss, they do not understand the grief and the sense of deep sadness that is in their lives just now. That is why so many are asking for treatment for depression while others have gone beyond this point and are actually seeking an end of everything. We all have a part to play in reaching out to others, not to try and cheer them up, which could be worse thing to do, but to be with people. To let them know it is OK to be sad, but above all to let them know that they are not alone emotionally, personally and spiritually even if we cannot be present physically. Depression will come and go but eventually life does settle into some sort of a pattern, as it will in this pandemic and we come to accept the new reality that is before us. That acceptance however is our theme for tomorrow. Every blessing.

Holy Week 20201 – Tuesday – Bargaining

HOLY WEEK 2021
TUESDAY – BARGAINING
So far in trying to understand our feelings of grief after a year of the virus and lockdowns we have looked at denial and anger. Today we look at bargaining. This one is likely to happen even before a loss if the person is very unwell. An example I read was , please God, I will never be angry with my wife ever again if you will just help her recover. But it also happens after a loss, what if I devote my life to helping others and I can wake up and find this all to be a bad dream. We become lost in a maze of what ifs and if onlys. We want life returned to normal, we want our loved ones back, we want restoration.
This is the stage I hear a lot of people talking about. If only we had locked down sooner, if only we had closed our borders earlier. If only we had not allowed so much movement in the summer. What if I had been more diligent. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. In our if onlys we find ourselves at fault and we think we could have acted differently. Found the tumour sooner, recognised the illness more quickly, not stretched the rules to go visit a relative.
There is an example of this in Holy Week. We read it in Matthew 21
Jesus curses a fig-tree
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.

20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig-tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.

21 Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’
The story of the fig tree is a strange one. What if the tree had supplied fruit? Yet how could a tree have fruit in the spring? Is this a case of Jesus being really quite unreasonable? Well not really, for in the spring, if a fig tree is going to have fruit in the autumn, there are little pre-fruits, which are edible, if really hungry. If the tree was going to produce fruit, it would have had these to feed Jesus and to provide a sign of fruitfulness. If only, if only……
Howard insisted that he and his wife go for a walk each day. He was sure it would ward off alzheimers and generally give them a healthier life. Millie was getting tired of it. Surely a day off would not hurt? Couldn’t they go a little later that day. But no, this was Howard’s routine and they were going to stick to it. The trouble was on this day that Millie was being so reluctant, a stolen car came rushing round the corner and killed Millie and injured Howard. Howards did not know this at first. Please God, let Millie live, I’ll never make her do something she doesn’t wat to do again. I’ll be a better person, I’ll do more volunteering, please God just leet her live. Then once the news came through that she had died in the operating room, please God let all this be as dream. What if I hadn’t made her go. What if we had waited until later. What if I had not read that stupid article on the benefits of walking. Bargaining was his escape from the pain and a distraction from the reality of life without his wife. For six months denial, anger, particularly aimed at the car thieves and bargaining were a constant companion. He would move around the three of them almost like a dance, they were his constant companions until depression and eventually acceptance slowly took over. Bargaining can be an important reprieve from pain that occupies your grief, you never really believe the bargaining but it does give a little relief.
In other cases it helps the mind move from one state of loss to another. It helps to keep suffering at a distance when we have no emotional strength in ourselves. It allows us to believe that we can restore order to the chaos. Sometimes bargaining also helps us to move from the past to the future. We might bargain that we can see our loved ones in heaven, we might bargain for a respite from the illnesses that have beset our family, we might bargain that surviving family stay fit and healthy.
For us now, in our loss, in our grieving over the past year we might be bargaining hoping to see loved ones we have not seen in months. We might be bargaining that we can get away on a summer holiday, or that long awaited cruise. This is an important process so do not shy away from it because as we work through it we will eventually come to realise that this past year with all the pain, all the suffering and all the separation has gone and we cannot bring it back, we cannot give it another go and the reality will sink in and that will lead to depression, not clinical depression but an overwhelming sense of what we have lost. But that is for us to explore tomorrow.
God bless you all.

Monday of Holy Week – Anger

Holy Week 2021
Monday
Welcome to our Holy week Monday meditation as we try to recognise the grieving process, we are all experiencing this year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday for Palm Sunday we looked at the denial that can occur and, at the moment, some of you are experiencing that. However, once our minds get beyond denial, and as we start to come to terms with the losses we have experienced then the next stage of our grief begins to rear its head which is anger.
It is very appropriate to look at anger today when in the synoptic Gospels it is on the Monday of Holy Week that Jesus turns over the tables in the temple. It is a shocking scene in many ways. After all, this is the king of love, a meek and humble man who talks of peace, yet this scene is far from peaceful.
Jesus at the temple
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,”[e] but you are making it “a den of robbers.”[f]’

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

16 ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him.

‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read,

‘“From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise”[g]?’

17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
I think to understand Jesus anger you need to consider what the animals and temple tax was used for. They were used by the people in their worship, for sacrifices of atonement and to renew their relationship with the Father. Jesus in five days time is going to suffer an extremely painful death to offer this to all people, yet in these courts you had people exploiting peoples’ religious desires for their own ends, to become very wealthy. You can understand why Jesus felt as angry as he did. He might well have been thinking that if they were actually helping people draw near to the father then he might not have to undergo the suffering as he was about to experience.
Anger occurs in many levels during the grief process. Anger that you are left behind, that you could not do more for your loved one, that the medical fraternity did not do more. You might be angry that you did not see it coming. You might even feel angry at God feeling that through faith your loved one should have been healed. At the heart of the anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned in loss, but at the same time we live in a society that fears anger, which makes the bible story even more shocking to us than it would have been in Jesus day. You will get told your anger is misplaced, inappropriate or disproportionate. But it is their problem that they cannot handle your anger, your job in grief is to honour that anger by being angry. It is a strength and an anchor. We need to find healthy ways to express our anger so it is not violent, such as exercise, gardening or screaming into a pillow. You must not bottle it up inside but instead explore it for the more anger you allow yourself to feel, the more feelings you will find hidden underneath. It is the most immediate emotion but as you deal with it you will find others, mostly the pain of loss but that is all part of the process. You will come out the other end, it will subside so do not let anyone diminish the importance of you feeling angry. You have to go through this stage.
I believe our society will be very angry for a long time. As we come out of lockdown, do not be surprised at the civil unrest that will develop. It is well documented from past epidemics such as Ebola in Africa. You might become angry at people not following the masking rules in the store, or flouting travel restrictions. You might be angry at politicians for throwing millions if not billions at their friends for contracts that achieve nothing. It is right for us to feel angry, just as it was right for Jesus to be angry. It is part of the process we must recognise it and work through it along with every other stage including the next one of bargaining, but we will look at that tomorrow. God bless you.

Further Covid Restrictions

I have two announcements for this morning. Firstly, the Christmas Eve service will go ahead as planned, at the earlier than usual time of 7pm. It will not follow the format of previous years as I do not think even the most die hard of you could sit through listening to 9 or 10 carols without being able to sing. I know it would drive me crazy! Therefore, it will follow our established pattern for worship that we have been following during this crisis.
The big change however is after Christmas. In the light of the First Minister’s comments and the realities of tier four for churches it is with regret that we will go back to online worship together with the phone service after Christmas Eve. Should this period last for 3 weeks as proposed, the next service where a congregation will be allowed to participate in person will be January 17th. However as with all these things they are subject to change depending on the decisions and advice of the scientific community and Government.

Meditation 15

MEDITATION 15
2 THESSALONIANS 3: 6 – 12
Good morning. Welcome to our penultimate study on Thessalonians.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that I enjoy a certain satirical page called The Babylon Bee. It is a church related page and has some very funny stories that often have a ring of truth about them. This past week there was one with the headline : ‘Why Doesn’t Our Church Have More Programs?’ Asks Family That Never Volunteers For Anything.
It goes on to say:- A local church family that has never once volunteered to help out in any capacity is constantly complaining about their church’s lack of programs, an exasperated pastor confirmed Tuesday.
The family fills out comment cards asking for more fun events, more classes in the children’s ministry, more potlucks, more outreaches, and more fellowship nights, though they weren’t willing to lift a finger to help out in any of these areas, according to sources within the congregation.
“Why don’t we have more youth and children’s programs?” asked the mother, though she’s never once volunteered to lead them. “If this keeps up, we’re gonna have to go to the megachurch down the road. Enough is enough.”
“Someone should really step up and take our young men on a camping trip. They need to learn what it means to be a real man,” said the father. “Not me, of course. Lord, here I am. Send someone else.”
The pastor met with them this week and said he’d be willing to start up a new fellowship night on Wednesday evenings. “Are you guys up to host it?” he asked.
The couple stormed away in a huff.
As I say it is satirical, it is a bit tongue in cheek, but it also has a ring of truth about it. In my nearly 30 years of ministry I have seen the sort of thing this article is talking about more than once. I get that some parents don’t want to be involved in things their kids are doing, they like giving their kids and themselves a bit of space but it does not preclude them from volunteering in another area which might free up the people who were doing that to do the sorts of things the parents are hoping for.
At the end of this letter the writer brings up the whole issue of laziness and an unwillingness to participate and it is that which we have to address this morning.
Warning Against Idleness
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.
Although prayer is work, the author is requesting more than just prayer from the members of the congregation. They are expected to be spiritually aware, of course. They are also expected to be working—doing something good for the sake of the group!
This kind of “spiritual pragmatism” has been the centre of discussion in this series of meditations and is an attribute that is a special characteristic of the first-century community of faith in Thessaloniki. It is only in the Thessalonian correspondence that we can see this feature of faith most clearly. In Corinthians, for example, we are not as aware of the social or economic aspects of the community. In Romans, physical realities seem to pale in light of theological truths. Galatians is about shifting social values that relate to religion and race. But in Thessalonians, if we understand the community to be a working-class group of artisans who are committed not only to their God but also to their craft, then we see a community of faith unique in the New Testament. Within this world of words, it is absolutely necessary to confront the so-called bipolar dimensions of faithful living—work and prayer, prayer and work.
Paul has already suggested a code of ethics for the artisans in his letter. This letter is another reminder of the importance of work and industry in the community. Their idleness need not be explained by eschatological expectations. A simpler, more pragmatic rationale exists.
So what is the setting for this problem in the community? The author “instructs the brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every friend living idly and not according to the traditions that they have received” (3:6). This is a social rather than simply a theological problem among the community of artisans. This problem is severe. The economic realities are harsh; the rules of the professional group are clear. The economic structure of the artisan community demands that every member work. If one member fails, the entire project deteriorates. If a member of the guild is not properly carrying one’s own weight, or handling one’s own portion of the load, the entire workshop suffers. The working group depends on the productivity of each member. If, for example, the production is divided among the workers, with some members being responsible for the preparation of the raw goods, such as wood or leather, with another member being responsible for crafting the product, and yet another for cleaning and finishing the product at the final stage of production, then all the members have an important role in the work production of the community. If one member fails to fulfil his role, the entire group suffers.
Perhaps the members of the artisan community are simply tired—tired from too much work as I know those of you who have been working on the front line throughout this pandemic are tired and so their productivity has decreased. Perhaps they have taken a sabbatical from their labour. They have given themselves too many breaks and holidays and it affects the community. Or perhaps personal squabbles have lessened their enthusiasm for cooperative work. A sour personality or two can affect the productivity of a large group. Maybe they have been having tense disagreements and some of the members have just “thrown in the towel.” Maybe they want to quit and go do something else. How many of us have felt like that from time to time? Maybe they have lost their zeal for the creation of their product. We do not know the exact reason why they have stopped working but something has caused this problem to arise.
We do know, however, that their lack of productivity affects the well-being of the entire group. And they have forgotten that most important point. The members of the group need to be reminded of the responsibilities that each member brings to the success of the group. This group needs to function well in order to succeed economically as well as spiritually. The community is an important site of economic sustenance as well as spiritual formation. This community needs to survive for the well-being of the whole church. For this reason and this reason alone it is important for Paul and the church’s leaders to see them thrive—both spiritually and economically!
The same issues can arise in the church today, albeit in different forms, as my introduction suggested. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians likens the church to a body and if one part of the body does not work then the whole body suffers. God has created every one of us as unique individuals with our own skills, talents, abilities and personalities but not only that God has called us to be a part of his church in a certain place at a certain time. That is because he needs our particular gifts, skills and abilities to carry out his work at this time. Thus if we do not contribute ourselves to the work of the church, the church suffers, the whole body suffers. This passage is a challenge to anyone who is simply sitting back and receiving from the church without contributing. They are harsh words but they are also most necessary.
The problem was not simply lack of industry, however. The believers were not only living in an idle manner; they were also being busybodies. How often do we encounter that in the church? A creative word play is seen in 3:11. The two Greek words for working and meddling are similar in sound and spelling. The author writes, “We hear that some of you are living in an idle manner, not working but meddling.” The artisan without any work to do created a nuisance in the community. We are not given any detailed information as to the exact meaning of “meddling.”
Perhaps they are busy looking “over their shoulders” to see the progress of their neighbour and neglecting their own production. Their minds are not on their work. They are concerned about other things, perhaps their neighbour’s business, just as someone told me that they did not want a leadership role in the church on one occasion because they were afraid of what others would say. They were afraid of the meddlers who would be talking behind their back and saying that they were getting too big for their britches! For these people the language of correction directed to these meddlers is strong.
They are instructed and encouraged in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quietness and eat their own bread. Isolation from the group appears to be the recommendation until they can calm themselves, stop meddling in the affairs of others and focus on their work once again. To work in quietness is the instruction. Without more detail surrounding this dilemma, we can only conjecture at best. Artisan work demands quiet, creative space. A person who is busy talking in the workshop, chatting mindlessly about the affairs of others, is a deterrent to the creative productivity of an artist colony.
In the same way someone who uses fellowship time in the church, maybe over coffee after the service or over a cup of tea at the guild or Thursday club, maybe even at Blether buddies to meddle or gossip should also be reminded that there is no place for such idle chatter in the church. If something is not going well, what can you do to improve it instead of putting down those who are doing their best? If there is a programme that is lacking in the church, can you help to see that it happens. There is always room for another volunteer. You can always bring your unique gifts and skills to any ministry we undertake.
As we gradually come out of lockdown I think now is a great time to reassess what we are doing. It is a time for people to step forward, to bring their own unique ways to the work of the church. In some ways we have a clean slate and can focus on what we see as the way ahead for the work of the church so let us not be idle but instead see this as a new opportunity to increase our effectiveness as we attempt to provide ministry for and in our community.

meditation 14

MEDITATION 14
2 THESSALONIANS 3: 1 – 5
Before I start you may be aware that the government has now given permission for churches to be open for private prayer. To enable this to happen however is very complex and involves deep cleaning between each person etc. I think it unlikely that kinnoull will open for this in the near future. I would remind you however that we do have the secret garden at the right hand side of the church towards the river which is always available for people to sit and contemplate and pray if the weather allows!
The Passage that we are looking at this morning has phrases that are ambiguous, phrases that different translators have viewed in different lights but there is an overarching theme which is obvious and clear. It is a theme that has become very important over these last few weeks and I think has to be a major theme going forward. It is that mutual dependence is necessary for the well being of us as individuals and for the church as a whole. Indeed I would argue that it is good for the well being of society as a whole. It preserves us from lone hero syndrome where we think we have to fix everything ourselves and also selfish pursuit syndrome, both of which wreak havoc.
So let us hear the scripture: –
3 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
There are three parts to this section. The first is an instruction for the Thessalonican church to pray. It is written to you in the plural and refers to us in the plural. None of it is in the singular none of it is directed for or to individuals. It is directly evangelical. It is praying that the message of Jesus, the Word of the Lord, the Gospel, however you wish to describe it should spread rapidly and be accepted widely. It is a prayer for change, that people might be changed by hearing the Gospel. Given the difficulties that the church was undergoing in Thessalonica at this time you can understand this prayer very well. If the word spread, if the word got accepted and people changed the church would not suffer so much, relationships with previously unbelieving family members could be restored and life would become easier and more pleasant for everyone. Community would be restored which, we have all realised over these last few weeks, is so important. It is a prayer I believe we can all share in, it is one which we all can endorse and support. I feel very strongly that we always need to include this sort of prayer in all our prayers that we keep the evangelical imperative to the fore in our hearts and minds.
The second thing to note about this section is that the writer may be a towering figure in the early church, one of the most significant evangelists the church has ever had but he does not think of himself as a lone wolf. He is not a lone hero. He recognises that what he does he does in concert and with the support of others. Hence he does not pray for his own deliverance from those he describes as wicked and evil because of their opposition to the gospel, but for the deliverance of his little group as he uses the word we rather than I. I find it extraordinary that some people think they can be lone wolves in their faith, that they do not need to the support, encouragement and even accountability of others. If the greats such as Paul and Peter needed companions in their faith how much more do we? One of the greatest challenges I think we face as we move forward is how Kinnoull Church can reach out to those who have sought comfort in the church during these strange times and incorporate them into the fellowship of the church to give them the support and encouragement they need to continue to develop their faith as this lockdown draws to a close. If they find the idea of entering the church still a bit daunting can we encourage them through faith exploration groups meeting over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in someone’s house? It is just another wee challenge that we face as we try to find a new normal moving forward.
Verses 3 and 4 go on to stress Paul’s confidence and assurance about the church in Thessalonica. Remember this was one of the most successful of his early churches, in spite of all the opposition. He has confidence that the church will continue to prosper and flourish in spite of the attacks of the evil one. In some ways these verses prefigure the first verses of the section we will tackle next week where he warns about those who are idle in the church or sew disorderliness. Today we might jokingly refer to them as pew warmers. They come, they keep the pew warm on a Sunday, but have little to do with the work of the church from Monday to Saturday. We see them as mostly harmless, Paul, as we will discover next week, has a harsher view of them which comes out of the environment of persecution that surrounds them at this time.
The last section then is an intercessory prayer for the church in Thessalonica. Now the Greek is a little ambiguous but I believe we can look at the two parts of the prayer in this way. First of all he prays I believe not for them to have a love for God, as some would translate it, but a more positive that they would have God’s kind of love. Certainly that is what I what I pray for. That thee steadfast love, grace and mercy that our God has be shown through me and through you. This is a prayer for a powerful love within the church, a love that has often been short-changed in the church’s desire for purity, correctness and righteousness. This is echoed by the second part of the prayer that the church should have Christ’s own steadfastness rather than the alternative reading which is a steadfastness towards Christ. Hesed, in the Hebrew, is a very powerful Old Testament term which is the steadfast love of God. It is a love that continues even when the chosen people keep going astray. It is a steadfast love which never gives up but instead is constantly working to bring the people back. I must confess, I struggle with this. To have such love is mentally and spiritually exhausting and I know I am not alone in this. If you are an elder you know how tempting it is to give up on individuals or families who ever come to the church, never invite you in when you visit and really have no connection yet they are members and so you are obliged to keep in contact. With God’s kind of love and the steadfastness of Christ you can do this even when others would fail. Will you love them back into the family? Maybe yes or maybe no but that is the prayer Paul had for the church in Thessalonica and I believe it is also his prayer for Kinnoull.
None of this we can do as lone wolf Christians. It is simply too big a load to carry, hence Paul’s call for mutuality and solidarity. It is a call that echoes down through the ages to today. May we, in our own way take up this call to the glory of God and joy of his Kingdom.

Meditation 13 Text

Meditation 13
2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 17
This is a very difficult passage to study, not least because 2,000 years have passed since it was written. There are ideas and concepts, references that have been lost in the mists of time so in my meditation this morning I will be brushing with broad strokes, not trying to do in depth analysis as I believe that for us today it is the most useful approach. But let us first hear the passage itself:-
2 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness[a] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Stand Firm
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits[b] to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
So what is the passage teaching us? What are the larger issues connected to life that can be learned here? I have already confessed that we may never really understand the meaning of the terms contained in the chapter, such as the full identity of the person of lawlessness, the restraining one, or the big lie. We may always be searching for the exact referents to these concepts. Larger issues, however, speak to us as we read this second chapter of 2 Thessalonians.
The broader issues of this chapter are simply, but yet not so simply, that the end is going to be bad, but you will be able to make it if you stand firm and hold the traditions; God is in control, but you’d better pray a lot. To these larger concerns we turn our attention.
First, the end is going to be bad. Even with all the confusion related to the interpretation of this chapter, the author has given us a helpful template for the discussion of evil. The anticipation of the end of time demands a conversation about evil. We cannot ignore it.
A vocabulary of evil is important for the life of the believer. Beverly Gaventa says that “texts such as 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, however they make us squirm, call us away from a white-bread Christianity, in which neither God nor the gospel has much depth or substance, to a recognition of the presence of evil in the world.”
We need to pay attention to the evil around us. We need words to talk about what it looks like, what it feels like, and how we should respond.
For people who knew the stories of the Jewish fight for independence during the Maccabean Revolt in 168 BC, the epitome of evil was Antiochus Epiphanes. The ruler had taken away their freedoms. This evil one had desecrated their temple, in the same manner that later generations would remember Pompey and even Caligula as greater examples of evil in the world.
For people living during World War II, the epitome of evil was not Antiochus Epiphanes but another ruler, this time from Germany, named Adolf Hitler. For many, Hitler was the greatest example of evil in the world. For some, he remains the greatest example of pure destruction and evil in his maniacal schemes of genocide, persecution, and extinction.
Other names have been suggested for the identity of the greatest evil person but we need to realise that all of these attempts to describe evil speak more about us than they do about the evil person we are trying to identify. We seem to need to personify the evil forces in this world; we cannot leave the evil energy nameless or faceless. We must give it a name in order to be able to have appropriate discussions. In some ways, that is helpful. Generalizations can remain abstract unless we have an appropriate example or illustration. For example, one cannot fully know the abstract concept of love until one has been loved by another human being. We need the incarnated version of the story in all directions. The anthropomorphic nature of apocalyptic language is helpful.
Evil is so powerful that we are not content to live with a generalized abstraction or theory. Evil is personal. Evil has a name. It is not enough to go to war to fight an abstract theory such as evil or domination. We do best when we can label evil with a name, racial description, and address. And the name of evil is usually the name of our most current enemy.
Naming evil in this manner has some advantages. The rhetoric has focus. But personifying evil as something or someone out there is a dangerous thing as we are seeing in the USA just now when hundreds of thousands of police officers are being demonised because of the actions of a very few! Walter Wink cautions us against turning all of our attention on evil as an outside force. Even cartoonists know that “I have seen the enemy, and the enemy is me.” If evil is seen only as an outside force, then it becomes an even more dangerous and personal state with greater negative consequences.
Evil is not just outside of us; evil is a part of us, in us, and with us. We cannot kill all of our enemies and then look at each other with smugness, thinking that we have finally eradicated evil. Self reflection is a necessary prerequisite to a discussion of evil. The collective voice speaks, “What did we do to contribute to an environment of hate so that our neighbours are wanting to riot?” The individual voice speaks, “What evil do I contribute in small but significant ways that cause destruction of ideas as well as lives?” Evil is not simply out there waiting to snatch and control the life of a willing political leader. Evil is in here waiting to work its way into my daily life, with family and friends, at the job or the home dinner table. I, too, am responsible for the evil, not just someone out there.
The second concern of this chapter is that, in the midst of all this confusion, the best thing that we can do is “stand firm, and hold fast the traditions.” These are good words. In the midst of crisis, most us want to flee. We want to run away from the pain. The author of 2 Thessalonians gives counsel to do the exact opposite. Sit tight, don’t move, and hold on to what you have been taught. You know what to do.
The moment of decision comes. You can decide to stay or flee. The context does not matter. The chaos can be a soured relationship that is bringing disharmony. The crisis can be academic failure. The distress can be from the loss of a job. Sometimes our response to these terrible moments of distress is to withdraw and give up. Most likely, the Thessalonian Christians were experiencing persecution of both physical and emotional degree. The counsel that they are given is worth our attention—stay put and remember the past. Hang on; don’t run!
Third, the author wants us to know that God is firmly in control of this time. The great feature of apocalyptic language is that regardless of the severity of the situation, God is working in the mess all the while. And God will bring victory over evil. The message of the book of Revelation is less a description of the corruption of the last days and more a victorious description of a God who is and will defeat all evil powers.
That notion of a God who wins enlivens us. We know the last chapter even before the book is completed. We know the end before it is even written! We can rest even though we are in the middle of the battle. God will reign; we are assured of that.
Finally, the concern of this chapter in Thessalonians challenges us to pray often. I remember my response to reading Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Wink had convinced me that there were evil forces all around—personal and institutional. I had followed every chapter that he wrote on the domination system. My eyes were open to the evil forces all around me, in me, and through me in new ways that I had never thought about before. I read his words, and I wanted to go to work right away to eradicate evil. I wanted to roll up my sleeves, put on my jeans, and join some group—nonviolent, of course—but some kind of group that would work for institutional change.
Then I came to part 4 of his book, chapter 16, titled “Prayer and the Powers.” I was mad. My first thought was that Wink has worked me up to this point of wanting to do something about the evil forces in this world and now he was just telling me to pray. I had heard all of that before, or so I thought. My first response was, how much more passive and ineffective can you get? Prayer, before I read Wink’s words, had seemed the last resort for change, not the first option. In other words, I was not against praying, but I simply assumed that one prayed after one had done all that could be done, not the other way around. Through these years, however, I have continued to listen to Wink. Prayer is the first place to begin to deal with the power of lawlessness, the restraining forces, and the big delusion. Prayer is where we start, not where we end the battle with evil.
Prayer is never a private act. It may be the interior battlefield where the decisive victory is first won, before engagement in the outer world is even attempted. If we have not undergone that inner liberation, whereby the individual strands of the net in which we are caught are severed, one by one, our activism may merely reflect one or another counter-ideology of some counter-Power. We may simply be caught up in a new collective passion, and fail to discover the transcendent possibilities of God pressing for realization here and now. Unprotected by prayer, our social activism runs the danger of becoming self-justifying good works, as our inner resources atrophy, the wells of love run dry, and we are slowly changed into the likeness of the Beast.
Paul knows how to pray. Prayers break forth and interrupt his speech, appearing more like liturgical cues for a worship service than lines belonging to personal correspondence. Praying is akin to breathing, or talking, or writing. The community of believers in Thessaloniki is also urged to pray. The times are hard. The evil forces are unleashed. It is going to become worse before it gets better. Jesus will come in due time. In the meantime, however, much more suffering will occur. What is the believer to do? Create a social action team? March on Westminster or Holyrood? Write a letter to one’s political representative? Vote in a church business meeting? All of these responses are appropriate, but the first response is best. And the first response is simply this— pray, pray, pray!
Wink offers these closing words: “We pray to God not because we understand these mysteries, but because we have learned from our tradition and from experience that God, indeed, is sufficient for us, whatever the Powers may do.”