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

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

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.”

7 word statement describing the church’s mission going forward

When the Moderator of the General Assembly asked ministers for seven words to describe the Church’s mission going forward after lockdown he got a long list of replies. I have copied and pasted them below. What do you think? Are there any that particularly stand out to you in your context? If you are a Kinnoull Church member, are there any you would like to see us adopt?

7 Words For Mission

Overcoming all divisions: uniting everything in God
Revival of Church to rewire the culture
Replicate God’s DNA within our human society
Giving People Confidence To Be Fully Themselves
Encouraging Us To Rest – Rely On Him
Renewing Our Passion For Joy In Jesus
Conviction Of Hearts For Jesus The Redeemer
Passing On Knowledge And Love Of Jesus
Fling Wide The Gates, Let Jesus In
Worship, Love, Sacrifice, Inspire, Share For Jesus
Bringing Jesus’ Life Into Scotland’s Everyday
Using Jesus’ Example To Inspire Social Justice
Following Jesus’ Example To Build Healthier Neighbourhoods
Build Love And Compassion Into Our Neighbourhoods
Carry The Message From Jesus The Redeemer
To Embolden Us Wherever God Puts Us
Church Of Scotland Has Left The Building
God’s Energy That Humanity Can Grow Love
Revealing Jesus To People Of All Ages
No More Fear, Pain, Hunger And Loneliness
Show And Share God’s Love In Jesus
Being God’s Gentle, Challenging, Affirming Love Today.
On Earth As It Is In Heaven
Virus-Like Contaminating The World With God’s Love
Jesus’ Irresistible Grace, Surprising Service, Scotland Saved
As Father Sent Me I Am Sending You
Revealing God’s Spirit, Through Living Jesus’ Love.
Uniting The People Of God As One
To Open Arms In Love And Acceptance
Sitting With Grieving While Holding God’s Light.
Make New Wineskins For The New Wine
Pray, Share, Serve God And Be Kind
Inspire In Us Creative, Compassionate, Transforming Christianity
Comfort And Sustain In Days Of Darkness.
Enabling Caring For Others In Jesus’ Name
To Empower And Love Us, Inside Out.
Guiding, Comforting, Advocating For Jesus In Communities
Renewing God’s Earth In Justice And Peace
Gifting People To Share Responsibility For Creation
Sweeping Away Injustice And Death With Life
Help Everyone And All Creation To Thrive
Breaking Boundaries Of Division Uniting Us In Love
Awaken, Develop And Sustain Faith In Jesus
Seeking Justice And Peace For All People
Creatively Reveal Hope By Engaging Tomorrow, Today
Actions To Show That God Is Love
Revealing God’s Presence To All Everywhere Always
New Life! New Vision! New Power! Alleluia!
Love One Another As I Love You
In Quietness And Confidence Shall Be Your Strength

Meditation 12

Welcome to our second series of midweek lockdown meditations. In the first series we considered the 1st letter to the Thessalonians. Today we open up the second letter. It does not start very easily for us. After the opening greetings the writer, while encouraging the Thessalonian church, says some pretty harsh things about the vengeance of God. It makes for difficult reading, especially in the light of the demonstrations and riots going on n the USA currently, but we need to tackle it and we will do, head on. Then the last part of this section reports on the writers own intercessory prayers.
So let us hear what was written: –
1 Paul, Silas[a] and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters,[b] and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.[c]
THESE VERSES ANNOUNCE THE RITICAL ISSUES THAT WILL BE ADDRESSED IN THE LETTER. It Is very much an introduction announcing the themes. The first of those themes is the importance of belief. Faith is crucial and the faith of the church in Thessalonica is praised repeatedly throughout the letter. It is that faith that is the crucial factor in addressing that do exist within the church and their belief in the writer’s testimony. It provides the basis for all the arguments that will be put forward because of their trust in the writer and his testimony whilst with them. I can vouch for the importance of such an outlook. I have worked in churches that have trusted their leadership and moved forward in faith. I have also worked in churches where that trust was absent and the resultant bickering between those who supported the minister and what he was trying to do and those who opposed the minister was in danger of tearing the church apart. So belief and trust in the testimony of the leadership is crucial from the outset.
A second issue that we see is the call to stand firm. There are always voices who call for compromise and yet here the writer calls for them to be steadfast. Now the Greek is a little unclear here as to whether the author means for them to have the steadfastness demonstrated by Christ or to be steadfast towards Christ. But either way it is building on what has been said about their faith and urging them to continue in that direction.
The third theme that emerges is perhaps the most difficult. It stresses God’s continuing justice. Having commended the church for its endurance of persecutions and afflictions the writer then puts its suffering in a more comprehensive apocalyptic context, one that both defines and interprets the meaning of their suffering and contrasts the different fates of the believer and unbeliever.
How do you explain the vengeance of a wrathful God who awards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous? I continue to struggle with this idea as found in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians. The argument is crucial to this letter and cannot be overlooked. How do you reconcile that the author of this letter is attempting to comfort troubled believers by announcing that the ones who gave them the trouble are going to experience even more trouble? How do you reconcile the fact that comfort is given at the expense of another? Am I really to feel better when I know that the perpetrator is going to “get it” in greater measure than I received it? This theology is troubling, to say the least and how does it square with the riots and protests that are spreading across the US and the UK at this time?
Think about it from God’s perspective for a moment. How do you know what side is which and when? One commentator wrote how she remembers being in Sunday school class as a girl and being troubled with this idea. She wondered how God knew whom to zap. When reading the Hebrew texts of a warrior God who preserved the innocent and punished the evildoers, she thought, even then, how does God know who is who? For example, if she asked God in prayer to zap Hilda, who had taken her boyfriend, and then Hilda, her enemy, likewise prayed to God to zap her, who had taken back the aforementioned boyfriend, then which of us is God going to zap?
Our prayers would cancel us both right off the face of the earth. With that cause-and-effect logic, neither Hilda nor she deserved to live, only the boyfriend. With our prayers, we both should have been punished and eternally damned. (However, both of us survived, including the boyfriend!)
In another manner, much less trivial and both more ancient and current, the enemy of the Jewish nation is Palestine. For the Palestinians, the enemy is Israel. In the political rhetoric of this moment, the current enemies of the western nations are Iran and North Korea. For a host of Middle Eastern sympathizers, the enemy is the west. The situation is far more serious than Hilda, the commentator, and the boyfriend. But the question is still the same—from God’s eyes here, who is the enemy? From an eternal perspective, who deserves mercy and who deserves punishment? Which ones are to be punished? Whose prayers will be answered?
In Chinese Buddhism there is the philosophy of karmic retribution, that promises that one’s enemies will be punished in another life, that justice will always take place, even though one cannot see it. The sense of future karmic retribution, enables the followers of Buddha to rest in the present moment, knowing that all will be balanced in another life. One can then live life more confidently with assurance that one does not need to take revenge in this life. The Divine will take care of that later, in a life to come. This religious thought relates to the biblical tradition of apocalyptic thought. Revenge belongs to God. And the enemies will suffer consequences brought on by God, in God’s time, with God’s hand. The believer need not plan individual acts of revenge. In essence, the role of the believer is to rest and leave all acts of retribution in the hands of God.
Perhaps the idea of rest, then, is the key to understanding this theological crisis. Perhaps the linchpin of the chapter, and perhaps the entire letter, resides in v. 7 of chapter 1: “. . . and you, the afflicted ones, might rest [relax] with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels . . . .”
I cannot understand the actions of a God who would punish a love rival because I prayed that God would avenge my enemies. I cannot understand a God who kills nations just because I ask God to take revenge on those who persecute me. I cannot understand a God who wants blood because I need to be soothed from my troubles. What I do understand, however, is how a believer who is suffering and in need desperately needs to find rest. The hope that God will return to this world with the Lord Jesus Christ and create a world of justice where there has been injustice brings rest to the weary believer in the present moment. That is what the believer needs the most—rest.
To pray for revenge only aggravates the sense of unsettledness. To pace the floor, praying that God will save you and destroy your enemies only creates more stress. To relax, however, with the promise that the God who is capable of creating harmony out of chaos will somehow also create justice from injustice enables the believer to take a deep breath and live with peace.
You can see that kind of peace on the face o Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian ordained priest in the Milkite Church. He tells his story in his autobiography, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation.4 Chacour, nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, has spent his life working to achieve peace between Israeli Jews, Christians, and Muslims. His own boyhood home was destroyed in the war by Israeli Zionists, yet he has spent a lifetime building homes and schools, libraries and summer camps for children of all religions.
While visiting the school in Ibillin a few miles north of Nazareth in Galilee, which was established with the stamina of this one man, Chacour, who has the audacity to envision peace between enemies, a friend of mine asked him to autograph his book. He looked at heer and wrote these simple but profound words on the top of the first page of his life story: “GOD DOES NOT KILL.” He signed his name under those words.
While leaving the school grounds, Alison told me how she looked back over her shoulder to see teenage girls, one Christian and the other Muslim, sitting together on a bench eating their noon lunch in the sunshine. This is what it takes. Peace comes from knowing that God is in control, that one does not need to kill or be killed, and that God is not anxious to take sides even in battle. God does not kill, simple as that. All of our complex theological meanderings of a just, vengeful God faded away. It is not complex. It is not hard. Although he has seen the tragedy of war and hostility between enemies, Chacour holds firmly to the reality, simply stated, that “God does not kill.” God does not heed my prayers for vengeance. Nor does God heed the prayers of my enemies.
To reside in Ibillin while the guns of enemies swirled overhead and say that God does not kill perhaps is a test of faithfulness that you and I will never have to take. The testimony of resting in the midst of crisis, however, was most clear in the face and faith of Elias Chacour. He continues to build; he continues to work for peace, even in the midst of apparent violence and destruction. He has faith in a God who is in control of the universe. God did not need Chacour’s avenging prayers to be motivated to work for good. Chacour was free from the bondage of revenge and retribution. Apocalyptic language helps to create space for that rest. If God is in control, which is the large, neon-sign, announcement made by apocalyptic writers, then I do not have to calculate the wins and losses of my life. God is at work to bring justice to pass.
Furthermore, I do not even need to know how it will all occur. I am asked simply to trust in the God of the universe who has created the world and who will bring the future to pass. I do not need to be concerned with retribution.
The future orientation that enables the rest is crucial here. It is not a copout to say that the books will be balanced later. Karmic retribution, in the Buddhist sense, only enables the follower to breathe deeply and meditate more confidently in the present moment. Christian apocalyptic thought, likewise, enables the believer to rest, knowing that the God of the future will bring justice to pass. The Christian believer does not need to be anxious, but to rest.
This shift brings healing. This leader knows that rest will only come if the believers in Thessaloniki can relax in the knowledge that the God who raised our Jesus from the dead, as articulated so well in Paul’s teachings, is the same God who will bring future justice to their world.
The function of the second letter is not unlike that of the first. Both strive to comfort hurting people. In the first letter, Paul comforts the ones grieving over the deaths of the loved ones, assuring them that reunion with one another and Jesus is imminent. In the second letter, he also offers comfort but with a different perspective promising that in time, perhaps a long season of time, but in due time, all will be well.
So take time today. Take time to reflect on the importance of your faith, the need to stand firm even when people ridicule you for your beliefs and rest. Rest in the knowledge that in time there will be justice, divine justice and you can therefore be at peace.
Thanks be to God.

Online worship

The service today was late because of a technical problem with the laptop that controls the streaming. It did work eventually so the service will be available using the watch again feature in due course. Our apologies for this glitch.

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.