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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

2 THESSALONIANS 1: 1 – 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

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

MEDITATION 10
1 THESSALONIANS 5: 12 – 22
I think for some of us, particularly at the moment we will find one of Paul’s instructions in this section particularly hard. Give thanks in all circumstances, for all things. Can you give thanks when you have not been able to see your loved ones in ages. Can you give thanks when your partner of many years goes into hospital, you cannot visit them and the next thing you know is that they have died from covid? Can you give thanks when you have been laid off, you are struggling to pay the rent or for groceries? Can you really give thanks? Wouldn’t it be easier and more accurate to say, give thanks in most circumstances, or as much as you are able? One writer suggested this nautical analogy:-
That has to be one of the most adventurous voyages of thought ever embarked upon the rough waters of reason, and logically it seems destined for shipwreck.
But Paul does not qualify the statement, not in one little bit. The other imperatives in this section are equally as all encompassing. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. So how do we make sense of this in a way which does not leave us disheartened because of our struggles to live up to this calling?
I believe that there are two things to bear in mind. First of all. This letter was not written to an individual. It was written to a church, a group of people. Remember what I said a few weeks ago, we need to read the new testament as Jane and her fellow southerners would read it. Give thanks, y’all, in all circumstances. Rejoice y’all. Keep praying, y’all. These instructions are given to a body of believers, not individuals.
A body is an interesting thing. One of the things that I have learnt about the body through growing up with partial paralysis is that when one part of the body is weakened often other parts will be strengthened to compensate. If you are so unfortunate to see me in my shorts you will notice my left leg is bulkier than my right. My left arm than my right. In the same way the body of Christ can compensate. I am sure that many of you are struggling to give thanks at the moment while others find it easier. That’s ok and that is a part of what it means to be a body. There are aspects of our situation today that causes me tremendous grief and sadness. I have to admit that at the same time I am not missing being out almost every evening which means I am getting to spend more time with Jane. Just as someone might get upset because it rains and ruins their barbeque, someone else might be delighted as their crops needed the water. In everything, as a body, we can give thanks.
Another way to look at this is to look at two basic truths which, I would suggest does make it possible, even as individuals, to give thanks in all circumstances. The first truth is that worship is the context for the whole of life, not just one hour on a Sunday morning. In Karl Rahner’s words, everyday life must become itself a prayer. If all of life is worship for those who seek God’s will then thanksgiving is a necessary and inevitable by-product. That is why Calvin objected to the term Eucharist, for the Lord’s Supper as he promoted the fact that all of life should be lived in thanksgiving to God and eucharist means thanksgiving. We therefore, to use Calvin’s picture, all live eucharistic lives 24/7. Therefore ot quote one theologian, whether good or bad be the lot, a life of worship means perpetual thanksgiving.
The second truth presupposes that it is life’s depths and not its shallows that must arrest our attention. Paul Tillich speaks of the depth of existence that is the ground of our historical life, the ultimate depth of history. Thus Tillich calls us away from the shallow waters of superficial determinants which we see as being good or bad things happening to us. Instead he calls us out to the deeper waters where weightier truths make it possible to always give thanks. These weightier truths we have already seen, the gift of faith, the joy of salvation, a life hidden with Christ in God. These are things that our present circumstances cannot touch. These are things which go deeper than simply our own happiness or unhappiness due to present circumstances. These are the eternal things, the really meaningful things. These are the things that go beyond what moths can eat or rust can affect. Society tries to make us believe that life on the surface is what counts. We live in a pleasure seeking, superficial world. Yet that is not our natural habitat.
I remember when on holiday in Madeira being told I had ot try this particular fish. It was a local delicacy. A strange fish its skin was black. It lives most of the time in incredibly deep water, such as the water that surrounds the volcanic island. It is only at night that it comes to the surface. So, the fishermen of Madeira go out at night to try to catch this elusive creature. In the same way we live our most joyful and thankful lives when we live in the depths, remembering the eternal truths enjoying the knowledge of our salvation in Christ. That is not to say that we should not come up to the surface every once in a while like the Madeiran fish. It is good to enjoy a nice meal, the escapism of a film or a play or a concert. But we must not live on the surface for too long. We must return to the depths if we are to keep our spirit of thanksgiving.
Even this lockdown time is producing things of great joy. People in their distress have been turning to the faith, have been tuning in to live stream services, have been watching live studies such as this. They have found comfort and strength in these small acts of worship. They have found access to be easier as they don’t have to walk into a strange place and feel everyone’s eyes turning in their direction. Through acts of ministry such love your neighbour we have thrown off the shackles that so often hold us back and demonstrated a real concern and love for those around us. The elders have done a tremendous job, calling round their districts, getting in touch with people, showing care and compassion. They say there are silver linings with every cloud, there have even been silver linings through this crisis. So do give thanks. Give thanks in all circumstances and whenever you can. Live life at the deep end remembering all our Lord has done for us and rejoice.

Meditation 9 1 thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

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

Meditation 8

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

Meditation 7

MEDITATION 7
1 THESSALONIANS 3_ 9 – 13
In this section Paul continues to pour out his love for the people of Thessalonica. His relationship to the church here was so different to his relationship with other churches. For example, the church in Corinth was always causing heartache. They had a long and stormy relationship. The church in the region of Galatia was always listening to outside agitators and again causing problems. However, none of these sorts of issues seemed to raise their heads in Thessalonica and so they were able to have a long friendship and love which surpassed his relationship with the other churches. Thus, you have his intense desire to be with them, to enjoy fellowship with them, to worship with them. I hope that, that if nothing else, this period of lockdown may have made you experience something of that desire. I know I long to worship surrounded by all of you again. Preaching to an almost empty church and doing these videos are simply not the same as being able to interact with you all, see the smiles, and even sometimes the frowns, on your faces while I lead and teach and preach is something I am missing to my very core.
Yet for all the church’s success, Paul’s thanksgiving for them is interrupted in verse 10 when he tells them that not only does he want to see them again, he also wants to supply to them what is lacking in their faith. He does not elaborate on what it is. He might even not know at that time, what it is, but he knows that something will be lacking and it is this that we will focus on this morning.
But first let us actually hear what Paul wrote: –
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
One of the repeating themes in Paul is his determination that every church exhibits the triad of graces, as one theologian described them. The triad is faith, hope and love. Certainly, if every church exhibited and focused on keeping the faith, keeping hope alive and loving everyone who they encounter, as well as God; then the church would be a vibrant and happy place. So often church’s and indeed ministers will focus on one or the other, maybe two out of three but keeping an equal emphasis on all three is vital for the ongoing life of the church. At this time, I believe the one that has been most difficult to encourage has been hope. The seemingly never ending linking and uniting of churches, the constant concern over a lack of ministers and shrinking numbers in the pews has been such a concern that hope seems to have gone out of the window. And yet there is hope. As Billy Graham once famously said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.” I think we forget this from time to time. We are so focused on the present reality that we forget the future glory. Yet interestingly in this difficult time I actually see more reason for hope. The number of you watching and reading this weekly meditation is far higher than the number we usually get for midweek Bible study. The number of people watching the live stream is far higher than we usually get on a Sunday. There are real signs of hope just as there were real signs of hope in Thessalonica.
The second thanksgiving that Paul mentions is the fact that the people of Thessalonica received the message that Paul brought as being the Word of God. They did not shrug it off or dismiss it, but received it eagerly and responded to it with commitment.
The third reason for his thanksgiving is one which is more difficult to express. In verse 10 he says that he looks forward to re-joining them so that he can supply what is lacking in their faith. To understand why that is a reason for thanksgiving you have to understand something of Paul’s wider theology and that Paul does not know what is lacking, he just knows that something is lacking.
This is the so-called apocalyptic realism of Paul. The realisation that we live in a time when all is not yet complete. Yes, Christ has died, has risen and ascended into heaven. Victory over sin and death is complete, but there are still manifestations of the old age remaining. There is still sin, I still sin, you still sin. There is pain, there is suffering. We have not yet reached the time when the climactic event that will consummate the new age already begun becomes a reality. Therefore we, like the people of Thessalonica live in this strange period between the already of what God has done for us in Jersus Christ and the not yet that awaits us.
This is a hard thing for any church to grasp. No matter how successful (however you want to measure success, and that is a topic all in itself) a church is there is always something lacking because of the intrusions of the old age. As much light as the church may bring to others and as much good as it will do for the community and the world, there is always something lacking. There is always something that needs the attention of church leaders there is always something for us to pray for in the life of the congregation. We are a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. That is why when people say the church is too full of hypocrites we can respond by saying, there is always room for one more. We are never perfect we are always undergoing change always, hopefully growing closer to Christ although we will never attain the fullness until that climactic day when he returns.
There is a tension throughout Paul’s writings between the already and the not yet. It is a tension that we have to constantly struggle with. Whatever we are, we are by the action of the grace of God already and always active in our lives. The value of the not yet dimension of God’s work, however, is that no one can claim perfection, as if the sanctification process, the growing into the likeness of Christ is ever complete. Vestiges of the past will always intrude, even if only in our memories as if they are not quite dead but only wounded and still seeking to recover.
This is why we must all set a goal for our lives. The goal has to be to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit, that guarantee of the new age’s consummation, and to read the Word, study the Word, put into action the Word and wait with trust and diligence for the full transformation of our lives.

A New Hope

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

Scottish Churches prayer for 7pm on May 3rd

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