Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Sunday 25th July

Prayer

Eternal one, today, as every day, we would lift our hearts and our spirits, as we express our thanks to you.  We remember that life itself comes to us as a gift, far beyond anything we could earn or deserve.  We remember that our lives are precious and priceless, far greater than anything we could design or create.  We remember the many signs of your eternal love that sparkle even in the dark places of our world.  And for all of your great generosity, we must be deeply thankful.

In our lives, so rich and blessed, we recognise and we confess before you how poorly we have lived. 

We have sinned against you in our words, and our actions.  We have failed you also in the many words we have not said and the good deeds that we have not done.  As we depend on you for life, we depend on you also for forgiveness, and healing, and the strength to change.

In your great mercy, forgive us we pray, and in your grace, enable us to move forward in your ways,

and in your name.  For the great generosity of your forgiveness, may we be deeply thankful.  Amen.

Introduction

Something different at this point this week.  In Beauly Church last week we had a moment which we were not able to bring you in the online Service, but I think is worth sharing.  Wendy Barclay, although a lively participant in our congregation over many years, had never been baptised, and we have been discussing that since before Covid began.  (remember those days?)  Last Sunday, in the presence of family and friends who joined the congregation in the church, we did baptise her.  Before that however, she spoke about her faith and why she wanted this, and we are able to share a little of what she said with you now.

I think my faith journey began at this Church when I used to come here with my Granny as a child and I went to Sunday School led by Alice and Christine.  Although I have believed in God and in Jesus for a long time, my faith has developed gradually over the years and it will continue to do so.  There are not really any definitive moments for me that I recall when things clicked. Although saying that, I do recall being at a Stuart Townend concert and hearing the song “In Christ Alone.”  I don’t think I had heard the song before and it did strike me at the time how the words seemed to articulate really well my faith in Jesus.  I get a lot out of hearing other Christians talking about faith and often comments made by fellow Christians have stuck with me.  I’m sure like many, this past year and a bit has been a period of reflection and I feel I have spent more time further deepening my faith.  While I know online Church has had its challenges, I have also found it quite refreshing and I have got so much out of Ian’s online Services this past year. 

I believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I believe that God gave His Son Jesus for me.  He came and showed compassion and mercy.  He gave His life on the Cross for me.  He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and He will return. Jesus is Lord.  Through his death on the Cross my sins are forgiven.   

Of course there are challenges, there are lots of things I wonder about and things I don’t understand but I am realising that God is much bigger and way beyond my understanding.  But at the same time I have a close relationship with Him.  I can pray to Him about anything.  Those of you who know me well will know that I am a bit of a worrier and can tie myself in knots very easily!  Countless times when I have been worried about something or in a situation that I’m not sure what to do and I have prayed about it, God has of course taken care of it. 

I am very blessed with my family and friends and thank you for your support today.  I would like to thank Ian for all the time and help that you have given me since you first came to this Parish.  I think we are very blessed to have you as our Minister.    Thank you for the warmth and interest that people in the congregation have shown towards me over the years and for the thoughts and prayers for me from many fellow Christians.  Thank you to Alice and Christine for being there for me since I began going to Sunday School all those years ago! 

I’ll finish with these verses that I find very reassuringRomans 8 v 38-39: “ For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Bible Readings

Our passage from the letter to the Ephesians begins with the phrase – “for this reason…”  So we might wonder – for what reason?  When we only read a short section of the letter, it is not always clear.  Actually those words might be more accurately translated as “for this purpose”.   He has set out his hopes, his vision, and it is that vision that leads him to offer the prayer that we are going to read. 

It is that all people may recognise their unity in God’s presence, through Jesus Christ; that Jews and gentiles alike might come to understand the full scope of the gospel message, which breaks down every human division, and the wonderful things that are possible because of it.

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.  20 To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.

From John’s gospel, a short story which is told in more detail in other gospels, describing the experience of his disciples in a time of darkness and fear and struggle, and how their experience became very different when Jesus was with them.

John 6: 16 - 21

16 When evening came, Jesus' disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and went back across the lake toward Capernaum. Night came on, and Jesus still had not come to them. 18 By then a strong wind was blowing and stirring up the water. 19 The disciples had rowed about three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the water, coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 “Don't be afraid,” Jesus told them, “it is I!” 21 Then they willingly took him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached land at the place they were heading for.

Sermon

The Bible is inspired – that’s what we believe.  Through it we can hear stories and messages which contain such wisdom and such insight and such challenge that we can readily believe we are hearing a word from God.  We believe it is inspired and we find it inspiring.

We say that and we believe that, but it’s not always as obvious as we might like to think.  There are plenty of Bible passages that we might struggle with, or even be repulsed by: like the endorsement of all-out war in the Old Testament where men, women, and children are slaughtered; or that passage in the psalms where the writer expresses his desire to see the babies of his enemies smashed against rocks.  Other passages simply bewilder us and can take a lot of work to make sense out of.  Perhaps the bible is too honest in its portrayal of human nature to be too consistently inspiring.

Nonetheless, every once in a while you run across a passage like the one we read today.   Here is an inspired text that not only inspires, it almost lifts you out of your chair and raises you to new heights, or at least lift you out of your dullness and open you to great wonder.  Paul had just been reviewing the wonderful fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been opened not just to the Jewish people but also to the Gentiles, which was shorthand for everyone on earth.  Then comes verse 14 as Paul begins to tell the Ephesians how he prays for them.  He does not pray that they will be healthy and safe.  He does not pray they will be successful and wealthy.  He does not pray that they will find a way to stand up to their enemies in the Roman Empire.  He does not pray that their lives may be good.  No, he prays for strength by the Spirit to bring Christ more fully into their hearts.  And then he prays they might receive power, but not political power, not the clout to defeat their enemies and force their ideas upon others.  No, he prays they may receive power to grasp something very nearly ungraspable: how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ so that through this glorious piece of knowledge they might be filled up to the very brim of their lives with God’s own fullness.

Then, as it seems that the writer’s heart is about to burst out of his chest he almost seems to sing a kind of blessing, as he gives all the glory to the One who not only can do what we ask but even more than we could imagine.  “ To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of:  to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.”

This is the gospel at its lyrically powerful best.  The core of it all— the core of the message and the core of our faith, that which soars high above our mundane concerns and that which under-girds our very lives—is the love of Christ and the fullness of God in our hearts.  Take that away and nothing else matters.  Add that and we can endure all kinds of unhappy things without being decimated by them.  At the bright centre of the universe there is love; abounding, unimaginable love.  It is the source of all we know.  It is the deepest answer to our hardest questions.  It is our destiny.

Paul wants his readers and everyone to be filled up to the brim with as much of this very love as we can manage to perceive.  Because as we read in this inspiring and inspired passage of Scripture, when that happens, it leads to glory, for all time, forever and ever.  We humans tend to be a bit too dull to grasp such things, which is why Paul prays that we may be given the power to be strong in what he calls our inner selves.  He could have prayed for more obvious things, more visible things, more outwardly impressive things.  No doubt, had he asked his readers in advance, they might have produced a long list of needs and hopes and desires that they would have asked him to pray for on their behalf.  Yet none of those things could have touched the rich glories which are referred to here.

Just as those disciples in that boat during the storm might have prayed for the strength to keep rowing harder and harder, but found that when Jesus was with them all of their concerns faded and the things they had worried about just didn’t matter anymore.  When we get the important things right, everything else looks different.  When we get our inner selves right, everything else looks different.  The more we contemplate this,  the more we believe this,  the more we experience what it is to “be completely filled with the very nature of God.”, and if we have that, what else could we need.

Perhaps not all passages in the bible are obviously inspired or readily inspiring, but this one surely is.  “I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love.  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.”

Prayer

Eternal one, may we offer our loyalty and our devotion to you before all else.  May we offer the talents and gifts of our lives to you, above all else.  And may these offerings that we give help to promote peace and love and understanding in this world, all for your honour and glory.

Lord, this we believe: that in a world where there are kings and queens, presidents and emperors, governments and parties... you are the source of all power.

Lord, this we believe: that in a world where there are parents and leaders, teachers and advisers, celebrities and personalities, you above all are to be trusted.

Lord, this we believe: that in a world where there are so many people offering to help; so many people who make things difficult; so many people making demands upon us; you are our helper and our strength.

Lord, this we believe: that in a world with power to destroy itself, in a world with enough food but not enough concern, enough fuel but not enough self-discipline; enough knowledge but not enough love- you are the one who can give hope for our planet and meaning to our lives.

So we pray for leaders of nations, for those who carry great responsibilities, that they may glimpse your glory and act to honour it. 

We pray for those who teach and who lead and who influence the opinions of many, that they may place their trust in you, and act accordingly. 

We pray for those who offer help to those who need it in this world, in caring professions, in Charities, in International Organisations, that they may find help and strength in you, and act accordingly.

We pray for ourselves, and those close to us, living the complicated lives that we do, that we may find meaning in life from you and act accordingly.  Bless our church, bless our neighbours, bless our families, with a deep sense of your presence and a wide sense of your glory and an enduring sense of your peace.

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.  Increase and multiply upon us your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.