Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Sunday 12th September

 

For the wonderful marvel of life                we thank and praise you

For the opportunity to worship                 we thank and praise you

For the support we find together              we thank and praise you

Prayer

Ever living and ever-present God, the source of life from its start to its conclusion, our beginning and our destination.  We know and we believe that we are constantly held in your hands, that there is nothing we can do without you, no place we can go where we are out of your sight, no mistake we can make which can put us beyond your mercy.  So today, in this place, we offer our thanks and we bring you our praise, for life, and love, and grace.  Without you we have nothing to hope for, with you, we have nothing to fear.

We come humbly, and we come thankfully, knowing at least some of the mistakes we have made in this past week; remembering how we have been hurt - and how we have reacted, remembering how we have hurt others - and how we have felt, but knowing also your mercy - and trusting also your promise of love.  May that mercy and love heal us and transform us, that we might be challenged and inspired by your word, enough to follow your ways, even when that is tough, or costly to give more love, even to those who don’t seem to deserve it.

Hear our prayers, and receive the praise we offer in this time.  Amen.

Introductory Story

A man takes a phone call at his work, and is rather surprised to discover that it’s his wife calling him.  She didn’t normally do that.  Then, when she spoke to him, she sounded a little anxious.  “What’s wrong”, he asked, “what’s been happening”.  “Please don’t say you’re phoning with bad news, I’m having a bad day alreadyI don’t think I could cope with any more bad news.  I do hope your phoning to tell me something good”.

There was a short silence, as if she was thinking hard.  Finally she spoke rather hesitatingly.  “No, I won’t tell you any bad news. I’ll just give you some good news.  I just wanted to let you know that… well you know our new car, well I found out a little earlier that the airbags work very well.”

Good news isn’t always as straightforward as we might like, when you stop to think about it, and similarly bad news often turns out not to be as bleak as it seemed at first.  Even this terrible pandemic might yet leave us with a better appreciation of things we had once taken for granted, and the people we care about and the people who care for us.

You know theword ‘gospel’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ meaning “good story,” coming from older Latin and Greek words meaning “good news”.  The Gospel is good news, which is why the books which tell the stories of Jesus are known as gospels.  Yet even there we also find troubling news, troubling in that they can be uncomfortably honest in confronting us with truths about ourselves that we might rather not hear.  So in worship we don’t say, no bad news please, only good news,

even if that might be tempting at times, even if we sometimes feel as if we can’t cope with any more bad news.  Here we strive for honesty and plain speaking and what we might call truth, for here we believe that it is such things which lead us to what we really need to know.

So let’s turn to our bible readings for this week…

Bible Readings

Our first reading is the opening verses of Psalm 19, where the writer does what many humans have done in every generation; he gazes up at the sky, and wonders… and launches into poetic language to try to express what he feels.

Psalm 19

How clearly the sky reveals God's glory!  How plainly it shows what he has done!  Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next.  No speech or words are used, no sound is heard; yet their message goes out to all the world and is heard to the ends of the earth.  God made a home in the sky for the sun; it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom, like an athlete eager to run a race.  It starts at one end of the sky and goes across to the other.   Nothing can hide from its heat.

Our reading from Mark’s gospel comes at a point where Jesus is increasingly in demand.  In response to the busyness, it seems, he takes his disciples away to a quiet place for some time to take stock and reflect, and also to warn them of the challenges which lie ahead.  Good news and bad news certainly seem to intermingle here.

Mark 8:27-38

27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Tell me, who do people say I am?”  28 “Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they answered; “others say that you are Elijah, while others say that you are one of the prophets.”  29 “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”  30 Then Jesus ordered them, “Do not tell anyone about me.”  31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.” 32 He made this very clear to them. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. “Get away from me, Satan,” he said. “Your thoughts don't come from God but from human nature!”  34 Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! 37 There is nothing you can give to regain your life. 38 If you are ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Sermon

When I had a few weeks away from my usual routine during August, it was a chance to stand back and reflect on all that we have been through over the past 18 months.  It might sound strange, but it dawned on me for the first time just how much we have gone through.  During those 18 months it felt like a full-time task just keeping up with the changes, adapting our practices to changing needs and trying to keep them in line with the latest guidance, and just keeping going from one week to the next.  What time it has been!

I also had the opportunity to talk with people from other places and hear their stories and thoughts and experiences, which always help to put things into perspective.  We have all been through the same thing, yet the struggle has been individual and personal for each of us, potentially very different depending on our health, our home, our work, our family situation.  It has not been easy for anyone.

Then there is the church.  I was able to join other congregations in worship and get a feel for how things are going in other places.  On the whole, that was not a positive or encouraging experience.  Everywhere it seems there is the same uncertainty and the same kind of concern that we know all about.  That is not just a Covid thing.  Traditional churches like ours were not exactly flourishing and vibrant before March 2019, but the effects of the pandemic may have accelerated trends which were already there.  The speed and the extent of all that we have been through is certainly taking its toll.  So now our Presbytery has to work out how to reduce from 22 ministers to 14 or less, and how to reduce the number of buildings we have by a similar proportion.

We have been through a hard time, and as we survey the scene now it looks rather bleak, and all happening at a time when I sense we are all a bit low on energy and ideas and enthusiasm.  Bad news is not exactly hard to find.  Yet I stand before you today to preach good news, to proclaim freedom and liberty and hope!  How am I supposed do that in this context?

Actually, and despite everything I have just said, I don’t find it difficult.  I don’t find it difficult because I was never very interested in proclaiming the good news of how well the church is doing, or how smart and strong we all are.  The only good news I have ever had to proclaim is about Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, born and crucified and risen.  The only worthwhile thing I have ever had to offer is his message of healing and forgiveness and endless possibility.  A lot has changed in our world, and a lot is still changing, but that remains as vital and as true as ever.

So we read that Psalm this morning which speaks of a person looking up at the stars and getting a sense of the immensity of it all; an immensity which we can comprehend more fully now than ever before, speaking to us in a wordless and silent and deep way about there being more going on than we can know or understand or control.   What a humbling and life changing experience that can be, and there is no reason to believe that is ever going to stop or change or be in any sense diminished.

Our gospel reading today reveals that a wide variety of people were talking about Jesus.  They didn’t all agree in their opinions of him, but they had heard about him and there was something in his message which got them talking and wondering and looking for more.  That too is something which has continued ever since, and there is no reason to believe that it is ever going to cease.  And we read of Jesus challenging people directly not just to admire him and support him but to join him, to take up the cause and commit themselves to it.  In all sorts of ways, people have heard that call and responded to it down through the ages, and there is no reason to believe that will ever stop.

Having a sense of higher power, and finding meaning in the words of Jesus, making the decision to commit our lives to his way, these things have never depended on a strong and successful church with buildings and ministers and all the stuff we have come to associate with Christianity.

I value and enjoy that stuff as much as anyone, I’ve spent my life serving it, but the church is not the good news.  Whatever happens to all this stuff,  and whatever the future holds for folk like me, I know that people will still struggle with fear and guilt and how to get along with each other.  I know that people will still reach out for a higher power and a deeper wisdom and a better way.  I know that people will still look up at the stars and feel smaller and more humble and more open to looking for help.  And I know that people will still come across the stories of Jesus and wonder about it and talk about it and look for more of what fascinates them about it.

Perhaps they will want to meet to talk about those stories and share the effect they have had.  Perhaps they will want to pause to pray to the one he called father.  Perhaps they will remember the terrible story of his death and sense that there can be redemption for even the worst of us.  Perhaps they will read the stories of resurrection and sense that there might be hope for them even when they are at their lowest point.  Perhaps, as they talk about it all, they will share some bread and some wine and feel closer to each other and closer to him, and find strength to try themselves to live as he lived and to do what he did.  If that continues to happen, in any place, in any way, at any time, how could we dare to say that the church of Jesus Christ was a thing of the past, how could we dare to say that the gospel is not still good news.

So I can and I do preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  I can and I do proclaim freedom and liberty and hope.  I hope you can, and I hope you do, as well.

Prayer

Our Lord and our God, to you who brings us the words of life, to you who invites us to share abundant life - to you we bring our worship, and to you we bring our offering.  May all of our giving be joyful and thankful, as we discover more and more of who you are, and more and more of who we are, your beloved children.

And it is as your people that we offer our prayers today.

We pray for your church, that it may reflect your love and your light, and be an image of your goodness.  May we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, not only in our words, but in the way we live, and so bring to others a deep awareness of your love.

We pray for those who once believed but have found that faith difficult to maintain through all and challenges and the disappointments of life.  May they find trust again, and in you to find their peace.

We pray for those who have never believed, for those who have never found faith, for those who have never considered the possibility of faith.  May they be inspired to seek and to see the possibilities which the words of Christ open up for them.

Give wisdom, we pray, to those grappling with the big issues of our world: those who work for justice in the worlds of politics and trade, those who work for peace among people of hatred, those who support migrants and refugees.

Give hope, we pray, to the people of your world, those weakened by hunger, those crippled by prejudice, those crushed by war, those diminished by poverty, or distracted by wealth.

Give peace, we pray, to each one of us, and to those we care about most, that in our ways and with our own skills, we may serve your kingdom and truly share good news.

Almighty God, you call your church to witness that in Christ we are reconciled to you.  Help us so to proclaim the good news of your love that all who hear it and see it may turn to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever.  Amen.