Sermon 10th September

At first sight today’s collects and readings feel pretty good.

 

Positive things about Christ reconciling the world and proclaiming the good news of love, about living in a Christian community where Jesus is present amongst them.

 

This is the church at its best and life giving, a real beacon of light and hope to the community.

 

But we know that living with love is not easy, it is not always comfortable. Furthermore Reconciliation is never easy, and as to having Jesus present that is sometimes one step too far to imagine.

 

Matthew, as we know, writing for an emerging church, one that was already struggling with its boundaries and structures describes the process within the church for tackling disagreements.

 

Perhaps it is comforting to realise that the church has always had to deal with disagreements? It is good to know that we are normal when we have disagreements.

 

Down the centuries and even today we see the Christian Church separated and divided, sometimes bitterly, when reconciliation has failed… and yet reconciliation is what we are told to pursue.

 

As I said earlier living with love is sometimes not easy, and sometimes it feels more natural to fall out , to disagree and never to look back.

 

“We agreed to disagree”, is often said between gritted teeth, and with bitterness and recrimination.

 

Reconciliation never comes by sweeping things under a carpet, and sometimes it is necessary to face confrontation. Also a confrontation without the purpose of reconciliation is a sad thing to behold.

 

Matthew reminds the church that reconciliation with Christ present holding the parties together is the place to end. Where two or three even are together even in disagreement I am still with them in their midst. (to paraphrase the gospel reading)

 

The Scottish Episcopal Church has mirrored this very well I feel in our discussions over same ex marriage, and a lot of us have learnt a huge amount in this process.

 

What happens then when we get to the point of disagreeing so much that exclusion and division are the result… we are to treat that person (that group) as if they were a gentile and tax collector.

 

Does this mean we are justified to treat them differently? On the one hand some might say yes… like shaking the dust off your feet, walking by on the other side etc etc.

 

Let us pause and think for a while though…. There is a catch I this….

 

How did Jesus treat Tax collectors and Gentiles?

 

Matthew was a Tax collector! Gentiles were healed and made whole. Love was no less because of what they were.

 

Paul we learnt last week was a hot headed self-opinionated man. Yet he probably knew and recognised human frailties well. He will have seen human frailty (sin) at work in both Jewish and Christian Communities. He will have witnessed, and even we know taken part in, the bad treatment of those we are convinced are simply wrong.

 

Yet he goes on to tell us “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves fulfils the law.”

 

Oh how hard this is to take on board because we always want to look for the “but” or “except.”

 

Loving those different is hard.

 

We are often clueless what loving might mean, because we are struggling hard even to love ourselves.

 

Loving those different is challenging because it will inevitably mean learning something about them. It will mean time to understand. (and we have so little time don’t we so often) It will mean being patient with the other.

 

Would any of us be able to “love in the abstract” without  knowing . Can you imagine someone loving you in the abstract? It really hardly happens.

 

We can imagine God’s love and reconciliation and healing only because we believe God knows us deeply. This is precisely what makes his loving so powerful and convincing. This is what draws us to his love and holds us there, even when we recognise our sin.

 

Mahatma Ghandi spoke about the need to hang on to Love, the nectar of life. He said

 

“Through the heart we may come to know the Love of God; through the heart we may become the love of God”

“Love is reckless in giving away, oblivious in what it gets in return. Love wrestles with the world as with the self and ultimately gains mastery over all other feelings.”

 

God help us today to proclaim the good news of your Love

 

Amen

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Pew sheet for September 10th the 13th Sunday after Trinity

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Sermon for Sunday 3rd September by Joy Whitelaw (Lay Reader)

Although the readings today follow on, from last Sunday, both in Romans and the Matthew’s Gospel, today I am going to mostly concentrate on Romans.

I found the reading as we have just heard it, is difficult to follow, as Paul rapidly fires twelve instructions in quick succession, which makes it quite confusing when you first read, or hear them.

If we look back in Acts at Paul’s early life and beliefs as a Pharisee, he appeared to be more militant and passionate than many Pharisees. This was evident from the time he watched the stoning of Stephen, and his subsequent persecution of the Church in Jerusalem

Paul believed that to torture, throw into prison, or even kill those followers of the Way was, as he saw it, essential to preserve the lives of the Jewish people. He was passionate about this work and greatly feared.

He was going to do the same in Damascus. Then came his transformation on the road to Damascus. we are told he had a vision of Jesus, who asked him why he was persecuting him.

From today’s passage Paul appears to be just as passionate, but now fueled

by his  belief that Jesus Christ is the Way. He is writing to believers in Rome and appears quite worried about them.

He goes on to give instructions for the way they should live their lives and, by their example, be able to encourage and teach others.

Paul is asking a lot from them, most of which will not be easy. He is writing to those, to whom he appealed in verses 1,2, just before this passage, to present themselves as a living sacrifice and  be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Now he is giving them ways to live, which rely on their renewed minds, and their ability to discern “the will of God

His words remind me of the “Ten Commandments” but with a difference.  He starts by exhorting them to remember “Love is genuine, hate evil, and hold fast to what is good”.

Then Paul goes on with his instructions for the way they should live their lives. He is encouraging them to be alongside others and to show love in all situations they face.

How should they live?

How should we live ?

The first verse today is about love, and love is throughout the reading, they are to show mutual love for each other, in extending hospitality, living in harmony, and peaceably with all.

What I think most of us would find more difficult would be to bless those who bully or persecute us, if it happened to us – perhaps by bullying at school or In the workplace

Could we offer food and drink to our enemies.

If to love each other, includes our enemies, there are times I think we would find that very difficult to follow, particularly when we hear of tragedies and conflict in the news, on television or radio.

How do we feel about those who are carrying out atrocities around the world

It is very difficult to think that we should be praying for those who are killing others because they are not the same as themselves, or don’t have the same beliefs, or are in the way of their insatiable desire to have power.

It is easier to pray for those suffering from them.

We need to remember that In his words to them, we should also be thinking about our lives and how we live.

Paul tells them  to realise that their lives will include periods of suffering, and that they will need patience, and to persevere in  prayer. It is the same for us. The times we need to pray most are the times when life is difficult. They are also the times when it can be hardest to pray.

He is not offering an easy life, but as in today’s Gospel reading,  to follow Jesus is to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and it was never going to be easy.

As  disciples, they  should expect  the good and the bad times.

Paul also tells them there will be times of hope and to rejoice, and they should rejoice when others rejoice, and weep when others weep.  We should do the same.  We should show love and empathy with the joys, and sorrows of others

Today Paul has been talking about love and being alongside all at all times, the good and the bad.  He presents the Lord as being a loving God until we arrive at verse 19.

Then, Paul gives us a different view of God.  God as the avenger, and he quotes “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” and they, and we, are to leave it to him.

But why in the middle of spending the rest of the passage in encouraging the Romans to love all, which at that time would have included the non Christian population of Rome, and the surrounding area, did Paul address vengeance by the Lord, as being so important.

I don’t find that easy to understand

He goes on to talk about giving food and drink to their enemies. Also he has already in verse 17, told them not to repay evil for evil, but they should think about what is noble in the sight of all.

There is no doubt that Paul’s words to the Romans would have given them a strong message as to what was expected of them, if they were to follow the teachings of Jesus, and help to spread the word to the Gentiles in their area.

We should also think about his words, as much of what he says is relevant today.

It is important to be able to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.  It is equally important to be there for each other,and others through times of sorrow and distress

The message from Paul for us to remember, is “Let love be genuine” in all we say and do, and his final words,

“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by good

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Pew sheet for 3rd September: 12th Sunday after Trinity

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Sermon at St Magnus 27th August

Last week we noticed the important differences between the Pharisees, Scribe and Sadducees, and how it is quite misleading to lump them all together.

 

We noted that the Pharisees loved discussion and questions as a way of understanding  things and that Some scholars have suggested that Jesus was a Pharisee himself.

 

Today we have a good example of Pharisaical practice in Jesus as he has a number of interesting questions to put before the disciples  in order for understanding to be gained.

The first question is,  “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

 

This is closely followed by “who do you say that I am”?

 

Who or what is the Son of Man? The phrase is used 81 times. It is an Aramaic phrase and it is not easy to translate its meaning into Greek (The language of the New Testament). Most of the time “The Son of man” is another way of saying simply “I”. Jesus used it I this way frequently.

 

The Son of Man was a way of describing simply “human man”   I am a son of Man distinguishing from Son of God.

 

It is perhaps important and interesting that Jesus never identifies himself as the Son of God. It is also important to distinguish between the phrase Son of God and God’s son. God’s Son is what we generally speak of as if describing the second person of the Trinity, and Son of God is a term often used in the Bible to speak about someone who has shown special characteristics or particular facets of holiness etc.

 

It is interesting after reading today’s Gospel reading that elsewhere when Jesus is directly asked if he is the Messiah at his trial, he replies in fact that he is the Son of Man rather than messiah.

 

But to make things a little more complicated this “Son of Man” Jesus aligns himself with is the one adopted from the Book of Daniel when we read “Behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the ancient of days (in other words “God”) We also read this in the Book of Revelation too.

 

It seems likely that Jesus saw himself much more aligned with this Son of man character and was happy to see himself so aligned.  The figure appointed by God to restore Israel to its former glory and to install the Kingdom of heaven.

 

There had of course been other contenders as to who this Son of Man was and Jesus teases these thoughts out in our reading today.

 

But then we get a similar question . “Who do people say I am?”

 

If you remember that Son of Man was often another way of saying “I” then it could be that Jesus asks the same question again. Don’t forget some had already thought that Elijah had returned in the person of Jesus and would therefore be restoring the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

For Matthew this is an important opportunity to put into the mouth of Peter the famous answer he gives “You are the Messiah” and Jesus affirmation of this response of Peter.

 

Matthew was writing don’t forget after 70AD, an important turning point for the society of the day and especially the church as it was now ploughing definitely its own furrow without being in the shadow of the Temple and Judaism.

 

Matthew also has that addition about baptizing man in the name of …. At the end of his gospel showing how “church” orientated his gospel is.

 

We must be aware of the context of the passages we read. For me this makes sense.

 

Jesus asks his disciples Who do people say I am? He may well ask us the same question today…. Who do people today think Jesus is?

 

The answer we give is as important as the one we hear Peter give….. and we may hear Jesus responding too, bestowing on us important tools of forgiveness and healing. There is certainly reasonable evidence that the church still offers healing and wholeness to people… I hope!

 

In our world today the identity of Jesus is still being debated. An ill-considered answer on our behalf is not likely to be helpful. People really do want to know more about him and what he means. People are still drawn to him and we are where they come for information.

 

If it is the case, as we believe, that we today are the Body of Christ, then Jesus will be judged by how people see his Body active today the answer we give therefore is also the answer we represent..

 

Jesus is asking us today Who do people say that I am? How are the world seeing me, what might they be wondering?

 

Who do people say the Son of Man is are we able to say and show that we believe the Son of Man is the Jesus we worship.

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27th August 11th After Trinity

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Sermon for Trinity 10 August 20th 2017

Sermon for Trinity 10

20th August 

 

When I was reading the gospel for today one sentence in particular jumped out at me.

 

“Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?”

 

Why do you think they took offence?

 

The initial response of course is that this is all about food laws and how they had put the rules above loving and caring, and here Jesus want to redress the balance.

On that score we may understand why the Pharisees too offence, he was undermining things they had been telling people.

 

On another hand what Jesus was saying may not have been about ignoring food laws at all and he was just stating the obvious… namely that the stuff we blurt out of our mouths can really hurt, offend and can really spoil how we live and get on with each other.

 

What offence could be taken at that? After all the Pharisees may well have agreed with Jesus on that point.

 

Another interesting issue arises in that we hear the Pharisees took offence, who were the Pharisees?

 

Now I find this angle particularly interesting because there are a number of scholars now that have surmised that Jesus was a Pharisee himself.

 

We have often lumped Scribes and Pharisees together but in fact this is very far from accurate.

 

The Pharisees were found out and about in the Synagogues, they were a mixed bunch of people holding a variety of opinions. They were a lay based movement, not priestly based. They may be liberal and ready to think. They learnt through discussion and debate. They loved discussion and airing issues. They wanted to get to the heart of the matter and not to rely on simple tradition or this is the way we do things. Pharisees mixed well and served well the local people, they were found in the countryside and yes indeed even Galilee that seedbed of religious thoughts. Some Pharisees had earned a recognized position alongside the “priestly authority” people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who we know Jesus got on well with and had mutual admiration I suspect.

 

On the other hand we have Scribes. Scribes belonged to the ruling classes. They were Temple based and liked sticking to what was right (in their opinion) Scribes and Pharisees did not apparently see eye to eye, yet both groups had a place in the Judaism of the day. Pharisees being more popular and Scribes mistrusted due to their connection with ruling classes.

 

Rachel made the observation the other day that it was a bit perhaps like lumping The Baptist Church with the Roman Catholic church and suggesting all was common ground.

 

Another group worth mentioning in Jesus Day were the Sadducees. Again establishment and Jerusalem based. Very traditional Jews who had strong feelings against the Resurrection of the Dead, unlike Pharisees who along with the popular believers did believe in this in the years before Jesus was on the scene.

 

So it is against a broader picture that I am left wondering why the Pharisees took offence. One though is that Jesus had taken as his own teaching something they were talking about anyway…. Like sharing outside a formal meeting something that had been said before it was agreed.

 

We know that many of the issues around Jesus teaching were being debated in the society of Jesus day…. How to keep the law in today’s society, how to stay true to God in Todays roman occupied world…. How to be Jewish away from Jerusalem….Was there life after death?

 

Clearly in any rule governed society, religious or otherwise, common sense can sometimes seem to be ruled out. “Walk the walk, not talk the talk”

 

I met yet another person the other day who has chosen not to belong to a church because of how she sees the Christian Church behaving towards each other. She felt that being loving and compassionate was the most crucial thing. I did not take offence at her words.

 

I am left realizing that Jesus did indeed put his finger on the point. People’s words are so often the thing that endures, and they are the things that are hard to move away from or even sometimes forgive. By comparison whether or not we stand or sit at points in our liturgy are meaningless.

 

Let us take to heart then the need to listen with compassion and to respond with compassion, for it is what comes out of our mouth that defiles who we are.

 

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Pew sheet 20th August Trinity 10

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13th August Sermon On the mountain again!

Sermon for 9th After Trinity yrA

Lerwick

Proper 14

 

We find ourselves back on the mountain today. Jesus climbs the mountain to pray again (suggesting that Alma’s question last week may be well worth considering)

And Elijah finds himself on Mount Horeb.

 

It is well worth reminding ourselves however what has been going on for Elijah.

Not to put too fine a point on it he was at the end of his tether and he wanted to die a lonely solitary death.

 

In this story we get all sorts of reminiscences common to other similar encounters with God. Jonah too went through a similar time, Elijah has spent forty days in the wilderness, fortified only with what God has put beside him.

 

The Mount of Horeb also happens to be the place that Moses encountered in his black time before encountering God in the burning bush and being sent on his mission to save the people from slavery in Egypt.

Furthermore we learn that Moses had other moments of despair and even echoes Elijah at one point with “if this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death at once”

 

Are these similarities coincidences.. I think probably not.

 

Last week the mountain of transfiguration seemed to come before Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem” and came immediately before the disciples felt disabled in their ability to cure a sick boy.

 

Whichever way around it would appear that living a life dedicated to the service of God brings with it barren and empty places, and perhaps even times when we feel like we have simply had enough.

 

What are you doing here? (Elijah) what are we doing here?

 

Elijah pours out his soul before God “I have been very zealous for the Lord….” Then God says simply “Return”

 

I don’t know about you but this seems a fairly unsatisfactory answer after all that Elijah had been through…. However this seems the answer that Elijah gets. “get on with it” “carry on”

 

Let us however consider the other side of these mountain top encounters these times when we find encounters with God life changing moments.

 

As Alma alluded to last week they all contain within them long states of “listening” and “waiting”. Sometimes today I find myself in such a panic to act that I miss this time of waiting and listening. We are in driven times, measured times when lots of things are expected instantly and even easily. We no longer expect to have to wait, or even put ourselves out. It is far more likely we jump to complaint and pickiness instead of praise and thanks.

 

This wonderfully famous and moving story of Elijah encountering God in the unexpected silent murmur when all the times before it had been in rock splitting certainty… really should make us too sit up and listen!!

We need to be still when we come into God’s presence, and not jabber away incessantly waiting for God to get a word in edgeways. (As Alma too said last week)

 

I expect we all feel a little as if we are trying so hard to serve God in the place God has put us. For some this is just as it is and should be. For others there may be a feeling (like Elijah and Moses and even Peter) of restlessness and seeking.

 

Some people take themselves on pilgrimages and long journeys to try and unravel what their life should be telling them, others experience this in other ways maybe even fall ill.

 

Whichever method we find ourselves in let us take to heart the waiting, the expectant waiting knowing that God is not going to abandon us no matter how we feel  (Don’t forget Moses and Elijah and even Peter were confirmed in this knowledge, maybe even may we say Jesus too?)

 

The next point from the gospel reading comes in now after the mountain top the scene moves to the restless waves of Galillee and to Disciples battered by the waves, far from feeling safe with everything feeling as if it was against them… Jesus comes into this scene and says “Take heart” and then invites Peter to “Come”

 

Although the restless sea seems again to catch Peter out, Jesus reaches out to catch him.

All is well.

 

The scenes all end with encounter, listening, recognition, (often feeding too )

 

May we be blessed as we meet in the presence of God the Holy one.

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13th August Pew Sheet

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