4A                                                     St. Ninian’s                                             09/7/17

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67       Psalm 45:10-17 Romans 7:15-25a  Matthew 11:16-19 25-30

I came back to my car in Asda’s car park on Thursday to find 3 workies standing beside it looking very serious. I said, “Is there a problem gentleman?” to which the swift reply came back “Never a problem, only solutions.”
That set me thinking about today’s’ readings.

The problem of sin and of our personal limitations abounds in all of today’s readings. The gospel reminds us that the presence and the power of Jesus were completely misconstrued by people.  Where do we see God’s presence and power at work in the world? What does God call us to do? Secondly Jesus thanked God that he had hidden these things from the wise and intelligent but had revealed them to infants. Where do we sit? Are we wise and intelligent or are we infants? One commentator points out that it is not a contrast between sophistication and naiveté, for the ancients did not think of children as wonderful little dears but as bundles of chaos who were loathsome and needed to be tamed. Not much change there then! Small children were without anything to commend them for acceptance. Just as well that is not the attitude in our church today.
Seriously though, the issue is about pretentiousness. How do we approach God? Thirdly what do we learn from Jesus’ own teaching about God? What kind of God does Jesus reveal? The answer to these questions challenges our theology and how we live and act out our faith day by day. Then the 4th and last
question is: What is the yoke of Christ and what is the style of living to which he calls us? Does Christ’s promise of a light yoke comfort us, challenge us or threaten us? This passage actually raises more questions than it answers.

Can there be a more relevant passage of Scripture for many of us than this one from Romans? Paul writes: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

All of us have experienced the power of temptation. Who hasn’t succumbed to the power of a delicious, moist, rich piece of chocolate cake regardless of how hard we tried to resist it? That is a very simple example but every day we face much harder temptations in our lives.  There are things we know we ought to do, bu  it is a battle to motivate ourselves to do them, and there are other things that we know we should not do because they are destructive for us but we go ahead and do them anyway. Paul cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

Doing good and avoiding evil is the primary battle of the human condition. It means taking control of our lives and ruling our passions. Someone once said that there are only two pains in life--the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. And then he adds: “Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” That’s true. If we could only discipline ourselves in all ways, we could have a remarkable life. The question is, how is it done? How do we win the battle over our own desires and actions?

Sometimes we call it willpower. Did you know that willpower is the single most important habit for individual success? Some studies have shown that self-discipline, or will power, is more important than IQ in how well students do in college. It shouldn’t surprise us because it is proven that self-disciplined young people spend less time watching television. They have fewer absences from classes. They are more likely to earn higher grades in
their exams and have a focus for the rest of their lives. In all of life, willpower is more important to success than talent. But how do you develop good discipline to rule our passion and desires? No one can do it for us. It’s a battle each of us faces each day.

Have you ever told a child to “make good choices” to improve their behaviour?
How did that work out for you? Most teachers struggle with challenging behaviours such as this on a daily basis.  Making good choices for young children is like earning how to tie shoes. It’s a skill that develops gradually over time as they mature. Young children, particularly in preschool and primary, need lots of modeling and support when it comes to learning how to make good choices. They don’t intend to make bad choices; they just need more practice and support making good ones. Experts tell us that establishing good habits is the key to strengthening our will power. If you establish the right kind of habits, you won’t have to wonder what the right thing to do in a given situation is because it will just come naturally.

According to these studies, we have only limited reservoirs of self-control. So when we get stressed, tired, or otherwise emotionally or mentally preoccupied, our ability to will ourselves to eat properly, be polite, or any other positive behaviour wanes and we resort to ingrained or habitual behaviours. Some of these behaviours are not in our best interest for example; we’ll overeat or go on shopping sprees. Paul writes, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me . . . ?” But then he writes, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This is to say there is help for us in the battle. We are not alone, just as Paul was not alone. We have someone who will come along side us and help us with our struggle in our battle with temptation. This is where prayer is all-important. Prayer is not simply a matter of spending a few moments every day making our requests to God. Prayer is also a matter of spending time each day listening for God to speak to us about our lives.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." There is no reason for us to struggle with burdens that are too heavy for us. God's Word is full of promises to help us in times of trouble. Here are just a few: "Don't be afraid, I am with you." (Gen.26:24) "I'll give you strength" (Psalm 28:7) "I'm with you in times of trouble." (Psalm 34:6) These words of encouragement are just what we need to face the hard times that may come our way.

There are no problems only solutions. Jesus is the solution. God doesn’t take our troubles away but he does help us to face them. In fact, some of our struggles may help us to grow and become stronger. When the load is too heavy, Jesus helps us to carry it and there is no burden that is too heavy for Jesus.


Trinity 3A                                                     St. Ninian’s                                             02/7/17

Jeremiah 28: 5 - 9              Psalm 89;            Romans 6: 12 - 23           Matthew 10: 40 – 42

At a wedding yesterday I shared with the couple that all over the world the affectionate gesture of holding hands conveys love and communicates comfort, support, empathy and intimacy. In the old Celtic culture of Scotland, tying of the hands is one of the oldest matrimonial traditions. The human spirit is home to our deepest desires and our darkest fears and it is the place where we long for a hand to reach out and touch, to make connection with each other. There are times when it is nice to be alone but to grow as a human being you need other people.

I don’t know about you but when I get on a bus or a train I like to sit in a seat on my own but I have a friend who will always look for someone to share with. In a cafe he looks for a table to share where he can meet other people and converse with them. How happy are you sharing your table, your space, your home with a guest?

St. Benedict understood that guests are crucial to the making of a monk and stressed the importance of welcoming the outsider, the poor and the pilgrim. He said, “If you want to be a person of great spirit you can’t do life alone nor can you do spirituality.” He instructed his monks to welcome the Divine stranger and told them to look deeper into the eyes of a stranger. In an age of terror it is difficult to look into the eyes of a stranger without cringing. Hospitality is not cosy or comforting it is risky and world rattling. The Rule of Benedict begins with an invitation to listen. “Listen carefully my child to the instructions of the spiritual master.” Benedict didn’t come up with this idea of course Jesus did.

Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father who sent me". The disciples’ mission was God's mission; their words were God's words; the people whom they met encountered God in them and their teachings.

These disciples are long gone but their words still apply. When we receive the message that they wrote down for us, we receive Christ. It's the old story, but it's new in every generation. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing.” The disciples heard the word of Christ as it was spoken and others were converted by their words.

The church is "apostolic" because it lives on in the teachings handed down by the apostles, those ones who were sent on a mission, through whom Christ himself came to people. Important as these things are the church is not a club of like-minded individuals; nor a voluntary organization gathered to do good or meet needs, nor a powerful institution whose product is religion. The church is a body of believers who welcome the apostles' teaching, who trust it and live it and continue the mission.

Few people become Christians all by themselves. In most cases we don't learn the gospel first by reading it but by hearing it from our parents and relatives, Sunday school teachers and ministers. The apostolic witness comes to us through present day "apostles" and witnesses and as we welcome other Christians bearing witness to their faith, we receive Christ. So to when those who receive and welcome us receive Christ. The Christian faith spread for centuries without a written New Testament. Martin Luther once said that it was a shame that God's Word had to be written down because it was meant to be spoken, to encounter us in a way that written words might not do so effectively.

Verses 40-41 are very specific not speaking of some sort of generic hospitality but of the sort that we give to certain people because we believe they speak for God or are before us as believers in Christ. Several times I was asked yesterday how is your God real? How does your faith affect your life? People relate to us in light of our faith and witness. As a religious professional if I get a speeding ticket or am heard swearing or I do not speak out against wrongdoing or injustice, people can rightly criticize me but that ought to be the case for all Christians because our behaviour ought to reflect our belief. People relate to us as believers and they are really seeking to relate not only to us but to Jesus and to the one who sent him. A course on lapsed members has said that when church members visit people who have stopped attending worship and other congregational activities we should never accept at face value the reasons such people offer for staying away. These reasons often have to do with being offended by someone or by some change in the congregation. Such reasons may be real enough and should not be ignored, but they are symptoms. The writer claims that the actual reason is a crisis of faith which means that if they are to be reached it will be through their encountering Christ through us and through other Christians.

Discipleship and evangelism are much wider than we usually think.  The fact that people know you are a believer is a way for those outside the church to make some kind of contact with God. It may be very indirect and may take years. You may never even know that anything has occurred but in the gospel Jesus praises even the simplest act of giving someone a cup of water. Getting up on Sunday morning and going to worship is a great witness. Getting involved in the community's issues and tasks and standing up for certain values and principles also communicates who your Lord is. Some may ask for specific help and "welcome" us into their struggles so we must be ready to speak and live the apostolic word.

Welcoming Christ, by receiving the apostles' witness and the Father who sent him comes by being part of Christ's church. It is in the church where the gospel is treasured and handed on through preaching and teaching, baptizing and receiving the Lord's Supper, consoling and encouraging, helping and evangelizing. Experience teaches that people who reject the community of Christian believers and stay away from worship almost inevitably lose their connection with Christ as well. With no word, no sacraments, no prayers, no fellowship, there is no contact with disciples through whom Christ can be welcomed. This is specific instruction which some can find offensive but it is a warning for each of us. It should also be a warning to us as a Christian congregation about shaping our worship, our witness, our budget, our mission, our life together and our lifestyles in such a way that people are able to meet Christ in us and will not meet either no one at all or some other god.

"Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me." The apostle preaches "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" because it is the central doctrine of the faith. When today we receive our Lord's body and blood in the signs of bread and wine, God himself enters into us in all his fullness. As we offer hospitality to the living Christ we are then obliged to extend that to our brothers and sisters.





Trinity 2A                                                    St. Ninian’s                                             25/6/17 Jeremiah 20: 7 - 13              Psalm 69;            Romans 6: 1b - 11        Matthew 10:24 – 39  

The song Bridge over Troubled Waters has been used this week to raise money to ease the plight of the devastated families in Grenfell Tower. A sign of God’s love for humanity. The Imam who protected the man who allegedly drove into the worshipers at the Mosque literally created a Bridge over the troubled waters and prevented the trouble escalating. Jesus is the Bridge over troubled waters for us as Christians living in our troubled world today. Making a bridge between us and God and between us and one another. God’s love for you and me is intimate, it is unimaginable and it is far reaching. That is the good news for today? One of the most important truths we have and one of the hardest for many to believe is the love of God our Heavenly Father for His children and how far reaching God’s love is. We are reminded of that in today’s gospel when Jesus asks, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In the grand scheme of things we are microscopic inhabitants of a miniscule planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. I have heard people say, and perhaps sometimes we all think: “I am not important”. “I don’t really matter”. Yet we are reminded that the God of creation has counted the very hairs of our heads. That is a magnificent picture of the love of God our Heavenly Father. And yet the text of the gospel also acknowledges that sparrows do fall from the sky. Sad! But Aeroplanes do suck them up in their engines, predators prey on their young and sudden storms or droughts can deprive them of their food. God’s love does not protect those tiny birds from life’s tragedies and neither does it protect us. It is probably the most difficult question that we face as Christians. Why do the righteous suffer? You often hear people say: “Only the good die young, the bad go on forever.” That’s not true of course, but that is sometimes how it seems. One answer may come from ordinary family life. Parents would do anything to protect their children from all life’s problems. It would be great if we could keep our children in a protective bubble. After all, when they hurt, we hurt. When someone abuses them, it is we who are angry. When they are confronting a crisis, it is we who toss and turn in our beds with sleeplessness. We would like to protect our children from any and every hurt. But what would happen if we did? They would never grow into responsible, competent, mature adults. As we heard last week overcoming obstacles produces character and competence.God has not forsaken us or forgotten us but he has put us in a world designed to bring out the best in us if we deal with life with God’s attitude of faith and love.  People often blame themselves, and ultimately blame God, when life deals them a difficult blow. But grief is hard enough to bear without adding guilt to the mix. God’s love does not protect us from life’s problems, but life’s problems are not God’s punishment for our sins. This is basic discipleship stuff but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of it in order to do battle on the frontline. In terms of our relationship with God, our confessed sins are buried at the bottom of the deepest sea and are gone forever. Cartoon – No Fishing! If we believe that Christ has atoned for our sins, we cannot believe that God is using some adverse circumstance to punish us. The two are mutually exclusive. We live under God’s grace and we are not perfect but that is the way God sees us. Sparrows do fall from the sky not because they have been good or bad sparrows but because they are part of a broken world in which unfortunate tragedies do occur but the little sparrow never falls beyond God’s watchful eye and neither do we. Jesus opens a window into God. As children of God we are under the watchful eye of the Father and by God’s grace, we can bear our burdens and triumph over our tragedies and difficult circumstances simply because we know that we are not alone. Jesus instructs his disciples before their first mission. He has been telling them about all the dangers and hardships they may have to put up with and ends by saying, "What do you expect? A disciple is not greater than his teacher. If the world gives me a bad time, it will give you one too". Jesus goes on to tell them don't ever be afraid of your enemies and critics. When we are down and out as the song goes, feeling blue, read 2 Corinthians 24 -27. In it Paul lists all his trials and ends by saying, “but in all things my grace is sufficient for you . . . .”  For many of us the injustice of this world, combined with the love of the Father, is the best assurance we have of a world beyond this one. Someday, somehow, somewhere accounts must be settled. God knows and God cares and so we can stop being afraid.Not being afraid isn't something that we can accomplish. As long as we think it is, we will still be afraid -- of other people, of death, of circumstances, real or imagined. But Jesus reveals that we can stop being afraid because of a promise that God who watches over the sparrows, the commonest of birds, will take care of us. God knows every hair on our head, and we are of much more value than any sparrow. God will take care of us and that's a promise. The response to a promise is to celebrate, rejoice, and give thanks because we don't ever have to be afraid.  Today that same crucified and risen Lord is in our midst, allowing us to stop being afraid because of the powerful love of God on which the promise is based. As we listen to the words at Communion we hear Jesus say: "this bread is my body, given for you, and "this wine is my blood, shed for you." Jesus is the Bridge over troubled waters and we receive Christ in the bread and wine because he promises to meet us there. In this sacrament the promise is visible, touchable, feelable and tastable. "Take and eat; take and drink." As we do this in remembrance of him, we can stop being afraid.  





Trinity 1A                                                     St. Ninian’s                                             18/6/17Exodus 19: 2-8a            Psalm 100;         Romans 5: 1 - 8      Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, (9 – 23) 

It’s been some week! And boy do we need some good news. The dreadful fire on top of the terrorist attacks in London has left the whole country reeling and wondering what can possibly happen next. In today’s passage from Romans Paul writes: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

To "rejoice in sufferings," as Paul did, seems contrary to our feelings. When people die in such a tragic and possibly preventable way, when terror strikes or when we encounter illness or other personal disaster how can we rejoice in such agony?

In the first four chapters of Romans Paul gives the basis of Christian assurance and concludes "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul says that as we trust what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection, we find a right relationship with God and become confident of the purpose God has for us. This faith inspired Paul to pronounce, "We rejoice in our sufferings."

Jesus faced the most severe suffering for us as he set his face towards Jerusalem. His disciples wanted him to take the easy way out and go in the other direction but Jesus went forward confidently in faith and in purpose. Jesus knew from the outset what his mission and ministry was all about. Jesus had gone about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues but he had not just been preaching the gospel of the kingdom, he had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd and so Jesus cured every disease and sickness he encountered. Jesus did not speak about preaching and saving souls but focuses on caring for those in need. He does get around to telling the disciples to preach the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. But at this point he gave his twelve disciples "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness." This is the essence of mission which Jesus wants done close to home, not to be targeting Gentiles or even those half-breed Samaritans, but only for the "lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Biblical commentary explains that the context of Matthew's gospel is the experience of persecution, and that such persecution is a sign of the end which is not far away. No! I am not going to walk about with a placard saying “The end of the world is nigh!” but Matthew seems to be concerned that because the earthly Christ and the heavenly Christ are one, time is blurred with the approaching end of the world. Matthew wrote Jesus’ words for his contemporaries long after the resurrection and it is addressed to us today.  "Expect persecution," When we reflect on recent events one has to wonder!

Paraphrasing Matthew’s words we could say: "It won't be so easy carrying out the mission I have for you. But it is urgent! Don't hang about, for the end of all time is coming.”

If the church is to be the church then it must be all about mission. Our mission, as I have said for the last two weeks is on our frontline. It is not about traipsing off to foreign lands. In fact foreign lands are coming to us to do mission. Jesus instruct the twelve to "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The core message is start where you're at.  Again I say, you and I are doing mission, as Jesus wants it done, right here in the communities we live in. Today’s gospel also reinforces that mission is not just preaching but is about emphasising God’s bias for the poor and the hurting.  

Jim Wallis, a well-known evangelical political activist wrote in his book “God and Politics” that one out of every sixteen verses in the New Testament is about the poor and about God's response to injustice. At one Faith in Community Dundee Annual event I had to read some verses about God’s care for the poor and hurting and I focused on just two A4 pages of Scripture verses put together illustrating this.

In view of the recent debates about the church’s attitude to gay marriage and other such weighty issues I sometimes wonder if we have forgotten our core purpose of caring for the poor and hurting. Some years ago in a conversation with Bishop Meshack, retired Bishop of Swaziland, asking him about how his people felt about the issues of homosexuality occupying the Anglican Communion at the time. His reply was: “My people are too busy staying alive to worry about such minor issues.” Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, with 28.8% of their adult population living with HIV. In 2015, 11,000 people were newly infected with HIV and 3,800 people died of an AIDS-related illness.

In chapter 10, verse 8, after urging the twelve to "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons," Jesus talks about giving away freely to those in need just as the disciples "received without payment." Everything that we have is given freely by God and we are called by God give away what was never ours. Like the song: “love is like a magic penny” when we give away God’s love freely its makes much, much more. We can’t be stingy when God has been so generous to us although it can be hard when we live in fear. 

As Paul persevered through beatings, imprisonments, and sickness, he gained perspective and could see God working through these hardships to accomplish the divine will. There is no room for fear in love. We love because God loved us first. When we sense what God is doing and remain steadfast in God’s purpose then we can keep all of life’s events in perspective. Abraham Lincoln could see the tumult of his day in the light of God’s purposes and he found the perseverance to trust God in times of affliction.

Ainslie pointed out to me last week the grim reality of Matthew’s words in today’s readings. Matthew reminds us that we must face tribulations. Paul translates this in Romans as "sufferings" and says that through Christ we can rejoice even in the most severe trial because such suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character. When we let Christ sustain us through times of trial, our personalities take on the strength of God’s Spirit.

I don’t believe that God causes a particular trial or tribulation they are mostly the result of living in a broken world. But I do believe that God can take our trials and tribulations and work with them to accomplish his perfect purpose for us and that is why we can rejoice in our sufferings.

Throughout our worship we rejoice in the presence of Christ who meets us, promises to forgive our sins, and gives us strength and joy to meet all events. That is the good news I believe the world is waiting for. Let us pray that through Jesus we may become an encouragement to others.



















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