Monthly Archives: January 2011

Happiness and Love

It is not physical beauty or temporal glory or the brightness of light so dear to earthly eyes, or the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, or the gentle odour of flowers and ointments and perfumes, or manna or honey, or limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God.  Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God –  a light, voice, odour, food, embrace of my inner[ness], where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food that no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.

I Am Astonished

Grace and Peace

So last week we were talking about Grace and Peace

 

Remember that Grace is  the bounty and benevolence of God finding it’s only motive in the goodness and nature of God.

 

To believe in Grace is to believe something profound about God, God gives abundantly

God is a giver.

 

Peace, – harmony, reconnection, shalom, relationship, every good thing; because in the end if your relationships are good then the most important thing is good.

So every good thing, everything that you need, to you, because God is generous.

 

And last week I was saying that we have to interrupt ourselves with this

Everywhere we go, to say “Grace and peace”, “Grace and Peace”

There was something that  came up at the Board on Tuesday night, and I was all kind of Grrrr

And folk started saying “Grace and peace”, “Grace and peace”

 

And I was running late one morning, dropping Sam off, and I say Lynn, “Grace and peace, grace and peace.”

 

Now the grace and peace has at it some paradox

To believe and to know the grace of God gives us the ability to tackle non-grace

To believe and know the peace of God gives us the strength to go to places that are not peaceful

 

The biggest danger facing the Church of Scotland, is it lack of money

It is lack of members

Is it the debate we face over same-sex relationships

Is it that we lose cultural relevance

It is that we forget about grace.

Galatian Disruption

What has happened in Galatia is this, we can construct a little time line using the following verses.

In about the year 55AD the Apostle Paul had found himself ill.

13 You remember why I preached the gospel to you the first time; it was because I was sick. 14 But even though my physical condition was a great trial to you, you did not despise or reject me. Instead, you received me as you would an angel from heaven; you received me as you would Christ Jesus. 15 You were so happy!  – Galatians 4

And he had happened upon the Churches in Galatia, now the ancient word for the Galatians, even thought it was a part of Turkey, was in the Greek language, Ta Keltoi – the Celts.  In other words, and I kid you not, our relatives.

Paul had worked miracles amongst the people – Galatians 3

5 Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you do what the Law requires or because you hear the gospel and believe it?

And he had preached to them a gospel.

 

The gospel was that through the faith of Jesus, with him dying for them, their sin had been taken away and the grace and peace of God had been poured into their life.

 

If you want to think of it pictorially, of our wall, the yellow of the sin the grace of God,

And the red of the blood of Christ.

And Paul would have told the people that they were now part of God’s chosen people

Galatians 6:16

As for those who follow this rule in their lives, may peace and mercy be with them – with them and with all of God’s people!

 

And Paul would have urged the people to change, but his big concentration would have been on the fact that these people were now brought into the plans of God.

They were to bask in the unlikeliness of this, the shock that God had chosen these unreligious people to share in the all the promises of people like Abraham and Moses.

This is the Good News.

The False Brothers

And then Paul had departed,

Said his farewells.

 

It is always interesting to me how much Paul trusts God to be at work in a Church, doesn’t need to have people who have been in the Church for years and years to run the Church, people who have been Christians for a matter of months and he trusts them to lead the Church.

Then, from Jerusalem, some other brothers arrive in Galatia, the land of the Celts,

And there are a few things concerning them,

The Galatians think themselves  friends of God, but Paul has been lax in instructing them

He has done this, he tells them, because Paul wants to please people and not God.

These other brothers point to Abraham, who God called to bless all nations, including the Celts in Genesis 12, and then in Genesis 17 what happened, he and all his family were circumcised,

And this is what is going to have to happen  her in Galatia – only by such acts of sacrifice can you hope to keep God happy and with you

The blood of Jesus was not quite enough, there is going to have to be some of your blood in this deal as well.

6:13 Even those who practice circumcision do not obey the Law; they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast that you submitted to this physical ceremony.

Not only this but have a look at 4:10

10 You pay special attention to certain days, months, seasons, and years.

Only in this way can you expect to lead the kind of lives that appeal to God

Only then can you keep God your friend.

 

Paul had come and he taken short cuts say the teachers,

He wanted to please you

10 Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 

This is good old fashioned religion, and surely there is nothing wrong with it,

It keeps people in order.

 

It is the kind of religion which says

That faith is for the religious

And news of this reaches Paul,

And you think that he might be pleased.  Because he left this fragile Church, not sure if it is going to survive.

And not only has it survived, it has got serious

They are getting circumcised,

They are observing the dates of the Jewish Calendar, not the pagan Calendar, but the Jewish Calendar, the calendar that was given by God

But he is furious, in grief, because what has actually happened is that the Galatians, our cousins, have plunged into ungrace.

 

Ungrace is the thing that says that God does love you, but it helps if you do a few extra things, often sacrificial things, to make sure that God knows your grateful.

 

That God sets us tests

That faith is about getting the major and the minor things right

It is a mile away from Grace and Peace.

 

6 I am surprised at you! In no time at all you are deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and are accepting another gospel. 7 Actually, there is no “other gospel,” but I say this because there are some people who are upsetting you and trying to change the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell! 9 We have said it before, and now I say it again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel that is different from the one you accepted, may he be condemned to hell!

 

Each of us has this pile of moral debt

And the way you deal with that is that you pay for that

And you get this religion which is about guilt and which is about paying for what you did wrong

 

This is ungrace, it is not grace and peace

And the amazing thing is that the Galatians felt for it

 

Such religion doesn’t pay attention to truth, it plays havoc with our fears

 

Think of the rules that we have added onto our faith

You are not allowed to play on the swings on a Sunday

You are not allowed to go the cinema

You are not allowed to drink

You are not allowed to smoke

You must read your Bible ever day

You must make sure that your sexual life is the kind that Queen Victoria would approve of

You must give 10% of your income to charity.

 

And the reason we keep this we additions, is because of the fear that God might get us – God you can’t get me, look at the serious way I avoid swings on a Sunday

And it also gives us a certain pleasure, to feel superior to those who do play with swings on a Sunday.

 

And the problem is not the things themselves

It is a good idea not to smoke

It is a good idea not to watch certain things in the cinema

It is a good idea to make sure our sexual lives are according to God’s vision for sexuality

 

It’s that we think it’s those things that get us sorted with God.

So Paul writes in Galatians 1

 

This he says is a different gospel

And if anyone preaches to you a different gospel, us or an angel

No the Gospel is that Jesus came for sinners like you and me.

Other People

Beware of other people who foster our sense of disapproval.

 

I read this week of a form of bringing up children by the Chinese method

By a woman called Amy Chua who has written a book called “Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother”

In it she talks about the strict approach she has brought to brining up her children

One episode occurred on her own birthday when her daughter was four

Her daughter, at the meal that they went out for gave her a card, a birthday card,

This is for you Mummy

Amy Chua picked up the card, and looked at it, and said

“This is not good enough, this card

I have a box of things that I like and this is not good enough to go into the box”

And we have that voice

That voice of a teacher, the voice of a parent, the voice of ungrace

 

And if we are tempted to believe in grace, we say “you just believe that because it’s the easy option”

Martha Street

There is a thing that happens in Halfway when I do funerals for folk are in their 70s and 80s.

 

I will be going through the family tree, and then I will ask the children about the person who has just died, and I will say “And when did your Mother get married to your Dad”

And they will say 1953 or something like that

And then I will ask “And where was it”

And some of the time it is the Church, or Newton Church, or Gilbertfield

And some of the times it is the Manse

And some of the time it is Martha Street Registry Office,

And a great many times after Martha Street has been said, I will then ask the ages of the children

And we start with the oldest, and if you do the maths, the date of birth of the oldest and the date of the wedding in Martha Street is usually less than 9 months.

And that is because folk heard a message from the Church which was that if you had made a mistake then the Church was no place for you, the Church was a place of ungrace, you had to go to Martha Street.

 

I was disturbed this week of the story of the Christian Guest House couple who were prosecuted because they refused a gay couple a place in their guest house, and you know my views on this subject, but surely the thing is that if you believe in grace, is that the first thing you say is “welcome” and the second thing you say is “here’s how things might change”

 

The order in Churches is not behave then believe then belong

It is belong, believe and then behave

 

Do you remember last year we had a dedication at which the behaviour of some of the folk at the dedication was not what we expect from people in the Church, and a whole bunch of folk left the Church half way through.

 

But the thing is that you must behave in Church

Well I kind of prefer when people behave in Church

But it’s not “you must” because we are saved by the faith of Christ

 

The “you must” sounds appealing it appeals to our fears

We have had had false brothers in our life, saying “Grace is easy”

Not it is not.

 

We Add Things To The Faith, because we fear the disapproval

This week we have an announcement to do with the Gardening club.

And I read it with a certain amount of trepidation.

Because I was brought up with a strict disapproval of Church raffles, because it leads to gambling

 

And I was all worried, not just one game of bingo, but five

Not just a game of bingo, but give games of bingo

The False brother was going “not good enough, not good enough for God’s special box

Ungrace, ungrace, ungrace

 

And I thought, where does this come from, well it comes from the fear of gambling

Of which incidentally there is not explicit mention in the Bible

 

It was a thing that I added, and I keep it there, just to be sure

And this is an addition

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and avoid raffles, and you will be saved

And this is an addition, and this a different gospel

And Paul says the one who preaches a different gospel should go to hell

So to avoid hell, I had better buy some raffle tickets

Couple of Observations

Bad religion should be confronted

 

Not all religion is good, not all religion is of the gospel

 

And we have a tendency to turn to ungrace.

Story Of The Return

Let me tell you another Philip Yancey story about Grace…

 

From “What’s so amazing about grace” page 49

Traverse City, Strict Parents, Argument, Runs Away

Boss, Tricks, Pills, Hotel, Room service, far away, so dull, so provincial

After a year, first signs of illness, boss gets mean, she’s out on the street, less money, feed habit, sleeps in doorways, can’t ever sleep

One night, everything feels different, dogs better fed than me

She decides what she needs to do, she needs to come home

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answer machine

I’m catching a bus up your way, it gets into your place at midnight tomorrow, if you’re there, I’ll see you, if not I guess I’ll keep going to Canada

She gets on the bus, it takes about seven hours for the bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City

As she heads out of Detroit she forgets how dark it gets out here

She smells the difference of the air, notices the billboards, occasionally a deer

She thinks about all the mistakes in her plan.  What happens if Mum and Dad are out of town this weekend, what happens if they don’t always check the answer  machine, what happens if they gaver her up as dead a long time ago,

 

And what is she going to say, Dad, I am not worthy to be your daughter, please, forgive me, a speech that she rehearses hundreds of time on the way back as the miles  on the signs to Traverse go down, so slowly, 300 miles, 280 miles, 250 miles Oh God she says,

Eventually the bus pulls into Traverse bus station, at ten minutes past midnight.  There is a hiss of brakes, and the driver announces over a crackly loudspeaker, “15 minutes folks, that’s all we have here.”

Fifteen minutes to decider her life. She does her make up on the compact mirror, trying to hide the dark rings round her eyes, worries if her parents will notice the tobacco stains on her finger tips.  If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal building not knowing what to expect.  Not one of the thousand scenes she has played out in her mind prepare for what she sees.

There in the concrete walls and plastic furniture of Traverse City Michigan stands a group of forty brothers and sisters, and aunties and uncles and grandparents and cousins, and party hats and balloons and they all have hooters in their mouths, and a big computer generated sign saying “Welcome home” and in the middle, Mum and Dad,

She has tears in her eyes, like hot mercury, and she start’s her speech, “Dad, I’m…”

Hush child, we have no time for that, no time for apologies, you will be late for the party.

 

No wonder Paul was astonished at the Galatians

Because you would do anything for faith that looks like that

And God did.  AMEN

 

This is the good news

Grace and Peace

 

And don’t ever ever ever believe a version of the Grace and peace

That says the sinners go to Martha Street

That says you mustn’t play swings on a Sunday

That says that what you did isn’t good enough for Mummy’s special box

 

Grace and peace

Grace and peace

Grace and peace

Grace and Peace in Flemington

Grace in Flemington

The history of Flemington as a Church goes back to a Kirk Session meeting that would have happened up the road from here, either in the Old Parish Church, or its halls.

The year would have been 1875.

The attendants would all have been men.  There would have been luminaries from the community present, doctors from the Stewarton Road, factory owners from Brownside Road, labourers from Gilbertfield Road.

And someone will have stood up.

They will have noted the vast amount of house building going on in the Flemington area

The number of miners moving into the pits around about

The men who were now moving with their families into the new steel works established 2 years previously.

And with all these people ar0und about,

An elder will have stood up and proposed, I do not know his name, I should probably look at the minutes.

And proposed that a mission hall be built.

Now why did he say that this was needed.

Why when people move to an area, do they need a Church.

It is not for food, it is not for money,

It might be for some form of moral guidance, so that people know the difference between right and wrong, that might come slightly closer.

It might be to foster a sense of community, that is important, but communities have been built around co-ops and dance halls.

Why did there need to be a mission hall in Flemington and Hallside, which led to this building being built in 1875?

Why does there need to be a Church?

Letter From Paul

Listen again to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the opening words…

 

1 From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death. 2 All the believers who are here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia: 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father.

 

Now have a listen here from other letters.  Turn if you wish to Romans 1

7 And so I write to all of you in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his own people: May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

The best thing that I want God to give you, says Paul to the Romans, is Grace and Peace.

“A gift without any expectation of return”

What is this Grace and Peace, a good definition of Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Another scholar, Spiro Zoidkiakis

“the absolutely free expression of the love of God, finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God”.

The word grace goes back to another word meaning joy.

This idea of cheerful generosity, of undeserved magnificent kindness.

A  favour, love, God, the absolute free expression of the love of God to you.

And peace, has all kinds of meanings,

Harmony,

Shalom,

it means the end of grrrr…., but it means more, it means aaagh,it means “every possible good”

And Paul, says, in Christ you have this now.  You have this thing.  The best possible good.

Look here we are again at Corinthians

1 From Paul, who was called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes – 2 To the church of God which is in Corinth, to all who are called to be God’s holy people, who belong to him in union with Christ Jesus, together with all people everywhere who worship our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

This is absolutely central to Paul.  Have a look here at Acts 14

3 The apostles stayed there for a long time, speaking boldly about the Lord, who proved that their message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders.

The thing that Paul speaks, that he talks about is grace, at the beginning of everything, is Grace.

That’s what starts the day, the grace and peace

Every conceivable good.

That is what he speaks about, look at verse 26

26 and from there they sailed back to Antioch, the place where they had been commended to the care of God’s grace for the work they had now completed.

At the start of every letter,

At the heart of everything he speaks about

In the way that he approaches the risks and challenges of life

Grace and peace

Grace and peace

Grace and Peace

The Church is good at speaking about grace

We can come up with great definitions of grace

We can define our Protestant heritage by this word grace

We can come up with clever acronyms “God’s riches at Christ’s expense”

But the true challenge is to live it.

 

In arguments, possibly with children, possibly with spouses, possibly with brothers and sisters, or parents,

Can you begin with these three words “Grace and peace”

In our dealings with each other, as sisters and brothers of Christ

Can we race each other to get these things into action “Grace and peace”

It is hard to receive grace and peace, and yet the only way of going on

I was with someone last week against whom I had done something wrong and they found out and they forgave me.  Grace and peace

In our conversation about each other, particularly when other’s are not in earshot,

Can we flavour every word with this sachet of gift from God,

Grace and peace

In the messages in our heads

There are words that fly across our head

If someone has annoyed you, and we are planning our retaliations

Can we get other words into that traffic jam of words that passes across the screen at the front of our heads, grace and peace, grace and peace.

Berating Ourselves

I was dealing with someone last week who had made a pretty bad mistake, it was a mistake that they had made many many times,

And the first thing I was desperate to get them to say, before “Silly me”

Was “Grace and peace”

This goodness, this setting things right first of all by God.

Or what about this thing that so many of us carry,

This poor self image,

In Christian circles it can actually get rewarded,  by being called humility, or service

But underneath there is something harmful going on,

I am not worth a lot, I am a failure

And other words need to interrupt those words, profoundly true words

Grace and Peace

Trying To Be Good

When we want to do better by avoiding bad, or by doing good,

What is the best way of doing it – to motivate ourselves into a frenzy of determination

To berate ourselves for past mistakes – give ourselves the hairdryer treatment

Or do we let these three magical words fly across our heads

“Grace and Truth”

God has given you everything, every possibly good, now what do we do

If you worry about what your family does to you, that the complaints that have effected your brothers and sisters, your mother and your father, and it is only a matter of time before what is wrong with them gets you

What is going to interrupt this inevitable genetics

Grace and peace

Grace and peace.

Grace and peace on the way down

Another time that you have to say “Grace and peace” is when you are on the way down.

 

The lowest point of my week was triggered by six words

“Neil, could you empty the rubbish”

Now I do suffer from the sin of laziness, and I don’t like being told what to do,

All that was in there

But it came at a rare moment when I just stopped to watch one of our children play,

And for 1 second, and then the six words

And it was like

“There is no good in this life, I am never allowed to enjoy the good in this life, everything in this life is grind and obligation and doing things for others”

And I am heading down, down and down

And I am writing this sermon, trying to say “Grace and peace, grace and peace”

And I don’t immediately get better, that takes a bit of time,

But all the time Grace and Peace is reminding me that the low point is not the end point

That after I have gone down, I will not be in the truth, that place is grace and peace, grace and peace

Babette’s Feast

Philip Yancey relates a story which comes from a Danish author called Isak Dinesen.

 

It concerns a religious community in the middle 1800s in Denmark

An austere religious community which talks about grace and peace but knows little of it eking out a grey existence on the coast of Denmark, led by white bearded, grim man called the Dean.

 

This sect had renounced all world pleasures, they wore only black

They ate boiled cod and gruel, fortified with a splash of beer

They sang hymns about “Jerusalem my happy home, name ever dear to me”

But this life was to be tolerated, a grim waiting room before heaven.

The old Dean had two teenage daughters, Martine, named after the German reformer Martin Luther

And Phillipa named after the Luther’s disciple Philip Melanchthon

 

And there was in them light, but it was snuffed out

Martine caught the eye of a dashing cavalry officer, but successfully rebutted his advances so she might look after her aged father.  Until eventually he rode away to marry a lady in waiting to the Queen, to Queen Sophia.

Then Philippa, she had the most beautiful voice, when she sang about Jerusalem it seemed like the heavenly city itself had descended.  It just so happened that at the time a renowned opera singer by the name of Achille Papin, a Frenchman, was spending some time on that part of the coast recovering from illness, and heard Philippa sing, with a voice that would have graced the Grand Opera in Paris.

But despite his pleas, Philippa would not leave; Royalty would applaud you, you would taken through the streets in a horse drawn carriage to cheering crowds, but Philippa grew nervous around this handsome singer, the feelings that she felt when she sang some of the romantic arias with him.  Eventually she declined.  Her Father wrote a letter asking for no more music lessons and Papin returned to Paris as if he had misplaced a winning lottery ticket.

 

Much changed in the next15 years

The Father, the Dean, died; and leadership  of the sect passed to Martine and Philippa.   But it was difficult to hold the sect together, with all its disagreements without the help of their aged father.

One brother bore a grudge against another over a business matter.  Rumours of an affair spread involving two of the members.  A pair of old ladies had not spoken to each other for a decade.

Although the sect met on the Sabbath, and sang the old hymns, the worship had lost its lustre, and numbers dwindled.  Despite the problems, Martine and Philippa remained faithful.  Organising the worship and boiling the cod gruel for the toothless elders of the village.

One night, when it was raining, too dark and too muddy to venture out, the sisters heard a knock at the door.  When they opened it a woman collapsed in a swoon.  They revived her to discover she spoke no Danish, she handed them a note, it was written in the hand of Achille Papin.

Philippa blushed as she remembered the flutter of singing all those old arias.

The woman’s name was Babette and she had lost her husband and son during the civil war in France.  Papin had found her passage on a ship and had written that the villagers might show her mercy.  “Babette can cook” the letter read.

The sisters had no money, and felt unsure about this visitor, but consented to let her cook, and Babette softened their hearts.  She would do any chores in exchange for room and board.

For the next twelve years Babette worked for the sisters.  She cooked for the girls, their strange flavourless food, and she cooked for the poor of the town.  She even helped with the Sabbath services.  Everyone had to agree that Babette brought new life to the town.

Babette never referred to her life in France so it came as a surprise one day when Babette had a letter.  A friend in Paris had faithfully kept Babette’s lottery ticket going and she had just one the lottery, ten thousand francs.

It happened that Babette’s lottery ticket win coincided with the day that the sisters were planning a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of their father.  Babette took them aside.

I have never asked anything of you since I came here.

The sisters agreed

I now ask you only the one thing, that you allow me to cook for your father’s celebration.  The girls, slightly nervously, agreed.

When the money arrived, Babette disappeared for a few days to make arrangements, and then returned.  Over the next few weeks, the residents of the village of Norre Vosburg on the coast of Denmark were shocked to see a remarkable procession of goods as boats docked to unload provisions for Babette’s kitchen.

Workmen pushed wheelbarrows loaded with small birds

Champagne

The entire head of a cow

Truffles

Pheasants,

Strange creatures that lived in the sea

Huge tortoises moving their head from side to side

All these ended up in the sister’s kitchen now firmly ruled by Babette

The sisters were anxious, and agreed with the remaining members of the sec t, that they would remain silent eating this exotic food lest any offence were given when the didn’t like it.

The day of the feast, 15 December arrived.

A surprising announcement was made, an 90 year old lady announced that her nephew the cavalry officer who had once courted Martine, would be in attendance, now a general.

The table looked lovely, the villagers sat down to eat

Only the general remarked on the food “Amontillado” he exclaimed

And the finest Amontillado I have ever tasted he claimed.

He could have swore this was turtle soup but how could this ever end up on the coast of Denmark

The next course it is Blinis Demidorff he exclaimed

Veuvel Cliquot 1860 exclaimed upon arrival of the Champagne

The villagers remained mute.

Although no one spoke of the food, the atmosphere began to change

Their blood warmed, the brothers began to speak ,

The two women who had never spoken began to converse

Another woman burped, without thinking her neighbour blurted “Hallelujah”

The kitchen boy brought through the coup de grace

Baby quail in Sarcophage = amazing he said, he had only ever tasted food like this in the famous café anglais in Paris, the one renowned for its female chef.

He rose to make a speech

Mercy and truth have met together

Righteousness and bliss shall kiss each other

 

Eventually the sisters met Babette, exhausted in the kitchen

The best they could do “The food was nice Babette they said

We will remember this meal when your return back to Paris they said

But I am not returning to Parish replied Babette

But what about your winnings they said,

I spent them on the meal said Babette

She had spent everything on the meal.

 

General “We have all of been told that grace is to be found in the universe

But in our human foolishness we imagine  divine grace to have an end

But the moment comes when our eyes are opened and see and realise that grace is infinite.

Grace my friends demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it with gratitude.

 

This is grace,

Turtle soup and quails eggs and every kind of good

And the cost has been paid in full by the giver.

The Cost

Did you notice the cost in Babette’s feast

 

One of the reasons we instinctively rebel against Grace and peace is that it seems too good to be true

There is no such thing as a free lunch

There has to be a reckoning somewhere for the messing up that has happened,

Some kinds of act of cleansing

That is why we flagellate ourselves, berate ourselves, convince ourselves of our worthlessness

Or more determine that others have to pay for what has gone wrong

Because the moral shape of the world has to be righted, and it can’t just be righted by saying Grace and Truth.

 

Look at what Paul says here,

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father. 5 To God be the glory forever and ever! Amen.

The grace and peace doesn’t come for nothing, you are right to think that

When the part of you says “This is too good to be true, this can’t happen” you are right to suspect, but keep the thought going into verse 4, because Christ has paid the cost.

The colours of the Hall

I have had few more stresses in the last year, than worrying about the colours of our hall.

 

I am not sure why this affected me so much.  Loads of people kept telling me not to worry.  I was worried about shades, about departing from what we normally do, this brightness is a high risk strategy.

And yet there is something very meaningful there.

The yellow is like the sun, and the sun is like grace, fierce, passionate, life giving, absolutely 100% free.

 

I have been charged for food, I have been charged for water, I have never been charged for sun.

Sure, one might be charged for fake sun, but the real stuff always come free

It is like grace.

But notice the arch and the window, deep red, the colour of blood

The grace comes because of the blood

God’s riches at Christ’s expense

The yellow is there, because of the red

Galatians are Celts

You know that the Galatians had another word

The word for the Galatians was Celtoi, the Celts

The Celts from who many of us are descended, are Galatians

We find it hard to believe in this grace thing.

What you get is what you earn

What you give others is what they deserve

There is friendliness and cheer and hospitality, but too often it can be a disguise

There is humility and service, but often it can be a disguise

We have a history of violence and aggression

We are slow with our grace and peace

The gospel started with Christ

Came to Paul

Then came to the Celts, the Galatians, including us

In The Session House

When the speech was made in 1875, by a smartly dressed gentleman from Overton Road

Why did he say that we needed a mission hall in Hallside and Flemington

What were the reasons,

I would like to think that in his speech, he perhaps hinted that the reason we needed it was not to guard tradition, was not to keep morals, was not to provide an alternative to the alehouse

It was because we need something grace and peace

The best that God gives.

When the Church was dedicated on Christmas Eve 125 years ago,

What was celebrated was not above all fine architecture or monies raised,

It was a community that would live by, speak about, give flesh to Grace and Peace

When the communities that have lived here for 125 years have walked by this Church

And walked in its door

What did they find here

What kept them here

What was the goodness that sustained them in the home, in service, in work in Glasgow, in the steelworks, down the mine, in the Richmond Laundry

Grace and Peace

I don’t know who will be here in 125 years time,

Our job is not to survive

It will not be a failure if this brick and stone does not stay.

It is not the first job of a Church to stay open

It is the first job of a Church to glorify God

And in everything that it says

And in every way that it lives

At the beginning of every sentence

Grace and Peace

Grace and Peace

Grace and Peace

Reasons To Believe The Bible

Reasons to believe in the Bible.

 

G.K. Chesterton was once asked if he was on a desert island, which book would he take with him?  His answer “Thomas’ guide to practical ship building”.

 

If you are in a place and you need rescued, then you need something that is going to help you get home.

 

Looks at the reasons why people disbelieve in the Bible.

 

Reason #1

The Bible is non-historical.  Looks at some of the archaeological evidence that has backed up the Bible.  Nice quote from an Israeli professor who gives the Old Testament an A+

 

Reason #2

The Bible is self-contradictory.  Here we think about the kind of book that the Bible is, that eye-witnesses often have different ways of seeing things.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  In fact, if the story does agree all the time, then that is an indication that at some point, some people have got together and cooked up a story.

 

Reason #4

There is a lack of manuscript evidence.  Looks at the way that Bible is in a different class for the amount of manuscript evidence which backs it up.

 

Reason #5

The Bible doesn’t speak with authority.  Here we think about people saying “The Bible says”, and then someone else says “But it also says you shouldn’t wear clothing with two kinds of fabric in it.”  We live in a story with five Acts:

Act 1 – Creation

 

Act 2 – Genesis 2-11 the fall

 

Act 3 – Genesis 12 – Malachi – the people of God

 

Act 4 – The life of Jesus

 

Act 5 – The life of the Church.

 

We are Act 5 people which means that we don’t repeat something from the second Act.  We don’t build temples (Act 2) or say away from the Gentiles (Act 4).  We are Act 5 people, and different things apply at different times.

 

Reason #6

That science contradicts the Bible.  Here we have to think about the context of the Biblical writers, they were not writing for scientists.  Here “Day” doesn’t necessarily mean a whole day, could mean an era like “the day of prosperity”.  The writer of Genesis was writing in a polytheistic context where the gods were capricious.  To say “In the beginning God created the earth” was like a ray of light that dawned.

 

Reasons #7

The Bible asks us to do some pretty reprehensible things.  Looks at the example of an “eye for an eye” and how this was an act of restraint in a society where there was no active constabulary.

 

Exodus 21 is laying the foundations of proportionate justice, and then another giant step forward – the ultimate value that Moses was moving Israel towards one step at a time.

 

Look at this dynamic in the context of slavery.  Slavery is to be limited in a context in which slavery is woven into the fabric of the ancient world.  The old Testament is subverting the practice of slavery.

 

Reservation #7

If I take the word of God seriously it might start interfering with my life.

 

This book has a power to it.

I think I am going to read it and it starts reading it

I think I am going to start judging and it starts judging me

I think I am going to weigh this book and it is this life that gets weighed.

 

Why was life so much weirder then that it is now – we think that we are not weird.  Let people watch things like Lady Gaga in 2,000 years – who is going to be weird

 

C.S. Lewis on Chronological Snobbery.

 

What is the book or life or idea that you want to base your life on, that is going to hold up in 2,000 years.

 

Augustine read “Take it read” and Western Civilisation was never the same

Wesley read this book, heart was strangely warmed and England was never the same again

Woman called Eileen read this book and her life was changed

 

Read it humbly

Read it repentantly

Read it and ask God – would you meet me in this book

 

 

Jesus The Only Way

John Ortberg has been going more theological, and I reckon this is a good thing.

 

He might argue that this has always been there, but I think that this is more of a current to his teaching.  It showed up in the sermon on witness a few weeks ago, and shows up here.

 

What could have become a standard apologetic is more a thoughtful sermon which provokes us to think about the very nature of God.

 

So Ortberg looks at Jesus in John 14 saying that he is the only way to God.

 

He breaks this down.

 

First of all to look at heaven and a reminder that heaven is the place where above all, people are with God.  It is not the case that we go to heaven and if we look hard enough in the middle of this pleasure park there is a headquarter building and that is where God lives (brilliant midrash on “there will be no temple”) but the people are with God.

 

Arrogance is a heart problem, not a truth problem.  Worldwide hostility will not be reduced by an increase in uncertainty.

 

The work of Jesus is not for us to make the cut (how would it be in a marriage if we asked the question ‘what is the least I have to do for this marriage to work’) but for us to be made into the kind of people who would like to be there.

 

Also states that we don’t have to believe that all religions are utterly devoid of meaningful content.  There are things in other religions for us all.  In fact becoming a Christian (this from C.S. Lewis) allows us to see more in other religions, for to be an atheist means to contend that the main contention of every religion is fundamentally wrong.

 

 

Ortberg also looks at the “only” and the way that truth is always exclusive.  To make a statement like “all religions are the same” is itself an exclusive claim.

Brueggemann the Sage

“Too many ministers prepare in their fatigue.  If imagination is at the heart of good preaching, it is impossible to be imaginative when we are fatigued”

“Prayer and study are so important because they cause you to live in another zone.  If you are to bring a message from “elsewhere”, then it does good to spend a bit of time living “elsewhere””

Galatians 1:1-2

This Coming Series

What we are going to do this year,

Right until the end of the Christian year, the 20th November is that we are going to be studying the book of Galatians.

The book of Galatians is not the easiest of books.

One of the commentaries on Galatians – normally with commentaries you get something which is quite serene or straightforward

 

Cranfield – A commentary on the book of Romans

Dunn – A commentary on the book of Romans

Or possibly something like “The Bible Speaks Today – Paul’s message to the Romans”

Or something like “Paul for Everyone – Galatians”

But this epistle is slightly different, it is more rumbustuous, hard hitting, bruising

And one of my favourite titles for this book is “You foolish Galatians”

How would it be if I stood up in this pulpit and said I would like to begin by saying this

“you foolish Flemingtonians”

But Galatians is.

 

The best analogy I can think of is that Galatians is like digging for weeds.

You know that thing that we all have faults,

Like it might be that we have issue with an addiction to drink, or to chocolate,

There might be certain thoughts that plague our minds – thoughts of hatred, or bitterness, or thoughts of lust, or thoughts of greed

Maybe we have a tendency to always run away from trouble

Or perhaps we have a tendency to say to ourselves “This situation in which I find myself is clearly the fault of other people”

Or possibly “It’s me again, messing up”

 

We have tendencies to cowardice or excessive risk taking

We have tendencies to unrealistic optimism or defeating pessimism

We are prone to exaggerating certain strengths.

 

Around these things we attach certain phrases that suggest a constantness

“This always happens”

“Not me again”

“Typical”

“Same old story”

“Just our luck”

“As per usual”

“I never have enough time”

“I am always late”

 

And we can deal with this weed by pulling at it

By saying “Just watch for that again”

“Going to try harder”

“Will just have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again”

 

And yet it always does.

And this is because we have gone after the week, but not after the root.

And sometimes what we need is some serious digging.

Painful, tough, serious digging around, to get to the root,

So that what is good in us can flourish

And what is not good can die.

Galatians is like this big spade,

Digging away at the roots.

 

 

The Authority Of Paul

The first step in this dealing of roots,

Begins with dealing with the authority of Paul,

Which derives from the authority of God.

 

We are receiving here not just a word of advice,

We are receiving critical, life informing testimony from the one who created life

We are receiving warnings and admonishments from the God who died for us

We are gaining insight into mysteries that were withheld for centuries

This is precious, sacred, material

In the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount, it is the kind of thing that you can set your life upon.

1 From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death. 2 All the believers who are here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia:

Our Identity Is Critical

The first is that our identity in Christ is absolutely vital.

In conflict situations we begin from our identity in Christ – one who has died, and who lives again because of Christ.

One of the most important things during our membership classes, is that we have a prayer of commitment, to remind us in future of our identity.

Baptism, this place of water, here is a reminder of our new identity.  Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  You are one beloved and chosen of God.

This means that no matter what happens in this dispute, your identity is not threatened.

Our disputes are not contests to decide who is the champion, who is the strongest.  The stakes are lower, it is not our identity which is at stake here.

Facebook can become a false God, if we use it to offer to the world a new identity.

Our identity is hidden with God in Christ.

 

False gods give us false identities – be that football, be that drink, be that other organisations that we belong to, only the true God gives us a true identity.

Rangers Till I Die

On Identity

Rick Warren

Rick Warren who writes on Twitter says the following:

“If you’ve got more energy for changing the world than changing yourself, you’ve got it out of order.”

“DEBT is just a symptom of an unmanaged life. You need a Life Manager -the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I’m more afraid of my own heart than of the pope.Within me is the great pope, SELF.”Luther HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!”

 

Notes on love

Notes On Road Less Travelled

Definition of love (page 85)

“The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

  • Teleological – with a purpose in mind
    • The man whose mother drove him everywhere
  • Love is a circular process, it enlarges our being
  • It includes self-love and love for the other
  • It implies effort – as extending one’s self does
  • It is an act of the will

 

Misconceptions

  • “Falling in love” is a regression, an act of the ego boundaries being taken back
  • The myth of romantic love – and the guilt that happens when this disappears
    • Mo Blake to me about the first ten years being the hardest
    • Those who have to work at things
    • The need to allow separateness
  • Dependency is not love – I cannot live without them – is this a form of love; and co-dependency; switching roles is diminishing mutual dependency
  • Cathexis is not love – the love of inanimate objects, or the love of someone who is like a “pet”, or the love of pets; the way that some mothers can only deal with their children when they are young.

Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well.  It is judicious praising and judicious criticising.  It is judicious arguing, struggling, confronting, urging, pushing and pulling in addition to comforting.  It is leadership.  The word “judicious” means requiring judgement, it and judgement requires more than instinct.  It requires thoughtful and often painful-decision making.” (page 117)

  • Self-sacrifice is not love.  The role of the carer; or the role of the one who is always the victim in a relationship.
  • Love is not a feeling.  The example of the drunk at the bar saying “I love my wife and family so much”.

It is clear that there is a self-serving quality in this tendency to confuse love with the feeling of love;  it is easy and not at all unpleasant to find evidence of love in one’s feelings.  It may be difficult and painful to search for evidence of love in one’s actions.  But because true love is an act of will that often transcends ephemeral feelings of love or cathexis, it is correct to say that “love is as love does.”  Love and nonlove, as good and evil, are objective and not purely subjective phenomena.