Sermon Luke 3.1-6 Second Sunday of Advent 2021

Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-6

“I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”

Just read that line again.

What more appropriate quote could there be to start our sermon today as we consider Freedom of Speech as part of our Advent series of sermons about social justice?

But who do you think said this? Can you guess? What about if I give you a few clues?

Here they are:

  1. They were male.
  2. He became super rich after exploiting a flaw in his country’s lottery.
  3. He worked as a spy for his government.
  4. He became a watchmaker in his old age.
  5. He was a writer, but most of his works were banned.
  6. He was French!
  7. He was imprisoned in the Bastille.

Did you guess? That’s right – the quote is attributed to Voltaire – or to use his real name François-Marie Arouet.

Voltaire was an outspoken defender of civil liberties, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time.

Now here in the United Kingdom, we pride ourselves on the individual’s right to freedom of expression or free speech. But I wonder – did you know that the right to free speech or expression was not, for most of modern history, generally recognised by common law. Only in 1998 did Article 10 of the Human Rights Act guarantee all in the UK the right to freedom of expression or ‘free speech’.

Freedom of expression or ‘free speech’ is at the core of guarding our civil liberty and when that freedom is removed, then so can our liberty be restricted. As Voltaire also said,

 “If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticise.”

In first century Palestine, those in control were of course the Jewish religious authorities and ultimately the Roman occupiers and speaking out against them or challenging their authority was a criminal offence – punishable of course by execution.

But this morning’s gospel writer, Luke seems to be going out of his way to put such authorities in their place.

When Luke wants to tell us about the ministry of John, he doesn’t actually start with John. Remember how our Gospel lesson began today?

In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Some people think Luke was just being a good historian—documenting who was in charge when the story happened. So that future generations could accurately date the events.

But do you know another reason why I think Luke named all those big, important people first? The history-makers? I suspect Luke was saying:

God’s word didn’t come to Tiberius Caesar.

God’s word didn’t come to Pontius Pilate.

God’s word didn’t come to any of the Herods.

God’s word didn’t come to the high priests.

God’s word came to Zechariah’s son, John.

God’s word came to the wild man in the wilderness. God’s word came to the scary-looking, locust-eating, funny-dressing survivalist on the banks of the Jordan. On the edge of the Promised Land. A man who is breaking the law by speaking freely.

And so far, in Luke, the word of God has come exclusively to people on the edge, on the outskirts, on the margins. The childless elderly priest, Zechariah. A single mother. A group of scruffy shepherds. A couple of retirees hanging around the temple.

God’s word – the Good News that changes everything; the earth-shattering message that will overthrow Annas and Caiaphas and their temple – and Herod and Pilate and eventually Caesar himself. That word comes to the people on the margins. Not the ones who think they are the centre of the world and seek to control those around them.

John the Baptist is who the prophet Malachi said he would be.

And John has a message, which he proclaims despite the risks he puts himself at, as he speaks out about a fiery ordeal that is for the purification of the people.

But John’s raving was not judgmental or legalistic or any of those other terms we hang on religious killjoys. Not at all. It’s just that sometimes there’s just no way to comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable.

John confronted people in the wilderness so that they could repent, be healed and be transformed. His message about fiery judgment was a wake-up call. The kingdom of God is being birthed into the world and God’s holy fire goes before it, to refine his people.

So here is a really challenging, uncomfortable question – when the flames of judgment are done burning out the impurities, will there be anything left of you?

If John showed up today, what do you imagine he would say to you?

I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but John basically told the crowds to be the change they want to see in the world.

Someone calls out: What then should we do? Where do we begin? How do we bear fruit worthy of repentance? What actions can we take right here and now to escape the coming wrath?

John has answers. Straightforward, you-can-do-this-stuff-here-and-now, answers. And I pray that as we read these words this morning we are ready to hear them.

John told the crowd: Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.

After all the hellfire and brimstone, John simply tells them they need to share.

Really? Share our stuff? That’s it? That’s repentance?

Some tax collectors and soldiers made their way to John and asked what they needed to do. He told the tax collectors: Collect no more than you are authorised to collect. Stop cheating your neighbours for profit. And he told the soldiers, who were probably temple police, Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay. Stop threatening to hurt people when they won’t hand over their last two coins.

John’s message to prepare the way for Jesus, to get people ready for God’s kingdom, was essentially: Share and be reconciled. Don’t be greedy, stop beating each other up – both physically and emotionally.

Hard as it is, Find a way to forgive and let go of the grudge you bare against your sister or your brother, or the church, or the council or the government, because it’s eating you alive, keeping you awake at night and has become a huge crooked bend in the straight pathway to Our Redeemer – be bold enough to become the person God wants you to be. You are not who people say you are or what others think of you, you are a child of God.

For John, repentance is made up of very practical actions. When he told people what it meant to bear fruits worthy of repentance, it was in economic terms; in social terms; in peacemaking terms; in community-building terms. Repentance isn’t just an internal posture. It’s not just a decision. It’s how we live with each other.

If John was here with us today, and telling us to get ready for Christ’s coming, I’m pretty sure he’d tell us the same things. In a greedy and violent world, where people are afraid of their neighbours and keep a tight grip on whatever they have, I think his message would be essentially the same: Share and be reconciled to your neighbour.

Those two things can be so hard to do and we have to work hard at them.

Advent is the great season of hope in our church’s year. It may very well be that we find a glimmer of hope in our sharing and reconciliation – the very things we need to be doing to prepare the way for Our Lord as we await his coming. Amen.

May God Bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for Advent 1 – 28th November 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

When I was accepted as a candidate to train for ministry, a Bishop who I’d never met sent me a card. Bishop Geoffrey was a friend of my Father’s and had therefore heard that I’d been recommended. In the card, he offered me some words of advice:

when you study theology, you should pray your theology; theology that cannot be prayed probably is not good theology”. 

Advice from a much older and wiser head than mine, but it wasn’t until I started writing essays with very tight deadlines, that I understood what it really meant and what excellent advice it was.

When I was ordained, Bishop Geoffrey sent me a lovely book, entitled “Drinking from the hidden fountain: ancient wisdom for today’s world”. The introduction to this Patristic Breviary says:

This collection of carefully selected passages from the Fathers of the Church offers us a simple way of encountering the varieties and subtleties of their thought … By coming to share in the discoveries of these giants of the past, we can ‘stand on their shoulders’ .

Drinking from the Hidden Fountain

In our sermons, reflections and study this Advent we are considering issues of Social Justice. Each week, the theme will be related to that usually attached to the Advent Candle that we light. So this week our theme is Intergenerational Justice, reflecting our forebears the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. As part of that we need to be asking the question: 

Those who came before us left us with the world that we grew up in, what will we be leaving to those that come after us – the future generations?

Our Gospel reading today is rather strange for the start of the season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ into the world as a baby – the second half of an apocalyptic address by Jesus. It hardly makes for easy reading, but given all that is going on in the world, it does seem rather prophetic. 

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

But

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things, and to stand before the Son of Man.

So as Christians we should be alert, ready for the coming of the end.  We should therefore not be caught up in either the excessive pleasures or worries of the day, but rather remain watchful. At the same time, we should be confident, eager for the events Jesus describes, indeed, the events Jesus describes will be most worrisome for the “world”. Interestingly, the word usually translated as “world” isn’t the more general kosmos but oikoumene, which is more concerned with the political and economic realm in the sense that we use “worldly” and tin Jesus day this often signified the Roman Empire. The coming of the Son of Man will therefore be threatening to the powers that be, but will bring release from oppression for the followers of Christ.

In early verses in this chapter, Luke seems to anticipate the later story of Acts that he’ll write, as the events Jesus describes foreshadow many of the major episodes in the life of the early church as Luke describes them. For this reason, whatever rumours Luke’s community may have heard about the coming end, and no matter what rumours may yet come, the Christian community is to remain steadfast in its ministry, trusting that Jesus will provide the necessary words and inspiration so that they may witness to the gospel through word, deed, and prayer.

Apocalyptic texts come across to most of us as rather alien, strange and even off-putting. Truth be told, whatever worries we may sometimes have about a nuclear or an environmental holocaust or about a global pandemic, most of us don’t spend much time thinking about the end of the world and even less about Jesus’ second coming. 

At the same time, we’re as intimately acquainted as they were with the challenges of waiting for anything that seems slow in coming. We may be waiting for an event on a national or global scale like the end of the Covid pandemic, economic recovery, an end to war and conflict in places such as Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, or concerted international action to reduce global warming and pollution of our seas. Or we may be waiting an event on a personal level like the results from a biopsy, a letter from an estranged child or partner, or the safe return of a loved one. Whatever the case, we know the challenge of waiting, the stress of waiting, the anxiety of waiting.

In this context, Luke offers us a perspective that, while it will not remove our waiting, it may affect the way that we wait. We live, according to Luke, between God’s intervention in the world: the coming of Christ in the flesh and his triumph over death and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time and his triumph over all the powers of earth and heaven. This “in-between time”, though fraught with tension, is nevertheless also characterized by hope. We’re therefore free to struggle, to wait, to work, to witness – indeed to live and die – with hope because we know the end of the story.

Many of the present problems have their roots in what we have inherited from our forebears, but what are we doing to make things better for those that come after us? Whilst we should remain hopeful, we need to do everything that we can to help future generations by not building up huge debt that they will have to pay off, by not using a disproportionate amount of the natural resources in our world and by passing on the ancient wisdom that we’ve inherited and the wisdom that we have learned for ourselves.

From Moses to Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, history is full of examples of those who, because they had been to the mountain top, peered into the promised land, and heard and believed the promise of a better future, found the challenges of the present not only endurable, but hopeful. We and our descendents, too, amid the very real setbacks, disappointments, or worries of this life, can “stand up and raise [our] heads” because we have heard Jesus’ promise that our “redemption draws near.” Now we can pray that because it is good theology.  

Amen.

A Thought for Advent

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. There is little doubt what most of us will be doing in the next four weeks – the Christmas rush to get everything organised – cards written, gifts bought and sent, the preparation of food, plans about whose turn it is to go visiting and anxieties about who’ll be offended if we don’t pay them enough attention etc etc…. The rush is on and it’s not surprising that there’s often a hint of panic in people’s conversations – “I’ll never be ready!”

In four weeks, it will all be over, in five a new year will have brought us another set of resolutions, in six the decorations will have come down, the furniture of life will be back in place and we’ll be back to – well, back to what?

Will life be just the same, or will we be changed?

If we take Advent seriously, there is a chance we will be changed because we will have had an opportunity to reflect again on what it means to say that God came into the world in the humility of the birth at Bethlehem and that he still comes into the world in all its mess and pain and joy, longing for us to recognise Him.

Advent is a godsend, a gift which stops us in our tracks and makes us realise that we hold dual citizenship (of this world and His kingdom) in awkward tension. We are all part of the scene – Christians sometimes appear to be rather superior about what we call ‘commercialisation’ and say that the real Christmas isn’t about that. But actually, if you think about it, the real Christmas is about precisely that: it’s about God coming into the real world. Not to a sanitised stable as we portray it in carols and on Christmas cards, but to a world that needed, and still needs, mucking out! Advent reminds us that the kingdom has other themes to add to the celebration, themes that are there in our scripture readings for the season: Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Advent reminds us that not only do we live in two worlds – the one that appears to be going mad all around us and the one that lives by the kingdom of God’s values, but that we operate in two different timescales, in chronological time and beyond it. And the point of intersection – where these two worlds meet is now. Scripture readings and prayers which are often used during Advent, remind us that now is the time when we have to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Now is when we meet God, because we have no other time.

At whatever level we operate, it’s a time for preparation – a time to put things right – to repair broken relationships or reach out to those with whom you have grown distant – and that might include working on your relationship with God.

Whatever else we have to do, there are only so many praying days to Christmas. It is prayer that gives us the opportunity to focus our recognition of God in every part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do in what we call our prayer time. Prayer is how we give our relationship with God a chance to grow and develop and, just like any other relationship, it needs time. We don’t stop being related when we are not with the person concerned. We don’t stop being a partner, a wife, husband, child, parent or friend when that person is out of sight or when we are concentrating on something else. But we do become less of a related person if we never give them time.

So, Advent says, make time, create space so that our understanding of God’s love for us (and our love for God in response) can grow. The world is saying “Get on with it – don’t wait for Christmas to hold the celebrations”. Advent says, “Wait, be still, alert and expectant.”

The shopping days will come to an end – there will come a moment when we really can’t do any more. The point of praying or making a space is that we get into the habit of remembering God who comes to us every day and longs for us to respond with our love and service. Why not re-start your relationship with God by joining us at Dornoch Cathedral on Advent Sunday (28th November) at 6pm for a special Advent Carol Service? – Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Fr Simon

Sermon for Sunday 21st November 2021 – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and Psalm 93 • Revelation 1:4b-8 • John 18:33-37

Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year and next week we begin again as we enter the season of Advent.

On this Sunday, when we proclaim Our Lord Jesus Christ to be King of the Universe, we reach a triumphant end to our journey which started on Advent Sunday last year. Over the course of the past twelve months, we’ve been listening to stories about Jesus and his life among us and our journey has taken us through many different landscapes.

We’ve been in the open countryside of daily life in ordinary times when we’ve heard the extra-ordinary stories of what Jesus said and did – how he healed the sick and reached out to the most unlikely members of society.

We’ve been in the shadowy valleys of temptation, betrayal and death on the cross – wilderness times of despair and devastating suffering and we’ve been on  mountain tops of breath-taking excitement: resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

For a while now the scenery around us has been that of the Kingdom of God and the imminent return of Christ as King and Judge and now we reach today, the highest peak on our journey when we proclaim Jesus Christ to be King of the Universe! From here we can look back and see where we’ve travelled and how all the paths were always leading to this place, even if it didn’t always seem so at the time.

This vision of Christ as King inspires and empowers us to return next week to the starting point and begin the journey again – begin to prepare the way of the Lord!

Next year, like this year, each one of us will be on our own journey. We, too, will walk through the countryside of ordinary daily living, through our own valleys of shadow and climb up to our own high places of good news, joy and excitement.

There’ll be times in the journey when we’ll get lost or become discouraged, confused or stuck – and those are the very times when we’ll need to cling to the vision of Christ the King to give purpose and meaning to our journey, just as it gives purpose and meaning to the Church’s journey of faith.

Christ the King can give us the comfort, encouragement and motivation to keep going when the going gets tough.

In our Old Testament reading today we hear about Daniel’s weird and wonderful vision. He sees a figure he calls “Ancient One” or Ancient of Days, a heavenly King, who takes his throne among many thrones. He’s surrounded by fire, indeed fire streams from him and he’s served by tens of thousands of servants. This is a time of judgment and books are opened which record the sins and good deeds of all who are to be judged.

Our images of judgment day are perhaps forbidding and threatening when we see it in terms of a balance of scales weighing up our virtues and our faults and this is certainly not an image that will encourage us when we are feeling at a very low ebb.

But then, on the scene appears one “like a son of man” – a human being. Here is someone we can at least identify with – someone who is like us in form. And as such this figure in human form can be brought into our world of everyday life: our world of schools, shops and offices.

We can identify with Daniel’s human figure who is given an eternal and universal kingship which cannot be overpowered – he will rule over all for ever. So, we have a human figure who is King – but what sort of King is he?

What sort of King can inspire love, faithfulness and devotion from his followers without force or threat of punishment for desertion?

In our gospel reading, John tells us that this King is nothing like the kings of this world and his power is not the sort of power this world understands.

We’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks about power in this world, especially from the leaders of Belarus and Russia. The Taliban have once again exerted power to destroy innocent men and women in Afghanistan. And the richest nations in the world exercise the power of wealth over nations in poverty, struggling to survive.

Jesus was right. If his kingship belonged in this world his followers would have fought to defend him and to bring down the occupying forces.

Our world cries out for a different sort of kingship, a different sort of power and a different way of being together.

When Nelson Mandela was in prison one of his torturers said to him “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you?” – Pilate once asked Jesus more or less the same question. Mandela replied “Don’t you know I have the power to go to my death freely?”. That, too, was the response of Jesus to the power of this world.

Christ the King came not to establish a political sovereignty but to bear witness to the truth of God’s reign in the Kingdom of Heaven which is not of this world.

But our king, when he was in this world faced the same injustice, dangers, threats and suffering that we all face.

Images of Christ the King often depict Him in a splendid red robe. But usually there is no throne on which a king may sit, just a cross to which this king was nailed. There is no heavily jewelled crown, but a crown of thorns which hurt and drew blood when it was pressed down on His head. There is no one gold ring of power for His finger but nails which were hammered through His flesh.

This image is a reminder that the victory of love over death was won only after much suffering. But it is a reminder, a proclamation, that love does have that victory over death.

Jesus is the Son of Man, who carries the marks of whips, thorns and nails. But he is also Christ the King who reigns over all in his eternal kingdom.

And if Christ the King is also a Son of Man, then so too is Christ the Judge of all and his judgment will be shown with the mercy and compassion of one who understands from experience what it is to be human. When we tell him the story of our lives we will find ourselves loved, accepted and healed.

From there we’ll be able to look back over our lives and see that all the paths were always leading to this place, even though there were times when it didn’t seem like that.

Until then we can know that God’s love, acceptance and healing is among us now.

Christ the King is still Jesus, the Son of Man who walks with us and reaches out to us with hands which still bear the marks of suffering.

Christ the King has been with us on our journey this year.

Christ the King will go with us on our journey through next year.

Today as we celebrate this eternal presence of Christ the King in bread and wine let us pray that His spirit will bring us refreshment, peace and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead.

Amen.

May God Bless you and all those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

We will remember them

May the memory of two World Wars
strengthen our efforts for peace,

May the memory of those who died
inspire our service to the living,

May the memory of a past destruction
move us to build for the future,

May the first two atomic bombs
be the last two also,

May the first two World Wars
be the last two world wars.

O God of peace,
O Father of souls,
O builder of the Kingdom of Love.
Amen.

George Appleton – 1902-1993

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday – 14th November 2021

Remembrance Sunday

Job 19:21-27; Psalm 90; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 6:37-40

I cannot say too strongly that I believe every able-bodied man ought to volunteer for service anywhere. Here ought to be no shirking of that duty”.

G A Studdert Kennedy

The words of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (otherwise known as Woodbine Willie) in his parish magazine in Worcester in September 1914. Although Studdert Kennedy wanted to play hispart in the war effort by being a Forces’ Chaplain, it wasn’t straightforward at the time. He had to make arrangements to cover for his absence from his parish, and convince his Bishop, and the Chaplain-General. It took him until December 1915 to be appointed Temporary Chaplain, and on Christmas day he found himself in France, preaching to 400 men and receiving communicants in a barn, as the rain and guns thundered.

Studdert Kennedy’s experiences at the front seem to have changed his view of war quite quickly. Within a short time his attitude to war seemed to have little in common with that early parish magazine article, when he wrote his poem “Waste”:

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain, 
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain, 
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health, 
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth, 
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears, 
Waste of Youth’s most precious years, 
Waste of ways the Saints have trod, 
Waste of glory, Waste of God, – War!

Waste” by G A Studdert Kennedy

How do we relate our Remembrance of those who fought and died in war to God?” is a question that many people including Studdert Kennedy have asked repeatedly as they reflect on war and suffering and all that it means. How do we honour the sacrifice of those who lost their lives, whilst at the same time finding war utterly abhorrent? Where is God in our suffering not only in war, but in every aspect of our lives? A question also relevant to much of what’s happened during the pandemic.

Some theologians might argue that because Christ suffered and died that God understands and bears our suffering. Studdert Kennedy explores this in his poem “The Suffering God”.

If He could speak, that victim torn and bleeding, 
Caught in His pain and nailed upon the Cross. 
Has he to give the comfort souls are needing? 
Could he destroy the bitterness of loss?

Once and for all men say He came and bore it, 
Once and for all set up His throne on high, 
Conquered the world and set His standard o’er it, 
Dying that once, that men may never die.

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy

But such a “once and for all” suffering didn’t seem to Studdert Kennedy to be an adequate answer for those that he was ministering to in the First World War trenches. It wasn’t enough to meet the pastoral needs of the men who were facing unimaginable suffering day after day. So Studdert Kennedy has to look deeper into the mystery of the cross and what it might mean for those who suffer.

How can it be that God can reign in glory, 
Calmly content with what his Love has done, 
Reading unmoved the piteous shameful story, 
All the vile deeds men do beneath the sun…”

Father, if He, Christ, were Thy Revealer,
Truly the First begotten of the Lord,
Then must Thou be a Suff’rer and a Healer, 
Pierced to the heart by the sorrow of the sword.

Then must it mean, not only that thy sorrow Smote 
Thee that once upon the lonely tree, |
But that to-day, to-night, and on the morrow, 
Still it will come, O Gallant God, to thee…

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy

In other words God’s suffering goes on whilst there is suffering in our world. It’s interesting that in spite of his experiences that Studdert Kennedy doesn’t suggest even through the awfulness of war that the Suffering God is a pacifist. In spite of everything Studdert Kennedy doesn’t himself become a pacifist in the trenches – he would probably have been a much less effective and possibly useless pastor to his men if he had! 

It’s perhaps part of God’s suffering, like humanity’s, that war is sometimes ‘necessary’ to prevent a greater wrong – albeit that it’s tragic and wasteful. Studdert Kennedy’s experience of the war shapes his thinking about God. That thinking in turn gives comfort to those with whom he serves, it’s even able to offer support and comfort to those about to go and ‘fight the good fight’.

The Suffering God” is a long poem, in which these ideas are worked out. I can’t think of a better way to end today, than to offer you the final part of it, which seems to me to speak quite eloquently about what we are doing this morning as we honour all those who have fought and died in the wars of the last century or more.

Peace does not mean the end of all our striving, 
Joy does not mean the drying of our tears; 
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving 
Up to the light where God Himself appears. 

Joy is the wine that God is ever pouring 
Into the hearts of those who strive with Him, 
Light’ning their eyes to vision and adoring, 
Strength’ning their arms to warfare glad and grim. 

So would I live and not in idle resting, 
Stupid as swine that wallow in the mire; 
Fain would I fight, and be for ever breasting 
Danger and death for ever under fire. 

Bread of Thy Body give me for my fighting, 
Give me to drink Thy Sacred Blood for wine, 
While there are wrongs that need me for the righting, 
While there is warfare splendid and divine. 

Give me, for light, the sunshine of Thy sorrow, 
Give me, for shelter, shadow of Thy Cross; 
Give me to share the glory of Thy morrow, 
Gone from my heart the bitterness of Loss.

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy

Amen

Those who have gone before

Hallowe’en marks the start of the Season of Remembrance. The word Hallowe’en is a contraction of ‘the eve of all Hallows’, and All Hallows is the Feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’. This year we are celebrating All Saints Sunday on Hallowe’en, a day when we think particularly of those who even in this life, kindled a light for us in ours. Although it might be more accurate to say that what they actually did was to reflect for us, the light of Christ. 

All Saints Day (November 1st) is followed on November 2nd by All Souls Day, the day that we remember all the ‘souls’ of those that we have known and loved who have gone before us into the light of Heaven. Our celebration of All Saints and All Souls’ stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the ‘Church triumphant’), and the living (the ‘Church militant’).

In Arthur C Clarke’s classic book, “2001: A Space Odyssey” he makes the assertion: “Behind every man now alive stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” Currently there are about 7.7 billion people alive and it is estimated that there have been 117 billion people born since 190,000 BCE, so we are among 7% of the people that have ever lived 14 ghosts each. However Arthur C Clarke was making his statement in 1968 when there were about 3.5 billion people living on earth so that would be one living person for each 29.

It’s therefore right and fitting that we should have a season of the year for remembrance when we recognise the connection between the living and the dead. I always feel that this is a time when perhaps the veil between time and eternity is thinner and get a sense of the greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong and who I feel a connection with every time I come into a church building.

Of course we also remember, on the Sunday closest to 11th November, those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts around the world. In gatherings at war memorials and in church services we unite across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember their service and sacrifice.

It seems appropriate that the Church celebrates these things as the days shorten at the turning of the year . This is of course also the time when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead.

As Christians, we recognise that the greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

Blessings
James

Wrath of God

For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31

The concept of ‘the wrath of God’, is one which we find many times especially in the Old Testament, but also as the quote above suggests, in the New Testament. My reflections on matters relating to climate change and climate injustice during the Season of Creation have led me to think that we need to revisit the concept and reframe it for the 21st century and the ‘scientific’ age.

The the whole of creation works according to what we sometimes refer to as the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics, etc. These are how things are and how the world works and we cannot change them. We can of course work within them to achieve particular goals. The trouble is that if we change something, then because these laws continue to operate, something else unexpected might change as a result.

There is a complex interconnectedness between things, which we cannot hope to fully understand, even if we build very sophisticated computer models of what is going on and continue to increase our knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. For example, over the years, the computer models used for weather forecasting have grown ever larger and more complex,as computing power has grown. However the accuracy of the predictions still often isn’t particularly good.

You may recall King Canute (or Cnut), who was king of Denmark, Norway and England in the 10th and 11th centuries. The well known story of King Canute trying to hold back the tide to show how powerful he was is an apocryphal anecdote, recorded in the 12th century by Henry of Huntingdon. In the story, Canute actually demonstrates to his courtiers that he has no control over the incoming tide, he actually explains that secular power is vain compared to the supreme power of God.

The episode is frequently alluded to in contexts where the futility of trying to “hold back the tide” of an inexorable event is pointed out, but often misrepresents Canute as believing he has supernatural powers, when Huntingdon’s story in fact indicates the opposite, illustrating the piety and humility of King Canute.

There is no doubt that humanity has invented and discovered many things and that we all benefit for a myriad of scientific and technological advances, however, we have to recognise that what we actually know is a mere fraction of the way that creation is and we all need to have Canute’s humility in all that we do to avoid being caught out by unexpected consequences.

If we act as though we are masters of the universe then we should not be surprised if the laws of physics or nature produce those unexpected consequences. We might see this as unfortunate or being unlucky and that we just need to be a bit cleverer to fix it.

Alternatively in humility, we could accept that because we fail to fully understand what we are doing, then when we are caught out by physics and nature ‘reacting’ and ‘re-balancing’ things, this might reasonably be described as the wrath of God.

We are not God, we cannot control everything and we are not masters of everything around us – that role belongs to the creator of the universe who set the laws of physics and nature in motion and gave us the wonderful world that we live in and which in some form we will hand on to our children and grandchildren.

Blessings
James

Diocesan Prayer Cycle for October

 

Until 4th October
The Season of Creation
For our World, all of God’s Creation and for Climate Justice

1 October 2021
On the International Day of Older Persons, for the elderly who struggle with their health or loneliness.

2 October 2021
For Mark, our Bishop.

3 October 2021
Thanksgiving for Harvest and Pentecost 19
For the congregation of St. Margaret of Scotland, Aberlour

4 October 2021
For our link Diocese of Quebec.

5 October 2021
For couples who have lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth.

6 October 2021
In Challenge Poverty Week, for those in Scotland who struggle to make ends meet.

7 October 2021
For the 5 million people in Tigray, Ethiopia in need of humanitarian assistance.

8 October 2021
For Diocesan staff.

9 October 2021
On World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, for medics offering end of life care.

10 October 2021
Pentecost 20
For the congregations of Holy Trinity, Elgin; Burghead Mission; St. Margaret, Lossiemouth: Tembu Rongong, Jenny Sclater.

11 October 2021
For preparations for the UN climate conference to take place in Glasgow in November.

12 October 2021
For those who live and work in local prisons.

13 October 2021
For the 702,200 children who attend 2476 schools in Scotland.

14 October 2021
For our local politicians and councillors.

15 October 2021
For retired clergy assisting in the Diocese.

16 October 2021
On World Food Day, for those who today will go hungry.

17 October 2021
Pentecost 21
For the congregation of St. John, Forres: Hamilton Inbadas, Anthony Matchwick.

18 October 2021
Luke, Evangelist
For surgeons and anaesthetists trying to catch up with surgery waiting lists.

19 October 2021
For bold steps to reduce emissions in response to the climate emergency.

20 October 2021
For economists and bankers.

21 October 2021
For children who have additional support needs.

22 October 2021
For those who suffer domestic abuse.

23 October 2021
James of Jerusalem, Martyr
For those who are persecuted for their faith.

24 October 2021
Pentecost 22
For the congregations of St. John, Rothiemurchus; St Columba, Grantown on Spey: Richard Gillings, Jenny Jones, Alison Hart, Tony Sparham. Lay Readers: Deborah Munday, Judith Page and Christine Burry.

25 October 2021
For the people and leaders of Afghanistan.

26 October 2021
For the 37,000 young carers in Scotland looking after dependent family members.

27 October 2021
For those responsible for growing our food.

28 October 2021
Simon and Jude, Apostles
For those pioneering new evangelism initiatives.

29 October 2021
For the Queen and members of the Royal Family.

30 October 2021
For those who are overworked and exhausted.

31 October 2021
Pentecost 23
For the congregation of St. Ninian, Glenurquhart.

Diocesan Prayer Cycle for September

 

During the whole of September (and until 4th October)
The Season of Creation
For our World, all of God’s Creation and for Climate Justice

1 September 2021
For Mark, our Bishop.

2 September 2021
For local tourism and hospitality businesses.

3 September 2021
For churches in their engagement with environmental issues.

4 September 2021
For our link Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

5 September 2021
Pentecost 15
For the congregation of Gordonstoun School: Chaplain – Philip Schonken

6 September 2021
For all who teach the Christian faith in schools and colleges.

7 September 2021
On Youth Mental Health Day,
for those who struggle with their mental health.

8 September 2021
For those who read, lead intercessions or assist at Communion in our churches.

9 September 2021
For schemes aiming to improve recycling.

10 September 2021
For those affected by recent wild fires throughout the world.

11 September 2021
For immigrants in our land who feel lost and alone.

12 September 2021
Pentecost 16
For St. Ninian, Invergordon.

13 September 2021
For all church organists and musicians.

14 September 2021
For Christians in the arts, sport and the music and entertainment industry.

15 September 2021
For parents who are having difficulties in bringing up their children.

16 September 2021
For those trying to rehabilitate former prisoners and young offenders.

17 September 2021
For MPs and MSPs to stand up for righteousness, freedom and truth.

18 September 2021
For those working to combat corruption in this country and overseas.

19 September 2021
Pentecost 17
For the congregation of St. Columba, Nairn: Alison Simpson, Kathryn Sanderson. Lay Reader: Jen Abbott

20 September 2021
For those around the world who lack access to eye treatment.

21 September 2021
Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
For the use of the Internet in Christian mission.

22 September 2021
For those working in medical research.

23 September 2021
For all who are struggling with illness or other life-limiting conditions.

24 September 2021
For those experiencing isolation and depression.

25 September 2021
For the people and leaders of Syria.

26 September 2021
Pentecost 18
For the congregations of Christ Church, Huntly; Holy Trinity, Keith; Gordon Chapel, Fochabers; St. Michael, Dufftown and St. Marnan’s, Aberchirder: Michael Last. Lay Readers: Jacqueline Kemp, Megan Cambridge.

27 September 2021
For high standards of integrity amongst journalists.

28 September 2021
For parts of the world facing drought or flood.

29 September 2021
Michael and All Angels
For an awareness of God’s presence in our communities.

30 September 2021
For those working in the courts and judiciary.