The gift of Revelation – Sermon

John 14.1-7

Colossians 1.15 – 20

It is a strange story – it is a moving story – it is a story that hits you between the eyes and stops you in your tracks. It is a story that has so much to ask us today.

Because, just recently I was told of a middle aged German who visited Auschwitz a couple of years back. He was looking at the various photographs when became very agitated. When they eventually got him calmed down, he managed to explain that he was looking at a picture of the unloading ramp at the concentration camp. It was there that a SS officer decided who was to live and who was to die. Behind him in the photo was a SS guard taking down the decisions. That man was his father. Now, the visitor went on to explain, that his father would never say what he had done in the war and taken his secret to the grave. They then asked him – what had his father done after the war. He had been a Lutheran pastor!

Well I suspect we think to ourselves there can be no hope for this Nazi no matter what he did later. Yet we also, strangely, come away from that story saying to ourselves but if there is hope for him, then there must be hope for me.

However, is this heart’s demand for such a hope misplaced?

Well no – it is certainly not.

Because that hope is the gospel hope. It is the hope we ca not so much overcome who we are but can escape from who we are and we can climb out of who we have become.

And that very hope comes to each and every one of us from a gift from God; the gift that concludes our series on divine gifts and the gift which exceeds and overshadows all others. Because, that gift is the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Now Jesus reveals many smaller details about God, but he also reveals two huge facts as well. And the first is that God is a loving God, a caring God and even an indulgent God. If it were not so why would have Jesus told us not to have troubled hearts? Why would he have told us that his divine father would be concerned about such things? Why indeed did he sacrifice himself so that we could have the fruits of that act of love today? Since in bread and wine this morning we do remember as the letter to Colossians has it – he made peace for us though his blood shed on the cross.

More to the point, however, is that the quality of God’s love is not weakened by what we do; what we are and what we have become.

Instead that love is constant and unbreakable and eternal. Indeed, the quality of God’s love is the same as that Vernon Scannell wrote of in his poem – contradictions in Love:

As fragile as an eggshell bauble

On a Christmas tree

But as durable as gleaming steel

Of knife, or sword or key.

Sweet as the fragrance of the rose

Or honey from the bee

But cold and scentless as the snow

And salty as the sea.

As gentle as a summer’s breeze

Or mother’s lullaby

But burly as a hurricane

Or thunder in the sky.

As magical as witches spells

Or blackbirds in a pie,

But plain and simple as good bread

Without which we would die.

Yet the revelation that Jesus makes about God has more to say.

For, our loving God is not like the old woman who lived in the shoe – full of love but unable to act out that love. Quite the opposite, our God shows his love by intervening in human affairs. And so he does bring change to human hearts; he does resolve nearly impossible situations and does help us to be different and better and more worthy of his Son’s gospel.

Ah we say – I’ll never change – He’ll never change – she will never change!

Well on our own that is true. However the point that Jesus made by talking of himself being the way is that – God can. The point of the whole passage from John is that – Jesus will. The point of the lesson from Colossians is that Jesus – is more than able to.

But what about our concentration guard whose life had seriously gone of the rails? What about those who today are consider beyond the pail? What about ourselves when we, on occasion, we feel really beyond the love and saving arm of God?

Well, there is an ancient legend about Judas that Madeleine L’Engle tells. The legend is that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards the light. The walls of the pit were dark and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around the table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”
What Christ ultimately reveals then is that he wants all of us to return to him no matter the situation. He wants each of us, with every fibre of our being, to climb back and desire for him to bring change forever. Since all he ever requires, is for us to accept his active love into our lives.

For, at this moment, we cannot know how in the end the concentration guard stood with God. We cannot even know where he or she next to us in the pew stands with God. That is for them and their creator. But we do know where Christ stands – he stands ready to show us the way – he stands willing us to ascend again to him. He stands waiting so that he and we can each begin and begin and begin again.

Amen

Offering

HYMN…………

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Saint Augustine’s Prayer

 

St Augustine’s prayer of commitment:

Now it is you alone that I love,

you alone that I follow,

you alone that I seek.

you alone that I feel ready to serve,

because you alone rule justly.

It is to your authority alone

that I want to submit.

Command me, I pray,

to do whatever you will,

but heal and open my ears

that I may hear your voice.

Heal and open my eyes

that I may see your will.

Drive out from me

all fickleness,

that I may acknowledge you alone.

Tell me where to look

that I may see you,

and I will place my hope

in doing your wilL

Amen.

S, Augustine (354-430)

The Bible – A gift from God

Text: Matthew 5.17-20

It wasn’t often that we had rabbit served up onboard ship. But the one time it did happen was just when I was reading Watership Down. Proof if any was needed that the Good Lord has a sense of humour. For you cannot read that tale of rabbits with human feelings and not look at a warren in an entirely different light. In essence then, stories change us – they move us to look at the world differently – moreover – they force us look at ourselves more closely. And so it is with the greatest story ever told – that immense literary work – that wonderful gift from God – the holy Bible.

However, to try to justify the Bible as God’s gift to humanity in a thousand words or so, on the face of it, is facile.  Yet, if we cannot explain the main purposes of our sacred book in a few words – how can we expect to do so in many.

Therefore, here goes!

Well, at its most basic level, the Bible answers fundamental human needs. And by that I mean the almost primeval urge that we each have to survive by knowing ourselves to be safe and secure. And this almost biologically programmed need is really only met when we live in an ordered community. Yet a wholesome and trustworthy society only comes about when each member knows what is right and what is wrong and when we find a way to encourage others to live by the same moral standards. Therefore, at its most elementary, the Bible’s purpose is to declare there is an external source of morality and there is also a living source that is also the judge of how each of meet that benchmark. But, more important than these, the bible makes abundantly clear this ethical source has supernatural powers to reward human obedience with permanent effects. For, in a nutshell, the Bible is saying – obey God’s laws and you and the human race will be forever restored. Or, as Deuteronomy puts it:

The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the lord our God, so that we may prosper and kept alive. If we are careful to obey the law, that will be our righteousness. (Deut. 6.24 ff)

Nevertheless, the Bible is more than a code of best practice; more than a lifetime highway code; more than a manual for communal survivability. Since, it also meets the needs of the mind. And so, it is the foundation stone of our Christian beliefs. Just it was Christ’s Jewish beliefs. For this morning did we not hear him say:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

The bible then, through its account of how God has spoken to a variety of people, allows him to speak to us now.  Therefore, just as scripture was Christ’s source-book and inspiration, it is also the basis of our own personal encouragement, devotion and admonishment in good times and bad. It helps us to answer why we should obey as well as what we should be obedient in. Indeed, it is ever the sword and shield for our minds as we try to influence the whole of our society towards values that will make it worth redeeming in the first place.

However, the most crucial role of the Bible is in the spiritual dimension of our being. Because it may teach us how to survive physically and it may tell us too how we battle our own fears and the failings of others, but it still has something more important to tell us. For, far exceeding its other purposes, the Bible offers the gospel of Christ to each and everyone of us. And that is the good news we can individually have new life, we can individually be forgiven for renewed life and we can individually be saved into eternal life. To put it as Paul did to the Romans;

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace that we now stand.

James Merritt, in his Collected Sermons, remarks that when a merchant ship of any size, enters a port, it takes on board what is called a pilot. In fact, we often see the pilot cutter rushing past Broughty on its way to some vessel entering the Tay Estuary. Well this pilot knows the waters of his or her port backwards, he knows the length of it and he knows the depth of it. He knows where the hazards are. He knows where the tides and currents are; what direction they flow in and how strong they are. When this master mariner comes on board then, he takes control of the ship, and he gives the orders for its safe navigation. Put simply, he is an outside expert who is brought in to make sure that ship docks with certainty.

Well, we to have a pilot in our lives. We have a gift of God in our lives. We too have a guide to safe harbour in our lives. And it is the Bible. For God can only be known to the extent he reveals himself. Certainly, we have no way of knowing otherwise. And the clearest way of him revealing himself is in the pages of the bible. Similarly, we can know nothing of Jesus without the Bible. And so again the Bible reveals his gospel and the way to Christian living. Finally, it is in the keeping of the Bible central to our community of the church that we ensure we have its moral compass and upright companionship.

Let then, every Christian prize this gift from God; let every Christian be obedient to its guidance. And let every Christian make it a basis for all that is said and done. Because it is only then that our Bible’ story will ring out again in our daily living.

Amen

Prayer for creative thanks

Lord God, we give thanks for the many gifts

You shower into our lives

Not least the music, books & art that we enjoy.

But we particularly give thanks for the wonderful world around us.

May its majesty always remind us of you.

However, we are not always beautiful

and creative in how we deal with others.

But in Jesus, you always recognised

people rather than stereotypes;

Challenge us thenwhen we treat other people as commodities,

When through our lifestyles we use, humiliate,

or rob others of their self-worth.

Give us the humility to recognise
how much we need to seek forgiveness for,
And as forgiven people,

to lead lives of extravagant love, gratitude, hospitality and service.

Indeed help us always to glimpse your glory now,
Wherever injustice is resisted
And support is extended to those

Who are grief-stricken and destitute.

Above all else, we ask for your blessing

on all who are shunned by society,

And on all who respect and value the dignity of their neighbour.

Amen

Creating with God


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Psalm 8

Galatians 3.23-4.7

We have all seen them. It the headline on the tabloids – Man plays God. And usually this purple prose accompanies some breakthrough in medicine or biology. Take the latest such utterance. It was when scientists recently copied some DNA from one cell and replaced into another. Personally, I am not sure that a Chinese copy of a Rembrandt makes it a Rembrandt. Yet the newspapers and news channels blared out their siren warning of Armageddon – Man plays God.

Now whilst we humans have neither right nor probably any realistic chance of playing God, can we in any way help God? Do we have a part to play in his creativity?  And the answer is – yes we can. For scripture, carefully read and with an open mind, does say that humans are called to help God in his creation. In fact, they called to be co-creators. And it is this opportunity and responsibility which form the gift of God we will look at today; the gift of being creative as part of divine creativeness.

Many years ago, I heard of a famous Scottish preacher who, on the day of his ordination, had his much cherished piano removed from his home. That was in case it became a distraction from his ministry. I always find that a bit sad. For surely, we easily glimpse the hand of God in a Mozart concerto or in a Michelangelo painting or just in a beautifully fiery sunset. Because in encountering true beauty just as much as with real goodness we should feel closer to God; we should feel inheritors of something of his creative gift; we should start to understand the wonderfully generous gift of being imaginative daughters and sons of God.

Let us then go about our daily routine more carefully looking for created beauty; let us more often allow our minds to be enlivened by anything made wonderfully; let us never forget to worship God when we find something created with God’s glory in mind . Moreover, let us never stop opening our hearts to the magnificence of divine creativity. For Moira Lipmann’s husband, the playwright Jack Leventhal, said just before his death when being wheeled through a park – look – it’s all so wonderful.

It’s amazing how often we forget the many traditions of our own homeland. Other times we just take them for granted. That is until someone from abroad reminds us of them. And so it was when I read the writings of an American recently. For, he was telling of how the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom allows us to track the Queen around her realm.  Because when the Queen is at Windsor Castle or Balmoral, the Royal standard flutters overhead. When she is in Buckingham Palace or Holyrood the Royal Standard flies brightly in the wind. But when she is not in residence, the Royal Standard is replaced by either the Union Jack or Royal Standard of Scotland.

The UK’s Royal Standard then is a sign of the monarch’s presence.  And so it is when we too are genuinely creative. For no matter what we attempt, if we make or do something in God’s honour, then he we will make it into a thing of real beauty. For, whether it is great or small, proud or humble, well or rudely made, it will point to God. It will also confirm our kinship with God and it will ‘signpost’ his valuing of us. May then all that we create, be done in his name and in heart-felt thanks for his creativity of ourselves, his world and his son who offers us eternal life.

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Oh we say – that’s all very fine – but I can’t make anything at all –I cannot sing or play an instrument or paint a picture. Where then can I show I am a co-creator for God?  Well, we can always create things that are intangible; things like peace and security and justice. We can always reconcile, comfort and advise. We can all make life better for our fellow heirs of creation and siblings in Christ. Since these are the greatest creations that honour God.

And the reason for their supreme loveliness is that they truly reflect what Paul wrote:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ. You are a son or daughter of the living God.

Because when we do create a genuinely handsome world for those who have not seen beauty but only hardship, then we do release the possibility of creativity in them as well. We do allow them to see God’s creativity in things beautifully made. Indeed, we show what it means to be co-creators of God’s creation which honours humans to the degree recorded by the psalmist when he asked:

What is man that you are mindful of him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

And crowned hum with glory and honour.

On Monday we took ourselves off to visit Kellie castle outside Pittenweem in Fife. Now until it was taken over by the National Trust for Scotland, it was the home of the ultra-artistic Lorimer family. In fact, he last occupant of this medieval pile was the sculptor Hew Lorimer. Indeed, his workshop or studio is still there with an exhibition of his work. However, a display board proclaims that, as a devout Roman Catholic he believed not that an artistic creation was an expression the individual but was a gift from God. Since he is then quoted as saying:

I came to see that human imagination is not paramount in the creative process; that what is paramount in the creation is he who created it. That which the artist is expressing is not himself but his response to the eternal process of creation.

May then is day and all the days to follow we be aware of the gift of creativity. May we be aware of the responsibilities of being a co-creator. And may we never fail to respond to God’s creation of ourselves. For then, the whole world is our canvas, the whole family of God is our score and the whole future is our play of delight.

Amen

Prayer for music

What music makes our hearts sing?

What music opens us up inside?

What music enables friendship for us

We do not know

Yet we recognise it when it is there

And when it is here.

Let us pray

Living God,

You are the creator

Indeed you are the very first artist

The first writer and the first composer.

For, Lord you are the craftsman

who shaped each of us wonderfully

Shaped this church beautifully

And you shaped the world around us

magnificently.

Therefore we pray for ourselves, our Church family

And the Christian community across the globe.

May it be a welcoming place for all

So that in word, song and music

We may know your son’s companionship

We may know the joy of worshipping you

And we may know your power and glory and love

In everything we do.

Amen


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