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Holy Week Reflections – Tuesday

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‘ The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…’ (Matt 21:42)

Bible Reflection: Read Matthew 21:33-46

In this parable we effectively have the essence of Jesus final days here on earth. Here Jesus lays it all on the line and makes it perfectly clear who He is and why He came. Seldom did Jesus ever make such a direct claim, lay down an unmistakable challenge and issue such a terrible threat. And everyone listening picked up on this, because the overall meaning of this parable was abundantly clear, as were the individual details.

The vineyard was Israel and the owner of the vineyard, God. Those looking after the vineyard were the leaders of the nation, the messengers were the Prophets and the Son, Jesus Himself. As for the threat at the end – Israel’s place of privilege in relationship with God would be taken from them and given to others. If there had even been the slightest possibility of Jesus being able to back track, to make recompense for what he had said and done over the past two days – there was now no chance whatsoever of being able to do that.

For in this passage Jesus quite deliberately sets himself apart from all the others. The days of servant and prophet were now in the past but the day of the Son was now. What else could God do in order to appeal to the people. How much further could He go to invite them back into His fold – and yet we see that even that is not enough. The cross was fast approaching for Jesus. Yet here at the end of this parable we have this expression by Jesus of the confidence of the triumph and vindication to come thereafter, and for this display of confidence, Jesus again turns to the Psalms.

The image of the stone which the builders rejected, but which eventually became the cornerstone, was actually intended to apply to the nation of Israel. As the cornerstone they were the elect, they were the chosen people of God. But here Jesus takes this image and applies it directly to Himself and in so doing he expresses nothing but complete confidence in all that is about to happen.

The parable of the Tenants, is perhaps not one that immediately jumps out at us when we think of all the well know parables that there are within all the Gospels, particularly so at this time of the year. However, it is at this very time in the liturgical year when it does become one of the most important. Why? Because in this parable we find Jesus laying down His final challenge to the authorities and to the people and He does so by claiming this special relationship with God. He is the Son of God and as such He claims the right to judge, to condemn and to reject.

In this act Jesus is completely aware that He is taking the path which will lead to the cross. However, never for one moment does He see that cross as the end. He goes to the cross in the certainty that He will ultimately triumph. The cross is only the beginning – beyond there is a glorious new beginning.

A new beginning which He has invited all of us to be part of……All we have to do is to walk with Him!

 

Gracious God, we know we can never repay the love you have shown us in Your Son, a love that has given us a bright new future with You, a love that you continue to pour upon us day by day through your Holy Spirit. Yet we long to show You our gratitude by loving you in return, by serving you as you desire and by being the sort of people you call us to be…Set us free from our preoccupation with the things of this world, from our obsession with self and from all that blinds us to what really matters. Rather teach us to live according to the values of your kingdom, to the glory and honour of Your name. Amen

 

Holy Week Reflections – Monday

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‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations…’ (Mark 11:17)

Bible Reflection: Read Mark 11:12-19

It’s not difficult to imagine the commotion that Jesus must have caused in this ‘act of cleansing’. The Temple courtyard would have been packed with pilgrims, buying their sacrificial animals or exchanging their coins to pay the Temple tax, something that actually needed to take place before a sacrifice could be offered. So no doubt there would have been great anger expressed, not only by those whom Jesus drove from the Temple, but also by the Temple authorities, who would ‘lose out’, not just on legitimate revenue, but also on some ill-gotten revenue because of Jesus actions. But what’s really going on here?

All through His Ministry, indeed all through His life, Jesus refused to pander to the whims and wishes of those around Him. He refused to live within the expected norms and standards of that time. He had been sent to fulfil His mission. To proclaim the Gospel message far and wide, to offer redemption and salvation to all, and to reconcile all of us to God, and nothing or no-one was going to stop Him from doing just that. Which is perhaps why we shouldn’t be all that surprised at His actions in the Temple that day.

The Passover was the greatest of all the Jewish feasts and Jews from all over the ancient world would do their utmost to come to Jerusalem for this special festival. And many may have gone to the Temple in the hope that they might just find the Living God that they had heard so much about. However, the Temple was divided into courtyards. There were areas where only the Priests could enter, areas where Jewish males could go, areas where females could go and finally, areas where Gentiles could go. But irrespective of which area you went to it should have been a house of prayer, a sanctuary for anyone seeking peace and tranquillity, sanctuary for anyone seeking the presence of God in their lives. But what did the Gentiles find – a disputing and bargaining mob, haggling and dealing over money and livestock.

The Temple was a House of God, a place where all pilgrims and worshippers could come and find peace and solitude with their Lord – or it should have been. However, with all the cheating and thieving that was going on here that wouldn’t have been possible. In this courtyard, there would have been no way that anyone would be able to find a quiet space for reflective devotion or prayer and that’s why Jesus was so angry. The cheating and thieving by the money-changers and dealers was bad enough, however, of more importance to Jesus was this. By their actions those in the courtyard were preventing others from being able to come to be with God – that was the real reason for Jesus’ anger here.

There is much we can take from this passage, however, perhaps one lesson stands out. As Disciples of Jesus here and now we are called to bring others to God through our Lord – to proclaim His message and demonstrate His love in all we are and do. So there should be nothing in our behaviour – in our words and/or actions that might hinder that. Yet the fact remains that there are none of us perfect and we will make mistakes. That is why we too need to come to the Lord in prayerful devotion and spend time with Him each day, asking for His strength and guidance, asking Him to lead us in the way He would have us go as we walk with Him through this Holy Week. Only then will we be able to offer our whole lives as a witness to our Lord, that through this witness others too may come to know Him for themselves.

Loving Jesus, we want to be true to our own convictions and to stand up for what is right, at all times seeking to proclaim the Gospel message in our words and actions. But often when the pressure is on we buckle under the weight of it. So grant us wisdom we pray and give us the courage we need to hold fast and uphold your name in all we do, living out our faith as best we can, that through our witness others may come to know You too.  And all of this we would ask in Jesus name…Amen

Palm Sunday Reflection

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‘Hosanna to the Son of David…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Matt. 21:9)

 

Read Matthew 21:1-11

The story of Palm Sunday is so well known to us as we think of our Lord entering through the city gates of Jerusalem to a chorus of Hosanna ringing in His ears. However, the Holy city is full to the brim and even now, among those who are cheering and waving their Palm branches welcoming Jesus as their Messiah, there are those in the crowds who are bemused by what is going on as well as those who want to stop Jesus at all costs.

Of course we will never be able to truly appreciate or understand all the emotions that people were showing that day. We will never be able to fully appreciate the excitement, the anticipation or the tension that everyone would have been experiencing. However, as we ‘stand’ at those city gates today, we know that once we enter we will be swept up into events over which we have no control and if we’re honest we will find that somewhat daunting. Nevertheless, as with all who were present on that Palm Sunday, as we stand at these city gates, we have all sorts of options and possibilities.

We can enter with Jesus and walk with him to his garden of new life and take our place in God’s everlasting kingdom, in a place already prepared for us even now.

Or we can enter and join with the crowds who are jeering rather than cheering and at the end of the week find ourselves with nothing.

Or we can stay precisely where we are, at the gates, unwilling to commit ourselves in any way, shape or form, because we know that as soon as we enter there will be trial and suffering and we’d rather shy away from those things if we possibly can.

Yet here’s the thing, it is only at the end of this week’s story, in the garden of Resurrection, that our wounds are healed and we can start afresh in a new life with God through his beloved Son.

The choice is ours to make. However, in order to make that choice maybe the real question we have to ask ourselves is this. How much do we want to be there – to one day be in that place where God walks with us again in the cool of the day?

Are we willing to move towards that garden? Are we prepared to walk with Christ, all the way to the cross, yes, but also beyond to that glorious Resurrection?

The gates are now open and Jesus is entering the Holy city – time to choose!

Lord, as we stand at the beginning of this Holy week, give us the strength, not only to continue in our walk with You in the coming days, but also to invite others to walk with us, that together we might come to the glory of Easter morning in the presence of our Risen Lord. Amen.

 

Palm Sunday Evening – National Call To Prayer

On this Palm Sunday evening the leaders of all Churches have come together to call us to prayer at 7.00pm this evening. Underneath is a prayer by the leaders of all churches that could be used to begin this time of prayer. The full statement can be found on the Church of Scotland website where it also lists all those leaders of all the churches who signed that statement.

A prayer for this time

Living God, for the precious gift of life that you have given to us,

We give you thanks.

For the enduring presence of your love in this world,

We give you thanks.

For the knowledge that you are with us at the close of the day,

We give you thanks.

On this day, we hear the Gospel words that speak of hope,

We hear the cry: Hosanna!

We hear the Gospel words that speak of promise,

We hear the cry: Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

On this day, we journey in hope as we trust in your promise.

Lord, as we journey into the Holy Week to come,

We are conscious that we share in the life of the world.

We are conscious of the presence of those who are near to us,

And of those from whom we are apart.

Whether near, or far, embrace us all in your love.

Lord, we are conscious of others,

Whose life and work is woven into the fabric of our society,

And upon whom we now depend.

We pray for them:

For delivery drivers and posties,

For refuse collectors and cleaners,

For police officers and care workers,

Protect them and keep them safe.

For nurses and doctors,

For scientists and surgeons,

For midwives and ambulance drivers,

Protect them and watch over them.

For those who govern on our behalf,

For those who make decisions that impact upon us all,

For all who shape our common life,

Protect them and increase their wisdom and understanding.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

And grant us faith to journey into the week to come,

Assured of the presence of the crucified and risen Lord,

Jesus Christ. Amen.”

 

 

 

True Humility

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‘He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble His way…’ (Psalm 25:9)

One of the things that has struck me most over the last couple of weeks is the humility shown by those who have selflessly sought to help others at this time. From health and key workers to community volunteers to good neighbours, all have demonstrated such a level of care, concern and compassion for others, looking to their needs above their own.

From a Christian perspective being humble means to understand that the low, the meek and the quiet are those whom God chooses to use in His Kingdom. True humility comes from knowing that through His Son God has redeemed us and offered us salvation. There is nothing we can do on our own to earn or merit this salvation – it comes to us by the Grace of God. It also involves an understanding of knowing who we are, to whom we belong and what we are called to be as well as an understanding of God’s Kingdom and the part that we are to play in the building up of that Kingdom relying on the strength and power of God.

Ultimately, to be truly humble means that we have to place our life in His hands and trust that He will lead us and guide us in all we do and enable us to be all that we can be as we seek to follow our Lord as best we can every day of our lives.

Lord, through Your Son You have truly shown us what it means to be humble. Help us, in Your strength, to follow in His footsteps and to play our part in Your Kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen

The Lord Is With Us

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‘The Lord watches over you…’ (Psalm 121:5)

In an age with advanced satellite technology and communication, the associated news coverage that comes with that enables us to see events in any part of the world even as they are unfolding. Sadly today so much of that is focussed on this current pandemic as we almost witness first-hand the devastating affect it is having not just here in our own land but also throughout the world. However this same technology is also enabling us to see how communities are coming together at these times and through the power of social media inviting us to be part of one big community. From celebrities inviting us to take part in daily fitness and dance routines, to neighbourhoods inviting us to join in their song and dance routines, to images and messages of hope placed on windows being streamed throughout the world, it seems we are all watching over each other – and that can only be good.

The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord is also watching over us and with all that is happening in the world today we can surely take even more comfort and reassurance from this. Knowing that He is with us in all our daily trials, to offer His support and encouragement, to give us the strength and hope we need to continue when our own begins to waver and to bring to us that sense of tranquillity and peace that only He can offer is something that we all need to hold on to at this time.

Lord, as we continue in our walk through life, thank you for being with us every step of the way. Help us to look to You and to lean on You and to know that You will never leave us  to journey on our own. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

 

Be Perfect In The Lord

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‘Be perfect, therefore, even as You Heavenly Father is perfect…’ (Matthew 5:48)

Switch on your television on almost any evening and somewhere you might find a reality show where members of the public are passionately taking their hobbies and pastimes to a different level by taking part in in these programmes. Baking, cooking, art, pottery, sewing, you name it and there seems to be a reality show out there where individuals all seek to perfect their particular ‘art’ and win the coveted title and prize on offer.

On first reading our short Bible verse today not only seems impossible but also contradictory to our Christian teaching. To be perfect means to be without any kind of fault or defect and we surely all know that we can never be perfect in this way – only our Lord was perfect. Yet here we have this short verse in Matthew’s Gospel.

Maybe then we have to think of this idea of perfection in a different way and not as the world might see or understand it. Maybe it’s not so much about doing extraordinary, flawless things but rather in doing ordinary everyday things extraordinarily well. For that, of course we need to turn to God and perhaps reflect upon another verse, ‘God is my strength and power and He makes my way perfect…’ (2 Sam. 22:33)

Jesus isn’t commanding us to be without flaw or defect, rather He is challenging us to allow God’s Spirit to mould us – our characteristics our abilities and our understanding – that we might fulfil His purpose for us. Irrespective of what weaknesses or flaws we may have, if we truly allow God’s spirit to work within us then we can become perfect, that is as God would have us, suited to His purpose and in that vein we are better suited and more able to serve Him as He has called us to.

Lord, as we come before You today, we acknowledge our flaws and failings and accept that we need You in our lives. We know Lord that in Your strength and by Your Spirit still You might be able to use us to play our part in Your Kingdom. So Lord, help us we pray, to be perfect, suited to Your purpose, to the glory and honour of Your name. Amen.

Holiness

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‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory…’ (Isaiah 6:3)

With each passing day the days seem to be getting just a little longer and perhaps a little warmer. We are now beginning to see new buds appear on trees which were dark and bare over the winter and the birdsongs in the morning now seem louder and more uplifting. All definite signs that Spring is fast approaching and a time when we see the glory of God’s creation in all its wonder.

For the prophet Isaiah the glory of God was another sign of the holiness of God, however, the question of holiness is one which Christians have struggled with over the year and one which has led to many discussions and debates. However, perhaps we should look to the words of Dwight L Moody, ‘It is a great deal better to live a holy life than to talk about it. Lighthouses do not ring bells and fire canons to call attention to their shining – they just shine.’

Form a Biblical and Christian perspective this means living a life lived for God and not for the world – being in the world but not of the world. Our lives should be lived in our love for God through the relationship we have with Him in Jesus Christ. We don’t and can’t live holy lives because of choices that we make in our lifestyle, we can only do so by allowing the love of Jesus to permeate into our hearts and souls and transform us from within. Holiness is a change that we undergo as we grow in our relationship with the Lord and allow His love to direct our lives in all we are and do.

Lord, help me to live a life that is holy and pleasing to you, enshrouded in and guided by Your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hold On To Your Faith

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‘By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…’ (Hebrews 11:3)

What is faith? How do we understand faith, what do we mean when we say we have faith, how can we describe faith? Surely these are questions that have been asked since the dawn of creation – and are still being asked today. Of course, every day of our lives we put our faith in many different people and situations and in these times in particular we are putting our faith in all who are devoting themselves to healing and helping those with coronavirus, doing what they can to save lives and protect others.

According to Thomas Merton, who was a Cistercian Monk, ‘Ultimately, faith is the only key to the universe…’ and perhaps here he was alluding to the kind of faith expressed in our Bible verse for today – that faith which can only come from God. This kind of faith is not something that is tangible in any way, not something that is visible or that you can touch. Rather it is believing that in every situation we finds ourselves in, good and bad, by His Spirit God is always with us. In our laughter and joy, in our pain and weeping, in good times and bad, faith is knowing in your heart that the Lord is always with you. Faith won’t stop bad things happening but faith will help us find a way through by assuring us that the Lord is sharing in everything we are going through and in Him we can find an inner source of strength, comfort and peace that only He can give.

Lord, we give You thanks for all today who are devoting themselves to helping others, especially so at this time, and pray that You would keep them safe and well. We ask also that You might increase our faith. Help us to know that You are always with us and that we can turn to You day and night. All this we ask in Jesus name, Amen

Come Close To God

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‘Come near to God and He will come near to you…’ (James 4:8)

One of the things that we will surely all find most difficult at the moment is not to be able to be close to our extended families, friends and colleagues. All those things that were perhaps part and parcel of our everyday lives; visiting and spending time with loved ones or even just a simple hug, we miss them so much. In the same way many will miss the fellowship of being together in the workplace. Working from home may be fine for a while but it’s just not the same as interacting with others face to face. I know that I desperately miss not being able to visit people, particularly those who are ill or bereaved.

However, there is One who we can be close too at any time of day or night and that is of course God. Many people still think of God as being detached from us, some distant being who is beyond our reach. But the Bible tells us that through His Son God came to live and walk among us, to share in all our everyday experiences and by His Spirit He is still with us here today. We might never be able to fully comprehend this but we don’t have to – all we need to do is believe it. God is all around us and He longs for our fellowship and our love. Day or night we can call on Him and come close to Him, and even in these difficult times, still find that sense of inner peace that only He can offer.

Lord, we confess that we find it difficult to understand that You are so close to us and that You want us to draw close to You. Help us now, we pray, to come to You, to share with You all that we are feeling and facing each day, that in You we may indeed find that sense of peace that only You can give. Amen.

Time With God

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‘There is a time for all things…’ (Ecc. 3:1)

Overnight our clocks moved forward one hour and we are now into British Summer Time, which means that our evenings will now become longer – and hopefully warmer. Time can seems strange at times. On how many occasions, for example, have we said something like, ‘…this week has flown by…’ yet maybe a few weeks later, ‘…this past week has dragged by…’ Both weeks are the same period of time and yet they pass by so differently and as I sit to write this, I wonder how the past seven days have passed for us all!

Lutheran Theologian Paul Tillich said of time, ‘Time is our destiny. Time is our hope. Time is our despair. And time is the mirror in which we see eternity…’ words which, in one sense, seem to echo the sentiment of the author of Ecclesiastes. We all have different times in our lives allocated to various tasks and duties, different times set aside for work, leisure and sleep, different times set aside to celebrate special occasions.

Today we would of course normally be gathering for a time of worship and fellowship in the peace and stillness of our sanctuaries. Gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ to come before our Lord and there is no doubt we all miss this time together. Yet we can still come together in Spirit, in a way looking through the mirror of eternity that Tillich speaks of, and be at one with God to spend time in communion with Him.

And of course no matter what time or day or night it is, no matter what else we may be doing in that period of time, still we are able to spend time with our Lord. Sharing with Him in whatever we are doing, talking and listening to Him, offering Him our thanks and petitions, acknowledging His ever present presence in our lives. All time is in God’s hands – and all He wants us to do is to share some of our time with Him each and every day.

Lord, help us in the busyness of everyday life to take time to be with You. Help us to live Your will for us and Your destiny for us, for only then will we be living our lives as You would have us, to the glory and honour of Your name. Amen