In the book of Ecclesiastes, at the beginning of chapter three, we are told, ‘There is a time for everything…’ and I was thinking about that as I was preparing for our first services back in our Churches after almost seven months.
Last weekend Peter Godfrey and I attended the virtual General Assembly and it was quite a surreal experience. About 700 Commissioners taking part on line via a zoom webinar. All able to take part in the discussions and all able to vote on every issue. And whilst there were one or two technical glitches, for the most part it worked very well.
For a day and a half we discussed many issues that will be so important for the Church in the very near future. Planning for the future and what shape the Church will take in the coming years. During one of these debates the Convenor of the Faith and Nurture Forum quoted from T.S. Elliot. What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from…
Now just pause for a moment to consider those words. As we gather here today, at the end of a period when we have been unable to gather for worship in this way, this is where we start from.
The last seven months have been so difficult for all of us in many different ways. But one thing we have all missed is being able to gather here in our Sanctuary to come before God. Of course God is with us at all times – wherever we are and whatever we are doing, by His Spirit He is always here. But still we can perhaps all echo the words of the Psalmist. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty. My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord…
Today the end of something is the beginning…the end of something is where we start from. So let’s give thanks to God that we are able to gather in our churches once again……..
Loving God, You are the God of past, present and future. Everything came from the energy of your love and all things find their true home and meaning in you. As we come to You today we remember the stories of the past but seek to worship you in the present. And inspired by the past and strengthened by your presence, we dare to look to the future in hope.
And yet, gracious God, we confess how difficult we find it to live Christian lives, We are full of good intentions but easily swayed from doing and saying what we know we should. We are distracted by busyness and self-interest and handicapped by insensitivity towards others. Forgive us we pray and help us to turn our minds and hearts away from ourselves and our own faults, and to focus on your forgiving and accepting love – for only you have the power to make us holy.
Loving God, you have chosen us, called us to be disciples of your Son. Help us now to choose your way of love and life, and as best we can to follow in His shadow, sharing His love and good news to all whom we know, as well as those we don’t know, today, tomorrow and in the days ahead. And all this we ask in Jesus name, Amen…
Bible Reading Luke 15:1-10
Over the past few months I have often heard people say things like, when are things going to back to normal, or, this is the new normal. And perhaps that begs the question, what is normal? Such a short question, yet such a profound question. And one which will no doubt illicit a whole host of answers from different people in different circumstances, looking at things from different perspectives.
And what about church? Over the past six months we’ve had to learn to do things in a different way. And many churches, as we have, have gone on line, to church websites and YouTube – with reflections, bible studies and Sunday services. Today we are back in our churches – and we give thanks for that. However, it is different, with individual seats, face masks and social distancing. Is this, along with the continuing on line services, the new normal for the church?
And what does it mean to be a normal person, to behave in a normal way and have normal expectations? In many ways it may depend on what we are told and what is expected of us – and whether or not we accept this and allow it to influence our lifestyle and behaviour. And where does our faith life fit into all of this?
Looking at our Bible passage this morning, do we really think it normal for a shepherd to go and look for just one lost sheep when he has ninety-nine others to look after and keep safe? And can we compare that to the woman who lost one of her ten silver coins? Maybe we can understand more why she behaved as she did – but the shepherd?? So, what is normal?
The word normal itself is based on the Latin word, norma, which means A carpenter’s rule or square…The word normal simply means conforming to that rule…Now, just pause to consider that – that is something to think about – a carpenter’s rule or square…
All of a sudden behaving in a normal way takes on a new significance altogether. Because when we look at the example our Saviour set us, when we consider the standards He lived by, when we look at His life and actions, normal now appears to mean something altogether different from how our society might see things. We might live what we consider to be an everyday normal life – and maybe it is. But is it normal in the eyes of God? And if not, what are the consequences of that? Well, these two short parables set out to answer that.
When we look at this passage we are told that the lost sheep is the repentant sinner, the other ninety-nine are those who do not need to repent and the shepherd – God Himself. And this same kind of analogy is highlighted in the story of the lost coin. But here’s the question, which of these might be seen as normal?
Some might argue that it is the ninety-nine and the nine who do not need to repent. But is that simply the view of the society we live in, where so many fail to acknowledge any wrong doing or any sinfulness at all. Some might argue that it is the one lost sheep and one lost coin where we see any form of normality. But do we honestly believe that?
Yet before we can even begin to come to some kind of answer on that we are faced with another question. Because here Jesus seems to suggest that there are ninety-nine and nine who do not need to repent. Surely that can’t be right? We all need to repent. Even those who believe in Jesus and have accepted him as their Lord and Saviour, still we need to repent. Why? Because even though we are saved, still we continue to sin. And as long as we continue to sin – we need to repent…
So what is Jesus getting at in these two short parables…
The lost sheep and the lost coin symbolise those who know and acknowledge they are lost sinners. And these passages speak of God’s joy and delight in seeing a sinner repent and of how through His Son and by His Spirit, God will actively seek to bring them to Him……….…This is God’s normal.
God’s love for us is such that He wants us all to be saved, He doesn’t want to lose a single one of us. And He will reach out to us all, calling us to Himself, pouring His love upon us in the hope that we might respond. But in order to be saved we first need to acknowledge that we are lost and need to be saved – and we need to repent. Not only when we first acknowledge that we are lost but every single time we wander from his path. And through His Son and by His Spirit God will come to look for us and bring us back to Himself.
As for the ninety-nine and the nine, they actually represent those who have not yet come to this knowledge. And as far as they see themselves, they have no need to repent. This, very much, described the Pharisees, but sadly is what is all too normal in our society today….…So where then does that leave us…
The likelihood is that many of those who today might number alongside the ninety-nine or the nine do not even know that they are lost. And this is where the likes of you and I come into the equation. Not by simply telling people that they are lost and that they need to repent if they ever want to be saved. Although that’s not to say that there isn’t sometimes a need for this kind of approach.
But for the most part by letting them see what a difference Jesus has made in our lives. And letting them see the difference between being lost and found and what a new normal life in Jesus can be like. And if we allow God’s spirit to work in and through us then we won’t even have to think about what we actually need to do in this respect. Because the rejoicing that is God’s in heaven over our salvation will also become our joy and happiness
And the love that pours from God upon us, will hopefully also pour from us to everyone we know…
Through this we begin to share the love of God with everyone we come into contact with. We begin to witness to others the joy of being saved. And who knows, we might set them on the path that might one day lead to them acknowledging that they too need this joy in their lives.
Without Jesus in our lives we are all lost, sadly the normal way of things in too much of our society today. But by bearing witness to the love of Jesus in all we say and do we can begin to change that and bring about a new normal way of life……….The way of our Lord and Saviour…
So let’s do that and let’s share in the rejoicing that is God’s, as others may come to know this and then want to experience it for themselves…Amen and thanks be to God…
Loving God in heaven, we pray for all people and nations of this world and ask that You make your purpose and Your saving power among all nations. We think especially of those who hunger for righteousness and justice, those who hunger for peace and compassion and those who hunger for food and thirst for water. Be with each one at this time and grant them Your peace.
Pour your blessings upon all humanity, that all fighting and killing may come to an end and peace prevail. That all poverty and hunger might come to an end and life go on as you intended. And that all hatred and fear might end and men and women might live together as one, children of the one true God.
We pray for the well being of your church here on earth. Guide and guard it by your Holy Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led in your ways and so help bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all they say and do.
And today as we reopen our own churches here at Bendochy and Coupar Angus we ask for Your blessing upon us as we move forward in Your name. Be with all who are able to join with us in our churches and also with those joining us at home, keep them and their loved ones safe in Your loving protection.
Indeed, we commend into your loving goodness all those who are in any way afflicted in mind, body or circumstance. And we think especially of those known to us, our family and friends, those who we call neighbour and those in our local communities.
Comfort each according to their individual needs, grant them patience and understanding in their time of need and offer them your comfort and your peace, that in you they might find hope and encouragement and a way out of their afflictions. And all these things Lord, we ask in Jesus name. Amen