Nick’s Christmas message

From our Christmas Day Celebration…

I would like to split my address into two parts the first, being very trendy and slightly flippant, concerning ‘fake news’ the second part will tackle the truth.

As some of you will know I am a prolific author. I have not been brave enough to actually visit the publisher as I suffer from a fear of rejection, no doubt if you place me a psychiatrist’s couch, due to some childhood trauma. however I have written a book I have called ‘Fungi  Fun’ and it is a section of this I wish to delve into first.

Laplanders herd wild reindeer from one end of Lapland to another, presumably depending on feeding grounds that are covered in the least amount of snow. The herders camp at night, have breakfast in the morning and find it a right nuisance when the reindeer have wandered off and the men have to spend all morning retrieving them before they can set off on their trek. An astute Lapp herder noticed that reindeer are very attracted to the fly agaric mushrooms, otherwise known by its Latin name: Amanita muscaria.  This is the one illustrated in all fairytale books, a red specimen with white spots. It grows prolifically in Scotland and northern parts of the northern hemisphere. When a reindeer eats a fly agaric mushroom, its brain goes off into other realms as the fungi has hallucinogenic toxins. The animal stays stationary during these episodes and as a result the herders pick the mushrooms in autumn, dry them and then scatter them amongst the reindeer in the evening thus preventing them from wandering off. An inquisitive young man watched the reindeer getting intoxicated and thought it would be a good idea to have a go himself. The result was that he became high and also very sick so he thought he would be even cleverer and try drinking the animals pee, using its kidneys to filter out the toxins and leaving the drug pure. It was discovered that the older men, who had been doing this for years, had built up a resistance to the toxins and that if the young men drank their pee they weren’t sick and all was well. Don’t try this at home children.

Well, I probably won’t be asked again to address you as I can see David frowning severely at me. It was just a preamble to explaining to you about how flying reindeer came into existence. If you were a high Laplander or Sami, herding reindeer across the vast wastes of the northern hemisphere what would you see? Yes. Flying reindeer – a subject on many a Christmas card with himself at the reins careering through the night sky.

If you wish to see an example of all this, have a look at Catherine’s Christmas jumper. (Catherine was wearing a very cheerful Christmas, red and white jersey with a reindeer motif. Very appropriate for my address).

If you are a French child you don’t write request lists to Father Christmas and put them up the chimney. You pray to Saint Nicolas who was the original protector of children. Incidentally, as I was named after him, I am also grateful to him for being the patron saint of boats so what with children and boats he is a busy Saint.

In the Middle Ages the green man on his green horse in the green wood came on the scene. A rather malevolent character who didn’t really inspire much joy in children’s lives. In fact he was a menacing creature and to balance him out the people chose Christmas as a time for feasting as opposed to French children who chose Easter. 

The green man gradually became more amenable and I understand it was the Coca-Cola advertising department that changed the colour of his clothes to the normal red and white. We are now back to the fly agaric mushroom. No. Let’s not go there.

Now we come to the second section of my address. The Truth. As some of you may have gathered, I am a prolific but modest author. I have written another book called ‘Oh Dad Shut Up!’ -copies of which can be ordered outside the church after the service. It tells the story of my travels from 1965 to 1967 when I was aged 17 to 20. One of the stories details the time when I was hitchhiking in Lapland in late September when the snowdrifts were many metres high and not many sensible people were travelling on the same road as me. I got dropped off at a small crossroads in the middle of nowhere in the late afternoon and was abandoned at the side of the road. I started to feel rather forlorn and as the afternoon became evening, then dusk and no sign of a car coming along the road, I walked towards the glimmer of light which turned out to be a house which had previously been hidden from sight. With great trepidation I knocked on its door. I was greeted by the family that lived there like their long lost son. As Sami or Finnish is not one of my languages and their English wasn’t great we communicated in the age old method of smiling at one’s new friends. I was taken to a hut in the garden and shown the joys of the sauna as presumably the family had decided that a hot bath was needed to cleanse me after the effects of travel to get to them. After a very quick dip in the local stream accompanied by a lot of screaming on my behalf, I was given a hot meal, probably reindeer or moose soup and a glorious bed. After breakfast of delicious ghetost goats cheese and strawberry jam, I set off for the road again. Not a single car came. I was given a fishing rod by the son of the house and he stayed on the road ready to stop a car whilst I fished in the stream. It wasn’t until after another night of hospitality did I eventually get a lift North toward Hammerfest.

‘Oh Dad Shut Up!’ Continues to reveal numerous similar incidents throughout my travels in over 32 countries, and examples of the generosity of mankind. I was on a motorbike in Lebanon and walked into a café which sold nothing but hummus and tea. The hummus was in a big clay pot by the door, and the serving was measured by the owners hand. Fortunately he had a large hand. One of the café’s occupants spoke very good English and asked me where I had come from and a conversation ensued. He insisted I came with him to meet his family, inspect his Orange Grove and ended up being given supper, his bed, his mosquito net and an offer of his pyjamas which I courteously refused. He went off to sleep under an orange tree. I was waved off in the morning by his entire family and set off on the road, refreshed and ready for the next part of the adventure. 

The kindness of people offering hospitality to strangers is something worldwide. I presume it is based on a basic survival mechanism. It is written in the tomes of various religions. I am grateful to David for assisting me with quotes from the Bible.

In Deuteronomy we discover that “God administers justice for the fatherless and the widow and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

In Kings we find the story of Elijah being given hospitality by a widow who was on the verge of starvation – her pantry was all but empty – but she gave her visitor the first small cake from the last flour and oil. The oil and flour bin then miraculously do not run out while Elijah stays on for many days thereafter.

In the letter to the Hebrews, as the writer starts his conclusion, he begins: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have  unwittingly entertained angels”. You would feel awful, wouldn’t you if you discovered that the person you had just turned away was really an angel in disguise. Mistake! Big mistake!

I myself was rescued by Bedouins in a Jordanian desert when I went to visit the valley where Lawrence of Arabia gathered his camel mounted attack on Aqaba amongst the beautiful scenery of the Wadi Rum. I was walking along a temporary road out to the fort in the Wadi. I was going to stay the night there in order to witness the dawn light shining on the local multicoloured cliffs. The director of the film “Lawrence of Arabia” had thought the spectacular cliffs should be the background to this scene. Unfortunately for me, I got my timings completely wrong, the relentless sun and heat got the better of me and I poured what water I had with me over my head, which was fruitless, as I was just as hot a minute later with no water. A small boy popped out from behind a large rock and invited me to his parents’ hidden camp close nearby. It is a Bedouin tradition that you are looked after until it is safe for you to continue your journey and this they did.

There is a marvellous book ‘The Places Inbetween’ by Rory Stewart, a British soldier, who after fighting in the Afghan war, went back in relative peacetime and travelled across Afghanistan on foot, accompanied by an itinerant and toothless dog he came across.  Every evening he would arrive in a remote mountain village and was tended to by the headman of the village.  The following morning he would be escorted towards his next stop, another remote village.  At the pinnacle of a hill, his guide would point towards a spot in the far distance. When Rory asked his companion whether he would like to accompany him there he would be told that he didn’t know the route as he had never travelled it. Preumably these Afghan villagers keep themselves to themselves.

Rory dedicated the book to the people of Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal who I quote: “showed me the way, fed me, protected me, housed me and made this walk possible.  They were not all Saints, though some of them were. A number were greedy, idle, stupid, hypocritical, insensitive, mendacious, ignorant and cruel. Some of them have robbed or killed others; many of them threatened me and begged from me. But never in my 21 months of travel did they attempt to kidnap or kill me. I was alone and a stranger, walking in very remote areas; I represented a culture that many of them hated and I was carrying enough money to save or at least transform their lives. In more than 500 village houses I was indulged, fed, nursed and protected by people poorer, hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than myself. Almost every group I met: Sunni Kurds, Shia Hazara, Punjabi Christians, Sikhs, Brahmins of Kedernath,  Garwhal Dalits  and Newark Buddhists gave me hospitality without any thought of reward”.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in his marvellous travel writings, especially in his book ‘A Time of Gifts’ tells us of numerous occasions when he was invited into people’s houses on his travels. I quote from Artemis Cooper’s biography of him. ‘Paddy came across kindness and generosity wherever he went, despite the harshness of the times. It had something to do with the word ‘student’ written in his passport and which he used to describe himself. The word was evocative of the wandering scholars who had been a feature of European life since the 12th century as they walked from one university town or monastery to the next in pursuit of knowledge’.

I quote from a page in ‘A Time of Gifts’: Remembering the advice of the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I arrived in this little village, I had sought out the Burger Meister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and apparently very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travellers. 

So it is no wonder that when Mary and Joseph were looking for accommodation in Bethlehem and there was no room in the Inn, the innkeeper made his best efforts and offered them shelter in his stable. This kind act was in the finest tradition of providing shelter for travellers.

We live in an unstable world and the only hope for our salvation is hope itself together with the necessity of actually acting in a sensible way. We can only wish that tradition of offering hospitality to strangers is not swamped by the cruelties of war, famine and forced immigration.

RThis afternoon the Queen will be giving her festive message. Her Majesty will be saying that the Christian message of ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All’ is needed as ‘much as ever’.

So if you hear a knock on your front door late at night and it turns out to be a Mexican, Syrian or Iranian refugee family, you will have to decide, on the spot, what you are going to offer them.

Salvation – Ted’s talk 13 January 2019

What is salvation?

There have been different answers.

Perhaps a very frequent one has been “salvation is going to heaven when you die”. That’s not wrong but is it adequate? Matthew 1 v 21 “the angel said to Joseph “do not fear to take Mary as your wife … you shall call his name Jesus because he will Save his people FROM their sins””  Jesus = Joshua = Yahweh (or Jehovah in some translations) “Yahweh saves”.

So what does this teach us? 

SALVATION means that God’s purpose – his purpose in the birth, life and death of Jesus was, as the angel said, to save people FROM their sins – not necessarily from the earthly consequences of their sins. 

Look at another view of salvation:-

1 John 1 v 9 “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. Now that is salvation!  

But let us understand it a bit and “unpick” the words a little…

What are sins? – not just murder, stealing, adultery and so on, sins really mean SELFISHNESSES –  thoughts and deeds that are not in accord with God’s will, God’s desires for us. They may be great or may just be small self-centrednesses, but if they are contrary to God’s will they are SINS. 

1John 1 v 9 “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  UNRIGHTEOUSNESS is the state of mind leading to actions, deeds, SINS. If there is no unrighteousness, if that is all cleared away there will be no sins – no follow-up.

So what does the faithful and JUST God do? He forgives our sins IF we repent and turn against them. that means that He puts them behind his back, which of course means that they are no longer visible, they are not seen by God. They are no longer hindering our relationship with God. It does not mean that there are NO CONSEQUENCES. If we have committed a crime we have to pay the penalty which the state imposes, but we, if forgiven by God, can be in a close loving relationship with Him. 

But is that ALL? 

No! John goes on to say that we will also be CLEANSED from all unrighteousness. Now that cleaning out, or purifying as it is called elsewhere is a lifelong process. Paul says that sin, selfishness, clings closer than a garment which is why we have to keep confessing sin and desiring freedom from it. AND and a big AND we must keep trying to obey God’s commands.  

1 John 2 v 3 says “by this we know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we keep his commandments. whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a LIAR”. This is added to elsewhere when John says that if we (that is believers) do sin Jesus is our advocate (one who speaks on our behalf) with the father. 

We must remember that our natural selfishness or sinfulness is a barrier, it prevents us from enjoying God’s gift to us of being SONS and HEIRS. (by the way, we are told quite clearly by Jesus that there are no males and females in the new creation.  He said we will be like angels, neither male nor female.  We have no word to replace “sons”, “children” is a bit too juvenile.)

So when Jesus saves us FROM our sins He is cleaning us out, freeing us from the inner unrighteousness, selfishness, that is part of our inborn human condition.  It is that natural human condition that separates us from God, but wonderfully NOT, repeat NOT, from God’s LOVE.  God’s intent from before Genesis 1  v 1 was to have beings, people, who would be with HIM in a relationship of LOVE.  They would be SONS and HEIRS. 

Romans chapter 8 tells us a lot about that. We are adopted as sons, it tells us.  We inherit, that is to say, receive by RIGHT, that which comes to Sons. The Greek word used does not mean as does our word inherit to receive after the previous person’s death it means “to receive a portion by right” and so when we become God’s sons we then receive something very special from God, our share of God’s characteristics of love and righteousness. This follows after the gift of forgiveness.  

And  ALSO, what a big ALSO! after forgiveness of sins we have DONE, comes not only cleansing, but the absolutely wonderful gift of God’s Holy Spirit. somehow the Holy Spirit gives us or rather imbues us with those Christ-like characteristics. The more we CHOOSE to allow this to take place the more we will grow and then display the FRUIT of the SPIRIT Galatians 5 vs 22 and 23 which are “ love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” and Paul adds “against such thing there is no law”. remember also that wonderful chapter 15 of John‘s Gospel. To produce good fruit the tree must be pruned.  That is similar to discipline. We get essential pruning and discipline, which of course we do not like, before we develop that wonderful FRUIT. That is all part of salvation. 

This is ALL part of salvation. We humans cannot, by our own efforts, change our nature, what Paul calls “the flesh”.  Our task is simply to turn against (repent) our natural characteristics and to ask God to change us.  In some way that we cannot possibly understand, but which we can and need to ACCEPT. Jesus accomplish that on the cross.  “He was MADE SIN for us” 2 Corinthians 5 v 21 “so that, in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.” He completed that astonishing work and as Hebrews  1 v 3 says “having made by himself the purification of sins he sat down (i.e. task done and completed) on the right hand of the Greatness on High.” I repeat that astonishing promise – “so that we (that is YOU and ME and ANYONE who so desires it) that we may become the righteousness of God”. And because,  if we so desire, we can be made clean, pure, as RIGHTEOUS as God himself. we can be part of that amazing vision that John had and describes in Revelation chapter 21 v 2 “I saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband and I heard a loud voice saying “behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Please read the rest of the chapter which has more wonderful metaphorical pictures, and it even calls the bride i.e. the church, all Christians, The Wife of the Lamb i.e. Jesus. 

So, this is the salvation we are offered and which God has prepared from before creation and which the Messiah, God’s anointed one, Jesus, brought about.

  1. We learn what we are by nature, the flesh, at enmity with God, Galatians 5 vs 19 to 21 and unable to be His sons
  2. forgiveness offered for sins and for sinfullness if we REPENT.
  3. adoption by God as sons and heirs.
  4. The total CLEANSING of our innermost motives and drives – a life long PROCESS.
  5. The gift of God himself to be our driving force – the Holy Spirit within us.
  6. The PROMISE of being united to Christ for eternity and unending enjoyment of the Fruit of the Spirit.  

This prospect and indeed present experience is  truly salvation.

AMEN

Local Church Review

 Presbytery of Argyll – Superintendence Committee

Local Church Review

Report on Visit to Glassary, Kilmartin & Ford lw North Knapdale

Date of Visit: North Knapdale: 16.10.18 Glassary, Kilmartin & Ford: 31.10.18

Minister: Rev Clifford Acklam vacated the charge on 15.10.18

Visiting Team: Rev Hilda Smith [Lochgilphead]  Donald Maclauchlan [Elder Strachur and Strathlachlan]  Margaret Munro [Elder West Cowal: Kyles Parish Church]

Meetings The Visitors met with the Kirk Sessions at Tayvallich and Kilmartin Churches respectively and received reports from the Minister. They were, however, unable to meet him before he left. 

General Background:  The charge of Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford linked with North Knapdale was established as a formal linkage around 2004.  Until recently, each part of the linkage supported three places of worship. In the course of 2018, however, Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford took over a modern church building in Kilmartin, recently vacated by Living Stones.  Glassary and Ford will close in mid-November 2018 and, along with the current Kilmartin church building, will be sold.   Meantime, the parish of North Knapdale has churches at Tayvallich, Bellanoch and Inverlussa. In 2017, Argyll Presbytery refused permission for Inverlussa Church to be refurbished and it has been placed on the market, with permission granted for worship to continue until the building is sold. 

Rev Clifford Acklam was inducted to the charge in May 2010. He experienced some personal and health difficulties during the latter part of his tenure, during which he was supported by his congregations, and recently remarried, moving to join his wife in the USA on 15.10.18 and take over an internship in NY State.   

Life of the Congregation:  Morning worship is held in the linked charge at 10am and 11.30am, the time alternating between the two parishes on an annual basis.   The congregation at Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford will meet at Kilmartin from Remembrance Sunday, their first united service.  The church at North Knapdale meets for worship every second week at Tayvallich and once in every four weeks at Bellanoch and Inverlussa, respectively. People have generally been found to travel between the churches in their respective parishes. Occasional evening services have also been held at Tayvallich in summer months. Special ceremonies are observed over Easter, Christmas and on Remembrance Sunday: an occasional joint service is held.  The format for morning worship in both parishes is generally traditional, until recently led by the Minister. Recent attempts at North Knapdale to make changes have led to some tensions within the congregation. An alternative format has, however, occasionally been introduced at evening services.  Members of the congregations take part in door duties and bible readings and most weeks singing is accompanied by organ or keyboard music.   Both parishes offer a flower ministry and, where facilities are available, coffee and teas are served following worship.  There have been difficulties in introducing new technologies in worship although North Knapdale does have a current and updated webpage.  Otherwise services are advertised through intimations and public notices.

The linked charges work together to support Messy Church, alternating for monthly meetings between Kilmartin and Tayvallich.  Rev Acklam expressed concern that, in some quarters, Messy Church is not always seen as church. Turnout, however, appears to compare well with numbers present at regular Sunday worship with a significant of Primary age children and their carer/s attending .  North Knapdale has established Café Connect each Saturday morning to serve the Achnamara area of their parish. 

This is also well attended and has proved a useful way of transmitting information about the church leading, in turn, to the establishment of ALPHA courses and, from ALPHA, to new church members. Elders in each parish have a district with regular visitations and office bearers and members support a number of charities and initiatives locally, either personally or, in the case of North Knapdale, through identifying causes for prayer.  Elders from Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford organise and administer “The Lunch Bunch,” a monthly lunch club funded by a local benefactor for vulnerable members of the community. Within the wider Christian community, the linked charge is part of the Malawi Twinning Group with Kasamba Church in LiLongwe and recently helped host visitors from Malawi.

Resources – People, Buildings, Money, Time and Talents:  Prior to his departure, Rev Acklam set up a weekly worship group to plan services.  As yet, none of the participants from North Knapdale have become involved in worship leading while Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford have one trained Local Worship Leader who is currently also training for Readership. Both congregations rely on a small, mostly retired, group to oversee all aspects of church life, putting strain on their levels of energy. North Knapdale describe having “only just enough” volunteers for the work they want to do while the office bearers at Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford acknowledge their exhaustion in the wake of moving church. Nevertheless, at Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford they are looking forward to the new opportunities that worshipping under one roof presents and the openings that the building provides to reach out to the community.  They had a positive response locally to the change but are, nevertheless, mindful that the transition will be painful for some and that the move requires sensitive handling.  They have, however, already started to think about how they might retain a presence in Kilmichael Glassary and Ford, to consider how best to develop activities in the new Kilmartin Church, to question how they might link up with Secondary pupils and to think about talking to members absent from the pews about what church means to them.  Similarly, office bearers at North Knapdale are looking at how they can best consolidate what is working for them while planning to engage with the community on how best to proceed in developing a presence in different parts of the parish. Bellanoch, for example, is the most central church in the parish of North Knapdale but it is an unsuitable building for more than Sunday services, creating a challenge in respect of other forms of outreach in the Crinan area.

The church at Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford struggles to break even annually and, although the move to one building will help, fundraising will need to be considered to ensure that the vacated buildings are kept in a reasonable condition until disposed of.  There is sufficient in reserve finance at North Knapdale to fund current work but income is reducing as numbers fall.  It had previously been hoped to remove the pews in Tayvallich Church to allow more varied usage but objections within the congregation meant compromise had to be made with half the pews remaining.   The current plan is for an extension to be added and the Kirk Session are in discussion with the Convenor of the Argyll Presbytery Property Committee about the feasibility of this.

Despite the similarities in respect of the makeup of their respective communities and the collaborative way that they have come together to provide a successful Messy Church, the two parts of the linked charge are very different in outlook and approach.  Nevertheless, there are a number of common challenges:  managing the workload placed on office bearers and volunteers; the future of redundant and perhaps unsuitable buildings; the possibility of a protracted vacancy given the current shortage of ministers; assessing how to best deal with the tensions which arise between members who are uncomfortable with change while simultaneously trying to reach out to those in the community who are detached from the Christian message, perhaps more of an issue in North Knapdale.  However, there also appears to be a sense of vision within the current eldership in both congregations and a willingness to look towards a positive future, with or without current ministerial support.

Action Plan:

Office Bearers and congregations to work, during the vacancy, along with the relevant committees in Presbytery to establish future plans for Ministry in the charge.

To maintain a Christian presence in the Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford parish, engaging with the membership about the meaning of church and considering how best to maintain a physical presence at Kilmichael Glassary and Ford.

Develop and consolidate worship and outreach currently being undertaken by office bearers and congregation in North Knapdale.

Explore other ways to connect with the community throughout the parish of North Knapdale.

Explore the best use of Kilmartin Church in reaching out in new ways to the community.

Consider training and establishment of worship leaders at North Knapdale.

Explore the possibility of Glassary, Kilmartin and Ford engaging with Youth Development Services in Lochgilphead to make a link with teenagers as a follow on to Messy Church.

Re-visit the management of elder’s districts at North Knapdale.

Consider the best use of property, including plan to extend Tayvallich church, the future of Bellanoch Church and maintenance of Inverlussa church until the property is sold.

Maintain Glassary and Ford churches and the redundant Kilmartin church in a suitable condition for sale. 

David’s sermon 6 January 2019

The wise men have been absorbed into the Christmas story as vital elements of the nativity.   Shepherds, donkeys, sheep, Mary and Joseph, Jesus in a manger – and the wise men.

Can’t have a Nativity without them – although they only appear in Matthew’s account of Jesus life – they don’t get a mention anywhere else.    

Ok but where is the epiphany?   Where is the light bulb moment?

Lets look at this:

Wise men from the east – not from the so called civilised worlds of greek and roman west – but from the mysterious east – home of a thousand strange gods and beliefs – remember this is the middle east before Islam.    The beliefs of the east – of Assyria and Persia, Babylon, and further on –  paid a great deal of attention to the stars – to astrology – and the study of the sky’s movements to predict events.    And something strange had been seen by some – a new star, or a moving star or a new comet – or whatever had appeared and their studies and beliefs indicated powerful forces at work – a new king being brought forth in Judea.

Now, remember the Shepherds  – they experienced the outpouring of joy in heaven as they saw and heard the angels praising God at Jesus birth rejoicing in heaven, – 

but I suggest that the wise men were guided by darker forces equally aware of the significance of Jesus birth and equally in awe of this event – and very anxious to know what the God of Israel was up to.   I think that the wise men were actually at the centre of a power struggle between good and evil.  Between our God, father of Jesus Christ, and what Paul calls the “principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”     The birth of Jesus did not only raise praise and worship from the angels, this also raised concerns and uncertainties amongst the darker forces of our world.

Where did the wise men led to for assistance  – to the centre of power and the root of all wickedness in those days in Judea – the court of Herod – a corrupt and thoroughly evil ruler – and what did he do  – he tried to trick them.   

Think for a moment  – they had a star to follow why need to ask the way?    Why involve one of the cruellest and most corrupt leaders in the region.   This was principalities and powers at work trying to find out what is going on do you think?

But these were wise men, who knew their business, had studied the stars, knew their purpose and held on to their goal  – to take gifts and to honour the new king, wherever they found him.  So they did. 

And they had an epiphany – they recognised in a dream, that Herod was not to be trusted, that they should not help him –  and so returned home another way – they had a light bulb moment – and rejected pull of the dark power of evil and struck for home having achieved their ambition.   

The wise men were at the interface between the God of love sending Jesus to save his world, and the forces of evil intent on destroying his world.   While the angels were singing Glory to God – and Jesus is born as Immanuel, the forces of evil were seeing in the night skies a portent that something amazing was happening – they needed to know what and how and they wanted to stop it – how – get Herod to kill this child.   What would have happened if the wise men had not had their epiphany and they had returned to Herod  – we hear how he later killed hundreds of children – he would certainly have killed Jesus.

But the wise men were not distracted,  – they followed their learning, their own understanding of the star, and they went and worshipped the Christ Child – and gave the gifts they had prepared. 

Matthew introduces the wise men to demonstrate that the birth of Jesus was an event of enormous importance across the whole spectrum of the supernatural world.   It was hailed by the God of Abraham and the angels but also stirred up levels of interest and opposition amongst the forces of evil.    This child in Bethlehem was causing great upsets in the heavenly realms of both God and the devil.   

Now it is not fashionable at the moment to talk about the devil – the personification of evil, but there is an undercurrent throughout the bible demonstrating the forces of evil, and Jesus himself is tempted in the desert by an individual identified as the devil.   Paul, writes to the Ephesians – 

“..put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”.

The great thing is that – Jesus sent the devil away with a flea in his ear, and Paul tells to be strong and put on the armour of God.

The devil is not to be feared, but to be cast aside as a defeated force.

CS Lewis, the writer of many books on the Christian faith, including  the Narnia stories tells us – 

The devil has two main ways of distracting Christians from their journey of faith:

He either persuades them that he does not exist – and so they don’t realise they are being led astray – 

Or he persuades them that he is behind everything that goes wrong – that he has much more influence than he actually has.

Either way the Christian is diverted away from his or her proper life – either dismissing the devil as fiction, or by attributing every little set back to him.  Neither is a healthy response.   We need to be aware of the devil as an entity, but not let him have influence in our lives.

The Lord’s prayer sums this up – “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the Glory” – He is in charge.

To the Ephesians, Paul says –  :

“Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand…..

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”

This is where prayer becomes so much a part of our Christian journey – our faith, our lives.   Prayer is where we break beyond our material surroundings and are asked to influence that conflict between good and evil, between our Father in Heaven, and the frantic attempts by satan to upset His Kingdom.   When we pray we are speaking into that conflict and asking that God’s will be done – here and now, here on earth, as in heaven.  

We have drifted a bit away from the wise men’s visit, but I spoke earlier about – how do we want our church to look by the end of 2019?     Well, we are part of God’s Kingdom – North Knapdale is important to Him, and we, His people are important to him – 

So as we pray for the year ahead, as we ask for guidance for our church, as we ask for ideas and vision for our lives together to serve this area – then let us be aware that our prayers are part are not a fuzzy wish list – but our prayers speak our desires for the advancement of God’s kingdom here, and are our contribution to undermining all the attempts of the evil one to hamper the building up of the church.  

Prayer is our super weapon to confuse and defeat those principalities and powers. 

Jesus said – “….I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” .

So – the visit of the wise men shows that we are part of a much bigger conflict than we can easily understand – the conflict between good and evil, between our God of love and the destructive attempts of the devil, the evil one.   But we are not pawns in this conflict – we are active participants – we are church within God’s kingdom – and our prayers to see this church built up by Jesus Christ are effective instruments for good.

So how do we see our church in 2019.   What should we be doing – what is our mission and purpose.   Let’s think on these things – and pray that God’s will be done here in 2019 – as it is in heaven.

Amen

Robert’s sermon from 30 Dec 2018

The Wonder and Relevance of the Incarnation to us in 2019

For a minority in our country the answer to such a question is simple:

Jesus Christ!  

Not according to Mark’s & Spencer’s, along with other major retail outlets who would have us believe that what will make our festive season magical – ranges from gourmet food and drink to exquisite lingerie.  With all the professionalism, passion and subliminal subtlety of advertising so many buy into that. No doubt paying for it in January and for the remainder of the year – until it all comes around again! Do you believe that?  Sadly some do!

Many have bought into the seasonal sentimentality.  Rather than standing in awe of the incarnation people have come to admire and embrace the material and not the maker of all things.  The One “from whom comes every good and perfect gift.” In the mind of so many children it is not: “thank you for Jesus” but for “my computer, iPad, mobile, bicycle etc.”  For many of us as adults it’s become time not so much to worship and exclaim: “love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.” Rather, it’s to fuss about searching for the right kind of holiday, securing the right kind of outfit for the partying, supplying enough food and drink to really ‘chill’ and about setting as sacrosanct the times of television programmes to be viewed.

According to Philip Pullman, author, it’s about “family, mostly.Children, grandchildren and presents and food and drink.” A C jGrayling, philosopher, says: “In my grumpy moods, Christmas means a never-long, overeating social week of interruption to the business of life; in my more laid-back moments it means a way of lightening the darkest days of Winter…” A recent article in The Huffpost that interviewed 15 notable atheists carried a similar comment even though some still enjoyed the story and regarded it as that – a story! This is no new phenomenon.  Paul saw this problem in his time and argued it was why men would be without excuse in the judgement. “Professing to be wise they became fools…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

[Rom.1:23-25]

Coming back to simple basics: what makes Christmas magical, enthralling, enchanting to use the words of the advertisers?  The answers are very special!

[1]  A moment in history is reached – “when in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son…”  Messiah, God’s promise, has arrived in all the mystery and majesty of the moment.  A moment at which the Son of God, who existed eternally with the Father as “the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature” took on human nature and became man.  A moment arrived when in the baby/man named Jesus “all the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell.” All the chronology of the OT that spoke of this moment is fulfilled.

[2]  A mission in human history is commenced!  The one who was rich but for our sakes had become poor was so aware that his coming will see him sink even lower than a feeding trough in Bethlehem.  It will see him led to a cursed death upon a Roman cross; a cross on which he will bear away in his own body our sins. Little wonder his name was to be Jesus: “for he will save his people from their sins.”  Principal Macleod puts it movingly: “what did the angels think of it all? One day they blinked in astonishment as they saw their great creator in a manger in Bethlehem. They must have found the spectacle incomprehensible.  Then as the days and years moved on they saw a drama unfolded which must have overloaded every circuit in their computers…Gethsemane…his suffering…his Father forsaking him…The God whose whole impulse was to take away the tears from the eyes of his people not washing the tears of his own Son!  The angels must have been saying, ‘will it never, never end?’ The words of the hymn capture the challenge of it all to our minds: “and when I think that God his Son not sparing, gave him to die, I scarce can take it in.”

[3]  A message to the world in all ages is proclaimed!  Do not misunderstand me.  There is not a lot wrong with so much of what we enjoy around the festive season.  I’m sure you and I love this time of year as much as the next person. My only caution is to have the question asked: is it Jesus who really makes it magical?  His coming was to mark the beginning of a much needed message of hope.  It was indeed good news to all people.  Of hope because he had come to serve and give his life a ransom.  Of hope for in Him and through Him multitudes without God and without hope might discover it.  He came to touch a very human longing! He will communicate the truth that He is the only one who can fill our lives with all that is needful and meaningful for time and eternity.  He still speaks to us who so often are duped and blinded: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life…I am come that you might have life and life that is abundant.”  It is Jesus who offers that and not our reputed national retail outlets.  Trust Jesus!  Trust him. Trust him with your life.

[4]  A power for the miraculous is unleashed!  Long ago it was asked whether anything good could come out of Nazareth?  The answer then and nows remains the same: “come and see!”  E.g   Shepherds stirred and shaken went to see…  Wise men came and saw…Woman at well – ¨come see a man who told me…  With Jesus, from the beginning, this was to be the potential – sick healed, marginalized dignified, ignorant taught, lives transformed, addicted liberated, embittered infused with joy, shamed forgiven, marriages restored, orphans embraced, persecuted for Christ’s sake given grace and the Church despite the odds of survival – growing: “the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.”  This is our key to survival in Argyll letting this message unashamedly go out.

Message that continues to carry power and potential – ¨There is power wonder working power in the precious blood of the lamb¨  Do you know that Jesus is still sharing this power?  He is still transforming, forgiving and dignifying humanity.  He continues to offer what our retailers cannot: life even life that will never end.