David’s talks from 17 March

Changing Church

So we now have a new Interim Moderator.  Alison Hay has at least 15 parishes to administer as IM.  The Church of Scotland is changing as society and culture has changed around it over the last 50 years.    The drift of society into secularism has finally caught up with the church in Argyll.  There are no longer enough ministers for the existing structure of parishes to continue.  In Scotland there are currently 300 vacant churches and this year 30 ministers will be ordained.   In Argyll by the end of this year three quarters of churches will not have a minister.    Next month, after Ken Ross leaves Netherlorn there will be no minister between Lochgilphead and Oban, nor between Ardrishaig and Saddel and Southend – Inveraray will be vacant from June. 

So this could be a difficult time for us as we adapt to our new situation of being a church without a dedicated minister – but also an exciting and challenging time as we work together here – to continue to be a community of faith who want to share worship, spread God’s love, and follow Jesus,  – with one another and with our local communities.

We have started to recognise the value and encouragement we gain, as people from our own congregation help us in worship, sharing experiences, and in prayer.    We have valuable support from others such as Robert Macleod and Jenni, who will continue to encourage and grow our faith.

We are a congregation who are intent on following Jesus and caring for one another and our communities.  We will lose this building (Inverlussa) very soon – so let’s think about what can we do to continue to bring God’s love and celebration in worship to this community?

We are holding our congregational meeting – our ASM on the 7th April, and I hope we can have a good discussion on this then.   We will also be asked by Presbytery soon to draft a  forward plan for the Parish – looking ahead 10 to 20 years.   We need to start thinking and praying about how we see the church operating in 20 years!    That is a bit like planting saplings to grow to a mature forest –  after many of us will have all moved on to our new life with Jesus.   

Lots to think about, discuss together, chat and contemplate – imagine and dream – and above all pray about.

Talking of prayer – last week Catherine led us in a prayer for reconciliation of families – and 

She was told during the week that a son phoned his mother (they’ve not spoken for years) on Sunday afternoon and spent nearly 2 hours talking to each other. Also, another person has asked for prayer that two sons who have not spoken to each other in years might come together for a family celebration.

Our God is a great God who wants answer our prayers – and so we pray this healing will continue.

We have lots to pray about and lots to celebrate and be thankful for – so lets go on in our journey together.

What will God say to us today?

What can God possibly have to say to us today – from this reading from Genesis?   Abraham complaining he does not have a son and then the vision of Abraham with animals being cut up and left out in the field. The bible is fascinating but sometimes it just seems to be out of touch with us here and now.   So much which just does not connect with our day and age, our culture and way of doing things.

Here we have a story of the father of the nation of Israel – Abraham – having a vision and then going and getting together – a three year old heifer, a three year old goat, a three year old ram – these were pretty big animals, a dove and a pigeon.

And then to slaughter them, cut the big animals in half, and place them all in a row – halves opposite halves – and he kept watch over them and chased the vultures away.    Why???

Abraham had been talking to God – and saying, look God I am following your directions and you have given me great blessings – but I have no offspring – I don’t have an heir – really what is the point in all this following you, what is the point in you blessing me if there is no one coming after me to inherit this?

And God gives this amazing promise to him – You will have a son, you will have descendants, in fact come outside and look up at the stars – you are going to have as many descendants as there are stars up there – more than you can count.   

And the crucial bit of the story is – Abraham believed God.   

A childless man, getting on in years, being told his descendants would outnumber the stars!

What would we have said – “Aye Right!”   – tell me another.    

I think we often miss God’s guidance because His words, his promises just seem too big, and too unlikely, so we dismiss them.   God created the whole universe – and more and more beyond our imagination – why do we doubt or limit what we think He can do?   Did Mother Theresa decide that Calcutta was just too big for her to minister to the sick and dying?   Did Jackie Pullinger decide that the Forbidden city in Hongkong was too riddled with vice and drug abuse for her to follow God’s leading there?    No, they embraced the fact that God is big enough to cope!  

What is he saying to us about North Knapdale?   Let’s be careful not to limit our plans to what we think is possible?   What are our dreams for North Knapdale?   Why not plan to have a growing church which people from our community all come to hear the Gospel of Christ – to celebrate that life has meaning and purpose and they are loved and valued.    Why not have a vision that North Knapdale is a centre for sending missionaries out to other places to spread the gospel?    Why should North Knapdale not be a place where people come from all over to see a church alive and thriving in the West Coast of Scotland.  

If God can give a childless old man a vision of descendants like stars –  we should be going outside at night  and crying out – what is your promise for us today God.    Open our minds to what God can do – let us not be limited to what we think we might manage.   Open our minds to what God can do –

So, returning to the dead animals.    Abraham says to God, –  Ok I believe you but give me a bit more assurance.   Now this whole slaughtered animal thing might seem grotesque to us today – but to Abraham this was normal.   In that area 4,000 years or so ago – if you were making a solemn promise or oath to another person then this is what you did. – you slaughtered one of your herd, cut it in two, and you walked between the halves to confirm that the oath was sealed with the blood of the animal.    God was talking to Abraham in a way which was culturally normal, like us shaking hands, or signing a contract, or posting it on Facebook – and so actually, this was an understandable and easily acceptable confirmation to him.   

 God showed Abraham, in a way he easily understood, that His promise of being the father of a nation was absolutely complete and trustworthy.

Now, if you have a dream or a vision where you believe that God is telling you to go and cut up animals – then I would be a bit wary of taking that as being clear guidance from God. – because,   why would God speak to us in ways which were relevant to a place thousands of miles away and a culture of thousands of years ago.   No, I believe that God does guide us, and give us ideas, and gives us vision for the future – but He will give us those in ways that are relevant and culturally normal to us today, here.

If you think of other times in the bible when God gives vision or guidance:

Moses and the burning bush – now, I understand that in that area of desert where Moses was, burning bushes are not unusual – because of the temperature and the lack of moisture – shepherds out there would not be phased by a burning bush.   What got Moses attention was the fact it did not burn out – God got Moses attention by a normal event which was intriguing – and then he could speak to him.   God’s visions for Elisha and Elijah are full of chariots and soldiers – normal sights at that time, Daniel sees huge statues of Kings – standard decoration for Babylon at that time.   

Jesus takes visual aids from his surroundings – farming and fishing,   Peter is shown a range of food – kosher and non-kosher, you see what I mean?   Biblically God guides his people with contemporary and normal things around them.   We should really try to be alert to pick up what God has to say to us today, in our culture, and what is normal for us.   Don’t be dismissive of coincidence – seeing the same words or phrases in different places, having the same topics coming up in conversation or on TV programmes – is God trying to get your attention? – not with a dead cow, or a burning bush – but with a phrase in a book, a verse in the bible, a conversation with a friend – or maybe even a dream or an imagined event.

Pete Greig, who started the 24-7 prayer events across the world, as a young student was praying and imagined he was surrounded by a host of hundreds of other young men and women – normal looking young adults,  – and he held on to this vision as encouragement as he saw the wee prayer group he started in Chichester spread across England, Britain and the world with thousands of young people getting together to pray and serve others to show God’s love.   I wonder if he had seen a vision of Roman soldiers, or Celtic saints, or the statues of Babylon, if he would have given it any credence in the same way.   But God showed him normal up to date people and backed it up in conversations, other events, and bible readings

We here are God’s church, in North Knapdale – what is our vision for this year, for the next ten years, twenty years?

I think we each one of us need to consider our lives to discover our own purposes and objectives as we gather here as His people.    Why are we here, what are our expectations, what are our needs, what can we give, how can we serve,  what do we think our church should look like?      We really need guidance for our future – let’s ask God and expect answers!    Lets ask God to speak to us – and lets talk to each other about what we hear.

Sometimes, as a church we can feel childless – like Abraham, we are getting on in years and who will be our heirs?    Let’s ask God if He will show us the stars – show us what He has for us – and then let us have the faith of Abraham to believe in the promises He gives us. 

Amen.


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