I suppose this is me “reporting diligence”! I love the story, told me by the late Rev Isobel Brain, generous, gracious servant of Christ, and a wonderful raconteuse, of the Glasgow Elder who loved attending General Assemblies, back in the day when you could pick up spare commissions from far-flung presbyteries simply by writing to the Clerk and asking were there vacancies. One year, he picked up a commission from the Presbytery of Sutherland, and off he went to have a rerr terr to himself for a week at our Supreme Court. And a few weeks later came the letter, telling him that he was expected to report diligence – to said Presbytery of Sutherland, which in those days was a much more formidable excursion than it is now! This seems to have taken the gloss off that year’s Assembly for him…
Diligence is the thing! Application to the work of the week. Or weekend…
There are (were!) the other things that positively reinforce the life of the Church: meeting friends, and making new ones, from congregations far away; memorable conversations which show us how much we have in common, how similar the challenges are that we face – and how diverse and imaginative others’ responses can be; informal discussions which then feed into formal debate and decisions; fringe events which reinforce networking. And of course, there are the bookstalls, and the clerical outfitters. “Seventeen pounds for preaching bands? I only paid 85p for my last set!!” “When was that, sir?” “Well, 1982…”
For those of us who took part in it as old hands at weeks on the Mound, this year’s Assembly was both much less and much more than its predecessors. It was less, because the pattern had been stripped bare of things that had been rich and reinforcing experiences, but it was more, and for the same reasons.
Pride is a terrible thing – but it’s still gratifying to hear people from other presbyteries talk about having to embrace things that Argyll has been practising for quite a while now! It’s not easy to challenge us on forward-thinking! Yet a challenge – Christ’s challenge – has been articulated to us this year. We know that our task now is to embrace that. Inevitably, perhaps, my thoughts this week moved to the place in Scripture where Jesus comes closest to saying these very words: “You can’t stay here. Come with me.” I haven’t signed off this way for a while, but…
Yours in the Adventure of Christ!
In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.
Let us pray:
We commend our General Assembly to you
as work done in Christ’s name –
but also as symbol of these last months of learning
how to be the Church anew.
We ask, as this Presbytery of your Church –
help us to embrace these lessons,
and be braced to the task you have set before us.
Lord, we confess it!
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,
as optionlessness, as powerlessness,
the wrong place, the wrong time:
there may be a better time,
not now, maybe next time…
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,
even when it isn’t all that comfortable,
even when it is no more than familiarity,
and trepidation before the unfamiliar option
we fear to take.
We know and trust that you know this about us,
even when we can’t understand it in ourselves.
We languish, if we do not hear your voice:
“Do you want to be healed?”
We need you to invite us to our feet.
We need to hear you say
“Come with me…”
Help us to contemplate the courage in that story;
thirty-eight years amid the colonnades, the five Mosaic porticoes,
in splendid despair,
sustained by the hope, offered by the occasional flurry,
unrealized yet again;
a life familiar, well-understood, by the poolside –
when a figure offers the terrifying thrill of an invitation
and the invitation is accepted.
We have seen your General Assembly prised this year
- out of beloved tradition,
- out of commodious time-frame,
- out of the reassurance of tradition;
and as with congregations, and Presbyteries,
accepting your invitation to follow you
out of the familiar,
through this, whatever it is –
and into whatever comes next.
We look at our shared journey, Lord,
through the last months, to here –
the adaptations and experiments –
and we smile!
It didn’t seem to need much courage,
for we didn’t have much choice!
In the strength you give, we did what we had to –
what the times demanded.
Yet the times still demand.
The realities with which we wrestled have not gone away;
they still press on us,
and we may be tempted to imagine
that we have choices that we do not.
Take us back to that poolside,
where salvation came, and said
“Do you really want what I offer?”
Let us reflect, now, on salvation’s demand,
And on Christ’s invitation, and all that is implicit in it:
“In here is existence – enough, for now,
but not life in its fullness.
The life to which I call you is out there –
shorn of this comfort and security,
these familiar patterns.
Come out from what has been familiar!
Leave, with me.”
Let us hear your Assembly’s challenge
to embrace the thrill –
even in its discomfort –
of rising at Christ’s call,
and leaving our comfortable colonnades – whatever they are.
Let us gently, pastorally,
but with the urgency of those who know the truth of it,
transmit to our congregations and their people
Jesus’ own challenge:
“You can’t stay here…”
For we are all his pilgrim people,
his disciples, following him through the world –
the real world;
through time, and space, and history,
and through our present, difficult moment.
We can’t stay here.
Life is out there.
Life is with him, and in him.
Make us sensitive to whom
all of this seems like loss and grief,
whose anxiety issues in fear, and anger.
Show us our own anxiety and grief –
which, so often we deny –
at losing and leaving things we have loved
Fill our urging, our inviting-forward
and, when we must take them, our difficult decisions
with compassion and love.
Remind us of the courage it takes
to arise, after decades, a lifetime, amid the familiar,
and follow Jesus out of security
Take us back to that poolside, in imagination and prayer,
and remind us that the source of that courage is not within us.
Remind us that it derives from our trust and faith
In the one who asks “Do you want to be healed?”
Hear our prayer now, as this virtual congregation which your Presbytery is, in this act of worship, for those whose needs we know, or can intuit, or may have missed – where you have not:
And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…