Reflections for Sunday 5th April 2020
Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (Thessalonians 5:16-18)
The following New Testament reading forms part of Paul’s concluding remarks to the church in Philippi, now part of modern Turkey. It reads as follows:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! …The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.....
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength....
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I’ve always found this passage hugely challenging, yet immensely encouraging. All of us face issues of various kinds, COVID 19 included. Yet, without ignoring any of them or brushing anything under the carpet, Paul encourages us to focus our attention entirely upon Christ.
The Lord is near. Tell him what you need. His peace will guard you through everything. You may rest content he will provide and give you strength for every situation. But there’s a secret to peace and contentment. And that’s thanksgiving!
Problems have a way of sucking us in and absorbing all our energies. Worries and anxieties easily become all-consuming, The challenge therefore is to tear our attention away from them and, consciously and deliberately, reorientate our outlook in thanksgiving and faith. It’s a message which lies at the very heart of the Gospel. It was central to Jesus’ preaching. “Repent”, he said, “and believe the good news”.
Tragically, the common understanding of repentance is associated with ideas of remorse and regret. But this distorts the key thrust of what is meant. Repentance properly refers to a change of perspective (mind and purpose) in light of something better. The emphasis, therefore, is always on what or who we turn towards, rather than on what we turn from. It’s about a renewal of our outlook and attitude in light of God’s grace.
This takes time. It’s something we learn. And it’s a thing we get better at, the more we do it. As each new situation arises we often have to go back to basics and do it afresh – especially when we’re confronted by something we haven’t faced before.
Thanksgiving is key to this process. And, sadly, it’s easy to forget. Yet, when we do it, God’s peace comes. Thanksgiving turns our attention to what we have, who we have, and who is ‘for us’ in the midst of things. It turns the focus to Christ and his faithfulness. Our problems and fears are then put into proper perspective. The difficulties are still there but they are now placed in the much wider context of God’s goodness.
The result is peace. And this in turn opens the way to receive his strength, his wisdom and his comfort.
To summarise the passage: Paul began by reminding us that God is near. He then encourages us to present our requests in the context of thanksgiving – assuring us the peace of God will break through. This is followed by an instruction about how that peace is maintained – by filling our minds with positive things and putting into practice what we have learned. He then continues with a note from his own experience. He has learned the secret of contentment. He has discovered fresh strength for all he has had to do. This same God, he concludes, will meet all your needs too.
I finish with some words from a doctor in India:
Social distancing is a privilege – it means you live in a home large enough to practice it.
Hand washing is a privilege too – it means you have access to running water.
Hand sanitisers are a privilege – they mean you have money to buy them.
Lockdowns are a privilege – they mean you can afford to live with a roof over your head.
Most of the ways to ward off the coronavirus are available only to the affluent.
In essence, a disease which was spread by the rich as they flew around the globe, will now take its toll on the poor.
We have much to be thankful for and much to pray about – and not only for ourselves.
The peace of Christ be with you all
All-age Message – Sunday 5th April 2020
The King is Coming
Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-11
I wonder what you do when you’re excited? Maybe you’ve been waiting for something good to happen. Perhaps like looking forward to going somewhere special or counting the days ‘til it’s your birthday. Then at last it comes. Some folk sing or jump up and down with excitement.
People can be like that too when someone important comes to town. The crowds line the streets, cheering and waving. It was a day like that when Jesus came to Jerusalem, the capital city in Israel. People were cheering. Many were singing and shouting. Others took big branches from palm trees and started waving them. Some even spread their coats on the ground for him to walk on. This was a special day. Jesus was the king that God had promised them.
Crowds of people were in the city. They’d come from all over the world for an important holiday called the Passover. When they’d got there they’d been told the story we thought about last Sunday. If you remember, Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died and Jesus had brought him back to life. This had happened just a few weeks before. But now Jesus had come back to stay with Lazarus, who lived nearby, just outside the city. Many people wanted to meet him and to see Lazarus for themselves. (John 12:9,17,18)
Jesus spent the night at his house. Then, in the morning, his friends got a donkey for him to ride on. Lots of people went with him as he rode towards Jerusalem. When the people in the city heard he was on the way, even more went out to welcome him. The crowds around him sang and the crowds coming to meet him sang too.
When the two groups met up, they all joined together. Some walked in front and others walked behind him. Everyone was going wild with excitement. This was their king. The whole city was thrown into uproar when he got there. (Matthew 21:10)
Now you’d think Jesus would have been wonderfully happy. But it wasn’t all joy and laughter.
Jesus knew, despite all the noise and the fun, there was trouble coming. And the people weren’t ready. Yes, it was a day of great excitement. He really was their king. They were shouting, ‘Hosanna’, which means, ‘save us’ or ‘save us now’. They expected him to take charge and rescue them from the Romans who had conquered them. But they didn’t realise they needed to get their hearts right with God. So, in the middle of it all, he started crying. Big tears and loud sobs. “If only you knew what is needed for peace”, he wept, “but you cannot see it now”. (Luke 19:21-24).
Not everyone was pleased to see Jesus either. His enemies didn’t like him and they didn’t want to hear what he had to say about God. So, when they saw the crowds cheering him on, they were angry and plotted to kill him. In fact, they plotted to get rid of Lazarus too. It was because of that miracle, when Jesus brought him back to life, that people were putting their trust in him. (John 12:10)
It was to be the first day of an incredible week. A week that would see Jesus cheered, then betrayed, arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified. But as that week came to an end, another week began just as this one did... with a celebration.
A celebration which would change things forever.
Some Palm Sunday activity sheets for younger children are available here. (Activity Sheets Copyright © 2001 - 2020. Sermon4Kids Used with permission)
Update - 27 March 2020
Sundays at 10am
Although we are unable to meet for regular worship at the moment, we invite everyone to pray together, each in their own homes, at 10am each Sunday.
[Please pray at another time if that suits better]
Reflections for Sunday 29th March 2020
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6,7)
Today’s reading comes from the New Testament – a short passage at the end of a letter from Peter, one of the prominent leaders in the early church. The whole section (1 Peter 5:7-11) reads:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Earlier this week Newsnight interviewed Italian physicist and bestselling author, Carlo Rovelli – lauded by Stephen Hawking and numerous others, and as much a philosopher and poet as he is a scientist. Speaking amidst the crisis in Italy he said, “This will be a very humbling experience for humanity as a whole. We are not the master of everything. We have to deal with nature; we have to listen to people who say there is a threat coming... Humbly and accepting our weakness we will come out of it”.
Peter also writes amidst threats and suffering. Although, in his context, it’s mainly persecution he has in mind. Quoting from Psalm 55:22, he encourages his readers to cast their burdens and concerns upon God. These are strong sentiments. The word used for anxiety, concerns or worries literally means: those things which fracture or divide a person’s being into fragments, as the various pieces are pulled in differing directions. It’s a graphic picture of the turmoil trials may bring us.
The word used for ‘casting’ these things upon God is equally so. It means to hurl or fling – a complete disposal, vigorously thrown – of everything in all their fragmented totality upon him. And why? Because God cares. Because (Psalm 55) ‘he will sustain you’. And because (v6) he wishes to ‘lift you up in due time’.
To do this requires humility – a complete letting go of things, where everything is put entirely into his hands. Not just because God opposes all human pride but because it is key to experiencing his favour and deliverance. When Peter speaks of a surrender to his ‘mighty hand’, he uses a turn of phrase used consistently in the Bible in the context of salvation. It was with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm that he rescued his people from their enemies (e.g. Exodus 13:9, Deuteronomy 3:24 & 9:26). It speaks of his mighty and enthusiastic intervention in human affairs ‘with his sleeves rolled up’.
It takes humility to submit to his salvation. This is because it is his work and not ours. Later in our passage (v10) Peter tells of how “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ... will himself restore you and make you strong...” The word ‘himself’ is stressed and emphatic. It is something he does, not us. “To him be the power for ever and ever.” (v11)
Humility belongs to truth and it emerges in us as an attitude of the heart and with an internal, trusting disposition – yet it’s something expressed practically and in the way we conduct ourselves. In making our own personal surrender, we simply speak honestly and from our hearts, recognising we are dependent creatures, reliant upon his mercy and that he is our loving and eternal Father. Sometimes people choose to express that physically in their posture, sitting head bowed or standing, eyes lifted to the heavens, or with hands stretched out before him. Some choose to kneel. Others may lie prostrate. We find all these expressions in the Bible and amongst the saints of old. But, whatever we do, we do it in gratitude for his rich and undeserved kindness in Jesus.
And so as Christians we pray, speaking directly through Christ with the Lord of all – the source of all life and practical wisdom – confident in his loving concern. We seek mercy and deliverance for ourselves and our nation. We call upon him in humility, recognising it is his grace, and his grace alone, which sustains us. Called into his glory in Christ, we yield beneath his mighty hand and cast all cares upon him. And in so doing we find he lifts us up. Thank you, Lord!
The peace of Christ be with you all
All-age Message for Sunday 29th March 2020
When tears turned to joy
“Jesus wept” John 11:35
I wonder what makes you cry? We all do, although some of us find it harder than others to let the tears roll down.
We can cry when we have an accident and it’s sore. We can cry when our feelings are hurt. Perhaps someone has been mean and unkind to us. Maybe we’ve felt alone or afraid. Or we’ve felt embarrassed after doing something silly. Sometimes it’s because we’re disappointed or feeling let down. Things haven’t happened the way we’d hoped.
We can cry too when sad things happen. If things go wrong for someone we love, or we see them upset and hurting, we can feel sad too. They cry and we feel like crying as well.
Some of us can cry watching films. Somehow it touches our hearts and we feel all emotional. But that’s not always because it’s sad. Sometimes it’s over something good – tears of joy or relief. Maybe something wonderful has happened and it moves us.
The Bible tells us that Jesus cried. In fact, the shortest verse in the whole Bible says, “Jesus wept”.
We’re told he cried sometimes when he prayed. It says, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings with loud cries and tears”. (Hebrews 5:7)
We’re told he cried when he saw others missing out on what God wanted for them. When he came into Jerusalem on a donkey, he saw the city and cried for its people. Despite all God’s love for them, they were determined to do their own thing. And, as a result, big troubles were coming. It says he wept loudly for them saying, “I wish even today you would find the way of peace but you just can’t see it”. (Luke 19:41,42)
Just a little while before that story, the Bible tells of another time when his friends were sad and hurting. (John 11:1-44) There were three in the family. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Unfortunately, Lazarus became very sick. His sisters sent someone to get Jesus, who was a long way away. But by the time Jesus got there, Lazarus had already died a few days before. Everyone was crying and when he saw how sad they were, Jesus wept too.
But that isn't all that happened. Jesus went with Mary and Martha to visit the tomb where they’d put Lazarus’ body. It was a cave with a large stone across the entrance. When they got there, Jesus told some of the men to take away the stone. Then Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" And to everyone’s surprise, Lazarus walked out of the tomb. Their tears of sadness had turned to joy.
In the book of Psalms, David asked God to collect his tears in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8) He understood that God sees our tears. He hears us when we cry and he cares when we’re sad and upset.
We all cry, and we can be glad we have a Saviour who cries too. In his love he hurts when we are hurting. He feels our pain and shares our tears. But that’s not all. The Bible tells us there will come a day when everything is changed and all things are made new. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more and neither will there be any sadness, crying or pain”. (Revelation 21:4) It’s a day we look forward to.
Some activity sheets for younger children are available here. (Activity Sheets Copyright © 2001 - 2020. Sermon4Kids Used with permission)
Prayers for the nation
Churches across the country called Sunday 22nd March as a National Day of Prayer. Premier Christian Radio recorded a number of prayers from church leaders and put them together in one podcast. Although the date has now passed, the prayers are still pertinent. To listen in and pray along with them, click here.
Ormiston Parish Church has been approved to qualify for the Co-op Local Community Fund to help raise money to improve the appearance of the Church Car Park
Members can support this cause by joining the scheme and selecting Ormiston Parish Church as their preferred local charity.
More information is available at the Co-op website below: