Call to Prayer Sunday 28th June 2020

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The experience of these last three months is one that will remain with us for the rest of our days. We will look back and reflect on the significance of it and undoubtedly we shall ask many questions. Integral to that experience for many has been the physical separation between ourselves and our family and those whom we care for. This physical distancing has been necessary in the face of the risks posed by Covid 19. As we see the easing of the restrictions on Lockdown, we begin to reconnect and rediscover what it is to welcome one another and to give and receive in a social context.

Welcoming, giving and receiving are integral to human experience and reflect something of what it is to be made in the image of God. In Matthew’s Gospel (10: 40-42), Jesus reflects upon this and points to the truth that in welcoming one another we potentially welcome the presence of God. In our welcoming of one another, let us renew the relationships that shape our social community and our communion with the living presence of God. We pray:

Living God, the God who creates,
You have made us in your image
That, in our giving and receiving,
We might better reflect your image.
For this gift we praise and thank you.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Living God, the God who gives,
Your gift to the world
Is revealed in your Son,
The image of the invisible God.
For the renewing presence of your Son, we praise and thank you.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Living God, the God who renews,
You call us to renew our relationships with one another
That, in so doing,
We might renew our relationship with you.
For the welcome you offer in renewal, we praise and thank you.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Living God, the God who welcomes,
You welcome us when we return to you
Weary and heavy laden.
Receive us as we are and forgive us when we stumble.
For the love we experience as we are welcomed, we praise and thank you.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Living God, the God who loves,
You offer us good gifts
And invite us to receive them.
In response, we offer our lives and all that we are.
For the sure promise of your love, we praise and thank you.

Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Signed by:

  • Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  • Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  • Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  • Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  • Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  • Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  • Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)
  • Rev Fred Drummond, Director, Evangelical Alliance (Scotland)

 

Slavery, statues, and choices

Genesis 21:8-21; Matthew 10:24-39

Should we pull down the statue of Christ the redeemer in Rio because Jesus doesn’t condemn slavery?

There is a lot in our bible passages but the references to slavery seem to particularly stand out in light of recent events. The passages don’t make for comfortable reading. The casual way in which Hagar and her child are disposed of and the reference by Jesus in the gospel about the slave not being above the master is clearly not a refutation of slavery. Indeed, such passages have been used over the centuries to justify slavery by those claiming to be part of the Christian community. If nothing else, this reminds us of our capacity as human beings to deceive and justify ourselves.

Statues are less important than what they represent and the statue of Edward Colston, pulled down in Bristol, represented something vile, the buying and selling of people for huge profit. It should have been pulled down years ago as many people in Bristol had long campaigned for. The world changes and we adapt as we go along. At a different level the people of Glasgow learnt how to deal with pompous statues years back by simply placing a road cone on the Duke of Wellington. Was this an act of vandalism or perhaps something that has transformed the way people look at things? Such transformations are to be welcomed. And to be clear it would be foolish, an act of huge vandalism and a waste of money to pull down the statue of Christ the redeemer (even if it is questionable whether Jesus would have ever wanted such a thing).

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear it is obvious from the gospels where Jesus stood in the context of his time. He stands alongside those who are on the outside, who are judged and oppressed by those with power and control. And just as Jesus didn’t challenge the system of slavery of his day, nor does he set out to Rome to challenge the political authority there. In the gospel of Matthew we see Jesus among his own – ‘the lost sheep of Israel’, challenging and asking questions.

Jesus is, as the hymn has it, ‘working his purpose out’. Here we see him in uncompromising mood. He is making it abundantly clear that all have to make a basic choice. A choice that shapes everything else in life. A choice Jesus makes which costs him dear. What is the lens through which we will look? Family, life, relationships, the world are all viewed through are basic beliefs and understandings. What are the foundations on which we base our decisions, our choices? Jesus urges us to choose positively.

Jesus also makes it clear this is not going to be easy. It will be divisive standing up to authority and power. Jesus not only says this in the passage but shows in his ministry, and pays for it with his life. Our choices really matter! In this context today we say Black lives matter, climate change matters, the injustice of systems that treat others as less important matters and are a focus for the church going forward.

As we look at the next steps, what it means to be Methodists, to be church, are we rooting gospel values at the heart of who we are and what we do. Like me, if you don’t know your Bible off by heart, we have to keep going back to it, checking, listening to one another and God (praying) and working our purpose out.

The Methodist Conference meeting via Zoom beginning next week is helping Methodists to connect and to reflect on this together, asking questions of ourselves, one another and God and urging us to act. Jesus didn’t overthrow the system of slavery, or the Roman occupation but did turn the world upside down through love and service. And began something which has far outlasted those systems of his time and continues to grow in the lives of millions of disciples in the world.

There is much to challenge us, much that we get wrong, but I am encouraged by God’s response to Hagar. Despite petty jealousy, human frailty, getting it wrong, giving up hope, God somehow works through this and redeems the situation, redeems life. New understanding and new life come. I am choosing to be encouraged by this and I hope you will also.

Peace be with you.

Much love, Nick

Call to Prayer 21st June 2020

Prayer @ 7pm – Version for printing

We live in challenging times. In truth, the challenge of these times is one that continues. However, the nature of that challenge has changed. In this present moment, we reflect on where we are now and this allows us to begin to try to understand the past months. Equally, we have the opportunity to anticipate what is to come.

In the Letter to the Romans (6: 1-11), the Apostle Paul reflects on the foundation of the Christian life which is our sharing in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a consequence, the life we live now is one shaped by the present reality of sharing in the life of Christ. As we journey together in the gradual exit from Lockdown, we do so in the sure knowledge that we share in the life of the Risen Christ.

We pray:

Faithful God, we thank you
That you are present with us now
As we share in the life of the Risen Christ.
Continue to be present with us we ask.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
That you have been with us
In times of anxiety and uncertainty.
Keep watch over our memories of the past.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Faithful God, we thank you
That you will be with us
In the days that are to come.
Journey with us in the days that lie before us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
For the life of your Son
Who for our sakes embraced human form.
May his life shape our lives in these present times.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Faithful God, we thank you
For the reassurance that you are merciful and gracious
And that your love abounds.
In your compassion, remember us and those whom we love.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
For the knowledge that you will be with us
In all that we now face.
Go before us and provide for us we ask.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Signed by:

  • Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  • Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  • Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  • Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  • Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  • Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  • Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)
  • Rev Fred Drummond, Director, Evangelical Alliance (Scotland)

Laughing in the face of the Impossible

Genesis 18:1-15; Matthew 9:35-10:8

Whatever you do don’t laugh! Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you know you’re not supposed to laugh but you just can’t help it? In a scene reminiscent of countless school assemblies where the headteacher calls out the names of people who are laughing, Sarah denies she was laughing. “It wasn’t me!” “Oh, yes it was,” comes the reply.

It was funny, but like school humour can be, also cruel. Promising Sarah a baby when she and Abraham are ‘old, advanced in age.’ Something Sarah had been longing for. The idea was ridiculous even when she shouldn’t have been listening in. It must have seen an impossibility for Sarah, and I wonder if the disciple/apostles offered a similar response when Jesus said to them: ‘Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.’ Yeah right, Jesus. Matthew does not record the disciples’ response but at the very least they must have wondered whether such a thing was possible for them. Fine for Jesus, but for them?

With Sarah the birth didn’t happen immediately – it took, I assume, nine months. Matthew’s record of Jesus talking to the disciples is a remembering set down for the early church (We hear Judas listed as one of the 12 apostles and described as the one who betrayed him – the ‘audience’ of the gospel already know the story). Perhaps then this account from Matthew is a remembering that sets out something like a manifesto for the early church. They are to carry on the mission of Christ. They are to proclaim the kingdom is present (at hand/near/within). Like Sarah, this takes time and the seemingly impossible is not accomplished overnight.

Worshipping together in a church building, singing hymns is an impossibility for us at the present time but that will change – even if it takes 9 months. The impossible, unlikely might seem laughable or even cruel at times. Yet God sits in the midst of all of this. The mission of the church has grown – starting out with the lost sheep of the house of Israel – the mission, our understanding and context has grown and changed. We are still called to point out the kingdom, to be healers, challengers of evil, and to do so freely with hope recognising the grace and hope we have received in Christ.

The blessing of a child for Abraham and Sarah comes after their generous hospitality to the strangers. One of the consequences of the global pandemic is that we have all been chucked out of our church buildings, but we are finding different ways to meet, to be church. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is nudging us. We have tended to think of mission in terms of getting people (especially young people) to come to ‘our church.’ We can’t do that. This is an opportunity to ask about our calling. Rather than asking questions like ‘what are the barriers that stop people coming to church’ perhaps we need to be asking questions like ‘what are the barriers to the mission of the church?’ Consider where Jesus spends his time and focus. It is those on the ‘outside’, those in need.

We need to learn from the ‘black lives matter’ movement. The kingdom is at hand amongst those who are experiencing oppression, those who are beset by the evils of racism rooted in our structures, those who are struggling to put food on the table because of the way society is organised. For the church to be truly church, we need to seek out the help of such people, to listen and act. The barriers that exist in our society not only bar people from fair access to education, healthcare, jobs, justice etc but are also barriers to the ‘privileged’ joining in the kingdom – look where Jesus meets conflict in the gospels. In churches we have often seen ourselves as the host inviting others in, but in Christ we see the kingdom revealed in those whoare on the ‘margins’ and perhaps we need to think of ourselves as guests amongst those on the margins. In so doing we begin to discover the kingdom afresh, pointing it out, and will be enriched.

Freely offered hospitality, free giving shapes the church and in our suffering of not being able to meet together there is an opportunity to remember our calling. We cannot go back from here, only forward. There is a huge task ahead for the church – impossible? I don’t mind if you laugh because I certainly do, but do also remember God’s response ‘Is anything to wonderful for the Lord?’

Peace be with you

With love, Nick

Call to Prayer 14th June 2020

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The experience of being powerless is one that will resonate with many of us. There are times throughout our experience when we sense that we are not in control of what is happening in our own world. Indeed, there will be occasions when we sense that the wider world is afflicted by the seeming absence of a guiding hand.

The Apostle Paul expresses the reality that God acts through Jesus Christ, for us and our salvation, at the very moment in time when we are unable to act on our own behalf and we are powerless. The action of God in Jesus Christ is a demonstration of the love of God. (Romans 5: 1-8, NIV) As we know ourselves to be powerless and, at the same time, to be those who have received the renewing and empowering love of God poured ‘into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’, we turn to God, we pray:

Living God, you demonstrate your love for us
Though our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we are powerless,
Stand with us in our weakness.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God, you demonstrate your love for the world
Through the self-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We remember those who are powerless in our world
And stand with them in their weakness.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God, as we stand with others
May we understand more fully the life we share in common.
In understanding more fully
May we embrace the richness of the life you gift us.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God, your Holy Spirit
Is the Lord and Giver of Life.
May your love be poured into our hearts
And our lives renewed.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
Embrace us, and all Creation,
In the love you demonstrate through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Signed by:

  • Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  • Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  • Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  • Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  • Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  • Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  • Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)
  • Rev Fred Drummond, Director, Evangelical Alliance (Scotland)

 

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday (Genesis 1:1-2:4, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20)

George Floyd was a human being, not perfect, but human, like you and me. Part of God’s creation. His unjust, untimely death has once again caused anger, sadness, questions about individuals and society. There is something here that feels so fundamentally wrong; yet, perhaps we feel somewhat distant from it all. We are not. Bias, perceptions, assumptions rest within all of us. Like an iceberg much of this is hidden even from ourselves. Jesus was excellent at sifting through and highlighting assumptions and bias. The privileged who sought to keep others at arms length, the assumption that somehow others were different, less human. Jesus met this head on and paid with his life.

In Christ, God plunges headlong into this messy, broken world not to condemn the world but that all might have life and have it in abundance. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Through the Spirit we are gifted the invitation and opportunity to join in with this divine humanity, to live in Christ.

In the Church’s calendar it is Trinity Sunday. The idea of Trinity can lead us into the convulsions of Greek philosophy and vain attempts to illustrate what we mean – not easy when we are trying to say something about infinite mystery! Living in Scotland I have now discovered the ideal phrase that is a suitable response to the entanglement of Greek philosophers: ‘Dinnae fash yersel!’

Having said that I note another helpful phrase contained in the Methodist Worship Book: ‘In faith let us pray to God our Father, in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.’ These are the opening words for the prayers of intercession (Holy Communion, third order, ordinary seasons). In the preceding service we use the phrase ‘God our Father and our Mother’ in the prayer of thanksgiving before sharing the bread and wine. Addressing God as Father and Mother is something, as Methodists, we affirm.

We are praying to God who is infinite, beyond our understanding, creator. We address God in terms of a relationship (Mother/Father) which draws deeper into God – the trinity is relationship. We pray in the name of his son (relationship), Jesus Christ. Jesus is the tangible, the knowable, the example, the beginning and end. Through the gospels we can see Jesus and get to know him even as we are fully known. This becomes the lens through which we relate to God, scripture, the world, one another, ourselves. When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we are immersing ourselves in the Jesus story, in the life of Christ. We are able to pray (and live and move and have our being) through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the life of God breathing within us and all people, all creation.

We don’t need to be able to explain but simply in faith, pray. As we pray, we immerse ourselves in relationship with God, with one another (church), with the world, with those in particular need. In the grace of this relationship we are able to face our own shortcomings and challenge the privilege, the assumptions that seek to work against creation. The police officer who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes somehow thought that was ok (as did the others watching). Such actions and the attitudes that underlie them must be called out as Jesus did in his day. There is a righteous anger that is appalled that such a thing has happened (again!), anger at an attitude that allows the dehumanising of one by another because of the colour of skin. But we cannot allow our anger to become hatred recognising the Police Officers are also human beings, imperfect like you and me, part of God’s creation. It is immensely sad that in perceiving another as somehow less human, it is actually the police officers who, in their destruction, attack their own humanity. Justice is necessary, redemption is possible.

We have been created in the image of a beautiful God. When that creation is attacked and destroyed, Jesus shows us the way, demanding justice tempered by mercy. The gracious act of resurrection offers new life and hope. Flowing from that, God breathes in our lives and the life of the world strengthening us to confront ourselves and our communities as we seek divine humanity for all.

May the blessing of God disturb and encourage us, the justice and mercy of Christ reign in our hearts, and the power of the Holy Spirit send us out with energy and peace to live and work in the world.

With love, Nick

Call to Prayer 7th June 2020

CALL TO PRAYER: SUNDAY 7th June (Trinity Sunday) Prayer @ 7pm

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We are familiar with the words of Scripture that remind us that ‘now we see in a mirror dimly’ and we might think that these words are especially applicable to our present times. As our society continues in the journey out of Lockdown, there are many things that we know only in part. We trust that greater clarity will be given in times to come. That said, there are some things that are clear and which our faith affirms to be so. In the Gospel of Matthew (28: 16-20), the disciples gather in the presence of the Risen Lord who assures them that in all they now face: ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’. The Gospel affirms that the life of God has been shared with us in the revelation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and that our lives are to be lived out in the enduring presence of God.

Knowing this to be so, we pray:

God whose name is Love,
You make yourself known to us
As the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sustain us in the knowledge of your love through the times in which we live.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God whose love endures,
May we hear the words of your Son
That echo down the ages:
I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God whose love is generous,
You gift to us your Holy Spirit,
The very giver of Life.
Renew our lives and the life of the community in which we share.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God whose love is steadfast,
You know us as we are for you have made us.
In your compassion, be with all who struggle and grieve at this time.
Remember them and hold them safe in your keeping.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God whose love is from everlasting to everlasting,
Give strength to the weary and power to the weak,
That we might renew our strength
And soar on wings like eagles.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God whose love inspires,
May we love you with all that we are
And love our neighbour in response to your love.
Through our service of others, may your love be revealed.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Signed by:

  •  Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  •  Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  •  Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  •  Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  •  Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  •  Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  •  Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  •  Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  •  Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  •  Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  •  Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  •  Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  •  Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)
  •  Rev Fred Drummond, Director, Evangelical Alliance (Scotland)

Call to Prayer 31st May 2020

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Though we are moving into the first stages of the easing of lockdown, we continue to be painfully aware that there’s a long way to go and that what lies at the end of it all remains unclear.

And so we proceed in faith, believing that God always goes before us and knows the end from the beginning.

On this Day of Pentecost we give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, believing that it is by the Spirit that God guides us.

We pray:

Almighty God, by your Spirit, you brought order from chaos. By your brooding Spirit, hovering over the void, you spoke and there was … something rather than nothing.
Create and recreate in and through us, we pray.

Almighty God, by your Spirit, you equipped and gifted and led our ancestors to know you and to serve you and to glorify you.
Continue to equip and enable us, we pray.

And then, Almighty God, as promised by the prophets and as never before, you poured out your Spirit on these first believers – on men and women, on the old and the young; and they were transformed and made alive, as dry bones brought to life.
Pour out your Spirit on us, we pray.

Almighty God, in these turbulent and uncertain times, send us the Comforter, that we might know you to be near. Grant us your healing touch and help us to know the rest that comes from resting in you.
For the loving touch of your Spirit, we pray.

Almighty God, by what seemed as a rushing wind and as tongues of fire you brought your Church to life. Come to your Church now, we pray, that by the same Spirit we might be renewed and refreshed and remade and revived.
Yes, Lord, grant us a fresh outpouring of your Spirit, we pray.

And all our prayers we offer in the name of our Lord and Saviour, none other than Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Signed by:

  • Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  • Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  • Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  • Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  • Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  • Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  • Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)
  • Fred Drummond, Director, Evangelical Alliance (Scotland)

Ascension – a new normal?

(Readings: Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11)

As I came to the end of my training for ministry, I went to visit an isolated farm in the North Pennines to arrange a baptism. I parked the car on the road and walked down the track to the gate of the farmyard. A large dog ran up, barking, put its paws on the top rung of the gate and looked me in the eye. I’m ok with dogs, tentatively reached out and the dog was fine. I opened the gate and went in. I then got to the entrance to the garden, through which was the path to the farmhouse door. Unfortunately standing in the entrance was the biggest black and white pig I had ever seen. Nothing in my training had prepared me for this new situation! I tried calling it, patting it, shooing it but it wouldn’t budge. It was a bit of an impasse and a time before mobile phones. In the end the farmer’s wife saw me from the window and came out to rescue me. She just called it’s name (Gilbert!) and off it trotted. I learnt early on that life as a minister was going to be full of the unexpected for which I was unprepared.

A few months ago the phrase ‘the new normal’ would not have meant much to any of us. Having said that any of us who have ever experienced a major life changing event might recognise the sense of a ‘new normal’. We adapt to new ways of living and routines whether we want to or not. The ‘new normal’ has now entered our vocabulary as we start thinking about how things are going to be in the weeks, months and years to come. It applies to society, communities, churches, families, shopping, cafes, etc. We will be working out new routines, practices etc. Is this what any of us were expecting at the start of 2020? I expect not!

This experience, however, puts us in good company alongside the disciples. The ascension of Jesus draws a line in the Jesus story. It marks a big change for the disciples. Jesus was no longer going to be around in the way he had been. Everything changed. The whole world and the lives of the disciples had changed. Is that what they wanted? Is it what they had been expecting even a few months before – I expect not! They were facing a ‘new normal’ with no ‘ladybird’ guide as to what to expect, what to do and no doubt feeling somewhat unprepared.

The story of the ascension as recorded in Acts 1:6-14 is a hinge point in Luke’s telling of the gospel story. The gospel written by Luke is Volume 1 and the Acts of the Apostles is volume 2. The ascension marks a transition of disciples to apostles. From learners/followers to those who are sent. Of course, they continue to be disciples and they had already been identified as apostles earlier by Luke (6.13). But there is a significant change in their understanding, their reality at this point. A change that encompasses the whole of creation as Jesus identified in that passage from the gospel (John 17:1-11).

Jesus ‘finished the work’ revealing the Father’s glory which was there before the world began. Christ is more than a world changing event, Christ is creation changing event, everything is transformed. This is the new creation, a new normal and this is the world the apostles (and we) now inhabit. But the disciple apostles know that in this changed world they are not alone. There may not be a ‘ladybird’ guide but there are the words and actions of Jesus inhabiting the scriptures. This is to be their guide not simply as something they have learnt but as something that is alive within them. A lived reality – a new normal. This was what John Wesley discovered when he felt his heart strangely warmed in Aldersgate Street on 24 May 1738. In this new creation God’s words are in us, but even more than that God’s Word is in us: All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them (17:10). And what do the disciples do immediately after seeing Jesus being lifted up? They locked themselves away and devoted themselves to prayer. As we prepare for what lies ahead prayer is a good place to start recognising the words and Word of God within.

Peace be with you.

With love, Nick

Call to Prayer 24th May 2020

Prayer @ 7pm

Version for printing

At this present time, we are especially conscious of the need to protect and to be protected. Indeed, our collective awareness of the need to protect life and the lives of those whom we love has perhaps never been so heightened. In response to the threat posed by Covid 19, we seek to protect and shield those whom we care for most deeply.

In the Gospel of John (17: 1-11), Jesus prays for his disciples in anticipation of the time when he will no longer be with them. What is it that he prays for? Jesus asks the Father to ‘protect’ his friends. Whilst he was with them, Jesus protected and shielded the disciples and later in his prayer he prays for each one of us. The ascended Lord Jesus continues to pray for us and assures us that his presence will be renewed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We pray:

Living God and gracious Father,
Protect and shield us.
Living God, protect and shield
All whom we love,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Living God, your Son now sits in your presence
And shares in your glory and honour.
We thank you for the promise
That his presence shall be renewed for us,
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Living God, we thank you that Jesus prayed for us
And that he continues to intercede for us.
We thank you that he continues to pray
For us and for our protection,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Living God, we pray for the life of the world.
We thank you for all those who, in these days,
Strive to protect and shield us.
Renew them in heart and soul, and mind and strength,
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Living God, renew us we pray and renew the life of the world.
For you so loved the world that you gave your Son
That we might share in the life of the world to come.
Hear our prayer, now and always,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Signed by:

  • Rt. Rev. Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
  • Most Rev. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Roman Catholic Church
  • Most Rev. Mark Strange, Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev. John Fulton, Moderator, United Free Church of Scotland
  • Rev. Dr David Pickering, Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. Martin Hodson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev. Mark Slaney, District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)
  • Rev. May-Kane Logan, Chair, Congregational Federation in Scotland
  • Lt. Col. Carol Bailey, Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army
  • Adwoa Bittle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Rev. Jim Ritchie, District Superintendent, British Isles North District, Church of the Nazarene
  • Pastor Chris Gbenle, Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Bishop Francis Alao, Church of God (Scotland)/Minority Ethnic Churches Together in Scotland (MECTIS)