Musings from the Manse
I was chatting with a friend recently about just how different things are at present. Covid-19 has certainly made us stop and think. Who could have imagined the events of the last few months? In fact, I sometimes wonder if I am in the middle of some strange dream (nightmare?) and I will wake up and find that life is as it was before we even heard of Coronavirus.
However, that is wishful thinking and the reality is that we have to live with this virus and the restrictions it brings to our lives. It is not all bad – there have been many new skills learned and many new opportunities have been opened up for us. Perhaps we have had a little more time to reflect on life and made some decisions about the future. I think it is important that we all look at what has changed and decide what is important to keep – and to lose! The Church Councils, across the circuit, will certainly be looking at this in the context of Church as we go forward.
As we all do that, perhaps our two Scripture passages for this week (Romans Ch 12 vs 9-21 and Matthew Ch 16 vs 21-28) will help to focus our minds. For both spell out for us what should be important in our lives as Christians. By concentrating on what is worthwhile and losing what is not then we will become much more effective disciples of Christ. If at the end of this Covid-19 time in our lives we have studied the word of God more closely and realigned our lives with it then we certainly will have triumphed in adversity!
Let’s take a closer look at the passages. The Matthew passage follows on from last week’s when we heard Peter making the impassioned claim about Jesus “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” However, this week we read that when Jesus talks about his upcoming suffering and death, Peter protests and won’t accept it. What has brought about this change?
Well, although Peter and the other disciples had grasped the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, they were still thinking along the lines of an all-conquering Messiah. The thought of a Messiah who must suffer at the hands of others and die on a Cross was just incredible. The Messiah was a triumphant figure not a suffering one!
Before we judge Peter, let’s ask ourselves how we too might try to make Jesus conform to our image of him. How often we convince ourselves that he isn’t really asking us to do this or follow that particular path? However, if we read the Scripture we cannot escape. For he says “If you want to be my followers, then you must take up your Cross and follow me.” In other words, if you want to call yourself Christian then you must be willing to put aside your own wishes and follow God’s. It won’t always be easy, but it will be rewarding.
If we turn to Romans and look at what Paul calls “the marks of a true Christian” we can see that it will be difficult to achieve. Take time to read through them again. They are rules for everyday living and how we interact with other human beings. Or if you like, Christian behaviour. It is easy to read these guidelines on paper but much more difficult to live by them day in, day out! Mind you the world would be a better place if this kind of behaviour was exhibited more.
I was struck this week by two very separate happenings in the world. One was terribly sad. The death of an asylum seeker and the near starvation of her baby. How could that happen here in Scotland? What kind of society allows that? Paul’s rule of “extend hospitality to strangers” certainly wasn’t in operation here.
The second event was the sentencing in New Zealand of the gunman who caused carnage outside a mosque. As the relatives of victims gave testimony I was moved when one woman offered forgiveness. Paul said “do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” My friends how noble it was to offer forgiveness, how difficult it must have been.
Another relative reminded the prisoner that there would be a time of judgement. Not here by a judge or anyone else but judgement will come from God. That is quite a sobering thought! Before we get too carried away by feelings of righteousness, we too should remember that.
Jesus doesn’t force any of us to follow Him. He says “If you want to follow me.” It is your choice but if you make the choice you must be committed to following what Jesus asks of you. You must be prepared to put His ways at the forefront of your life and allow your own wishes to sink into the background. It is not easy – but then, what Jesus did for us was certainly not easy. He certainly was a suffering Messiah – he suffered unto death for us.
We started off by talking about the time for reflection afforded by this Covid restricted life and how we may have been making some decisions about our future. I would like to end this Reflection with some words by the great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis because of his Christian stance against them. This is taken from his book “The Cost of Discipleship.”
‘And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy’.
Discipleship means joy —- it’s hard work, that’s for sure, but it brings a lasting joy. When we come back together again, let us renew our joy in the service of Jesus the Messiah. Let us be Church in renewed and joyful service! Take time now to consider how you can better serve the world in His name! Take time now to read his word in Scripture!
Loving Father we have read the scriptures and we would respond
Send your Holy Spirit amongst us for we would commit to follow Jesus
Open our minds and our hearts to His truth;
Enliven our imagination to His presence;
Increase our gratitude for His living, dying, rising;
And strengthen us in our commitment
That we walk in step with Him, our Lord and Saviour
We do ask for your forgiveness, Lord when our lives are guided by desires other than to do your will
Forgive us when we ignore you, and lift ourselves high in pride of place
Forgive us when we care little for you, but care greatly for ourselves at the expense of care for others
Forgive us, and help us to know that if we are truly sorry for sin, we are freed and forgiven, and given a chance to begin again
Lord of all human life we bring to you our prayers for the Church and the world
Bless your church both here in Scotland and all around the world
Give it renewed hunger to be doing your will
A strengthened courage in a world that is often hostile
A deeper sense of commitment to your Word
And a desire to follow in the steps of Christ
Bless your world – a world very troubled at present
Deliver it and all its peoples from the destruction of violence
From the consequences of natural disaster and unusual weather
From the ravages of war and misuse of power
From the pain of hunger and thirst and poverty.
Give your wisdom to the leaders of countries and bring your peace to their hearts.
Bless our country and bring your love to bear in it
So that all might feel loved and accepted
Increase its sense of hospitality that all groups like asylum seekers might be offered hospitality
We pray that the Word of God might be spread far and wide and that people commit to your loving ways
Bless us, O Lord, with such an overflowing of your love that we long to share with others and strive to become your people and do your will
Rev Nik Wooller
30th August 2020