Wednesday 21st October 2020.

Thought: ‘Now the Lord said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’ (Genesis 12: 1 – 2 N.R.S.V.)

The first sermon I preached as locum in Aberlour was about the call of Abram and I thought it appropriate to repeat that story for my last ‘Thought’ as your locum. That sermon began with the story of an old man climbing a mountain. Everyone said it was folly and it would prove impossible for him. However, he did it and when he was asked how he had managed to reach the top he said, ‘Well, you see my heart arrived before my feet.’ The reading from Genesis reminds us that God called Abram to leave the land where he was settled, secure and presumably comfortable, for a land that God would show him. Abram obeyed that call not knowing what the future would hold or how things would turn out. He simply allowed his heart to arrive before his feet and stepped out in faith trusting God for the future. Throughout the Bible we find that God has a habit of calling people to leave the place where they are settled and secure and comfortable for where he wants them to go. Jesus’ call of the first disciples also required them to leave their nets and follow after him and the Great Commission by the risen Christ at the end of Matthew’s gospel is a call into an uncertain future, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (St Matthew 28: 19 – 20 N.R.S.V). On Thursday Andrew will be ordained as your new minister beginning a fresh chapter in the life of Aberlour church; a call into the future that God has for you with your new minister and his wife Lynsey. None of us can tell what the future will hold, like Abram, we can only step out in obedient faith trusting that our Lord will lead us, and be with us, as we seek to follow him. May the Lord bless Andrew, Lynsey and all our friends in Aberlour and Craigellachie as you look to the future and how you will carry out our Lord’s call to make disciples and be his people in Aberlour. Jan and I have been truly blessed by our time with you and we are grateful for all your support, encouragement, and prayers, but especially for your friendship.

Finally the words from a favourite hymn as you set out on this new journey together: ‘One more step along the world I go, one more step along the world I go, from the old things to the new keep me travelling along with you: And it’s from the old I travel to the new; keep me travelling along with you.’

May God keep you and bless you and may your hearts always go before your feet.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we plan for the future and often convince ourselves that we have things sorted out so that we can settle down and take our rest. Abram’s response to your call reminds us that we are a pilgrim people called to go into the future to which you will lead us, a people called to be Christ’s in the world. Help us to be faithful in witness, patient and wise in our decisions, and compassionate and loving in our care of others. Bless Andrew as he is ordained to ministry in Aberlour, that as he and Lynsey begin life in a new community, they might know that they are loved and valued, and may find friendship and support in their lives and their work. Bless all churches, ministers, and congregations everywhere as they seek different ways of being God’s people in witness and care. Comfort the sick and the dying, be near to the bereaved and help us all to cope with these difficult days trusting in you for the future. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Blessing: The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

Sunday 18th October 2020 – 20th After Pentecost.

Approach: ‘Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.’ ( Psalm 146: 5 N.R.S.V.)

Hymn 192: 1. All my hope on God is founded;
all my trust he will renew;
safe through change and chance he guides me,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray God’s trust;
though with care and toil we build them,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness lasts for ever,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light and life attend him,
beauty springing out of naught.
Evermore, from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.

Day by day the mighty Giver
showers gifts on us below;
his desire our souls delight in,
pleasure leads us where we go.
See love stand, at his hand,
joy awaits at his command.

Still from earth to God in heaven
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Hear Christ call, one and all:
those who follow shall not fall.

Robert Bridges based on Joachim Neander.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, in a world that has become so confusing and alarming, where things can seem so hopeless and where leaders and authorities struggle with the problems we all face, that hymn reminds of our hope in you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. In him we can face the storms of life, confident that he is with us in the boat, that he can calm the waves and bring us peace in the midst of the storm. So many of our human plans seem to go awry and what we build come to nothing. Yet our trust is in you the God of all things, our Heavenly Father, who cares for each and every one of your children. Forgive us that we can so easily see the downside of things and fail to see the many ways that your love is at work in the world. Help us to recognise the gifts of each day, keep our hope alive, help us to put our trust in you, and to know that peace which is beyond our understanding and strength.  For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Readings: St. Matthew 22: 15 – 22.

Sermon: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. (St Matt 22: 21 N.K.J.V.)

They came again to try to trick Jesus into saying something for which they could report him, ‘Tell us, then, what you think. is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ They waited for an answer. Either way they believed they had him. If he said it was wrong for a Jew to pay taxes to the Emperor, they could report him to the Roman authorities for fomenting revolt. If, on the other hand, he said it was right for a Jew to pay taxes to the Emperor he would lose favour with the crowd who followed him. Aware of their trickery Jesus asked them for a coin. Naively, they gave him one, and, showing them the head on the coin, he asked whose image it was. Of course, it was the Emperor’s and Jesus said, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’. Then he added his real answer, the answer that changes everything, ‘and to God the things that are God’s.’ The first part of Jesus’ answer was about the image of the Emperor the power, and the structures under which they all lived. However, the second part of his answer was about another kingdom, the kingdom of God. They had come to him with a testing question about taxes and obedience to power, but Jesus made short work of that and then made them think about their greater duty to God and, by extension, to their neighbour made in the image of God.

Sometimes, however, this story is wrongly taken to mean that we should keep our service of the world and worship of God separate and yet Jesus’ incarnation and life all teach us that service of God and our neighbour are inextricably intertwined. Our Lord himself began his work in the synagogue in Nazareth by declaring, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (St Luke 3: 18 – 19 N.R.S.V.). A very down to earth manifesto which has a spiritual and a material side intertwined. On the one hand the good news of the gospel and the kingdom of God is liberation and new life for all those for all those who are poor in spirit, held captive by character and habit, and blind to the fulness of life they are meant to have with God.  For this reason, the Church and Christians have a mission to proclaim and share the gospel, the good news of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ. But there is also a very material side to the gospel which is about bringing new life to those denied it in the world. Those made in the image of God, who are denied the freedom to live to their full potential as human beings and children of God then we have a duty to render to God what is God’s. Seeking to make the Kingdom of God a reality through prayer and worship certainly. But also by standing alongside those who suffer, speaking out against all that is contrary to human freedom and life, working for the Kingdom of God in the world.

Nowadays we can pay by credit card and ‘contactless’ payment so that we never need money but the next time we hold a coin in our hand let us think of this story and the duty we have as citizens of the United Kingdom and then of the greater duty we have, as Jesus’ disciples, to the Kingdom of God. God grant that we might faithfully, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.

Prayer: Lord God, we rejoice that we are called to be your people, that in Jesus Christ, your Son, we can know your grace, forgiveness, and love. We pray that your kingdom might come and ask for help in the ways that we might work for that kingdom where we are. We pray for our Church and fellow Christians that we might have the courage to spread the Good News of the gospel and the new life open to all through faith in Jesus Christ.

We thank you for the practical ways that the gospel is shared in the work of Christians in their daily lives, through their faithful work and service, their honesty and integrity, and their support and care for others. We pray for all those who face difficulties in living out their faith in their work and daily lives, especially for those in authority whose decisions and actions affect the lives of others. We pray for our own governments that all their decisions might be made with wisdom and integrity. We pray for those communities where restrictions have been increased, healing for divisions, and a greater commitment to the protection and health of one another. We remember too, the unemployed, businesses facing closure, and all those whose lives have been disrupted.

We thank you for the skill and care of medical staff and pray for help for those who risk the virus every day, those trying to test and trace those infected and those working for a vaccine. Grant support to those who are lonely, depressed, or anxious at home, in hospital, or care homes, healing to the sick, and comfort for the dying and the bereaved. For we ask it in Jesus’ name and in his words pray together saying: Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn 706: For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling,
dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice
may we hallow brief life’s span.

You, Creator God, have written
your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness
bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service
earth its destiny may find. Fred Kaan

Blessing: May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep guard over your hearts and minds in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you, remain with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen.

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Wednesday 14th October 2020.

Thought: ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ (St John 8: 7b N.R.S.V.)

Prison Week runs from the 11th – 17th October. A week of prayer for prisoners, prison staff and all those in the justice system, for families of prisoners, communities and victims of crime and violence. As I thought about this, I was reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel. The religious leaders of her day caught her and were prepared to punish her to the full extent of the law, which, in those days, meant throwing rocks at her until they had killed her. However, first they decided to try to trap Jesus by getting him to deny their right to stone her under the law. It was a case of, ‘heads we win, tails you lose’.

However, Jesus didn’t fall into their trap but bent down and began to write in the dust with his finger. John doesn’t tell us what he wrote but when the woman’s accusers demanded an answer, Jesus told them that they were free to throw rocks at her, but the first was to be the one among them who was without sin. Of course, none could claim that and so, one by one they dropped their rocks and slunk away until only the woman was left before Jesus. He asked if there was no one left to accuse her and when she replied that there was no one he said nor did he accuse her and she could go, but to sin no more.

Jesus didn’t deny that the woman was guilty but whereas her accusers wanted her punished to the full extent of their law Jesus forced them to look at themselves and then sent her away to change her life.

It is so easy to cast the first stone especially at those who have been tried, convicted, and sent to prison for what they have done. Some for terrible crimes for which imprisonment is the only thing that can justly and morally be done. However, although we may not be guilty of crimes like those, we do know that we are sinners who are forgiven through the grace and love of God. Can we honestly then throw stones at others for their sins? Or do we humbly show grace and compassion and pray that they too may have a chance to change their lives?

*The Prisons Week Prayer – Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

*This prayer is from Prisons Week Prayers – on this site there are prayers for each day of Prisons Week: https://prisonsweek.org/ PRAYERS PRIsoNS WEek

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Sunday 11th October 2020 – 19th After Pentecost.
Approach: Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 106: 1 N.R.S.V.)

Hymn 485: 1. Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise;
in deeper reverence, praise.

  1. In simple trust like theirs who heard,
    beside the Syrian sea,
    the gracious calling of the Lord,
    let us, like them, without a word,
    rise up and follow thee;
    rise up and follow thee.
  2. O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
    O calm of hills above,
    where Jesus knelt to share with thee
    the silence of eternity
    interpreted by love!
    interpreted by love!
  3. Drop thy still dews of quietness,
    till all our strivings cease;
    take from our souls the strain and stress,
    and let our ordered lives confess
    the beauty of thy peace;
    the beauty of thy peace.
  4. Breathe through the heats of our desire
    thy coolness and thy balm;
    let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
    speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
    O still, small voice of calm;
    O still, small voice of calm.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father we rejoice in your love for all your children and ask you to forgive any foolishness of our thoughts and actions, cleanse us from all that threatens to lead us away from you and grant us a deeper reverence for you and for our neighbours that we might love you all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbours as ourselves. Help us to be more willing to follow Jesus and his ways and to bear the cost of discipleship that we may show the wonder of your love and compassion in all that we say and do. Grant us that peace that is beyond all our understanding and save us from striving for the wrong things in life that we might witness to your kingdom and your love. Breathe your Spirit of stillness and calm into us that we might know your peace and strength in times of joy, and times of sorrow, For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Readings: Philippians 4: 4 – 9; St Matthew 22: 1 – 14.

Sermon: The Great Banquet.
Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as being like a king who sent out his invitations to his son’s wedding banquet but those who were invited refused to come to the celebration. So, the king sent out into the streets to bring in everyone there, both the good and the bad. The picture of the invitation Jesus gave of entry to the Kingdom of heaven is clear and the reference to ‘good and bad’ speaks to us of God’s grace. Because God invites everyone. Jesus said, ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.’ (St Luke 19: 10). We aren’t invited into God’s kingdom because we are the ‘unco guid’ but because God loves us and wants us all – good and bad – to join him in celebration and joy. However, the point of the parable is that the invitation into the Kingdom has to be received and accepted. When we think about this parable it can be too easy for us to let ourselves off the hook by thinking of those who refuse to hear the gospel message and an invitation to Church are modern day equivalents of those in the parable. Yet didn’t Jesus warn against offering to take the speck out of our brother’s eye while remaining blind to the great plank in our own? This parable is about us and challenges us to look, not at others, but at the excuses we make to God; the times we simply refuse his invitation and stifle that still, small voice that calls us to some work or service? Or the things that stop us from entering more fully into the life with God to which he invites us all to enjoy?

In the parable the slaves go out into the streets and fill the banqueting hall with both good and bad. A challenge about the mission of the Church which is about us, the king’s slaves, going out into the streets to invite all those we meet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that they can find new life in his kingdom. When the king greeted his new guests, he found a man without a wedding robe, asked him why and, when he received no answer, ordered him thrown out into the darkness. A strange twist to the story which reminds us that when we come into God’s kingdom change is needed. We don’t hear it much nowadays but when someone came to faith it used to be called ‘conversion’, they were changed. A reminder that it isn’t possible to accept the invitation into the kingdom of heaven without being willing to change, without being willing to accept the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives converting us into the people God wants us to become. An invitation to change that happens not once, but all of our lives.

Finally, the description of the kingdom of heaven as a wedding banquet is about celebration and joy. Too often the Church and Christians are imagined to be dull, killjoys when the fact is that we are called to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. (Philippians 4:4). A man called John Catoir once said, ‘Joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is the awareness of God’s loving presence with us.’ Because we are Christians doesn’t mean that life will be all plain sailing or constant happiness. There will be sad times for us as well but, in those times, we will have the joy of knowing that we are held in God’s love and can never be separated from his care. Let us go into this new week rejoicing in the Lord that we might share our faith and our joy in the Lord with all those we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, we have heard the invitation into your kingdom, and we know the joy of serving you in Jesus Christ, our Lord. We rejoice that in him we are called to share the gospel of your compassion and love. As the Church faces these difficult days grant us strength to cope and a patient hope for the future in the knowledge that, whether in light or dark, we are held in your love and kept in your care. Help us to share the Good News in word and action and to reach out to all those in need of help and support through our prayers and practical help. We pray for all those working to keep us safe and to care for all those who are sick. Those in government, in the Health Service, and family and neighbours caring for one another. As lockdown rules are re-imposed in parts of the country grant understanding and compliance with those affected and an awareness of our need to look out for the safety of others. Be near to teachers and pupils, lecturers, and students as they learn to cope with new systems and imposed lockdowns. Peace for those who fear for their jobs or their businesses, to the recently unemployed, and those whose work puts them at greater risk. Grant support to those who are lonely, depressed, or anxious at home, in hospital, or care homes, healing to the sick, and comfort for the dying and the bereaved. For we ask it in Jesus’ name and in his words pray together saying: Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn 533: 1. Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown?
Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you,
and you in me?

  1. Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
    Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
    Will you risk the hostile stare,
    should your life attract or scare?
    Will you let me answer prayer in you
    and you in me?
  2. Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
    Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
    Will you kiss the leper clean,
    and do such as this unseen?
    And admit to what I mean in you,
    and you in me?
  3. Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
    Will you quell that fear inside and never be the same?
    Will you use the faith you’ve found
    to reshape the world around
    through my sight and touch and sound in you,
    and you in me?
  4. Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
    Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
    In your company I’ll go,
    where your love and footsteps show,
    thus I’ll move and live and grow in you,
    and you in me.

Blessing: May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep guard over your hearts and minds in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you, remain with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen.

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Wednesday 7th October 2020.

Thought: ‘We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered’ (Hebrews 6: 19-20a N.R.S.V.)

Talking to a friend recently I was reminded of my teenage years in the Boys’ Brigade Company in Portobello, and later in Duddingston. Those were the days when Drill Nights began with inspection and many hours were spent polishing the belt buckle and badges, whitening the white stripes on the pillbox hat with chalk, washing and ironing the white crossband and pouch, generally making sure that our clothes were neat and clean, shoes were shining, hair was short and combed, hands and nails scrubbed and clean. The inspection was carried out by the Captain and officers who were sharp eyed at noticing anything that had been missed so that, we soon learned not to skimp on our preparations. However, all that was worth it because after inspection there was drill, and then games, normally football, and the crafts at which I only remember learning marquetry. We also were expected to attend Bible Class every Sunday morning at which we sang the Boy’s Brigade hymn, ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’ which has been a favourite of mine ever since. It was written by Priscilla Jane Owens who was born in Baltimore in the United States. She was involved in youth work for over 50 years and most of her hymns were written for children. It is said that this hymn was sung outside the door of another hymn writer Mary Fawler Maude as she lay dying. She sent word out to the singers, ‘Tell them that it does not fail – it holds.’ It surely does and, in these difficult days, this hymn is a reminder that when we are anchored ‘Sure and Stedfast’ (BB motto) in Jesus Christ, our Lord, we can withstand any storm. I offer the words of the hymn for prayer and comfort:

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift or firm remain?
Refrain:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
fastened to the rock which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

2. Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar and the reef is near?
While the surges rave and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves then your bark o’er flow?
(Refrain

3. Will your anchor hold in the floods of death,

when the waters cold chill your latest breath?

On the rising tide you can never fail

while your anchor holds within the veil. (Refrain)

4. Will your eyes behold through the morning light
the city of gold and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore,
when life’s storms are past forever more?
(Refrain)

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Sunday 4th October 2020 – 18th After Pentecost. Harvest Thanksgiving.

Approach: God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 2: 31a N.R.S.V.)

Hymn 230: 1.  Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field, praise God for the people who gather their yield, the long hours of labour, the skills of a team, the patience of science, the power of machine.

2. Praise God for the harvest that comes from afar, from market and harbour, the sea and the shore: foods packed and transported, and gathered and grown by God given neighbours, unseen and unknown.

3. Praise God for the harvest that’s quarried and mined, then sifted, and smelted, or shaped and refined; for oil and for iron, for copper and coal, praise God who in love has provided them all.

4. Praise God for the harvest of science and skill, the urge to discover, create and fulfil: for dreams and inventions that promise to gain a future more helpful, a world more humane.

5. Praise God for the harvest of mercy and love, from leaders and peoples who struggle and serve with patience and kindness, that all may be led to freedom and justice, an all may be fed. Brian Wren.

Note: In the light of climate change parts of verse 3 are perhaps less appropriate than they once were but I have left them in as they are part of the original hymn.

Prayer: Almighty and eternal Lord God, you are the Creator of all things. We praise you for the vast distances and mysteries of space, for our own solar system and for galaxies and stars at distances so vast our minds cannot comprehend them. We thank you too for this fragile earth, for its myriad wonders and teeming life. We thank you for the oceans and seas, mountains and fields, mines and forests that supply our needs. For the people who work to research, design, and produce the many things that we enjoy. For the harvest that we celebrate today and for the bounty of the earth you have made. Forgive us that we so often fail to thank you and so often take what we enjoy for granted. Forgive us the times we forget that many others do not enjoy the lifestyles that we so often expect as our right, those who struggle to make ends meet so that we can enjoy bargains and cheap food, clothing, and consumer goods. Help us to be more aware of the cost of what we enjoy, more willing to share your bounty, more open to the conditions of others around the world, and more ready to accept changes that mean others might live better lives. Forgive us if we see those from other lands as foreigners to be rejected, and fail to regard asylum seekers, economic migrants, and refugees with kindness and welcome. Help us to be more kind-hearted, and open handed to our neighbours here, and elsewhere. For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who reached out in kindness and love to all those in need. Amen.

Reading: Isaiah 5: 1 – 7; St Matthew 21: 33 – end.

Sermon: Today’s readings are about the harvest in God’s vineyard and I want to use them to think about our own Harvest Thanksgiving. The first reading about the harvest is from Isaiah 5:1, ‘Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.’ (N.R.S.V.)

In these few lines the prophet describes God’s people Israel as a vineyard provided with all that was needed to produce an abundant harvest, but instead, it produced wild, bitter grapes. Instead of a harvest of justice and righteousness only bloodshed and weeping, ‘For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.’ Isaiah 5: 7 (N.R.S.V.) The prophet then goes on to speak of those who, ‘who add house to house, who add field to field’ and we can see that the vineyard is a comment about a society gone wrong where the rich and powerful prosper at the expense of the poor and powerless.

In his parable Jesus picks up on Isaiah’s imagery and describes the vineyard in similar language with its fence, watchtower, and winepress. Then, when the owner sent for his share of the harvest the tenants abused, beat, and killed them, he sent more servants, and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he sent his son thinking that they would respect him, but they seized the opportunity to do away with the heir and any claim the owner might have on the vineyard.

 These are images of a vineyard mismanaged and producing a bitter harvest of injustice, sorrow and, ultimately, a rejection of God’s own son. Recently, it has been a rude awakening to discover that so much of our national wealth and prosperity had roots in slavery, and, although Christians were eventually instrumental in outlawing the practice, even the churches and Christians benefitted from this bitter harvest. In Harvest Thanksgiving we give grateful thanks to God for the bounty that feeds us and makes our modern lifestyle possible, but we also know that much of that harvest comes from the work of others around the world. So that today’s readings must also make us ask about the wild, bitter grapes that the ‘vineyard’ of the earth has come to produce. A world in which so many are hungry and share so little of the earth’s abundance. Even in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, more and more people are forced to ask for food from Food Banks and, around the world, millions work on low wages to produce the plenty that we enjoy and the bargains that we love. So that, it is fair to say that slavery still exists in the world for many, many people.

Let us thank God ‘for the harvest of orchard and field’ but let us also pray for an end to this bitter harvest. Through committing ourselves to a better sharing of the harvest of the earth, lobbying governments and businesses for a more just system of trade, supporting charities, such as Christian Aid and Fairtrade, that seek change and practical ways to lift people out of poverty, and by a willingness to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’

Prayer: Lord God, we thank you for the harvest of the earth, and thank you for all those who work so that we can have food, clothing, and the lives we enjoy. We thank you for those who farm the fields, hills, and forests, those who fish the seas and oceans, those who produce, transport, and sell the things that we need. Grant that the vineyard of the earth may become more just and fair, save all who are caught up in materialism and consumerism, for whom life is all about more things, and new things, so that they lose the meaning of life in all its fulness. We pray for a better life for those who work for poor wages and in harsh conditions, for the unemployed, the hungry, the homeless, and all those who do not have enough on which to live sustaining, fruitful lives. We pray for families struggling to make ends meet, for children with no education, and communities with little health care. For victims of war and violence, for refugees and migrants, and those in camps often for years. Grant release and new life, a desire in governments and peoples around the world to help and open their doors to those in need. Help us all to find ways to share the harvest that all may be cared for, all fed, and that all may enjoy the fruits of the earth. Grant healing to the sick, whether powerful or poor, especially to those with Covid19, to those struggling with ‘lockdown’ and rules that limit and enclose their lives, grant them strength, patience, and hope. Comfort the dying and the bereaved that they may know your peace and your love, be near to those separated from loved ones, and grant wisdom and strength to those caring for the sick. For we ask it in Jesus name, and in his words pray together saying: The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn 231: 1. For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God; for these gifts to every nation, thanks be to God; for the ploughing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping, future needs in  earth’s safe keeping, thanks be to God.

 2. In the just reward of labour, God’s will is done; in the help we give our neighbour, God’s            will is done; in our world-wide task of caring for the hungry and despairing, in the harvest we       are sharing; God’s will is done.

3. For the harvests of the Spirit, thanks be to God; for the good we all inherit, thanks be to           God; for the wonders that surround us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that            love has found us, thanks be to God. Frederick Pratt Green

Blessing: The blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon you, remain with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen

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Wednesday 30th September 2020.

Thought: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.” Deuteronomy 15: 11 (N.R.S.V.)

I used to like a Gregg’s pie although I rarely eat them now and, if I visit a baker, I prefer Harry Gow’s which has great morning rolls. Anyway enough of the adverts. I heard a news report about Greggs this morning which said that since they re-opened in July sales have dropped by 30% and they are in talks with staff to try and reduce their hours so that as few as possible lose their jobs once the furlough scheme ends.

It might seem odd to be talking about a bakery but, from airlines to bakers, most businesses are facing problems because of the present crisis and nearly 200,000 have lost their jobs since the start of the crisis. Many more businesses are also considering laying off staff. Which is why the Chancellor and governments have implemented schemes to ‘protect the economy’. However, behind every job loss there is a person, perhaps a family that will be affected with loss of income, and with stress that could lead to physical and mental health issues as well.

I remember years ago the then Prime Minister David Cameron used the catchphrase, ‘We’re all in it together.’ There was evidence to doubt the truth of that statement at the time but, we are certainly ‘all in it together’ now. Despite those who claim Covid19 is a hoax and those who ignore the regulations and risk their own and others’ lives.

It is only as we each play our part in protecting ourselves and others, including those affected by the economic consequences of this crisis, that we will get through this together. I don’t know how Greggs will work out but, at the moment, they seem to be a caring employer juggling the needs of the business against looking after their staff. Let us pray for our neighbours faced with these hard decisions in these difficult days.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father these are difficult, confusing, and worrying days. We hear so much about how governments are helping the economy and businesses and remember that behind the reports and figures there are people affected by our shrinking economy.

We pray for governments, local authorities, and employers making difficult decisions about finances and regulations that affect the future of others. We pray that their decisions may be made with thoughtfulness, care, and compassion. We pray for those in fear of losing their jobs, and those who have become unemployed. Grant them guidance, strength and, most of all, hope.

Be near to pupils, parents, and teachers in our schools, to students and lecturers coping with ‘lockdown’ at the start of the academic year, especially for those young people new to university life.

Help us all to recognise that we have a duty of care for one another, on a local, national, and international level, that we might open our hand to our poor and needy neighbours. Grant peace, strength, and hope for the future, knowing that we are held in your love through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whose name we ask these prayers. Amen.

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Sunday 27th September 2020 – 17th After Pentecost.

Approach: ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.’ (Psalm 25: 4 – 5N.R.S.V.)

Hymn 21:

1. Lord, teach me all your ways, reveal your paths to me; and lead me in your saving truth, show me what I should be.

2. Remember, Lord, your love, your care from ages past; and in that love remember me, in kindness hold me fast.

3. Forget my youthful faults, forgive my sinful ways; within the kindness of your love remember me always.

4. God, who is just and good, shows all who sin his way; he leads the humble in right paths, their   teacher day by day.

5. All pathways of the Lord are kindly, true, and sure to those who keep his covenant and in his ways  endure Psalm 25: vv. 4, 5a, 6-10. The Scottish Psalter 1929.

Prayer: Almighty and eternal Lord God, the Psalmist reminds us again that it is in following your ways and your truth that we learn to become the people we are meant to be, and that it is in Jesus Christ, our Lord, that we see your love and care for all your children. In this quiet time remind us again of your kindness and love, hold us in your love and forgive us the faults and sins of the past and the present. Grant us truly repentant hearts and the willingness to follow our Lord more closely and more obediently in the future.

We confess that too often we witness to our Lord Jesus Christ with our lips but don’t follow him in our words and actions. We try our best but know the times we have failed to show your love in our relationships, the times we have been too quick to take offense, too slow to forgive. The opportunities for love and service that we have missed or let pass by because we were too busy or felt unequal to the task.

Forgive us and help us to be more open and more obedient to the prompting of your Spirit, more willing to follow our Lord Jesus Christ in our love for you and our neighbours. Trusting in your love and forgiveness we ask this in, and through, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom with you Father, and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Reading: St. Matthew 21: 23 – 32.

Sermon:  Jesus had cleared the Temple precinct of money changers and merchants and had set the cat among the pigeons in more ways than one. The next day he was again in the Temple grounds teaching the people when the chief priests and elders of the people set out to put him in his place by demanding to know what made him think he had the right to do such things. They were the ones with authority and so they put it in those terms, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ After a counter question about the baptism of John which they were afraid to answer, Jesus told them a parable about a father and two sons.

The father told the first son to go and work in the vineyard – the vineyard was a common metaphor for Israel (e.g. Isaiah 5: 2). The son initially refused but then changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard as his father had instructed. Then the father told the second son to go and he willingly and respectfully agreed but then didn’t do as he had been told. Asked which of the two did his father’s will the priests and elders had to answer, ‘The first.’ In other words, the one who had refused and then ‘changed his mind’ and went to work. The parable makes it clear that he was the son who was entering the kingdom of heaven, like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, who had changed their minds and were doing what God wanted of them. In contrast there were the religious authorities who claimed to be obedient to God and yet weren’t working in the vineyard as they had been told.

It would be too easy to take this story as an ancient conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. However, the reality is that every day our Lord asks us to do many different things in his Kingdom and, like the first son, our initial reaction is perhaps to say, ‘No!’ and it isn’t until we think about it and change our mind that we obediently set about the task. Equally there are times when, if we are honest, we are like the second son and say that we will obediently work for the kingdom, then don’t act or live like that at all. Jesus’ parable makes it clear that it isn’t enough to say that we are his followers if we don’t put our faith into action and follow his teachings and example. We must obey Jesus’ teaching and the prompting of the Holy Spirit and obediently do the things he wants us to do. To quote an expression I often use, it isn’t enough to ‘talk the talk’ we must also ‘walk the walk.’

I read a lovely story by a woman called Rosa Veal about someone she met when she was on a tour of the Holy Land. She wrote, ‘Occasionally I meet someone who seems to have a secret, some special knowledge that sets that person apart.’ The person’s name was Ruby Free and the woman wrote of her that as well as leading the tour she was also a good listener, a trouble-shooter, an organiser, a mother-hen to the 72 folks who were on the tour, plus caring for her own two children. Yet she never seemed tired, was never out of sorts. She then wrote that she visited Ruby when they go back home and there she discovered her secret. There it was, a two-word motto over her sink, ‘YES, LORD.’ (from a story by Rosa Cornelia Veal).

God grant us all that obedient spirit that readily and willing says, ‘Yes Lord’ and then sets out to act on our promise to follow Jesus and to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Prayer: Lord God, we thank you that in Jesus Christ we are a new creation, your people called to seek your Kingdom and righteousness. For the example of your love and sacrifice in Jesus Christ, for the strengthening and direction of your Spirit, and for opportunities to work for the Kingdom of God, we give you thanks. Grant that as members of Christ’s Church we might speak and work with a sense of service and humility filled with compassion and sympathy for others. Help us to obediently say, ‘Yes, Lord’ and to strive in all that we say, do, and are in seeking your Kingdom and as disciples of Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

As we pray for your Kingdom, we pray that all the nations of earth might become your kingdoms of truth, justice, and love. We pray for rulers and leaders of the nations. Grant them humility, integrity, and a desire to serve their people and the peace of the world. We pray for those who seek new life and freedom; asylum seekers, refugees, and all those made homeless and stateless through war and violence. Grant them refuge, peace and security and help us to have welcoming hearts and willing hands to help.

As Covid 19 cases rise again here, and in other countries, grant wisdom to leaders and care for others in all our actions and decisions. We pray that you will comfort the family, friends, and colleagues of the policeman shot in Croydon, for all those who keep us safe in the Police, emergency services and armed forces. Grant them strength and guidance in a difficult world. Be near to the sick, the dying and the bereaved that they may know your peace and your strength for we ask it in Jesus name, and in his words pray together saying: The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn 502:     

1. Take my life, Lord, let it be consecrated, glad, and free; take my moments and my days, let  them flow in ceaseless praise.

 2. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of your love; take my feet, that I may run bearing news of Christ your Son.             

 3. Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King; take my intellect and use every power as you shall choose.                

 4.Take my will – your will be done, may my will and yours be one; take my heart – it is your          own, it shall be your royal throne.     

  5. Take my love – my Lord, I pour at your feet its treasure-store; take myself, and I will be all       for you eternally. Frances Ridley Havergal

Blessing: The blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon you, remain with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen

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Wednesday 23rd September 2020.

Thought: Back in August I spoke about Cain’s response to God when asked about his brother Abel, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper.’ In other words, Cain was saying to God, ‘I’m not responsible for keeping watch over him.’ I’m sure most of us have been saddened, perhaps even alarmed, by reports of a resurgence of the Covid 19 virus. While we all knew there were risks in easing of the lockdown and a return to some kind of normal life, I’m sure we had all hoped that it could be done without a fresh rise in infections. However, it is clear that the virus still poses a serious threat to health and life. As I thought about how long this might go on it reminded me of the difference between a one hundred metre sprint and a marathon. It seems that coping with this virus will be a marathon rather than a sprint and, like marathon runners, we will all need to pace ourselves to run the race of looking after ourselves and others for a long time to come. Which won’t be easy, especially when we had all begun to think we could relax a little, but we all need to continue being our brother’s and sister’s keepers. Being careful and observing the rules on social distancing and meeting together for however long this race lasts. I’m sure the day will come when we can again meet, shake hands, and give one another hugs and, what I also long for, the day we will all be able to worship and sing together. However, we haven’t reached the tape just yet so, we have to keep running the race, trusting in God, and looking out for one another. God bless. Stay safe. Morris

Prayer: Father, we are disappointed that the crisis is still with us and yet, we knew that this was not going to be a short race. Strengthen us for the task of caring for ourselves and others as we face the challenges ahead. Grant wisdom to all those who make important decisions about how to deal with the virus. Those whose lives are disrupted by the rules, people who miss socialising, those made unemployed or unable to work. Parents coping with insufficient childcare and teachers and youngsters facing up to the new rules at school. We thank you for carers and medical staff, for families and neighbours keeping others safe and well. Be with the sick, the dying and the bereaved that they may know your presence and your peace. Hold us all in your love and grant that we might continue to support and help one another in these difficult times. For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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Sunday 20th September 2020 – 16th After Pentecost.

Approach: ‘The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. Psalm 145: 8- 9 (N.R.S.V.)

Hymn 465: 1. Be thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art; thou my best thought in the day or the night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

2. Be thou my Wisdom, be thou my true Word; I ever with thee, and thee with me, Lord; thou my      great Father: thine own I would be; thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

  3. Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight; be thou my dignity, thou my delight, thou my       soul’s shelter, and thou my high tower; raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

  4. Riches I heed not, nor earth’s empty praise, thou mine inheritance, now and always; thou, and thou only, the first in my heart, High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

  5. High King of Heaven, after victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun! Heart of  my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, O Ruler of all Irish, 8th century. translated Mary Elizabeth Byrne, revised Eleanor Henrietta Hull.

Prayer: Almighty and eternal Lord God, in this new day we rejoice again that we are your children, forgiven, loved, and free through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Keep that vision of your grace and love revealed in him before us always. Forgive us when we fix our gaze on lesser things and try to find satisfaction in life apart from your love and presence. Be in our thinking and surround us with the light of your presence by day and by night. Grant your Spirit to direct what we say and keep us true to your Word, Jesus Christ. Remind us that we are one with you, our gracious, heavenly Father. When life is difficult keep us true and strong in faith, with our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the beginning and fulfilment of our faith. Lord God it is in your grace and love that we find fulness of life and in Jesus Christ that we see the truth about life in your presence and love. Keep us in that truth that we might know your love and may serve you and our neighbours with grace and love. Until, having won the victory of life through Jesus we might know the joys of dwelling with you forever. For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom with you Father, and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen

Readings: St. Matthew 19: 16 – 20: 16.

Sermon:  In today’s gospel Jesus told a parable about a landowner who went out early in the morning and hired day labourers to work in his vineyard. Those men worked hard for him all day. However, as the day progressed the owner went out and found men who had no work and hired them as well. He did this at nine o’clock, then again at noon, at three o’clock, and he did the same again about five. When evening came and it was time to pay them, he paid those hired later a full day’s pay even although they had only worked a part of the day, and some only a few hours. He then paid the same to those who had worked hard throughout the whole day. They began to grumble and became jealous and angry feeling that, if they others had a full day’s pay, then they deserved more because they had worked longer, and through the heat of the day. However, the landowner refused reminding them that they had received their full pay as agreed. He pointed out that he could be generous if he wanted. He then took them to task that instead of being thankful they showed no gratitude for his generosity which paid everyone the same so that they all had a decent day’s pay come evening.

Of course, this parable doesn’t make economic sense because it is a parable about the grace of God who doesn’t reward us with what we deserve but from his grace and love and the background to the parable is about those who think that they deserve God’s grace and love. Earlier in the gospel there is the story of the rich man who came to Jesus. An example of someone who was first in wealth and perhaps even first in observance of religious law. He came to ask what he needed to do ‘to have eternal life’ or to deserve eternal life. He went away sad because he was unable to give up his wealth, position, and perhaps even his view of his own goodness, to follow Jesus. After this we read that the disciples began to wonder what they would get, and Peter reminded Jesus that, unlike the rich man, they had actually left everything to follow him and asked him if they would get what they deserved. Jesus reassured them that in following him they would be rewarded abundantly. However, he then told them the parable about workers some who worked all day and deserved a day’s pay, and others who only worked a few hours and obviously didn’t deserve a full wage but who were all rewarded the same out of the landowner’s generosity. A parable that teaches that even those who work the hardest and the longest in the Kingdom of God don’t deserve more but that all are rewarded from the generosity of God’s grace and love.

As an example of economics and employment this story can be found wanting but it isn’t about economics, or even fairness. It is a story of God’s generosity, grace, and love to those who don’t deserve them but find them because they have flung their lot in with Jesus. We also need to remember that the parables are stories about us. So, who might we be in the story? Are we like the rich man, wealthy in goods and religious zeal, or the disciples who had given up everything to follow after Jesus? Or are we like the workers who have toiled long and hard in the Kingdom? There again perhaps we know that we are more like those who started work towards the end of the day who have received more than we can ever deserve. The fact is that no one can earn or deserve God’s love. It is a free gift to faith in Jesus Christ through whom God in his generous grace and love gives us more than we can earn or ever deserve. We can only thank God and try to treat one another with that same generosity of spirit and love. Remembering that, while the world thinks in terms of what people deserve, in the Kingdom of God it all depends on God’s generosity of grace and love. Thanks be to God and to his name be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, we cannot earn, we cannot deserve your love. We cannot win heaven climbing the heavenly slopes by our own efforts. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we learn of your grace and love, discover that we are forgiven and can know that fulness of life that he came to bring. Grant us true humility of heart, spirits open to your prompting and the generosity of spirit that forgives others and has compassion on them as we are forgiven and loved by you. We pray for those who face further lockdowns and uncertainty because of fresh outbreaks of the virus, for those who are sick, and those who are dying. Bless the staff who care for them, relatives who watch and wait, and the bereaved. Lord it is easy to criticise leaders in government, the health service, and the emergency services but help us to see the good that is done and to be supportive of all those struggling with difficult decisions. Grant wisdom, clearness of expression and honesty to all those entrusted with positions of authority and power. We pray for all whose lives are limited by war, poverty, or violence. For refugees and migrants seeking a better life and grant us generosity of spirit and a welcoming compassion. We thank you that Aberlour has found a new minister and pray that the years ahead may be blessed and fruitful. Guide all the churches in these difficult times, grant unity of spirit and purpose that we all may faithfully serve you in our communities and the wider world. For we ask it in Jesus’ name and in his words pray together saying: The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn 159: 1. Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way, sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided, Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.            

2. Lord, for that word, the Word of life which fires us, speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze, teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us, Lord of the word, receive your people’s praise.                 

3. Lord, for our land in this our generation, spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care; for young and old, for commonwealth and nation, Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.                        

4.Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him, loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain; hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him, Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.             

5. Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us, self on the cross and Christ upon the throne; past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone. Timothy Dudley Smith.

Blessing: The blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon you, remain with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen

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Wednesday 16th September 2020.

Thought: The other day I was listening to the wireless – I can’t get used to calling it the radio – and an inspiring story of forgiveness and reconciliation. The story began in 1972 in Londonderry in Northern Ireland at the height of the ‘Troubles’ there. A boy of 10 called Richard Moore was running home from school for his lunch. His route took him past a Police Station guarded by soldiers which was under attack by a mob. The captain in charge, Charles Innes, fired a rubber bullet to disperse the crowd. He hit no one in the crowd but the round continued and struck young Richard in the face. He was blinded for life.

It would be understandable if Richard had become bitter and angry with a hatred for the man who had fired the bullet. However, Richard refused to let what had happened colour his life and he grew up feeling no hatred for the soldier. He went on to become a successful businessman and director of the charity Children in Crossfire which helps children all over the world. Years later Richard Moore and Charles Innes met and developed a deep friendship and respect for one another.

In his letter to the Romans St. Paul wrote, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8: 28 N.I.V.) Richard said that, while he would not have wished to be blind, it has brought many blessings into his life that he did not think he would have had without his blindness. It is also true that many others have been blessed through Richard and his charity work. In a situation where violence and revenge were widespread and in a world in which we so often hear of hatred and a desire for revenge I find him a truly inspiring example of how a refusal to hate, true forgiveness and a desire for reconciliation can bring great good out of the worst of events. Without knowing anything about his faith I also believe that God has worked with Richard to bring great good out of what could have been a life-destroying tragedy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father, our Lord Jesus Christ taught that when someone hurts us, we should not respond with a desire for revenge or the intention to inflict a similar harm on them. Instead we should break the cycle of ‘an eye for an eye’ by turning the other cheek, by refusing bitterness and hatred, and learning how to forgive as we are forgiven. We confess that this isn’t always easy and ask that you will help us to resist the temptation to get our own back and show us how to live at one with our neighbours. We pray for reconciliation where there is division, peace where there is war, and compassion where there are any in need. Amen.

Further prayer points: Thanks that Aberlour has been blessed with a minister and pray for Andrew Kimmitt and his wife as they prepare to move north. For strength and guidance in the continuing crisis. For pupils, teachers, parents, and all those coping with the Covid restrictions. For all those who are sick, for those awaiting tests or treatment. For peace and release for all who are victims of poverty, abuse, violence, or war.

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Thoughts from Morris (David today) Sunday 13th September

Call to Worship: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes: its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Praise:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Joining in glad adoration. 

Praise to the Lord, Who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shieldeth thee gently from harm and when fainting sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy heart’s wishes have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
Who with His love doth befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.  
Joachim Neander translated by Catherine Winkworth

Prayer:   Our Father in heaven, we thank you that although we cannot meet together physically we can come to you in the Spirit of Christ, united with you and with one another. We thank you that you have promised if we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. We praise you for your presence with us.

As buds open up to the light and warmth of the sun, we open our hearts to the light of your truth and the warmth of your love. Guide us by your truth, and warm us by your love.

Lord you are the most Holy God, but our lives continually fall short of your will for us. In times of difficulty we find it hard to trust you, and worry and fear take over. So we lose the gift of your peace. We let down others through our careless living and thoughtless words. We fail to love one another as you have commanded us. 

We thank you that Jesus took our sins upon himself when He died for us upon the Cross. So we are assured that as we confess our sins you forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

Through your grace and mercy help us to make a new start in our walk with you, and to give ourselves to serve you. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Reading: Genesis 7:1-10; 8:1-5 & 18-22

Reflection:   I’m looking at the story of Noah today and relating it to the times we are going through. Noah faced a challenge when God told him to build an ark, probably far from the sea, and fill it with his own family and representatives of all the animals and birds. Was he going to trust God and obey Him, and risk being a laughing stock among his neighbours and all who passed by? “Why are you building a boat here,” they must have asked. “Are you out of your mind?” But Noah did trust God, and obeyed the command he had been given. We know the story well. The rains came down, the floods rose up, and Noah was vindicated in his faith. 

I wonder what it must have been like in the ark? Smelly and unpleasant, I imagine, and they would have been continually mucking out! I imagine they were close-packed together too which could have been very stressful. Noah hadn’t been told how long they would be in the boat, and they would be wondering if they had enough food to last out for the animals. I worked out that they were in the ark for more than a year, but they didn’t know that then. It was a time of uncertainty. 

The times we are living in are not unlike this. These are times of uncertainty too. It is a time of waiting, and nobody knows for how long. We are deprived of our usual freedoms as the inhabitants of the ark were too. We may have thought the situation was easing for us, that we were slowly getting out of lockdown, but only today as I write some restrictions have been tightened. Restrictions that were to be lessened remain as before. We are living through a time of difficulty and uncertainty. It is proving stressful for many people.

But Noah had a deep and rich resource to draw from! In this situation he trusted in God. His trust was already vindicated as the ark had proved their lifesaver. The floods did come and only his crew, made up of his family and all the animals, were saved. 

Early on in the coronavirus, a friend shared the verses of scripture used earlier in today’s Call to Worship. It tells us that when we trust in God and put our roots down deeply in Him, we need not be worried “in a year of drought”. The metaphor changes from flood to drought, but you get the point. Despite all the uncertainty and the difficulties we can draw from the rich resources we have in Jesus Christ who is Lord of every circumstance. We can have peace of heart and mind as well! Isaiah tells us: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose mind is steadfast, because they trust you. Trust in the Lord for ever……”(Isaiah 26:3-4). We can even be fruitful as Christians during these testing times – the tree by the waters never fails, even in the year of drought, to bear fruit.

Our trust is based not on ourselves but on God and His faithfulness. So let us during this time of difficulty and uncertainty trust in His love and faithfulness, and as a result know His peace in our hearts. And let us also persevere in living fruitful Christian lives as we are called to do.

And God did remember Noah and his motley crew. Eventually the ark came to rest on a mountain top, and after another long wait God told them to exit the ark. They were to make a new start, and replenish the earth, with the promise of God’s faithfulness in the future. He made a covenant with them and signed it with a rainbow, a symbol of reassurance as well as hope. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, blessed be your holy name. We praise you for your love and faithfulness towards us. You allow us to go through difficult and uncertain times but we thank you that you can use them to develop our perseverance. So strengthen us and guide us as we renew our trust in you. We thank you for your promise that the work you have begun in us “you will carry on to completion on the day of Christ Jesus”. 

Hear our prayers for others:

We thank you that the scare of coronavirus coming to the Lossie Primary School, and to Aberlour via the Grantown Abattoir have proved unfounded. We pray for those who have been infected in Grantown, and for the people of Grantown that they would be kept safe

For all who are made anxious, stressed or lonely through the unusual times we live in, that they would turn to you for strength and comfort

For all who are able to help and befriend those who are anxious, stressed or lonely that they would be responsive to their needs 

For those who have had their treatment for other illnesses delayed because of coronavirus that they would be helped

For the NHS and all who work for it facing so many pressures and needs; for those who make decisions about priorities

For those in other lands who face an even worse spread of the pandemic, along with drought or other extreme weather caused by climate change

For those who live on the Pacific Coast of the USA made homeless by the raging forest fires, and for all who help them. 

Now let us remember in quietness anyone it is in our hearts and minds to pray for…………………………… Bless them with your healing and strengthening presence we pray.

Father we gather these our prayers together and offer them to you in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Amen

Now let us say the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father……..”

Hymn

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my father, There is no shadow of turning with thee

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, As thou hast been thou forever wilt be

Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see, All I have needed thy hand hath provided

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

Summer and winter, springtime and harvest, Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness, To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love

Great is thy faithfulness……

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

Great is thy faithfulness……

Thomas O. Chisolm

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rain fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand. Amen.

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