Sunday 24th May                    7th Sunday of Easter (Sunday After Ascension Day).

Approach: ‘It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night. Psalm 92: 1 – 2.

The recent crisis has meant that we cannot gather together for worship and this hymn is a ‘gathering hymn’ which of course we are not doing physically. However, I once read that every Christian is a church and it is true that we are all temples of the Holy Spirit. We may be separated, yet in the Spirit we are one. Let us worship God together:

Hymn 197 As we are gathered, Jesus is here; one with each other, Jesus is here; joined by the Spirit, washed in the blood, part of the body, the Church of God. As we are gathered, Jesus is here; one with each other, Jesus is here. John Daniels

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, that hymn reminds us that although we are not physically gathered together, we are still the Church in our praise and our trust in our heavenly Father through you, united by your Spirit with our families, friends and neighbours in our own congregations and communities. Help us also to remember that we are united in our prayers and our praise with fellow Christians all around the world whatever the language, culture, or denomination. We ask for strength and patience in these difficult days which seem to get longer the more we hear of an easing of restrictions. Forgive us if we have become impatient with others, especially those nearest to us, and grant us more understanding and kindness in our thoughts and in our words with one another.  As we lift up our voices in praise and worship grant that we may know you are with us wherever we are and help us to go into this new week with renewed patience, a deeper peace, and a stronger faith. Amen. The Lord’s Prayer.

Reading: St. John 17: 1 – 21.

Sermon: Today’s gospel reading is again taken from John’s account of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples and gives an account of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples from which I want to think about verses 15 – 18, ‘I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’  N.R.S.V.

There is a well-known expression that Christians are to be, ‘in the world but not of it’. If there is one thing this pandemic has made clear it is that we cannot escape being in the world. I did read of a man who ‘self-isolated’ on a deserted island but even he, in common with millions of others around the world, shared in the restrictions of ‘lockdown’ to try to minimise the spread of the virus. The phrase, ‘we are all in this together’ has been a bit over used and is often abused, but the fact is that it is often only at times like this that we are reminded of the truth of that statement and of how much we depend on one another. Jesus’ prayer was not that his friends should somehow escape the world but that they should be in it, united and at work as his witnesses. In his prayer in John we find, ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’ In the Acts of the Apostles we find the same thing said in a different way, where just before his ascension Jesus tells the apostles that once they have been given power by the Holy Spirit they will be his witnesses, ‘and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  We are in the world like everyone else but, as disciples of Jesus, as Christians, we are sent to be his disciples and to witness to him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gospels tell us how a man once came and asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments which the man claimed to have kept from his youth. He revealed that he was obviously a man who was serious in his faith but who equally obviously felt that there was something lacking in his life. Jesus looked at him and loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me. When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.’ St Mark 10: 21b – 22 N.R.S.V. This story isn’t just about giving up wealth, it is about the choice of ‘being in the world and of the world’ , or being ‘in the world but not of it’, but spending life devoted to following Jesus and finding in him the fulness of life that we believe only he can give.

In this pandemic there have been many signs of God’s Kingdom by people of all faiths and none. The crisis has shown us the riches of many folks who have stepped up to give help to their neighbours. It has cost some their health and some even their lives. We can only thank God for them, applaud their service and humbly pray that, if they ‘lack one thing’ then, they too will come to know and follow Jesus. Last Wednesday was Ascension Day which celebrates our Lord’s return to his Father. In 2016 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York began a prayer mission which runs from Ascension Day to Pentecost Sunday entitled, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ inviting congregations and individuals to pray that people might come to know Jesus in their lives. Over the next few weeks we too can join with our fellow Christians to pray, ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’  The web site for prayer information is: http://www.thykingdomcome.global (then Prayer Journal, ‘The Father’s Love.’

Hymn 473: 1. ‘Thy kingdom come!’ – on bended knee the passing ages pray; and faithful souls have yearned to see on earth that kingdom’s day.

2. But the slow watches of the night not less to God belong: and for the everlasting right the silent stars are strong.

3. And lo already on the hills the flags of dawn appear; gird up your loins, ye prophet souls, proclaim the day is near;

4. That day in whose clear shining light all wrong shall stand revealed, when justice shall be thrones with might, and every hurt be healed.

5. When knowledge hand in hand with peace, shall walk the earth abroad, the day of promised righteousness, the promised day of God. Frederick Lucian Hosmer (1840 – 1929)

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father we thank you for all the ways that your love and goodness comes to us. In the beauties of Creation and the world around us, the birds in the garden busy nesting and filling the evening air with their songs. For the promise of a future harvest in the fields and all the ways that your bounty comes to us. We remember too those for whom lock down has meant a feeling of isolation, those who have little access to a garden and the open air. Be near to grant your peace, the support of friends and neighbours. We thank you for Food Banks and all the ways the hungry are fed and pray for all those for whom the lockdown has meant worry and hardship. Lord your Kingdom come; your will be done.

In a world which seems so often at odds we thank you for the many signs of your kingdom in the ways people have reached out to help and support their neighbours and pray that all may come to know your grace and love. We pray for the ways that governments have tried to help, for the common purpose in seeking vaccines and treatment for this virus. Lord your kingdom come; your will be done.

We pray that the leaders of the nations may seek ways to peace and not conflict, and for all the nations seeking answers to the consequences to their countries and communities. We pray for peace and security for all victims of war, shelter for the homeless, and a welcome for migrants and refugees. Lord your kingdom come; your will be done.

We pray for the sick and for those caring for them at home, in hospitals, and in care homes. Grant healing to the sick, peace for the dying and comfort for the bereaved. As governments seek ways to ease restrictions grant patience and wisdom and a continued understanding of our need to care for one another. Lord your kingdom come; your will be done. 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 glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Blessing: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen.

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Thought for Wednesday 20th May 2020.

I don’t know if it’s a male failing, but I don’t always hear what Jan says to me and, although I admit that I am slightly hard of hearing, in response I claim the reason is because she doesn’t speak clearly enough. If I am honest, I sometimes don’t hear what she has said, or I hear something different from what she has actually said which can make for some interesting conversations I can tell you. There is an old expression which goes, ‘age doesn’t come by itself’, which is certainly true in my case. As I thought about this for Wednesday’s ‘Thought’ I was reminded of a prayer a friend sent to me a few years ago which touches on some of the changes the years can bring. It purports to be by a 17th century nun but, whether that is true or not, I find its honesty, wisdom, and grace gives me food for thought. It also makes me smile when I recognise myself in its words. I offer it as the prayer for today in the hope that it will also give you food for thought but mostly that it will make you smile. God bless you all, Morris.

17th Century Nun’s Prayer

Lord Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will one day be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and a love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but, help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.

17th May 2020                                    6th Sunday of Easter.

Call to Worship: O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43: 3.

Hymn: 1. O send thy light forth and thy truth; let them be guides to me, and bring me to thine holy hill, even where thy dwellings be. Then will I to God’s altar go, to God my chiefest joy: yea, God, my God, thy name to praise my harp I will employ.

2. Why art thou then cast down, my soul? What should discourage thee? And why with vexing thoughts art thou disquieted in me? Still trust in God; for him to praise good cause I yet shall have: he of my countenance is the health, my God that doth me save.      

Psalm 43: 3- 5 The Scottish Psalter 1929.

Prayer: Lord God we depend on the light of your truth, and the guidance of your Spirit that we may truly worship and praise your Holy name. Our Lord Jesus taught that to love him meant to obey his commandments, and we do try, but we confess that we often don’t fully understand, or are unwilling to take the risk, or pay the cost of what obeying his commandments might mean.

We find it hard to love one another as he has loved us, difficult to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile, we are afraid of what it means to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow after him. We confess that too often we depend on our own strength and our own understanding and that we miss hearing that still, small voice.

Forgive us and help us to be more attentive and more patient in our listening, more attuned to the work of your Spirit within us, more willing to admit that we need our Lord’s guidance 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.

Reading: St. John 14: 15 – 26

Sermon: Today’s reading is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples and in today’s lesson he begins by telling his disciples what it means to say they love him, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’

Very often love is described in poetry and songs as an attraction, an emotion or as a feeling but here Jesus makes it clear that it is also about actions. Love of Jesus and obedience go hand in hand because being a disciple of Jesus isn’t just about what we feel or what we say we believe but about how we try to live out his teaching and follow his example in our lives. Which has never been easy.

Jesus called his first disciples by saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’, and they got up, left their nets, and followed him. However, they also learned that he meant more than simply following after him, he also meant learning to live out what he taught. It was an affair of the heart and soul and was about living like him, from the inside out. It wasn’t about the face they showed the world, but about the inclinations of their hearts, It was about loving enemies as well as friends, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and loving one another as he had loved them, and to help them understand and do that he promised them a helper, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’ (N.R.S.V.) Jesus promised his disciples ‘another Advocate’, which can also be translated as ‘another Helper’, by which he meant one to be with them after he was no longer with them in the flesh, to teach them and help them just as he had. His own Spirit of truth who would not only be with them but who would live in them to guide them and strengthen them from the inside out.

The Holy Spirit is often portrayed as a dove and, as I wrote this, I had an image of a nesting box filled with baby birds with the adults flying out and in to feed and nurture their young. It gave me a further image of each of us as the nesting box with the Holy Spirit, like those birds, constantly at work within us to nurture us and help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a follower and a friend of Jesus. In truth, to make us more like Jesus in everything we say, do and are.

I am very fond of a saying of Teresa of Avila which goes, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks in compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

 Jesus made it clear that to love him is to keep his commandments and it is by reading and learning his teaching, and in trying to live it out every day that we discover the wonderful truth that we don’t struggle alone because he is working within us, not just to make us better people, although he will certainly do that if we let him, but to make us more like him, that we might be his body and do his work in the world. To God’s name be all praise and glory, now and forevermore. Amen.

Hymn: Spirit of God, unseen as the wind, gentle as is the dove, teach us the truth and help us believe, show us the Saviour’s love.

1. You spoke to us long, long ago, gave us the written word; we read it still, needing its truth, through it God’s voice is heard. 

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind, gentle as is the dove, teach us the truth and help us believe, show us the Saviour’s love.

2. Without your help we fail our Lord, we cannot live his way; we need your power, we need your strength, following Christ each day.

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind, gentle as is the dove, teach us the truth and help us believe, show us the Saviour’s love. Margaret V. Old (1932 – 2001)

Prayer: Lord God we thank you for our Lord’s promise to send us a Helper to guide and strengthen us as we try to live as his followers, his friends, in the world. We thank you too for our fellow members in the Church whose fellowship and friendship is an inspiration and encouragement to us.

We pray for the new Moderator, the Right Reverend Dr Martin Fair, his family, and his chaplains that they may know your presence and guidance in the coming year. We thank you for all the ways ministers and members of the Church are praying for and working to help their communities in this crisis.

We pray for our own community and thank you for all those safely helping others and pray for support for all those who live alone. We thank you for our own family, friends, and neighbours who keep in contact reminding us we are not alone and helping us through these difficult days. Especially we thank you for the promise that we need not struggle alone, because by your Spirit you are there to guide us, comfort and strengthen us.

We pray for all those facing financial hardship because of this crisis and pray that they may be supported through these difficult days. We thank you for all those who dedicate themselves to caring for those who are sick, at home or in hospital.  For those working in the community and in Care Homes that they may be protected and kept safe. We thank you for all those in government working to keep us safe, guide their decisions amidst all the conflicting calls they face. We thank you for all those working in the Police and emergency services – we pray that they might know they are appreciated, and able to carry out their duties safely.

Grant healing to the sick, comfort for the dying and peace to the bereaved. We remember countries struggling to cope with the virus and pray for financial and practical help where needed and thank you for the work of charities trying to help. Be with parents coping with children during the lockdown and help us all to have patience as we look to the easing of restrictions that we may keep ourselves and others safe. For we ask it in Jesus name and pray together in his words – The Lord’s Prayer.

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.

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Thought for Wednesday 13th May 2020.

The Lectionary reading for today is from St John 14: 27 – 31, and I have chosen as our Thought for today verse 27 in which we read of Jesus’ promise of peace to his friends. By which he did not mean a trouble-free life as the world might interpret peace, but the peace of Jesus himself who trusted in his heavenly Father to be with him despite all the troubles and the dangers he faced. The peace of trusting in God that gave the disciples the faith and courage to proclaim the Good News of the gospel, and sustained them even when they were arrested, imprisoned, persecuted, and faced martyrdom. Many years ago, there was a poster in the Chaplaincy in Raigmore Hospital which depicted a stormy sea with huge, wind whipped waves. It had the caption, ‘God doesn’t promise us freedom from the storm but peace amidst the storm.’ These days are certainly storm tossed for many of us and, in the midst of this storm, may God grant us faith and trust in Jesus’ promise that, whatever the storm may bring, our hearts need not be troubled nor need we be afraid, for we are held in God’s love, ‘Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’  (N.R.S.V.)

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, sometimes the waters of our lives are calm and gentle while at other times they are like a stormy sea that threatens to drown us. When trouble comes help us to remember Jesus’ promise of peace, and how he calmed a storm, that we can face life’s storms with faith and peace knowing that we can never be separated from your love. Be near to all those struggling because of this crisis, those who feel isolated and lonely, and those bored and impatient for an end to the restrictions it has brought. Grant peace to the anxious, healing to the sick and comfort to the dying and the bereaved. We thank you for all those caring for the sick and the vulnerable, for good neighbours everywhere and, in this Christian Aid Week, we pray for our neighbours around the world who face this crisis with limited medical care and resources. Bless the work of Christian Aid and its partner organisations and help us to give what we can so that others can be helped amidst this storm. Be near our families and friends, near and far, hold them in your love and grant them your peace. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Donating to Christian Aid: The current crisis has meant that the usual Christian Aid collection cannot take place. However, you can still donate in various ways:

  1. Online at http://www.caweek.org/payin
  2. Telephone 020 7523 2269.
  3. At Gammack’s Saddler, High Street, Aberlour. Place your donation in a sealed envelope and hand in at the shop.

Christian Aid Partners: Information on Christian Aid partners’ work at 11.00 a.m. on each of the days of Christian Aid Week on this address. www.facebook.com/christianaid

Sunday 10th May.  5th of Easter – Christian Aid Week 10th – 16th May.

Approach: God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult….. Be still and know that I am God. The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. From Psalm 46   

Hymn: Jesus hands were kind hands, doing good to all, healing pain and sickness, blessing children small; washing tired feet and saving those who fall; Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all.

Take my hands, Lord Jesus, let them work for you, make them strong and gentle, kind in all I do; let me watch you, Jesus, till I’m gentle too, till my hands are kind hands, quick to work for you. Margaret Beatrice Cropper (1886 – 1980)

The following prayer is adapted from Christian Aid and uses hand washing as a practical prayer. You may wish to wash your hands, or simply act out washing your hands, as you slowly say this prayer.

Prayer: As we turn on the tap with its clean, refreshing water we turn our hearts towards you, O God the fountain of living water in our lives. As we wet our hands we confess that we need to be washed of all that is unworthy, and ask you to renew our thoughts, and cleanse our hearts that we might be transformed again into your faithful people. As we lather soap between fingers and over all our hands, remove from us all that brings us harm and might harm others. Remove the invisible guilt and shame that so often keeps us from you and separates us from one another. As we rinse our hands, we trust in your overflowing grace and forgiveness that makes all things clean and new 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 8: 1 – 4.

Sermon: My father had big hands, hands made muscular and strong by all the work he did. Jesus too probably had hands made strong from his work as a carpenter and how well the disciples must have come to know his hands. Hands they must have seen working, resting, praying, comforting, and healing the sick, and breaking bread. The gospels tell us that Jesus often reached out to touch people and in today’s lesson we read that a leper came and begged Jesus to cure him, ‘Lord if you choose you can make me clean.’ In response Jesus did more than answer the man’s request for a cure. He did something most unusual in those days, he stretched out his hand to touch a leper and, as he touched him, he said, ‘I do choose, be made clean.’ Human contact is important and by reaching out to touch the man Jesus gave him the human contact he had probably lacked for a long time, the touch of someone who cared.

We often take our hands for granted, and unfortunately this recent crisis has meant that, at the moment, we can no longer use our hands in the ways we used to. We usually shake hands in greeting, farewell or congratulation, but not at the moment. Although some of us did try touching elbows for a while but with ‘social distancing’ even that is no longer possible.  We use our hands to touch and comfort when someone is sad or upset, again not at the moment. The crisis has also meant hands must be washed regularly with soap and water while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at least twice, to ensure we have washed our hands for the required minimum 20 seconds. This is especially important after being outside, sneezing, coughing, blowing the nose, touching surfaces, door handles and so on. If handwashing is not possible then hand sanitizer should be used.  How aware we have all become of hands and how we use them, and one of the blessings of this crisis has been the way so many folks have found different ways to reach out and ‘touch’ others, giving them a helping hand, without any physical contact. I am sure that, as well as the practical help they get, it gives folks a huge boost to know that someone cares enough to help them.

This Sunday is the start of Christian Aid Week in which the emphasis is on those in poorer countries affected by Covid19. People who are far away and yet are still neighbours who need us to ‘reach out’ a helping hand. This is especially true in many of the countries of the world where poverty, less access to health care and difficulties in isolating the sick means that many people are much more liable to be affected by the virus. Christian Aid is working with local partners in different countries to help the most vulnerable people. For example, in Myanmar (formerly Burma) where around 300,000 people live in refugee camps and where access to healthcare and hygienic facilities is limited. The basic essential of soap is being distributed – some of this to the 15,000 people living in villages already quarantined because of Covid 19. As well as this Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks and hand sanitizer are also distributed, there is training on correct ‘physical distancing’, hand washing and how to ‘self-isolate’ for those infected. There are also schemes for making masks and producing hand sanitizer, and health care workers are trained in personal protection and treatment of the virus. Christian Aid and its partners carry on this work as well as providing food, shelter, and education to vulnerable people in many countries around the world.

I know that this crisis has also brought personal and financial hardship for many folks in this country and that many people are finding things difficult at the moment. However, the need is great amongst some of the most vulnerable people in the world and, although we live thousands of miles away, the appeal is to give them practical help but also to let them know that we care enough to stretch out and ‘touch’ their lives by donating what we can. God bless you and keep you safe. Amen.

Hymn: 1. The Church is wherever God’s people are praising, knowing they’re wanted and loved by their Lord. The Church is wherever Christ’s followers are trying to live and to share out the good news of God.

2. The Church is wherever God’s people are loving, where all are forgiven and start once again, where all are accepted, whatever their background, whatever their past, and whatever their pain.

3. The Church is wherever God’s people are seeking to reach out and touch folk wherever they are – conveying the Gospel, its joy and its comfort, to challenge, refresh, and excite and inspire.

4. The Church is wherever God’s people are praising, knowing we’re wanted and loved by our Lord, the Church is wherever we as Christ’s followers are trying to live and to share out the Good News of God. Carol Rose Ikeler (1920)

Prayer: (adapted from Christian Aid). God our refuge, we come to you with open hands, some of us with hearts full of questions, some of us bruised by bereavement, some of us fearful of what the future holds, all of us stunned by the events of this year. With the honesty of the psalmist, the wrestling questions of Job, and the lament of the prophets, we bring to you our questions or our silence. Draw close to us now in each of our homes as we place our honest questions and hopes into your open, resurrected, yet scarred hands.

God in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Silence)

Hear the cry of our hearts, Lord, silent and aloud, for bereaved neighbours, near and far. Comfort those pained by being absent, and hold close those who are hurting alone. In this season of Easter, renew us with resurrection hope that while weeping lingers in this night, joy will come with the morning.

God in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Silence)

On this Christian Aid Week Sunday, we pray for and with communities across the world who are most vulnerable to coronavirus. We pray for people living in refugee camps and city slums, with limited sanitation facilities, who are unable to wash their hands regularly, and have little opportunity to isolate from others. We pray for Christian Aid partners working to provide soap and buckets, communicating clear, accurate information, raising the voices of the most vulnerable and ensuring they are kept as safe as possible.

 God in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Silence)

We pray for much wisdom and resources for those in local and national authority for all frontline and key workers here in Britain, Ireland and across the world.

God in your mercy, hear all our prayers. Amen (Silence) Lord’s Prayer.

Blessing: May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warmly on your face; the rain fall softly upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand. Amen.

Donating to Christian Aid: The current crisis has meant that the usual Christian Aid collection cannot take place. However, you can still donate in various ways:

  1. Online at http://www.caweek.org/payin
  2. By telephone on 020 7523 2269 – patience is needed.
  3. At Gammack’s Saddler, High Street, Aberlour. Place your donation in a sealed envelope and hand in at the shop.

Christian Aid Services:

  1. Sunday 10th May at 1.00 p.m. with Bishop Rowan Williams and others on www.facebook.com/christianaid
  2. The work of Christian Aid partners at 11.00 a.m. on each of the days of Christian Aid Week on the above address.

Saturday 16 May, 11am – live on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook page

The Revd Dr Martin Fair will be installed as Moderator of the General Assembly.  The ceremony will take place in the Assembly Hall with only a few people physically present because of the COVID-19 restrictions, but followed by thousands of people across Scotland and around the world.  The service will be captioned and there will be the option of BSL interpretation.  Join us for an historic occasion and a clear statement that the Church is alive and active in these difficult days.

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Thought for Wednesday 6th May 2020                      Reading: Acts 2: 43 – 47.

‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.’ Acts 2: 44- 45.

One of the startling things about the young Church was the equality among the believers and their care for those who needed help. As our reading recounts ‘they had all things in common.’ (N.R.S.V.) and sold what they had so that it could be redistributed to those in need. Now I’m not suggesting that this would transfer directly to today but I read an article recently in which the authors argue that the crisis in which we find ourselves has led to a huge rise in neighbourliness, sociability, and a desire to take care of one another. They point out that the mantra, ‘We’re all in this together.’ has been widely disbelieved in recent years when divisions in income and circumstances, nationally and internationally, have been all too clear. However, in this crisis there really is a strong feeling that we are all in this together and they claim that society has begun to change because of it. This is seen in more cohesive communities with a greater awareness of what really are, and what are not, ‘essential’ jobs.

Government too has caught this spirit of oneness by assuming responsibility for the wages of a large part of the labour force, instructing councils to house the homeless and ‘rough sleepers’ within days. Some were then put up in empty hotels. After years of growing demand at Foodbanks the government has started food deliveries for the vulnerable.

I think I have said this already, but I think it is worth saying again, that one of the things we have all had to learn has been ‘social distancing’. However, many folks have said that the correct term should be, ‘personal distancing and social cohesion’. A point which stresses the need for personal distancing and the equal need for social coming together in care and support of one another. The early Church was an example of social cohesion, equality and care that was an inspiration to many. This crisis has led to a strong feeling that, from highest to lowest, we really are in this together. Something that has been shown in many different ways, from Captain Tom raising many millions to someone getting the messages for an elderly neighbour. However, the question is whether this will all last beyond this crisis. Let us pray that the friendliness, neighbourliness, social cohesion and awareness of our common purpose in these days will become the inspiration that points us to a different, more caring and more equal future together, in our own country and around the world.

Prayer Note: Please continue to pray for the young lass and her dad who were seriously injured in the car crash outside Craigellachie. Please pray for the family of the woman killed on the A96 between Keith and Fochabers who live near Craigellachie.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank you for the light of love and care that shines out in the darkness of this crisis and thank you for all the different ways we can help one another. We pray for governments seeking to maintain jobs and support the vulnerable and homeless, and for families, friends and neighbours playing their part. Be near to guide and support all health carers and social carers, all care home workers and residents, especially those in Skye, and other care homes, where the virus has spread. Grant healing to the sick, and comfort and peace to the dying and the bereaved. We pray for those whose treatment or operations have been postponed, grant them strength and peace in waiting. We thank you for all the friendship and care within our own congregations and communities, grant that we may draw closer together in prayer, care, and love of one another. We thank you for the sense that we have become a more caring society and pray that this will continue to grow beyond this crisis, in our own country and as a worldwide community. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday 3rd May                                                           4th Sunday of Easter

Approach:      I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.’ Ezekiel 34: 23

Psalm 23: 

1. The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want. He makes me down to lie in pastures green: he leadeth me the quiet waters by.

2. My soul he doth restore again; and me to walk doth make within the paths of righteousness, ev’n for his own name’s sake.

3. Yea, thou I walk in death’s dark vale, yet will I fear none ill: for thou art with me: and thy rod and staff me comfort still.

4. My table thou hast furnished in presence of my foes; my head thou dost with oil anoint, and my cup overflows.

5. Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me: and in God’s house for evermore, my dwelling place shall be.    Scottish Psalter 1929.

Prayer: Lord God, the Psalmist reminds us that in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, we have a Shepherd who knows us, calls us, and has given his life for his sheep. That in him our souls are restored, and we are guided in right paths to the glory of your most holy name. Even in the darkest valley and through death itself we know that we need have no fear for you are always with us holding us in your grace and your love. We rejoice in the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ, our Saviour, that we will share with him in that heavenly banquet and dwell in your house forevermore. Forgive us when, like errant sheep, we have gone astray and been concerned more with own paths than listening for the Shepherd’s voice calling us back to the new life that is ours in him. Help us to hear more clearly the invitation to follow him in faith and action everyday of our lives, that we might be more faithful witnesses in sharing your compassion, forgiveness and love with all those we meet. For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, to whom with you Father, and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all praise and glory now and forevermore. Amen.

Readings: St. John 10: 11 – 30.

Sermon: There’s a lovely story about a minister who was invited as a weekend guest to a country house. Another guest there was a famous actor who was persuaded to give a recitation of the 23rd Psalm which he did with great emphasis and eloquence. When he finished everyone applauded enthusiastically. Then the minister was asked to recite the Psalm which he did. However, when he finished, the applause was rather subdued, and people looked embarrassed. Later the actor congratulated the minister on his recitation, but the minister protested that the applause had surely shown that his effort had been much inferior to the actor’s. ‘On the contrary’, came the reply, ‘it was perfectly obvious to everyone that I know the psalm but that you know the shepherd.’

Being a disciple of Jesus is about knowing the shepherd. It is about listening for his voice and obediently responding to his call. It is about trust that the shepherd who knows each and every one of his sheep will never abandon us nor forsake us. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who knows and cares for each and every one of his sheep.

Many years ago I used to help my then son-in-law with the lambing and I’m afraid I was a bit of a ‘go fer’ but as for the rest, my knowledge was pretty limited. However, he knew his sheep and he would say things like, ‘Watch that yow she’s a bad- tempered old besom’. He could match up lost lambs with their mothers just by looking around the field, tell which twin lamb went with another, often knew when a ewe or a lamb was sickening and he would also spend a huge amount of time and effort looking for one lost sheep, or caring for one poor wee lamb.  Which was about much more than the financial but because he cared for his sheep. It is that kind of image that we find in the Bible in which the good shepherd knows his sheep and cares for his sheep. Even the most awkward and the poorest of the flock is known and valued, even the one that wanders off and gets lost. ‘Which one of you’ said Jesus’ ‘who has a 100 sheep would not leave the 99 sheep and search for the one that was lost and bring it home rejoicing.’

The Good Shepherd still calls his own to hear his voice and follow in his footsteps, to be his voice, and hands, his love and compassion, his Body in the world. One of the games I’m sure we all played as children was ‘Follow My Leader’ in which everyone on the group had to follow the actions of the leader. Discipleship too is about following our leader, listening to his voice and then following his way by faithfully living out his teaching and his example in the world. Jesus words, ‘‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’, are a pretty good summary of the Christian life, aren’t they? To hear the call of the Shepherd and to follow after him as his disciples, his friends, and his followers in the world. Nothing else will do. The call is either accepted or rejected; we either follow him or stay where we are. We are either Christ’s in the world or we walk by other paths and other ways. However, for those who hear and respond to his call he offers the promise of eternal life, ‘And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither can anyone snatch them out of my hand.’

I wonder how we imagine eternal life. Do we think of it simply as life that goes on for ever and ever and ever? Because if it is that I don’t think I would want it. The fact is, that Jesus didn’t say much to describe heaven or eternal life. What he did say was, ‘Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always: trust also in me……. I am going there on purpose to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.’ (St. John 14: 1 – 3).

There’s a lovely story of a wee boy who was all dressed up to go out. He was swinging on the garden gate when a neighbour passed and said, ‘My, you’re looking fine today – where are you off to?’ To which the wee lad replied in an excited rush, ‘I don’t know but I’m going with my Dad!’ None of us know where we are going, do we? As a song from many years ago ‘Que Sera Sera’, puts it, ‘The future’s not ours to see.’ – which is true enough because none of us actually knows what tomorrow might bring whether joy or tears, light or darkness. But wherever we are going we believe that the Good Shepherd is with us, calling us to listen to his voice, to follow him and to trust his promise that wherever life takes us we are always in his care and held in his love. That no-one and nothing can ever snatch us out of his care, in this life or in the next.

‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.’ St. John 10: 27 – 28 N.R.S.V.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer Note: Please pray for the family of the woman killed in the traffic collision on the A96 between Keith and Fochabers who live near Craigellachie.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we rejoice to know the Good Shepherd who knows us, loves us and calls us to follow him. Help us to be more attentive in listening for his voice, more obedient in responding to his call, and more devoted in his service, and in our service of one another.

We thank you for the news that the numbers dying of Covid19 are falling in this, and many other countries in the world. We pray that as nations begin to ease the ‘lockdown’ and restart their economies we will remember, and help, countries where there are insufficient resources or expertise to counter this pandemic effectively.

We pray for those at risk because they live on the streets, must work or have no work, those who are alone and lonely, at home or in hospital, those whose care of others puts them at risk, and those at risk because of where they live.

We pray comfort and healing for those who are sick, for those whose loved ones are ill, and for those who mourn the loss of a loved one. We pray for those we know injured or killed in accidents, for their families coming to terms with injuries or the loss of loved ones.

Bless your Church and all people of faith, that we may know your presence and rest in your love. For we ask it in Jesus name and, as a community of his people, pray together saying, Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Hymn:  1. I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest: lay down thy weary one, lay down thy head upon my breast’: I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad; I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.

2. I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Behold, I freely give the living water thirsty one, stoop down and drink, and live’: I came to Jesus and I drank of that life giving stream; my thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.

3. I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘I am this dark world’s Light: look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy days be bright’: I looked to Jesus, and I found in him my Star, my Sun; and in that light of life I’ll walk, till travelling days are done.  

Horatius N. Bonar (1808 – 1889)

Blessing: 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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Thought for Wednesday 29th April 2020.                     Reading: St. Luke 10: 25 – 37.

Jesus said,‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ N.R.S.V.

Reflection: Last night I watched a programme about the making of Aston Martin sports cars. It brought to mind a story I once read called ‘The Brick’ which tells of young, successful, executive type who was driving his brand new, very expensive, sports car down a city street. Suddenly a brick smashed into the door with a horrendously expensive sounding bang! He slammed on the brakes and leapt out of the car, ready to throttle the thug responsible. Grabbing the lad who had thrown it, he rammed him up against the nearest car and, inches from the boy’s face, roared at him, ‘You stupid idiot! That car cost me a fortune. What made you do that?’ With tears streaming down his face the boy sobbed, ‘Please mister, because no one would stop to help.’ He pointed between two parked cars where the man only now noticed another boy sprawled on the road.  The lad sobbed, ‘My wee brother fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him – and no-one would stop – so I threw the brick.’ Suddenly subdued the man went to help. A quick check told him that the boy was okay, so he set the wheelchair on the pavement and carefully lifted the boy back into it. He could only watch as, waving his thanks, the older lad pushed his handicapped wee brother away. The man had a long, slow walk back to his car where there was an eye-catching scar on the bright, new paintwork. The story goes that he never did get the damage repaired to remind him of this message, ‘Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!’

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told to a lawyer who had asked him the question, ‘But who is my neighbour?’ If there can be positives in this lockdown situation, one is surely that it has made us slow down and notice how much we depend on our neighbours. On our families and friends, our communities, as a society, a country, and those around the world. Politicians can be fond of saying, ‘We are all in this together.’ This has always been true, yet often goes unobserved, but it has surely never been more clear than in recent days.

God bless, stay safe, Morris & Jan.

Prayer Note: Please continue to pray for the young lass and her dad who were seriously injured in the car crash outside Craigellachie. They are both making progress although it will probably be a slow recovery. They are grateful for everyone’s prayers and the girl’s mum asked me to pass on their thanks.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank you for all those who are good neighbours in this crisis and for the lesson that we all depend on one another. We pray for all medical, nursing and care staff, especially peace and comfort for the families of all those who have died. Grant healing to those who are sick, we remember the family coping with the results of the crash outside Craigellachie. Grant healing that they might continue to gain strength and fitness, an awareness of your presence and peace and strength in their troubles. We pray for wisdom and sound judgement for all those trying to balance ‘health and wealth’, making difficult decisions about the future, in our own countries, and around the world. In a probably difficult economic future for all nations grant fair decisions, and continued aid and assistance for all those in need, especially for our neighbours in countries struggling with Covid19 with limited medical resources or essential supplies, support for refugees and peace for lives in turmoil because of war. Help us all to learn our dependence on one another and how to better care for one another. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

3rd Sunday of Easter                                                                           26th April 2020.

Approach: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17: 7 – 8

.Hymn:    1. For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies: Christ our God, to thee we raise, this our sacrifice of praise.

2. For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light: Christ our God, to thee we raise, this our sacrifice of praise.

3. For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight: Christ our God, to thee we raise, this our sacrifice of praise.

4. For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth, and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild: Christ our God, to thee we raise, this our sacrifice of praise.

5. For each perfect gift and sign of your love so freely given, graces human and divine, flowers of earth, and buds of heaven: Christ our God, to thee we raise, this our sacrifice of praise. Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1835 – 1917).

Prayer: Praise to you Lord God for the fruits of the earth that sustains our bodies with its abundance and for the beauties that touch our spirits and lifts our hearts. We thank you for the wonders of creation from the myriad stars in the night sky, to the colours of the flowers in the garden, the dawn chorus of the birds and the incredible variety of creatures on earth. We thank you for everything so wonderfully made and ask forgiveness that humanity is so careless of the other creatures and the planet entrusted to our care. Help us to live in harmony with the earth and save us from the greed and carelessness that spoils and destroys. Amen.

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7 – 8.

Reflection: What a wonderful week of sunshine we have had. A few days ago, I was sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine wondering at the colours and variety of the plants. At the moment most of the daffodils are past their best, but the tulips have bloomed to take over and I feasted my eyes on their wonderful yellows and reds. As well as tulips the pink froth of the cherry blossom is out, the buds on the apple tree are ready to open, and the white blossom of the pear tree has come and gone. Around the patio we call our ‘sit ooterie’ the clematis is beginning to blossom, elsewhere the rose bushes and hydrangea’s are beginning to sprout their leaves, the berberis darwinii is a riot of orange bobbles while the hostas in their shady corner are an abundance of greenery. There are many other plants in the garden also busily sprouting and growing, but I should remind you that Jan is the gardener with me as the ‘go for’ assistant.

However, I enjoy sitting in the garden and as I looked at all the colours and signs of new life around me, I began to think about what these plants need to produce their flowers and fruits. I thought of the earth which supplies their food and of the need to keep it fertile, the sun which provides them with light and warmth for growth, the water they need to survive and roots they must spread so that they can grow and flourish. I then went on to think of the words of the prophet Jeremiah who likened those who trust in God to trees planted by a stream that are able to sink their roots by the water and so survive even when the land becomes dry and barren with drought. It is an image that made me remember a lonely, stunted weeping willow in the Figgat Park near where I grew up in Edinburgh. Taller more majestic willows grew on the island in the pond where there was an abundance of water, but this tree was just off the path near the burn. We passed it every day on the way to school, climbed on it when we could, the Park-keeper being absent, and it is the one that has stuck in my memory.

It also seems to me that while it might be nice to grow majestically on an island away from the busyness of life and its problems, for most of us life is more like that of the tiny weeping willow by the burn. We have to face the dry times and the hard times as well as the times of abundance and easy days. The rules of ‘lockdown’ in this crisis have also meant that some folks are feeling alone and even lonely which are natural feelings.  But Jeremiah reminds us that our trust is in God, that it is by sinking our roots into him that we are blessed, and from him that we can draw strength and find the peace that we need in these difficult days. The words from Jeremiah with which we began are a challenge to us all to trust in God and to keep the ground of our faith fertile and well-watered, ‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.’

A final thought, as I looked at the garden with its abundance of flowers, I thought too of how many people in this crisis have blossomed with the fruits of compassion, love, friendship, neighbourliness and self-sacrifice. Let us thank God for them and to God’s name be all praise and glory, now and forevermore. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, we thank you for the blessings of a garden and pray for all those who do not have this privilege. Grant that they might find peace and relaxation in a safe environment to build themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. Be especially near to those who are housebound and grant them the blessings of safe contact with family and neighbours, and strength and peace in these days. We thank you for family, friends and neighbours who keep in touch, for carers who help the elderly or disabled, for medical staff, and all those whose work and effort blesses us every day. We thank you for all those, of many different ages, who have found ways to raise money for the NHS and charities. We pray for the homeless, for refugees, for those afflicted by war and violence, and for those in countries that do not have sufficient doctors, nurses or equipment to cope with this virus. Give wisdom in judgement to all governments working out how to relax the present rules and grant us all patience in waiting. All these prayers we ask in Jesus name and as a community of his people we pray together saying, Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever.

Hymn:    1. Through the love of God, our Saviour, all will be well. Free and changeless is his favour; all, all is well. Precious is the blood that healed us, perfect is the grace that sealed us, strong the hand stretched forth to shield us; all must be well.

2. Though we pass through tribulation, all will be well. Ours is such a full salvation, all, all is well. Happy, still in God confiding, fruitful if in Christ abiding, holy through the Spirit’s guiding; all must be well.

3. We expect a bright tomorrow; all will be well. Faith can sing through days of sorrow, ‘All, all is well.’ On our Father’s love relying, Jesus every need supplying, in our living, in our dying, all must be well. (Mary Peters 1813 – 1856).

Blessing: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, and with all those you love, now and forevermore. Amen.

Bible quotations from the NRSV with permission; Hymns are in the Public Domain.

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Thought for Wednesday 22nd April 2020.

Last Sunday I watched Songs of Praise in which the opera singer Katherine Jenkins sang, ’You’ll never walk alone.’ It is a song best known to many folks as a football anthem and one to which I have never paid much attention. However, it seems somehow appropriate in the present crisis, especially the chorus which ends, ‘Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone.’ In these days of lockdown some folks are actually alone and sometimes lonely too and, trite though it might be, this song reminds us that one of the heart-warming things about this crisis has been the many different ways it has drawn people together and united us in new ways. It also reminded me of psalm 139 which is one of my favourites. I like the version by Ian Pitt-Watson which begins, ‘Thou art before me Lord, thou art behind, and thou above me hast spread out thy hand.’ A reminder of our faith that God will be with us in the future as he has been in the past, and that he spreads his hand over us in the present. Let us go forward in faith, and hope, confident that we never walk alone.

God bless, stay safe. Morris

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing how a football anthem can touch us and remind us that there are many folks who care and that that you are always with us. We thank you for all those who have reached out to others, for friendliness and kindness, care and love. We thank you for the promise that you are with us today and will be with us tomorrow as you have been in the past. Help us to keep hope alive in this crisis, grant us patience, endurance and the peace that only you can give. We pray comfort for any who feel isolated and lonely, for those who have lost hope, for the sick and dying, and for those who mourn. We pray for medical staff and carers, for all those whose work makes life possible, keeping us warm, fed and safe.  For all the ways we are not alone we give you thanks. Amen.

(Chorus) Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain. Though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart. And you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.

Second Sunday of Easter                                                                   19th April 2020.

Approach:      ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ 1st Peter 1: 3

Hymn:

1. The Saviour died but rose again triumphant from the grave; and pleads our cause at God’s right hand, omnipotent to save.

2. Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love, or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heaven above?

3. Let troubles rise, and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall: through him all dangers we’ll defy, and more than conquer all.

4. Nor death, nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway, can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay.

5. Each future period that will bless, as it has blessed the past: he loved us from the first of time, he loves us to the last.  Scottish Paraphrases 1781

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, though we are separated and unable to meet we believe that you are with us to hold us and keep us, and that we are one in Jesus Christ, our Lord. We confess that there are times when we allow doubts to crowd that out of our minds, when we allow the present crisis to get us down. Help us to deal with the doubts, the passing hours, and any feelings of loneliness, or frustration. Grant us all that peace that is beyond our understanding and strength in knowing that we are precious in your sight and are held in your love. For we ask it in and through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Reading: St. John 20: 19 – 31.

Sermon: I have always had a soft spot for the apostle Thomas, known as Doubting Thomas. Partly because he has usually received such a bad press throughout the Church and is often held up as someone Christians shouldn’t be like. However, I’m not sure that is fair to Thomas because a careful reading of the gospels shows that he wasn’t the only one to doubt the resurrection. We read that the other apostles also doubted the reports of the Mary Magdalene and the women, and the report of the two on the Emmaus Road. So, it seems that Thomas wasn’t alone in his doubts.

I also think there are positive qualities about Thomas. True, we are told that he refused to believe the reports of the resurrection unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched him with his own hands. Hence the title which has stuck to him throughout history. However, there is an honesty about Thomas that will not easily give glib professions of faith that he cannot own. There is also the other way of looking at this that Thomas wanted to meet Jesus for himself because what others told him about their experience wasn’t enough for him; he wanted to experience the risen Lord for himself. Which is surely true for us all. Certainly, we can only see by faith because we can never have the proof of the risen Christ that the apostles and Thomas had. We are those, ‘blessed who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ However, like Thomas, faith has to become our own; we need to know within our hearts and our souls that Christ is alive and that he is with us. What others tell us of their own experiences can teach, inspire and encourage us but it is only when faith becomes our own that it can catch fire and fill us with joy in believing.

The second thing that we notice about Thomas is that he put himself in the way of faith. He had doubts and he stated them in no uncertain terms, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’. It was when Thomas separated himself from the fellowship that he missed Jesus’ appearance and was left with his doubts, and it was when he was again with them that Jesus came to him and his faith was confirmed. Unfortunately, we cannot meet together for worship or prayer in the present crisis and, as the ‘lockdown’ lengthens many folks can begin to feel isolated and lonely. It is especially important at this time that we put ourselves in the way of faith, that we are disciplined and constant in Bible study and prayer and put ourselves in a place where we can be reminded that Jesus is with us, we can be strengthened in our faith, and can find that peace which is beyond all our understanding. As part of this I know that there are many folks whose prayers include family, friends, neighbours, and their fellow Christians. Many are also keeping in contact and checking how folks are doing by e-mail, phone calls, letters and cards, and all are important. We may not be able to meet but God is with us, and we are one in Christ Jesus.

Finally, we see that when Thomas was convinced, he was committed. There were no half measures and, from demanding proof before he would believe, Thomas believed, and made one of the greatest statements of faith in the New Testament: ‘My Lord and my God!’ Tradition has it that he later became a missionary to India and that he spent his whole life as a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Faith for us too is about coming to profess Jesus as Lord of our lives and as our image of God. Something that isn’t only words to which we can assent but a faith that touches us at a much deeper level so that, like Thomas, we know in our hearts that Jesus is alive and with us. Faith is something we profess, not only in our words but, by our actions, witnessing to Jesus’ and his ways of compassion, grace and love, showing our faith and discipleship of him by the way we live our lives every day.

Thomas reminds us that doubts can come to any of us, but he also reminds us that through his honest doubts, and by striving to know Jesus for himself, he found deep faith, and commitment. At this time when we can’t come together in worship and fellowship, we can all feel alone and prey to our doubts. Yet faith tells us that we are one with those, ‘‘blessed who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ That by putting ourselves in the way of Jesus, by drawing near to him in Bible study and prayer he can touch each of us and remind us that we are his disciples and that we can still witness to our Lord through our loving care of one another. The Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God we thank you for the faith in which we stand, for the grace that called us as disciples of Jesus Christ and blessed us with faith without seeing. We pray for our fellow Christians in our own congregation and Church, and for all around the world seeking to follow Jesus in difficult places. Grant all people of faith an awareness of your presence and peace and comfort in these difficult days.

Bless all medical staff tending to the sick, grant them wisdom, strength and keep them safe. We pray for healing for the sick, peace for the dying, and comfort for the bereaved. We also pray for those whose treatments and operations have had to be put on hold and pray for their strength and peace. We thank you for the work of the World Health Organisation and for all cooperation between medical professions around the world which furthers knowledge and advances the care and treatment of the sick. Grant wisdom in political decisions, honesty in reporting, and a unity of purpose between the nations.

We also pray for refugees, the poor, and homeless who are even more at risk because of this virus. Help all those seeking justice and fairness for those who are often forgotten and grant a greater awareness of our common humanity. We pray for victims of war and violence, that there may be a greater desire for peace within nations and between nations. All these prayers we ask in Jesus’ name and, as a community of his people, we pray together saying:

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Hymn:

1. How often we like Thomas, need proof before we trust. Lord Jesus, friend of doubters, come, speak your truth to us. We long to feel your presence, and gain new faith from you , to find, without our seeing, the blessing Thomas knew.

2. You always stand among us, no doors can lock you out. Your presence reassures us though we still live with doubt. As present-day disciples, whose lives by sin are flawed, we want to come believing, and cry: ‘My Lord, my God!’           Edith Sinclair Downing.

Blessing: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you, and with all those you love, evermore. Amen

All Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version used with permission. Hymns are in the public domain.

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Wednesday of Easter Week                                                  15th April 2020.

St. Luke 24: 13 – 35 The Walk to Emmaus.

Thought: The Emmaus road story tells us of two people who discovered the difference between talking about Jesus and talking to Jesus. Cleopas and his companion, possibly his wife, were saddened and confused as they walked to Emmaus discussing the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and reports of his resurrection. They were talking about Jesus, but it wasn’t until they began talking to Jesus that they felt their faith rekindled. They recalled later that it was as they talked to him that their hearts had burned within them. We too need to take our confusion, fears and grief about this crisis to Jesus in prayer. Then, in the midst of it all, he can speak to us so that our faith and hope burns more strongly within us.

Prayer: Lord God, we have the promise that Jesus walks with us through sunshine and storm, that by his resurrection we have the reassurance that there is light in the darkness. In this time of crisis bless all those striving to treat the sick and save lives, those in government burdened with decisions that affect the lives of us all. Be near to the sick and the dying and comfort those who mourn. Grant support for those struggling financially, patience to those bored and lonely with the lockdown. Help us always to be constant in prayer that faith, hope and love may burn brighter within us. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hymn: 1. In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear:

and safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here:

the storm may roar without me’ my heart may low be laid;

but God is round about me, and can I be dismayed?

2. Wherever he may guide me, no want shall turn me back;

my Shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack.

His wisdom ever waketh, his sight is never dim;

he knows the way he taketh, and I will walk with him.

3. Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen;

bright skies will soon be o’er me, where darkening clouds have been.

My hope I cannot measure; my path to life is free:

my Saviour has my treasure, and he will walk with me.

Anna Laetitia Waring (1823 – 1910)

God bless you all and keep you safe. Morris

Easter Sunday    12th April 2020.

Christ is Risen! he is risen indeed. Hallelujah! 

*Hymn:  Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won; angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave clothes, where thy body lay. Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won. 

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb; lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom; let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for her Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting.  Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won. 

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life; life is naught without thee, aid us in our strife; make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love: bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.  Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.

Prayer: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Lord God this glorious Easter Day we praise you that Christ is risen, that the evil and anger, the violence and darkness that condemned him to die did not have the last word, for he is risen and alive and by his Spirit is with us always. Though we are, of necessity, separated in these difficult days, help us to be united in prayer and rejoicing, to know again in our hearts the joyous Good News that Christ is risen and that, wherever we are, we are one in him. 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 forever more. Amen. 

Reading: St. Matthew 28: 1 – 10.  

Easter Reflection:  The Garden Tomb: A number of years ago friends of ours visited the ‘The Holy Land’ and said that they found it a wonderful, unforgettable experience. They kindly gave me a wee book from their visit to ‘The Garden Tomb’ in which there were lovely photographs of a sunlit garden with flowering bushes, ancient olive trees and pictures of a tomb that it is thought might have been the place where Jesus was laid. 

Not the tomb but the risen Lord: One photograph in particular struck me – it was of a notice in the garden on which was written the angel’s words to the women at the tomb, ‘He is not here, for he is risen.’   I can understand why thousands upon thousands of people are emotionally, even spiritually, moved by a visit to that lovely, peaceful garden and the tomb – but the point of our Easter celebrations is not about the possible place of our Lord’s burial and resurrection  – it is the fact that the tomb was empty – Jesus was not there – he was risen and alive and set loose into all the world – where he met his disciples and promised that he would be with them always.

In the world: Someone once said that the stone was rolled away – not to let Jesus out – but to let us in – and, in fact, in Matthew’s account the stone is rolled away from an already empty tomb to prove to the women and the disciples that Jesus was no longer there – that he had been raised as he said he would be. It was, and is, an invitation to faith, ‘Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.’ (NRSV). The tomb was empty and, because of that, no longer of any importance – for the risen Jesus met his disciples in the world, in the garden, in the Upper Room, on the road, by the seashore, on a mountain in Galilee. He was with them in all the hopes and fears, joy and tears of life, the struggles and the pains of life.

Easter, God’s answer: Easter is God’s answer and God’s promise that the cruelty, the wickedness, the darkness, the brokenness of the world, and that all the things that took Jesus to the cross and the tomb do not have the last word. We live in a difficult time – many people are sick, many are dying, and the pain of loss is real and devastating for millions around the world. It seems almost unfeeling to proclaim our Easter joy – but the hope of our faith is that the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen. The darkness is overcome! Death has been swallowed up in victory! Let us go forward in faith, trust and hope, sharing one another’s pain and loss. 

A happy and blessed Easter to you all. Morris

Instead of a second prayer I have decided to share a reflection by Rev. Dr. Lezley Stewart, Interim Convenor of Faith and Nurture. It was written for Holy Week but, I think, it still speaks to us at Easter as well. I am grateful that Lezley, and other folks in 121, still find time to bring us words of comfort and reflection.

Things Are Different Now [a reflection for Holy Week]

I wish I knew then, what I know now – how precious time was as he walked among us. There were crowds and questions, the excitement of hearing and seeing, and some so blessed to know his touch. How quickly things can change, all in the blink of an eye! From cheers to jeers, from faith to fear, from celebrations to mourning.

I wish I knew then, what I know now – how precious all time is as, still, he dwells among us. No crowds now, but questions remain.  No chance to gather and hear and see in ways we have always known.

Things are different now. The days are long, the nights are dark – now testing times are here. Fears still need their release, hands still long to be held, and in private mourning, death is keenly felt.

Things are different now. With those who once waited, we must wait, trusting, in the life which will rise again. For we will declare now, as before, that he is risen – he is risen indeed! Rev Dr Lezley Stewart (Used by permission).

*Thine be the glory’ is in the Public domain for copyright purposes.

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Thoughts for Holy Week

Saturday Before Easter                     St. John 19: 38 – 42.                11th April 2020.

On Thursday I was deeply moved by the images on the news of the burial of scores of people in a mass grave in New York. The film was taken from the air and showed a long trench, two coffins length wide into which the attendants were carefully stacking the plain, pine boxes. Another man began to shovel dark earth around the sides of the stacked coffins. I was saddened and silenced by this very stark reminder of the human cost of this pandemic.

 Then the next day, Good Friday, I read the gospel for the Saturday of Holy Week which is an account of Jesus’ own burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in a borrowed tomb. I couldn’t help tying the images on the news with the gospel and, as I read of Jesus’ burial and made the connection between his death and ours, I was tempted to immediately leap to Easter and the resurrection. However, I think that would be too soon and that we should stay with the images of Joseph and Nicodemus placing their Lord in a borrowed tomb, and of the workmen in New York carefully stacking the pine coffins. It may not be comfortable for us and we might prefer to think on other things, but it is the reality of life and we can find comfort in our faith that God is with us in all of life, even this. As the Psalmist reminds us in the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm, ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’*

Prayer. Lord God, heavenly Father, this is a frightening time. The news reports are alarming, the casualty figures from here, and around the world, make sobering and shocking reading. Like many others, we can’t go about our normal daily lives, or visit family or friends, and the knowledge that this could go on for weeks increases the sense of despair and loneliness for many folks. Help us to draw strength from knowing that you are always near us, grant peace and comfort to those who are struggling. Help us to know, that even the darkness is not dark for you and that we can never be separated from your love in Jesus Christ, our Lord. In whose name we ask this prayer. Amen.

*NRSV

Good Friday                St. John 18 & 19.                     10th April 2020

When the disciple Philip asked to see the Father Jesus answered, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’* Throughout his life Jesus revealed the nature of God in all that he said and did. Good Friday invites us to reflect on the God who is with us not just in the joys of life but also in its struggles. To draw strength from our faith that in his own suffering and death Jesus revealed to us the God who is part of all of life, whatever that may bring. In his book ‘Touch Wood’ an Anglican priest called David Runcorn put it like this, ‘The cross of Christ reveals a God who is passionately and painfully involved in the world. He shares the dirt, the sweat, the loneliness, the weakness, and even death itself.’

Good Friday is the time when we traditionally reflect on our Lord’s suffering, but it can also be a time of comfort and hope. Because we see revealed in Jesus the God who is with us in all the ups and the downs of life. The God who promises never to leave us nor forsake us.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, in Jesus’ suffering we learn that you are not a remote God unaffected by what happens to your children but are closely involved in our lives. Help us to trust you and to bring you our hopes and our fears, our laughter and our tears, knowing that you understand and can bring us comfort and strength when life is hard. Be near to all those who are sick, comfort their family and friends. Give guidance and support to all those caring for them and grant wisdom to all those making decisions in our countries and around the world. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*St. John 14: 8-9.

Maundy Thursday – 9th April 2020.

St. John 13: 1 – 17.

Jesus was about to be arrested, tried, and crucified and one of his final acts was to wash his disciples’ feet. An intimate act of service that he then instructed them to do for one another. By which he meant, not the foot washing but, the service of others that was at the heart of his own life and death.

In this Coronavirus crisis many, many people are serving others sometimes at quite a cost. I was speaking (at a safe distance) to a lass the other day who is a Home Carer. She told me that her two young children have been staying with her parents since the start of the ‘lockdown’ and now she only speaks to them through social media or by phone. She admitted that she really misses them but feels that caring for her clients is something she has to do, despite what that means for her and the family. I thank God for that young woman giving selfless service at this difficult time and for the reminder she gives that there are so many, like her, quietly and faithfully, offering care and service every day. For some it is service given through their profession and work, for others it is service given for friends and neighbours, but it is all of God.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and gave us all a lesson about the service of others. However, we confess we quite often forget or miss the service that goes on around us day in and day out. Passing people in the street without realising the care and service they are giving to others or how much it is costing them. We thank you that this crisis has made us more aware and more grateful of the service of others. We thank you that so many people show this greatness of spirit and pray that they may be held in your love and have strength and reassurance in these difficult days.

For we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

Wednesday 8th of April 2020.            St. John 13: 21 – 30.

Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus disciples, one of his friends, and the one who betrayed him. In fact, John tells us that it was when Jesus stretched out in a moment of intimate friendship to offer Judas bread dipped in the dish that he committed to his treachery. He rose immediately, and went out to betray Jesus’ friendship, teaching, and love.

In reading this story it is too easy to focus on Judas as the great betrayer of Jesus, but the gospels tell us that all the disciples, all his closest friends, all those who had shared the supper with him, fled at the crucial moment of his arrest. Later, Peter too denied his Lord three times. In their own ways they all betrayed Jesus’ friendship, his teaching, and his love. As, so easily, each one of us does in our own ways and yet, it is for us that he suffered and died, and rose again.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, reading the gospels it is all too easy for us to focus on the falseness of Judas, and too easy for us today to look askance at the failings of others while ignoring our own faults. Forgive us, and in this time of Holy Week help us to look honestly at ourselves and admit our own betrayals. That we may wonder afresh at your forgiveness and love for us, and, may be more forgiving and loving with one another. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday 7th April 2020                       St. John 12: 20 – 26.

Like most folks Jan and I have started work in the garden, or at least Jan has, I’m more of the ‘go for’ who fetches and carries. One of the jobs for Spring is to plant seeds and in today’s reading Jesus spoke of seeds and how they must die so that they can sprout into life and bring forth fruit. He was, of course, talking of his own death and resurrection but also of the general rule for followers of Christ that we must continually die to our old selves to live a new way of obedient discipleship in following him.

This crisis has forced many people to look for deeper meanings in life and to reassess their priorities. Jesus teaches that in the death of things we once thought important to follow him there is the promise of new life. Life that is eternal.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, Jesus taught that to be his followers we must deny ourselves each day, take up our cross, and follow after him. As we begin this new day of Holy Week help us to take that teaching more seriously that we may be less concerned for ourselves. more willing to bear the cost of being a disciple, and a more obedient and faithful follower of Jesus in everything we say and do today. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday 6th April.       St. John 12: 1 – 8. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.

We have met Martha and Mary before and here again Martha is the one doing all the practical things while Mary is more liable to be found at Jesus’ feet. In this story that is quite literally true because Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. Judas, a crook we are told, complained that the perfume could have been sold for the poor. Jesus replied, ‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’  

The crisis through which we are all living is teaching us many things. One lesson is that there will always be a need to do the practical things and thankfully many folks are, like Martha, showing their care through the things they are doing for others. However, I think another lesson from Jesus’ words is that, while the practical will always be important, we also need, like Mary, to take the time to do the special things for those we love because a missed opportunity may never return.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, Martha showed her love for Jesus in preparing a meal and making him welcome in her home, while Mary anointed his feet with expensive perfume. Help us to find the balance between showing our care for others in the practical things we do, yet also to find time, to show our love, in word and action, to those closest and most precious to us. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

6th Sunday of Lent (Palm Sunday)                                                     5th April 2020.

Approach: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.’ (1)

Hymn: 1. 

Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang; through city street and temple their joyful welcome rang. They shouted out their praises to Christ, the children’s friend, who welcomes all with blessing, whose love will never end.

From Olivet they followed, a large exultant crowd, the victor palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud; bright angels joined the chorus, beyond the cloudless sky, ‘Hosanna in the highest! Glory to God on high!’

Hosanna in the highest!’ That ancient song we sing, for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven our King. Oh, may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice, and in his living presence eternally rejoice.  Jenette Threlfall (1821 – 1860) (2)

Prayer: Almighty and eternal Lord God, that hymn reminds us of the day the crowds sang their hymns and hosannas as Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey. Wherever we are, we too would join our voices in praise and thanksgiving to our Saviour, singing with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, ‘Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ 

Though we worship alone help us to know that our praise and prayers are united with our fellow Christians near and far; and that we are still one in worship with Christ’s Church everywhere. Lift us up when we are despondent, reassure us when loneliness comes, and strengthen us when we are weak.

In all things grant that we may praise you in all that we say, do, and are. 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

Reading: St. Matthew 21: 1 – 11.

Reflection: I believe there is an old saying in journalism which goes, ‘Bad news is good news.’ By which it is meant that ‘bad news’ sells newspapers and makes exciting stories for the news. At the moment, quite naturally, every day is filled with the ‘bad news’ of the escalating coronavirus pandemic. There are constant reports of the spread of the infection, both here and abroad, the accelerating death toll, the shortages for NHS staff, and the perceived failures of the authorities in coping with the needs of this crisis. I have to admit that Jan and I have found this constant bad news so depressing that we only watch these reports occasionally. Nor are we alone because quite a few folks to whom I have spoken feel the same. 

However, in contrast there have also been reports of thousands upon thousands of people who have stepped up to help others. NHS staff have risen to the challenge of the virus and have saved thousands of lives through their skill and dedication, and one of the frustrations of staff, who are ‘self-isolating’ because of suspected infection, is that they cannot be tested, cleared, and get back to work.

Sadly, there are NHS staff who have become infected and have died as a result of their care of others. Police and other emergency services, care home staff and home carers, transport staff, lorry drivers and supermarket and shop staff, and many others,  are also on the front line of this crisis and they carry out their duties faithfully and selflessly every day.

As well as that there are thousands who have volunteered to assist the NHS, Foodbanks, the homeless and vulnerable, and many unsung good neighbours who quietly do their bit to help those around them.

One of the uplifting reports was of neighbours who came out onto their street and all danced while maintaining ‘social distancing’. It was heartening to see how much they were enjoying it as a way of taking exercise, and, equally importantly, keeping their spirits up. Other folks help their neighbours by keeping in touch through phone calls, cards and letters, safely doing shopping or simply checking that they are alright, and Jan and I are humbled and grateful for the folks who have called us just to check how we are doing.

Today is Palm Sunday and one of the favourite children’s hymns for today is ‘We have a king who rides a donkey, and his name is Jesus.’ (3)  This song is based on the gospels which tell how Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey surrounded by pilgrims waving palm branches, singing psalms and shouting hosannas. The gospels also tell us that Jesus entered Jerusalem like this in fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah, ‘Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (1) 

It has long been thought that we have become a more selfish society and no doubt in many ways that is true. Yet if this crisis has shown us anything, it is that Jesus’ way of serving has not been lost and that many folks, Christians and non-Christians, still see serving as the way they look at life and, in this crisis, many have reached out to be servants of their neighbours.

Someone said recently that for many people this crisis is a time of realising what is important and what is not and what is really a successful life. Martin Luther King summed that up many years ago when he said, ‘We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.’  I pray that one of the things that will last after these days are past is that, as individuals and as a society, as nations and a world, ‘the quality of our service and our relationship to humanity’, shown by so many, will be gratefully remembered as one of the high points of this crisis and will be a lasting lesson that we are at our best when we are servants of one another.  Amen.

Thought: ‘But whoever wishes to be great among you, must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave. Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ St Matthew 20: 26 – 27 (1)

Hymn 374: ‘From heaven you came, helpless babe,’ (4)

Prayer: Lord God we thank you for all those who have reached out in service of others, those who put the needs of others before themselves, for those whose skills and dedication bring healing to the sick, and comfort to the dying. Grant them strength, peace, faith and comfort in these difficult days.

We pray for those who are sick at home or in hospital, for those who are recovering, for those whose health is failing, and for all those who watch and wait. Grant that peace and healing that only you can give. 

We thank you for all those working to ensure we have the normal things of life, that we so often take for granted, such as food, heating and light, communication and entertainment, transport, waste collection and health and safety. Keep them safe and grant that they may know they are valued.

Guide all governments, in the United Kingdom and around the world, that all those in authority may act wisely and humanely as servants of others. Grant compassion and help for all, but especially for the vulnerable and the poor, those who have lost work and security, those who are hungry and homeless, and all those who fear for the future. Grant a genuine desire for peace in a world so often torn by conflict. 

Keep us faithful in prayer, remembering that we are most human when we are serving one another and help us to share the compassion, the love, and self-sacrifice of Jesus, our Servant Lord. For we ask this prayer in his name and, with the whole Church on earth and in heaven, we pray together saying:

 Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen. 

Blessing: Love and serve the Lord, in your love and service of one another, and 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. 

(1) The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995 National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (2) Hymn in the Public Domain. (3) Words: copyright 1968 Stainer & Bell Ltd.  (4) From a song by Graham Kendrick.

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Wednesday 1st of April 2020                                         Thought for Midweek.

Like many of you, on Sunday I watched Songs of Praise in which Aled Jones spoke to the new Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell. The Archbishop talked about his faith and his thoughts on the nationwide closure of churches. He spoke of the story in chapter five of St. Mark’s gospel about the woman, ill for a long time, who touched just the hem of his cloak, and was made well. Feeling power had gone out of him Jesus demanded to know who had touched him. Trembling with fear the woman confessed that she had. Jesus then commended her faith and sent her away with a blessing. 

The Archbishop made the point that even although we cannot worship God in church as we usually do, we can still come to Jesus and, like that woman, touch the hem of his garment, and find healing and blessing. 

I was reminded of Billy Connelly who once said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.’ In these times we cannot wear our familiar clothes to worship but we can wear the clothes of our personal time in prayer and be clothed with care and love for one another. After all we are still the Church whatever clothes we are wearing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, that woman touched just the hem of your cloak and found healing and blessing. In this time, when we cannot come together for worship, remind us that we can still reach out to you and that we too will find healing and blessing from you. Grant an awareness of your presence and your peace to all who feel isolated, and your healing to our world. Amen.     

based on a prayer by the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell.

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29th March 2020                                                                             5th Sunday in Lent

Approach:

‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’                  Isaiah 40: 28 – 31.

Hymn 565:      

My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation: I catch the sweet, though far off, hymn that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth,how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul – how can I keep from singing?   

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord, my Saviour, liveth. What though the darkness round me close? Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing. All things are mine since I am his!  How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Robert Lowry & Doris Plenn

Prayer of Approach: 

Lord God, heavenly Father, in the midst of this trouble and worry grant us your peace and your strength.We may not be able to come together to sing our familiar songs, but we know that you are always with us, and that your love is steadfast and unchanging.

Confident in your mercy and love revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord, we rejoice in your promises never to leave us nor forsake us. And in that faith and trust our hearts and souls can still sing in the midst of troubles; clinging to the rock of your grace and love we can find peace in the midst of the storm and hope in the darkest days. 

Strengthen us in our weakness, calm us in our anxiety, and grant us faith and hope in these days. 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.

Reading:          

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.            Psalm 130 New Revised Standard Version.

Thought:

Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent and the Psalm for the day is Psalm 130 in which the Psalmist begins with a cry of the deepest despair, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!’ 

In this time of crisis many folks can identify with this feeling of being in the depths, and out of their depth. Because everything that was familiar and dependable seems to have gone and we are all having to adjust to the consequences of the pandemic. Shortages in the shops, holiday cancellations, people laid off work or losing their jobs, a ‘lockdown’ of the nations, restrictions on our freedoms, and the constant need for keeping the risk of infection down through personal ‘social distancing’ or even, ‘social isolation’ for those who show symptoms of the virus.

The psalmist’s words really do seem to speak to our situation. Yet the psalmist doesn’t stop with words of despair but moves quickly on to speak of God’s grace and forgiveness, of his soul waiting for God, his hope in God’s word and finally, of God’s steadfast love and redeeming power.I like the power of the psalmist’s cry at the start of the psalm, but I am equally drawn to his later words, ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;’  Waiting is something that most of us aren’t very good at nowadays: we have become used to things happening pretty quickly, even instantly.

However, when the psalmist says, ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for the Lord, and in his word I hope.’ he doesn’t mean the kind of waiting time that drags, he means that he is waiting for God to hear his cry, to speak to his situation, to help him in the depths of his crisis. Which is, of course, about the passing of time, ‘I wait for the Lord,’ but it goes deeper than the mere whiling away of the hours and days, ‘my soul waits for the Lord’.

The psalmist longs for God in the depths of his being, which reminds us that this waiting is about prayer and remembering God’s promises rather than idling away the hours. The psalmist hopes in the promises of God’s word, ‘and in his word I hope’. It is a waiting that is based on faith and trust in God’s promises and the reassurance of his word. The psalmist goes on to describe his waiting as being like the expectation of watchmen watching for the first fingers of dawn which will end the long darkness of the night, ‘My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning’.

Finally, he ends with encouragement to hope in God, ‘O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love,’

The psalmist certainly speaks to our situation and the anxious waiting that we can all feel, but he also reminds us that deep down (in our souls) we can trust in the God whose light shines into every darkness. The Lord who is the light of the world. This psalm is also a reminder to us that in the depths of this crisis there will be dark times and yet God will always be with us, and the dawn for which we wait will come. Our task is to faithfully and prayerfully, ‘wait on the Lord’, always hoping and trusting in his mercy and grace, his steadfast love and his saving power.

This is God’s promise to us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:          

Almighty and eternal Lord God, we come to you in the depths of a crisis yet trusting in your grace and love revealed for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Help us to wait on you with faith and a lively hope in your promises that, through faith, our sins are forgiven, and we have new life in him.

Be near to those who live alone and are finding this time of isolation difficult. Help us all to remember one another in prayer, and in loving actions where possible. We thank you for the dedication and self-sacrifice of medical and nursing staff, here and overseas, whose skill and care is saving lives.

Be with those who are sick, grant your healing touch and the reassurance of your presence and that peace that is beyond all our understanding and strength.

We pray for families separated from loved ones, for those who mourn the loss of a loved one and for those who are unable to be near dying family and friends.

We pray especially for those who live in countries with insufficient health care, for refugees who live with the constant threat of infection and for victims of war and violence and natural disaster. In the depths of their trouble may they know your strength and your peace.

Grant wisdom to governments and all those seeking to ensure the safety of others. Help us all to think of others, and to act responsibly and unselfishly.

We ask this prayer in Jesus’ name and we pray together saying, 

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors  and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.                                                                                                                            Amen.

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.

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.

25th March 2020.

Dear Friends,

Recently it has been reported in the news that there are those who, for one reason or another, choose to risk their own and other peoples’ lives by refusing to practise ‘social distancing’ or ‘social isolation’ as advised by the government. However, in contrast there are also many thousands of people who have stepped up to help others. Some are doctors and nurses tending those who have become very sick with the virus, others work in care homes, and yet more care for people in their own homes. There are also many volunteers who have come forward to offer help and support to those who need help to get through the difficulties of everyday tasks or the loneliness of these days.  Jesus taught that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is heart-warming to discover again that love of our neighbours is still very much part of our common life.

Prayer.

Lord God, heavenly Father, we are living in strange days. Days when we have to distance ourselves from family, friends and neighbours because of the risk of infection. It is a time of stress, anxiety and often loneliness for many. Help us all to trust in you and to think of ways in which we can safely keep in contact and support one another.

We thank you for the knowledge, skill and dedication of those all around the world who are tending very sick people. We pray for all medical, research, and hospital staff, those who care for the vulnerable in care homes, and in their own homes. We thank you for the many volunteers who have come forward to offer help and for the care shown by so many to those who need support. Help us to play our part and to care for one another in the best ways we can.

We pray for those who risk themselves and others and ask that they may recognise that we all need to be more careful of ourselves and others. Help us all to be loving, compassionate and patient, and to do all that we can to help one another in these difficult times. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts for Worship Sunday 22nd of March 2020 – 4th Sunday in Lent

Approach:      Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

                        Worship the Lord with gladness; Come into his presence with singing.

                        Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us,

                        we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100: 1-3.

Hymn 189 is a hymn that reminds us that God is always with us and, whenever we are still                in prayer and worship, we can become more aware of God with us. As an aid to stillness and becoming aware of God’s presence please read this hymn through slowly and prayerfully.

Alternatively, like many people in Italy, you could always go to an open window and sing it to your neighbours.

                        Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here;

   come bow before him now, with reverence and fear:

                        in him no sin is found – we stand on holy ground.

                        Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.

                        Be still for the glory of the Lord is shining all around;

                        he burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned:

                        how awesome is the sight – our radiant king of light!

                        Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.

                        Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.

                        He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister his grace:

                        no work too hard for him, in faith receive from him.

                        Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.          

David J. Evans    CCL Licence No: 298976.

Prayer:   Lord God, that hymn calls on us to be still that we may know your presence. In this difficult time, when we are separated from our fellow worshippers, grant us an awareness of your presence and the strength of knowing that we are one with you, and with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, united with our family, friends, neighbours, and fellow Christians around the world in prayer and worship to the glory of your most holy name.

Help us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that we may follow him in trust and love, knowing that we can never be separated from your love in 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:                                 The Lord is my shepherd; He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths as he has promised.

Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honoured guest and fill my cup to the brim.

I know that goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live. I have everything I need. Psalm 23 Good News Bible (page 549)

                                               

Thought:

On Saturday I heard of someone who lives under the flight path for Edinburgh Airport. Every day she hears the frequent roar of aircraft either taking off or coming into land. However, that has all changed because of the recent coronavirus crisis. There are no aircraft flying and suddenly she can hear the birds singing and even the frogs in a nearby pond, sounds that she had not heard in a long time. Sounds that she now realises how much she had missed and is grateful to hear again.

The recent crisis has meant many changes not least the closing of our churches and not being able to get together for worship. However, perhaps that woman’s story reminds us that with this crisis there is also the opportunity to hear in a way that we might have missed for a while. To be still and know that God is always with us. To listen again to those words of promise from the 23rd psalm with its confident note of faith and trust that can still speak to the depths of our being and our own faith and trust in God. Words that also remind us of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and of the faith and trust we have in him.

Reading again the words of that psalm we can remember, and give thanks, for the times we have been led in green pastures and have rested by still waters. We can think again of the times of strength and support we have known and of the promise that, even in the deepest darkness, we need not be afraid for the shepherd is always with us to keep us and protect us. Then after speaking of his confident faith, even in the darkest times, the psalmist moves swiftly on to speak of a banquet and a cup filled to overflowing which reminds me of a children’s hymn we used to sing, ‘Running over, running over, my cup’s full and running over. Since the Lord loves me, I’m as happy as can be. My cup’s full and running over.’

This crisis is difficult and a dark valley for many folks. There are natural anxieties about the future, concern for family and friends, and the isolation of what is called, ‘social distancing’. Which means not getting too close to other folks because of the risk of infection. Which comes at a time when we need one another the most. However, I heard the other day the suggestion that we should change that to, ‘personal distancing but social solidarity.’  For our own health, and the health of others, we do need to maintain some distance, but those words make the point that we can still retain our solidarity as friends and neighbours and that as Christians we are always one in Christ Jesus.

More than ever this is a time for keeping in touch with family, friends, neighbours, and our fellow Christians. To maintain our relationships and find strength and joy in one another. Where it is not possible, or not wise, to meet in person we can do it by phone or by e-mail. We might not feel that our cup is full and running over but by remembering one another in prayer and keeping contact with one another we can hold on to the joy and hope that is ours through others we know, and through our faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ, our Lord.

God bless you all and keep you safe,

Morris and Jan.

Prayers of Intercession.

Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank you for the promise in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who has revealed the fullness of your love for all your flock, that we are all held in your love. We thank you for the times we have been led in green pastures and have been able to rest by still waters. For the times we have gone astray and yet heard the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us back to follow him and again find grace and new life.

We thank you for family, friends and neighbours, help us to keep contact and to support one another through these difficult days. We pray for ministers and leaders in the Church, for those who can no longer meet for worship that we may know your presence and draw strength from you and from contact with one another.

We pray for medical and nursing staff, for those in government, and all those seeking to keep people safe and deal with this crisis.

We remember those who have lost jobs and worry about paying bills and what the future might bring. Give guidance and wisdom to those who can help and the willingness to reach out with grace and love to all those in need. Help us all to share the plenty available that no one may go short or be in need.

We pray for those who are sick, both at home and abroad, for their families and friends and for those who mourn the loss of a loved one. Grant that peace that is beyond all our understanding and the reassurance that those they have loved are at peace in your love.

Help us all to face the future trusting in your love for we ask it in Jesus’ name and, as a community of his people, we pray together saying.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. 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.

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

Thought For 18th March 2020

Dear Friends,

Due to the coronavirus epidemic the Church of Scotland Coronavirus Task Group has taken the unprecedented step of ‘strongly asking’ that services of worship in the Church of Scotland should cease until further notice. Our own Kirk Session has agreed to implement this request and services in Aberlour and Craigellachie churches have ceased as from today, Wednesday the 18th of March.

This means that we will not be able to get together on Sundays for worship. However, we will all still be able to worship in our own Bible readings and prayers. If we all make a point of doing this at the usual church service time, then we can feel that we are still part of a worshipping community. Which is true whenever we choose for our own time of worship and prayer but setting aside a certain time is a good discipline for us, especially if we think others are doing the same.

I hope to post a sermon and prayers for Sunday but, at the moment, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a Bible story. The gospels tell us that Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat when a sudden squall threatened to sink the boat*. Jesus was sleeping peacefully on a cushion in the stern and the disciples cried out to him to wake up and see their danger. Wakened from sleep, he spoke, and immediately the storm was calmed.

The disciples’ fear and alarm was natural in such a storm, as are our own fears in the storm of this pandemic. However, the gospel story reminds us that our Lord is with us and that, even in the midst of this storm, he is able to bring us peace and calm. Please pray for one another and for the peace and strength that only he can give.

God bless you all in this difficult time.