church

Annan Old Parish

Church of Scotland

 
 

Sermons

Sunday 6th May 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland

GNB  Psalm  92 : 1 – 8  St John 16 : 25 – 33

Finding the Peace of God in Unsettling Times

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that we live in a world of turmoil ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Wars are being fought all over the world,  and even in our own country,  we’ve adopted a terror alert system that while unheard of a few years ago,  is now part of our national vocabulary.                                          There is a war of cultures here in the Britain.  One culture says “do what you want to do, and don’t think about the consequences, because the only thing that counts is your happiness.”                                                  Another culture says that the greatest virtue in life is “tolerance” toward all people and all ideas, no matter how detrimental it might be to the person or the surrounding culture, because all that matters is that you have a spiritual journey that is important to you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Other cultures preach hatred and evil in the name of ideas or religion, and that includes Christianity.

How do we find real peace ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   One man says,  “My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     So far today, I have finished two bags of crisps and a chocolate cake.  I feel better already.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Have you heard about the newest gadget to insure peace and quiet at home ?  It is called a phone less cord !

So how do we live lives that, while taking these things into consideration, do not adopt them, and are also able to live lives that are characterized by peace in the face of them ?

I think the key is found in our reading for today, from John 16 : 33.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  These words of Jesus came just hours before He would be crucified, and the lives of the disciples would be rocked to their very foundations.                                                                                                                                  Soon the Messiah they had hoped for and believed in would die a horrible death, and they would live in fear for their own lives. Jesus, anticipating this, also the persecution to come after His resurrection, and looks to put their minds at ease with these words:

I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave!  I have defeated the world!

Why did Jesus need to say these things ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Because the world is at odds with the purposes of God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 But the good news here is, that even with that, Jesus offers us peace.  His peace.  He says …                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Peace is my parting gift to you,  my own peace, such as the world cannot give.  Set your troubled hearts at  rest, and banish your fears.                                                                                                                                             He wants us to have His peace, so let’s look at how to gain that peace ?

First, in order to find the peace of God in unsettling times,  you need to…

Put first things first : gain peace with God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You can’t have the peace of God until you have peace with God.  What do I mean by having peace with God ?                                                                                                                                                                                          The plain fact of the matter is that outside of Christ, you are considered to be an enemy of God. That is the lot of all who reject Christ, or refuse to accept His offer of eternal life, which He purchased on the Cross for us all.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it, ?  Maybe, but it’s the truth and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you what the Bible says in order to spare people’s feelings.                                                                                                                    Enemies are not at peace with each other. That’s what being an enemy is all about.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              But Jesus said that we can be a child of God, and there’s a huge difference in being an enemy and a child, wouldn’t you agree ?

Let’s look at…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Some Strategies for living in the peace of God:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      First.  Understand Gods sovereignty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This is a big word meaning that God is in control, from beginning to end, and that His plans will succeed.                                                                                                                                                                                              Jesus said that He has overcome the world.  He did that in His death, in which He conquered sin and its power, and in His resurrection He conquered death and its power.                                                                              He also did that in giving us His Word, so that we could find direction in living for Him and comfort in His promises.                                                                                                                                                                              God’s purposes will not be thwarted by anyone on earth.  No one can change the plans of God, no matter how hard they try.                                                                                                                                                                    God is sovereign.  He is on the throne of heaven,  and there is no getting Him off.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Understanding this goes a long way to help you live in the peace of God.

The Second strategy to living in the peace of God is to.. Adopt a Biblical mindset.                                                                                                                                                                                                         People who adopt a Biblical mindset that is Christ-centred and others-focused can live in peace, because the world’s value systems do not determine the outlook of the follower of Christ.                                             That’s not to say that you will never be affected by the world’s value systems. You will be, because the world is run by people who for the most part don’t love Christ.                                                                                           And to try to shelter yourself from everything the world shells out, is not only futile, it takes you out of the very ministry God has for all of us and that is to make disciples of all nations.                                                    A Biblical mindset is one that believes that God’s Word is correct about all it teaches, including the world and its influences.                                                                                                                                                                  What I want to point out here is that those who love the Lord Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength,  have an easier time coping and responding to the so-called  “peace” the world offers                      Real peace will only come when the Lord Jesus returns.  In the meantime, Jesus Himself said there would always be wars and rumours of war.

We pray continually for a world at peace

The third strategy to employ in living a life lived in the peace of God is to…                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Plan ahead, but submit to the will of God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I bring this up to address a mindset among some people that says, “why bother with moving ahead in life ?  It’s not going to matter with the way things are now, and it’s only going to get worse.”                          First, that’s not a Biblical perspective. Remember, God is in control, no matter what we see on the news.                                                                                                                                                                                         Second,  the Bible is very clear that we are to plan for the future, setting aside savings, disciplining our children to affect future generations, looking to impact our culture for generations to come.                           We should look to the future and make plans. But as we do that, we need to keep something in mind, and we find that in Proverbs 16 :9 –

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The issue here is not to stop planning for the future in despair, but rather to plan with the Lord’s purposes in mind.                                                                                                                                                                                  Understand that the plan is to do these things with the idea of furthering the Lord’s purposes, not your own.

The fourth strategy in living in the peace of God is to    Live in obedience.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     When you disobeyed your parents, was there peace in the family ?  Hardly. Because disobedience brings strife and tension, and can damage the relationship.                                                                                             Living in obedience to your heavenly Father has the same results. Sin hampers your relationship with God, but obedience brings peace, because you can enjoy the favour of God that He promises to those who obey. So if you want peace, live in obedience.

The fifth and final strategy to employ in living a life characterized by the peace of God is to…                                                                                                                                                                                 Live in anticipation…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Anticipation of what ?   Two things in particular:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            - Of heaven.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Are you looking forward to the time you will see our Saviour face to face, to that time when there will be no more suffering and death, no more war and no more pain,   only perfect bliss in the presence of God Himself  ?

Philippians 3:20-21 say –                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Now theres some good news !                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And you know something else, I’ll bet there’s no such thing as high blood pressure or cholesterol in heaven. And you’ll be able to eat all the pizza you want without worry.                                                                    Anticipating heaven helps gain peace in unsettling times.  But in the meantime, live in the anticipation of something else, and that is the anticipation…                                                                                                                  – Of God fulfilling His promises — on earth.

God’s Word is filled with promises that you and I can turn to, to help us get through life and through the grind of day-to-day living. And the best way to find them is just get into the Word on a daily basis.          You’ll be surprised what you will find. And one of the greatest things you’ll discover is that God has some promises that seem directed just at you, that you can cling to over and over throughout the years.

One of many favourites is in Lamentations 3:22-23 –

Because of the LORDS great love we are not consumed,   for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.                                                                            God’s faithfulness is always in play, and we thank God for that. If you have been walking with Christ for any length of time, you may well have discovered some of those wonderful promises that He fulfils here on earth while we wait for His return.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Are you living in the peace of God?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    If not, why not ?  Is there something in the way ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Is it that you have never allowed God to really be the Lord and Master of your life ?

 Sunday 29th April, 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland

GNB   Hebrews 12 : 3 – 11  St John 10 : 7 – 18

Gary Younger,  a reporter for THE GUARDIAN was covering the devastation brought about by Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and Louisiana. In his article for the issue on Saturday, 03 September 2005 he notes that one senator had given “a prediction that the death toll in Louisiana alone could top 10,000 people”       The casualities our service men and women continue to suffer in Afghanistan and Iraq are beginning to remind us of what the States endured during the War in Vietnam.

In just a few months time people in America will once again commemorate the 17th anniversary of the 911 Terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that changed our world forever.

On July 7  2005, 56 people were killed when four suicide bombs hit London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour.  56 people were killed that day and 700 injured

Then on March 11, 2004, in Madrid, Spain 192 civilians were killed and over 2,000 injured in the bombing of four commuter trains at the height of the rush hour.

More recently we remember the killings in Nice, Paris and closer to home in London at Westminster Bridge and  London Bridge. Just last year the Manchester Arena attack when 23 people were killed and 500 injured. Unfortunately there have been so many more incidents as well.

With all the evil events in our news on what at times appears to be an almost daily basis, I am reminded of the words of Barry McGuire’s Number One hit song in 1965  “Eve of Destruction”:

BUT  YOU  TELL  ME  OVER  AND  OVER  AGAIN,  MY  FRIEND                       AH,  YOU  DON’T  BELIEVE  WE’RE  ON  THE  EVE  OF  DESTRUCTION

It’s no wonder that even Christians are tempted to ask the question,  “How can God allow such tragedies to happen ?

Perhaps you remember the greeting or call to worship whereby the Minister declares, “God is good,” and the people, respond,  “All the Time.”  The minister affirms,  “All the time,” and the congregation declares, “God is good.”         The place God has used the greeting most powerfully is in Africa in Liberia. To the Liberian Christian Community this greeting comes out of times of real distress and turmoil.              For over fifteen years Liberia was ravaged with Civil War.   They are a people who have experienced violence, hatred, and destruction first hand.    Yet it was through these devastating times that the greeting, “God is good ; all the time, all the time; God is God”   became real in the life of every Liberian.  The United Methodist Church in Liberia is thriving and vibrant.

To these triumphant disciples of Jesus, this is not some trite platitude. It explodes from the heart of a people who know what it is like to have their family members tortured and killed and their homes and property destroyed ; from men, women, and children who many times could not find food to eat.

From Christians who slept in the bush and stayed in displaced centres and refugee camps for months and years without knowing where their relatives, friends, and loved ones were or even if they were still alive; from a people who often became deathly sick without the availability of any medication; yet from a people who by the grace of God got well.

“To the Liberian Church this greeting is their way of telling the story of what God has done and continues to do for the people of Liberia”

Surely if Liberian Christians who have suffered so much brutality, malice, hate, and disconnection live in the assurance that “God is good, all the time,” we Christians here in Scotland can do so as well.                  But again it is just our nature to often question,“If God is always good, how can He let such disasters as Hurricane Katrina which is the greatest American disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, happen ?

How can He allow terrorism to get such a hold on our world ?  How can I be certain that He indeed is always good ?         I know that God is good all the time, because that is His very nature. In praising his Good Shepherd, David testifies:

THE  LORD  IS  MY  SHEPHERD;                            THEREFORE  CAN  I  LACK  NOTHING.                                                          Then in closing his Psalm of Praise to his Good Shepherd,   he confidently affirms:  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.. . .”

The Biblical words for good or goodness convey the meaning that God is the only Being who is by His very nature, character, and attribute is good.                                                                                                                    Evil simply is not a part of His nature and character. God can only be good. The Bible says in I John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,  that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”   Darkness in Scripture means sin. There is no darkness or sin in God at all; He is indeed good all the time. He is good, and He can only do what is good.

David’s testimony “Surely goodness . . . shall follow me all the days of my life. . .”  is his affirmation that “God is good, all the time.”  The word which he uses in Psalm 23 for  “goodness”  means  “God is good, all the time.”  It conveys the message that we are  “loved  by God,  and have found favour in His sight.”  Never forget that fact as God Himself reassures us in Jeremiah 31:3:             I have loved you with an everlasting love;  Therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.  Many times David repeatedly testifies in various Psalms as he does with such confidence and assurance in Psalm 106:1:

Praise the Lord ! O Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.                                                                                                                                                                           God is good, all the time, because “His steadfast love endures forever — even through all the terrorist attacks, in times of sorrow, sickness, pain, death, or whatever hard time or tragedy may come our way—      God’s steadfast love endures and abides with us forever ;  He is good to us all the time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                God, is good, regardless of whether times are good or bad for us as His Disciples.         Many times people throughout the world, Christian people,  are tempted to praise God when things go their way, but refrain from praise when the going gets tough.       “When the going gets tough, the tough, get going.”           That’s good advice for us as Christians to keep in mind.  The Holy Spirit enables us to get tough when times get rough.”

Curly opens one of my favourite Rogers and Hammerstein musicals  OKLAHOMA  by singing:

Oh, what a beautiful morning,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              O what a beautiful day;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I’ve got a beautiful feeling                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Everything’s going my way.

You and I know that “everything doesn’t always go our way,” so how can God be good, all the time ?

That is the wrong question to ask. I am reminded of a Country and Western song first recorded back in 1970 (Lynn Anderson) The refrain continually reminds us:

I beg your pardon,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I never promised you a rose garden.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Along with the sunshine,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    There’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.

Things do not always go our way, but “God is good, all the time,”  for our Good Shepherd stands by His never ending promise to us in His closing words in Matthew 28 : 20,  “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”          As a follower and Disciple of Jesus Christ, however, we should have no doubt that even when things are not going my way, “God is good, all the time.” You may be tempted to ask,  “how can that be so ?”  The Psalmist reminds us :                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil : for you are with me…..

No matter how difficult the situations may be, whether we face trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness,  danger, terrorism, war, death, demons, sickness, sorrow or pain our Good Shepherd is always with us, for He reaffirms again and again throughout the Old and New Testaments, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Our Good Shepherd is the One who promised Israel in Isaiah 41:10:

So do not fear,  for I am with you ;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Be not dismayed,  For I am God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I will strengthen you and help you ;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

That promise has not changed in more than 2700 years ;  and it is still true for you and me today.

One of my lecturers at University told us on one occasion …. “So often we blame God when bad things happen to us,   when in reality it is just human circumstances.”                                                                                        I have never forgotten those words, and along with this verse from Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”    All things that happen to us, much of which is the result of human circumstances, are not good; but because “God is good, all the time,” He uses bad circumstances to work for the good of those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose.”   We will all face many trials in our daily lives, but trials build Christian character. What words of encouragement did our New Testament Lesson from Hebrews 12 give us ?

The writer to the Hebrews calls on us to “Endure trials for the sake of discipline.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            He goes on to reassure us that God “disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness.” He then concludes by saying in verse 11: “Discipline no doubt, is never pleasant ; at the time it seems painful, but in the end it yields for those who have been trained by it, peaceful harvest and an honest life.”

You see when you and I endure our trials by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, our Christian character is strengthened to the extent that we can empathize and minister to others who go through similar trials, for we have “walked in their shoes.”                    We know how they feel. We can be a help to them, for we know that Jesus our Good Shepherd has seen us through the times we have walked through those valleys, even  “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.”                         Jesus is always with us, and He is good, all the time.

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier expresses it so well in a couple of verses from his poem “The Eternal Goodness”

I see the wrong that round me lies,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I feel the guilt within ;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I hear, with groan and travail—cries,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The world confess its sin.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Yet, in the maddening maze of things,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And tossed by storm and flood,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        To one fixed trust my spirit clings;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I know that God is good !”

Cling to that “one fixed trust” through all the wrong you see, through all the groans and travail—cries. Cling to that  “one fixed trust”  throughout all the maddening mazes of life,  through all the storms, floods, hurricanes, wars,  rumours of wars, sorrow, sickness, pain, and death.

“Your Good Shepherd is with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you, for “God Is Good . . . . All the time. . . .”

 Sunday 22nd April, 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland

GNB  Psalm 89 : 1 – 8   St John 21 : 15 – 19
 
Have you ever sworn that you would never do something, only to discover that later on you did the very thing that you said you would never do ?
Now that can be a good thing when you have done something positive that you wouldnt have thought of doing, but often its something negative. I know when Ive said, Ill never and then did, I have wanted to beat  myself up, and ask myself the question, how could I have been so dumb to do something like that.
When we look back over the years, how many of us can see some dumb things we did or said which we now regret.  The best thing we can do when we do something dumb is to make the decision to end the episode and decide to look for a new beginning. Our lives become too much to handle if we try to carry it all with us at one time.
There is a reason we are alive. Not a single person here is an accident in the eyes of God. You were born, when you were born, because God had a plan in mind for you.
You cannot let any of the past failures, keep you from becoming what God wants you to be.
 
Let me introduce you to Peter. When Jesus was alive, he chose 12 people as his special disciples. Out of the 12,  he chose three disciples that He truly invested himself in,  and provided them with spiritual experiences that the others did not have.
One of the inner three was Simon Peter. Jesus went even further with Peter and told him he would be the leader among the 12  and would be crucial in the establishment of the Church.
Peter was proud of Christ, and committed to him. Then one day Jesus told Peter, when I am arrested, all of you will run and turn your back on me. Peters response was,  not me Lord, Ill be there no matter what. Even if all the rest run away, if they take you to jail, theyll have to take me. I am ready to die for you if thats what its going to take. Jesus responded,  but before a cock crows three times you will deny me.
 
Sometimes when we make our commitment to follow God,  we do not understand that Gods way of doing things are not our way of acting in a given situation.
We might find ourselves saying, to do that would be stupid. Nobody is going walk over me without a fight.   Well on the night when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and everything was about to go down, one of the disciples said, Lord should we fight back with our swords.  Before Jesus could answer, Peter must have yelled out its on,  because he quickly drew his sword, and cut off the right ear of one of the soldiers.
But instead of Jesus saying  This is it !  Lets go for it !  He tells them put away their swords.  He reaches out and heals the ear of the man.  When the disciples saw that they were willing to risk their lives fighting, and Jesus would not let them fight, they were out of there. They must have thought, Look if hes going to give up without a fight then thats up to Him.
Peter could not understand how Jesus would give up so easily when he still had the power to do miracles. When they took Jesus away, he followed at a distance just to see what would happen to Jesus.  Instead he found out what would happen to him.
Peter tried to mingle in with crowd as they looked on from a distance. Somebody lit a fire to keep warm, and Peter went over to the fire. But a woman was looking at him,  and recognized him. She said, this man was with him.  But Peter denied it and said, Woman, I dont know him.
A little later someone else recognized Peter and said, You also were with him. Peter shot back, Man I am not. 
After hanging around with the group for about an hour,  Peter kept on talking. The more he talked, the more they picked up on his northern accent.
Somebody said, You most certainly were with him, because you are from Galilee. To prove his point this time, I swear to you, and if Im lying let me be cursed, I dont know the man you are talking about.
No sooner than he got the last word out of his mouth, than he heard a cock crowing in the distance.
The very thing he swore he would never do, he had done.  He had denied Jesus three times. He looked at Jesus from a distance, and Jesus turned his head and looked straight back at him in a moment of truth.
Peter just fell apart and went away and wept bitterly. He was a man in need of a new beginning.
 
One thing Peter did not know about was that after Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, on the third day he would come back to life.   When Jesus arose from the dead,   he appeared to the disciples and they were overjoyed.   But Jesus did not stay with them as before.  Instead he had appeared twice and then disappeared again.  But there was a strain in the relationship between Jesus and Peter.
You know what it feels like to know that youve let someone down, but havent had a chance to talk about it,   or you were in an argument, but didnt get the chance to fully resolve it. 
You can be happy for things that happen to the person, but you just dont feel connected because of the break in the relationship.
You know and the other person knows you are in need of beginning again in the relationship, but so far it has not happened.  You are going to have to talk about it.  Try starting with the words, Im sorry our relationship is like this…..
 
Well there was this strain between Jesus and Peter. One day, when Jesus was gone and the disciples were not sure if Jesus was gone for the last time or not, Peter issued a challenge. 
He said to six of the other disciples, Im going to go fishing.  The other disciples said, well go with you.  When Jesus first called the disciples,  many of them were fisherman by trade. But after their last big catch of fish, Jesus had told them, from now on I will make you fishers of men.
So their choice to go back fishing was actually a decision to change the direction that Jesus had provided for their lives.
 
They wanted to go back to what was familiar and what they thought would be easy.  They were starting to remember the good old days.  But the good old days were never quite as easy as we thought they were.
They had visions of eating a good meal of fish and putting some extra money in their pockets from the fish they would sell on the market.  It seemed like a good plan.  They were on their way to a new beginning in life.
The only problem was,  this new beginning was not of God. They got a boat and net from somewhere and went back to fishing.
The fact that they caught nothing all night did not cause them to give up. When the suns rays were making light possible, they were still tired, hungry and broke.
They heard a voice from the shore saying, Friends have you caught anything ? They probably thought, There goes our first customer.  They yelled back, No.
Jesus said, Shoot your net to starboard, and you will make a catch.  Reluctantly they tried it, and the net had so many fish inside of it they could hardly pull in the nets.
 
Do you see how close we can be to a blessing,  but if we choose to ignore the word of God, we can miss it. The fish were right there on the other side of the boat. That desire we want to see fulfilled may be far closer to us than we think it is. 
Dont stop saying Ill do what God wants me to do.  Believe God that this is going to be your year.
 
The Apostle John immediately recognized that this was Jesus on the shore. Peter jumped into the water clothes and all to get to Jesus. He remembered it was just like this before, years earlier when Jesus had done a similar miracle and in the process he gave Peter a new beginning for his life. Peter wanted to get rid of the strain in his relationship to Jesus.  He wanted to begin again. He knew he needed a new beginning.
When he got to the shore, Peter discovered, Jesus already had some fish for them to eat,  and not only that Jesus was cooking the meal.  Even after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus chose the life of a servant.
 
He invited the disciples to sit down and eat with him. This is the third time hes appeared to the disciples since raising from the dead.
As they sat and talked, they must have talked about some of the old times together.  But talking about old times eventually would lead up to those final days. That was a period in which no one was really that proud of their actions.  All had deserted Him. Everybody knew they had failed Him somewhat miserably in the end.
 
Jesus did not say in front of the others, You know Peter,  you really blew it big time on those three denials. All that big talk and no action.  Do you think you know me now.  No, when we need to work out something with someone, the Christian way is to do it privately. Theres not need to make a scene. 
Jesus could see, Peters desire and probably said, Come on Peter,  lets take a walk for a minute.  I believe the conversation in John 21:15-19  took place in private because verse 20 says, Peter looked round and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved following.
Now the disciple could not have been following them if Peter and Jesus were still sitting around the camp fire.
 
In verse 15, Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you love me more than theses others do?  The most important question we need to ask going is how much am I going to love Jesus.   
You see Jesus really is not interested in all the resolutions we may choose to make. Hes only interested in how much we love him. When we love Jesus it becomes far easier to do the hard things that Christians are required to do.  It is only when we love Jesus, that we keep His commandments.
 
Peter responded to Jesus question was, Yes Lord, you know that I love you.  Peter probably expected Jesus to say, then why did you do it. But instead Jesus said, take care of my lambs.  Jesus was not talking about lambs but about people. Hes saying Peter Ive got a plan for your life, and I want you to take care of people who are young believers. 
Peter was probably very happy to hear Jesus say, I still have confidence in your ability as a leader and Im restoring you to your position.
But then Jesus asks him again, Simon, son of John do you love me. Now was it that Peter was going to be used by God that made him happy.  Was he in love with being in the limelight or was it truly Jesus that he loved.  You see in giving Peter a new beginning, Jesus had to make sure Peter had his priorities in order.  Peter was somewhat caught off guard that Jesus asked him a second time, but he responded once again, Yes Lord, you know that I love you.
With this second declaration of love came another responsibility for ministry. Take care of my sheep. When those lambs grow, dont abandon them.  I expect you to be faithful with the passing of time. God is telling us Hes not calling us for short time service, but a lifetime of commitment.
 
Then Jesus asks him a third time, Simon son of John, do you love me ?  This third time for Peter was a little too much.  It hurt inside for Jesus to have asked this third time do you love me.  But Peter had forgotten that three times he had openly declared before the world he did not know Jesus.   
As painful as it was, Jesus had presented him with three opportunities to boldly cross out those three earlier denials.  Perhaps Jesus also asked this question to see if Peter could speak of his love for Christ, even when he felt that Christ had hurt him deeply without cause.
 
Its easy to say we love Jesus when hes giving us something, but can we say it when we feel hurt by him.  When we did all the right things and things still did not go our way. You know something, this is when we need a new beginning the most.
When we are hurt and unsure of which way to turn. Peter was still able to say, Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.
 
Jesus gave him a third ministry assignment  Take care of my sheep. Jesus was letting Peter know there would be no end to the call of discipleship upon his life.
As the sheep aged,  Peter was to age in service to them,  providing them with the teachings and word of God.  Jesus also revealed to Peter that not only did he have a plan for his life he even had planned the way in which Peter would die many years later.
 
You see if Jesus did not know of our ending, how, could we fully trust Him with our present.  We were not born to make a difference for God in some other era. We have been born to make a difference for God in the time we are afforded in this life.
 
The most important question we will have to answer again and again is, do you love me, more than these ?
Each time we say No,  we will drift further from God,  but each time we say Yes, we will discover the purpose God has for our lives.

Sunday 15th April, 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland

When John F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency of the United States in the late 1950’s, he visited a coal mine in West Virginia. One coal miner said, “Mr. Kennedy, is it true that you’re the son of one of the wealthiest men in America?” Kennedy said, “yes, it is.”
The man said, “Mr. Kennedy, is it true that you’ve never really wanted for anything in your life?”          Kennedy said, “Well, I guess so.”

The man said, “Mr. Kennedy, is it true that you’ve never done a hard day’s work in all of your life?”      Kennedy nodded in agreement.            The coal miner then said, “Mr. Kennedy, I want to tell you something,

Sir – YOU HAVEN’T MISSED A THING!”

ILL.- A man by the name of Bill Gold said it like this: “I’ve met a few people in my time who were enthusiastic about hard work. And it was just my luck that all of them happened to be men I was working for at the time.”

You may not be familiar with his name, but you all are familiar with his accomplishment.                  Kemmons Wilson started working when he was just a boy of seven years old selling magazines.    As a teenager he first worked for a cotton broker and then for a variety of different businesses.            Kemmons was an ordinary man but he had a vision. In the early 1950’s he took his wife and five children on a road trip from Memphis to Washington DC. The trip was not too far, only about 900 miles, but it required a couple of night’s stay between the two cities.                    Motels had sprung up all over the country since the 1920’s. Some were nice family places; others looked good on the outside but were terrible on the inside.          The problem was the traveler didn’t know which he would find.                              This bothered Mr. Wilson. When he returned to Memphis after their trip he hired a draftsman to design his first hotel.                    He wanted it to be clean, simple and predictable and he wanted his hotel to have the things his family wanted; a clean room, a television and a pool at every inn.            The next year he opened his first hotel on the outskirts of Memphis. Out front on a sign fifty-three feet tall flashed its name: “Holiday Inn.”                              By 1959 there were 100 hotels, ten years later there were over 1,000, and by 1972 a Holiday Inn opened somewhere in the world every seventy-two hours.

Do you have a dream?
So what is God calling you to do right now? Not for your life, not your entire purpose for living, but what is God asking you to do today, this week, this year?          Every change in the Church has brought new opportunities and blessings, every single one!             We do cherish our past, but more importantly we embrace our future as well. Thanking God for bringing us to the here and now, to this place and to this time. So today, I want us to look forward to see what God may have in store for us. Ken Solomon once said, and I hold this to be true; “When man plans, God laughs.”              I do believe God has a plan for our church nationally and locally and it is up to each of us to determine exactly what His plan is meant to be.                       God wants us all to look forward, to plan and keep moving forward.                          This is vision stuff. Our church is and should be full of people who love to come together to worship and praise God.                         Full of people who love God, who are seeking His wisdom for their lives, and apply it to daily things. Not monumental, not newsworthy, actually just ordinary people.              Our church should be full of people inviting their neighbours and friends to participate in a celebration every Sunday, where small group ministries come together and where we may encounter someone, even a visitor for the very first time.             And if we are this kind of Church, God is working in our everyday lives.                The evidence will prove it to be true. Yes, we will be reaching out to others, sharing that what we believe can make a difference in people’s lives.                     I believe church should be a place where we can come in to worship and be equipped to go out to be an example of our faith.

Scripture instructs us clearly in this area. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Here’s how God uses people:                              Throughout the centuries, God has used and will continue to use ordinary people. Not the rich and famous, but everyday ordinary people like you and me.          The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in his first letter to the church in Corinth, modern day Greece, most likely only 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus.                           God not only uses ordinary people, He uses broken people. Think of people in your own lives, the ones who have been broken, but now are a strong witness for Christ.                 You know those who have experienced trouble, minor, major, jailed or otherwise, those downtrodden who have turned their lives completely around because of Christ.                              You may have known those who have had a lot of worldly things yet lost everything or those who have never had much to start with. You may know those who have had tremendous faith, even through the tough times.                         God uses all of us, no matter our past or even our present. God has the power to change lives, including our own.              Why shouldn’t we leave the past in the past and trust that God can use us no matter what. He can and He wants to.                            God not only uses those who are ordinary or broken, but uses people who are obedient to His Word.

God asks us to be faithful, to be obedient.                                        Remember the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him…..what?” Not drink. That’s not the correct answer. We can force him to drink, we really can, but none of us can make him thirsty. That’s entirely up to the horse.                  The same should be true for our lives. We should want to study God’s Word and apply it to our lives. We should be thirsty, to desire to be obedient, so we can listen when God is speaking to us.                             Again, there are many, many Biblical examples. People who have heard God calling them and responded. Joshua, Joseph, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, Paul, the list goes on and on.                                              Because of our obedience, our training if you will, we can apply God’s Word to our lives. Not just the Big Ten Commandments, but the greatest commandment of all according to Jesus, to love God and others, no matter what.                      Unconditionally, no strings attached. To let others see the love of God, of Christ mirrored in our lives. So others may ask, “Why did you do that for me?                               Why did you help them?”                                    “Why did you take time to listen, why did you reach out?”

 God uses worshipping people. Those who are in the practice of honouring Him and praising Him for all He has created.                                              People who love to worship, right alongside ordinary people.           In the 4th chapter of the Book of Acts, we learn that two of the inner circle disciples, Peter and John had been arrested because of their bold witness. They proclaimed the Word of God and healed a man who had been lame all of his life.                                The religious rulers of the day had forbidden the two from sharing their story of the Gospel truth and how Christ had saved them.                                                                              I want us all to accomplish great things by just being ordinary and obedient. I want us to have a vision just like Kemmons Wilson.

I want us to be able to share our story of faith and love.                                     I want our families, our neighbours and community to see the difference in us. Not because we’re better or higher, but because we can connect with people finding common interests as we humbly love God through Christ Jesus.                                      No one has come to a relationship with Jesus Christ by losing an argument. Not one person. But people have come to Christ because of a relationship with people like you and me who loved them just the way they are.                               We can all do that. I have said this dozens of times, St. Francis of Assisi once said;        “We are to preach the Gospel at all times, but only occasionally we are to use words.”                                                  All we may have to offer up is broken pieces – give it to Him.                 He can use it.  We may not have a lot of knowledge or skill – give it to Him.                       He can use you!                                                             For some, you just need to walk in obedience to what He wants you to do. Just do it!  God can use people who will just sing His praise and worship Him. Wherever you find yourself in the process, know this. God can use each one of us!

Sunday 8th April, 2018    – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB. St Luke 24 : 13 – 35
I heard about a minister who was given the honour of preaching at an important service. Just before he was to start his sermon he was seen to be looking anxiously around the congregation.
 The Moderator whispered to him, “What’s the problem? Is there someone here who’s heard the sermon before?” “No,” replied the minister, “I was looking to see if there’s anybody who hasn’t heard it before!”
How embarrassing!
This morning I’m in a rather similar position, because at Easter, it’s almost certain you’ve all heard a sermon based on what happened on the road to Emmaus – although not this one!
It’s a story worth repeating again and again because it’s at the very heart of the Gospel. It highlights the living hope found only in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these two as they set out on the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was a:
HEART-BREAKING EXPERIENCE
Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? For example, disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, despair and death.
All of these are summed up in the words of Cleopas and his companion to the stranger who joined them on the Emmaus road. They had left the dispirited and confused band of disciples with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories.
We can sympathize with their bewilderment.
The Master they had revered, loved and followed had been horribly put to death – a cruel death of the most degrading kind. Death by crucifixion was the most shameful of deaths; the victim was made a public spectacle, exposed to the jeers of all that passed by.
Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the disciples’ hopes had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation but now he lay dead in a sealed tomb! Their hopes were dashed; the dream was over!
The band of Jesus’ followers was leaderless and was falling apart, with two of them already on their way home. The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty did nothing to alter their thinking; it only confused them.
 Their entire world had come apart. The two despondent disciples summed up the situation very neatly, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive. Hopelessness as a disease of the human spirit is desperately hard to cure.
When you see someone you love and care for overtaken by illness, which goes on, and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery, to be even afraid to hope because of not being able to cope with another letdown.

The Emmaus Two had erected a wall of hopelessness around them, and they were trapped in their misery. “We had hoped …” What they were saying is “We don’t expect it now, but once we did. We had it, this thing called hope, but now it’s gone”
I wonder if this is something that we can identify with? Has something or someone come between our relationships with God? If so, listen to the Emmaus story because the heart-breaking experience is only its beginning!
As the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger joined them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize him. In fact Luke tells us “they were kept from recognizing him.”
It wasn’t an accident that they didn’t notice who he was or that they were too preoccupied to look at him in the eye.
No, they weren’t allowed to recognize Jesus for a purpose.
It was so that they might be in the same position as ourselves, some 2,000 years later.

Visual appearances of Jesus ceased at his Ascension. They are not granted to us. Like the two on the road we have to make do with other people’s testimony that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Like them we don’t know quite what to make of it. Did it really happen? What precisely happened? How could it have happened?

The stranger asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” And so they poured out their sad story to someone who seemed so willing to listen.
How wonderfully kind and compassionate is our Lord. He could well have ticked them off, to say the least, for their lack of faith in him. Hadn’t he told them that “unless a seed dies, it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit?”
But no, Jesus doesn’t berate them, but rather, as someone put it in moving words, “In his infinite courtesy, Jesus remembered the frailty of over-strained nerves and bewildered minds and came, not too suddenly or overwhelming upon them, but in a way which He alone could do, revealed Himself as the Risen Christ.”
Let’s love them by listening, by accepting what it is that they feel. There’ll be time later to point them to the way of hope, to the One in whom hope is to be found, but first things first. It’s then that the heart-breaking experience changes to a:
HEART-SEARCHING EXPERIENCE
Their spokesman, Cleopas, expressed surprise at even being asked what was worrying them, “Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?”
There seems to be a note of incredulity in the voice of Cleopas, but Jesus continues patiently and innocently asks, “What things?” “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they eagerly replied.
The two Emmaus bound disciples were correct in their theology as far as it went.
Their experience of Jesus was in the past, and they thought they were alone. The Cross had taken him from them, and their minds hadn’t made sense of the changed situation, or adjusted to it. The Cross was just a great negative to them.
 
Jesus is still there. He’s the unseen “stranger,” walking with us, listening to us and, if we are willing to hear his voice, revealing himself’ to us.
As the two disciples spoke of the Cross he took hold of their bewilderment and sorrow and gave them a heartening experience. How did he do it?
He pointed them to God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures. Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
 
Jesus must have given the Emmaus travellers the greatest Old Testament exposition in history – to a congregation of two!
It was then that the jigsaw of the types, shadows and symbols of the Old Testament revelation began to come together.
He would have reminded them that right back at the Fall of Mankind the apparently victorious Satan, in the form of the serpent, was told that the seed, the offspring of the woman “will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). What a wonderful anticipation of Jesus at Calvary.
Jesus would have recalled his own teaching of how the Israelites escaped physical death in the wilderness from a plague of serpents when they looked trustingly to a great bronze serpent which Moses raised on a pole, pointing out that he too would be lifted up on the Cross, “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life in him”

The problem for the disciples was how to make sense of the Cross, how to accept it. Jesus helped them to do that, showing them that the Cross itself was the creative act of God.
The apostle Paul would later write, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19).
The Cross of shame and suffering had become the Cross of Redemption for all who would come to Jesus in repentance and faith.
When Jesus intrudes into our lives, probing our thoughts, it is for the purpose of blessing us. But how do we respond?
Do we, like the disciples from Emmaus, welcome his initiative and let him minister to us?
Do we want him to keep talking and explaining what previously baffled us?
Cleopas and his companion accepted the gentle rebuke that Jesus made, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
 
Perhaps the key word is “all.”
It wasn’t that they hadn’t read the prophets of old, but perhaps they’d read the Scriptures selectively, concentrating on those parts that spoke of a triumphant Messiah who would be kind to his enemies and be victorious.
 The passages that spoke of a suffering servant didn’t fit in with their expectation of the Messiah and they’d tended to skip over them. When they had been given the exposition from the Scriptures they reacted positively, and in fact they wanted even more, which led them to:
THE HEART-BURNING EXPERIENCE
Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like five minutes, being so wrapped up in this absorbing conversation with the Lord they hadn’t yet recognized.
Luke informs us that, “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he was going further.” Jesus is a gentleman; he won’t force himself if he’s not really wanted.  He awaited their invitation to come in.
God gave to the world the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free will; and we can use it to invite Christ into our hearts or allow him to pass on.
In the vision of the Book of the Revelation we find his words, “… Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19,20).
They needn’t have asked him in; he was ready to move on. But no, their hearts had been won over.
A basic meal was quickly got ready. The bread is on the table and the moment for Jesus’ disclosure has come. How does he do it? “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.”
It was the action of the breaking of bread. They saw his hands – they were different from when he had broken bread at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the Last Supper.
They were the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. In an instant they knew him. And in an instant, he’s gone.

I can imagine Cleopas and his friend standing in amazement; perhaps embracing in great joy, asking each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Their world had come together again. That heart-burning experience is something that we all need. We need it in a conversion experience when the Spirit of God makes us realize that we need Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. We need it as we allow the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of Scripture in our daily walk with Jesus.

Well, where are we in our experience? Are we still heart-breaking because we need to meet the risen Christ?
Perhaps we’re still in a heart-searching process – if so, let it continue as it will surely lead to the heart-burning experience we all need.
God deeply longs for each one of us to walk with Him in close fellowship so He can fulfill His plans for our lives.
The Emmaus Two no doubt had walked this way many times before. Yet this day would be different, for it was the time for a life-changing encounter with their Lord.
Life will never be the same again!

Christ is risen from the dead!
Christ is the Saviour!
Christ is the hope of the world!
 
The two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News.
May that be our experience this Easter time and for the rest of our lives.
Easter Sunday – 1st April 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB. St Matthew 28 : 1 -10
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! A joyous and blessed Easter day to each and every one of you!
 
What a glorious message we have today!
And we’re here this morning to hear the Word and to proclaim to each other the Good News that the dawn of resurrection and new life has broken and that the night of death has been overcome!
Isn’t that the reason we’re here today?
We’re here – gathered together to celebrate an empty tomb and that death no longer has any power over us! 

Now, we all know that that contradicts all logic and reason! I mean, anyone can see that the earth is just one huge cemetery.
All you have to do to convince yourself of that fact is to just look around!                  Trees die here – sometimes after holding their heads high for hundreds of years – they finally fall to the ground. Animals die here after only a few years. Insects die here by the millions – often only a few days or hours after they’ve come into being.
Death is here everywhere for everything!

People die here too! We’re born into this world for a short time and for most we are unlikely to see 100 years.  It’s a strong fact that death is here for everyone without exception!
But today we celebrate the end of that fear! We celebrate an empty tomb! God sent His sinless Son, Jesus, to share our flesh and blood with all the limitations that each of us have as human beings.
 
He came to take our place and to fulfill what all of us find impossible to fulfill.
And His purpose was that through His death on the cross, He would break the power of Satan, who had the power of death.
The Lord Jesus Christ went through everything that we have to go through. And for us, He even met that final enemy – death, head-on!
But He emerged triumphant!
 
They pulled His lifeless body down from the cross and carried it into the tomb. But on the third day, He walked out of that tomb, the risen, victorious Son of God – just as the angel had said to the women: “You must not be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
He is not here! He has been raised just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying.”

Only Christians Celebrate an Empty Tomb!
In his book Therefore Stand, Wilbur Smith points out that of all the religions of the world – those that are based on personalities and philosophies – the only one that talks about an   empty tomb is Christianity.
Abraham, regarded by the Jews as the father of their faith, died 2000 years before Christ.
 
Although he died with faith in God’s promises – he himself could lay no claim of his own to have power over death. In fact, his tomb is still carefully preserved in Hebron in southern Palestine.
In the sacred books of Buddhism, it says that when Buddha died it was “with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind.”
Mohammed, the founder of Islam died at Medina in 632 AD and that’s where he’s buried.
 
All of their bones lie in the dust of death!
Even Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science movement who claimed that there was no such thing as death, lies buried in a tomb outside of Boston, where thousands of her followers visit her grave.
There’s only One whom death couldn’t hold.
He’s the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
 
We, this morning, have an empty tomb, a broken seal, a stone rolled away from the door of the grave. You won’t find the bones of the Son of God anywhere!
He lives and He reigns for all eternity!
There was once a well-educated British lawyer by the name of Frank Morison. He was basically a skeptic when it came to Christianity and he was proud of it.
He was influenced by the German skeptics and by Dr. Thomas Huxley – a proponent of the concept of evolution.
 
So one day, Morison set out to disprove the historic Christian belief that Jesus had physically risen from the dead, and he started to write a
book about it.
But things didn’t turn out the way that he had originally planned. He searched the manuscripts to find that chunk of evidence that would refute it all. But the more he examined the evidence, the more impressive he found it – and the more tired he failed.
 
In the conclusion of his book Who Moved the Stone?  he wrote, “There may be, and as the writer thinks, there certainly is, a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed –
‘The third day he rose again from the dead.’”
 
Ultimately, after years of searching, he became a Christian — a believer in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He accepted the fact that Jesus lives and he even began lecturing on proofs for Christ’s resurrection.

The apostle Paul wrote: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than 5 hundred of the brothers at the same time.”  He is risen!

What does the empty tomb mean ?
The empty tomb proves to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that
1. Jesus Christ really is who He says He is — that He “…was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.”
It shows us that His words are true! He said, “Destroy this body and in three days I’ll raise it up again.” 

2. What’s more, the empty tomb tells us that God the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son for you and for me.
Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
But Christ has risen! “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” He did that in order to put us right with God, whom we can now call, Father.

3. And as a result of being forgiven for the sake of Christ, He says, “Because I live, you also will live.”
He hands to us the sure gift and promise of eternal life!
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
 
Jesus Christ broke through death! He broke down death! There is now no death for those who are in Christ Jesus!
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God ! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because of the empty tomb, you and I, by faith in Him, have life today and life forever!
  
The empty tomb makes the difference. It turns night into day, despair into hope, and death into life. “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.”
He wants you to let Him live at the center of your life right now, giving you purpose and meaning, hope and healing, peace, pardon, and power in the face of everything else.
He wants to be the risen Lord of your life!

Is He in your daily plans and schedules?
Have you been trying to salvage a crumbling relationship with another person by just your own human means, or have you depended on Christ the Healer to restore you to each other?
 
That’s what Easter is all about!  In that lies our joy and hope. We’re redeemed and forgiven people! And now in that joy and hope our risen Lord calls upon us to believe it and act upon it!
In the Gospel story, the angel told the women to Believe it! – to believe that “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.”
It is in the Sacrament of Holy Communion that we see Christ again in the Real Presence of His body broken and His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
And He calls us further to believe the promise that because of that empty tomb, we’re one day going to see Him face to face in His living glory.
But in the light of that truth, He also calls us to. Act on it! The angel of Easter said, “He is not here; he has risen…go quickly and tell.”
 
Celebrating the empty tomb this morning isn’t just an intellectual assent to some facts about Christ’s resurrection.
Those who were the witnesses that day said, “…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The love of Christ compels us to share with joy this Good News with those who surround us in our everyday lives – the news that God has reconciled us to God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son.
 
That’s the commission He’s given us: To go and tell and make disciples! To bring people hope, healing, and new life through Jesus Christ!
The angel promised that when you go – trusting in the risen Christ as your Saviour from sin and live in the reality of the open tomb…you shall see Him – the Living One!
That’s one of the 9,000 promises of God in the Bible. And God always keeps His promises to you – now in this life, and also in the life to come! and so fear no more,
“He is not here. He is risen just as He said.” Amen.
Sunday 25th March, 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.  St Matthew 21 : 1 -11

There was a young boy in a Sunday school. He had been taught by the same teacher for a number of years. She had a way of telling stories and she always ended by saying, “and the moral of the story is . . .” 
Eventually this Sunday school teacher retired and a new teacher took over. After a few weeks at the start of a service the minister asked the boy how he liked his new Sunday school teacher.
To which he replied, “she is great, but she doesnât have any morals.”

If we ask people to describe life, most will depict it in the same way- as a path or a road.
 
The reason is simple: life is like a journey. It’s a voyage from one experience to the next – from one tribulation to triumph and back again.
It’s a journey from birth to death and beyond.
Once again, we have gathered together and have been granted the privilege to travel down the road of our Saviour’s life.
 
We traverse a specific street today because we’re in a special weekend in the annual celebration cycle of the Christian church.
We can call today’s street THE PATHWAY OF PALM SUNDAY.
As we walk with our Saviour we can see that this is “A Familiar Road;” it’s one we’ve walked before. Yet, our traveling companion is Jesus, which means this is always
“A Unique Journey.” 

It was a familiar road the disciples found themselves on that first Palm Sunday. It was the road to Jerusalem and they had walked it many times before.
They knew, as they reached the town of Bethany, they would soon turn round the Mount of Olives, and see the city of Jerusalem suddenly sprawl out before them.
They had traveled this way with Jesus before. They would again come to the city, which, at this time, would be swelling with millions ready to celebrate the Passover. 

Jesus knew the road as well. He’d travelled it before. Mary and Joseph brought him to Jerusalem for the feast every year.
It was a magnificent road, a wonderful road to the pilgrims who travelled it.
 
It was especially breathtaking, when, after not seeing the city for the whole journey, you came around that mountain, and there it was!
 
You would see the temple glistening in the afternoon sunlight, and you’d see the magnificent, towering gates; you’d remember the great history of it all: how King David first took that parcel of land as God’s city, and how Solomon first built a glorious temple there.
 
Then you’d recall years of sorrow, when it lay in ruin during seventy years of captivity, until Nehemiah rebuilt its walls. 

The road itself was known and loved. But the journey of that Palm Sunday was completely different. The road would not change, but the things along the way, and the end result, would be different from any other trip ever made to Jerusalem. 

Today, a donkey’s colt would be found tied up outside, and used as a mount for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. Today, throngs of people would go ahead and behind Jesus saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The road did not change; but the journey was unique. The disciples knew the road; Jesus knew the journey. He knew what lay along the road, telling them, “You will find a colt, untie it.” He knew what answer they needed to give: “the Lord has need of it, and will bring it back shortly.” 

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Most of us haven’t. Let’s think about what he rode that day. It was a young donkey colt, which had never been ridden before. This was a beast of burden, not a riding beast.
This animal offered a good ride for baggage, not for people. 
This animal had never been ridden. It was never used. This is in line with Old Testament Law. Anything offered to God for a sacred purpose was to be new, never used for labour. The Lord only uses the new, the fresh, and the untarnished. He uses things that have never really been used for anything else.
 
He accepts and uses the little, the small, even the insignificant, but He doesn’t like leftovers or second hand offerings.

The disciples went and found things exactly as Jesus said. They answered the owner just how he said to answer, and came back with the donkey.
Then they put their cloaks on it, and Jesus rode it. Now this sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially if you’ve ever tried riding an unbroken horse.
Most of us haven’t, I’m sure, but we’ve seen films often enough to know what happens, at first. Donkeys are more stubborn than horses.
 
Here Jesus had an unbroken colt, with a crowd of onlookers shouting “hosanna!” And now, Jesus was going to ride this thing through that crowd?
This appeared to be a recipe for disaster, indeed!
But there’s not even a hint of trouble as Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem.
He enters the city as the Lord and King and Sacrifice. This small animal must have known: “this is my creator, the Saviour of the World, the Son of God, upon my back…
I’ll let him have an easy ride!” 

As He rode, Jesus knew where the journey would end: that day the crowds were shouting Hosanna! By the end of the week, crowds would be yelling, “crucify.” That day as he rode we see the crowds laying palm branches before him.
By Friday, women follow behind him with tears, his blood and sweat dripping as he toils under the cross. Jesus knew the journey. Still, he went forward.
The crowds also went before and they followed behind him. They called him the One who comes in the Name of the Lord. They knew Jesus brought God’s Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom promised to King David.
They believed he came as the promised Messiah. They called out “Hosanna,” which means, “Lord, save us!” And they knew that he would.

So what does this have to do with us today?
First and foremost, we have another opportunity to see our Saviour and King in action. He did all this for us. He walked this road and endured the journey for our salvation.
We see Scripture fulfilled- the King comes gently, and riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah foretold. We see Jesus’ gentle nature as a king. We see his humility: He’s the Lord! The earth and everything in it is his by divine right, and yet he rides in humility on a tiny, lowly beast of burden.
 
A Unique Journey
We learn more as we travel this pathway this morning. As we walk the pathway of Palm Sunday we realize that all of us walk down a road in this life. Each path may be a bit different, and although we know the roads of our lives, Jesus knows the journey- we don’t
There are too many people in this world who think that their life is all about themselves. “It’s my life,” the teenager screams at her parents,
“I don’t care what you say. I’m going to do what I want!” A patient diagnosed with cancer cries, “Why is this happening to ME?” We often forget that our lives are not just about ourselves.
 
Our lives have something to do with our friends, our family, our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, our acquaintances, and yes, even our enemies. No one’s life is all about me, or you, or him, or her. 
Self-centered and selfish- it’s part of the sinful human nature. And it can easily turn us in on ourselves, and turn us from each other and from the truth of the matter.
The truth is that my life is not about me, but it’s about Jesus Christ. Your life is not about you. It’s about the one who died for you. It’s about what he will do in your life, for your life, and through your life.
 Now, we’re often the main characters in the life God has given us, but let’s face it, what is your life or my life? As sinners who were condemned to hell, we had thrown true life away. But Christ redeemed us- each one of us. He bought us back.
 
Often, we’ll talk about life as a journey or a road. There are roads we may well know. We walk them day after day, year after year.
 Most of those roads we’ve traveled again and again, and will continue to travel. Jesus has gone with you every step of the way, though.
 Tomorrow and the next day it’ll probably be the same road, but who knows about the journey?
What strange thing will appear along that road?
When will a detour take place?
We know the roads; Jesus knows the journey.

When we put God’s Word aside, to come up with our own answers to challenges, and when we look for things that sound better to us than the Scriptures, then we end up losing hold of the little donkey he sent us to fetch.
Then his whole intended ride into another heart, another life, is put off for another time. Let’s not be ashamed of the Scriptures, and the simple answers of faith. Jesus taught them to us. He knows the journey, and knew it ahead of time, before we ever walked the road. 

Our lives, the roads we walk, lead us to either follow behind Christ, singing his praises, or to go before him, laying palm branches and cloaks. Missionaries go ahead, paving the way as Jesus rides into hearts by His gospel. Then ministers, teachers, and congregations follow behind, praising God for his kingdom that has come.
As a congregation, we have our part, too, in cutting down palm branches, and laying down our cloaks. That’s what our offerings are about.
 God certainly doesn’t need our money, our time, or talents, but those are things that we give to honour Christ, to provide him a smooth path into other lands, other towns, and into the hearts and lives of other people.
Jesus may have taken you down a familiar road.
 
Who knows what will happen tomorrow?
You think it’s just another journey, but he’s got in mind a humble ride into the heart’s of other people, with you going ahead, or following behind.
You think it’s just another family get together or reunion. Jesus has a humble ride in mind for you; a humble ride through a simple conversation about church, faith, and forgiveness.
 
Maybe it’s a conversation that’s happened before but who knows? The road is the same: but today, the journey may be different. Jesus knows it, and he will provide the answers.

At the heart of Palm Sunday is a path.
It’s the path our humble Saviour rode on in majesty, and lowly pomp, as he went on to suffer and die for our sins. It’s about the path Christ humbly rides into our hearts today through His Word.
Let’s share that Word daily, and remember that our roads, our journeys, really aren’t just about us. They are about Christ Jesus, and his salvation.
Our lives are about his Kingdom- his rule in our hearts and in the hearts of others through faith.
You may not be the main character of your life, but you and I and all believers are the ones who benefit from Christ’s work and from his journeys.
So, ride On, Lord!
Be with us always on your journey to save!  
Sunday, 18th March, 2018  – Rev.  Colin Sutherland

GNB    1 John 4 : 7 – 21

The Scriptures take it for granted that God exists. It begins with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Creation itself declares that there must be a Creator.

Philosophers and Scientists tell us some things about His works – that the universe is one of order and design held together by unchangeable laws. Nature shows God as the Creator of beauty and infinite variety.  But there is more to knowing God than the mere fact that He exists. Science and nature cannot reveal anything about the moral nature of God. They cannot say anything about God being a loving Father,   neither can they say anything about God being Holy and hating sin.  This knowledge is only available through the revelation of Scripture by the Holy Spirit. It reveals that the motivation for everything that God does is His glory and His love.  God’s love knows no limit since His very nature is love.  It is important for God’s people to know this love, and be established in it because God wants that love to be demonstrated in His Body, the Church.  That is the reason why He does not just save us and leave us to ourselves. He also gives us His Holy Spirit to give us the power and the motivation to live for Him and to demonstrate the Spirit of God’s love in the Church.

There are different types of love – human love and divine love. Human love is nothing more than affection for someone or something. It is often shallow and variable or changing.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson human love is as subject to wear as the chocolates, cards, flowers and jewellery we use to express it. God’s love, however, is divine, unchanging, unchangeable and everlasting.  Love is part of God’s nature and character and He is always motivated by His love for us.  He cannot do anything that contradicts this love and we cannot do anything that can change the depth of His love for us. Human love finds it difficult to love someone who has hurt us ;  divine love,  loves no matter what has happened.  The name of God revealed to us by Christ portrays His love. The Jews knew His name to be Yahweh but found it too sacred to be pronounced through human lips. They failed to see God as love till Jesus revealed His name as Father.   God has always been a loving and perfect Father. He chose to create the world and man as a Father because love is best expressed toward something or someone.   So great was God’s love for man that he was given authority and dominion over all Creation. God also showed His love by giving man the freedom of choice – freedom to obey His commands or to disobey. To have no freedom of choice is to be less than human and to cease to exist in the image of God.

Man’s response to God’s love was to disobey Him and this resulted in man’s separation from God.    God, however, loves us so much that He is always working to draw us back into that perfect relationship with Him that is His divine will for us.     If we know our Father is love,  then love should be the evidence that we are born of God and that we know Him.  Every child of God should demonstrate His love.                        The love of God can best be shown in our lives by our obedience to His commands. We are to love one another and the relationships we enter into should be based on love.      This is the only way that other people will see the depth of God’s love. We show our love by meeting the needs of others.  Love recognises and responds to human need.

Love comforts and provides the needed solutions.  God does not only tell us He loves us. He also demonstrated His love by what He did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.                                                                 Jesus Christ gave up eternity to come into a hostile world to meet man’s greatest need – man’s need for forgiveness.    To do this Jesus had to pay a great price.                                                                                                 It took the Cross to reconcile us to God,  for us to experience peace with God, and the peace of God.                     It is often assumed that if God loves us, He is the one person we do not have to worry about.

Bertrand Russell, the author of ‘Why I am not a Christian’   on his deathbed declared that God would forgive him, as that was His job.         This renowned Mathematician conveniently overlooked the other half of the equation, which is that for anyone to receive God’s forgiveness he first had to repent.           People who have never been loved are sometimes  ‘incapable of love.’ If people who grow up without love are incapable of love, then those who grow up with love must be capable of love.  People who grow up in an environment where there is lots of love, are also capable of lots of love.                                                                                      All of us have experienced God’s love.  He loved us as He loved His Son Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that Jesus was punished for the sins of the world.

There was a father who took his son to the hospital for emergency surgery.  The child was frightened and didn’t want to leave his father.  But as the child was taken into the operating theatre, the father could not go along.       The child cried and begged that the father not leave his side. But the father, who never stopped loving his son, let go of his son’s hand because he knew it was necessary. It had to be.

So it was in those moments on the Cross. It had to be. There was no other way for mankind to be saved.          It would take the life of His one and only Son. So God let go of his Son, not because he stopped loving Him, but because it had to be.          Jesus knew it had to be and He never lost sight of his Father’s love.  His first words from the Cross were, “Father, forgive them”  and His last words were, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”  God’s Son never stopped showing that he was confident of his heavenly Father’s love.

The Cross was a demonstration of God’s love for us. Jesus,   who says that he loved us as his heavenly Father loved him, loved us more than his own life.            Our response to such love is to remain in His love by obeying His commands as He obeyed His Father’s commands and remained in His love.          God’s love as Father gives us an identity and security.       We can only know who we really are when we know who our Father is. We need to know God as a Father who loves and cares for us.  This knowledge enables us do the things that the world looks down on.                                                                                                                    Because Jesus knew who He was, He had no problem really we should have no problem loving the way Christ loved.  Loving the way Jesus loved is to be prepared to lay down your life for a friend. We can do this because we know our Father values an intimate relationship with us and will always see to our protection.                             Every human being has a need to be loved. The baby at birth needs the mother’s love. The child and adolescent need a loving family environment.               The husband and wife need the love of their partner.        This need for love is an integral part of human life because that is the way God create us.  God is the greatest lover the world has ever known. Jesus was prepared to touch lepers, no one else would even come near,  even though He could have healed with just a word and not have to touch them. I believe that the touching part is the real show of love and not the actual healing.                  Some people however, show love only in an attempt to meet their own need or to get something they want.  They are not really interested in the person or concerned about promoting the good of that person. This is not love at all,   but selfishness and greed.

Mother Theresa was a unique person because she demonstrated the love and compassion of Christ in her life.        When Mother Theresa, a catholic nun, died the whole world mourned. Tributes were received from religious leaders, heads of state and ordinary people from all over the world.        It is said of Mother Theresa that she cared for the poorest of the poor. She was not just performing an act of kindness; it was her way of life.           It was something she believed in, loved and enjoyed doing in a world where love has become so self-centred.

A reporter once observing Mother Theresa cleaning a destitute poor filthy person from the slums of Calcutta with her bare hands remarked “I would not do that for a million dollars.”  “Neither would I,” replied Mother Theresa.  She was able to do what she did because of love.

Jesus loved us and was prepared to die for us. Do we love one another in the same way ? How often do we even say the words ‘I love you or you are special to me?’ How often do we really show our love to others ?Our response to the love of God is also to love as we have been loved.  It is not only loving those who love us but also living a life dictated by love.     The best way to let the world see God’s love in us is a life dictated by love is proof of our assurance of God’s love.         Living a life of love while going through hardship proves our trust in God’s love. It is saying that we believe that no matter what happens God still loves us and will take care of us. The Spirit of God’s love in the Church is what enables the Church to realise its true potential.

Some years ago when travelling circuses were common in Europe, one such circus experienced a devastating fire.  One thing that puzzled investigators was that a mature elephant tied to a small wooden pole also perished in the fire.        A reporter wanted answers why the elephant did not just walk away from the fire. The answer was simply that the elephant could not walk away.  It had been trained to stay in one place when tied by initially tying it to a concrete wall.           Eventually it was so conditioned that it made no effort to free itself as soon as it was tied even when it was only to a small wooden peg.

We have been so conditioned by the world that we cannot realise our full potential as a Church because the Spirit of God’s love is missing in the Church.         Christ has revealed who our Father is and what we are capable of doing when we love one another as Christ has loved us.

Let us allow the Spirit of God’s love into our Church so that we can realise our full potential and fulfill God’s divine Will.                Amen.

Sunday, 11th March, 2018 – Rev. Petr Penaz     (We had a lovely, happy, surprise visit from Petr – who brought greetings from his family and his Church, in Czech Republic)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
as a fifth-grader I wanted to be a part of the renegade gang in my class. I was somehow on the margin of my class, so I was looking for new friends. They said to me: „Why not, you can join us, but you have to pay something to us “. So, I pulled out a packet of chewing gum and handed it over to the leader of the gang. It was enough, so for two hours I was a member of the school rowdies. Our deep friendship ended in the school-yard, where we were fighting each other. Our headmistress, who caught us, said that we were like wild horses.  I realized for the first time that to be a respected member of a community can be pricey and sometimes even painful and that not everyone can understand it.

I will explain later why I am telling this story. Now back to 1st Peter. Peter says in the opening verse, I rephrase the word-order – „People who pray to God, call him the Father “.

I love my father, because since a young age when I was able to wash our car we entered a deep relationship. My father discovered that even children can be useful. You know fathers are not so much interested in small children until the point when children start to speak and walk and when children don´t need nappies changed. But after that the relationship between father and son is quite fruitful. My father taught me many useful things and he was not so anxious about the order in our house as my mother was. He got me my first bicycle and taught me how to ride it, he showed me his workshop ( I am not saying that I could touch the tools there), he taught me how to drive a car in deep snow and on ice (useful in our country not in Scotland), he paid for my first car – (10 year old one, but who would remember it) etc….etc.

It is easy to believe in God, whom we call the father. Because God as the father always gives. Look around you, he gave us so many beautiful things, wonderful nature, our lives. But how about if our father is also interested in the order of things (like our mothers, I know I should not use that on Mother’s Day). Peter says that God is also our judge and he judges our lives and he judges everyone.

The problem with modern Christianity is that we want everything nice and clean, beautiful, easy going and not problematic. Modern Christians don´t want to hear that God is also a judge, modern God is the father who pulls out his wallet and covers our expenses. But to our pity, because meeting God, who is the judge and supreme court in one package is so helpful for our sanity, spirituality and mental and even physical health.

Why is that? I will show it in an example. The example is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee cannot fail in his role. Every day he has to be the perfect one – he has to be the first one in church – Temple, in a local community, he has to sit in the first row, he has to pay more than usual, he always has to boast – to let people know who he is. He believes in God the father – once God pays him for every expense.

But he cannot get in front of the judge, because then he would be compromised. He cannot even think of his sin or guilt. So, he is playing the role of a perfect man. If you want to keep company with wolves, you must learn how to howl. Or at least you have to pay with a packet of chewing gum as I did.  To be a part of any social group, to be among elites or renegades (doesn´t matter which one) is always costly. That is the rule. Even today I have to pay money even for my membership of my chess club.

But there is also a second dimension of spiritual life. To believe also that God is the judge and that he judges everything and all. Is there any advantage in it? Of course, there is. If God also judges you then you are not a slave of human emotions – of your own and of other people´s emotions and their critique.

Look at the tax collector – he comes to the Temple with shame, he tells God about everything, people spit on him, but what does Jesus say afterwards: Not the Pharisee, but the tax collector left the place justified. Isn´t it powerful?  Your quality does not depend on what people think about you, it depends on God´s judgement if you render to God everything and then God´s judgement makes you clean.  Since last year, I mean the meetings of the Guild here, I have thought what Christian joy is all about. And I think I found it, it is the state when the highest judge says, you are forgiven. Not the Pharisee but the tax collector, the judged sinner was forgiven.

And the apostle Peter also says it. Our translation is a little bit rough when it says that having been judged you can spend the rest of your days on earth in reverence for God. The true meaning is a little bit different. The Scripture means, he judged you so that you may live …which means literally live, not to spend the rest of your lives (as our translation says), not to survive, not to exist…but really to live a full, amazing life before God. That is the reason why we need to believe not only in God as the father, but also God as the judge, because through his judgement he can free us and heal us from all our anxieties. For this reason, judgement in the Old Testament is the tool which brings peace and blessing. Modern society forgot that meaning and we think that judgement is only a tool to persecute and prosecute. The Hebrew term for judgement leads to peace.

If I had a chance to return to my fifth grade I would rather save the packet of chewing gum for myself and tell everything to God almighty. But is such childish wisdom reliable or as Scripture says: isn’t even the wisdom of our ancestors worthless in a certain way? (In case we want to escape the judgement of God!)

Peter says that we recognize God through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ paid for us, for our sins, we were bought by his blood, he is the perfect lamb with no fault.

As you know this is the fourth Sunday in Lent which means that the Lent season is in its second half. Every lent Sunday has its name and the name of today’s Sunday is “rejoice”. And in the second half of the Lent season we should realise that we were saved even through judgement, crucifixion and resurrection … and it is our joy. We were – are judged but not condemned.

Peter is talking about judgement and about sacrifice, but he does not want us to cry or to be sad. His message is here for us, to let us know that we are free, God´s free joyful children – who live real life. Free through God´s judgement and through Jesus Christ. So, rejoice – this is the reality of Christian life.

We recognize God only through Jesus. We see God through Jesus as we see small letters (characters) in a book through glasses. There is no other way. Without Jesus we are long-sighted and short-sighted at the same time – sometimes boastful, sometimes feeling so miserable – but neither is the correct picture. We were bought, saved for and by God – we are his children.

If you see God only through Jesus Christ, there is also no chance that we can avoid the picture of the cross. Yes, even God´s son, Jesus Christ was judged. Judged by human standards and people saw in him only shame. But Jesus was judged also by God and he was not found guilty. He was raised from the dead. Through this, through Jesus Christ, God is our only hope. I must remind you – biblical hope is not probability, that something positive in the future might happen. Biblical hope is a certainty. Things which are not certain lie between now and God´s kingdom. But we should take God´s kingdom and salvation as something given by God, Scripture assures us that it is beyond any doubt. Ok, we know for sure, that God counts with us for his kingdom. But how about tomorrow, what about my family, my body, my church, my nation.

And you see that it is the point where our faith in the supreme judge clears out the picture. You don´t have to be afraid. The Father gives, but the judge preserves good things for his kingdom.

Today´s message is – having been judged, you can live your life in its fullness.

Amen

Sunday, 25th February, 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB   St John 6 : 1 – 14 
 When I hold a basketball in my hands, its just a basketball.  But when you place that same basketball in the hands of one of the Harlem Globe Trotters, it turns into something special. 
 Put a paintbrush in any of our hands, and its just a paintbrush. But put a paintbrush in the hands of someone like Picasso, and you get priceless works of art. 
If you put a trumpet in my hands, youre going to get a lot of noise. But put that same trumpet in the hands of a musician like the late Eddie Calvert, and youll get beautiful music. 
 The bottom line is that if you put what you have in the right hands, you will get amazing results.
So why cant we do that with God ?  magine what could happen if you put your limited resources into HIS hands ?  
 
Think for a moment what you could do for the Lord if you decided to give him everything youve got ?  Even if its not much ?  Even if its just a little bit ?
 Thats what were going to find out in todays Bible reading. In this story, Philip is going to be asked to do something that he thinks is possible.
But hell find out that when you let Jesus use what you do have, things can happen that we never thought possible.  Lets pick up the action in the first four verses. Jesus has just finished explaining to the Jewish community in Jerusalem why he chose to heal a man on the Sabbath.
 And verse one says After this, Jesus went across Lake Galilee ( Lake Tiberias, as it is also called),  
 And then he heads for the hills behind the town of Bethsaida, and he sits down with the disciples. Hes been ministering in Jerusalem for weeks. Hes probably worn out. And according to Matthew 14:13, he just found out that his good friend John the Baptist was dead.
 And on top of all that, the Jewish Passover was just around the corner. So all things considered, I think Jesus just wanted some time to recharge his batteries and to be alone with his disciples before the busy holiday season.
 
But the people of Jerusalem dont want Jesus to leave.  Hes been healing sick people left, right and centre.  Peoples lives are being touched. And theyre so caught up with all of the miracles that they dont want to be without Him.
 So thousands of people follow Jesus to the water. They get in their boats.  And they follow Him all the way across the lake !  
And as they start climbing through the mountains, Ill bet the disciples were looking down at all those people and saying,
When are they ever going to leave Jesus alone ? Dont they realize that he gets tired just like everyone else ?  Arent they sensitive to the fact that he needs some time off ?
 
But as tired and as somber as he must have been, Jesus never turned anyone away. As we look at verse five, Jesus looks up at the great crowd coming toward him, and he said to Philip, Where can we buy enough food to feed all these people ?
You know why he asks Philip this question ? Because Philip grew up just a few miles away in the town of Bethsaida.  He knows the north side of the lake as well as anyone.  He knows where the bakers make their bread.   He knows where they go to sell the bread.
 
But theres an even more important reason why Jesus puts this question to Philip. Verse six says that Jesus asked this only to test him, for he already knew what he would do.
 Hes saying, Philip, I know that feeding all these people looks impossible. But I want to see how you will respond to a humanly impossible situation.  Will you trust me ?  Will you help me to help these people even if you dont know how its going to get done ?
Does Jesus still test people with seemingly impossible situations today ? Yes ! Definitely ! Maybe youve been through your share of impossible situations.  Maybe youve said, God, why are you testing me like this ?  How can you expect me to step out on faith and switch jobs without reassuring me that things are going to work out just fine ?
 Or, Lord,  Why cant you show me how this new ministry is going to pan out before I make a big mistake and get out there and fall flat on my face ? 
If you know exactly whats going to happen, then why cant you fill ME in ?
 
If you are the kind of person who has to know how everythings going to turn out ahead of time before you get involved, you will never know the joy of living by faith.  Youll never know the excitement of what its like to completely depend on God.
In retrospect, what Philip should have said was, Lord,  I have no idea how were going to come up with the resources to feed 5000 people.  But since youre the Lord and I trust you completely,  Ill show you where we can go to find bread.
That would have been the right answer.
But instead, Philip said, For everyone to have a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread.
 
Its easy to sit in judgment on Philip 2000 years later. Its easy to say, If I was in his shoes, I would never have said what he said. I would have trusted the Lord !
But Ill bet that if someone in the church suggested a new ministry idea today, some of us would probably act just like Philip: We cant start this new ministry! It would be impossible !  Do you have any idea how much money it would cost ?
Besides, weve never done anything like this before. It will never work!
We should not be too hard on Phillip for I believe that we all have a little bit of Phillip in our lives.  We all have a tendency to look despairingly at our impossible situations.  And throw up our hands and say,  I give up. I dont see how theres any way this is going to work.
 
And Andrew was no different. In verse nine, he says, There is a boy here who has five loaves of barley and two fishes. But they will certainly not be enough for all these people.
A barley loaf was about the half the size of one of our rolls.   And the barley loaf was the cheapest bread on the market.  It was considered to be the food of choice for poor people.  And the Greek word for fish refers to two little pieces of pickled fish.
So were not talking about a very big lunch.  And Andrew is saying, Lord, Im bringing you everything weve got.  But honestly, I cant see how this is going to feed 5000 people. In fact, I could probably eat this food by myself and still be hungry ! This is a little boys lunch ! This isnt going to feed all these people !
 
Thats how many ministers feel sometimes when they are preparing their sermon for a Sunday.  The ideas just dont come.  The thoughts at times are not being generated.  Help is needed.
But its not just ministers who work with barley loaves.  Many Christians feel that they lack the resources that they need to serve the Lord. 
They say, Lord, there have been times when I thought about leading a Bible study. But how am I supposed to do these things ? My time is limited. My resources are limited.  My experience is limited. 
All of my gifts and all of my talents and all of my abilities dont amount to much more than a few barley loaves.
But look at verse ten and see what happens when our limited resources get into the hands of God.  Jesus says, Make the people sit down.  So all the people sat down; there were about 5000 men.
Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed to the people who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, and they had as much as they wanted.
I want you to remember that this story is not about how we can make a little go a long way. This is about how JESUS can make a little go a long way !
 Its about how He uses our gifts and our resources and makes them go a lot further than what we could do by ourselves.
 And then after everyone had all the food they could eat, Jesus said Gather the pieces left over. Let us not waste any.
 Notice here the liberality of Jesus and the frugality of Jesus. When he gave the people bread to eat, he gave them as much as they wanted. He was a liberal giver.
But he was also a frugal giver because he said, Save the leftovers. And when they had collected all the leftover food, there was enough to fill up twelve small wicker baskets. You know why they had so many leftovers ?
Because Jesus wants them to see that God is a generous giver. He doesnt just give you barely enough to scrape by.  He gives you as much as you need and then some more.
And then when the people saw what Jesus did, they said to themselves, Moses did this same miracle a long time ago when he gave our forefathers manna from heaven while they were wandering through the wilderness. 
And now Jesus has given US bread from heaven ! He must be the great prophet that Moses talked about in Deut 18 !  Praise God !  We want Jesus to be our king.
 
But theres a problem with this : Just because Jesus wants to make the little that we have go a long way doesnt mean that we have him in our hip pocket. It doesnt mean that we can automatically get him to be whatever we want him to be. And to do whatever we want him to do.
And yet thats what the crowd is trying to do. They wanted to make him king by force. They wanted a Jesus that they could manipulate. They wanted a Jesus they could control.  They wanted Him to go back into Jerusalem and kill the Romans and bring in the kingdom.
 
But Jesus will say later on in John 18:36, My kingdom is not of this world.  My kingdom is not about war and bloodshed and force. 
Its about peace and love and righteousness. So no, Im not going to go along with this.
And hes also going to say in John 6:35  I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry. And he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
In other words, If you thought that it was so wonderful that I gave you bread to eat, imagine what would happen if you ate the REAL bread ! Imagine what would happen if you took ME into your life !
And if you do take Jesus into your life, he will take the little bit that you do have, and make it go further than you ever thought possible.
Give him your barley loaves. Give him your time, your talents and your treasures.
Put your limited resources into the hands of Jesus Christ   and watch him accomplish great things in your life and in your family and in your ministry.
Sunday, 18th February 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.  St Luke 4 : 1 -14
Jesus was Tempted
 
When I say the word Jesus what kind of mental picture comes into your mind?
 Close your eyes for just a second, don’t fall asleep, what kind of picture flashes in your mind’s eye at the sound of the word Jesus?
 Do you picture Jesus as most artist do, a man with long flowing hair, a smooth complexion, with every piece of hair in place, and him never needing a shave?
 Or do you picture him walking along the dusty, dirty roads of Galilee, with his feet getting all dirty from his open sandals, his brow wet with sweat from the heat, his clothes wrinkled and worn, his face lined with the signs of age.
 His hands with callous from working in his father’s carpenter shop, and his face with a
5 o’clock shadow? How do you picture this Jesus Christ??
 Do you see him as somehow always having a hallow or a ring of light around his head as some artist see him?
Sometimes you and I spiritualize him to such an extent, that we forget he was a man, a human being, an historical person who walked this earth who did the kinds of things human beings do.
 
Jesus Christ was true man, and true God. As a man, as a human being he felt, he experienced, he encountered all the emotions, all the senses, all the circumstances that we feel in life.
He ate, he drank, he slept, he got dirty, he needed a bath, he prayed, he cried, he gave thanks, he worshiped. Jesus did and experienced all the things you and I experience in this life.
And as our gospel text tells us this morning, he even experienced temptation.
Jesus was tempted as you and I are tempted.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil after he had fasted for forty days. Forty days without food or drink in the wilderness that was such a forsaken place that people would avoid it whenever possible.
Jesus was tempted by the devil to take the easy way out. He was tempted not so much with doing something evil, but with taking the easy way out.
The first temptation was to change stones into bread. This temptation really seemed like a good idea, give the people what they think they need, food.
Become the bread, Messiah, feed the hungry people of the world, satisfy their need for the basic thing of life food, then they will follow you, then you will have no problem getting the people to follow.
 Jesus was tempted with giving the people what they wanted instead of what they needed. Sure the people wanted food, but Jesus knew they needed more than food, they needed his spiritual food, they needed to listen to his teaching not because he bribed them with food, because he offered them life, eternal life.

The second temptation was even more dramatic.
The devil asked Jesus to worship him, then the devil would give Jesus the authority over all the earthly kingdoms. Jesus would be in charge of every kingdom of the earth.
 
Jesus would be our prime minister, He would be the one who would run every country. With Jesus in control of the world’s political,
military, and economic power, disarmament would be swift, peace would be certain and an equal distribution of wealth would be immediate.
Isn’t this a great idea?
Jesus could take the easy way out, acknowledge
the devil’s control of the earth, then he could change the course of history.

But Jesus knew he would change the course of history in a far more dramatic way. He would die on a Cross and then his father would raise him from the dead defeating the devil’s control of this earth.
Then Jesus working through his Church would bring peace, disarmament, and an equal distribution of wealth, but all of this would be a long, drawn-out struggle.
 
Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out, to avoid the cross, and to do the changes of this world himself instead of working through his people, the Church. Sometimes this temptation is very difficult for us to defeat. Sometimes it is easier to do things ourselves. 

As parents, when you are teaching the children to do something, it is frustrating watching them try, maybe fail, but then try again to do something that you could have done in just a matter of moments. But if you did it for them, they would not have learned anything.
 
If Jesus would have worshiped the devil and then be given the authority of the whole world, we would not have learned anything about establishing peace and justice on this earth because Jesus would have done it all for us. 

The third temptation was the most dramatic.
The devil had another way for Jesus to serve as the Son of God: “Dive off the temple tower and let God perform a dramatic rescue,”
This event would show that God could be manipulated to do what we want and need. He is at our service.
Such a message would be appealing to the masses, for we like to hear that God will keep us successful and happy.
Take the easy way out and have God serve you Jesus,  instead of you serving God. Yes, Jesus bargain with God, make deals with him, you be the boss, Jesus, sell God a hill of goods. 

Trade with him, show him who is boss, you are.
This temptation hit Jesus right in the face. The devil tried to build up Jesus’ ego. He tried to show him that he can be powerful, he can even control God.

This temptation wasn’t really something so evil, not like stealing or killing or things like that, was it?
But the subtleness of this temptation is even more damning. For this temptation is asking us to accept our will, our position before God instead of his.
 
It asks us to be a salesmen, a trader, a bargainer with God. Well, God will do this if you will do that. Doesn’t sound so bad does it?
But it is. For this temptation places us in control of our salvation, it places us in control of pleasing God, it places God at our mercy, instead of the other way around.
 
God is the one who is in control, God is in charge of our salvation, God gives eternal life to us as a free gift, not as payment for good deeds.
Yes, Jesus was tempted, tempted not by doing something so awful, but by taking the easy way out. By taking the easy road, instead of the difficult road of service, sacrifice and death.
But these temptation didn’t stop here in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted by the devil to take the easy way right up to the moment of his death.

There is a book entitled “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikos Kazantzakis. He portrays Jesus as tempted even as he hung on the cross. 
Kazantzakis’ Jesus imagines what life would have been like had he chosen another way.
In his coma-like dream, Jesus gets married, fathers many children, enjoys the company of friends and works as a kindly carpenter until he is a white bearded old man.
The dream concludes as Jesus is confronted by his disciples. They were decrepit old men. Peter degenerated from a rock to a “sponge full of holes, and the others were spiritless men with “bloated bellies, and double chins.”

Long ago they had given up the fight and their destiny shriveled into meaningless. In their company was an angry Judas who bellowed the truth about the uncrucified Jesus:”Traitor! Deserter! Your place was on the cross.
That’s where the God of Israel put you to fight. But you got cold feet; and the moment death lifted its head, you couldn’t get away fast enough.”
The rest of the disciples joined in the horrible nightmare. His life had been wasted, for he fell to temptation and avoided the cross. He chose an easier way and it proved to be the way of failure.
But we know Jesus didn’t take the easy way, he took the way of the cross, so the closing pages of Kazantzakis’ book finds Jesus awaken from his nightmare to find himself on the cross.
He is relieved as we are to discover that his crucified state was only a miserable dream.
 
The closing words of the “The Last Temptation” lifts high the central feature of our faith: Temptation had captured Jesus for a split second and led him astray.
 
The joys, marriages and children were lies, the decrepit degraded old men who shouted coward, deserter, traitor at him were lies. All were illusions sent by the Devil. His disciples were alive and thriving.
They had gone over sea and land and were proclaiming the Good News. Everything had turned out as it should, glory be to God!!
He uttered a triumphant cry: “It is finished”
And it was as though he had said “Everything has begun!”

That brings us to a story about a little boy in a grocery story. The boy was standing near an open box of biscuits. 
“Now then, young man,” said the grocer as he approached the lad.
“What are you up to?” 
“Nothing,” replied the boy : 
“Nothing?” 
“Well it looks to me as if you were trying to take a biscuit?”
“You’re wrong, mister. I’m trying not to.”
Do we try to take the easy way out, the way that doesn’t seem so bad, but is much easier??? 

How about it, have you ever hoped or dreamed to win a large sum of money, instead of working for it? Have you ever tried to make a bargain with God demanding that He does things for you?
I think all of us have fallen in this trap of taking the easy way out. Sure our sinful nature tells us that the easy way is the best way, but is it in the end? 

The road that Jesus calls us to follow is a narrow road, a road that is not easy, but difficult. A road where we are to follow him instead of ourselves, a road that asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our time and our energy for him.
Jesus asks us to travel the hard road, because at the end of that road is our final reward, it is heaven, it is eternity with him.
So, as you are being tempted by the devil to take the easy way, what will you do???
 
Will you take the easy way, the way of little effort, or will you follow the example of Jesus and take the way travelled by him, the way of sacrifice, the way of service, the way of the cross?
Sunday, 4th February 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.  St Mark 1 : 29 – 45
Our gospel lesson this morning shows us very clearly the compassion, the pity, and the love that Jesus had for people on this earth. Jesus was willing to walk with others as they suffered and also in some way help those people who did suffer.

There is a story about Mrs. Booth, who along with her husband founded the Salvation Army, when she was a little girl running along the road with a hoop and a stick, she saw a prisoner being dragged away by a policemen to jail.
A mob was shouting and calling out names to the man, and his utter loneliness appealed at once to her heart; it seemed to her that he had not a friend in the world.
So quickly, she sprang to his side and marched down the street with him determined that he should know that there was one person who felt for him whether he was innocent or guilty.

Jesus in the same kind of way, and even more so, walks with us in our guilt, in our brokenness, in our situations of life. We are not alone, but we have one who is willing to spring to our side, and be with us.
This point is illustrated very well for us this morning in our Gospel lesson. A leper came to Jesus, and said “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Notice the exact words of this man, he comes to Jesus and says, “If you want to” he was putting his whole life in the hands of Jesus. He was taking a risk and putting his whole life into the hands of this man.
Being a leper, this man was taking a chance that Jesus might walk away as the Scribes and Pharisees did, or cast stones at him, or taunt him like many of the people were accustomed to doing, but he felt that Jesus was different, that this man might just be the one who could change his whole life. 
So he approached Jesus, not demanding that Jesus do anything, but coming to him and letting Jesus’ will be done. He didn’t come to Jesus saying, you have to heal me, but he was willing to take a risk, saying “If you will.”
In other words, he was saying to Jesus, I am putting my whole life into your hands, if you will, you can cure me, and if you decide I shall remain this way, then so be it.
Isn’t that an act of faith, a tremendous act of surrender, an attitude that tells us something about this man’s convictions, and this man’s belief in Jesus Christ.
Can you just imagine what must have been going on in that man’s mind.
I think he might have had thoughts similar to these:
“There is Jesus, I have heard he has healed many people, I have heard he is a man of compassion and a man of power. I wonder if he can make me well?? No, I don’t wonder, I believe, I know deep within me that he can.
I cannot go begging him to heal me, or demanding that he does, but I will go and ask that whatever he wills for my life, then so be it. I will approach Jesus and ask that his will be done in my life.”
And we know the rest of the story, the text says that Jesus was filled with pity and stretched out his hand and touched did him. “I do want to” he answered. “Be clean !”
At once the disease left the man, and he was clean.
Jesus didn’t forsake the man, he didn’t turn his back on him, he didn’t ignore him, he didn’t tell him he had to do something before he would act, Jesus was moved with pity and reached out to touch this man, and made him clean.
Jesus acted. Jesus acted because he knew how lonely, how miserable, how forsaken this man was. Jesus acted because no one else would.
Jesus acted because the rest of society forsook this man, Jesus acted because this man’s own religion ignored him, because they couldn’t be bothered.

As we study this lesson, I think there are two points that come home to us. The first being the example of faith, trust and complete surrender of this leper. 

I wonder how many of us could do what he did? I wonder how many of us can surrender our entire lives to him, letting his will he done in our lives.??
I wonder how many of us could say to Jesus, take my life and whatever you will for it, so be it??
That sounds very serious, very strange to us. But isn’t that what Christianity is all about? Surrendering ourselves to God, then letting his will of love be done in our lives.
Sometimes you and I don’t see God’s will so easily, nor do we understand his will for us, so then we I try to go it alone, depending on ourselves instead of him.
But even though we cannot see at this present moment, nor see with hindsight God’s will, we must believe that he is not forsaking us to walk our pilgrimage alone, but he is with us, guiding us, helping us to carry our burdens and bringing into our lives his goodness and his love.
We must believe that. We must surrender to that. Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes you and I want to rebel against God. Sometimes in all the upheaval, in all the heartache, in all the questions we have about life, we lose track of God.
But we must believe he hasn’t lost track of us. God is there, and sometime in the future he will help us with his guiding hand.

I would like to tell you one just one story from my life where I saw the guiding hand of God not in the present moment, but many years down the road of life.
As some of you know I was working in engineering in Polaroid and was in the Church Session Clerk for three years before going to University. But what most of you don’t know is how I arrived at the decision to change my life’s vocation, because for the most part I really enjoyed my work and Church life, and still do. 
But back to the subject. Myra I, were very happy just jogging along, and were both very involved in the life of the local church, I really enjoyed what I was doing in the church, and working in Polaroid. 
But then came a time when I felt that I was at a crossroads in my working life. I moved from engineering into the purchasing side of the business.
But things didn’t go too well, as a matter of fact it was an awful move.
During this time I got to thinking about my Church life and really wanted to do more in the Church.
Having spoken to my Minister at that time and told him this, he said the only other thing I could do in the Church was to become a Minister.
During the time he was away on holiday I did a lot on thinking, praying and in fact read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
When my Minister returned from holiday I went to see him and said I would like to apply for the full time Ministry, his answer was yes I thought you would and He had sent for the application form before he went on holiday.
I then had to go back home and tell Myra what I wanted to do, she was not surprised and said “I have been waiting for this for the last three years.”
I applied and was accepted a couple of weeks after the Berlin Wall was taken down.
We sold the house moved into a flat sold our car and bought two less expensive ones. I started at the University of Glasgow and there studied Theology. Now had I enjoyed the move I made in Polaroid perhaps I would never have made the move to University.
I endured the University years because they were a means to an end. I got my exit certificate and was licensed in Cardross Parish Church, and well the rest is history.
God’s hand works in mysterious ways.
He asks us to believe that he is working even when we cannot see him, even when things aren’t going well for us, God is still working and I believe, eventually, as we look back over our pilgrimage on this earth, we will see how he had definitely guided our lives.

The second lesson we can learn from this text is seen in Jesus’ hand reaching out to the leper and bringing a measure of peace and comfort into his life.
Today, we as the church are Jesus’ hands in this world.  As we see people hurting, as we see people living with burdens, as we see people afflicted with disease, we are compelled as Jesus was to reach out a hand to try with all of our strength to bring some measure of peace and comfort into that person’s life.

In the movie “The Elephant Man” it tells the heart-rending story about a human genetic accident of a man named Mr. John Merrick..
He was raised as a sideshow freak repulsive to look at and of value to his owner only for the money earned from his display. John needed to be touched by someone, he longed for it.
John Merrick was befriended by a doctor who not only wanted to study his condition, but also believed that a sensitive spirit lived in his distorted flesh.
He sought to assimilate Merrick into society, but most people were slow to accept this. There is a scene in the film in which Merrick is pursued by a group of taunters and cornered in a public restroom. As the crowd presses upon-him he cries out, “ I and not an animal; I am a man !”

As Christians, as children of God, we have a duty, a responsibility, to respect the God given spirit in all of God’s creatures whether they be like us or different from us, by colour of skin, or nationality, or some physical defect.
Jesus was not turned back by the repulsiveness
of the leper, and he doesn’t want us to turn our backs on those people who society says are different, are in the minority, or not like what we claim to be normal.
Jesus wants us to minister to people regardless of who they are, or what they have. Jesus wants us to reach out to people with the same measure of compassion, with the same measure of concern as he reached out to the leper 2000 years ago.
We have seen today, the faith of a leper who was willing to surrender his life over to Jesus. We have seen Jesus response of love and compassion. We have learned that we are to be like the leper, to surrender our lives to Jesus.
And we learned we are to be like Jesus, we are to respond to the needs of others with the same measure of compassion and love as Jesus had.
Amen
Sunday, 28th January 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB  1 Corinthians 12 : 12 – 27 
What Part Are You ?   
How do you feel about your body?  Strange question isnt it ?  Most of us would rather not think about our bodies and if we do we probably dont think very complementary things.  Its too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall.  Bumpy, lumpy or just plain ugly. 
At least thats the way we think about it. 
So its kind of strange that Paul would say in
1 Corinthians 12:27  All of you are Christs body,  and each one of you is a part of it.  
What a statement. You, you are the Body of Christ.
Pretty awesome isnt it ?  Look around you ; each one of you makes up a part of the body of Christ. 
As Paul reached out to find a simile to adequately describe the Church of Jesus Christ, the one he came back to time and time again was the comparison between the Church and a body.
In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians Paul makes over 30 references to the body of Christ.
Those of us who are familiar with the Bible tend to skip over things like that without really taking the time to think about it. 
We all know what a body is, after all each one of us occupies one every day, but do we really take the time to look at these vessels that we reside in, and see where the similarities are between this which is flesh and blood and the Church of Christ ?
The first thing we need to recognize is that the analogy of the body applies to two definitions of the Church. 
Yes it does refer to the church universal.
That is the great all encompassing group of Christians throughout the world who call themselves by so many different names. So Annan Old with Donock and Eastriggs  are a part of the same body as Dumfries churches St Georges, St Michaels and South, Dumfries North West, Max West or the Baptist Church.
Just the same as Hills Christian Life Centre in Sydney Australia and North Point Wesleyan Church in Brisbane Australia or any of the Christian Churches in North America.
However, our local church here also needs to be viewed as the body of Christ. But why? Why did the Apostle Paul chose to use something as imperfect as our material body to illustrate something as mystical as the Church of Jesus Christ ?
William Barclay states There is an I in personality which gives unity to the many and varying parts of the body This is a hand and this is a hand and thats a foot and theres another foot and heres a head and theyre all separate, but I Colin bring unity to make all of those things part of my body.
Barclay goes on to say that what  I  is to the body, Christ is to the Church, it is in Him that all the diverse parts find their unity. 
Alone you are just a Tom, Dick or Harry Mike, a Sarah, a Paul, a Greg, a Margaret, Elizabeth or a Mary.  But add Jesus Christ and you become a body.
Christ is no longer in the world, he no longer has a physical body and so if he wants a child taught in the Sunday School then he needs someone to be the teacher.  If He wants someone touched with compassion then He needs to use our compassion, and if he needs to cry then He needs our tears.
And so we are His body, but the question remains what is His body ? 1 Corinthians 12:12  Christ is like a single body, which has many parts ; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. So it is with Christ.
And so in the same breath just because you attend a Christian Church doesnt necessarily make you a Christian, only Christians truly belong to the body of Christ. 
So if it isnt Church going that the various parts of the body have in common, and if going to Church doesnt necessarily make you part of the body how do we achieve it ?   Good question.
Paul gives us the answer in the opening lines of this letter  1 Corinthians 1:2
He is writing To the Church of God which is in Corinth, (thats the primary address, now he narrows it down a little bit) to all who are called Gods holy people, who belong to him in union with Christ Jesus, together with all people everywhere who worship our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.
That is who is part of the body.  And the Bible tells us that the path to becoming a Christian is relatively uncomplicated.
1) Confess your sins
2) Repent or say youre sorry
3) Believe in faith that He will forgive your sins.
1 Corinthians 12:14 For the body is not made up of only one part, but of many parts.
Secondly .. We are all different.  The diversity of the body is something beyond debate. No two parts of the body are identical, not only are your hands and feet different but your left hand and right hand are different. And we look at our bodies and we marvel at the God who has created this phenomenal piece of equipment.
We have ears that hear, eyes that see and feet that walk.  And none of us object to that. When was the last time you said, I wish I could see with my toes, or smell with my ears Nor do we say, I wish I was a big foot or a very large eye. 
Diversity isnt just an accidental attribute of the body its all part of the divine nature that designed you.  And yet all too often we try to make every member of the body of Christ identical.
God didnt make us identical at the first birth and I dont think he intended to make us identical at the second birth.
To listen to some people all Christians ought to look alike,  dress alike, think alike, have the same haircut, read the same translation of the Bible, enjoy the same type of music and raise their children the same way.
In other words those people think that all Christians ought to do things one way, and you know what way that is dont you ?      Thats right their way. 
But lets just stop and think about it for a minute and lets be honest, do you really think that we need another you?
Paul is very adamant that each of us in our diversity plays a vital part in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:20 There are many parts, but one body.
We all need to be heading in a common direction and so,   as we face this paradox of being so dramatically different,  we see the marvelous problem which confronts the Church of Jesus Christ and that is how to preserve our diversity while maintaining our unity.
It would be relatively easy for us all to be different most of us are quite different as is.  And Im sure that if we really wanted to and if we tried really hard that we could be fairly united.
But to be different and united at the same time, well that seems to pose a difficulty that were unable to overcome.
But if we look at the original analogy we see that this isnt just possible with our physical bodies but essential. 
I can be scratching my head with my hand, walking across the floor with my feet, seeing with my eyes, hearing with my ears and smelling with my nose all at the same time. 
The secret to keeping the Body of Jesus Christ that we know as our Church, this Church on the right path is that we must be seeking the same goal. And hopefully that goal is to reach people and introduce them to Jesus.
If your left foot wanted to go one place and your right foot wanted to go another place youd be in a real predicament,  wouldnt you.  But we say Im going to walk over there and the instructions leave our brain, travel through the central nervous system causing each of the required body parts to work as required to take us on that trip.
In the same way the Church determines the direction that God wants us to go and each of us as a part of this particular body move in unison toward that goal.
Or at least thats how its supposed to work in theory. And that goal better be to share Christ with a lost community and to reach out and love people with the love of Jesus Christ.
Verses 25-26 States what makes for harmony among the members, and so that there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it, if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.
Sometimes I think that we are so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of those around us. 
When someone stumbles we need to stop and help them up, not scramble over them in an effort to get to our goal. 
Sometimes Christians act as if sin is contagious and instead of trying to restore a brother or sister who has fallen by the wayside, we avoid them as if they had the plague. 
We should not amputate a wounded member of our Church family, but if we dont administer first aid and just ignore it, in time it will die and fall off.
Did anybody seen the TV series survivor ?
I was discussing it the other day. And a good part of the discussion focused on how the group would voted for the member of their tribe who would then have to leave the island. And while we may not vote someone out of the Church sometimes we can make it just plain uncomfortable for them to be here.
What happens when a part of your physical body gets hurt?  If you hit your thumb with a hammer what happens ?
Well actually several things happen all at once. Your mind registers pain, tears come to your eyes, you grab the said thumb with your other hand and you commence to jump up and down while words rush forth from your mouth. The nature of those words being entirely dependent on your present spiritual condition.
What happened ?  Even though it was just one very small, very insignificant part of your body that was hurt, many other parts of your body became involved in an attempt to lessen the pain. And so when one part of the body of Christ hurts it is each of your responsibility as additional parts of the same body to help lessen the pain.
It may be hurt that comes with the death of a loved one, divorce, a lost job. It may be that your children have given into temptation and need to be loving restored to the body. 
The responsibility lies not only with the Minister, or with the Elders, or with the person next to you, it lies with you.
So where are you at ? 
So the question has to be what role will you play ? 
What member of the body will you become ? 
What function will you perform ? 
How will you help to make the body what it ought to be ?
What will you do to make good the unity of the Body of Christ….  His Church ?
Sunday, 21st January 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.   St Mark 2 : 1 – 12 
Our Gospel reading this morning centered around three different kinds of people. Jesus, a man who was paralysed, and his four friends. Jesus had just return to Capernaum and was probably in Peters house. He began to preach to the people and people gathered all around the house, inside and outside to hear him.
Then it happened. Four men brought their friend who was paralysed to Jesus. They got to the door and saw that they could not get in that way, so they came up with a unique idea. They would carry their friend to the roof, then remove some of the roofing and lower their friend down to Jesus.
These four men were really good friends of the paralysed man.  First of all they had to decide they would put their friend on a stretcher and carry him to Jesus. Second, when they saw the way was blocked, they came up with an ingenious idea of how to get their friend to Jesus,  they carried him onto the roof, removed part of the roof and lowered him down in front of Jesus.
Good friends indeed. I marvel at their friendship. I marvel at their faith, their belief that Jesus could do something for their friend. And when obstacles got in the way, their faith in Jesus allowed them to proceed, to carry on.
Their faith in Jesus is like the faith seen here :
A group of small boys were playing football.  One was asked the score, nine to nothing in their favour, replied the breathless youngster.
You are being beaten pretty badly, arent you ? said the bystander. No, no, the boy said with emphasis, our side hasnt even had a kick at the ball yet.
These four men had faith that if they could only bring their friend to Jesus, somehow, someway, Jesus would do something to help him. So their faith, their hope, their conviction, that if only Jesus could see their friend, something could be done.  So no matter the difficulty, they were willing to do their level best to get their friend to Jesus.
And they did get their friend to Jesus. And notice something very special in the text. It says: They let the man down, lying on his mat. Seeing how much faith they had, Jesus said to the paralysed man, My son you sins are forgiven. It does not say that they shouted to Jesus, heal our friend, it does not say that they asked Jesus to do anything.  They just let down the mat, period.
This was faith in the utmost. They did not ask Jesus to do anything, they did not beg, they did not persuade Jesus to act. 
They just lowered down their friend in front of Jesus and let what would happen, happen.
Their faith must have been working overtime. 
First to have the courage to gather up their friend to take him to Jesus, 
Secondly, to get the idea of taking him to the roof and removing part of the roof and lowering their friend down to Jesus, with not a word from them, just their actions.
Sometimes when things seem to be the roughest, our faith calls up a reserve of energy, or power inside of us to handle the situation.
It is like the frog in the following:
There were two frogs who were hopping along a wet, deeply rutted country road.  Then all of a sudden one of them fell into one of the deep ruts and was unable to get out.  He kicked and scrambled mightily hard, but to no avail. Finally, he said to his buddy, You go on my friend, Im a goner, Im done for, I can never get out of here.
His buddy sadly started on down the road, but then all of a sudden he heard the sounds of a long-leaping frog coming up behind him, fast. Turning, he saw that it was his friend from the ditch.
I thought you couldnt get out of there,  he said.
To which the other frog replied in a panting voice, A big truck came along and I had to !
The frog did not have faith in himself to get out of the rut until that truck came along, and then he found that faith, that energy to explode out of the rut and save himself.
Faith in Jesus can let us bear up under the brokenness of this world so that we can find the strength to carry on with life.
These four friends found the strength to carry their friend to Jesus when it seemed it would be impossible to do. But somehow, somewhere inside of themselves, they found the power to come up with the idea to go to the roof, remove some of it and lower their friend to Jesus.
They did this hoping and believing Jesus would act, but with the courage of not demanding that Jesus act, just the faith to allow Jesus to see their friend.
Then we come to the man himself who lies on that Mat. What do you think was going through his mind ?  The scriptures do not say anything about his thoughts about this whole matter.
Did he have the same kind of faith in Jesus that his friends did ?  Did he want his friends to do this ? Had he asked or was he just a willing bystander, or maybe he was not willing at all, but had no choice as he lay there on his mat unable to move, unable to protest, unable to have any say in the situation at all.
The text says : When Jesus saw their faith ……… whose faith, the four men or all five of them, the four friends and the man lying on the mat. We just dont know the answer to these questions.
Then we come to Jesus. The text says: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man,My son, your sins are forgiven
Did Jesus mean that somehow the sins of his man caused his paralyses ?
In the first century — and even today — there is a belief that suffering and illnesses are the direct result of ones sins. Does Jesus mean to support that view of suffering — that this man must have committed some sin for him to be in the condition he is in?
We know from Jesus discussion in John 9 with the Pharisees who held this view, that Jesus did not believe that individual handicaps were a direct result of someones sin.
Or did Jesus say this because he was the one who was victorious over sin and saw sin not as something that caused this condition, but was conscious of the condition of sin in the world which causes the perfection of this world to be less than God intended it to be.
I would like to believe that Jesus saw sin as the consequence of a broken world, a world that is less than perfect so then paralyses, sickness, and all the brokenness we see in this world is allowed to happen until the final coming.
Are you trying hard enough to overcome your disability ?  I know of a teacher who said to a boy who was on crutches due to his having polio, it was said in front of the class one day. He said, Tim if you tried harder you would not need those crutches.
Little did he know that during the summer when everyone else was having fun, that boy was in the hospital having surgery to make himself better.  He wore a cast the whole summer, did numerous exercises, to just get back to where he was before the summer started, and they hoped, the doctor, his family and himself that indeed one day he would get stronger and not need those crutches, but now he did.
The teacher implied that there was something wrong with the boy, his lack of courage to try. He blamed the boy, not the disease.
I think this text shows us the power of Jesus to act.  To act not only to heal, but to act to forgive sins, the sins of this world that bring all the brokenness to each of us.
It would have been easier for Jesus just to heal as he had been doing, but he wanted to show the power, the authority he did have. So while he healed this man, he also proclaimed to those who were there that He had power to change the world, to forgive sins.
And then when the man got up took up his mat and went home, all the people marveled at what Jesus had done and gave glory to God.
I think the lesson from this text we must learn is to have faith, to believe that Jesus does have the power to affect our lives today, to bring a measure of His grace and glory into our sinful and less than perfect lives.
A closing story tells this well.
Let me close with a story about some men of faith,  some people of faith.
They lived in the hills and it was winter time, snow lie deep on the country roads and for four days there had been no traffic. The telephone lines were humming with neighbourly chatter. There was, of course, talk about the weather, the livestock, how much milk and bread and sugar folks have left. 
The children were all home,  because there was no school. A mood of adventure was everywhere, it is really a festive time and there was a lot of laughter in the homes along the valley.
Then comes the word –  from far up at the end of the road at the foot of the mountain ;  little Mary Jones is sick.  Her mother is worried. The fever climbs and the pain in her right side grows and grows. 
By phone, the doctor is reached in the village 20 miles away. Over the phone he asks some questions and he  says, There is no doubt about it Mary has an acute case of appendicitis.  Up and down the valley, everyone gets to know that unless the child can have surgery soon, she will die.
Suddenly, the children are quiet in their homes. The phone lines idle chatter yields to an urgency: Mary somehow has to be taken to the hospital.
For 20 miles up and down the snow-covered valley burly farmers talk in earnest tones — and then it happens ;  every piece of farm equipment moves out onto the road, every tractor, every horse, every shovel and almost every man woman and child.
Through the phone lines the news is relayed : they now have Mary in the farm truck, the one with the big snow tires and they are starting now. The journey is logged, mile after mile, moment by moment.
When there is a snow slide at a very bad bend, when the Jones truck is delayed somewhere between houses, an electric hush falls upon the valley.  And there is almost a shout of joy each time the truck passes another farm on its  way.
Eventually comes the word :  they have reached the village hospital now and the surgeon has arrived from the city — and then the operation is over and Mary will be just fine.
Can you imagine the joy in the homes of those people that night as weary folks gathered about their fireside and relived the day ?
These men of faith had found a way when it seemed to be almost impossible.
But faith will always find a way.
Amen
Sunday, 14th January 2018 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.  Isaiah 49 : 13 – 23   St Luke 2 : 22 – 32 
This morning we are going over one of the Good verses Evil stories that are all through the bible. We are talking about a clash of kings, sort of. We have at least 3 kings involved and it could be 5 or more.
There are a lot of holes in the story because we are just not told by Matthew or any other Gospel writer, the details. Much of what we learn about the situation comes from Roman History and records other than the Bible directly.
The dates that have been set : the date of birth and going to and from Egypt all come from guesses based on a statement about Herods death being between an Eclipse and a Passover celebration.  Astronomers do some heavy maths and tie it all to our calendar.
It is widely believed that our nativity scene confuses us about the timeline. The arrival of the Magi probably happens about two years after the birth of Jesus. The hints in scripture are entered, the house, the child and then Later Herods choice to have boys 2 years and under murdered.
This morning I want to talk about the kings involved. Herod the Great : The delightful little man was hated by the Jews because of his successful alliance with Rome. 
He had been appointed king by the Roman Senate in 40 BC.  When he was appointed he asked for the Title 
King of the Jews.
So when the Magi came looking for the one born – King of the Jews, this was a direct threat to Herod.
Herod was paranoid at least and more likely insane.
He believed everyone was out to get him. He had his three sons, his wife and his mother-in-law put to death because he saw them as threats to his power.
He had untold numbers of others killed and groups of 3000 killed just to demonstrate his power and to keep control.
Generally he was not a nice guy. He was only half Jewish and the Jews didnt accept him, though he did receive some favour from the Jews because he rebuilt the Temple.
 He was a terrific architect. His cities are always described and being magnificent. He build shrines to his murdered family members, I guess he missed them.
Many of the buildings and systems he designed and build were feats of engineering that were beautiful and advanced in the technology of the day.
Even with all the physical things he did that were good for the kingdom (his kingdom). He knew he was unpopular in Galilee, and all of Judea. 
When he was close to death he wanted to make sure there would be mourning when he died. To make sure, he ordered some of Jerusalems most distinguished citizens to be arrested on trumped up charges and sentenced to death.
Their execution was to take place the minute he died.
In the end that order was never carried out. Someone changed the orders or realized that if he was dead then his order may not have authority.
Over all his was a kingdom based on cruelty and fear.
–The next king or kings are the ones we call the Wise Men or Magi.
Very little is known about them Matthew doesnt even record how many of them there were. All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were NOT Jews.
Tradition has it that they were Magi from Persia, once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq are now.
What is known about the names and number comes from legends and what exactly Magi were is pulled from history about the Persian kings.
In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Child.
He also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Popular myth calls them astrologers, it is generally accepted that the Magi were a priestly caste (in the Persian Empire). Called the Meads.
The Meads – Magi worshipped the elements of fire, air, earth and water, especially fire.
The only temples they had were fire temples, generally on the roofs of houses, where they kept fires burning day and night  a bit like the Eternal Flame in that burns beneath the Arch de Triumph in Paris.
And the term Magi is the base from which both of our modern words magician and magistrate come from. Which seems like very different meanings.
Have you ever wondered how these Magi had a clue that the star would signal a king would be born to the Jews ?
Remember the Babylonians carried the Jewish people off in slavery. Some of the Jews stayed behind, and shared bits and pieces of the Jewish faith and history.
It is theorized that the ones that stayed behind kept alive the story of the Messiah and the sign of his coming.
The Magi were historians of a sort, keeping up with the stories and prophecies of other peoples. I would guess that there were great at their version of  Trivial Pursuit.
 —The third King, Jesus, an infant, a helpless child. No army, no real means of protection especially against powerful people.
It is interesting that the one title used about Jesus in the story is that of King of the Jews. It is a title used about Jesus at the beginning of his life and also at the end.
The important connection with this King is that some came to Worship and another came to eliminate him. Different reactions to the news that the prophesy of a king being fulfilled.
The Magi came a long way from their homes and great expense the bow down. They acknowledge the authority of a child.
What would make these men of power and wealth and a completely foreign culture have the slightest interest in a child ?  Did they fear of what he would become ?
We dont have any clues in the bible or any other resource.  All I can say is that must have been some star. It must have been something the like of which had never been seen before. It must have been a clear sign from God.
On the other hand, how about Mr. Popular, King Herod the Great, King of the Jews. He was the most powerful person in the region, he had wealth and the complete backing of Rome.  He killed off people in large numbers to keep control of the Jews.
What made him feel threatened by a child, what made him so desperate to eliminate the little boy that he would kill maybe hundreds or even thousands of boys just in case ?
There was almost no chance that the boy could threaten his position because of the age difference alone. He was between 67 and 70 at his death and Jesus was between 2 and 4.
I guess he was different from the Magi, he had a problem with authority.
This whole section of scripture is more than just a struggle of kings for power. It is a definition of Good and Evil because the only struggle is in the kings hearts and minds.  
The story is about the reaction to Gods invitation,  a different relationship with the king, with God.
The Messiah was to be more than a Saviour to the Jews.
About two years before, the Shepherds, were invited.
They would have probably been Jewish, if you were to ask them. They were not likely to have gone to church much or even ever. They were the unwashed workers that smelled bad and their manners were less that acceptable and they probably used bad language. But the Angels invited them to see the child first.
About that time, the Magi saw a new star and figured out what it meant. Perhaps even they had been watching for it.  They packed up the camels, went to the ATM and set out to see and worship the New King.
But, they were not any more perfect or ready to stand before the king than the shepherds :  it is pretty unlikely that they had been praying for the Messiah to come. 
They probably worshiped other Gods. 
But they were also invited to come and see, the sign was a star, comet something fantastic.
Something that just made them feel that they had to make the trip.  They were not the chosen people, not Jewish but Gentiles, much less worthy than even Shepherds.  But, they were willing to respond to an invitation.
So who or what does Herod Represent,  Herod was half Jewish,  he claimed his heritage when it was convenient.  He must not have studied his Bible, because he did not know the prophecy, he did not know his God.
Herod is one who learned of the event and saw it as a threat.  He thought that the invitation meant that he could not have any more fun, or that if he acknowledged that authority of someone higher it made him less.
Herod is one of many that rejects the Good news. Not all people that reject Jesus are as powerful or violent, so sometimes you cant tell by looking.
Over all it is easy to see in Roman History and the Bible that Herods actions were crazy and harsh and mean. But if you only look at some resources you might find historians telling you about his good side and his compassion.
For example: During a famine in 25 B.C.,  Herod melted down a gold plate he owned to use it to purchase corn to feed the starving people.
He rebuilt cities, improved water and sanitation and improved the overall economy. He even started the rebuilding the temple of the Jews.
The Story of the magi is a story about really accepting an invitation and having a true reaction. When you meet the king, the light of the world, you are changed.
The Magis gifts:
Gold  the suitable gift for a king.  Represents power
Frankincense  Used by priest , burned at prayer time to mingle with the prayers.
Mire  Used at burial  in preparation of the body.
Christ was to die to save us.
Today in the Christian Calendar we celebrate the season of Epiphany.
The sharing of the light to the gentiles.
That sharing of the salvation offered through Jesus was not just for the Jews but for all that accept the invitation and bow to the authority of God by bowing to a seeming powerless king.
The Messiah — Our Lord and Saviour.
Sunday, 8th January 2018  –  Rev. Colin Sutherland
GNB.  St Luke 2 : 25 – 35
There are some people in the world who feel they might be too old, too limited or too marginalized to be of much use to God.
Simeon is proof positive that God uses anyone who has submitted to the Holy Spirit. This offers great hope, confidence and assurance that God continues to use the weak of the world to shame the things which are strong.
If you do not want to feel useless or even under- utilized, Simeon’s life is full of great lessons for us this morning. 
Illustration:  Avoid being put on the shelf:
Nicolo Paganina (1782-1840) the great Italian violinist, willed his fine instrument to his home city of Genoa. His bequest carried one condition. The violin was never to be played; it would simply be placed on display.
But that’s not good for a finely crafted stringed instrument. It needs to be used and handled regularly if its beauty and value are to be retained.
As a result of Paganini’s request, his marvelous violin has become nothing more than a decaying form. It has wasted away as a museum piece.
The following are several characteristics of Simeon that we gain greater appreciation for all people who are devoutly seeking to do God’s will at whatever stage, status or service level they may be in:
1. DEVOUT – Simeon was an earnest, sincere and spiritual man who loved the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind.
One of the most important pre-requisites to be used of God is to be devoted to Jesus Christ, His purposes, and processes above that of our own.
You can tell how much God will use a person based upon their devotion to Him, His word and His will above any other factor.
2. FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – Simeon was controlled by the Spirit so that others recognized that it was not unusual for God to speak to him.
 When a person is full of the Holy Spirit it means they are submitted completely to His control, His leading and His enabling power.
 People who are filled with the Spirit are credible because they have knowledge, insight and wisdom that is supernaturally endowed.
3. PATIENT – Simeon was nearly eighty years old and had waited a long time to see the Saviour.
Let us be relentless in our resolve to wait upon God to fulfill His promises to us.
Let us not get weary thinking that we need to run ahead of God and do things in our own strength, wisdom or abilities.
Love is patient – long-suffering and kind.  
Let us wait on the Lord and be of good courage and He will strengthen our hearts. (Psalm 27:14)
4. PROPER PERSPECTIVES – Simeon was given proper perspectives from his understanding of Old Testament prophecy.
He knew that the Messiah would be a light to the nations, not just to Israel.
He saw the Saviour as the one who would offer deliverance, salvation and freedom from death, hell, judgment and sin.
Simeon saw how the Saviour would be the beacon to share God’s plan of salvation for all people on the planet and not just to the Jews.
Let us see the Saviour as the light to all people so we can overcome any parochial thinking that might limit our perspectives.
Christ did not come to abolish but fulfill. There is continuity with the old. The best O.T. Jewish saints are most receptive to the new age.

5. PREPARED OTHERS FOR REJECTION – Simeon warned Mary and Joseph “This child will be rejected by man in Israel and it will be their undoing.”
People reject Christ to their own hurt. When people refuse to trust Christ as their Saviour they do so to their own self-destruction. Rejecting Christ is the worse sin a person can commit.
Rejecting Christ means one remains at enmity with God and separated from His grace. Simeon’s warning is something that we need to give to others lest they too have to suffer needlessly.

6. BLESSED OTHERS – Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph by speaking the truth in love.
Let us not be shy about speaking the truth in love as it sets people free and give them a clue about God’s will which is for welfare and not for evil to give them a future and hope.
Let us be used as a channel of God’s blessings to others throughout all facets and days of our lives.

6. GOD USES ANYONE WHO SUBMITS TO HIS WILL –
Sometimes we may think that people are too old, too frail or too limited to be of much use to God, but Simeon’s life is a rejection of that notion.
God used Simeon to give clarity, visibility and confirmation that the baby Jesus was indeed the Messiah who had come to earth to save all people from their sins.
Do not overlook anyone who is willing to be used to complete Christ’s great commission.
Do not underestimate what God can do through the weakest of vessels.

7. BE EXPECTANT – Simeon lived everyday with a hopeful and expectant attitude that God would use Him to see and do great things.
People who live without hope are prone to depression, discouragement and despair. When we stay in the word we will live with great anticipation of how God can use us.
8. BE THANKFUL –
Simeon thanked God for allowing Him to see the Messiah.
Too many people are not thankful for what they have in Christ. The chorus, “Give thanks, with a grateful heart. Give thanks, to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.
And now let the weak say I am strong. Let the poor say I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us, give thanks.”
Thankful people learn how to be better rather than bitter from every encounter. Let us obey God by rejoicing always, praying without ceasing and in everything giving thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (I Thes 5:16-18)
9 REJECTION BY SOME MEANS ACCEPTANCE FOR OTHERS –
God reveals the great joy that resounds to those who trust Christ as their Saviour. God’s plan is to bring the light of salvation to the all people.
God uses Simeon to declare that some people will reject Christ. He will not be well received by all.
For many he will be a sign to be scoffed at, spoken against and rejected.
And when men speak against Christ they stumble and fall. This too is an application of Isaiah’s prophecy which both Peter and Paul adapted.
Paul indicated in Romans that Israel failed to attain righteousness because “they have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; but he who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”’
The way God saw fit to bring salvation to the Gentiles (to us) was to lay a stone in Jerusalem that the vast majority of Israel would stumble over.
Let us not feel that people are rejecting us when we present Christ, they are rejected the only Saviour of their world at their own peril.
This is a fundamental truth that will affect the way we read our Bibles: with Jesus comes a new era but the old when properly understood is not against the new but in harmony with it. 
“Know that the truth often hurts. Preach the word when it is convenient and when it is not. Whether it is welcome or not. Do all that you can to convince them of what is true.
Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. Be unflagging and inexhaustible in your teaching. ( 2 Tim. 4:1,2)

Conclusion: Take the promises from God, as Simeon did, and turn them into fact.
Faith is the confident persuasion that what God has promised He will perform. Know that your cup overflows, as promised in Psalm 23.
Illustration: A Minister who was an avid golfer, was once taking part in a local tournament. As he was preparing to tee off, the organizer of the tournament approached him and pointed to the dark, threatening storm clouds which were gathering. 
“Preacher,” the organizer said, “I trust you’ll see to it, that the weather won’t turn bad on us.” 
The Minister shook his head. “Sorry,” he replied. “I’m
 sales, not management!”
Sunday 10th December 2017 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
The scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue was a message of hope that Jesus told them was going to be fulfilled in their hearing.
 
It just so happens that when Jesus read this scripture, it was during the time of JUBILEE. Jubilee goes all the way back to the Old Testament (Leviticus 25:10). Jubilee was associated with both freedom and celebration because it was a time (on a fifty year cycle) when slaves were set free, debts were cancelled, and land was returned to the disenfranchised.
So when Jesus read this passage of scripture from Isaiah, He was reading a text that spoke to both the season and the needs of those that Jesus came to save.
Jesus was talking about things like physical, social and religious handicaps and oppressors. Jesus was addressing an atmosphere that included all three.
Jesus was addressing people in need in His own hometown where He began both His mission and ministry.
Jesus was telling people that their dreams of freedom would soon be realized through Him.
JESUS IS OUR HOPE FOR FREEDOM.
Isaiah 61:1-2 was written 700 years prior to the moment when Christ read it in the synagogue. Up till that time it was only a message of hope. People dreamed about the day that hope would be realized.
All this time they had felt that the glass of their hopes and dreams for freedom were half empty. Jesus came to tell them that the glass of their hopes and dreams was half full and not half empty.
How many times have we ourselves looked at the way things are and thought to ourselves that the glass was half empty rather than half full?
We hinder Gods Spirit when we think that the glass is half empty. Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” Jesus told them and He tells us that “the Spirit of the Lord is on me… ” 
There were those in the crowd who seemed to think of the glass as half empty when they said, “Isnt this Josephs son? “Isnt this the carpenters son? Isnt his mothers name Mary, and arent his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Where then did this man get all these things?”
The purpose of Jesus coming empowered by Gods Spirit was to allow others the opportunity to experience freedom that comes from being empowered by Gods Spirit.
Jesus was more than a carpenter and a carpenters son. Jesus is both the agent and the agency through which Gods freedom comes. There are times when we may feel as though God has forgotten about us.
All of us can think of times in our lives when our faith has been tested as we tried not to lose heart. To lose heart is to lose hope. To lose hope is to quit dreaming. To quit dreaming is to give up.
I once read about a lady, who was placed in an institution in 1929 because of a nervous breakdown. She had left her native country and had gone to the United States with hopes and dreams.
Unfortunately, nobody could speak her language. She was there until 1977— for forty-eight years. Still, in all that time, nobody was able to understand her. It appears that they had given up on her.
It would appear that she had lost all hope of her original dream. To those in the institution she was a hopeless case. To them, she just simply existed in her own little world.
Then one day, there was breakthrough. In 1972, a multi-lingual case worker by the name of John Kurz began to talk with her. Kurz was a case worker from the Bureau of the Aging. Not only did he understand her language, but he also found out her name Mary Peischl.
Kurz also found out that she had left what was the former Austro-Hungarian Empire when Franz Joseph I, was in power. Kurz even helped her to get reunited with her five children.
Jesus had come through this case worker to set her free from her prison of hopelessness.
Imagine for just a minute that you were this woman. Imagine that people had written you off as hopeless. Then, imagine that one day there was a breakthrough for you just as there was for this woman.
There might be times in our lives when we have given up on our dreams, our hopes. Certainly, that has been the case at times. Jesus never quits on us. Jesus is always there wanting, and waiting to set us free.
This woman was broken-hearted and it seemed hopeless until Jesus work of liberation was realized through this case worker through whom Jesus worked.
Although our circumstances might not be the same, there are always those times in our lives we look for the day or days that Jesus can lighten our burdens and liberate our spirits. Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (NIV).
The Spirit of Freedom is Caught and Not Taught.
Just recently I read a very profound statement: “Teaching is good only where theres life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what were telling them may be fine and orthodox, but unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught”
There were some in the presence of Jesus in the synagogue who were in a spiritual coma.
Spiritual freedom is caught not taught. There is a difference between learning about something and experiencing it. We learn something when we have been taught. We experience something when we have been caught.
Talking about freedom and experiencing freedom are two different things. When we catch hold of Gods Spirit it is because Gods Spirit has first captured and caught us.
Who can forget when Peter first caught Gods Spirit ? Jesus had told Peter to go into the deep water and let down is nets for a successful fishing trip.
Simon Peter told Jesus that his fishing trip from the night before was a failure.
He followed Jesus fishing instructions and had his best fishing trip ever. They caught so many fish that the boat was in danger of sinking. Simon responded by telling Jesus to depart from him for he was a sinful man.
Jesus told him not to be afraid because from now on he would become a fisher of men. That day was the day that Peter caught Gods Spirit which also had caught him. It was not something that he learned. It was something that he experienced. Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”
JESUS frees us in Spite of Opposition
There are always going to be those whose opinions are  such, that certain people are not deserving of freedom from their troubles. These kinds of people have existed in every generation. They resemble the elder brothers who resent the fact that God has given the prodigal sons a second chance.
They are also those who are the epitome of Jonah who resented the fact that God gave the Ninevahs of the world a second chance.
There are times when there is a little of the elder brother, Jonah or both in us, even though we do not always want to admit it. We therefore need to remember that God has given us all a second chance even when we ourselves were not deserving of it.
There is always the opposition of Satan who cannot stand to lose another person to salvation. He is always striving to discourage the newly liberated Christians that he once held as hostages.
Sometimes Satan even works through the prejudices of others in the hope that he can discourage and recapture those that he has lost to God.
Remember Zacchaeus?  He was a reformed tax collector. Tax collectors in that day found ways to use their occupations to their financial advantage at the financial disadvantage of others. They exploited and cheated people while hiding behind their position as if this practice was a legitimate enterprise.
What does God do with people like Zacchaeus? He gives them a second chance. Jesus invited Zacchaeus to salvation.  We know the rest of the story. Zacchaeus responded favorably.
Surely there were those who opposed Zacchaeuss opportunity. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus not because he approved of his sinful past but because Jesus forgave Him as Zacchaeus truly repented.
Jesus has accepted all of us who have received Him with that same understanding. Christ accepts all those who receive His offer of freedom because “God is not willing for anyone to perish” (Second Peter 3:9).
It is Gods will that His Holy Spirit works in and through us empowering us to inspire and influence others as to how Christ can set them free as He has set us free.
Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (NIV).
That same Spirit—the Holy Spirit that was on Jesus is on us who are His disciples.
He has anointed us to share the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, help the blind to see and release the oppressed as we proclaim the Lords favour.
AMEN.
Sunday 3rd December 2017 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
Be on the alert, Jesus tells us. Good advice, as there are now only 21 shopping days until Christmas.  Be on the alert, will give you the edge to make this the best Christmas ever. Being alert will allow you to hunt out and get into the only vacant parking space in the car park.
Being on the alert will keep you from missing that last minute sale, and help you grab the last of the this years  favourite toy off the shelf before the other frantic shoppers even realize that its still there.
 
Yes, be alert, Jesus says. Be alert, that you will not be caught off guard in the busyness and distraction of the holiday season. Be alert, you can get all your shopping done, with time left to breathe before Christmas. But wait ! 
Into your shopping interrupts the Word of the Lord :  There will be strange things happening to the sun, the  moon, and the stars.  On earth whole countries will be in despair, afraid of the roar of the sea and the raging tides.
People will faint from fear as they wait for what is coming over the whole earth, for the powers in space will be driven from their courses. Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory.  
This does not sound like a midnight madness special.
 
As we begin a new church year, we hear the promises of our Lords coming.  The expectation that we feel in these days before Christmas shouldnt be caused because were excited that Santa is coming, but that Jesus is coming.
In the midst of uncertain events going on in the heavens and on the earth, we hear the promise that the Son of Man is on his way. Jesus calls to us from the future and assures us, Think of the fig tree, and all other trees. When you see their leaves beginning to appear you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is about to come. (Luke 21:29-31)
We can have hope in these uncertain times, because they are signs that cause us to hope, not to despair.
Jesus tells us that we can have hope in the midst of difficult times. The signs are all around us : wars, uncertain financial times, and natural disasters, people distraught by the events that are happening around them. 
With all this going on, people often feel that they have no control in their lives, no way to steer their ship out of the rocky shoal and into the safety of the harbour.
Jesus tells us that we can stand firm and hold up our heads.  Yes, there are signs around us, but they dont need to make us fearful, as they make other people fearful. The signs lead, not to the end, but to the beginning. The signs lead,   not to destruction, but to wholeness. 
Gods salvation is at hand !  Stand firm in the Lord !
Its like going into Hospital for surgery. Its difficult to prepare for, difficult for the body to go through, and can be difficult to recover from. Certainly not a pleasant thing,   not something that youd choose to do just for fun, or because youve got an extra load of cash burning a hole in your pocket. The goal of surgery is not to make a person feel worse, but to make them better, to fix whats wrong.
The signs that are happening around us are not supposed to make us lose heart, but to be strengthened in our walk of faith. In the midst of the heavens and earth being shaken,   we can rejoice in the Lord. We endure these times, as unpleasant and downright atrocious as they may be,   because we have a God who will see us through.
We have a God who will not abandon us in the midst of the roaring of the sea, but will be coming with great power and glory. We endure these times, because we do not endure them alone. We can stand firm in the midst of the signs, because our salvation is at hand ! 
Jesus encourages us, Be on the alert and pray always that you will have the strength to go through all those things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)
Be on the alert is more than just looking out for last minute sales, more than just grabbing the last of this years favourite toy off the shelf, more that getting that coveted parking spot.
Be on the Alert means looking, looking for Gods peace in the quiet moments of a frantically busy holiday season,  looking for Gods love in the eyes of a stranger,  looking for opportunities to show others that all is not lost in this sorry world.
Advent is a time of celebration.  A time of anticipation.  We await our Lords coming with the excitement of a child on the night of Christmas Eve. 
But the joy that we experience, the anticipation that we feel, comes not just from the time spent with family or the opening of the presents. It doesnt even come from the glow of the candles as we sing Silent night, holy night,  all is calm, all is bright…”  
The joy of Advent comes, not just in the birth of a baby,  but in that babys return. 
The coming of the babe of Bethlehem, for all its miraculous grace, is but a hint, a suggestion of the Second Advent when this same Jesus, now our Risen Lord and Saviour, will return, claiming the world that is his.
In this season, we look forward to the end of time, when Christ Jesus will come again, and well spend eternity with our Lord Jesus. The joy of Christmas morning cant begin to compare to the joy of an eternity with our Lord and Saviour.
Advent is a chance for us to look forward, to see the world,   not for what it is, but for what it can be. Advent is a call for us to see the happenings to the sun, the moon, and the starswhole countries will be in despair, and instead of being afraid, to stand up and raise your heads.  We,  the people of God,  can see God at work in unlikely places,  because your redemption is drawing near.
As the people of God, we look forward through worship. 
In the words and actions of our worship,  we proclaim that Gods victory reigns in our life. The challenges and obstacles that threaten to shipwreck our lives have no power over us.
 We receive the strength of our Lord, and are assured that our Lord Jesus is guiding us through all our days, walking with us through the good times and supporting us in the difficult times and as we take Good News of Jesus to the world.
As we go forth in service, we are looking forward. When we serve those in need, we can see Christ in others.  We look forward when we seek to do good for others in this holiday season, not simply finishing the Christmas shopping list. 
We look forward when we expand the generosity of the holiday season.  So much of the joy we feel in this season comes from giving :  sharing presents with family and friends.
When we expand the giving, we look forward into Gods future.  Does your Christmas shopping list include the Church ?  Those less fortunate?  A worthwhile charity ?  If so Good !  Then youre looking forward, witnessing to Gods future. 
When we give of ourselves so that other people may know the joys of Christmas, were looking forward, offering others a glimpse of Gods glorious salvation.
Christ promises that in the midst of uncertain times, we can stand confident in the promises of Jesus our Saviour,   promises declaring,  Gods salvation is at hand !
So as we look forward to our Lords coming, at Christmas,   let us also be looking forward to our Lords final coming,   when all pain, death and suffering will be abolished.
Let us act to share that salvation with those around us this holiday season. Seek out new holiday traditions that offer a ray of hope to those who may find it difficult to celebrate this season.
As Paul writes, May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all,  just as we abound in love for you.  (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
May Gods richest blessing be with you in this Advent season.
Come, Lord Jesus ! Come !
Amen.
Sunday 5th November 2017 – Rev. Colin Sutherland
Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals.  Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each others business.  If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.
One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich ? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. 
 Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire ?
 The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said,   Here is my request :  Strike me blind in one eye !
One sign of jealousy is when its easier to show sympathy and weep with those who weep than it is to exhibit joy and rejoice with those who rejoice.
As human beings, we love to make comparisons. Almost everything we buy is based on comparisons. One person buys a Ford because of the smooth handling.  Another person buys a Chrysler because of the superior design.
 Someone else buys an Astra because they believe General Motors makes a better car. Whatever the reason, each person buys his or her car based on comparisons with other cars in the same category.
The same can be said for our clothes, our appliances, our food – almost any purchase we make is made after comparing products. We buy based on style, quality, value or price – but we almost always compare first.
The problem with making comparisons is that we take them too far. We have a tendency to determine the value of ourselves and other human beings by comparing one person to another.
How many times have we thought, Im better than so and so because he/she . . .?
 You know, as I thought about all of this, during the week,  I began to realize that there isnt one thing that I can think of that I do, but that somebody I know does it better. 
 Television puts excellence in every living room, so we see national or world best. You watch only the best of football, great athletics, super cooking made easy and so on.  Now when we come to watching Olympics next time we will see,  and it proves that only a very very small percentage of the population can be the best at anything.
If excellence comes by comparison, by excelling among my equals than I might as well quit.  Ordinary is as good as I am going to get.
You know,  the more I have thought about this, the more I have realized how much different God is than we are.  
The verse in Isaiah that tells us, For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.
This Speaks volumes. We – human beings – need to constantly compare.  We feel good or bad about ourselves based on how we stack up against others. 
God, on the other hand, has only one standard. He values everything based on His excellence.
When we think of the story of Cain and Abel, we sometimes picture the scene like this;
? Two men – brothers – Cain and Abel
? Cain is a farmer
? Abel is a rancher
? Cain goes out to harvest his crops
? As he does, he puts together an offering to God
? Abel also puts together an offering to God
? He picks out an animal and offers it to God
? God looks at both offerings – Cains on the left, Abels on the right
? After considering them both, He chooses Abels over Cains.
? Its as if God is saying – Ill take the lamb chops over the brussel sprouts and spinach.
This is not the scenario. This is not how this story happens. Lets slow down and look at it. First of all, we are never told that the offerings were made together. Each offering is made independently of the other. 
In verse 3, we are told that Cain brought an offering from the produce of the soil. In verse 4, we are told that Abel also made an offering – from the first-born of his flock. 
Nowhere are we told that these offerings were made together – as if they are in competition. We are simply told that they each made an offering to God.
God, on His part considered each offering – not compared to each other – He considered each offering based on its own merit. As He did, He made this conclusion ; the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering ; but he rejected Cain and his offering.
Understand this, God did not reject Cains offering because Abels was better. And, He did not accept Abels because Cains was inferior. Remember this, God could have accepted both offerings and He could have rejected both offerings.
The fact of the matter is, He didnt do either.  Why ?   Why did God accept Abels and reject Cains ?
Lets see if we can look at these offerings from Gods perspective and maybe we can come up with some answers – or conclusions that may help us better offer our sacrifices to God.
First, lets consider Cains offering.
Who was Cain ?
Cain was the first born son of Adam and Eve.  This is significant because of the promises that God made earlier in Genesis when God told Satan that He would:
Put enmity Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed ;  He shall bruise you on the head,    And you shall bruise him on the heel.
God had promised a deliverer – one who would crush the head of Satan.  We know today that He was referring to Jesus Christ. However, Adam and Eve were not aware of this.
So, when their first boy was born, Eve named him
Cain.  Cain is his name, but the meaning of the name is very significant. The Hebrew word Cain
literally means of God.  Literally translated, Genesis 4:1 could read ;
 Now the man had relations with his wife Eve,  and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said I have a man child begotten of God.
A title that later was given to Jesus.
You see, Adam and Eve were certain that this son of theirs was the child who would eventually crush Satans head.  Can you imagine the hope and the optimism that came with his birth. 
Adam and Eve must have looked forward to the day when the one who had deceived them would be destroyed. 
They must have longed for the fellowship and peace they knew in the Garden, and now they believed they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It wasnt long, however, before the hope and optimism began to dwindle. In fact, you can see their disillusionment.  
By the time their second son was born,  they called him  Abel.  Abel  by the way means;  emptiness.
Why is all of this important ?  Well, I believe that it tells us an awful lot about the person Cain. 
What a disappointment he must have been. So much so,   that when his little brother is born, his parents would lament, Oh no, not another worthless child.
Think about it. They had hoped that their first would be the deliverer. Instead they got a person who was selfish,   prideful, and egocentric. His every thought seemed to focus on his wants, his needs, his fulfillment.  
He wasnt about to deliver the human race from their sins,   because he was the epitome of a sinful person.
Do you see the irony in the names these boys received ?  Cain – which means of God, turns out to be worthless.  Abel – which means worthless – turns out to be the righteous one.
Well, lets get back to our story. Cain grows up and becomes a farmer.  He goes out into his fields one day and harvests some of his crops. As he is gathering his crops,   he decides that he will put together an offering for God. 
He grabs some of his wheat and corn, and combines it together and offers it as a burnt offering to the Lord.
The Lord, on his part considers Cains offering and decides that it is unacceptable. The question that I have to ask is   Why not ?  Why wasnt Cains offering acceptable to God ?
Some people have suggested that it was because the offering did not contain blood. They believe that for any offering to be acceptable, an animal would have to be sacrificed.
Cain was a farmer.  Giving a grain offering would be a natural and acceptable thing to do.
You see, it wasnt the content of the offering that God rejected it was the person making the offering. Notice that we are told; but Cain and his gift He did not receive.
It was not just the offering that God rejected, but Cain himself.
Lets take a moment to look at Abels offering and see why it is different.
Why was God willing to accept Abels offering ?
The main reason, and probably the only reason is found in Hebrews 11:4
It was faith that made Abel offer to God a better sacrifice than Cains, Through his faith he won Gods approval as a righteous man, because God himself approved of his gifts.  By means of his faith Abel still speaks, and even though is dead.
You see, Abels offering to God was better, because it was based on faith.  If there is one word that makes a difference in these offerings, this is it – Faith. 
By faith, Abel offered to God . . .
He knew he could not appease God. He understood that he needed Gods grace. He understood that he was at Gods mercy, and so he made a sacrifice that represented his hearts desire to follow the Lord.
With a broken and contrite heart, Abel sacrificed the first-born of his flock. By faith, he asked for, and received Gods grace and forgiveness.
His worship was from the heart.
Go back to Genesis 4 with me. I want you to notice something very important.
Look at verse 4: The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering.
Now verse 5 – But rejected Cain and his offering.
You see, God regarded the person over the offering. God had regard for Abel, but not for Cain.
Why ? because of the their heart. Not because of their offering. God regarded the person over the offering.
Understand, worship is a matter of the heart – it is not a matter of form.
Cains form was fine – there was nothing wrong with a grain offering.  The problem was a matter of the heart.  He could make all of the sacrifices that he wanted to, but until his heart was right he could never have a relationship with God.
I dont like to say this, but there are millions of people all over the world this morning, who are in church, but they are just like Cain. 
Their form is fine – but they have no faith. They believe in God, but they do not have a relationship with the Saviour.
They attempt to appease God every Sunday with their offering. Thinking that God loves their attendance in Church. 
The fact of the matter is, God has already been appeased.  Jesus Christ bought and paid for our salvation 2000 years ago on the cross of Calvary. 
Our response must be the same as Abels.  
The only way we can have a relationship with God is through Faith.
What do I mean when I say Faith ? Well, most of us understand Faith to mean trust, or  belief.
These are good definitions. In fact, if you think about it, everybody has some kind of faith.
? Some trust in their own deeds – believing like Cain that they can do the right things
? Some believe that there is no God – a stupid faith, but a faith none the less
? Some trust and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
They are the ones who have a relationship with God.
Why was God pleased with Abels offering and not Cains ?  
Because God was pleased with Abel and not Cain.
It doesnt matter what you sacrifice for God. If your heart is not right with Him, he cannot and will not accept your offering.
However, if you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, your offering, your sacrifice will be a pleasing in his sight.
Sunday 29th October 2017.      Rev. Colin Sutherland
At one time or another we have all been on a journey. Going on journeys is an exciting part of life. 
 
You know, I find one of the most exciting things about going on a trip, is the planning. When you’ll leave, the route you’ll take to get there, who you’ll visit, the places you will go to eat, and all the other things you’ll do during your trip.

I heard about a man who went on a trip to Israel.  He was about to enter the famous and impressive Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv to take in a concert by the famed Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The man was admiring the unique architecture, the sweeping lines of the entrance, and the modern decor throughout the building.  Finally, he turned to the Israeli tour guide and asked if the building was named after Thomas Mann, the world-famous author.

“No” the tour guide responded, “it’s named for Fredric Mann, from Philadelphia.”
“Really ?  I’ve  never heard of him. What did he write?“ asked the tourist.
“A cheque,”  said the tour guide.
Well this morning St Luke tells us about another group of individuals who were about to go on a trip to Israel, and it wasn’t to see the famous Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. 
Jesus and the disciples had been travelling around the area of Galilee carrying out their ministry.  Jesus had recently cured a sick woman of haemorrhaging, healed a demon-possessed man, calmed a storm, fed 5000 and taught many parables about the Kingdom of God.  It was now time to move on.
St Luke tells us in the beginning of this passage that Jesus sensed it was time to begin his journey towards Jerusalem.  In many ways it was the beginning of the end.  For it would be in Jerusalem, where Jesus would be rejected and ultimately sentenced to death on the Cross. 

The next ten chapters of Luke are all about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  Once he set his face towards that Holy City,   there was no turning back, and Jesus knew that.  Everything that Luke tells us in these next ten chapters must be looked at through the lens of a great count down.  The clock is now ticking, and every moment counts. 

There wasn’t a lot of time left and Jesus needed to make the best of what little time he had. There were lessons that needed to be taught along the way, people who needed to be healed on the roadsides, demons that needed to be cast out in the villages they would pass through, and so many people who still needed to hear his message of salvation. 

And what is the first thing they ran into at the beginning of their trip ?   Rejection !
 
Jesus sends two of his disciples on ahead of them to make preparations to spend a night in a Samaritan village. We can envisage James and John knocking on the door of a home in the village.  They ask for a night’s lodging perhaps something to eat. 
They tell the homeowner they are on their way to Jerusalem.  And at that, they get the door slammed in their face. 

You see, there was an age old battle between the Jews and the Samaritans, and the Samaritans did everything they could to hinder the Jews passing through their territory.  That presented a problem for the Jews, because in order to get to Jerusalem, you had to go through Samaria.
You could go around Samaria by going out into the wilderness of Gilead and on to Ammon, cross over the Red Sea and then trek on into Jerusalem.  But that was really the long way around.  
It would be kind of like us going to Edinburgh and then to London and on Devon to avoid going through Birmingham.
James and John go back to Jesus and tell him that they have just been thrown out of town.  How dare those Samaritans !  James suggests they send a little fire and brimstone their way to consume the city as punishment for not welcoming them.
But Jesus would have none of that.  He avoids the temptation to use violence. Instead, he teaches the disciples that an insult does not entitle one to do harm to another.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Besides, they better get used to rejection because that’s just what’s going to happen once they arrive in Jerusalem.

As they head out of the area, the group encounters three   “would-be disciples.”  The first one proclaims, “I will follow you wherever you are going !”  Jesus’ response is kind of like saying to the man, “Listen, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into here.  You really better stop and think about what you’re signing yourself up for.”
 
To the second person,  Jesus simply says,  “Follow me.”  Evidently those two words made the man think twice about joining this little ragtime band of merry travellers. He says,  “Let me go and bury my father first.”  Jesus tells him,  “Listen, if you really are interested in following us, you need to come now while the opportunity exists. Later may be too late.”
And the final  “would-be disciple”  combines something from each of the two previous  “would-be disciples.”  He says, “I will follow you just like my first friend said he would, but like my second friend here, I too must run home and take care of a few things before I can come along for this magical mystery tour.” 
Jesus’ response to this “would-be disciple” is similar to his response to the other two “would-be disciples.” Jesus says,  “You can’t live your life looking back. You either come now, or you’ll never come.”

All three of these “would-be disciples” could talk the talk,   but couldn’t walk the walk of discipleship.
Each of them says to Jesus, “Yes ! I am definitely interested. I believe in you ! I will follow you !” But as soon as they hear the cost of discipleship, they say, “Uh,  maybe some other time. I’ll get back to you.” Or, “You go on ahead.  I’ll catch up to you later.” 

What Jesus says to all three of them is that in order to follow him, they needed to be fully committed. They couldn’t dabble a little bit here, or a little bit there with discipleship.  They needed to be fully and 100% committed. 
A kamikaze pilot who flies 100 missions isn’t fully committed.  He is just dabbling. 
Jesus was saying that discipleship is not a spectator sport! 

Jesus was also telling of the radical nature of Christian discipleship and the urgent demands that it places upon the believer.  He was saying that discipleship does not come without its cost. 
We know something of that when we hear the stories of many of our students for the Ministry who have to give up so much to follow their calling.
It is their call to discipleship, to serve God in ordained ministry. 

Many have over a long period of time, well they’ve thought very hard about just what the cost is to follow their calling and what it amounts to, and in more recent times that cost is into the £20,000 plus category.  For this is the level of debt many students face by the time they become qualified.
It was just at the time when the Church of Scotland
was introducing a new stipend structure for Ministers, I was attending a conference where a young lady Minister stood up and said that she really did not want the increase that was being offered because she would then have to start to pay back her student loans and she could not really afford the repayments at that time.

As I look back over the last several years, there is no doubt in my mind that the cost of discipleship is high. But as high as it is, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. 
Each step of the way, God was with me during those hard times and so was Myra and Andrea and together with support from other members of our families we managed to survive.

Yes there is definitely a cost to discipleship. But I can honestly tell you that the rewards do far outweigh the costs. 
We are all called to discipleship on one level or another.  The challenge for you today is to think about your own personal call to discipleship.
We can’t all be Ministers. That would surely make a strange world now, wouldn’t it ! But we are all called by God to be faithful, to witness the Gospel message. 
You may say, “Who, me ?”  Well, yes you !
Think about the first twelve disciples. Jesus didn’t chose them because they were any brighter, or nicer or richer than others. In fact, the New Testament is full of stories that suggest the first twelve disciples were continually missing the point,  jockeying for position, and when the chips were down,  they were only interested in saving their own hides. 
The original disciples sole qualification was their willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
May we all rise to our feet when we hear the call of Jesus to serve, and in so doing, take our part in inching the Kingdom of God forward just a little bit further.
AMEN
Sunday, 22nd October 2017 –  Holy Communion Service – conducted by Rev. Colin Sutherland
Communion is to my mind a kind of celebration of the goodness of God, as we remember His goodness in sending his Son to shed his blood for our sins.  And its good to do that here in our Church.
Communion has some other connotations as well.
The word communion itself denotes a close union. 
In communion we rededicate ourselves to have a close union with God, and we also see communion as a way to gain a deeper fellowship with other believers.
Is it any wonder that the words communion and community share the same root ?  They are also derived from the same Latin origins.
But the aspect of communion I want us to focus on today is that of remembrance.
I heard of a communion table where the letter M of the word Me was missing.
When I heard of this it lead me to think its a good reminder of something – that often our remembrances of Jesus, and his sacrifice, are less than perfect. 
For all our spiritual talk and posturing, we Christians can be a pretty shallow lot sometimes, even when it comes to such important things as remembering the Sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.
And while I dont claim that today youll leave here having had a perfect remembrance as we celebrate the Lords Supper, maybe you can use the thought of that little flaw in that communion table to remind you to pray to God for a better remembrance.
Before we partake of the Lords Supper, I want to take just a little time to look at three benefits of this discipline of   remembering.
My intention in doing this is to help drive home the fact that remembering in this sense is more than just recalling where you put your car keys.
This kind of remembering should be life-changing.
Lets start by looking at the first benefit of remembering:
Remembering keeps us from becoming casual in our thanks for what Jesus did for us.
We have a wide variety of styles of dress here at Chruch.  Some wear nice suits and ties, and others are more casual in their style of dress.  And neither is wrong.
But we need to understand that our relationship with God should never be casual. God takes that relationship seriously, and so should we.
Our relationship with God is supposed to change our lives.  It should impact every area of our lives.
The casual Christian cant relate to that because they think that life should be lived in compartments – my work compartment,  my family compartment,  my leisure compartment,  and if there is room for any other compartments, my God compartment, so long as it doesnt mean more than an hour on Sunday.
What Jesus did on the Cross, hanging there for all those hours, was hardly a casual thing. It was for the Romans,  because they crucified people all the time.
But for people who were crucified, it was horrific and tortuous.  I wont go into all the details of crucifixion today, but suffice to say that there was nothing casual about it.
And our remembrance shouldnt be casual, either.
Heres the second benefit of remembering:
Remembering draws us to deeper level of love for Jesus.
Especially when we reflect on the fact, that we dont deserve it. 
The Bible is very clear that we all deserve death and eternal punishment.  But for some reason, he allows us to hear the Good News that there is an escape from the punishment we deserve.
His love, as shown in the breaking of his body and shedding of his blood, makes it possible for us to love God. Because you see, we cant even love God without his help.
But he loves us so much.  He wants us to be able to love him back. But for that to happen, Jesus had to die so we could have that kind of relationship.
Heres the third benefit of remembering:
Remembering draws us to a deeper level of commitment to live for Jesus.
Recently I heard of a case where a man who was in prison overseas, he only gets to see his wife once a year. And each year, he is told that he can leave, if he will only renounce his allegiance to Christ.
And his answer is that since Jesus did so much for him,  how could he deny him ?
That, to me is real commitment.
Jesus said that were to love God with all our heart, soul,   mind, and strength. And so often we spend so much time trying to figure out just what it means to love God with these parts of our being, that we forget that one little word that proceeds the list of things were supposed to love God with.
And that little word is all ! All our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.
In other words, were supposed to consecrate our entire being to loving and serving God.
This goes back to what I said a little while ago about not becoming casual in our relationship with him and not just making our little God compartment in our lives.
If you adopt this kind of thinking toward the commandment, which according to Jesus is the greatest commandment, then theres no room for half-hearted commitment to Christ.
This kind of thinking and living says, Okay, Jesus. Im yours – everything I have is yours, including my family, my possessions, my job. Use me and use these things for your purposes.  Im giving them all over to you. Help me to love you all the way.
Because of what you did for me – leaving the glory and wonders of heaven so you could suffer and die on the Cross for me, Im willing to live for you.
Well, as we prepare to take communion, I want us to look at one other benefit of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus,   and it is that…
Remembering keeps us mindful of the fact that God has never forgotten us.
God isnt some distant force that existed and worked only in the ancient past.  He exists and is working today.
We dont just pray to the God of long ago. We pray to the God of now. and to the God of tomorrow. He is eternal.  And we should be very glad that that is the case.
Jesus says over and over again that God is mindful of us all the time. Not just as a group of people who call themselves Christians, but as individuals.
God may seem far off at times. And sometimes weve pushed God away. But the bottom line truth of the matter is this : God has not forgotten you.
How does that relate to remembering, especially in communion ?
Remembering what he did in the past helps us to rely on him in the present, the here and now.
By putting your trust in Jesus and what he did for you and me and all humankind on the Cross, and turning from our sins with his help, we can have, not only a home in heaven,   not only forgiveness of your sins, but also the wonderful knowledge that God wants to be active in our hearts today,  helping us live for him, and positively impacting the world around us, including the ones you love.
Remembering keeps us from becoming casual in our thanks for what Jesus did for us.
Remembering draws us to deeper level of love for Jesus.
Remembering draws us to a deeper level of commitment to live for Jesus.  And…
Remembering keeps us mindful of the fact that God has never forgotten us.
Were about to take part in this Holy Sacrament, where we are commanded by Jesus to do it in remembrance of him.
It should be something special for us all. I know it is for me.
May it also take on a special significance for you today.
Sunday, 13th August, 2017 –  sadly, Petr’s year with us is over, this is his last Sermon as Minister of Annan Old before the family return home to the Czech Republic.  We have been richly blessed by their presence with us, and we wish Petr, Jana, Eliska and Jana God’s richest blessings in the future.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ

We all have an idea of justice. Jesus came to his disciples and told them the parable you have just heard. Don ´t you think that the parable is little bit perverted, immoral, not worth mentioning among  people of faith?

Did you know that scholars agree that the parable has gone through the minimum of editing? These are the authentic words of Jesus, but very strange and sharp ones. It might be that they are words which we
don´t want to hear and we hide behind our theoretical moral rules.  But isn´t the parable a real picture of our lives? People who are cheating, who bribe, who gossip, the world of  business where people bet everything on one card….this is what Jesus describes in the story.

But you have to be very careful how you read it, you cannot look at it with prejudice against the manager. Because at the beginning of the story the servant, the manager is the one who is just, or at least in a neutral position. But people are complaining about him and the verb which is used fits better in the devil´s mouth than to a community of believers. It isn´t said if the accusations of the people are right or wrong. It only says that the master took them into account, he had to. More than anything else we have here a picture of society or church which pretends to be a community of perfect people. People who are criticizing and judging everything around, because it is just so easy, much easier than doing something. It is one of the big temptations of every church.

It is not so long ago that my session in my home congregation was able to say who could or couldn’t be baptized. Because we could easily look at others. Today the situation is a bit different we have only 25 people at worship, so they had to review their approach. It is not only because the church is shrinking, but somehow the session realized that it doesn´t help anything by raising complaints against the lives of others.  However, on the other hand, there are more cases these days of people leaving their communities because they are not good enough for them, they are not satisfied with what they see and hear.

How big was the temptation for the disciples to go forward and to accuse people they had met? When they walked with Jesus, they felt special and applied very strict rules to other people – from children to adults, from their own people to foreign people who lived outside of Judea. Exactly the same as the Pharisees. If you are not perfect you cannot live in our community. This could be a reason  why people reported the manager to the master. They just did not like him or his manners, but who would like managers anyway. Originally the Bible doesn´t say if the servant – manager was good or bad, it only describes the complaints of the people.

My own denomination left the catholic church in the 15th century and the reason for it was as they stated: “For the necessity of salvation”. A few decades later they realized that it is impossible to live a perfect life separated from others and they called themselves “Unity of Czech brothers”. The meaning of it wasn´t, that they were united into one true community, but they were one unit in Christ´s church, there are also other units who proclaim the gospel and we do not have anything against them (or at least we try not to have anything against them). You all know how hard it is to live among perfect people. The first part, not the second of the parable is suspicious. There is no real evidence that the servant did something wrong but he had to leave the job.

There is a Jewish joke about Mr Kohn and his wife Sarah. When Sarah wakes up in the morning, she goes to bathroom and in front of a mirror she watches her reflection and finally she says: “You deserve it Mr. Kohn, you deserve it”. It does not say anything about our text, but with irony it describes that Mr. and Mrs Kohn have to get along somehow – whatever they are.

It´s how it is, we are not perfect people, we are not always just. But people often think too much that their salvation depends on being holy, a saint and perfect.  To complain to the Lord – It is the easiest way to ensure our own religious standpoints.

However, having looked into the mirror we recognize who we are and the trouble we are in. The manager says: “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg”. “In other words, there are millions of people who can do my job, but where is my special place? Why should anyone hire me? They accused me of cheating, so let´s cheat then”. Not until now have we had any record, any evidence of the managers cheating…. But he does it now and he does it in a unique way. He forgives the debts of debtors in order to make friends with them.

This is the point where things are important. He is forgiving others for something which is not his own. He does it to save his own life. He is fighting for his life. And a side effect of it is the creation of a new community of people who are tied together, because they have to support each other to save their lives.

One of the biggest cheaters in the Bible is Jacob. Everything that he does is wrong, yet he receives the blessing. Why? It seems that there is a big difference between him and his brother. Although Jacob is a real crook you have the feeling that he would have done everything, he would have gone farther than his brother to get the blessing. The blessing is the essential thing for his life.  But the impression of Esau is that the blessing is one of the many common things in his life.  He can exchange it for something else. So in the life of Jacob, who was also a thief and a cheat,  there is a genuineness and a struggle for real life, however the steps he takes seem unfair.

The manager now faces all the hardships in his life and he decided to solve it by spending his master´s money, forgiving the debts of other people. There is a connection to the story of the prodigal son – he also spends, in his case, his fathers money. Both stories use the same words for it. Although the prodigal son uses money for his own pleasure, the manager uses it to have friends for hard times. He creates a community of people who are helping each other on the way, who are not talking, gossiping but helping friends who are in need. But the term friends and friendship is rather practical before it is sentimental. And he is praised for that by the Lord. The only explanation why the Lord is now so benevolent, that he is even promising eternal life for wasting part of his property is that the manager moved from doing nothing to action, from being self-satisfied and selfish to a community of people who are on the way and who will really help each other because they are all in need.  At the moment when the corruption of his servant is confirmed the Lord approves a reward for him. Is it not strange? It looks like the Lord is in favour of those who are active and fighting for their life although they make many mistakes, but he does not prefer those who just hold their holy ground, posts and positions. But this struggle has to be connected to a community of other people.

Tell me what is our motivation to serve others? Does it come from the academical discussions about our virtues and ideas, do we do it because it is a noble thing, because we were said to serve?  In poor communities people help each other because it is natural, it is practical and it is matter of survival. But it also creates strong bonds. I experienced that with my grand parents in the highlands. Houses were never locked, things always shared, the table ready to welcome unexpected visitors. They would not be able to explain why. My explanation was that they felt somewhere under their skin that one day they might need it. Such communities were unbelievably strong. Twenty, thirty years later everything has changed. Is it an option for us to help or is it a necessity because we need mutual support? Jesus says: “People of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs, than the people of light”. This is the point where the whole story connects us also with God. We have to feel that we need a community, that we need others and finally that we need God. At such a moment God doesn´t mind that we forgive debts paying them from his property, using his rights. Forgiveness belongs only to God but in such a case God makes an exception….only there where people live together, they are able to use such a powerful tool of forgiveness, it won´t be blasphemy but a blessing from heaven.

The parable is a description of the uneasy conditions we live in, but we have to see it also from the other side. God´s kingdom is growing and always wins despite of our conditions. Who was the manager in the story, who were debtors – they had to be aware that not everything is so clear in the transaction, and who are we? How many mistakes do we make in our lives? But despite this God´s kingdom grows.

I did not come to preach theology to you. As it was proved by time we needed to be here. You did not accept me into your congregation just to pay the gas bill, but you needed a minister. We were in need, on both sides – and this need makes us friends and it is blessed by God.  Amen

Sunday, 6th August 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

I told you once that heaven has a special kind of humour and here it is  The second last sermon before we leave and look at the topic. Today´s sermon is about false prophets and the sermon next Sunday will be about a manager who wasted the Lord´s money and he was kicked out of his position. Well I have to think about it more deeply at home, may be there is a message for me. Who knows.

10 years ago we had a moderator in our church. He was a very nice man, always polite and always nice. His surname, translated into English, was Cream….Rev. Cream. There was also a catholic archbishop in Prague at that time. He was a man of rules, I would not say strict but he always kept rules and his word. His surname was Wolf…Archbishop Wolf. Those two men were very often seen together, on holidays serving worship services together on TV. What do we have today, was the question? We have Wolf on Cream, was the answer. Mr Wolf is dead today, but at his funeral there were so many people that they did not fit into the cathedral in Prague. Those men were special brilliant characters. You wouldn´t find in them any sign of hypocrisy.

Our reading says: “Be on guard against false prophets, some come looking like sheep, but they are wolves inside”. I liked Reverend Cream he was always assuring people of God´s grace and I loved Archbishop Wolf, because I knew that everything that he said would lead people to straighten their lives. We need to hear both sides, don´t we: It brings stability and real leadership. These are good fruits. On the other hand what I do not like today, I mean in modern society, is the lack of rules. We say  thorn bushes can bear grapes sometimes, even poor trees can bear good fruit sometimes. The Bible does not see it this way and talking about prophets the Scripture forbids twisting and hiding things. Even prophets were created by God to bear fruit.

We must be very careful what is a sheep skin and what it is to be like a wolf inside. God says in Jeremiah that there are prophets who always confirm to people that they are good, that no disaster can touch them. Such prophets have always nice, appealing words. Who wouldn´t like to hear such a nice message from the pulpit every Sunday. We all like to hear good, pleasant news. The Scripture says in Timothy: “…In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and because he is coming to rule as King, I solemnly urge you to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it (whether the time is right or not), to convince, reproach, and encourage, as you teach with all patience….”. That is the character of prophecy, nothing is hidden.

To hear God´s word is not always easy to bear, but the word finally bears good fruit. Surgeons tools are always sharp and we are afraid of them, but it is necessary for healing. Who are prophets of our days, those who are wearing nice sheep skins, nice suits, speaking nice language, but where is the honesty with people and God? Dress can be nice but under the sheep skin there can be a wolf which is able to destroy the whole flock. The problem today is not open and visible rudeness but hypocrisy which is hidden somewhere deep. Everybody wants to hear the good news but the problem is that we identify the good news with what is good for us. That is also how to vote, we vote for those who can promise more.

I dream of a prophet who can tell us  a good prophetic sermon. And that would sound something like this: If we want to have a beautiful nature we have to stop depleting our resources, if we want to have functional families we have to stop pretending that women and men are alike – no they have specific roles and we have to honour women for what men can never achieve and vice versa, if we want to have children which are a blessing to us we have to show the good meaning in discipline, if we want to have world without wars we have to stop selling weapons and having a violent culture, if we want to be led to peace we have to listen to the Lord not to businessmen and narcissist leaders.

The Church is also a bearer of a prophetic message. I enjoy it so much when there is a good portion of laughter in church, when there is joyous fellowship of brothers and sisters, when people talk together, but also when they can cry together because it is not always easy in our lives. And before healing our souls there is also time to ask hard questions. That is also the reason why I am in church. As long as the church is able to ask hard questions I feel I have a place in it. And church can do it because above all there is God´s grace. The Church is not shocked and outraged when it comes to hard questions, good trees in order to bear the fruit have to be trimmed.

So what else about prophets and prophetic messages. Jesus asks nothing more and nothing less than straightness, honesty, common sense and to be humble before him. What he judges very strictly is hypocrisy, two faces, pretend behaviour.

And it is the same not only with prophets, preachers, but also with common people. I had noticed that in some congregations there is something like a competition in holiness. People dust their knowledge from Sunday school trying to add something more which looks nice. People who can quote, who can publicly pray, who never ever say swear words, who perform miracles. Like a never ending praise channel – where you can get enough of Amens and Lords. The problem is that we do not get to heaven on our merits. Even the casting out of demons is not a merit however it is undoubtedly a useful and a good thing. We get to heaven naked as babies.

I had in my congregation a very silent man. When I had met him, only few times I tried to ask him  how he was doing, his answer was simple. He looked into my eyes and he said in very earthy words what was on his mind. I said: Yes, you are right and I repeated his phrase which I can not repeat here in church, I told him Bye, he told me bye and that was my pastoral care for him. Later I noticed that he had only two or three friends but people did not talk to him, because if anyone asked him a question he looked up and a waterfall of rightly aimed words left his mouth. People were afraid to ask him about anything, may be they were afraid of his honest answers more. He was in church every Sunday sitting in the last pew. When the worship service ended he got up, gave me a mint candy and disappeared. In winter when there was snow before six o´clock I heard his shovel moving snow. I grabbed my coat and went to help him, he said one sentence. I am clearing the way so  that Johny (his best friend) can come to church today. What a surprise so many people came to his funeral that the church was full and people were standing outside. You can say, wait he said something similar about the archbishop. Yes that is right because God doesn´t care if  you are an archbishop or a local peasant. He cares if you have a heart in the right place and live the Gospel. Some people were standing face to face with God more than others, although they never entered a church. By the way the daughter of the man I mentioned started to come to church last year and I am glad to see that she is the spitting image of her father.

Some people are afraid that they are not worthy before God. They watch themselves too much. It might be that God did not create you to recite Scriptures, may be you cannot cast out demons but there is always a character imprinted into your soul and God wants you to use it. One of the biggest tragedies is that people compare themselves with others. They clone themselves. But God created you to live your life and practise his will in the way he made you. To live someone elses life or to pretend something is a sin.

So today´s message is here for the prophets – not to pretend and for all other people as well – not to be hypocrites. Time which we received as individuals and also as a church is so precious that we can not waste it by imitating some ideal which is too far away from us. And remember the Kingdom of heaven is not for merits but it is given through God´s grace. Amen

Sunday 30th July 2017 – Petr preached this Sermon in the Baxter Hall, Eastriggs

Mark 8: 1-10

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, not more than four months ago we read together the story about the feeding of 5000 people. And if you remember we tried to think about the role of the disciples in the story. We tried to imagine how the disciples would look today, actually we compared them to today´s leaders. Why did we do that? Because the feeding of the 5000 has its specific aim to focus on the role of the chosen people, on Israel and on the Church. Remember after the feeding the disciples collected twelve full baskets of leftovers. The number symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel and also the church.

When we read the story about the feeding of the 4000 today we can see that in some details it is almost the same as the feeding of the 5000 except for a few details which try to attract our attention to things which we sometimes overlook.

First what we know for certain. Jesus was travelling through territory which was considered in his times as pagan. The previous story talks about Tyre and Sidon, through the territory of the Ten Towns near Lake Galilee. It gives us a hint of where the message is aimed. The whole teaching and preaching and also miracles take place among people who are on the margin, the borders of Israel or are complete foreigners. There are 12 disciples plus one Jesus against 4000 people. So the group so well known to us is greatly outnumbered by 4000 strange looking individuals with completely different morality and more or less a different religion.  Imagine we are talking today about waves of immigrants, but still although many come to Europe we are not in the same situation as Jesus and his disciples were. Basically in foreign territory among a majority of pagans – Jesus is going to feed them. We, as the disciples, still have the arguments of our human logic which can swiftly see the impossibility, the reason why we cannot help. So why is it impossible?  This week I read the news that the positions among the richest people in this world have been switched. Bill Gates is not the first anymore he was overtaken by the owner of Amazon. Final sum was like 119 billions of US dollars. But we do not need to watch news. We are extremely rich. Why can´t we help? We cannot help because we learnt in school how to count. But our logic is not everything.

What is Jesus´ motivation to feed the crowd? Jesus says: “They have been with me for three days and now they have nothing to eat”. They were with Jesus for three days, in his presence, they experienced what it means and now after these three days Jesus wants to feed them  and he does not want them to die of starvation – I am exaggerating it a little, but the meaning is there.

Shortly after the miracle of feeding Jesus tells his disciples about his suffering which is to come. They do not believe him or they refuse to accept it. Jesus says it precisely: “After three days he will rise to life.” Whenever we see the number three in the Gospel we have to be alert, especially when we know the whole story. The story is not that a whole three-day worship service is ended with tea and coffee, but it is about salvation. Who were present in the story of holy week in Jerusalem. Crowds of people. Judas, Pontius Pilate, Pharisees and Saducees – all of them are one way or the other included. Jesus does not question the faith of the 4000 who were with him, he just gives them something to eat so that they would not faint.

It is salvation only through Jesus. Churches also know the verse but they add so many conditions to it, but Jesus acts. It is very often Jesus´ disciples who make salvation impossible. Jesus cares and Jesus loves, he is not a seminary student who has theology in books, but Jesus loves his father and he also loves those who are around him. To say it openly – the feeding of the 4000 is aimed at all the people and even more. In the scope of Jesus´ mission there are disciples but also those who are not disciples. Let Jesus decide.

If you are still in doubt look at the disciples, what do they say? “Where in this desert can anyone find enough food to feed these people”. The disciples showed what they are made of, they do not believe in miracles, they do not count with Jesus. Now tell me who is a real believer. The borderline between believer and non-believer is so tiny sometimes not even visible. But Jesus takes care of them all. “Where in the desert can anyone find food”. If you saw for a moment not the disciples but the whole nation-Israel travelling through the desert then you saw it right. The chosen nation quarrelling and arguing with God. Are you going to save us? Are you going to feed us? It is a pity that our faith is strong usually when we criticize others not when others need our help. Then we are overwhelmed by conditions and by our practical reason which tells us that a few fish and bread cannot be enough.

But Jesus is God´s son, not only does he know about His grace but he himself is also full of that grace. So he can give thanks, break the bread and distribute it to the people and the same with the fish.  From a very little he makes great things which are enough to feed the multitudes.   And everybody ate – there is no difference between race, gender, religion – everybody ate is the important message of the scripture.

The Gospel is so different when you compare it to our situation. We are so afraid of losing our way of life and because of that fear we are missing one important detail. The profound message of the reading is that Jesus is sharing the real gospel with the people. He is not only preaching, he is acting and that is what makes the message complete. Not only to talk, but also to live it. Jesus is showing the people the real foretaste of the Kingdom of heaven. God´s mercy in its fullness and nothing less. Compared to it the disciples are sharing only their worries and fears – which is very disappointing for passers-by. They need to hear the whole story.

Yes. Jesus also has rules it is not only receiving, but also doing what he commands. He ordered the crowd to sit down. Yes it is God´s voice which very often people refuse to obey. But if they don´t sit then they make it impossible to feed them. To receive, to have a profit means also to obey. A typical mistake of our modern age, of our civilization which thinks that we can survive without rules – we have no rules for kids, no rules for society, no rules for our families, no rules for the school, no rules for engaged, no rules for military. Sit down, if you want to be fed, but if you are fed up with Jesus´ rules you cannot be fed by a nutritious Gospel, that is also the second side of it.

How do I recognize that God wants to be the most generous and inclusive. Because the disciples collected seven baskets of leftovers. Paradoxically 12 baskets are meant for Israel, 7 baskets is a complete number and it is meant for the whole of creation. Yes for the whole of creation, nature – animals and flowers, plants are not excluded. St. Francis was also preaching to the whole of creation and I think it was right understanding – all of creation is included in the plan of salvation. Apostle Paul says: “ For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth”. My favourite commandment is the fourth one: “You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country”. Even animals are to experience the seventh day. That is the biggest failure of the church, we are not used to preaching the gospel to the whole of creation. We have to learn that even nature has to recognize God´s mercy.

And the final thing. When the multitudes were fed, Jesus boarded a boat and sailed away. You cannot find a single mention that Jesus would have tied people to him, enslaved them. He just preached the message to them and then he left. The whole passage is soaked with a perfect freedom. Sometimes we are sad because we think we should have done more. We are tied to our labels as the Church of Scotland or the Evangelical church of Czech brethren: But see what happened Jesus had left the place. The preached word was complete, now it is time to go on. No-one can reconstruct, find the place with confidence where the crowds were fed, but the church is spreading the good news. So it is really also an assurance that God is great in his mercy. He won´t let his message fall down. Amen

Sunday 23rd July 2017 – Petr preached this Sermon in Dornock Church

Matthew 5:21-26

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

whenever I read any part of the Sermon on the mount I always go back to its framework which helps me to understand Jesus´ commandments which otherwise seem too hard and demanding. I have learned throughout time that the Sermon on the mount really has the structure, the shape of a mountain. Actually when you read it you climb it. Every mountain has its peak. Right in the centre of the Sermon on the mount there is a passage “how to pray”, which is concluded by the Lord´s prayer itself.

So the peak is to be so close to God so that I can openly speak to him and he can speak to me. It is about the distance between me and him, all the effort is to get so close to him that I can cast all my worries on him and be sure that even in the deepest misery I am not alone. And around this central point there are Jesus´ commandments which tells us how to overcome the distance which is between me and my neighbour or brother and sister, Jesus even speaks about our enemies. And as we all know these two things  how to love God and our neighbour go hand in hand.

It can be also helpful to realize who Jesus is preaching that sermon to. At the end of the Sermon on the mount it is said: “people were amazed, because he preached not as the teachers of the Law but as one who taught with authority”. Looking for Jesus´ authority we have an answer right at hand. Because he is God´s son. But do not rush so quickly into theological statements and notice what Jesus does prior to his teaching. He climbs that mountain and there he sits with the disciples around him. This image has of course lots of explanations. He sits in front of the disciples as a judge…similar to Moses, who received the ten commandments on the mountain. Yes, Matthews´ gospel also wants to see Jesus as a new Moses. Or he can sit with the disciples as their Rabbi – teacher. Why not – the Sermon on the mount is Jesus´ teaching. But maybe he sits simply with the disciples as their brother and friend. May be the distance or let´s say proximity is really the topic here. He wants to be close to us. That is what makes someone a character, an authority. People who we respect most are usually the people who were the closest to us. So on the list of our heroes the first places are very often occupied by our parents, grandparents, friends – someone who was so close to our soul.

It is a very important point which we have to realize if we want to understand Jesus. Some expositors say that Jesus´ commandments are unrealistic to keep. When I read a commentary like this I realize there is a distance between the theologians and Jesus. They just did not get close enough to understand.

Jesus begins with the revision of the ten commandments: “It was said do not commit murder”. Literally one of the easiest commandments. It is correctly translated – you shall not commit murder. The original meaning probably excluded killing in war. For murder there is an intention or a motive as they say in detective stories. However Jesus´ accent, his tone is a little bit ironic. “People were told in the past”. But did people of the past fulfil this commandment? We see that Jesus wants to stretch the meaning to be more broad. “But now” – Jesus comes with new content with a new explanation. He wants to let us know that by simple actions we influence the lives of other people. We do not need to hold a gun, we do not need to send a military expedition abroad, it is enough to open our mouths or to think.

“Whoever is angry” to be angry does not necessarily mean to speak. Some versions added: “to be angry without a cause”. It is obviously an attempt to soften the consequences of this commandment. It wants to say that in some cases our actions are justifiable. But is it really what Jesus wants to say? It might be that Jesus makes the commandments intentionally unbearable. Later on we will find a reason for it. The results of anger are brought to trial. I do not want to even think about it  it makes me sick, how many times I have been angry – with my teachers, with my children, may be also with my wife, sometimes with my parents, very often with my church, sometimes I was angry with the driver in front of me, sometimes with the shop assistant, almost always with politicians. If it is so then by my mood I very often ruined moments and days of people around me. If that means to be brought to trial then maybe I will be there every day… my salary as a minister won´t be enough to pay the fees of that court.

Or Jesus says, if you just complain about other people – they are good for nothing, if you insult from time to time someone or accuse someone of being empty as a drum – as we say in our country. Then you go to a higher institution – you will be brought before the council. Remember all these institutions are public ones.

Or if you accuse someone – not to be a believer – which is meant by the phrase “to be a worthless fool”. Such accusation does not mean anything today but were a serious offence in the past. Then you will go to hell without question. Such stuff makes me tremble and fear, because none of us is innocent. Why is Jesus enlarging the meaning of the original commandment. For one reason only. By the simplest actions or even no actions we influence everyone on this planet. It is also our responsibility, no matter how many times we say that we are innocent because at the time of a crime we were not there. Jesus sees it otherwise. But what is his point? Does he want to see us locked behind bars in a mental hospital?

And the situation can be even more tricky. When you go to worship God with your offering and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar because the  consequences can be serious, you will be handed to the judge he will hand you to the police, and the police will hand you over to the jail. Wait a moment that is illogical, complete nonsense – why should I be jailed and pay when my brother has something against me? I cannot influence someone else´s mind. Why does Jesus makes me liable for the problems of my brother.

Why do we think that our muslim brothers have so many things against us? Are we really innocent? If we had been innocent aren´t we still responsible for relations between people in the one world human family. How many times shall I forgive my brother. Seven times? Not only seven times but seventy- seven times, says the gospel.

I like the way Jesus leads his sermon. It makes all commandments void and empty if people do not want to think about their actions. All religion and faith is an empty thing if people do not want to look into their souls. The Disciples followed Jesus to get a lesson and now they have it. They can slowly realize that some things are simply beyond our powers and we as people are not so clean and clear as we thought.

As a minister I know that probably one day I will underestimate the people around me and I know that there will always be at least one voice who will not agree with me and will have something against me. What can I do? I can try to be better. But we know that very rarely we are better. What else can help?

The solution is this –  to be closer to my brother by at least one step, talk to the one who is angry with me. But very often it does not help, then I have to behave as a believer of Jesus Christ. To leave my offering in front of an altar, go to my brother, probably he would hit me on my face so what then? Approach the altar again but this time without any religious gift, not to even try to bribe my God, but be honest in my soul. And in prayer which is the paramount of everything confess before my God. Dear God there are so many things which I cannot handle. Will you still love me although I am so sinful,  will you still accept me and hold me in your arms although I hurt my fellow neighbour and I do not know how to change it? And I am sure that at the moment God will cut my chains and open the door of my cellar. Because there won´t be obstacles between me and him. Amen

Sunday, 16th July 2017 – Petr preached this Sermon in the Baxter Hall, Eastriggs

Text Luke 5:1-11

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

the gospel of Luke is not the only one where we can find the reading about a miraculous fishing trip. The calling of the fishermen to be Jesus´ disciples is in every Gospel. But very similar stories about how the future disciples were casting their nets is found not only in Luke but also in John. The details vary slightly but there is one big difference. It is in the position in those gospels where you find the story. Luke has it practically at the beginning but John mentions it at the end of his gospel – after Jesus´ resurrection. This detail shouldn´t be overlooked because it tells us a lot about ourselves, about our spirituality.

In Luke´s version the story is found  the first moment Jesus encounters his disciples – at that time they are still fishermen. People-crowds are already following or it might be said chasing Jesus. So he needs a boat of tired fishermen who have been casting their nets for a whole night but have caught nothing. On Jesus´ command they will soon sail again into the deep water and their nets will be full of fish. They will see something which is hard to believe and for this reason they will follow Jesus. They will see a miracle. Their decision to follow will be based on their own experience. They experience a miracle and the miracle speeds up the whole process. You have here one example of Christian spirituality. It is based on personal experience. Probably you have heard many such stories from witnesses of 30 people who share with you miracles which have happened to them.

John´s version leads us in a little bit of a different way. After the crucifixion Jesus met his disciples several times. The story of the fishing disciples is one of such encounters. But the disciples had experienced miracles with Jesus as the Messiah before – they had seen his miracles, but he was then crucified which made it hard for them to believe. Jesus´ disciples cannot decide – is Jesus really the one, is he our Saviour? The Disciples´ faith is only a few steps from the edge, there is a danger that it can disappear. And that is the huge difference. In Luke´s story the disciples are called to be fishermen of men. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men. Jesus gives them the reason not to be afraid and he gives them the task. But in John´s gospel we see that after all the things which the disciples had experienced with Jesus, they are afraid and Jesus came to save them again.

Why is it so important to read those stories together and to be aware of such a detail which may seem to be unimportant to us? Last Monday we visited the Savings Bank in Ruthwell. And on one of the panels there were mentioned the motives of Reverend Henry Duncan. He went into the ministry because he wanted to help people. Later on there is mentioned a moment when he met a group of Quakers and the discussion with them caused a complete change in his approach to the faith. Now his reason for the ministry was to glorify the Lord. Honestly which of these two motives is the right one and can we divide one thing from the another. I remember I saw something similar about John Knox in Edinburgh – the day of his real conversion. I know that it is sometimes important for us to have such a milestone. But may be God is working continually through and on our lives. Our faith has its ups and downs and we measure such moments with a religious thermometer creating a scale and deciding what is worthy and what is not.  But we are also measuring other people´s faith. The reality is that Jesus approaches our lives and he calls us. He calls us when we are up and when we are down – then he carries us. Everything depends on his voice and in his voice there is God´s mercy. In both versions Jesus says: “Do not be afraid”. All Old Testament prophets were also scared to death. That fear is sometimes produced by the situation we are in and sometimes also by the fact we know that we are standing face to face with the holy Lord. Sinful versus sinless, fearful vs. fearless, dirty characters vs. someone who is crystal clear.

Let´s see some of the details of the story. Jesus comes to the lake followed by people. Basically he needs a pulpit. People can sit on the shore of the bay and Jesus can preach or teach from the boat as in a church. But more important than Jesus´ listeners are the fishermen. They had been fishing all the night. So you meet tired fishermen, exhausted by the night’s fishing and their whole business earned them one big “0”, no profit for them. We say no pain no gain. But the fishermen put all their effort into their fishing, but it ended up with no positive result. There is a moment in our human lives when we are close to be turned into predators, into the animals of the night. But still the result will be zero.

Jesus wants us to be sons and daughters of the light. So he calls us during the day to serve. Night characters can be successful once or twice but finally they will lose. Sons of Light can lose once or twice but finally they will win.

The property does not make us successful and happy in what we do. It is said that one of the fishermen named Simon – owned one of the boats. Those who run big businesses have to own, those who want to serve, have to be full of mercy. So no night, and no money are the key. We know that Simon is later called Peter. But whenever Peter misses the real nature of his call Jesus calls him Simon again, whenever we refuse to bear the cross and the gospel we are people of old – relying on our skill and property or status but less on mercy and love  of Jesus.

Although Jesus had called uneducated fishermen he commanded them to push into deep water. The Church is not a club of educated people but a community of people who have to go deep. Why? Because our soul is deep and complicated as the souls of our brothers and sisters and the real Gospel is so great that you cannot be satisfied by flatness and shallowness. We are not pretending high status but we understand that life itself is a deep matter and we act obeying Jesus´ command. And if we really do, then the catch is great. The nets were full of fish and after what we had experienced in our lives, Jesus sends us further on a new journey.

There is an interesting moment in the whole story. When Simon is defending his old way of living he is really called Simon → Simon answered: “We worked hard all night long and caught nothing.” But when he recognizes his sinfulness and the greatness of Jesus he is called Simon Peter for the first time. He says: “Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man! Jesus became the Lord for him and the story also changes Simon´s character. He is now Simon Peter, by confessing his sinfulness and recognizing and acknowledging the work of Jesus then he becomes a believer. That is the real depth of life. He also becomes Peter – the rock, but the strength is not his but Jesus´. Also other disciples are mentioned – John and James. Jesus sends them to catch men. Between the job and the call there is a difference – they were catching fish and they did it for their living, now they are catching men for peoples´ freedom. Isn´t it interesting to catch someone to make him free. But in real Christianity it is true men and women are attracted by the gospel, but it is not a trap, it is a freedom. People give up on Christianity because they don´t want to be slaves, but in their lives they are trapped into more bitter nets which are not comfortable at all. Jobs, importance, money, efficiency, business, property – there are so many nets and traps on this Earth, which do not bring freedom.

Jesus says, do not be afraid. He says it to his disciples right in the beginning of their journey with him, but he says it also after his resurrection. And he wants you also to hear it. “Do not be afraid”. There are no manners of the darkness in his kingdom, old ways are forgotten but the new way opens in front of us. The newborn disciples left everything behind. It is striking that the Bible doesn´t give us a record of what happened to the catch, especially when we have heard details before about nets which needed to be washed. But it is probably because the new way is more important. Amen

Sunday 9th July 2017 

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
in the beginning I want to mention one small (but for me important) detail. We are used to reading the scriptures in a certain order. Books are divided into chapters, chapters into smaller sections and each section has its own title. Sometimes the readings overlap slightly which makes me always think about our style of reading the Bible. Today´s reading borrows one verse from the previous section which is named “Love for enemies” and adds it to the section which is named “Judging others”. Two different passages but the set of “old church readings” I am preaching on reminds us how to read the Bible. Always as one piece, never as texts which are separated one from another.

So let´s start: “Be merciful as the Father is merciful”. To be merciful is not just benevolence. Very often the views of modern Christianity are to see it as the religion which is always nice and loving, which makes us sometimes toothless, unable to solve the problems which our life places in front of us. What I have on my mind is to name problems by their true names and still remain merciful. One of the biggest failures of our time is the inability to go deep and honestly point out what is wrong and then change it. So in many things we remain somehow half-way to a real solution. When is the father merciful and what is the best example of his mercy? We all know the story.

The highest point of God´s mercy is when he sent his son – Jesus Christ. Before Jesus Christ died for our sins – (note died for our sins!!!) he had preached. And his sermons were about repentance, conversion, healing, casting out demons. When you repent, you repent from sin, when you change . You do it because the old ways are not always the right ones. When a doctor heals, he corrects what was wrong and bad in your body and soul. When demons are cast out then it is because our soul was under pressure, squeezed by something which was above our human powers. It is God´s mercy that he sent his son into such – our conditions. The second part of it is that Jesus suffered with us and for us – he carried our burdens and our sicknesses. So the problem of mercy is not so flat as it is sometimes explained. If we want to be merciful as the father is merciful, we just do not turn a blind eye as some people wished us to do, but we name what is so painful and wrong and then we carry it in a similar way as Jesus did for us. Being merciful always deals with the dark side of our existence and change has also to be present..

And the text continues in the same manner. Do not judge. How often have you heard a rebuke from someone who told you“not to be judgemental” – because if you judge, God will also judge you. I want God to judge me and I will tell you why. Because God´s judgements are always right and true and as we have heard, the father is always merciful. Judgement  is true only in a case where it leads to a correction of what was wrong. Then it is in the biblical sense a true judgement. God is able to pass such right judgements. Human beings are not always able to pass true judgements. For example if you sentence someone to jail for years or for a lifetime – it is not a true judgement, society only shows its hopelessness to correct wrong conditions. So we remove those who are problematic from our sight. In very few cases is the verdict successful and a criminal leaves prison as an angel. Don´t get me wrong I am not speaking against legal justice I only say that we have a big problem with the words like just, justice, judgements.

Last month there was one man in our country who was released from prison after 25 years, he is very well known because he successfully escaped from the prison so reporters questioned him right away and he was quite boastful, he talked about his whole story and he also showed his contempt of  society. The newspapers made a celebrity out of him. But for no reason, he hasn´t changed at all.

Judgement is not right when it doesn´t go hand in hand with renewal and correction. If we turn judgement into endless criticism of others then we do not have the right to speak. The text says forgive others and God will forgive you. Nothing can make newcomers to church more angry than hearing phrases and empty judgements. Judgement has to be connected with the ability to forgive. To forgive here means to release from bondage, from slavery. In other words if the church criticizes consumerism it has to be able to live a completely different life. If we want to forgive we have to offer freedom. Otherwise such a critique and judgement and forgiveness don´t mean anything and it is only a void word.

So we have to be very careful about our judgements and words of forgiveness if we do not know how to release people from their slavery, if the change is not in our minds Sometimes it is better to be silent, but when we speak there has to be forgiveness, truly lived gospel.

Give others a full measure. It is not a call to be straight in certain matters, like fair trade or any kind of business, it speaks about every breath of our life. Honest to ourselves to our neighbours and to give more rather than less.

All this Jesus supports by a series of parables – the first one is about a blind man who is leading another blind man. Jesus requests the ability to see obstacles on the road which of course supports what we have just heard. Sentiment is not enough, all allowing love – lets say ignorance of arguments  and facts -it is too poor a motivation to lead the way. Probably some Israelites would appreciate that Moses would have been blind – not having seen failures and idolatry of the whole nation. Then the journey would lead from bondage back to slavery. I see Moses as full of compassion and mercy, but precisely because these were not weaknesses he could lead the nation to the promised land. He was honest and practical and a believer as well.

Second there is the parable about a teacher and a pupil – no pupil is greater than his teacher. The meaning of any education is to be better than the teachers themselves. But the Bible speaks about qualities you cannot exceed whatever you do. For me a really good teacher is the one who hasn´t got only knowledge but mainly high moral standards. In such cases the pupil can hardly be better than his teacher. For this reason – no theologian can be better than Jesus – the quality counts, not the quantity of our knowledge.

The third and my favourite – about the speck in a brother´s eye and about the log in my own eye. This one is also very often explained as the way to be humble before our brothers. But, please, see it as a caricature of ones importance, as irony of our own pride. Or have you ever seen someone walking with a log on the High street. It is a funny description of what we often are. Criticizing small imperfections in others but not noticing our own. Such smart people make the church unattractive. Jesus calls us to be sober and also to be able to reflect our own position first and it is better to do it with a sense of humour.

It seems to me that people of all nations and of all ages are gladly loosing and leaving this ability – to reflect and also with humour to criticize  themselves. That is the log in our own eye.   To mention one example and say at least something positive about Mr Trump. Last month the USA left the Paris climate agreement. Well this is not positive at all, but I want to point out the reactions which this fact caused. It was public criticism. But aren´t we, as every individual responsible? Is not the log right in our eye when we want to possess more? The whole system is driven by our demands, that we want to have more.

So I want to say this. In church and in society as well things got far too emotional. And I see Jesus words as a cold shower for our hot heads. He wants to cool down our emotions a little bit and our feelings. And he wants to tell us that mercy is only there where people are experiencing release from slavery, right judgement is present only when there is a will to correct what is corrupted, leadership is present when leaders are not blind and we are Christians only when we want to reflect what is going on in our own souls. Amen

Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Dear brothers and dear sisters in Jesus Christ,
I will tell you a joke which is not actually a joke. Two men are talking together and one of them says: “I found Jesus.” And  the second replies: “Really, I did not know that Jesus was lost”. More than anything it is a summary of the New Testament. We were lost and now we are found – by Jesus, through his love and grace.

You know that from time to time I mention someone from my family in my sermons. Today I can not do it because my sister’s family is  checking on me and they will hear today´s sermon. So to avoid any consequences I will tell you something about myself.

When I was a teenager I was very critical of preachers in the pulpit. Sometimes the sermon was too long, sometimes too short, sometimes too boring, sometimes too superficial or shallow. Songs were too slow and the people in church were too old and prayers too pious or too religious. I was right in line with those who criticized the church every day. The way I see it, one day someone in heaven decided: “Let’s do something with this kid.” And he did it with irony. “Whom did he criticize most….ministers and preachers , yes he will be a minister”. Looking back over my shoulder I realize that God has a special sense of humour. You have heard the parable of the lost sheep, how the shepherd carried the sheep on his shoulders. Yes, God had decided to make me a minister in a reformed church, because we wear black robes, so everyone can look up on Sunday at the black sheep of Christ´s family and people can listen to my long or short…rather short sermons, too boring, not very often too pious sermons. God knew the best way to bring me back, he wanted me to be in the church every Sunday and he did it in the most inventive way. Today I accept it with gratefulness.

Second parable – about the lost coin…the second story which also belongs to my life. Some of you know that my surname means “Money”. Once upon a time, in 1819, there was a boy born somewhere in a small village in the highlands. His name was Wenceslaus. His father was unknown, his mother had also had a child a year before and also a year after and the situation was exactly the same there was no father. Immaculate conception. The fate of such children was clear – the orphanage. But the boy who was born in 1819 was adopted by a poor family . That was how he added to his first name a surname “Money”. The lost coin was found. Do we believe in providence and predestination. When I see the history of my family I cannot see it in any other way.

It is all about God who finds the lost, it is about the shepherd who carries the sheep on his shoulders and it is about the one who finds lost coins whatever their purchasing power is. I also believe that we are all here because we experienced or we want to experience that there is someone who cares so much.

I also want to speak about things which are often skipped over as not so important. There are also 99 sheep left alone. We do not know much about them. When you read different sermons you can find varied opinions about them. Very often they are marked as a community which is self-sufficient to survive until the shepherd comes back. The Good News Bible supports this idea when it says: “The shepherd leaves 99 in the pasture”. There is nothing to be afraid of and they have enough to eat. But we must be careful – other translations say: “He leaves them in the wilderness, in the desert”. And the ending of the parable marks the 99 respectable –  as those who do not need to repent. Now we see that the situation is complicated. Israel went through the desert, through the wilderness to learn how to be humble before God, how to accept his care and how to repent. What happens to a human soul when it does not need to repent. What happens when people leave the true gospel and are looking for another gospel, as Paul says. Paul knows the God who found him, apostle Paul was just one little step from his fall, but he was saved by God. He was a devoted Jew but he was devoted and determined even in the persecution of others.

We have to take literally what is written about the 99 sheep and the Pharisees in the parable. They were saying: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”. The Pharisees were completely just and true in their judgements. Yes, there are sinners on this planet. Yes, Jesus is with the sinners and eats with them – that  was also a reality. There is nothing wrong with what they have said. But then something is missing, the human soul is somehow crippled, the real gospel requests more than to be just judges. Ephesians says: “For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age”.

A selfish person very quickly becomes isolated. That is also an explanation as to why those 99 are left in the desert. It is not the will of God, it is their way of life. They choose not to mess with sinners, not to mess with Jesus, therefore they are isolated. Also they lack positive emotions which are produced by love and mercy. The closing parts of both parables says – “There is a joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”. Hold this image in your mind for the rest of your life. I am so happy I found the coin I had lost. Heavens celebrate and heavens rejoice, God´s love is overflowing everywhere and people who do not see it are so poor. God rejoices over sinners who are back.

One of the reason why it is right to be a Christian is the knowledge that God is happy, God rejoices, God celebrates even over a sinner. You know, there are religions who depict God as a strict one. Once I received from my friend in the US a picture. Its name was smiling Jesus. As a reformed minister I have this distrust about anything which is depicting God or his son, but there was something about the picture so I put it into my Bible as a bookmark. A God who is able to rejoice, who is able to celebrate over a repenting sinner would never send a suicide bomber to kill other people. Part of the true religion is love and happiness, joy and gratefulness. Do you recognize that in both parables the shepherd and the woman organize a celebration which will cost them more than the lost sheep and silver coin put together. God sent his only son – the prize was so high – to make this feast, celebration possible. It is an expression of his love and generosity. So please let us be followers of the true gospel and acknowledge everything which belongs to God´s redeeming work.

We should be willing to change. In the second parable – about the lost coin, the woman cleans her house to find the coin. The work of salvation changes everything. We are used to the old orders and rules. Imagine a small Palestinian house, without windows. To find one small coin everything must go out into the sunlight, the lamp is lit and the room is swept. I was also scared when my mother decided to move furniture and when she wanted to paint our house. As believers we are afraid when God wants to proceed with his work of salvation, we are afraid because we feel that our comfy world will be upside down. But I also remember how I liked the result – the house was as new, we found many things which we had lost. Remember what God does by his salvation. And if it is hard for you to love sinners and enemies, love at least Jesus and his Father who are rejoicing over everyone who was saved – so he rejoices also over you.  Amen

Sunday, 25th June 2017

Sermon: Inspection of boundaries    (Kirkin’ of the Cornet Service)

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Nehemiah is a royal officer and the reason why he was in Jerusalem is hard to believe these days. When he was at the court of the Persian king he was so sad that even the king noticed his sadness. When Nehemiah was in his private room he even cried, there were tears on his face, he prayed. When he heard about the poor conditions his brothers were living in in Jerusalem, he was fasting. Oh yes, when your brothers don´t have anything to eat, you won´t eat either.

We all know that politicians are quite sensitive – they hurt and cry, they do not eat and instead they send their salaries to the poor. The Persian king had noticed  Nehemiah´s suffering and he told him: “You are physically OK, but I see that your soul is not well.” After Nehemiah told the king about the situation in Jerusalem the king sent him there to do an inspection and to rebuild. When we see similarities we have to also point out, that Nehemiah did everything for God.

Nehemiah came to Jerusalem sitting on a donkey as GNB suggests and his riding of the marches started after he had been three days in Jerusalem, it was at night and only a few people knew about it.

Now we should ask. Why did he inspect the walls at night? Why had it to be a secret before he announced anything? We should really ask these questions because there is something which doesn´t fit, something which is strange. He was sent by the king. Why hide his intentions? He came to help people. Why hadn´t he told anything to anyone? It might have been there were a few hands willing to help him.

The problem was that people maybe did not like how Nehemiah wanted to solve their misery. He inspected the city walls. The purpose of the city walls in ancient times wasn´t only a military one. The city walls protected the citizens of the town not only against enemies made from flesh and blood but it was also protection against the evil spirits of the fields. So it was also religious protection. And when people did not have enough power, money and strength to repair the walls they put amulets, spells and other artefacts to cover the holes in the walls to make them intact as they believed. Nehemiah probably goes to do a special kind of inspection, he wants to destroy those false hopes. That is a good explanation as to why he did not speak about it and he did it at night. Because if he had told people about his plans they would have killed him.

Almost none of the modern politicians want to remove false hopes from the people. Because then the people would turn against them. That is the reason why politicians always promise a better future. They always promise better salaries, better pensions, better roads, better health care, better everything. But reality is that certain promises are false and probably they should be removed – not the politicians, but the false hopes.

Nehemiah does that, he walks through the holes in the walls crushing every amulet which is false. He does that so that none of the local officials know about it. For obvious reasons. No priest, no leaders, no officials – because they would have been so offended by Nehemiah´s actions and they would silence him.

And then when everything is done and false hopes are destroyed he tells them. But he tells them the truth. He says: “the situation is bad…..description of reality, but the good hand of the good Lord is with us….offering a future and love, hope”.

Can we find in our nations anyone who is in tears for our nation, who is strong enough to remove the false hopes, who is full of hope to preach about God to us? Our politicians are smiling showing us that they have good dental care, they are promising new things because they don´t believe people have enough common sense to recognize lies and they do not speak about God because they do not find joy in him. Nehemiah says honestly: “Yes we are in trouble, let´s rebuild but let´ s do it in the name of the Lord.” It is not easy but God´s promises are the only promises we can build on.

Yes we have to inspect boundaries of Europe and remove things we thought were making us secure. We have to talk more about things which constitute ourselves and it means talking about Christianity. We have to inspect the boundaries of Scotland or Annan but we have to get rid of things which are false. Everyone has to inspect their personal boundaries and get rid of pride, hate, selfishness – these things don´t make us secure, but God does.

It took three days before Nehemiah started this renewal work in Jerusalem, humbly inspecting the walls on a donkey, sometimes on his feet. We have another story in the Bible about the one who came on a donkey, rebuilding the souls of his disciples after three days. Yes, it is Jesus Christ. He said to the Jewish authorities: “Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again.” He spoke about himself and also about us and our false securities and ideas.

Everything which is mortal doesn´t have any other chance or hope. If we care about the meaning of our lives we have to also look for God, because only in God are things eternal, outside of him things and people just pass away.

In our first  reading we read the parable of the two house builders. It really depends on foundations. You can have a beautiful building above the ground but it does not matter so much. When the storm hits the building it can collapse on the other hand there can be buildings which are not fancy but they last. You can walk through our town and you can guess which buildings were built to last. All you can do is guess. Based on the parable there are a few certain things.

First, the Bible is a realistic and honest book – it says it openly, it is more than sure that a storm will come.

Second, It is not in our power to prevent it, no arrangements can prevent it. Except, as the Bible says, those who listen and obey. It is not our diligence, originality, but obedience that matters.

Third, well placed grounds solve our protection. God is our secure place.

We very much care who we are but we should pay attention to where we stand. The former you can influence with money, make-up, nice clothes, house, car – the latter cannot be influenced so much but it has to be found – God has to be found, you have to find a foundation of your life. Then it really doesn´t matter about your look and it is also a relief when you don´t have to work on your importance and image.

The people of Jerusalem wanted to be safe and probably they worked on it even before Nehemiah came. People of Annan want to be safe also – yes work on it, inspect your boundaries and also be aware that not all things are good for God´s kingdom. Amen

Sunday, 18th June, 2017    (Sermon Petr preached at Dornock – in Annan Old  we had the Sunday School Prizegiving)

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

This story points directly to our situation and we have to identify ourselves with the characters in the story. Who are we? Are we like the rich man? Or are we like Lazarus?

First we should consider where the story takes place. We have heard about the rich man. He has expensive clothes and he also has enough to eat. So, lets place him for the moment at the table. A table covered with food and meals shared with the family or with people around is a biblical image. A very important one. Because from eating meals together this image always grows into the feast where people in the presence of God celebrate God´s kingdom, God´s grace and His love. We know it because we celebrate the Lord´s supper together in such a way.

But the surprising thing is that the rich man is alone – no other people are mentioned, he is alone but actually he is enjoying his loneliness because no-one can touch what he has. And that is also important. The man is protecting his privacy, he is protecting what he has and he is not interested in sharing his riches with others. He cannot find happiness in giving because he thinks that in giving he always loses! Also note that the rich man doesn´t have a name. From the biblical perspective the only memories which will remain will be that there existed a rich man, but nothing more personal. When you have a name someone can call you, someone can talk to you on a personal level.

Contrary to this there is also a poor man. But he has a name. His name is Lazarus. His name in Hebrew sounds Eleazar. Its meaning is ´”God is my (only) help”. Even from this detail you can recognize the difference. Lazarus, because he has a name will be remembered – and what is even better – he will be remembered not by other people but by God → God is my help. Also the place where we can find him is important. The Bible says that he was at the rich man´s door. You should not understand it as someone who is lying at the door of a family house today. Probably he was somewhere on the outskirts of the rich man´s property, at the gate which marked private land. Lazarus is ill, his body is covered with sores. He was hoping to get some leftovers from the  rich man´s table. Again it is important to read correctly, he was hoping to get – not that he got something. Lazarus also doesn´t have any people around him. Last week there was a wedding in Dornock and I was explaining to the bride and bridegroom the text from genesis 2. That the man did not find his help among animals, so God created a woman to be his help. But Lazarus has no-one around but only one dog. An unclean village animal which also survives on garbage or leftovers. Remember, a dog was not a family pet at these times.

The rich man and Lazarus share the same fate – they both die. But Lazarus is taken to Abraham. The GNB tells us that he sits beside Abraham. The original text is even more detailed because it says that Lazarus sat in Abraham´s lap, he sat on his knees. I like such an image. Because Abraham is the father of the whole nation and Lazarus sits on his knees like a small baby who always dreamt of love and now this image expresses that he is now right at the centre of the community but the love he receives is very personal. God is his help, he knows his name and now he is in the company of Abraham. For a Jew who was abandoned, expelled from a community there can not be greater satisfaction.

If your feelings are sometimes like those of Lazarus´ you can accept this image of him as if it could be you. If you are lonely, if your companion in this life is only a dog. If you think that there is no chance that conditions will improve, if people do not give you the smallest piece of hope – leftovers from their table, then you should have your hope somewhere else. God is your help, he knows your name and he still counts you to be his and to be a member of his people.

How about the rich man? He also died, but instead of having been carried somewhere it is said that he was buried. Burial is not mentioned in Lazarus´case and then (after burial) the rich man opens his eyes and looks up.

We must be careful, the story is not in the Bible to scare people, or our children to make Christian believers out of them. The reason is completely different. We should realize that the life which we live here counts and is somehow connected to the afterlife. We are not here just to enjoy, entertain ourselves and then who knows what comes next. No, everything counts.

When I was in the US I had a very unpleasant chat with one of the church members. It was at the time when Obama declared that there would be a special tax for national healthcare. The man in the church was very angry and he told me – “no, this is my money and I decide if I give it to someone, it will be my decision but no-one can tax me like this”. I replied that my salary is only a gift which I receive for the purpose and I have to do something with it to make it useful again.

The story teaches us that we have an obligation to help others. When by

accident we are in the position of a rich man and I would like to say that we all are rich people we have to help others. Sometimes it is not easy when we see that our help was wasted by others, but we have to help. When someone lost the roof above their head or when someone was so poor that there was not any roof at all, then we have to help.

Secondly, we have to always recognize human beings in the people around us. Years ago I wrote a paper about negro spirituals – did you know, that slaves were considered to be 3/5 of a human being?  According to American law only a human being can apply to court. We have to recognize the value of everyone. We do not have a problem with people who belong to our nation, it is more difficult for us with people from a different continent or with someone of a different faith. But we have to see human beings in them. We feel sorry for some people, but sometimes there are individuals who are hard to accept or even look at. It doesn ´t matter, God already knows their names and he is their help. It should be the same for us. We should know their names and we should help.

The rich man asked Abraham to send someone to warn his family or to use an even greater argument to see someone who was raised from the dead. Abraham refuses, partly because it is impossible to travel between both worlds, but also because everything had been known to people for a long time. Abraham, prophets, Jesus, we all have the knowledge, and even those who haven´t read  the Bible  there is common sense. Help others, leftovers from your table can change many things.

And if your situation reminds you of Lazaruses´ in anything, if people leave you out of their sight do not be afraid, God knows your name. And he also comes to you in Jesus Christ – he is the Lord and the Saviour. Amen

Trinity Sunday – 11th June 2017 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The first Sunday after Pentecost is the Sunday of the Trinity. Not an easy topic to talk about. As we have heard, greater brains than ours have had a problem with it.

Nicodemus is in the scene with us today. Who is he? The Bible says that he was a Jewish leader. One of my friends says, that Nicodemus was the first communist. In Greek the word “nika” means victory and “demos” means “people”. So the name Nicodemus translated means “the victory of the people”. In our country during communism there was the term “victory of working people”. The term could be used as a very strong argument, when you spoke in such terms people were afraid that you were really a committed communist therefore a dangerous man. It is not Nicodemuses´ fault that he had received this name from his parents, but we can calculate. Probably his parents knew that their son would live in the Greco-Roman world, so they had given him a name which was popular, maybe promising a better career among the Romans. It is completely the opposite style to Hebrew names.

But sometimes it happens that children do not fulfil their parent’s hopes. Nicodemus became a Jewish teacher with a Greek name. But there is one very interesting thing which is good to notice. Nicodemus went to visit Jesus after dark – at night. Why is it that a well respected man, teacher – who is expected to ask questions, went to visit another teacher – Rabbi as he says- under the veil of darkness. Is there anything which makes Nicodemus afraid of someone or something?

Jesus says: “the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light”. Direct hit. He is still speaking to Nicodemus, you can bet that this note was not overlooked by Nicodemus, because he chose to come at night. Maybe his colleagues, brothers of the same faith, would not be so happy to see him with Jesus, or maybe they sent him to go unnoticed hidden from peoples eyes, not to compromise their status – we do not know. The only thing we can be sure of is that there is fear in the air.

Just recently we have experienced that our politicians are afraid to make decisions so they hide behind the public,  meaning having another election and when they see the results of the  new vote they are scared even more.

And how about us? Are we afraid of what people think about us? It is my experience that sometimes  people discuss publicly private things which wouldn´t be possible talk about just a few years ago. But sometimes you cannot discuss publicly things which were OK to discuss in the past. Religion, male/female roles, elementary role of the family in society. We created no-hate language, we always stress correctness to such an extent that some important things become taboo. The Hebrew teacher with a Greek name, the teacher who publicly teaches his pupils, but can only have a discussion with the other teacher at night.

Is there a fear among people today? I would say, yes there is. Because many important topics are just taboo.  Darkness can become the official tool and it can unleash dangerous feelings among people.

We know about Nicodemus that he was a Pharisee. So he was a man of religious rules and Moses´ law. He was a man of discipline. It would be hard for him to step out of his own religious world. I think he is afraid to make such a step, what would others say about it?

For Jesus it is also a question of right and wrong, a question of light and darkness. We are very often influenced by our fear, so we do not have the courage to even think about what is right and what is wrong.

Jesus talks with Nicodemus on three different levels. He speaks about our earthly birth. The birth which did not happen by accident. We are part of God´s creation, aren´t we? Created by God. Sometimes it seems to me that public opinion settled on the idea that it is enough to satisfy our physical needs. Yes, creation is beautiful but how about the idea that we are meant to be more than machines which consume and spend money.

But you have to be born of the Spirit. In ZOO they sometimes cut the wings of birds so that they couldn´t fly away, they want to keep them grounded. And Nicodemus also wants to use our human experience as an argument: “Grown man cannot enter his mother´s womb and be born a second time”. Why not, to be practical – like our wings being cut. But be careful, God´s intention for us was a little bit different.  There is also another shore you are to reach – God´s kingdom. We are very good at taking care of our earthly needs. The Old testament doesn´t speak very often, or very openly about the eternal life. So sometimes the world of the Pharisees is enough for us. Criticizing each other but not having our own opinion. Have you noticed that sometimes it is hard to talk about spiritual things in churches.

Nicodemus’s problem is that he was attacked by doubt and fear already. The text does not tell us the real reason why he came to Jesus. Definitely his traditional world was falling apart. Although we do not know precisely his reasons we can sometimes give our reasons. Sometimes people are just alone, sometimes there is an illness, sometimes there is our age, sometimes we are not very happy with things which are going on around us – but we always ask about the meaning of our lives. We all would like to get an answer, Nicodemus would like to have an answer. The problem is that an answer from outside is not sufficient. YOU have to be born again. The answer is not in words it is in you.

I do not underestimate Nicodemus when he argues with Jesus, when he answers that no-one can be born again. He just simply states, expresses his worries in front of Jesus, it is just impossible to cut all of the old ties, it is just so hard to change our approach. He is a teacher of Israel, he realizes all dimensions of human life but he also expresses the hardships which would be connected with being born again. Can ladies imagine their life without a washing machine and can gentleman live their lives without their cars and computers. No, they can´t, we realize that for us as human beings it is impossible to change our attitude. Ecologists say it all the time – you have to change, but every year we consume more and more and basically our answer is similar to Nicodemus’s that we cannot be born again.

The world of the first creation and the world of the spirit, they got so far away from each other. Is there anything which can connect us – earthly beings with heaven again?

And there we come to the thing which is central to life and to the text. Jesus is not another teacher he is not leading a theological disputation with Nicodemus, he does much more. For people it is impossible to believe when he speaks about our earthly things and heavenly things as well, so a miracle happens. A completely different kind of miracle than those Nicodemus is speaking about.

For God loved the world so much, he gave his only son.

God loved the world so much. Sometimes people hate this world, I dare to say it because I see how they behave in this world and because of what they do to God´s creation. But God loves this world. Not his selected parts but he loves his creation. There are sects which don´t want to have anything in common with this world. God loves this world, he loves Nicodemus, although it is so hard for him to believe and to be born again, he loves me and he loves you and he gives his son to connect this world with his kingdom. Because we were not able, we had our fears and prejudices, he gave his son. And his son was lifted up first to the wood of the cross and then from this Earth to heaven. For us, for those who wanted to be part of his realm but did not know how and are afraid almost all the time.

Trinity – a complicated theological term to think about. But not so hard when you enter it through God´s grace. Yes we are like Nicodemus, children of many worlds influenced by many thoughts and fears. But all this is covered. By the father who is above us, by the Spirit who finds home in our hearts and by Jesus Christ who connects the children of human parents with the heavenly father. Amen

Sunday, 4th June 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Some people mark Pentecost as the birthday of the church. The birth marks a new life and the new life is always associated with the human rights of a newborn human being. We are so sensitive about the rights of our children and about our own rights that sometimes it is too much.

How do we see the church and how is the church seen from outside. In our reading we have the first report of how people had seen the church: “These people are drunk.” To be honest we have to say that sometimes it is true, sometimes the church was too proud of itself, too selfish that it claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit as its own property…although we know from the Bible that the Spirit is not tied to our institutions but as the wind the Spirit blows wherever it wishes. When we are so proud and when we think that we own the Spirit, then the judgement of people would be right, we are drunk with our pride.

But if we want to celebrate the birth of the church we should also consider the conception itself. What had happened before the disciples received the gift of the Holy spirit? They had received a command from Jesus to go back to Jerusalem. Quite a deep meaning although it may seem a marginal point of the whole story, but if there was not  such a command the disciples would be staring to heaven, it would really seem to be the state of drunkenness. To go to Jerusalem is the central point of Jesus´ story and it is also the central point of the Acts of apostles. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. He died for our sins. Ephesians says: “By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God. So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him.”

Christ preached the peace. And he wants his people to be attracted by that peace. The word Jerusalem means: the seat of the peace or the place of the peace. St. Jerome translates the name as “the vision of the peace”. The gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be received at any place it has to be received in Jerusalem – at the place of peace. People in the church think that the Spirit comes somehow automatically. Like a package which you can buy in a store 2+1 free – that is like the trinity but you don´t have to pay for the extra piece. But conditions for such a high gift are strictly given, it is not our human nor religious right to receive the Spirit. The condition is that we have to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and once we are there we have to do everything for his peace as he did for our peace.

Also you can see that besides Jesus´ disciples there were lots of Jews in Jerusalem. Originally it was supposed to be the Harvest festival which over the centuries changed into the day when Jews remembered the gift of the Law.

Forget for a while that you are in Annan (or in Eastriggs) but imagine that you are in Jerusalem in Jesus´ time – 50 days after Easter. Probably at the Temple, at places where lambs had been sacrificed or at Golgotha where Jesus had been crucified. Or you are near to the Holy of Holies – where the ark of covenant was stored together with the commandments. At such places people go silent like when you enter a beautiful cathedral. And suddenly you know that only if you take all of it seriously, quietly and patiently something will happen in your heart. The gift of the Holy spirit is a gift of God´s grace but it is given only to those who have their share in God´s peace and who do everything possible to establish the peace. In the New Testament we have examples of Christian communities where God´s spirit was not present. Although they spoke about spiritual gifts we can read between the lines the message of separation and partition. The Apostle Paul addresses these words to the community in Corinth which is boasting of their spiritual gifts: “ I may have everything but if I have no love, I am nothing”.   And he says further: “Love is patient, love is kind.” It doesn´t really matter we can substitute love for peace and peace for love, because in the biblical context “the peace” is the sum of all positive things which are included into our faith. Love and peace are absolute terms.

In the Old testament we have read the story about the tower of Babylon. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to build something great. But it is wrong when people want to make a name for themselves. In their eyes people built the tower which should have reached the heavens and trap God. But instead the story we read in the Bible is rather comical and funny. God has to step down to see the tower and its people. And the result is that no one understands anyone.

The gift of the Holy spirit is present when people¨subordinate” everything to God´s peace and to his law. I think everyone can speak from his/her own experience. Places where people favour themselves at the expense of others are not places of the Holy spirit. Places where some people talk only to some people but are not able to talk to anybody are not places of the Holy Spirit. Big projects also do not mean that we are on the right track.

It would be so easy to find examples in todays´world. I would say it is too easy, but also too tempting to name how others are wrong and we are right. But it would only be another obstacle for God´s kingdom and the Holy spirit to come.

Let´s take it from the other side. It is a big opportunity for ourselves, for our congregation and for everyone of us. If the Holy spirit is to be given to us we have to make our journey to Jerusalem first. The way of peace and the way of God´s law. It will make people laugh – on both sides.  For some people it will be a funny view. How can anybody have faith in such old rubbish. Maybe they will label us as drunks. But there will also be people who will experience joy with us. There is joy aside of big projects and big speeches. Let other build their kingdoms, we are obliged to build God´s kingdom. There is no worry if we voted for the right one, because we are part of the right one.

In Babylon God descended from heavens to see the vanity of human deeds. In Jerusalem God descended to be with his people. It doesn´t really matter if the Spirit descends once as a dove and the second time as a flame. The importance is that it creates  a community of people  who are completely different. That is the sign of the Holy spirit, he connects people who would not even think about it. And even more in God´s spirit you can appreciate one who is different and despite our differences we can grow together, not to be bigger or taller but to grow together into God´s love Amen

Sunday, 14th May 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

It looks as if we have read Johns´ gospel in the reverse order. Our passage today preceeds the reading from last Sunday. But it does make sense. The topics in our passage today are much harder to understand. Jesus is talking to his disciples, their mood is the same as we had seen them in last week. They are overflowing with sadness. The Bible says that their hearts were full of sadness, so it goes very deep. It is not only a feeling, but their sadness controls their life. The heart is not just one organ in the body, but in the Bible it represents the whole life.

Sadness –  It is a situation which you cannot improve by telling someone jokes or watch a comedy on the TV, sometimes people get themselves into a state which controls their whole life. There is a doctor in our country and he says: “We are continually working on our sadness and depression.” Every day we add to our hearts so much bad news that some people just cannot handle it. His solution is to do everything in a positive way. And he says, reporters should start right away, there are so many good news stories in our world but we do not speak about them, no-one pays attention. Because it seems, that it is hard to sell good information. You know, you can better sell news that someone was hit by a car than for example information that someone cleaned a street. But the neurologist says that you can train your brain, you can tune your brain that it will accept and search automatically for “good” information and it will change your whole attitude to life.

Sadness – Into such a situation Jesus speaks and he says: “But I am telling you the truth”. Pontius Pilate asks Jesus: “What is the truth”. But Jesus does not reply. There is no need to tell the governor what is the truth, because Pontius Pilate has his truth, he can decide what the truth is and he will act accordingly to what is most useful to him. So when the people call: “crucify him”, he will do it, because at that very moment he sees that as the only way. In our world today everyone has his/her own truth. To intrude on someone’s truth means that you can be liable to be tried in court because you violated someone’s freedom and rights There are also different truths among different religions and that leads people to fight against each other.

Jesus introduces a little bit different truth. First and this is important, the truth is a reaction to the disciples´ sadness. Your hearts are sad, but I will tell you the truth. You are sad, BUT here is the truth. The reality which we experience and sometimes find hard to bear is not the truth. We think otherwise, we think that everything that we perceive is the most important thing in the world. Example. We have an expression in Czech: “To throw someone´s toys into the sewers”. I had my favourite toy, it was a model Trabant – you know Trabant – a car which was produced in East Germany, double-cycle engine, special sound and special smell. I had received a model of this car from my grandfather. One day we had visitors in our house and the family had a boy of my age and he loved the car so my mother said: “OK, you can take it”. And he did. My world collapsed. I was betrayed and my truth was that I believed that in that moment I was the most miserable person on Earth. Even today when I go to a toystore I always check to see if they have a similar toy. The disciples think that there is no-one sadder in the whole world than they are. Jesus says to them, BUT I TELL YOU THE TRUTH. Their sadness, although they think so, is not the truth. The truth is that Jesus goes to the father. The truth is not about our feelings and our convictions, but the truth is what Jesus does and did. The truth is not that my mother gave my favourite toy to a stranger and so she damaged her son forever, but the truth is that I do not rely on my feelings because Jesus went to heaven and he did it for me. And it is the same with all our scars and wounds, yes we have them on our bodies and sometimes we feel them as if they were fresh, but the truth is that Jesus went to the father and he did it for us.

I will explain. Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1843 in Edinburgh. In 1876 he patented his invention of the telephone. The first words transmitted through a phone-line were: “Mr. Watson come here, I want to see you”. The line was established. In 1976 our family applied for a phoneline, but we never got it. But the line between God and man was established and is working and that is the truth. Thanks to Jesus we can call to heaven and thanks to Jesus heaven replies. God cares about us more than we think. The truth in the Bible is always this connection to God, but we as people think that the truth is only what we experience here. That is our biggest mistake. If we turned our heads to the throne where our heavenly father sits with Jesus we would find a solution for our lives. There would not have been any need for any religious wars and quarrels. If Muslims turned to God they would not need to solder together bombs, If the Christian world did it there wouldn´t have been any need for military interventions.  Dear brothers and sisters we say it in every prayer. There is a little word at the end of each prayer. We always say AMEN there. Some people think that it is the full stop of our prayer. No, it is a Hebrew word which means the truth. God I am calling you and this is my message, I believe in you and I hope you will reply – Amen, confirmed, this is the truth, the connection was established. That is what Jesus did, you will never be alone, even in the hour of your death.

When Jesus leaves, the Helper (according to GNB) is sent. Some Translations use the expression Advocate, but at the same time they issue a warning, because advocates today rarely defend the truth. We know that the Bible speaks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let´s say an operator in our modern language. Because he will teach us how to keep the connection with heaven – God and Jesus. He has a manual where he explains the basic things. First he explains what is sin. There is a lot of confusion about elementary things. People think that sin is when people break laws or rules. That is a mistake. To violate rules is the consequence of sin. Jesus says that sin is when people do not believe in him, when they turn away from God. When there is no connection between God and a human then there is the sin and the sin is followed by complete chaos, and also by sadness in peoples´ hearts.

The operator explains what is right and what is justice or righteousness. Jesus repeats himself, righteousness is that he goes to the father that this connection between man and God is possible again. In biblical terms salvation is basically the restoration of creation. Some Christians when they talk about salvation put too much emphasis on punishment and rejection. But salvation is and always has been about God who lives among his people.

And finally the Holy Spirit assures us that the ruler of this world has already lost. He still rules and he has his followers but he has already lost. There are really two sides, but the bad one lost his case when Jesus died on the cross. In my hometown they built a new church a few years ago and they wanted to place a modern symbol on the wall which would speak to the people. One of the artists put a black and white circle on the wall. It caused controversy in the congregation. Christians should live with the conviction that the ruler of this world is defeated and was judged. It is not a fight between two realms, the black king lost his battle. The disciples were full of sadness because they thought that the ruler and also the rulers of this world would have power over them. But the one who ascended to the father has all the power.

Dear brothers and sisters we live our lives and sometimes we are up, sometimes down. But Jesus talks to his disciples to assure them that it was also decided about us. We belong to heaven, to God and God employs all his powers to lead us from our despair to real hope and a real home.

Sunday, 7th May 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Time is very important. No-one could have passed a philosophy exam in our seminary if he did not know how to explain the problem of time. They say time is the fourth dimension of existence, the fourth dimension of any existence. Maybe it is the only dimension of an existence.

I remember that in our basic school there was a banner which said: “With the Soviet Union for eternal times and never otherwise”. As churchgoers we were scared, because our ministers spoke about eternity all the time but nobody knew exactly what it meant.

Eternity lasts exactly for 25 years. We know it so precisely because the Russians came in 1968 and left in 1993. Or if the Bolsheviks and the communists are identical then eternity is approximately 42 years.

At school last week my daughter was running a mile. She came home and she asked: “Daddy how long  did it take you to run a mile when you were my age. I replied immediately: “Precisely two minutes”. For a brief moment I saw in her eyes that she admires me but she concluded. “No-one can run a mile in two minutes”. And that nice feeling that my daughter admires me was gone.

The third story.  I remember my holidays with my grand-parents in the highlands. You know sometimes children are a bit foolish and then they come crying with their bruised knees. My grand-mother used to say: “It will heal itself before you get married”. I do not know if she thought that a vision of marriage would distract one from the pain, but she was right. It healed itself.

Jesus speaks to his disciples, he speaks also to us and it is quite painful for them. “In a little while you will not see me anymore, and then a little while later you will see me”. He does not mention eternity but for the disciples his saying is like eternity. Basically Jesus speaks about the time and the disciples do not want to hear about it, because when you talk like this our brain realizes that a change is imminent and inevitable. What does it mean “a little while”. In five verses this expression appears six times. When something is repeated again and again it is like the opening of old wounds. The disciples are upset.

Because “in little while their friend” will be gone, somewhere else – not here with us. They will lose their master, rabbi, teacher, doctor, priest and friend. No-one wants to be alone and no-one survives alone. He will be gone. What is it? A test that we are mature? It also means that we will be on our own?

Sometimes we think: “Jesus, this little while when you are gone is like an eternity”. When we lose someone – child, partner, friend, we cry to God: “Where are you, why aren´t you with us, when it hurts so”. You know that in such situations answers like , “it will heal itself, time will heal it, it doesn´t help much”. Where are you, God? Mary and Martha were complaining like this when Lazarus died. If you had been here it would never have happened.

When we are ill, when doctors tell us that it won´t be the same as before…if there is any future at all. It is hard. Where are you, have you forsaken me?

The Disciples feel that great pressure from Jesus´speech, we feel it also, no need to repeat it six times, we know what it is about.

I wonder if Jesus´reply “in a little while you will see me again helps”. Absence is just absence and you can hardly satisfy the disciples with any saying when Jesus is really going to leave them. We run a cat´s business at home I called it so, because our cat has always to have a kitten because they are so lovely for our children. When you take a cat from their kitten you can see exactly the same reaction as the one of the disciples´. Especially when kittens are blind you can see how they are sniffing everywhere and if they don´t find their mother they start to cry.

But Jesus has a good reason for it and he explains it to the disciples. Actually, Jesus by leaving opens a whole new world for the disciples, a world which they had not known before – a world of working faith and trust.

That very day the father will give you whatever you ask him for in my name. So we are not left behind like orphans, but there is great support from the fathers side. We must carefully examine what it means. First, things are not happening by accident. The sentence has a precise setting. The day – the day when Jesus is not here, we ask the father. Prayers go to the father, we communicate with him directly, the words of a prayer are not pronounced into endless space, but they are meant to be delivered – they go to the father. Some people pray as if they did not put an address on their letter. We know whom we are asking – the father – the God almighty. How do we ask? In Jesus´ name. That is the reason why Jesus left us. If he was with us it wouldn´t make sense to ask in his name. Our prayers go to the father in Jesus´ name where Jesus himself, confirms our identity. Isn´t it a little bit complicated? No it isn´t. It is like your passport! In my passport it is written: “This citizen is under the protection of the Czech republic. Prayer in Jesus´ name is exactly the same. This God´s child is under the protection of Jesus. Our identity is checked and it is confirmed – yes, Jesus died for him and was raised for him. And then the heavenly forces of fast reaction go in to action. I know you feel that I simplify here a little bit but I think you understand me. Thanks to Jesus and his name, we are always under God´s protection and grace.

But the sentence has not only one way of being translated, it can also be said: “And in Jesus name God will give you what you have asked for. God is always acting but his response can sometimes be a little bit different to what we were expecting.  Also, God gives in Jesus´ name. Sometimes our lives are similar to Jesus´ life and they should be, but when we suffer we think it is too much. But don´t worry, this text assures us that God is really in Christ with us.

Where in the text can we find the proof about God´s presence and his acting on our behalf? Jesus says: You will cry and the world will be glad. But it will change suddenly. Last Friday I watched TV. We played Ice-hockey against Canada. We lost 4:1 – what a national tragedy. But even worse. These days in our country the government is falling. I also watched that on TV and there was our president who calls himself a small Trump – and he was enjoying the moment and publicly he was insulting almost everyone. The world will be glad, but only to one moment when God says enough. Then all those who were crying almost losing their faith they will rejoice. The others?! God knows, but there will be a sudden change!

Instead of listening to my stories listen to what Jesus says. “When a woman is about to give birth she is sad because of her suffering but when the baby is born she forgets the suffering.” That is precisely it: to have a reason to forget the suffering. I think everything that we experience here counts. Some experiences are not very happy ones. When seconds are longer than hours and hours are as  long as years. But imagine that the day is coming when joys will be so great that to remember our losses will not have any meaning. That is why Jesus speaks about a little while – time when we were under pressure will be called little because we can compare it with the glory which God prepared for us.

There are things, disasters in this world which we cannot explain. Children who died before they reached school age, famine, disasters of so many kinds – no, we cannot speak about its meaning, but we can have trust in Jesus Christ. For a little time, we cannot see his glory but one day it will come and for all who called God the father it will come with such joy that no one will remember the past of suffering.

Dear brothers and sister, what you carry, carry with courage and prayer to God the Father, in Jesus´name and be assured that the day of joy which is greater than anything else will come. Amen.

Sunday, 30th April, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

when we came to Scotland we saw sheep on almost every hill. I wondered how or if anyone can count all of them. It looked like no-one really cares for them, they do whatever they want. Finally I found out that every or almost every sheep has a colour sprayed on its back. Some of them have a number. Our chapter tells us that Jesus knows every sheep by its name and he calls every sheep by its name. And the sheep recognizes the shepherds voice. Only the shepherd knows them precisely by name.

Today we read the passage which was a typical reading in the old church for the second Sunday after Easter. They called this Sunday “Misericordias Domini” which means “the Mercy of the Lord”. I will repeat its Latin name “Misericordias Domini”. Actually you can hear three words there. The first one is “misery” – the Latin word for suffering, the second word is “Cordia” the heart, the third one is “Domini” – the Lord. The name and theme of this Sunday tells us that God truly carries everything with us and for us – all our suffering and he does it with all his heart, like a loving father with his compassion.

And our passage explains what God does and who is the shepherd so that we may know him better. I am the good shepherd! Only a few words but a huge meaning. “I am” recalls the time when Moses stood in front of the burning bush and heard the voice. We all know this story because our church has as its symbol the burning bush. When Moses asks God about his name, God replies “I am who I am”. Compare both situations. Israel was to be saved from Egypt when we hear God´s “I am” for the first time in the Bible. Jesus says his “I am” to the twelve (before the crucifixion) because the situation is probably very similar. Although the disciples live in the promised land, human life is the life which needs to be saved.

So Jesus speaks to his disciples in a similar manner as God spoke to Moses. Jesus´ “I am!” is the assurance of his faithfulness to the people. “I am who I am” – I am always the same and I am here for you and with you. The fact that Jesus speaks in the first person also means a lot. God always speaks in the first person, he speaks face to face, he acts personally, it is not an accident. He is not merged, mixed with nature – although we can see his creation in nature, God is unique and he is the one. To live with God means to live before his face – not, as some people think, carry in our heart some kind of a feeling about him. Or if you asked people in the Czech republic whether they believe in God they would answer: “Yes, we believe that there is something above us”. But the problem is that God does not want to be something – he is the one, he is “I am”. We can meet him in person.

When we are in trouble we always want to have someone close. When I was afraid I always wanted my parents to be in my reach. They tried to raise me so that I would be a mature person but despite their efforts it will always remain that  they are my parents – a safe harbour. And we see Jesus now that he offers himself to us right now and like this – it is said in the expression “I AM”. The time after Jesus resurrection is the time of expectations and also a time of fears. And whenever the disciples are afraid Jesus appears in their midst. HE IS THERE. We read about it on the last two Sundays.

And Jesus says “I am the good shepherd”. Hellenistic society also used the image of the shepherd. It was also a figure of a man who was carrying a sheep on his shoulders or in his arms. But the difference was that the Hellenistic shepherd carried the sheep to be sacrificed. People in Jesus´times knew what it meant, that someone had to be sacrificed.

But Jesus says I am the good shepherd. The Bible says that only God is good and Jesus confirms that at one place when he says: “Do not call me Good, only God can be called good. But here it is connected with the image of the shepherd. Jesus speaks about himself as the GOOD SHEPHERD. I am the good shepherd. The Good shepherd never kills or sacrifices his sheep. Jesus´disciples can get to know Jesus as the good lord. From the Bible we are used to a different image of the shepherd than people knew in the Greek-Roman world. Our shepherd is really the loving one.

When there was the first persecution of Christians, they gathered secretly in catacombs and very often in such places there is the image of the good shepherd. The world wanted to eliminate Christians. The only hope for Christians was the good shepherd who would never ever harm his sheep.

I know nothing about sheep, but they told us in the seminary that sheep, contrary to cows for example, follow their shepherd. From what I understood cows have to be chased, sheep always follow.

Germans have an old story about a rat-catcher from Hameln. They say it is based on events which happened in 13th century in Germany. The rat-catcher played his flute – whistle so that all the rats followed the voice of the instrument, when the mayor from Hameln saw it he wanted to hire the man. The town council in Hameln promised to pay the rat-catcher money for cleaning their town of rats. When the rat-catcher did it they refused to pay him his wage. So the rat-catcher started to play his flute again but this time all the children from the town followed him and he lead them into the river where they all died. There are so many voices telling us to follow them.

As it is before elections I wonder which voice will be so attractive and strong to people that they will follow. Jesus is not a hired man, he never leaves his flock. It is interesting that those who once promised to lead the whole nation in times of crisis simply resign and leave the whole flock on its own or there are other sheep which can be deserted because they are not from our sheepfold.

The Gospel speaks plainly. The hired men consider only two things. The first thing is the profit. When you cannot have a profit from the sheep it is time to leave them. Which happens frequently, it is the rule of business – go where you can earn something. We all have such side thoughts. Even ministers sometimes do, they sometimes pick a position which fits them better. Some ministers consider the flock´s pedigree and that is the motivation for them to decide. The second thing is fear and danger. In Czech we have the saying “to see a danger around every corner”. The gospel does not speak about conflict yet, Jesus says: “when hired shepherds see a wolf”. One wolf is not any danger our false expectations are much more dangerous. There can be an idea in our minds that the  whole world is full of wolves, so we give up and it is time to run.

Why is Jesus so persistent? He also has two reasons. First – the sheep belong to him, they are his own. I admire the sentiment of the passage, he speaks about the sheep more as a family than a means of livelihood.

And the second reason is the intimate knowledge.  Knowledge which spreads into all sides. In the first place: “As the father knows me I know the father”. In the Bible the knowing does not mean to have the information – it means relationship, experience  – to know deeply and also to appreciate. Father and son – it is not surprising, but what is surprising is that he also knows us in the same way as he knows the father and we also know him or we can know him in the same way. Jesus offers the same bond to us as it is between him and the father.

All pastors who preach this Sunday from this passage have to speak about such great love and the mercy of Jesus. He knows you and me and he knows all our joys which we are ready to share with others but he also knows about all our losses which we do not dare to speak about. And he is there right with us. And he is willing to give his life for us.

Dear brothers and sisters sometimes the Bible speaks about Jesus´ sacrifice as if it was something which had to be done. But here in John´s Gospel the bible says – not because of necessity, not because it had to be so. But simply because there is such a love of the one who wants to be with you and me. Amen

 Sunday, 23rd April, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
there are two stories put together here – Jesus reveals himself to his disciples and then he shows himself to Thomas. The connection between them is the span of one week. It is interesting that one week after the resurrection we get almost to the same situation. It looks like nothing had changed. The Disciples still gather behind a closed door. They had experienced the resurrected Jesus, but they are still afraid.

Fear is one of the topics of today’s´ passage. The disciples are afraid that when they open the door there will be a soldier, a guard, a policeman behind the door and they will all be caught and brought before trial and judged and then executed. For me seeing the uniform of a policeman makes me scared…always. I would rather take a hundred miles long detour than I ask a policemen which way to go (and also it is a shame to ask someone for directions in front of your wife). It is something which I have deeply rooted under my skin. It is how I was raised, what my parents explained to me was that any official was always connected to the regime.

For John the fear is exactly the opposite to faith. John does not mention this story because the disciples have a lack of knowledge of Jesus, or they are unbelieving in the intellectual or religious sense, but he mentions it because they are afraid. Because of their fear they lock the door behind themselves.

Do we have faith or are we afraid of something? On a personal level. What are we afraid of? Do people live more behind locked doors now than they did in the past? Is it because they are busy and they need some rest or because they are afraid of others or is it the combination of both.

We live in an age of information. There are countless ways to communicate with others. The internet offers to share much information – some people like it because (they believe) it makes them more anonymous, some people present their selfies but they would rarely meet others in person, some even share their feelings with people they do not know. Does it say something about our fears? It is not courage rather than fear to meet face to face and to be responsible for our life. Do we think that our screens protect us from an intrusion of others?

The disciples believed that the locked door will save them from the danger of their world, they think it will save their lives. Actually as they buried Jesus one week ago they are now burying themselves.

There was a questionnaire a long time ago. They asked children if they knew what a cow looks like.  Some children had never seen a cow and there was an advertisement about Nestle chocolate at that time and as you know all cows in Nestle are blue, so children said that cows are blue. Enjoy the world of blue cows. We are afraid of things we have never seen. We do not enter the real world.

We love the series about Mr. Monk in our family. And at one part the hands of Mr. Monk got dirty and he cries: Ah, I got nature, I got nature on my hand! (Natalie – his assistant wipes off the dirt with a leaf) What are you doing? You can’t clean nature with nature!
At the final point we are afraid of illnesses and death. When we talk about terrorism we want to protect ourselves…..by better defence, by closing our borders, by restricting all religions. Do we realize that we live in a state of  constant fear. I am not talking about the solution but about the things we all experience. And people who live under the dictation of fear will end up sooner or later in a madhouse.

Dear friends, brothers and sisters – not our doubts but fear is the a real killer of our faith and life. I am not perfect either and I suffer from fear like all Jesus´ disciples. But notice, Jesus is not giving up on the disciples and week after week he comes to them. It is like treatment – every week every Sunday he comes to his disciples and he tells them: „Peace be with you“. He comes through the closed door and he says what we need to hear most: „Peace be with you“. Do you remember last Sunday’s message, he told the women: „Go and tell, especially Peter“. Now he comes to all of them and says: „ Peace be with you all“. There is a solution – not a closed door, not a bunker, not a safe in a bank…but the peace of the Lord. As the father sent me, I send you also“.

Heaven knows that life is not easy and it leads us through a cross, but as the father sent Jesus and raised him he promises the same to us. It is about life….John´s  gospel does not wait until Pentecost but Jesus is giving the Holy Spirit to his disciples right now. Because the Holy Spirit symbolizes life itself – life which is grounded in God´s mercy.

And Jesus also gives good advice on how to keep his peace among people. He gives a commandment: „Forgive people´s sins“. The Church concluded that Jesus gave the right to forgive to the institution, so the church started to sell indulgences. But only God can forgive sins. But God is willing to forgive everyone, his son died on the cross, it is an irrefutable sign that God is ready to forgive. But how about the people? Are we ready to forgive? We should be ready to do it. Because if we don´t do it then our sins won´t be forgiven, not only here, but also in heaven. Some translations say, if you do not forgive then sins will be retained….you know like a bad smelling backwater. Jesus´ commandment is very practical. If you want to step out of your door there has to be fresh air among people. On the international level it is so visible that our leaders are not ready to forgive, they wear nice suits, drive nice cars, eat the best meals, but their souls are so dirty and they say let the other take the first step. But also in our families how hard it is to say: „I am sorry, forgive me“. You know it is not a question of who is right or wrong, because we are all wrong, there is only the question if we want to live in Jesus´ peace or in the dump of our sins. The question if we were right is not at stake, God was right about us. So if you can then forgive, then everything else clears out at least a little bit.

Talking about the truth we jump right into the story of Thomas. Thomas is a hero of the faith. Why? Because he has a problem accepting what people say. His brothers in faith have disappointed him many times. They told him now “we have seen the Lord“. The problem with the disciples is that they often claimed many things in the name of their faith that now it is hard to believe them. You know, it is a warning also for us. There doesn´t have to be a problem with the people we are talking to as the church, but there can be problem with us. We have said so many important things but which of them were meant seriously? Thomas was the only disciple ready to die with Jesus and he had confirmed that before the crucifixion. When Lazarus died all the disciples kept Jesus back to go to see Lazarus because they smelled their own death in the air. Only Thomas said. Let´s go and if  we are to die with Jesus then we will die.

Now Thomas expresses what he thinks about the witness of his friends: „Sorry but your words are not reliable, the only thing which can convince me is, if I can put my fingers to his scars“. Thomas is calling for a direct contact with Jesus. Disciples, church buildings, statues, famous names, titles are not good enough for me I want to meet Jesus. There should be a little Thomas in everyone’s soul. Speeches are nice but I need an experience of faith and that is it. One day my session received a letter from one of my parishioners and there was written: „The sermons of our minister Mr. Penaz are completely uninspiring and false. Our dear brothers and sisters, what a blessing because you can feel behind it the beginning of real faith – do not trust your minister but trust Jesus only – in the Holy spirit, of course.

But back to Jesus´ scars. Have you tried it sometimes? I did not. Even when I fell from my bicycle I didn´t clean  my wound, I was afraid even to pull off a plaster from my skin. But Thomas is asking for a direct contact with Jesus – we can say where meat meets meat. But when he saw Jesus he did not need any proof. Because faith finally doesn´t need any proof.

How wonderful it is to see
a messenger coming across the mountains,
bringing good news, the news of peace!
He announces victory and says to Zion,
“Your God is king!”

How wonderful it is to see
Jesus coming to the midst of his disciples
he is bringing good news, the news of peace, forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit!
He announces victory
although the door is closed
although there is a lot of Thomas, Peter and Judas in our hearts.
Peace be with you always my dear brothers and sisters.

Amen

Sunday, 16th April, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

as the Bible says it is the first day after the Saturday. Life goes back to normal and the women go back to Jesus´grave. Of course no-one erased their memories of Jesus, they grieve but life goes on. Actually even the Saturday itself passed by traditionally. Everyone observed the holiday even those who loved Jesus, his disciples (although may be somewhere hidden).  You can see that the women think practically: “ Who will roll away the stone”. Natural laws are valid again. We have to get along with our loss somehow. Those who mourn will get back to normal life.

But there is never enough surprises! The Good News Bible teaches us that Mark´s gospel ended originally with today´s story. – right after verse eight. At the end of their journey the women found not one but a collection of surprises. The whole situation leaves them terrified again, fear overrules them once more. Is it good or bad that someone added a good ending to the gospel?

Originally evangelist Mark left the end open. Why did he do that? His disciples, Mark´s disciples cannot bear such a situation and they added a happy ending. Actually there are more different endings to Mark´s Gospel. But Mark himself leaves only a big question mark.

Do you like open endings? What does open endings mean? Open endings mean that you can enter the story and you can finish it. The story is open for you and only you will write the final chapter. Was Jesus raised from the dead. You tell me, what do you think?

I like the way Mark wrote his Gospel. You know that in the last days there were nerves, tensions, mutual accusations about who is responsible for Jesus´death, who is the traitor, who is Judas, who is Peter.

I like Mark´s calmness. From his approach you can see, that he has experience with Jesus. He is not scared, nor afraid about what people will do to his Gospel, because he knows that everything will be all right. He knows that because everything is in Jesus´ hands and no-one can reverse God´s will. And he does us a great service, he leaves the end open to let everyone finish what Jesus had prepared for us.

But before we enter it, let´s go back to those women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. However Mark is not afraid, they are afraid – the stone is too heavy for us. Even three of us cannot move it. My wife says that when she is driving a car she is afraid of things ahead. She solves traffic situations in her head before she gets there. We all do it sometimes. To be prepared ahead is good, but sometimes it is the beginning of our fears. Those women are scared. However they are right about one point even their company cannot solve the problem. Do you remember Jesus´ saying? “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them and whatever they will ask for in my name I will give it to them”. When the church buries Jesus Christ then everything between him and us is a tombstone and we cannot move it. Wherever the church becomes just a good company of nice people who have only nice moral standards sooner or later it will be obvious that the living Jesus is missing and fear will take over. By some miracle the stone was removed, not because of our merits but God did it, God raised Jesus from the dead.

Second – the women met an angel. Actually it was a young man. Quite a realistic description compared to what we read for example in Matthew.  Matthew speaks about an angel, but Mark speaks about a young man. The witness about Jesus can come from someone with an ordinary appearance, it doesn´t need to be ecstatic, packed in a special religious coat. When Jesus walked on this earth people cried for miracles and may be a special experience. The message is a simple assurance: “He is not here, he was raised”.

Third – tell it to others, especially to Peter. It is good news for others, especially for those whose conscience and faith and confidence have stumbled so many times in the past days. Tell it especially to the ones who lost courage and faith, who failed. The message of resurrection is aimed directly at the heart of those who are broken.

Fourth – show them where to go. The young man said: “Jesus, goes to Galilee ahead of you”. There is a book of travels from the 17th century where the author enthusiastically tells his readers that  he discovered that Galilee is a pub which existed near Jerusalem in Jesus´times. I know quite a good number of my colleagues who probably read the traveloque, a pub  is their favourite meeting place.  But the appeal to us is a little bit different. Know the geography of your life. And mark there the place where you can meet with Jesus. The place for meeting with Jesus is above everything for the  disciples. Solo Christianity doesn´t exist or if it exists it is not very convincing and supportive, but it is selfish enough. Jesus will meet the disciples…again where two or three will be together. Jesus is expecting us to come to such a place, he went there ahead, he is waiting there.

The women left the place and ran away and said nothing. After seventeen years of ministry I have learned one thing. When people are talkative they are probably OK, but when someone is silent then  you have to be very careful. Because behind the silence there is a story, which hits the heart very strongly. And that is what happened to those women. Silent women what a rare situation. But it is here. They told no-one, may be with one exception….may be to Mark? Who knows. The later addition to the story opens their mouths but for now they are silent. Silent women is for me the proof of an unusual story. You know like soldiers on the frontline who saw the difference between life and death.

When you listened to our first reading you heard Peter saying: “And he commanded us to preach the Good News, to testify that God raised him from the dead”. His confidence as a disciple is back.

Open story? Not exactly. It is your story. We will celebrate the Lord´s table. The assurance that Jesus was crucified for us, but we have gathered here to witness his resurrection. Are you afraid? There are moments in our lives when we are scared but there is one certainty that Jesus loves us. Tell it especially to Peter…you can put your name there – the message of resurrection is here for you. And what you received you will share with others. Amen

Sunday, 26th March, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Jesus is a good shepherd, isn´t he? He prepares a banquet and he fills the cup for us. But what does it mean to follow him? The Disciples follow Jesus and the gospel of John tells us that Jesus gives a lesson to his disciples. They went up a hill and the disciples sat around him. That is the picture of a Jewish school. This picture is not in the Bible only once. It has been there since Moses´ time.

These days I very often hear that children have to enjoy school in the first place. Yes, the disciples want to also enjoy it so they gladly accept what Jesus provides. My daughters go to the  Academy and they receive their grades for their presence in school and for their homework. There is almost no testing. Because testing is so stressful, isn´t it?

But Jesus is an old type of teacher and he tests his pupils. His miracles draw a large crowd of people and they expect to see another miracle, possibly performed on the members of their family or they just want to see another unusual show. It is a test. When the number reaches 5000 a question is on the table. How are you going to feed them? A school is a place where teachers create model situations and the disciples would one day have to handle similar situations in the real world.  Right after the class there is a real situation. 5000 men! How are you going to feed them?

One disciples says: “I would take Obama care from them. Those losers do not deserve anything from our pockets.

The other disciple named Hungary says: “I will build a wall so that no-more people can come”.

The third disciple Donald says: “Yes the wall is a good idea, I would throw those illegal immigrants over the wall and while they are flying over I would shout at them “you are going to pay for the wall”.

The fourth disciple with the name Turkey says: “You know runaways are welcome, every day I will send 15 thousand to my opponents and enemies, if they don´t pay me enough for keeping them.

The fifth disciple  his name is Czech says: “I don´t bother with them, I will pretend that I am even more hungry than they are and they will go to Germany.”

Sixth disciple Angela says: “Let them come they will do the jobs which are too dirty for our people.” Will the work which is done for a spoilt nation be satisfactory and set free the second or the third generation of runaways?

The seventh disciple Syria says: “I will show them what the word war means.

And we can continue and we reach the disciple named Philip. Philip is a top-student, because compared to the others he can count. He says: “I have found out, that even 200 denarius is not enough”.

Even the largest sum of money is not enough. Money may be required but the people came for more, for the miracle and the blessing.

I remember once we made our teacher so angry that she gave us a hard test at the next lesson. We all failed. We all received 5 which was the worst evaluation in our school. And the top student received, it was a she, a mark of 3 – it is not the worst and not the best. I can tell you I would rather have failed the test because to receive a 3 – which is average – was shame in our family. And I hated such afternoons when I came home and I had to tell my parents. I can hear my parents like it was today: “Oh, Petr look at your sister, she never receives average grades in school” .

Philip did not succeed either. Money was not the solution even if he had had 1000 denarius. Did anybody tell that to our Christian world: “Money is are not the solution”? It solves only one side of the problem – people are hungry, you can feed them once but if they do not get what they came for the situation will be here again.

But the test is also hard for us, because Jesus says, YOU – how are YOU going to feed them. The people originally did not come with empty stomachs but with empty souls. It is the hunger in human souls which is much more painful and which causes people to go in huge crowds to the wilderness – far from their homes. But we usually follow things which are a problem for us now.

How are you going to solve the problem. Jesus expects that his disciples can act independently outside of religious phrases and that they can give different solutions than the world can give.

Finally the last disciple is closer to the truth than anyone else. Andrew brought to Jesus a boy who has five loaves of bread and two fish. All the smart people in our world know that it is not enough. But somewhere in the background there is a faith that with God the crisis can be solved,that it can be enough.

From this moment follow carefully what it is really necessary to feed the multitudes.

First, there has to be someone who is willing to sacrifice something. I can imagine that there were more people in the crowd who carried more than the boy, but the boy was ready to give his food to others. One boy, five loaves and two fish -too small, too little but a great example.

Second, there has to be someone who knows that before we distribute those things they have to be taken to Jesus – for several reasons – the main reason is that our human logic in such cases is not enough.

Third – watch Jesus even more closely. There has to be order in our affairs. Presbyterians have talked about order for ages. Nothing is mocked more these days than order itself, because people think they have the right to do anything. Jesus ordered his disciples to sit people down. It looks like the situation in better restaurants but basically Jesus ordered the people to create a military formation. If you want to deal with a big crowd of people there has to be order. Then I do not understand one thing, why are ministers always moderators of their sessions if it is matter of keeping order. My home church discovered one important thing, the church cannot entrust money to their ministers, because it always ends in chaos. By the way – it is also the reason for ministers being married. Seriously speaking – have you noticed why Paul introduced the order of the Lord´s supper – because the situation began to be chaotic in the first church. The fact that we eat bread and drink wine is based on the decision to keep things in a certain order.

And now comes the most important thing. First Jesus gave thanks to the Lord. Before the distribution of fish and bread he gave thanks to God. The feeding of the people is not a time when people should be thankful to us but we are all thankful to God. If we all, Christian, muslims, buddhist stand in front of God then all differences disappear and even more we all know that the act of feeding our souls and bodies is not only a practicality in our life but it is also worship.

The miracle is that things which we have can be shared with others. For example, at the  Lord’s supper people are always ready to share wine and bread with brother and sister. When I celebrated the Lord´s supper in the Baxter Hall there were exactly 31 pieces of bread and exactly the same number of cups – 31 people appeared. What would have happened if twice as many people had come. Everyone would have broken his/her bread and shared with his/her brother and sister and they would have done the same with the cup. We all would have been fed but not by our bread but with something which comes from heaven.

And finally after the feeding they collected twelve full baskets which were the remains that now a new situation can be on the table.

Well, I think the situation here is that people are hungry again and once again it is not enough to send them humanitarian help, it can solve the situation for the next 14 days, but if people are hungry in their souls they will be on the move again. And then what? Will we treat one another with such hate as is present in today´s world?

No we need to bring good news to the people, good news and order. We need to feed them so that they are satisfied now and for generations to come. Remember the source here is Jesus and twelve baskets of leftovers which will not expire until the last day.

After a century of unbelieving here is the time to believe. But we make one very big mistake. In the centre of our faith there is a human being – us. We concentrate on the wrong subject – not what people want to have, but God´s intentions are important.

Jesus made his disciples think – not money, not power, not quantity, not religion – but God – God alone, Christ alone – is it not the fundamental part of our faith.

Look at what people wanted to make of it in the story. Politics again. The Scripture says: “They came to Jesus and they tried to seize him to make him the king by force”. How many times do we want to play this card. The result was that Jesus went off to the hills by himself.

If we want to make a political point from the Gospel (like we did in MA or muslims do from Kuran now), Jesus will run from us to the Scottish highlands because there are sheep which can be governed by grace.

Jesus is my good shepherd and he wants me to think about it, to be independent and responsible, to be free and to be humble before God´s face.

He feeds me, he takes me to green pastures and to the pool of fresh water – on one condition, that I want to belong to him. I am  a presbyterian, a member of the Church of Scotland, but above all I am Christ´s.

He listens to me and I have to listen to his order, because his rod and staff protect me. Then I do not need to be afraid – neither hunger, nor enemies, because there is the Lord who is stronger than death itself.

Remember all this happened enlightened by Easter. If anything is missing then it is covered by Jesus´ sacrifice. Amen

Sunday, 19th March 2017

Dear brothers and dear sisters,

what a beautiful story we have heard. A man who could not hear and talk was healed, the demon was cast out from his body and soul.

The man was probably deaf and dumb although different translations usually only mention one disability. We can presume that he could not hear from birth and therefore he had never learnt to speak. He made only unarticulated sounds which made people draw the conclusion that such a person was possessed by a demon.

We say that faith comes from hearing and through our mouths we confess and praise God. So imagine that with such a disability people put this man outside of the community of believers. That is a terrible condemnation, the worst you can receive.

There is a story about a Chinese ruler who wanted to have perfect servants who did not speak and only followed his orders. So he issued an order that there would be 3000 children, they would receive all the care they needed but no-one would talk to them. All of them died, because no-one communicated with them, and they did not feel the warmth of love – it is only a story, which probably never happened, but a cruel one. Who knows, anything can happen in China.

The man from our reading was in a similar situation. Isolated from others. To be honest we all have problems listening to and also speaking. Surely women say that men´s hearing is selective, men say that women cannot be understood at all. To hear and to speak correctly has a special meaning in the Bible.

I don´t remember but it might be that we told you that in the Czech language we call Germans  “mute” or “dumb” people. Because they were people whom we could not understand. We understood all the other Slavic nations around but we did not understand Germans – so I think Germany is the only nation which we call by such a word which is not very polite but during the centuries it was accepted as a characteristic of their nation. Instead of Germans we say Dumbs.

When Jesus comes he heals the man and by this act Jesus lets the people know that this man also belongs to God. And as proof the man speaks. This is important to notice, the people also receive the proof, they can hear the man speaking. The man is back in the community of his people. No-one is excluded, the people should rejoice.

But instead they accused Jesus that he had expelled the demon in the name of Beelzebul and others want to see the proof. First I will deal with the latter because it is easier. The proof was given to them – the man spoke. But the people were asking for another miracle. The people want proof that the proof which was given to them is valid.

The Good News Bible speaks about the trap they had prepared for Jesus. I would not speak about a trap, because for Jews it had to be really proved that someone was performing miracles which come from God. But it is not a solution because people will always ask for another proof

But it is an important question for us. What is faith? Is it a list of proofs? Shouldn´t we rather concentrate on the fact that God is present and that he is acting with us?

When I came to Annan, I received the keys for the manse. You did not want to see my passport. You accepted me to your congregation without hearing my sermons, well what courage. You did not want to see any proof. Oh maybe it was not so risky because I sent all the documents to 121. But it was nice, these Scottish people trusted me that I am a minister. When I was leaving my congregation I had to sign so many documents, people from the presbytery came and checked everything – almost every hymnal, probably they were afraid that I would move half of the church to Scotland.

Our faith and trust grows out of the fact that we have experienced Jesus and God already. We have met him and he accepted us even as sinners. And when someone is so kind to you and heals you and is with you even in your death hour then there is no reason to ask for proof.

You know the gospel of Luke was written by an educated man, so it cannot use rude language but between lines it says  “Don´t you see it or why don ´t you want to see it, it is not very smart to ask for another miracle when God is acting directly with you”,

You are asking God for proof and he is standing right next to you helping one of you all the way. In the Gospel sometimes the one who is healed is not really possessed by a demon. The whole crowd here is deaf and dumb. People do not hear, do not accept and certainly they don´t speak with Jesus to honour him for what he has done.

A more serious accusation was that Jesus acted in the name of Beelzebul.  We have a saying in Czech – sometimes you have to expel the devil by Beelzebul. But Jesus creates a new and perfect life for the man who was healed. There are no side intentions, it is pure goodness.

In English you have the book “ The Lord of the flies” which is almost an exact translation of the name Beelzebul. Beelzebul was an old Philistines deity who was connected to the underworld,  Hades and because of this connection he could heal the sick.

Basically it means that having something in common with death- evil you can also perform good things. This idea is beyond the edge. The text shows us a big dilemma which we also have in our souls.

Can good things be done through evil? Can we as people do something good using bad means?

I once went to a lecture given by an old pilot. He was talking about his life in England during the 2nd world war. Someone asked him if he flew his Spitfire after the war and he said : “No, for me it was a weapon, there was no reason to fly it after the war”.

Whatever we think about big human victories and our achievements they lose their glory and their shine if something or someone good was also lost. Someone here told me about the movie “Hacksaw Ridge”. A young field medic, saved 70 soldiers but he did not carry a weapon: I like the movie, it is good to know that it was based on a real story, but also in the movie you realize that others had to protect that guy. The human life is not so black and white. These human undertakings, there is always some dirt which sticks to us. But there is real danger in sticking to the methods of the underworld.

Our old Testament reading was about Ahaziah. He and his servants died because he was asking Beelzebul for the prediction about his life. He messed with the god of the underworld. And his followers and servants and soldiers also died. Except the last group. They were begging for mercy. Because there is no other chance for us old?? humans.

We cannot label the tools of the underworld as the tools of heaven. People say that from our struggle something positive is always achieved . Beelzebul, who is he? Is he present in human actions? If so, can we finally succeed?

Jesus says: “Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart”. I know that Jesus is not talking about Brexit, nor about EU, Russia, Middle East, the US, China. But modern politics can do anything, take advantage of anything and use whatever they please.

Modern age accused Jesus for doing miracles through Beelzebul, or we marked him as useless. We see Christianity as something bad, old and obsolete but what does this post modern age want. We want to see another proof another miracle. But can you prove love, mercy and compassion?

Those who are accusing Jesus actually very often act in the name of Beelzebul themselves, although we are proclaiming humanity devilish forces are on the rise. There should be unity and love among people, but we very often see quarrels and fights and divisions. And rudeness is present everywhere.

But Jesus is defending himself by saying: “if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” That is the point, God´s kingdom is present. When you have two kingdoms next to each other the fight is unavoidable. Who is going to win? The stronger one. God´s kingdom is here, however it seems to us that it is losing the battle with Beelzebul.

Jesus pointing heals and touches, he points with his finger, by his own body he shows what is God´s grace. Even death on the cross cannot overcome him. But Jesus never uses the Devil´s weapons. Maybe for this reason it seems to us that God´s kingdom is so slow. But the truth is that God never mixes with the underworld – God is good and pure, never sitting on a warhorse, but rather on a donkey, never speaking of money but always about love, never raising his voice, but always calming our cry. God´s kingdom is here and anyone can gather with Jesus.

Sunday, 12th March

Dear brothers and sisters,

Jesus has come to a pagan territory. This story was important to the first church for several reasons. It gives an answer to who are Jews and who are Christians. Jews are God´s chosen people and it was a long time before Christians appeared on the scene. Jews are our older brothers and sisters. Are we able to bear such a situation? History proves that very often we are not able. It is like a religious competition between different streams of humankind. Jesus came and said: “I have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel and the meaning is that in the first place I have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” One of the main themes at the beginning of the Bible is who is going to receive God´s blessing. Yes there is a nation which will spend its whole existence on the frontline.  Doesn´t it need special care and blessing and protection? Of course it does.

Where we see an important  post  for us, God sees a task. So people are struggling to receive all the glory – they want to be more like celebrities, but God gives them a task – with his blessing people receive the role of servants.

Not only brothers like Jacob and Esau, but also Jesus´disciples were fighting against each other to prove that they have an important position before God.  To be jealous and at the same time selfish  is one of the worst illnesses which can touch religious hearts. It is the beginning of all religious wars and it all starts when we selfishly watch ourselves – not God himself.

This also projects onto figures who are on the scene today. The disciples in our story which takes place in Israel are in the role of Jesus´companions and they think they can even advise Jesus what he should do. But they didn´t notice that they are with Jesus and  also in a pagan territory.

They are already certain of their position and probably they are proud of themselves. But please listen to what Jesus says exactly. Readers usually concentrate on the dialogue between the  woman and Jesus and they draw conclusions from it, so they overlook what Jesus says about Israel or our disciples. “I have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel”. Sheep can be proud of their existence. A Sheep is a sheep, but what does it mean when a sheep becomes a lost sheep. It is more understandable when we say a Christian. Oh yes to be a Christian sounds so great, but when you say a lost Christian, it is the opposite meaning completely. You see the older brother – the disciple – Israel is proud, but there is not much to be proud of, he hasn´t noticed that he also needs help from God as does the younger one, like anyone else, like the woman from our story.

In the story the disciples are dominant. The woman is outnumbered. 12 to 1. Maybe it is not the main point of the story but it is good to think about it for a moment. Who has the main word in the church. In Christian history it is mostly the history of men. Yes, there are female saints but until the last century, the church did not allow women in the leadership, it will change…it is already changing…protestants and catholics as well are considering or even making changes. When the church was on the rise it was in the hands of men, when Christ was dying on the cross, mainly women remained under the cross. It is not a gender question in the story but we cannot be blind to the differences which are in our world. Jesus in the story does not create those differences but his approach shows clearly where we are.

It is clearly visible – the disciples are saying: “send her away, she is following us and making a noise”. It is quite shocking that the disciples can repel someone just to maintain their status quo or because they don´t want to draw attention to themselves

Send her away – there are two ways to do it. The first one is – to be really rude and expel that woman. The Second is to meet the need of the woman and silence her through a miracle.

Ministers know both ways, I know both ways.  When every week you have someone who is begging for money, food or clothes at the manse, one day – you can send some people away and you don´t use nice words, but what would you do, if you hear the same stories again and again. Or you can just give money or clothes to get rid of them – well it is not a miracle but it works, you don´t have to talk to anyone.

The Disciples are doing quite a dangerous thing, they want to establish a closed community, so only people with the same opinion and same status can be included.

Psychologists say that it will be a huge problem for the next generation. It is like facebook syndrome. You can create a social group where only people with the same opinion will be allowed. And people who bother you can be easily crossed out. In the younger generation it is getting to be a problem, because young people today do not meet face to face, they are not used to solving problems they just block you out of their computer or mobile phone. It is something which the disciples wanted to do. “Jesus block her, send her away so that we do not hear her cry”.

Have you considered the other people who could be a part of you and be a blessing to you? Even-though they are different. Of course you did, that is why you called a minister from so far away.

My daughter says – oh father, do not disturb my personal space, it is 75 centimeters. But sometimes we do not want to see anyone, the problem is when this happens to be a reality in our lives. It is not virtual it is the way that people accept as the way of their existence.

Jesus doesn´t react as the disciples want him to, at first he doesn´t react at all….there is no quick solution.

The woman came with a plea: “My daughter has a demon”. It basically creates a chain of problems. If children have a problem, then the parents have a problem, if the parents have a problem, then society has a problem.

Instead of solving it all, Jesus enters into a dialog with the woman. And Jesus is not using very polite words. I have already talked about the first part.

But the woman fell at Jesus´feet and she cries: “Help me”. And then Jesus uses words which we as Christians, as we  think, should never leave the mouth of a believer.

“It is not right to take children´s food and throw it to the dogs”. You cannot speak like this especially if you are a minister. It is quite rude language when you realize what it means. But is Jesus insulting the woman or does he speak openly about our nature? Lost sheep or dirty dog, pagan by nature. No one is better, not the disciples nor that woman.

When I came to Scotland last July they showed me a sheep which cost thousands of pounds, but it does not matter because when you are a lost sheep it does not matter what your pedigree is. And when you see lonely hungry dogs on the street nothing really matters, ….they can be in a terrible condition like they very often used to be in old Israel, when there was only food for the children but not for roaming dogs.

Some expositors say that Jesus was testing that woman. I don´t think so even for a second. Would you test a parent whose child is sick and ill, possessed by a demon? I think Jesus wants that woman to remember something.

And the woman said: “Yes but even dogs eat the leftovers that fall from the master´s table”. Instead of a cry of great despair she has to pronounce the great truth. Even when we are far away from you, when we are in a bad shape we belong to you – as a part of your creation.

That is the faith, which saves and because you believe so, your daughter will be healed.

Dear brothers and sisters, is it not amazing what we have in front of us. Jesus came for a lost sheep and he says it many times in the Bible, but he also came for those pagan dogs. In the past Christians were such dogs once. Who is in that position today? Or do you think of yourselves that sometimes you live a life of a dog? Then you belong to God´s grace. But you have to realize it and you have to say it – for your own good. You have to leave all your pride behind and then you are the Lord´s.

Today’s story is about it– yes people belong to the Lord, but they should be aware of their condition in this world. Sometimes we feel like we are in a promised land, sometimes we go through Tyre and Sidon, sometimes we are possessed by a demon. But Jesus is with us to save us.

There is no-one left behind – no nation, no individual. Only one thing we should not do, we should not be so boastful and separate others from Jesus´love as the disciples did on the day when they travelled through Tyre and Sidon. Amen

Sunday 5th March, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

in our country we have a fairy tale and you probably have a similar one. Its title is “Salt is more than gold”. It is a long time since I read it, but it goes like this. Once upon a time there was a king and he asked his three daughters how much they loved him. The first said: You are so precious to me like diamonds. The second daughter said: “I love you more than gold”. And then the king asked the third, the youngest daughter and she replied: “I like you like salt”. Of course it made the king angry and he expelled his daughter from his palace. And because he wanted to prove that his daughter was wrong he ordered that all the salt in the kingdom be destroyed . So everyone had to bring their salt and throw it in the river. Sweet times began in that kingdom. But after a few weeks the king discovered that food was tasteless and after a few more weeks people became ill. I am not going to tell you the end of the story but I think like all fairy tales it ends with a wedding.

When Jesus was baptized the heavens are opened and the Spirit is descending on Jesus and at such a moment a voice is heard: “This is my beloved son I chose him.” There is no doubt about the father´s love, but what does it mean that Jesus is God´s beloved son. It is explained in our passage. When Jesus received the Spirit he is led into the wilderness. It is not caused by the devil but by the Spirit, this is something which is very often overlooked. He was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil. And Jesus is tempted after forty days of fasting. From last Sunday we remember what the number 40 means.

But isn´t it a strange expression that literally speaking the Spirit leads Jesus to be tempted by the devil? In the Bible everything is under God´s rule, but from time to time you can meet strange expressions like this one. There are not so many places like this but there are a few. And we have to be aware that Satan in the Old Testament has the role of opposer, the one who also tests credibility and quality. Do you remember universities in the middle ages? They organized disputations and there was always someone appointed who played the role of the satan. Imagine that they did something like that in a completely religious society. But the role of  satan´s advocates was not to criticise but to test if things which were proclaimed were really worthy and reliable. When I preached on this text in my home church one church member was angry with me, I had to explain the text again at bible study and still my church member looked at me like at a blasphemer. But when you build a bridge, before you send people to cross it, wouldn´t you test it? And Jesus is our bridge to our father, don´t you want to know what does his love mean, don´t you want to know what character he and his teachings are? Yes, but finally I agree that the role of the devil is also to divide people, to accuse them, take salvation from them.

Actually only the first temptation takes place in the desert. God created everything, so it is easy for him to create bread from stones. This temptation is very similar to the situation of the Israelites in the desert. How often were people complaining to their God, they even wanted to go back to Egypt…“We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted.” So God gave them everything they asked for – bread from heaven and also meat of quails and water from the rock. God gave it to their people because they were complaining again and again.

When I was in sixth grade in school I signed up for German lessons. No-one pushed me it was not obligatory I had an idea that it would be good. After six months I changed my mind, I knew that  my classmates enjoyed their free time while I had to be in school. So I wanted to drop those lessons and I was surprised when my parents said no. But you all know children, they can get anything that is on their minds. So I begged and begged again. But it was no good. So from time to time I dropped a tear…absolutely no effect. As a spoilt kid I used heavy calibre and when we talked about school I cried. Both sides knew exactly what was going on and I was stronger than my parents and they signed me off those lessons. The battle was won as I thought. But after many years I found out that my parents remember it very well and I remember it and I myself know it was not right.

Jesus says that man shall not live by bread alone. He does not deny our human needs. But there are things far more important than a comfortable life. So we live by every word from God and it is more important than bread. Who do you think wins? – spoilt children. We want to have everything. So we change stones into things which make our life comfortable. If God is a god of discipline we don´t need him anymore. We taught ourselves how to satisfy our needs. But there are things more important than a comfortable sofa. It is the word of God, it sustains and provides and gives everything – real life. So Sunday after Sunday there are small groups of people who gather and try to listen to God´s words and when they hear the word of God they try to listen to each other. It is not the easy way, it is much easier to lock the door and turn on the TV. But Jesus although he was starving he knew that God´s word, the word of the father is above everything. Is the church tempted to live an easy life? Of course it is, but then it can prevail. Are we as individuals tempted? Of course we are, but we can overcome the ever present hunger for possessions by listening to God´s word.

Second – Jesus is taken to Jerusalem and he is on the highest point of the Temple. The Devil did not take him to the Temple, where he would be with people. Oh, those common people with their everyday problems why be with them and so he took him high above. Jesus is on the top, he is the man, he is the boss. But it is not enough we need a miracle. The Devil argues using the Scripture. If you are God´s son…jump and the angels will protect you. The Devil is not my brother in faith but he is a colleague he definitely had to finish at the seminary if he can quote the Scripture. And this is the point, in Jesus´life miracles, although he performed them, do not play the main role. And also religious superiority is not important in our faith, there is not any.

“…He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God…” Jesus hanging on the cross did not ask for a miracle, but people did. How humble is our saviour. But remember this – religious boasting and religious superiority is not the way. Do not test the Lord, says the Scripture. If we are to quote Scripture then we have to do it against the devil but not against the people or against God.

I always think what would have happened if Jesus had jumped. But it doesn´t really matter It would have been a sensation for people anyway. In 1968 when the -Russians came there was a young student and he burned himself as a protest against the invasion. He was member of our church and people remember him. It was a big sacrifice of an intelligent person. But do you know what the problem is that people remember him every year but no-one wants to walk the way of sacrifice. Jesus did but he refused to do it spectacularly when he was on the top of the Temple.

The third – Jesus on a very high mountain seeing all the kingdoms and their greatness. Since Jesus´ times the devil took so many men onto that mountain and many liked the view and would like to possess all the kingdoms and their greatness or I will say their glory, because the first translation resembles more Mr. Trump. So many people want to have them, but there is something in exchange – you have to worship the devil and his ways. Less and less people worship God and more worship the devil. It has its advantages because people receive what they dreamt of. But do we really need all the glory when we have the kingdom of God itself. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you. Jesus does that And God´s angels are with him and help him , not because he does great things but because he obeys God the father.

Sometimes we are afraid, if we have enough, if we are well respected, if people respect what we say or what we do, if we are in control. Jesus resisted such temptations. Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life.

It is not easy to always have less than others. It is not easy to argue with the devil in the temple – so maybe it is better not to and it is better instead to be an eloquent Christian to be a practising believer. It is hard when you are not in command and people do not listen, but it is better to worship God and know that he listens to your prayers. And when you do, God will send his angels and they will pull you out of all hardships and also from devils hands. Amen

Sunday, 26th February, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

let´s go with Jesus to Jerusalem, this week there is Ash Wednesday – Lent period which starts 40 days before Easter. The holiday takes place in Jerusalem and Jesus´ disciples should be there with Jesus. But it is going to cost us something because things which are marked with such number – 40 are ambivalent. Sometimes we expect something different than what we experience. The Israelites journey from Egypt to the promised land took 40 years and it was so different to what they expected.

Jesus himself invites his disciples on such a journey. The Bible opens the whole section with Jesus´ invitation. “We are going to Jerusalem”.

The first part sounds great. Yes Jerusalem, the capital, royal town, everyone wants to see it. Shopping, big crowds of people, great meals, vacation, festival or should we rather say holiday? Jesus takes the disciples aside and tells them about the invitation privately, although many people would go with them.

The second part does not sound so great, but they can still accept what Jesus says, because in Jerusalem the message of the prophets would be fulfilled. It does not sound so great because we all know prophets – they are serious, they are sometimes wild looking and they wear strange clothes and they also bring a serious message. But we can still live with it if they criticize our establishment. We think that even such criticism can be interesting.

But Jesus finishes with something completely unacceptable to us. “The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles, he will be tortured and then he will die on the cross”. This is something hard to listen to.  During the last days Jesus mentions nothing else but the crucifixion. The Gospel of Luke, as the translators remind us, said it for the third time. It is the third and the last time when Jesus speaks about his death. It is his Amen to his mission in our world. Jesus behaves like a strange man and he invites us on a strange journey, to join him. He invites us to take steps we don´t want to take.

The Disciples do not understand a single word, finally they don´t even understand the good side of Jesus´ invitation which they were looking forward to a long time ago.

Jesus took them aside so let us leave the twelve aside for a moment and think about us. Do we understand Jesus´ invitation. Because we are smart and we know the (point) peak of the story, we can say “yes” we understand. We can easily say “yes” because the ending point of the story is good. Jesus Christ was resurrected.

But wait a minute it is not about what we have read or someone has told us. It is directly about us so the question sounds: “Do you want to go with me to Jerusalem and share everything with me?”

The journey to Jerusalem leads from Jericho. We all know what can happen on that road from Jericho, not only are there rocks and stones, but also thieves and murderers. But hopefully we will go with other people who can help us, so what else could happen?

Only 40 days to Jerusalem to Easter and anything can happen, 40 years – whole life in the wilderness. When you think about it Egypt is a nice tourist destination, Jericho is the oldest city why not stay there and live a pleasant life.

We cannot stay in the lowlands – Egypt and Jericho – with images of sinfulness. Because our life was never meant to be low. We have to go up, we will struggle with whatever meets us and we will also struggle with ourselves. But the journey to Jerusalem is a journey up – to the capital, to the heavenly city, it is the way home.

Dear father, I wanted everything served on a silver plate – nice and easy. We cry as children. Jesus without nice words says it directly, let´s go to Jerusalem,  Jesus uses no hidden meanings and the disciples cannot believe what they hear. They don´t want to understand – they know reality very well.

But it is still an invitation up, it is ascension from our personal poverty, the aim of the journey is worth it.

The story of the healing of a blind man shows our approach to life and the journey itself. When you go to join the celebration you don´t want to mix with losers and the sick. Somewhere near to Jericho there is a blind man. But it looks like he meets Jesus more than once. It seems that Jesus hears his continuous cry before he enters Jericho and after he leaves Jericho. The Gospel of Mark gives the name of the blind man. His name was Bar-Timaios which means Son of the Well Respected Man. So before our eyes there are two generations – the blind man himself and his well respected father, but no-one shows respect or takes the whole situation seriously. We are not just ready to take the suffering seriously – even our own suffering as part of our journey to Jerusalem. People tried to silence the man or remove the blind man from Jesus´ sight. People

know what is hard and they want to push the button to erase it.

But Jesus knows our thinking, because he lives and gives life (to) for others. He hears the cry. The blind man cries: “Son of David, have mercy”. You see this blind man sees what the disciples don´t see. When the blind man says Son of David – he uses messianic title. So he knows that Jesus is on his way – his mission to save – to save the blind man and to save the blind disciples. He knows and understands Jesus.

And Jesus replies: “What do you want me to do.” The blind man says: “Let me see”. Yes, let him see, not only the faces of others and the country and the road, but let him see the road which leads to salvation. The blind man sees it all – his past illness, he also sees obstacles on the way to Jerusalem, it might be that he really understands the cross, but he sees salvation and the glory of all of it. And he is a good example to the crowd, because now from this point on it is written, that the crowd rejoiced, praised God. That is how it should always be.

As Jesus´disciples we are scared because of what we can see on the road to Jerusalem, but we all cry to Jesus  let us see, let us see you, salvation and your glory, we need it for our lives and we need others to see it also.

When Elisha was surrounded by the Syrian army his disciple – servant was scared to death and he thought that defeat could not be avoided. Then Elisha prays, but he does not pray that the army of the enemy would be defeated he prays for his servant that he would see. His servant was not blind he saw reality clear and sharp. But he did not see that God is always on our side. God is the God of all hosts. When the servant´s eyes were opened he saw all the heavenly hosts on his side. That is something that Jesus´ disciples should also see; God is on our side and is with us. And he is with us when we walk towards the promised land – stepping up but also facing defeat from our human viewpoint.

And sometimes he makes enemies blind to teach them and us the same lesson, there are fights you cannot win with weapons or to put it right you will never win fights with weapons but in the strength of God.

The King of Israel had to change his attitude and the Syrian army also had to change what they saw

We should always remember when we walk with Jesus. Our journey is a journey up, whatever happens on this journey to Jerusalem is not easy. Sometimes we experience laughter, sometimes we cry. But be alert, Jesus goes with us all the way and we should shout and  also see all the heavenly host who are on our side and fight and pray for us beginning this very day which the Lord has made.   Amen

 

 

Sunday, 19th February, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Right in the centre of the NT passage Jesus says: “Listen, if you have ears”. It is a very powerful sentence. It is very important for every Jew, so it should also be for every Christian. “Listen, hear” – with such words the Jewish confession of faith is introduced: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Dt 6).  So there is something  very profound in the parable of the sower.

The ssecond important thing is that Jesus says to his disciples: “the knowledge of the Kingdom has been given to you”. But even-though Jesus says it, he has to explain the parable to his disciples. Do they really understand? Believe me I know what it means to pretend that I understand. They are trying to look smart, but Jesus knows the truth, so he explains the parable in detail.

The parable itself is not hard. We all understand what it means to sow and  to harvest. We know what it means when the harvest is spoilt, but it is very hard to see our own role in it.

The first thing we should remember is that the sower is generous. He sows everywhere: along the path, on the rocky ground, in thorn bushes and also on good soil. Although we would never sow seed along the path it would be natural in ancient times but they had to plough the path very quickly. Those paths lead through fields and they were part of the field.

But some places just do not make any sense – rocky ground, bushes. It seems that the parable wants us to know that the sower really is generous. The story doesn´t mention the sower any more. Although he is the main figure in the parable, the parable itself does not talk much about him

Another clear thing in the parable is the seed. Jesus says – it is the word. And the word comes from God. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, all things were made through the Word and the Word became flesh. Sowing means putting the word into our life, to be part of our life, to let Jesus become part of our life. But sometimese the word grows and sometimes it dies. A scary thing if we consider the word to be Jesus.

So what are the circumstances of the sowing. Firstly – the path, the road was too hard, solid and the birds came. The devil came to pick the word from the human heart so that people would not believe that they could be saved by God. The Devil comes for one reason only, to destroy the fact that there is the salvation of God.

I think you would agree that there is not greater feeling in the heart than the one when you have peace and inner joy. Then nothing can harm you, even death itself is powerless. And the devil knows it also, so he tries to take from you those seeds which were sowed by God. So the devil comes – and he tries to convince you, that to be yourself, to be selfish, to be alone is good for you. Sometimes the devil can be dressed as an angel of light, sometimes the devil can have a blond wig, sometimes he can be bold and speaking Russian, sometimes the devil can be from North Korea, sometimes it can be ideology, sometimes a book like “Mein Kampf”, sometimes the devil can be hidden in a TV series, sometimes the devil is a computer geek, sometimes the devil can come from the middle east, sometimes the devil can have church robes, but always he takes the Word of peace from human hearts and then people behave like crazy fools.

Second, the word sometimes dies because of rocky ground. Everything seems amazing, the seed grows rapidly, but common sense is absent. There is religious affection, enthusiasm, but again something important is lacking. Some people burn and they burn so quickly and the fire is more like the fire of hell than the fire of purification. We experienced it in our family, my oldest sister (thought she had found out) found out that all the people who come to traditional churches are so wrong that she ended so many beautiful relationships with her friends. And now she is alone and it is so hard to come back.

Third, the word, the seed is choked by thorny bushes. Worries, riches, pleasures choked the seeds. It is too much for one heart.

Spend more and you will get more. I do not know if you use such terms but in our country, they talk all the time about the national product, productivity, expenses. The economy of the country will be saved when people spend more. Is it the heart of salvation? Only my old great grand mother used to say – if you spend too much and eat too much you are going to go bankrupt or die of a  heart attack. But modern economists say – more spending and more possessions will make your life better. Sorry I would rather believe my great-grand-ma.

Prosperity!? –  should it be the salvation in your heart? No! Look at your wife, at your children, into a mirror, at your neighbour. All of these are more important than money. But they are trying to convince you that there is no family, no society, no friendship without money. So many human lives are falling apart because we cannot find the essentials in our life.

Jesus ‘disciples lived in a such a situation and we live in such a situation. The Disciples understand the parable and they understand how life goes – as we do , but we and they are unable to find a solution. Because they do not understand that they don´t need to fight, but they have to choose something different. Choosing something different is the solution.

You all know how much I love my congregation back home. But at the beginning it was not so idyllic. The Clerk of the session who invited me to my congregation on the day I became a minister  changed, from a mild person to a despotic ruler who had to show his minister who really had the power in the congregation. I took it personally but I knew that confrontation was not a solution so I asked my colleague for help. And he told me: “but do you realize the whole history and background of this man?”. He did not need to tell me more. You can fight face to face but you cannot fight with what is hidden behind. So I told my session after three months that I was going to leave. I was surprised when the elders said that the clerk had to leave. In no way can the kingdom of heaven grow out of a  fight. But there can be peace because of a choice.

This is what the disciples have to realize – when they really choose the word, Jesus – then they are different, interesting – they are the salt of the land.. When church is different it is also attractive and it bears fruit and the produce is manifold.

The world today thinks in big numbers. How much money you have, how many people vote for you. The worst thing the church can do is to think in numbers – how many members we have, how much money we collect. I know these things are important. But there are more important things. Think differently, heaven has planted a seed into your heart, you can do it.

The Bible says that there are people who look and do not see and they listen and do not understand. The Prophets say that God made them blind and deaf. It has its reason – those who chase carriers and glory do not have a place in the church. Because they cannot, they are not able to understand that life itself should be under different terms rather than money and business. But dear brothers and dear sisters you are different. God put into your heart the word, his love and peace. The Disciples have a problem to step out of the circle but they have to if they want to experience peace.

We live in a society which was genetically modified, I call it so. Tomatoes are not tomatoes and milk is not milk and women aren´t women and men aren´t men. But think differently and instead of making our businesses great again, make our hearts hearts again.

As for the first reading, I picked the OT passage about the blessing in the promised land. God planted his nation in the  promised land. When are they going to grow? The promised land is not like Egypt – which literally means that it is not a land of slavery. The promised land prospers and it is important to see why. It is not because people are so diligent, not because of business, not because of money. It prospers because its people adopted a principle so different to the principles of its neighbours. The Lord takes care of it says the Bible. Do not let yourselves be led from God. Remember God´s law and talk about it always, make it your door sign. That is God´s blessing – not to change like fashion which changes every second year. But we have to think about God´s ways in a world which is changing.

So listen, there is a great blessing which came from God´s hand, you have to plant it and grow back towards God and you will bring fruit. Amen

 

Sunday 12th February 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

it is all about the kingdom of heaven and heaven is also about our perspective or our view, how we look at things. When you say “heaven” in Czech, most people think that you are speaking about the sky. The religious meaning of the word heaven in Czech has almost disappeared and when you are talking about heaven people consider such a word as somewhat archaic, old and at the same time out of reach – like an angelic realm. I think it is similar in English, but I cannot speak for you, you understand it much better.

OK change our perspective. We think that heaven is somewhere in the future, something we cannot touch as earthly creatures.

Think of God, pretend for a while that you are in God’s place. There is nothing hidden before his face, nothing is too far, God even measures time differently. What is a brief moment for us can be centuries and centuries can be a fraction of a second.

Is not everything within the reach of God? And now Jesus God´s son is telling a parable about a vineyard. From what position is he telling this parable? From the position of God? Yes, that is the point. All things are possible for God, Jesus is a man of miracles so even the kingdom of heaven is his and has to be close.

But Jesus is also a true man. Did he not come to bring us closer to God. And this is also very important, Jesus came that we as dust of the earth would be reminded that we also belong in heaven, that the grave is open and resurrection is a reality – not one day, but now. It is up to us if we want to understand the parable and heaven as something which can also be present.

Jesus came and told his parable but it isn´t a story for the future, it speaks in images which people knew and lived.

The market in the main square opens in the early morning and there are people looking for work. It would be better to say they are not looking for work, they are standing about, waiting for someone to hire them.

And opportunity is there. A man came and offered a job for a daily wage – a silver coin, denarius. And then later again and again – the last shift was after 5 PM. The last ones were also standing at the market, probably pulling out their smartphones and adding new posts to their facebook accounts or playing games. And if not playing maybe sniffing drugs. The Lord came and he asked them: Why are you standing here for a whole day and doing nothing. And their answer: No one hired us. It is not our fault, it is the fault of the system.

Did they really hear the question of the Lord? Why are YOU here and doing nothing. Jesus asks us about our activity or inactivity and our reply is: The other people did not hire us, something has to be wrong with the system, because no-one took care of us.

Yes there is something wrong with the system, always…but how about our souls, which are lurking and dreaming about heaven far – far away not seeing the opportunities which the Lord gave us. Every person, everyone – no matter what they are like, is gifted and if not others then God gives the opportunity to build his kingdom here and now.

One dying person told me: Dear pastor I want to die. I was not sure what to say, so I replied: “I know you want to, but you have to wait little bit, because God keeps you here because of me”. And I really meant what I had said.

Now is the time of opportunity, the time to build heaven, time to work in the vineyard, it is a time of salvation.

Our first president , I am speaking about the year 1918, certainly not about the one we have now, he said: “The problem of our century will be to give people a meaningful occupation, that they would not stick to pointless entertainment”. I feel it was quite visionary. You know the situation in the 19th and 20th centuries people left agriculture and they went to industry, from industry to offices and from offices…. ?! There was more free time and people did not know what to do. Jesus knows, there is lot of work in the kingdom of heaven. He invites everyone – in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, in the evening.

The first problem of our society is that people are losing the sense that they are meaningful, important, useful and that they already have their position. It always happens when relationships among people are missing and people start to play solo. That is how I always felt about the workers at the market – they are standing there as a group, but there are many unhappy individual stories,  and these people are always blaming someone else.

And the story continues so even when Lord is going to pay wages. We care about others only to find out if we have received enough. Why should others receive the same wage if they worked less time? We do not care that we have enough but we worry that our neighbour does not have too much. We do not even understand what it means to have enough, but we understand when someone has more. We have an ironic saying in Czech: “Does your neighbour have a goat. So, let the goat die”.

The principle of the heavenly kingdom is that God decides, it is his sovereign right, because he possesses everything. And God decides to be generous to all.

God never loses, but we do. God´s kingdom is always in God´s reach, but it can be more distant from us when we do not consider what God gave us and when we do not honour our neighbours.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard was important for the first church. Those workers who came first to work in God´s vineyard were definitely Jews. They came and worked hard and their wage was promised by the law.  Christians came as the second workers to the vineyard. Everything belonged to God – vineyard, money, opportunity. But God wants to give to the first the same as to the second. We hated Jews so much that we almost killed all of them.

We think that as people we can change all circumstances although we don´t have anything in our hands. So we established “trade unions”, I am speaking about different denominations, there are so many churches and each church fights for its own rights and each has its own theology. But what does it mean? It means that we do not take seriously that God paid for our life. And it was not one silver coin, it was much more. God paid for us with the precious life of his own Son. And now tell me what are we doing? We are standing in front of the Cross and we are quarrelling like small children.

But God did everything to comfort us. That the last one of us would not feel like the last and God secured that the first would surely receive their award also. You know sometimes I feel ashamed in front of you. When I talk about things that we experienced during communism you have very often words of appreciation afterwards. You are talking about what people in our country had to face. But is it not true that we were all called to God´s vineyard, we all received the opportunity to do something for God´s kingdom? Not merits but grace remains.

But I want to go back to the main theme of the parable which is the kingdom of heaven. I am convinced that God has us here to promote his kingdom right here on earth. The Church tried to do it many times but often it ended as a disaster, because all sides wanted to be first.

It is not only the parable about the vineyard but also the story of Essau and Jacob. Two brothers who were fighting to receive the blessing from their father. In the OT story we got to the point when after years both brothers met together. If my memory doesn´t fail me Essau was born first but Jakob second. Jacob was a great gambler with the blessing and he knew how to cheat, Essau was stronger, a man of the field, a hunter – it would be easy for him to kill Jacob. The two brothers meet again and Jacob is still afraid. What a surprise when Essau behaves like a real blessed man. He says: “I have everything that I need”. And Jacob could not believe it.

There is a document from the 2nd Vatican Council which says that humankind got to the point where people can destroy the whole planet. It hadn´t been possible ever before. When I read the news I read about violence which is on the rise. Everyone wants to be first, but who will be the first killed this time? Violence is not God´s way.

There is nothing to lose we received our wage. The task of the church is to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, but the church has to do it here and now. So whenever you have such an opportunity, calm human anger, quarrels and selfishness and also on the other side lift those who are low and do not be afraid For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God  in  your  body. Ame

Sunday 5th February 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Jesus praises God the Father because he revealed the truth to the small, to the babies or to the  uneducated – unlearned.

Jesus is using a formula which we as churchgoers already know. The Apostle Paul uses it in the words of the constitution of the Lord supper similar wording: For I have received from the Lord and Jesus says: My father has given me all things. It is very similar language. I would consider such (words) places as very important because they are like a direct line from earth to heaven.

But when we hear such words? And that is something which is not easy to understand and accept. Paul says these words to a divided community and Jesus speaks these words right after his mission was not successful. In Chorazim and in Bethsaida people were refusing to believe what Jesus did. Sodom would have listened if it was in the position of those two cities. Yes, preaching and teaching and even performing miracles is not always a success story. It is the situation when logic does not mean anything and miracles are too weak arguments.

There was a Czech minister who started to preach from the pulpit exactly the same sermon every Sunday. He was not lazy, but pretty active; he was not stupid, he had been to the best schools you can imagine, but Sunday after Sunday he preached the same sermon. Finally his elders found enough courage and they went to see him and told him that he could not continue like this. He replied: “When you begin to live according to the words of the sermon, then I will deliver a new sermon”.

It is important to know that people do always not listen to the Gospel. No matter what you do and no matter what you try. Matthew talks about situations and places when it is better to save energy for a better opportunity: “Do not throw pearls in front of the pigs…”.

But Jesus very quickly shifts his lament into a song of praise. There are also those who need to hear and who listen. “I thank you because you have shown it to the unlearned.” This expression is a tricky one. Martin Luther in his later years relied on the support of the nobility, John Calvin relied on the session of elders or town council. They always had someone at their back as their support.

But the word is revealed to the unlearned. Who are they? Yes, unlearned or unschooled can be one of the meanings. Between 1457 – 1490 my church gave up on schools. They were disappointed by the unending quarrels between theologians and also disappointed by religious wars, so they were hiding in (isolated) detached areas of the country, refusing classical education. It took them no more than two generation to realize that education is a gift so they went and they founded schools in every large village.  Also reason is a gift of God, isn´t it?

Who are those unlearned? The Bible means those who are marginal in the community, unrecognized by the community as useful. Maybe the meaning should be twisted a little bit – society has not learned that there are people with a certain value. But let’s not overstress such “ social” meaning.

The third possible translation would be “children, babies”. Thank you because you have shown it to small babies”. To those who cannot speak, so they do not have (a voice) the word in the society of adults.

But we must be careful because the position of babies in the modern age and in ancient times differs very much. Today when families have no more than one or two children – a child is everything. Today children have a strong voice even though they cannot put together a meaningful sentence. However in ancient times a child was little more than a slave. Sometimes children were subjects of trade as we can see sometimes in poor areas, even today. So a child was completely dependent on the benevolence of its parents.

Jesus´ words speak about those who rely only on God´s grace. It is not a sentimental statement about children as it is sometimes explained. There are people who do not have any other choice than God´s grace.

When God calls Gideon to fight we see a man who is completely without confidence, without support from his family – the weakest in the tribe and the least in the family. And he should go and save the Israelites. How is it possible? God says, because I will help you. But Gideon does not believe in a such victory, so he asks God to prove himself. In any other situation it would be taken as blasphemy, but because Gideon does not have any other (proof) certainty God agrees and gives Gideon the sign he asked for. Gideon is not Robert the Bruce of Manasses and he does not sing “Onward Christian soldiers”, because there is not the will or faith or self confidence. Gideon is completely lost. “Oh, Father that is how you like it, you have shown your mercy to the voiceless baby Gideon”.

In certain times God´s word speaks only to those who have nothing but God´s grace. Although there are religious fools carrying bombs to kill themselves and many others, they do not have any message from God, although there are people who are talking about Christian heritage, they do not know anything about it and they do not need God.

But it might be that there is someone sitting next to you whose soul is torn into pieces but he does not have the courage to speak about it. Also there might be thousands of runaways, but they still had money to go and search for a better life. But it may be that there are millions of those who do not have even clothes and shoes to get from their villages.

You know I do not know who such hopeless people might be…maybe they are one meter from me maybe thousands of miles, but God knows them all. And Jesus says about them, thank you father, because you can show them mercy, compassion, love. For others it is still a game, some people still have the energy to pretend, but for some there is nothing only God….and God cares about those who have nothing.

Which gets us to another important point. Faith is God´s gift. Faith is not ideology, it does not come from books, it comes from God. Faith is God´s answer to a human need. If there is not a real need, it might be that there is no faith.

Until the Second World War all the people in our country were Christians. Because the church kept records of births, baptisms, marriages and death. But did society need God? Probably not enough, because war, when people stood against (each other) themselves, became a reality. So now we are in a new stage of human history. Christianity in Europe became a minority, but those who come Sunday after Sunday need to hear the assurance that God is with us. We cannot give this assurance to ourselves it comes from above. And the number of Christians will grow again one day once people recognize that hope only comes from above.

Only the Son knows the Father and also those to whom the Son chooses to reveals it . The Son chose us, not because we are so special, but because the Son loves us so much and he carries our burdens with us and he knows that we would not make it without him.

So welcome to the club. We can talk about it together. You can say, our minister is a pretty weak person and the minister can say, you know my parishioners are not stars exactly. But that is the point when we know who we are and where to go. God, please be with us, when our society is sick, when our bodies are weak, when our souls are sad. Be with us and give us new courage, new joy and a new faith.

Is it not interesting that a long time ago we lost the (means) tendency to pretend before others how good we  are? If it was in church we would be in trouble. But because we admitted our weaknesses Jesus noticed us and he reveals God´s grace to us.

Come to me all of you who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. How many times have you heard that only the superstitious and the weak attend church. Of course in different variants, but people very often look on the church like this. Yes but it is true, we carry burdens all of us and we are not ashamed to say it, we are not perfect. So the way to God is open, he wants to be with those who are heavy laden.

Jesus says, come and learn from me. This is also important. Someone told me: Oh you had to go to the University, because you were stupid, eight years of elementary school were enough for me. Jesus invites us to longlife learning.

Wise people know that it is never easy and really smart people know that carrying burdens is easier with others but only blessed people know that our life with God can change our situation.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light which means that the whole perspectives changes. For God we are not losers but pilgrims on the way, for Jesus we are not those who were condemned to death but we are already risen to the new life. And I wonder if Gideon remained the least in his tribe. Amen

Sunday 29th January 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

when I was a small boy I liked reading and my parents knew about this obsession so when I went to sleep I was not allowed to read in my bed and I had to turn off the light in my room.  I had a  solution, I took a flashlight and I read with my book hidden under my blanket. When my parents went to bed I heard them and I switched on the light in my room. One night I decided to finish the Hound of Baskervilles. So  I read the book until its end which was about midnight. I switched off the light and went to sleep. But with my eyes closed I still saw the hound. Hours were passing by, I was pretty scared so I went to my parents’ bedroom and I woke them up and told them the whole story, I had to tell them the truth that I was reading a book.  I do not need to tell you how happy they were. But finally  they said: “OK, you can sleep here.” They saved my life because I was pretty sure that dog was hiding in my bedroom.

The story when Jesus calms a storm is in all synoptic gospels, so it also shows us that this story was important to the early church and all the gospels give us details to show a full picture of what happened. In our  gospel story it was probably getting dark, as Mark informs us,  and Jesus and his disciples were about to cross the lake. From one shore to the other. We all undertake such a journey from one shore to the another.

They were not on the sea, they were on the lake and they were mostly experienced fishermen. Suddenly a big storm came. The Bible gives us an exact description about the kind of  storm, we know what caused it. It was an earthquake – the land was shaking so much that it caused the storm and besides that there was wind and waves. You can imagine it. It is dark, the earth is shaking and the wind is blowing – all the powers that are unleashed are difficult to face.

Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat, as other gospels describe it, and he was quite comfortable.

It is very popular among Christians in our country – they put a sticker with the fish on the boot of their car or some of them hang a cross on their mirror. So you can recognize them  when they are speeding past and only for a short while. But the journey is not  always straight and fast. Jesus is not always at hand.

Some of our fears are irrational, like stories in a book, some of our situations are dark – it is hard to recognize the shapes of things, of other ships or the faces of other disciples. Sometimes our life is pretty turbulent – , some situations threaten us – like the sea, we are afraid that we will drown, sometimes the earth is shaking and we are losing the firm ground under our feet. So what can help us? Religion? But Jesus is not here, he is sleeping God knows where. And we have the task to steer the ship…not a small boat…a ship is mentioned in the text…to steer the ship in one piece into the harbour on the other side. It is a big responsibility and a big storm. How is it possible that Jesus was sleeping, the ship was almost lost in the waves but Jesus is still sleeping. All normal people would wake up but not him. Is he still on board with us?

When Jesus does not work as a magic talisman people are leaving the Church. The first Christians in the first or second generation were excited by a new religion, they lived from the stories which they heard from eye witnesses who actually walked with Jesus on this earth. It was promised that they would experience a new heaven, a second coming.

But the situation changed dramatically for them. There was no second coming of Jesus Christ, no cries of disciples could wake him up, he was not answering their calls – it seemed to them. So people were looking for a different certainty. When it seems to you that being a Christian does not have any advantage, people are close to exchanging their faith for something more tangible. It happened in my church. When the communists seized power, some people left the church, when the communists fell people returned but only for a short period of time soon they found a new certainty in money.

The ship is the second problem. When the modern cruise ship changes into an old boat with many holes in its hull people are afraid and wonder if it is safe and comfortable enough to go on board. In the past it happened so many times that the church as the ship lost its sails or even its rudder that it almost cost us its existence. Last year our general assembly invited people to enter a competition to create a new church logo. Well, who knows may be with the new logo will make the church more attractive for people and sometimes you can hide an old hole under a new sticker, but who knows whether this might help, probably not.

From the midst of their distress the disciples are trying to wake Jesus up. It is important to hear what they are saying. First they are saying: Lord. Yes, Jesus is the Lord, he is the captain of the ship, although he was sleeping, away from their eyes, he is and he always will be the Lord. In the Church you cannot substitute him for something more interesting – like a new logo, something which would be, according to our thoughts, more up to date.

Second, they are calling: “ Save us”. Our skills are interesting and they can be attractive but only to the point when our voyage is not complicated. When we face difficulties in our life there is not time for more than the bare truth. Jesus is the Saviour.

Certain stories are misunderstood in the Bible because we do not pay attention to the whole story and details.  So our passage is called in the Good News Bible: Jesus calms the storm! But do you know what he does between his sleep and calming the storm? He is calming or may be even rebuking the disciples.

Why are you so worried, so frightened? This is life! This is how it goes! Oh, you of little faith! Little faith here means that Christians are afraid of real life, scared so much that they freeze in their actions. Sometimes we are afraid about what other people will say, sometimes we are afraid, because we always want to be correct. Ask my daughters if they heard in school that they are ministers kids, it can take all the courage from you.

But Jesus wants his disciples to have the courage of their faith – to go into things aware that we can make mistakes. Courage is to start things even though we do not always have the right answers …we have just the feeling of faith that God is with us. Christ is in heaven, he sits on the right hand of God the father until a new heaven has come, but we are here and from time to time we will experience storms. And people watch us, sometimes we do not realize people are watching the church because they feel that in the church there should be certainty and if there is not certainty then it there should be at least courage to attempt to do right things and also hope. You can leave correctness to the politicians but God has you here for a different reason. To be brave sailors or fishermen, you have to pull people from  time to time out of their despair.

So before Jesus calms the storm he must wake up the disciples. What the storm and earthquake did not do, Jesus must do – he must shake the disciples.  Sleeping Jesus was more active than scared -fighting disciples. Giving up is not allowed.

It is interesting that in such a short story, it is only four verses, there is space to mention that Jesus got up. It wants to remind us of something. The Disciples can see Jesus standing, in the Bible the verb also means to raise from the dead, from sleep to full awareness, from lying to standing, from grave to a new life – Christ resurrected.

The Disciples who are still afraid know a very important thing. Jesus is on his feet, in the resurrection story he is alive. Not even the gates of hell or death itself  can do anything about it. And finally raised Jesus calms the storm. And as the storm was big the silence also is big.

Matthew is talking about silence – as the time which allows us to ask ourselves who is Jesus. If we are trying to answer the question who is Jesus we also have to ask ourselves and who are we as Christians. The first question is clear now –it was answered by the text – Jesus is the one who has all the power. Who are we?

Sometimes time heals our fears. The Hound of the Baskervilles will remain only a story in a book, our fear will be calmed although storms will be raging all around us, what we saw as a dangerous ocean will turn into a spoon of water, but one day we will experience resurrection of our bodies and we won´t be afraid anymore. Amen

22nd January 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Naaman is well respected by his king, because the Lord had given Naaman victory over the Israelites. There wouldn´t be such respect and success if God had not given Naaman such a victory. The Bible the book we read to support our faith tells it so easily. God is now supporting the other side! Aren´t the Israelites God´s chosen people, are they not the nation which was delivered from Egypt? And now we have read that God is in favour of their enemies? And Naaman not only defeated the army of the Israelites but he also took a small girl. The child was not guilty of anything. Aren´t we scared and angry when we hear or see stories of such children. They are crippled, killed or enslaved because of a war. So the Bible gives us a clear picture of it. But the picture is not so black and white. What else did God gave to Naaman?….skin disease, leprosy.

We could talk more about the little girl who revealed to Naaman´s wife that there is  a prophet  who can heal Naaman. I do not know why, but when I read this story I have in my head a picture of a small girl in a kitchen, chatting with Naaman´s wife, cooking a meal for Naaman himself. Why do all the important decisions come from the kitchen? But now seriously, it is intended by the Bible that the whole plan for saving

And Naaman goes to see the king of Israel and that is the fact I do not like about Naaman. He is sick but still has the energy to be arrogant. Modern psychology would say that he is healthily assertive. He goes and in his pocket there is a command from the Syrian king to heal Naaman immediately. There is also silver and gold, people thought that everything in their lives could be bought for money.

The whole situation is strange, because when Naaman appears before the king in Samaria, the king himself tries to get out of the complicated situation with a religious excuse. He does want to be Naaman angry, but he also wants to look good before his nation. O what a complicated politician he is. He chose religious attitude, claiming he is not God and he is refusing to have power over the lives of people, he tore his clothes.  Yes, that is what kings should have on their minds, they are not gods. But wait a minute do not they really decide about peoples lives?

However, Naaman goes to Elisha where he receives a lesson in what it is to be humble. Elisha does not speak to him face to face, he only sends an instruction – take it or leave it. And Naaman wants to leave it but his servants make him wash his body in the River Jordan. And there his change begins. The one who was used to giving commands now has to obey. Naaman becomes a new person, not only is his disease washed away, but also his character is changed. He says that from this point he won´t worship any other god.

I am reviewing this story because we want to get to our NT reading. There is also a man with leprosy, there is also an enemy soldier who is asking Jesus to heal his servant. Before we look at our reading, let me give two brief comments about those stories. Our stories begin when Jesus descended from the mount where he had taught his followers, and people were amazed, because he taught with authority and the whole section after the Sermon on the mount is full of miracles. Simply said, those miracles confirm what Jesus taught.

Secondly, the first church decided to read the story of the leper and the Roman officer together. Although they are completely different characters, the church glued those stories into one reading. Why is that? The church wants to say: “Although we are all different, sometimes we can be together in one story, we can share one room, one bread and one cup. Why and when is it possible? It is possible if we approach Jesus with an open heart.

What happened  in those stories? And this is important. The leper did not just come asking to be healed. First he knelt down and then he asked. But notice how he asked. “If you want to. If it is your will”. It is worship – kneeling before God and confessing, that it is his might and his will, his power, his knowledge. What a difference when you compare it with Naaman. Naaman has a letter in his pocket, Naaman is angry when people and even God do not treat him as he expected. Naaman says, do it. The leper kneels and asks if it is your will. That is how we should come to God as our sovereign ruler. Sometimes we come to God as if he was an equal, sometimes we come to him as if he was our lesser servant.

It is my conviction that God is a supreme being. You can say that we all confess that. But sometimes we want to behave like little Naamans and want to dictate how God should manage this whole universe and if he does not do it we rebel. God does not need us. He can create billions of galaxies. But he definitely chose us. He said willingly this part of creation, it is special to me. It is his decision that he does not want to give up, although it would be easier than cleaning our mess.

So Jesus says: “Yes, I want to”. Do we understand that? God does not have to but he loves us so much that he gave us his Son, that we as lepers can hear his yes to us. Yes, I want to. And he touches us. How many of us have the courage to touch a man with leprosy. He touches sinners. We are infectious with our anger and hate, but he touches us with his love. Some people do not like this idea and they say…”he touched a leper so cast him away from society, he touched a sinner, so crucify him”. It is the story of amazing grace. I do not know why my dentist always wears his helmet and gloves, but Jesus touches my hands, my head, my heart, my soul.

He touches us and commands: “ Do not say to anyone else, now it was only for you and me, keep it as your joy”. You can show your body to the priest but I will always be in your heart.

So the priests will see a clean body, but only Jesus will see a crystal new creation. And as witnesses, people will see a sacrifice in the Temple. We spoke about it many times, the sacrifice for leprosy is again the lamb. -significant, is it not?

The second case is the centurion, a Roman officer. A soldier who is used to giving commands. But he knows very well that he can give commands only to his men, not to Jesus. And this is the paradox – the leper  in my judgement, was more dangerous to Jesus, but the centurion also confesses his leprosy, that he is also infectious. Jesus says: “I will go and make him well” but the Roman officer replies: “I do not deserve it, but give the order, and my servant  will get well.”

If people were surprised by Jesus´ sermon on the Mount then Jesus is surprised by the Centurion´s faith and probably by the leper´s faith as well. It is not faith itself which surprises Jesus, but the fact that people approach him with humbleness and they know that through him God acts.

There is only a minority of people in our country who do not believe in God But there is also a minority of people who believe in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is personal, it is faith which believes that God acts with us personally and with love, that it is his intention to do things on our behalf. Faith which does not approach God with reverence is dangerous, because then we do not feel responsible for anything.

Jesus finally talks about many who will come from all corners of the Earth to the feast of the Lord, but he also talks about crying and darkness even among the children of Abraham.

Personally I do not believe, that God would prepare something like a concentration camp for all those who disobey him. Not very far from my home there are concentration camps, 4hours away in Poland there is Auschwitz. It is enough to see such places. But it seems to me very true and very present that when society decides to leave a sovereign and personal God that it is like hell. Darkness, grinding of teeth, bossy Naamans, lying politicians, like the king of Israel, who pretended that they would not hurt human beings but on the other hand they lead millions into war and divisions.

But also there is peace for humble souls. Dear father do you want to heal us? And every soul who asks in this manner will be comforted. Yes my dear child I will heal you, I will make you well.

 15th January 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

Jesus changed water into wine, did he not? And it was a miracle, wasn´t it? We have so many miracles around that we do not pay any attention to them. When the sun rises in the morning, isn´t it a miracle? When flowers bloom. When plants purify the air we breath. When the person of your life says good morning to you. Is it not a miracle? When someone cooks a meal for you sometimes from  ingredients you would never put in your mouth but the meal is excellent. When a husband repairs a broken seat and oils a creaking door at home. My wife says that is definitely a miracle.

So Jesus changed water into wine. They say that in Italy there is wine cheaper than water, so what? We like striking news we like when someone performs a mighty spell-miracle. It all catches our eyes and ears, but probably water changed into wine is not the most important thing in our story.

When the story begins it opens a whole plot with the words: “After three days there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee”. The Good News Bible plays hide and seek with us, so it translates after two days. Ok, but it was after three days when Jesus made his first sign,  his first revelation. What else in the Bible happens after three days? We all know the answer. Jesus is raised from the dead.

So, right at the beginning of John´s gospel you have the message about the resurrection – encrypted but it is there. And also it all happens in the area which is considered by “real Jews” from Judea and Jerusalem as a little bit unfaithful, marginal. This is also speaking to us – on the third day, basically among the fallen Jesus makes this miracle. Among those who are basically outsiders like my congregation back home, or like Eastriggs, or like Annan.  There Jesus made his miracle to show that he counts us in even though we are not from Edinburgh, London or Jerusalem. But what is the miracle, if it is not the changing of the water into wine.

When there is a wedding in such a small place like Cana, the bride and her bridegroom are treated by people as the queen and the king at least for this occasion. Special seats like thrones are prepared for them. The higher the position the bigger the responsibilities. The Wedding takes place over many days and the religious meaning is also important. It is like God is among the guests, because God confirms the marriage. The bridegroom is responsible for making sure that everything goes smoothly and then there are many servants and each is responsible for his part.

Now imagine you are in the situation where you run out of wine. In a place where everyone knows everyone else, in a place which should have been for a couple days or weeks your responsibilty. In the place where God is also present at your table, but you are completely screwed. The family of the bride will have the right to ask for compensation. The servants will be angry. The main servant will blame you and the lower servants will blame him and people will talk and write about you for centuries. You are discredited. When they meet you on the High Street they will laugh at you. Then you are done. It is eternal damnation.

I had a man in my office one day. I had buried his friend with whom he had lived for twenty years a couple of days before and now he was alone. One day he went to his work and the people in the village brought a tank of dregs to his house and flooded the whole basement through the open window. It happened in 21 century.  He asked me: “Now tell me pastor what should I do?” I told him: “Move away from the village and from the people, these people won´t let you be” Sometime people never forgive nor forget.

And Jesus enters such a situation, when the celebration can turn into horror for someone. He and  his disciples are present and it might be that they also drank too much wine. Jesus is right in the middle of it. His mother knows that he can do something about it. But Jesus says that it is not his time yet, it is not the hour. The hour is ours and we should have handled it but for some reason we could not. Mother calls Jesus´s hour in Cana.

There are six stone water jars and they are used for ritual purification, but even those are almost empty. We should be able to ritually and regularly clean ourselves, but we are not able to do it. There should be physical and spiritual hygiene, but even the water is almost gone. The servants have to fill the stone jars again.

Everything we begin we should begin humbly and approach respectfully, but we don´t do it anymore. You see we are at the beginning. If we approached from the beginning every bird, every flower, every animal, every human being, every situation as a miracle from God then the world would be without conflict. But because we don´t do it we are in the same situation as at Cana in Galilee. The stone water jars are empty and so are our bottles of cheap wine so we cannot even get drunk.

Jesus starts where we should all have started. He commands those tanks are filled with water for purification. Now imagine the bridegroom when he sees it, although he probably didn´t, what does he think? “I do not need water for purification I need alcohol – wine fast.” Also imagine the modern society calling, we do not need your religious fairy-tales. But let´s be humble and honest at least for a little bit. We have to dust this old religious rubbish because it looks that as a civilization we are sometimes without any good ideas about what to do with our future. Jesus does more for us. He changes the water into wine. He does more as a young man he is hanged on the cross and he bleeds and dies for us. He does that silently and many people don´t notice what he does, many don´t want to notice.

The wine tastes good it is the best wine I have ever tasted, says the chief servant. The forgiveness is good, it is the best thing we have ever tasted.

On a global scale we are in the situation when Mr Trump and Mr Putin are probably going to marry?? each other, but they don´t have any wine to offer the people. In the situation where an individual politician can play a wild card with the whole empire, in the situation where the cradle of education is in some places bombed to the ground and in some places in debt up to its neck, in the situation of the world’s  worst divorce rate, or in a situation, according to the radio, that there are not enough psychiatrists to cover what is needed. We should look for a miracle.

For me the whole story of Cana in Galilee is that Jesus can straighten relationships among people in the village and he does that and most of the people do not even see it – but it is the character of God´s grace – most people don´t see it but God acts on our behalf. He does it because if he lets it go the consequences among people would be bitter. The miracle is called forgiveness. Wine is the visible side of the story but forgiveness is the actual miracle. People won ´t be accused, blamed or won ´t be the subject of gossip – which means they won´t be condemned. The bridegroom gets so easily out of the peculiar situation – Only because of Jesus, he does not know that it was Jesus who saved his neck and his happy marriage.

Have you lost in your life your best friend because he disappointed you, were you able to forgive him? You see in the church it is possible that no one is lost. Jesus´s mother knew her son and Jesus revealed his glory to the disciples in Cana. In church, because we know Jesus, it is possible to forgive those who harmed us and we can be brothers and sisters again. For the sake of the blood of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus acts on our behalf and he covers everything. And this is how the         church grows. We recognize what is the glory of our father. He has mercy on us. Amen

 8th January 2017 – Dornock Church   –   Lessons & Carols led by the Singing Group in Annan Old

Dear brothers and sister,

Do not most parents experience this? When their child turns into a teenager it is like they are kidnapped by aliens. Suddenly there is a completely different person in the family. New music, new posters, new clothes, new books and new friends. And what is worst of all new opinions which are not compatible with those of his/her parents.

The age of twelve was considered in the Bible to be the age of maturity. So Jesus is going to be independent from this point, isn´t he? Not exactly, there is a difference between Jesus and teenagers revolting against their parents.

Precisely the opposite, Jesus does what his parents told him to do. Joseph and Mary were religious people. As we know from the last sermon, they were not rich, but religious enough to make their journey to Jerusalem at least once a year. And Jesus followed them. Because they had taught him that every Jew had to be in the Temple during the Passover. It was one of the duties when Jews travelled to Jerusalem and it was a must during Passover. It was not close to Nazareth, some say at least 100km.

However, it is a nice picture – being in Jerusalem, people met their friends whom they had not seen for a long, long time. Those crowds were probably singing songs or chatting. This recalls nice memories from my childhood. Our church was not so far away from the house of my parents. May be two miles. The worship service usually started at half past eight. We used to walk and we met other church members and my parents were talking to their friends and we liked it as children because we could listen to the talk of adults.

So the closer to Jerusalem the bigger the crowd and more opportunities to see your old friends. It always happened that families were mixed – it was not dangerous at all. Nothing could happen to your child…..because all the people were believers. Do you see, in the past religion was uniting people. And it was similar on the way back from Jerusalem, only the numbers of people travelling from Jerusalem were getting smaller with every mile, because everyone took the way which was leading home. No wonder that Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was missing after one day.

But now we are still on the way to Jerusalem. But even every step to Jerusalem is a religious matter. Because when travelling to the Temple you are stepping up, you are ascending. So you can see your every move towards Jerusalem means something important. There was no bus provided for those pilgrims and they perceived everything. Tiredness and happiness at the same time. And then at the end of the journey there is the holiday –  Passover. Passover says a lot about God´s grace – we were missed, instead of being condemned we were saved.

Isn´t it an uplifting experience? How it must have been a strong emotional and religious experience for Jesus, Joseph and Mary. It is still a strong experience for those who travel to Jerusalem as tourists today. You can also see it from the text, it doesn´t mention the worship itself but it mentions the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For Jesus it is the first time. The first and the last journeys to Jerusalem are recorded.

Luke doesn´t mention the worship itself but he mentions that on the way back home Jesus was missing. Now the holiday is over, people are leaving the holy place. People are descending from Jerusalem and Jesus is missing. Aren´t our lives very similar to the situation of Jesus´ parents?

Bad things do not happen in the church, not during holidays, not in Jerusalem – at “on our “heights” but on the way back to “normal”, common life. We have the saying in Czech: “Misfortune never walks in the mountains but it visits people in their homes”.

So Joseph and Mary began to look for Jesus. They go back to Jerusalem. The task should be easy. When we lose something we usually begin to search in the places we remember as those we have visited before. Jerusalem was not so big that it would take a long time. But surprisingly the Bible says that it took Joseph and Mary three days. They found him after three days.

Which raises a few questions. First, who was really lost – Jesus or his parents. We see that Jesus is in the Temple – all the time in one place, but Joseph and Mary are everywhere and at the same time nowhere. Or they do not know where to look.

Another striking piece of information is that it took exactly three days. Three days before Jesus is found. If it sounds to you like the Easter story then you are on the right track. Twenty years later Jesus is crucified and buried and these three days must have been terrible for Jesus´ mother and also it had to be very hard for his disciples. And after three days Jesus is found again or he finds his scared disciples.  Only the Roman soldiers and the Jews cannot find Jesus because they think of him as dead.

When something bad happens to us we also look for a solution and it takes days before we find anything. Psychology describes the different stages people go through when illness or accident touches their lives. Do we look for comfort in the right places? Probably it is not so easy for us.

They found Jesus after three long days. I am convinced that as believers they had repeated many times that Jesus is the only hope. But when people suffer and hurt, they are like the blind and they do not see the truth which they often talked about.

They found Jesus sitting among the teachers of the law and the Bible says that all were amazed by his words of wisdom. But there are no exact words about what Jesus discussed with the Jewish teachers.

Luke records only the fear of Jesus´ parents and his reply to them. The Good News Bible says: “Didn´t you know that I have to be in my father´s house. But this is not what was really mentioned in the text where Jesus says: Didn´t you know that I must be where my father´s interest is, or where my father´s business is.

When we look for Jesus he has to be at the place of his father´s interest. It doesn´t have to be always in the church or its building, he doesn´t have to be in nice words. Very often we dictate where God should be and what He should do but we do not expect the simplest solution. And by the way the father´s interest is always in our matters.

Joseph and Mary cannot understand what Jesus has done. Because they look at him through human eyes which are always right. Even we often watch Jesus as a twelve year old boy who does not fit into our society, because we are far more developed than ancient times – but is it really true? Jesus has to be where his father’s interest is. We are His interest but often it takes us more than three days to find it out.

You can feel and hear that Joseph and Mary are a little bit jealous and disappointed. They would like to explain to Jesus that he is the boy who belongs to their family but they do not discern clearly that they belong to God´s plans, and everything that happened happened on their behalf.

The question of the story is who is saving whom. Are Joseph and Mary saving Jesus or is he saving them? Is Jesus lost or are they or are we lost.

Heavenly logic is for us sometimes hard to understand but Jesus takes even this weakness seriously. So he is not complaining, but he comes with us from the place of worship to our daily lives, as he did for Joseph and Mary, he does the same for us. So he goes and he is obedient to the father´s will and good to all of us.

New Years Day 2017

Dear brothers and sister,

the beginning and the end of the whole section reminds us that Joseph and Mary go to the Temple to fulfil their religious duty. It is said twice there. It is the order of purification after the birth of a child. According to this law they have to bring a sacrifice for the sin. They brought two doves and a  pair of pigeons. But that is not how this sacrifice should look. Originally it was ordered that you had to bring a lamb, dove and pigeon. But where is the lamb? In the case of a poor family exception could be made and doves and pigeons were enough. So like many young couples Joseph and Mary are also a poor family.

But we have to realize all the connections. Slowly again….Joseph and Mary go to the Temple to make a sacrifice for the sin. The lamb is the sacrifice for the sin. But there is not any! They brought a child to the Temple to bring him before the face of God. Yes, you can say because of circumcision. But wait a minute, the text mentions one detail. The child had received the name Jesus from the angel before it had been conceived. Jesus – Saviour. Now we are slowly at home …. they could not bring a lamb, but they brought Jesus to be circumcised. The lamb is not there but blood was to be spilled in Jerusalem, in the Temple during the sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God. I think that is very important.

We are poor and we came into the presence of God because we feel that for our sins there has to be a sacrifice. What can we bring? Doves and pigeons? Small things? But it might be that we recognize that is not enough. Our body should be the Temple of God and the whole universe is God´s Temple and because of what we have done there has to be a sacrifice. But we cannot bring enough.

Among the first visitors to the manse here were Jehovah´s witnesses. They gave us their magazine and they wanted to explain to me the heavy stuff. Gratefully I took their magazine and with the blessing I sent them away. Neither Watchtower nor the Life and Work Magazine are enough, although you can find interesting information there. We need Jesus, but what does it mean? Gideons do amazing work but their Bibles very often stay in the drawers of hotel rooms. We need sacrifice for our sin, but what does it mean?

Because all humanity is so poor it cannot pay for the sin, the only way and the only sacrifice is Jesus. But how should we understand that, because throughout church history we see places where Christianity had a (full mouth??) of Christ, but it was not enough. The key point is very often overlooked. Jesus is in the Temple and he is the sacrifice, he is the solution, he is our salvation. It is important not to be picky and not to select from Jesus only the part which is easy for us.

It is very closely connected to Simeon´s expectations. Some translations are a little bit mean…saving space. They inform us that Simeon wanted Israel to be saved. But there is more we should be talking about joy and comfort from God, it is still the Christmas story. But some people when they read about Simeon it is like they are reading the inscription on a tombstone: “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation”.

In one Czech movie there is a man and every morning he is dressed for his funeral and he says that to passers-by: “It won´t be a long time and I will die, so I am getting ready so that my wife would not bother anymore”. In that movie it is unbelievably funny, but in Simeon´s story we should not read it as the scene where in one hand Simeon is holding baby Jesus and in the other hand he has his mobile and is calling for a funeral service.

Simeon was a just man, a man of prayer, very often…may be always – everyday he was in the Temple. Jews say that the whole world is being kept together by the prayers of ten just men. When there is such a responsibility, it is also a burden, when every day you carry so much on your shoulders, you can collapse at any time. Christians should realize this and live the fact, that Jesus came. And it should make them happy and strong enough to let certain things go. We are sometimes too serious and too important, but who is Jesus then when we take all the positions and places, do we allow him to act?

I see Simeon as a man who lived in Jerusalem for many, many years afterwards. But there was a change. His life was without any fear: “Because his eyes saw salvation for all the people”.

Is it not interesting that on one side we are too poor to pay, to bring a sacrifice and on the other side we hold everything so firmly in our hands that we do not make space for God´s son?

Jesus is needed, so let him come. In one sermon from the seventeenth century I read that instead of praying for some things we should sometimes use our hands and work more, because healthy hands are also a gift from God…instead gesture of praying hands we should use them to do something good. I agree…but

There is a whole theory that countries with a majority of protestants developed rapidly in the modern era while countries predominantly catholic remained poorer. And they compare Germany, Switzerland, England, Netherlands with the catholic south – Italy, Portugal, Spain. Especially reformed protestants put emphasis on order, work, discipline.

But efficiency is not everything and we see it today. Simeon takes step back so that Jesus would be visible and Simeon can rest from things which are hard to bear.

Also John says: He must become more important while I become less important.” Do we understand, it is not a step back from our importance and popularity, we need to put Jesus in control of everything. Jesus is the light not us.

Joseph and Mary are both amazed with what they hear and see, because no-one had told them before. They took part in something unusual, important. Somehow they realise that they are in the Temple not only to fulfil what was prescribed, but they understand that Jesus is not their baby who they can spoil that he really is the saviour and they also understand that Simeon is not an old guy who likes small babies around like all older people do. But he has prophetic words also for them. “The child is chosen for the destruction and salvation of many in Israel”.

With Jesus´s coming some of our ideas fall down and are rejected by God. Jesus has destroyed lots of our ideas which we considered as holy and redeeming. With Jesus our pride is destroyed, our boasting is gone, our love of possessions means nothing, but he saves what is worthy or better said, he saves what is loved by God the father. He saves our souls. So don´t feel sorry that some things were taken away, it is all about your salvation.

It touches Mary especially as the mother who loves Jesus but with the love of all mothers who are protecting their children. She is willing to give her life for Jesus, but she has to accept, that Jesus will give his life for her. Simeon says to her: “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.”

Now I understand these words better this year. When you lose your loved ones it is like a sword. For me as a minister funerals were easy until I got to know people closely in my congregation. Then it began to be a problem and I felt as if there was a sword right in my heart. Paul says: “If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world”.

It is not only about dying but about our attachment to earthly things. And for the church it means something even more important. Can we point to hope which is beyond this world, are we able to do it?

I used to say that it is not a problem to have the church full of people. It is easy the only thing you have to do is to copy things which attract people, add a little bit of religion, a little bit of entertainment and you have it. But the church is here for more than that and that is complicated. And it is a riddle for every church session, how we should do it to have the right balance and Christ in first place.

To be like Simeon and try to see beyond the horizon. But leaving earthly things is difficult because there is always a sword on your heart but there should also be joy in your heart because your eyes have seen the salvation. Amen

 

Christmas Day 2016 – Annan Old

Texts:       Gn 3: 22-24                                     Matthew 2: 1-10

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

the translations show how we approach this text. 90 percent of our English Bibles speak about  the wise men who came to see Jesus. Our songs usually also sing about the wise men. We glorify them although we did not think of them. We very often glorify ourselves and we do not think if  we are doing right or wrong.

My grandfather was also a wise man. He took me to watch the night sky and he knew many things about stars. As a young boy I was amazed and I admired him and I spent a lot of time with him watching the stars. It was so interesting.

Is the wise man someone who knows something? In ancient times there were many smart Jews, we still know their names. If the wise-men weren´t Jews then I am sure you could find many smart people in many eastern nations. What is wisdom for us and what is wisdom for God?

We live in the age of information and possession of the right information is priceless.  Wise men had probably the knowledge but it didn’t count for much. But what counts and what makes them special is that they followed the star. Not what they had, what they knew but what they followed is important.      And “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge” (Ecclesiastes) . I mean it is so important what people follow and what we follow. This fact can make us wise but also stupid, this fact can mean that our children may one day be laughing at us or really enjoying the wisdom which led us somewhere.

The second possibility of the reading is that the wise men were actually magi. We know such characters – they predict the future. They read from the stars, they prepare horoscopes. For orthodox Christianity it is something low and stupid, not even acceptable. But why were they included in God´s plans.

Here is the interesting and important thing. They were not depending on their own understanding of the world but when God showed them the sign they followed. They could also be called heretics and blasphemers – not wise men, but when the time came they followed and that is the wisdom. It is not important what people think about them – how often are we afraid about what people think of us? – it is what they do that is important.

Adam and Eve – when they ate – they recognized the difference between good and evil, the difference between immortality and mortals, the difference between God and human. Did they know something? They lost the sense of what it meant to live with God. So he expelled them to the east from Eden. They lost Eden because of a single thought because they refused to live with God. To live in peace with God, isn´t it paradise? Didn´t we lose it for our pride, for our ways?

Adam and Eve were expelled to the East, the wise men return from the East to find their king to find what humankind had lost a long time ago. It is not easy, after long travels, they had to choose again – Jesus or Herod. Are we wise, did we travel so far to choose Jesus or Herod?

Herod has blood on his hands. He did not hesitate to kill his whole family and then to kill all newborns.

Jesus´s blood pours out of his body as the sacrifice. Can you accept that as God´s rule as God´s wisdom? God was humiliated but it was God´s way of salvation.

Herod promises his favour to you and his palace, his army for a single piece of information – to kill Jesus in this world.

Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven for those who are poor in spirit. Can you accept such a call? Can you accept a poor stable and can you leave there all your treasures and also your heart at the cradle?

I am asking because the power of Herod is very strong. Herod ruled on the battlefields of Europe, he ruled in the death camps, in the gulag. Herod rules today in the Middle East, in Syria, Egypt, Turkey and many other countries, he rules in Berlin when a lorry can crash into the crowd, but Herod rules very close to our homes and people don´t want to see it. Herod sometimes rules in our families.

Or do you accept Jesus the one who won’t shout on the streets with loud speeches or parades. He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.(Isa 42).

So I opt for him, because he can give me the one thing the Herod doesn´t have. I can go in peace and live in this world as the wise men could do. I can go and have the joy Jesus offers.

 

24th December 2016 – Dornock Church      Watchnight Service

Texts:       Gn 3: 22-24                                     Matthew 2: 1-10

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

the translations show how we approach this text. 90 percent of our English Bibles speak about  the wise men who came to see Jesus. Our songs usually also sing about the wise men. We glorify them although we did not think of them. We very often glorify ourselves and we do not think if  we are doing right or wrong.

My grandfather was also a wise man. He took me to watch the night sky and he knew many things about stars. As a young boy I was amazed and I admired him and I spent a lot of time with him watching the stars. It was so interesting.

Is the wise man someone who knows something? In ancient times there were many smart Jews, we still know their names. If the wise-men weren´t Jews then I am sure you could find many smart people in many eastern nations. What is wisdom for us and what is wisdom for God?

We live in the age of information and possession of the right information is priceless.  Wise men had probably the knowledge but it didn’t count for much. But what counts and what makes them special is that they followed the star. Not what they had, what they knew but what they followed is important.      And “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge” (Ecclesiastes) . I mean it is so important what people follow and what we follow. This fact can make us wise but also stupid, this fact can mean that our children may one day be laughing at us or really enjoying the wisdom which led us somewhere.

The second possibility of the reading is that the wise men were actually magi. We know such characters – they predict the future. They read from the stars, they prepare horoscopes. For orthodox Christianity it is something low and stupid, not even acceptable. But why were they included in God´s plans.

Here is the interesting and important thing. They were not depending on their own understanding of the world but when God showed them the sign they followed. They could also be called heretics and blasphemers – not wise men, but when the time came they followed and that is the wisdom. It is not important what people think about them – how often are we afraid about what people think of us? – it is what they do that is important.

Adam and Eve – when they ate – they recognized the difference between good and evil, the difference between immortality and mortals, the difference between God and human. Did they know something? They lost the sense of what it meant to live with God. So he expelled them to the east from Eden. They lost Eden because of a single thought because they refused to live with God. To live in peace with God, isn´t it paradise? Didn´t we lose it for our pride, for our ways?

Adam and Eve were expelled to the East, the wise men return from the East to find their king to find what humankind had lost a long time ago. It is not easy, after long travels, they had to choose again – Jesus or Herod. Are we wise, did we travel so far to choose Jesus or Herod?

Herod has blood on his hands. He did not hesitate to kill his whole family and then to kill all newborns.

Jesus´s blood pours out of his body as the sacrifice. Can you accept that as God´s rule as God´s wisdom? God was humiliated but it was God´s way of salvation.

Herod promises his favour to you and his palace, his army for a single piece of information – to kill Jesus in this world.

Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven for those who are poor in spirit. Can you accept such a call? Can you accept a poor stable and can you leave there all your treasures and also your heart at the cradle?

I am asking because the power of Herod is very strong. Herod ruled on the battlefields of Europe, he ruled in the death camps, in the gulag. Herod rules today in the Middle East, in Syria, Egypt, Turkey and many other countries, he rules in Berlin when a lorry can crash into the crowd, but Herod rules very close to our homes and people don´t want to see it. Herod sometimes rules in our families.

Or do you accept Jesus the one who won’t shout on the streets with loud speeches or parades. He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.(Isa 42).

So I opt for him, because he can give me the one thing the Herod doesn´t have. I can go in peace and live in this world as the wise men could do. I can go and have the joy Jesus offers.

 

18th December 2016 – Dornock Church    

John 1:19-28

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last week we spoke about John the Baptist who sent his disciples to ask Jesus a difficult question: “Are you the One or are we to expect a different one”.

Now we have John the Baptist here again but we go against the time-line. Now John receives a difficult question. Jesus has not started his ministry yet, but John is a very well known figure by this time. So probably the Pharisees from Jerusalem sent their disciples, priests and Jews to ask John: “And who are you?”

Before we get more deeply into the text we should pay attention to the beginning of our reading as it says in the original text: this is the testimony, this is the witness of John. Some translations skip this introduction. However it is a very important one.

In the Dubuque seminary in Iowa we had one teacher who was a brilliant expositor of the Old Testament and of course he was way above our level. So it was not easy for us to understand some of his conclusions. We kept asking him about many details and when both sides had put all their arguments on the table there was still the question: “And why do you believe this? What makes you a Christian?”, he used to answer: “Because my mother told me and before her, her mother had told her”.

All that Christians believe is a matter of testimony – witness. Science is based on experiments but only to a certain extent. Some elementary things cannot be proved by experiments, people rely on their experience, sometimes even on instinct.

Faith is based on testimony and there are certain rules to prove when a testimony is valid and when it is not. There has to be a reliable source for such a testimony, in the Bible a testimony has to be supported by at least two witnesses. An enforced testimony is unreliable, does not have validity. On the other hand a testimony supported by a sacrifice is proof of truthfulness. That is why martyrs are in the Bible witnesses and witnesses are martyrs. The Bible uses the same word for both.

John the Baptist was sent by God and the task was given to him by God. We have to accept that this verifies the validity of his message. God certifies that John´s preaching is true. That is one side of his testimony. Later we will understand why it is true.

Secondly John is preaching with no intention of promoting himself. You know the situation. Some people are always building their career and time to time you can see it even in the church. John is not like this. Jesus´s disciples have this problem but John does not. Such an attitude makes  his preaching trustworthy.

John does not feel it is necessary to answer the question:  “Who are you?” Are you Elijah? No I am not! Are you a prophet? No I am not.

Even people from Jesus´s circle had this need to be recognized, identify John the Baptist as someone. For him it is not important.

Dear brother and dear sister who are you? What proves your life and status? Imagine in our country some politicians received their university degree in two months. Of course they cheated, they paid someone big money to have a golden plaque on their door with their name and with their academic title and when you enter their office you can see their framed diplomas. And in contrast I remember a time when my father lost his job. He went to a job centre and they told him that there was no job for him because he was too well educated.

So who are you and what do you want to be? I am the voice….says John. Is it OK to be only the voice of the Lord? Is it enough to be only the servant of the one who is coming? John is fine with that, he does not need to be more.

You know there are ministers who are leaving their position because they feel that their talents are being wasted, there are ministers who leave their job for better money or there are ministers who strive to have a better title?  What do you dream of? To have better things and a better career or to live a better life?

Who are you? The name John means – God is gracious or God´s gift is gracious.

Paul once wrote God´s words: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

This is why John´s testimony is important. John is not tempted to pretend that he is something more, his listeners need such proof.

And now about the content and about the meaning of John´s preaching. “Make straight the way of the Lord”. Is it not an unusual expression? Why not make it straight for the Lord. Our lives, human life is the way of the Lord, our world is the way of the Lord. Jesus was born into this world and not only for this world. So to prepare the way of the Lord means to make straight our lives and everything that surrounds us, because the Lord will be with us in all this. The Lord is coming, not just passing by but coming.

Although John was saying that he was not a prophet he uses the language of a prophet. These words were taken directly from Isaiah and we also know the situation at that time. It was a hard one. The completely exhausted people were called to go home – from Babylonia to Jerusalem. Preceeding generations had lived in Babylon  – in the land of chaos and slavery. They are now encouraged to go home. Do you think that they were excited? Of course but also scared? Can we make another step? Will our journey be really straight enough that we will make it through?

John calls his listeners to repent – to make things straight. But were they able to do it? And are we able to do it? John as a preacher was pretty strict but not so strict that he would not realize that people needed help.

Why do you baptize, they asked him? For the simple reason, people need to be washed. As dirty children, as tired pilgrims they need to be washed first. It is obvious that they do not have enough power to make the next step without cleansing. There is also mercy in John´s sermon. Grace must be given to people before proceeding, not as something that people produce by their religion.

Jesus is different from John the Baptist. He is greater and he will baptize people with the Holy Spirit.

Even if we were not able to discern the difference between baptism by water and baptism with the Holy Spirit there is something we can see as people in ancient times saw it. There is a difference between John and Jesus. Even their opponents saw this. They said John was a man of discipline and they did not like it so much…he does not drink or eat. On the contrary they were saying about Jesus – but this one drinks and eat with sinners. Either way was not accepted by the crowd. But there are symbioses?? between Jesus and John. Essentially it is whom Jesus and John serve. It is the testimony and the reason why it is so convincing and why Jesus and John did not stand against each other.

As a church or as individuals we are experiencing the time which we call Advent – the coming of the Lord. What feelings does it bring. Fear, anxiety, happiness? The testimony of John the Baptist teaches us a lot. Not to be afraid of what people think about us, not to be scared about the present time, not to pretend that we are better. We need to put things in our lives straight. Sometimes we need the help of others, we need to be washed, but never scared by those who come to test us. Only be thankful for the one who is coming. He won’t pass around us, he is coming to live with us and in us. Amen

 

18th December 2016- Annan Old   – Nativity Service

Isa 9:2-7

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just a few notes about the prophet Isaiah, because the main message today belongs to our children.  First of all – the nature of salvation is an immediate change and it is done by God. Sometimes we talk about a sustainable way of living in the church and we dress the Bible in a green ecological cover – nothing against that, God himself says that people should be guardians of all creation. Sometimes we turn the Bible into a set of good moral standards. Nothing against that because we should love our neighbour as ourselves. But salvation is a different thing. It covers all the details of our life and also things which are beyond our horizons and above our powers.

So besides the defeat of our enemies the Bible speaks about darkness being changed into light and despair into joy. It is a sudden change like the moment when the night turns into day.

The yoke is broken suddenly, although it had burdened people for a long time, the change is done in a moment. The image of God who is sweating and trying to break the yoke for centuries cannot be accepted by the Bible. Like Jesus´s words “it is finished” or like the Temple curtain which split in one brief moment. Salvation happens in one sudden change.

Secondly – it is done by God….not by man. Like in the days of Midian. It is a reminder of Gideon’s fight. If you remember the story Gideon and his army of 300 hundred soldiers, they were only carrying torches, they did not need to fight at all. It was God´s fight not ours. In the days of Isaiah Jerusalem was under the siege of Assyrian armies. All the people were scared expecting defeat, but the angel of God on behalf of God´s people killed 185 000 Assyrians at dawn. Historians say that they died of diarrhoea. Whether God used an angel or some more earthly tool does not matter but the result matters…something that no-one expected…the people of God were saved. And the tools of war – weapons and also war clothing were destroyed by fire.

Thirdly – a child is born – not an army general but a child so that no-one can attribute the victory to a man, warrior. The child will receive royal power. There is a set of royal titles or we think that these are titles: “Wonderful Counsellor,”    “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,”    “Prince of Peace.” It is merely God´s plan. Yes everything is ready and prepared by God.

He is a wonderful counsellor – God has a big plan for his people. He is a mighty God – after a series of deities with no power –  a mighty God comes. He is father – the eternal one – earthly fathers disappear, die –the heavenly father remains with us. He is the Prince of peace – peace is something he inherited from the father and peace is his rule.

11th December 2016 – Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

Talking about expectations I remember what they were in my childhood. At Christmas I always expected tons of toys. What did I usually receive? Socks, shirts, sweatshirts, trousers, books. Of course, after Christmas my classmates brought some of their gifts to school. And I was surprised…oh their parents knew what their kids dreamt of, mine did not.

Now as a parent I am grateful when my children say what they would like. We cannot buy everything but we try to give our children at least one thing that they want. I realize now that my parents also tried, but it was not so easy for them, they had to wait in long queues and they had to take what was on the shelf. It is much easier for us.

What are our expectations of the coming Messiah? Or better. First, let´s start to think what God expects from us. He created man in his image. God´s expectations are that we will remain within the picture. The first pages of the Bible speak clearly enough.

God had created light. And he expects that we would recognize the difference between light and darkness. It is so easy. In light you can see, in the darkness you crash into things and other people.

In his creation God had separated the waters and dry land appeared. It had its reason, he taught us where the firm land is and where you can drown and where is heaven.

He created every plant and every creature so that people could enjoy them and they knew the difference between void? earth and the beauty of creation.

God expects us to know that his creation is good, that we were created in his good image. God´s creation is like an alphabet and anyone can read it even those who don´t know the letters yet. God expects us to follow his order. And yet you can read in the prophet Malachi: “ I the Lord do not change but you are still sons of Jakob”. You did not change either. Still cheaters as your father Jacob.

The expectations of the Messiah also means that we have to look into our hearts. Only a sober and honest mind can really accept the truth. So when we are asking about the coming of the Lord and when we expect him we should also ask ourselves about our situation.

For John the Baptist it is an essential thing. Are you the One whom we should expect? Because if you are not then all of my life has been a failure. For John it is really crucial, because he won´t have another chance. He is in jail, he may be counting his last days. So he wants to know that he has not wasted his own life.

John the Baptist was also the one who was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But we have to realize that in the moment when he baptized Jesus he also received indisputable proof that Jesus was really the one. Especially in Matthew,  immediately when Jesus steps out of the river: the heavens were opened, the Spirit of the Lord descended onto Jesus and a voice from heaven was heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

So John is not troubled with the figure of Jesus, he doesn´t look for another person, he thinks about the nature of the Messiah. Are you the One we should expect, or should we expect a person of a different kind. The majority of people had their own vision of the Messiah.

What is your idea of the Messiah? Are you willing to accept the one who heals the blind? Or is that a stumbling block for you. Jesus heals those who are blind – physically, he is a doctor of the body, but there are many doctors these days who can do such miracles. But he also accepts and heals those who are blind in all other ways. He heals the blindness of our days. Is such a Jesus also the Messiah for you, because very often we think that some people deserve only judgement not healing.

Are you ready to accept the Messiah who heals the lame? Now we are better in building barrier free houses. Ok, but are we better in accepting the fact that Jesus deals with people who for their whole life did not make any progress in their lives. They couldn´t cross their own shadow, they are selfish enough so they cannot do one real step. Are we ready to accept that Jesus deals with such losers. Do you remember the scene from the Beautiful Gate? There is a lame man and the only thing he is able to do is asking for money. We do not have money but in the name of Jesus, walk, says Peter. Can we accept that Jesus is dealing with people who were sitting or sleeping their whole life?

Or can we accept those who were deaf. They did not listen to our opinion and certainly not to God´s voice, they were only employed by their own, inner selfish voice. Can we accept the Jesus who has the power to heal them?

Can we accept that Jesus resurrected many dead? Although some people do many things actually they look as if they are dead.

I know many Christians who cannot accept the idea that Jesus is the Saviour of the whole world. That he can heal people already rejected as hopeless cases. They have their own idea of  the Messiah and they don´t like to think even for a moment that Jesus´ arms are full of grace. But isn´t it also in the Bible? Workers who are angry with others because they received exactly the same wage although they did not work for a whole day. Isn´t there the parable of the prodigal son? There is also a very judgemental part of Christianity and it seems to me that they are enjoying the idea that the coming Messiah will be a cruel one.

Are you the one or should we expect a different one? Yes, God´s grace is also an adventure. It is always bigger than we thought. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”, says Jesus.

When the disciples of John the Baptist were about to leave Jesus also said a few words about him. And it was important that people also heard these words. Why did you follow John the Baptist into wilderness?

Do you like exhibitions? So lets say if there are exhibitions there must also be exhibitionists. John the Baptist was not one. People come to the wilderness, to church, to the theatre, to the cinema. But Jesus warns them, it is not matter of entertainment. I was so pleased when I applied for my first position in the church and had an interview with the session, many argued that they needed a young minister to be good with children but one lady said: “No we need a minister who would tell our children, what they need to hear”. Why did you follow John, why do you follow me.because there is more than entertainment. More serious stuff for our lives. People followed John, not because of his diet, not because of his horrible prophetic clothes but because of his prophetic voice. He was saying what God told him to say. Following a prophetic voice is not a matter of fashion, it is not a trip to see the country or an extravagant person.

And finally Jesus speaks also to us and about us. “…among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he…”. John the Baptist is the great figure, some call him the last prophet, some call him Elijah, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. What does it mean? John had his doubts how things were going to be. When we are not sure about things we turn to things or other people for help. Those born of women. Every mother is important. My wife remembers her grandmother she had Alzheimers disease when she was old. A couple times she escaped from the house and walked to the village where she had lived before. She took a mug of milk and she walked miles and miles before they found her. Somewhere deep in our consciousness there is written information about the place where we feel secure. Usually this is linked to our mothers or a former home. We are all born from women, so we all have these feelings when we look for a secure place, But Jesus says there is also another place. The least in the kingdom is greater than he. As Christians you can be born again, so that is the time where our new link to heaven begins and it is how security is established.

My wife keeps telling me that I should finally grow up. When I reply that I am already 40 she says: “then stop visiting your mother every day”. So I wrote on her calendar the day when I became mature and I only visit my parents every second day.

There was also a Scottish minister, he was born in Coatbridge…Glasgow area(?). He moved to the US and became a chaplain of the Senate. He wrote about  Scotland almost in poems, it is really beautiful and it is joy to read his sermons, but he concludes that our real home is in God´s kingdom. I don’t think he ever returned to Scotland, but surely he returned home.

We are all surprised how God acts but we should not cause the violence to God´s kingdom and to the Messiah who is about to come. But instead we can search for God´s will. Are you the One, is it your intention to act in such way and what is my purpose in all this chaos and busyness? And the second – none of us is John the Baptist – but with God we are at home in a secure place. Amen

4th December 2016 – Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

I will be a little bit personal at the beginning of the sermon. We were discussing the future of our family last week and I will describe you how it looked. My wife was talking to me and I was browsing TV channels and answering Yes or No, but I think, I hardly knew, what we were really talking about. My wife concluded: “Could you please turn this American movie off, because all American movies are the same, first they want to kill the president, second – they almost demolish the White House, third they nearly launch a nuclear attack. Yes, she was right and I would conclude with the combined sayings of George W. Bush and Mr Trump, the movie ended like this: “And we will make America strong again because our Americans are the best Americans in the world.

I know it is a serious topic. Jesus speaks seriously. “…There will be strange things happening to the sun, the moon, and the stars…” We jumped right into the centre of what is called the “Small apocalypse”. All three gospels Mathew, Mark and Luke have it. Some people when they read about the roaring sea and the raging tides they immediately make an ecological theme out of it. Ok, we can consider it, but Jesus was meaning a different thing. The Sun, the moon and the stars are the powers which usually govern peoples lives. Although we lost the religious notion of these symbols a long time ago it is not a coincidence that major world powers are still using these signs. Japan  has the sun,  China uses yellow stars as communistic Russia did, the United States use the white star, Islamic states use the moon and star, (the UK has a combination of crosses, similarly Switzerland has the cross). People are using these religious symbols to project and to make visible their faith. The sun, the moon, the stars were always gods and goddesses. We even use such labels for individuals. He or she is a star. It is also the reason that very often you see crying teenagers on TV when something has happened to their favourite person, their star has lost or gained popularity, so kids get emotional. It is a religious thing.

So when Jesus says that there will be signs on the sun, the moon and stars, that these powers will be shaken he speaks about religious, economical and political powers which are going to lose their stability and influence. The result will be fear among people, the loss of control, the loss  of balance.

We have also created a whole band of professional gamblers who play the game “shake the sun, shake the moon”. Ordinary people go to their job, but next day a single news item can cause that which was worth a pound yesterday to be worth a penny today….I am exaggerating, but not so much.

Ministers can also influence what people think and do. Yes, religion in the past influenced the whole history of Europe, so people are non-religious. They think that society can be better without religion but they fall back into it and they do not realize it.

Jesus was a preacher to ordinary people and he clearly saw the hopes and worries they had. He lived in an area not far away from astral cults…no wonder that among the first who saw his birth were magicians from the east, Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt which was formerly governed by sons of the Sun…which was the official title for Pharaoh. Jesus saw deals between Jews, Romans and puppet rulers. And he knew where it could lead. He also knew the importance of hope and faith for people. When those are taken away , nothing remains as before and conflicts among people are inevitable. You can not live without the faith which constitutes your life.

Is it the end of the world? That is the question. Some churches use such passages as the description of the end. But it is not what Jesus says, actually it is a description of reality. Yes, this is going to happen again and again. There is a misunderstanding about the time and timing. Ancient people understood time as something with is cyclic. History was repeated again and again. We understand that time is linear from one point to another. To simplify we can say that time is an evolution. Which does not seem to be correct either. What kind of evolution is this? That we developed more frightening weapons than our fathers? Time as a timeline? Not for me. The only time we can count on is the time when God enters our lives. Otherwise there are only our never ending attempts for a better future and our mistakes. Lets measure time when we meet God.

Jesus says that what was once assurance of stability can one day be buried in ruins. Some people admired the Temple and its beauty. Jesus said but one day even the temple will be destroyed. Actually one wall of the temple is still standing. People go there to pray, to meet God, some of them bring their written prayers, they fold them and put them between the stones of the western wall and every morning there is a service which collects these prayers to store them because no prayer pronounced in the temple should be lost.

But in the meanwhile what can be done when our hope in the Sun, Moon and  stars and also the Temple is lost. When everything is lost you can still see the Son of a Man who is coming in the cloud, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

That is the reason why I was talking about the understanding of time. You are the generation which experienced the fall of traditions but also you can experience that God in Jesus Christ is nearer to you. He is coming in the cloud. The vision is little bit cloudy and foggy and reality is sometimes rough but it is the glory of the Son of God and he is nearer and closer to you and you can see it. Redemption is near. Not here yet but near.

What shall we do in the meantime? The Bible says, Jesus says be on guard. I would say Christians should not be allowed to be stupid.

First, the time of trials gives the opportunity to many people to become leaders in society. Jesus says, many will come and they will claim I am the Messiah. You can see it clearly nowadays. Many people who would not be even considered as leaders in the past are elected these days. I do not want to speak about English politicians, so I will speak about ours. Five years ago we had a president and he was a thief, today we have one who is a liar. The first was elected by the parliament, the second by public vote. So what Jesus says is: “Do not believe cheap promises”. That is not the Christian way.

Second be smart, but not so smart as to give up on everything. “…That your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…”. It is not a description of an addiction. It describes what happens when people are disappointed. Either alcohol, drugs or they will lock the door behind them and they care only about themselves and their possessions. Most knowledgeable??? people in our country are heavy beer drinkers, everyday in a pub they are telling stories about how things should be but when they stand up, they can not keep their  balance.

Third, pray always that you may have strength. There are two possible ways to read it. First, to have strength to escape these things. The one who escaped does not need strength, but the one who really goes through has to have strength, that is what the Bible means. When you go through pray to have the strength to face everything and everyone. The second possible reading is to pray to be recognized as worthy. Which means as the one who relied on the hope of Jesus Christ. The hope – Christians are people of Hope.

And there is also the parable of the fig tree. Plant scientists say that it takes a long time for the fig to lose its leaves but the spring is sudden, it is a very quick change when new leaves appear. That is what is Jesus promising. There will be a sudden change, you will wake up one morning to a new experience and you can see it even now.

Luke says that every morning there were people who wanted to hear the message of Jesus. His sermon was not cheap it really talks about their lives, what they were going through. It talks also about God who remembers us even when we are in the midst of troubles. Just keep on listening to him the change will come.

As the prophet Isaiah said:

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

27th November 2016 – Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

it is Advent, it reminds us of Jesus´s coming….the second coming is meant. Today´s passage was read twice a year in the old church.  The next opportunity to read this text is obviously Palm Sunday. What is your understanding of this text? There are some hints how it was accepted and understood by the first generations of Christians – almost as an ecstatic, happy event and text. Yes certainly you can read it this way.

The Disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, they will see the Holy City. Finally the boring part of their journeys is gone….walking through small towns and villages is history, but now they are in the centre, they are close to Jerusalem – David´s city, the place of the Temple and even more they are coming to celebrate one of the holidays which makes every  faithful Jew travel to Jerusalem. And even more Jesus has an important task for them.

They were sent to untie a donkey with her colt and bring it back. They know the prophet Zechariah, so they follow the instruction, they know what is next, the Messiah is so near. When they untied the donkey someone asked them: “What do you need them for?”, they have a handy answer ready “The Lord, the Master needs them”. This situation itself looks as a charismatic moment. It is enough to say, the Lord needs them and all questions and doubts are silenced. So everything is ready they entered the city and the crowds of believers were going crazy when they saw their Lord and they spread branches and their cloaks on the road and they were shouting more than they would do in an arena when watching a football match. They were shouting Hosanna in the Highest, Hosanna to the king.

Among the disciples there was an idea that something big was going to happen. The mother of Zebedees, actually as most mothers would do, was begging: “Declare that these my two (spoilt ??) sons John and James will sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left hand, in your kingdom.” She was already booking new positions in a government which was not created yet. Mothers would do everything for their sons, wouldn´t they? We tend to read this passage this way, but you must be careful, because life is not always an ecstatic experience. The explanation might be more simple.

Let’s read it another way. The disciples were tired and when they were approaching Jerusalem they were scared. They remembered very well what Jesus had told them before. “The Son of (God) man will be handed over to the priests and scribes, he will be condemned to death”. And the disciples were scared, yes,  they were his followers what would people do to them?

They could arrest them and put them to death with their Master. Peter also thought about Jesus, how he told him: “Go away Satan”. “Yes I maybe should have left him a long time ago, because it is going to be dangerous, I do not like the idea of suffering”. And at such a moment Jesus asked him to do even more: “Go to the village which is in front of us and take the donkey”. He wanted to turn the disciples into thieves!?! They would arrest them and they are not even in Jerusalem yet, but maybe it is better to be condemned as a thief  rather than a blasphemer.

But everything went smoothly. There was a man in the village, he asked the disciples why they needed the donkey and they replied, “The Master wanted us to untie it”. And the man said: “Oh yes, I remember, for the traditional feast of the tabernacles, take it”. And the disciples thought, that this time they were lucky.

But another problem arose, Jesus wanted to go to the city through the main gate. Judas was careful and he told him that there was a small gate called “The Eye of a needle”. It was not suitable for a rider on a camel or for a merchant but someone on a donkey could make it through. But Jesus did not want to hear about it. So they went through the main gate. A miracle happened, someone gave  the crowd the order of worship and CH4 and people were shouting: “Hosanna” and Psalm 118 was read. People were told what to say, what to believe, how to express their faith. An image of  the traditional church?  It might be. The Disciples thought that they were lucky, but later people asked who was the actor on the donkey but they could not answer, because they had feeling about the investigation which was coming.

You can tell that I am making up a completely different story! Not exactly! Who are we? Who is Jesus? What is his Advent.

First, who are we? We are people who oscillate between two points. We have our highs and lows. The almost ecstatic experiences are changing suddenly into  a series of fears and worries.  The higher the position the bigger the downfall.

Jesus is coming and he is walking with his disciples….a very diverse group – every disciple has his own views on what the Messiah´s coming should look like. Some of them are brave enough to confess when it is secure, some of them are mean, some of them are always in doubt, some are fishermen, tax collectors but all of them are sinners.

There is someone in the story who provided a donkey with its colt. We do not know his name but we know that he obeyed what the Lord had commanded.

There is an anonymous crowd – a crowd which can one day rejoice and can reject the next day.

That is us and that is our world. One day up, the other down, one day faithful, the next full of despair, one day praising the next day threatening, one day throwing green branches, the next day throwing stones.

They asked us in the seminary how we felt about our parishioners, if we thought they were good or bad people. I raised my hand to claim that I thought that people in the church were good. The professor told us that those who think that church people are good are going to have a hard time in their ministry. After 17 years of being a pastor I think that it is not the people but the question which was bad. Yes, there are extremes but on average people are people. People reflect situations and they try to go for the best solution in their eyes, they try to survive situations which are not easy.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who is compassionate with people, who has mercy on people, who is also son of man (which is also eschatological title). He knows what people experience. He himself experienced that right at the moment he was born. But advent season does not want us to just to experience the Christmas story yet rather to realize who we are in relation to Jesus. Jesus is coming, so can we help the coming of the Lord? May be indirectly when we go to untie the donkey but our faith, theology, actions are too weak to do it. Jesus is on his own. Notice that he almost does not speak in the story. This time there is no place for preaching, no commandments, no judgement, he goes silently, because he knows who we are and also what we need.

He comes on a donkey. You can load a burden on a donkey. Warhorses pulled war chariots but donkeys were able to carry heavy loads. The donkey carries a silent Messiah and he is silent because there is not much to say at this moment, it is a time of carrying peoples burdens and people do not even know about it. Advent is the Lord´s coming into our affairs and this time the Lord´s coming can not be stopped. That is very important. It can not be stopped – no matter what people do, think or believe or experience it cannot be stopped.

The Messiah is silent but people are shouting. They are experiencing a happy moment but the words they are using were usually a call of distress. Hosanna to the king, Hosanna in the highest. People usually confuse the word Hosanna with Hallelujah. It looks as if  even the second generation of Christians were making this mistake, but was it a mistake?

Hallelujah is an expression of joy. Hosanna is a call for help. People were calling hosanna and at the same time they enjoyed the moment. This looks almost like the final stage of madness. It is a situation when society enjoys many things but at the same time people are very unhappy. So they cry Hosanna which has several meanings.

God save us through the king David. When we are experiencing post modern fever, uncertainty and the declining of traditions and also traditional confessions then, please save us. It is our calling, yes please, come and save us. You are our only hope.

The second meaning is. God save the king – king David is meant. He comes on a donkey and will be charged with our guilt. Please save him, do not let him die or stumble. And God saved him – from the cross and from the grave. And through him he saved us also

We call the first advent Sunday Hope – yes it is our hope, God is coming despite what people think or do. Hosanna, please come. Amen

20th November 2016 –  Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

for the last twenty years, I have been effected by the following incident. My friends took me to Lake Michigan. When we got there I watched its surface and my friends came to me and they told me that they saw I did not like it there, that I did not enjoyed it there. I tried to disagree but without any effect. You know I have something that we call in Czech “dog´s cold nose” Americans don´t have cold noses, everything in the US is beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, striking, big and cool. I think I enjoyed Lake Michigan but they never took me for another trip again.

But we want to talk about joy today, don´t we. What is joy? Is it visible outwards? We had a comedian in our country and when he was on TV the whole nation was laughing. He was good. Only a few people knew that he was almost constantly on medication and that is how he also died as a broken man.

I had one old man in my congregation. He was 92 years old. Whenever and wherever I preached he went with me. So we travelled together. I was silent – reviewing the sermon in my head – and he was silent also. So I asked him: “Aren´t you bored listening to the same sermon twice and don´t you mind that I do not say a word while we travel together to the second congregation”. You should have seen his smile. He replied: “I need to hear it twice then I can think about it and as to the second part of your question…you are my friend and pastor so I do not mind that you are silent for a while”. We enjoyed each other’s company, I think. He was a beautiful person.

And the last story. The hardest worship services for me are holidays – Christmas and Easter. Not because there are many gatherings. We all stand in one circle and I distribute bread and hand the common cup to my congregation. They taught us that the Lord´s Supper is a joy. But I know the feelings of my parishioners as when I serve them I have to look into their eyes and I see everything, sometimes their lives are not easy, that is hard. I know that for some of them it was hard to come, but they came…for different reasons. And really very often only a minister knows the story.

What is a joy? Wedding is a joy. The bridegroom is about to come. It is a sovereign right of the bridegroom to be late. Whatever people think about the bridegroom and about his timeliness the wedding remains a joyous event.

Those who are called to be servants at the wedding procession are to be present at the event but it is not up to them decide the time when it takes place. They are there to serve.

That is the first problem. We have to realize what is going on and who is the important figure. The one is Jesus, he already gave everything to us, he showed us where to take oil into our lamps, he gave us plenty of gifts.

For some people the joy is that they are the centre of the universe. It is a bit of a selfish reason. The joy is that Jesus is coming with his kingdom, the joy is that even now he still wants to marry his church and invite others to the wedding. Despite his experience with human history he is still interested in marrying. Every second which has passed is also a joy because it means that we are closer to the celebration. That is the positive side, is it not? Time shortens.

Time is an important topic here. He can come during daylight, which would be good for us, there would not be any need for our lamps. But he can come also at night…it can even be directly at midnight. Do you feel the contradiction? The wedding at midnight?

Imagine the first Christians. They were persecuted, having gathered together somewhere in catacombs they were praying and hoping for the coming of God´s son. Under persecution they were still experiencing the joy and Jesus Christ was their only hope. Their dream was that Jesus can come right in the middle of the night.

But not all of them. Five of the girls were foolish. In some translations they are virgins, because it lets us know who Christians should be. Gods creation untouched by any influence from the outside, only living because of God´s light, from grace.

The foolish virgins are not prepared for the length of the night. They do not expect that it can take so long for the bridegroom to come. The Bible says – no one knows the hour, even the Son doesn´t know the right time.

The night is a reality, the night doesn´t appear only in fairy tales, it is something that we experience from time to time and sometimes even more often. Were you scared of the night as children? Did your parents have to switch on the lights for you? My sister was scared of the night and she could not fall asleep unless the lights were on. Sometimes I cannot sleep either these days unless I know that I have the oil which was given to me by Jesus Christ. Nights these days are scary, because you do not know what can shake you and wake you up… some fundamentalist from the Middle East, or even the fundamentalism of your fellow citizens, Donald Trump´s elections, the decision of politicians in the EU, Brexit, illness of your child or my own illness or the loss of  loved ones? But Jesus fuelled us with good oil and hopefully we are smart enough to take enough….which means every day in prayer, from the Scripture…and from his presence?

In Prague in front of the castle, there are soldiers on duty and they cannot move for the whole period of their duty. Children try to make them smile. They are not wax figurines they are just very well trained because after two hours they walk away. We as Christians have our weaknesses. We are described as virgins but not strong enough to make it through without sleep. So we fall…not fail….we fall asleep. Christians can be tired, night makes us want to sleep sometimes. Five foolish virgins did not take these facts seriously – first as we said – joy, it is about joy, the Saviour is coming, the same Messiah who already gave his life for you. They did not consider that it takes some time, even through darkness. They did not consider their weaknesses and that it has to be eternal light which has to shine out of the church and it has to be burning in our hearts.

When they woke up they wanted to borrow from the wise ones. Well it is not borrowing, they want to use the oil of others, their selfishness is so big that even the lives of others could be in danger because of their selfishness.

This parable is not about refusing Christian help, it mentions the situation that certain people want to take advantage of Christianity but they are doing nothing themselves. I will give you an example. Our government in the Czech Republic says all the time that our society was built on Christian foundations but at the same time it does not allow the Church to be really independent, they want to tax churches income, they want the church to be poor but doing all the charity work for free with almost no support. The whole of Europe claims its Christianity but the oil which really interests the world is not Christ´s love. If that  was Christ´s oil it would all be different. Actually the oil governments are interested in is not from the Gospel but from the Middle East.

And wise virgins, really wise ones say, their oil was not meant for the foolish ones. Go  and buy dear foolish virgins, you have your own money. And when the foolish ones hear about money and that the stock market could be open then they leave although the Lord is coming.

The bridegroom came, the wedding has started and the doors were closed. It is unusual in the  Middle East. My teacher of the NT told me that when he was working on excavations in Palestine one day he was invited to a wedding by an unknown man, the wedding was open for everyone. But Jesus in his parable is shocking his listeners,  the doors were closed.

I do not know you, I do not recognize you. Bridegroom, Jesus doesn´t recognize people who gave up… not the hope, they even did not consider there is hope which is offered by God, they thought that they could do anything and everything. Do you know someone who takes advantage of our time? Like those who only play wild games with other people’s lives?

But wise ones got to the wedding. It is about joy. You don´t have to smile, as we say, from one ear to the other. But you have to fight and struggle through the difficulties of life, because the hope and the joy are worth it, because your loved ones are worth it, your community is worth it. It is not easy, it is not cheap comedy but you are entering the joy of the lord. So, do not be afraid Amen

13th November 2016 Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and dear sisters,

this week my great-grand father would be 117 years old. I remember him very well. When I was ill I usually went to great-grandfather´s house because my parents went to work. It was always very interesting for me and by the way I think I pretended a couple of times that I was ill. In the basement of my great-grandfather´s house there was a big wooden suitcase. Every recruit received such a suitcase and it was full of treasure, at least in my eyes. Old pictures of his comrades, empty cartridges for his rifle, diaries, pieces of equipment etc…etc.. I wanted to talk with my great-grandfather about the Great war, because for a small boy it was an adventure, wasn´t it? When I urged my great-grandfather on he always became sad, but I knew that one day he would tell me those war stories. And one day he started to talk but if the stories hadn´t been in his diaries I wouldn´t have remembered a single one of them. But I certainly remember what he had told me before he started telling his stories. He told me: “I pray every day that God will forgive me for killing other people.”

This year you remember Battle of Somme. Over 1mil soldiers died there. My great grandfather would be at that time have been your enemy.  He served with the artillery on the eastern front.

“You have heard that people were told in the past: “Do not commit murder”. The English  translation is probably right here “do not commit murder”. Killing in a war was probably originally excluded from the ten commandments and only murderers were brought to trial. But here we have  a new situation. “You have heard your fathers were told, but now I say”, says Jesus. Old times are over. We can not rely on the situations and conditions of our fathers. What has changed? The population in the days of our fathers was much lower, but the value of a human being is the same. What is now so different?

Jesus moves the limits. For this reason some translations put in“You shall not kill”. That is the difference. It is about God´s creation, God is the giver of life and we can not simply take lives of others. If you do, you will be taken to the court. It is still a fair and understandable rule.

Even soldiers, today before they pull the trigger, have to be aware of that. Now everything is recorded on a camera and soldiers can be charged with the misuse of deadly power which sometimes makes them only observers of the violence which happens in front of their eyes. But we understand the principle. Murdering, killing is not to be overlooked it will be brought to trial.

But Jesus continues: “whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial”. We are not all Buddhist or stoics to manage through all the situations quietly and calmly. Jesus pushes limits beyond our possibilities. To make it at least a little bit bearable some versions soften Jesus´s commandment and they say: “whoever is angry with a brother without cause…without cause will be brought to the trial”. Some expositors noticed that there is the word brother. Yes, brother so it applies only to a member of our community. It is a good kind of argumentation but we all feel that Jesus wanted to stiffen (soften?) the commandment.

He goes even further: “Whoever calls you brother “You are good for nothing” will be brought before council. An even higher institution is mentioned, an institution which considers not only the legal side of a problem, but also tests your credibility in matters of your faith. Jesus was brought before the high priest, the council and before Pontius Pilate. Imagine that for swearing and bad names you would be taken before members of parliament and it would be broadcast on TV.

But Jesus makes it even harder. If you call your brother “fool” – which in the Bible is an expression which marks unbeliever – you are going to hell. There is no need for a human institution – the lighter accusation the stricter punishment. I can see that people listened to Jesus´s words with open mouths, because he mentioned everything they violated in daily life.

What is the solution, what can we do to make things right. We did a harm to our neighbours but what shall we do? The situation is very serious. The answer of an ancient man would be an easy one. Take the offering and give it to the Lord, sacrifice it to the Lord! But you can not bribe the Lord, it is not matter of paying indulgences. Jesus says leave your gift in front of the altar and make peace with your brother.

So on Monday I brought a nice calf into the Temple but I realized I was thinking nasty thoughts about my neighbour so I went and apologized to him. On Tuesday I brought a sheep but I had to leave it before the altar because I realized I had offended my sister so I went to speak with her. On Wednesday I brought a couple of doves to sacrifice them to the Lord but I realized I did not think nicely about my parents. On Thursday I brought money as my offering for the Lord but I realized  that I had shouted at someone. On Friday I brought a burnt offering but I found out that I am not at all at peace with myself . The week is passing and |I am ashamed to appear before God´s face. The Church is full of my gifts and offerings but they won´t be accepted unless I make peace with everyone I harmed.

Jesus makes it almost impossible to solve the whole situation and by the way how do you want to make peace with someone whom you murdered? He is at peace already  but with you. What game is Jesus playing here?

You know we live in the world where it is possible to shoot down an air plane full of civilians and although the evidence is clear the convicted side says simply: “No, I did not do it” and we respect that. We live in times where governments can send soldiers to fight in an independent state and no one can do anything about it. We are fighting all over the globe but did we ask our brother why he hates us so much? May be we would find important answers. We do not ask about the cause.

This week we are not only remembering Battle of Somme or the end of Great War. But for example in Munich, Germany in 1923 what we call the Beer Plot or the Beer Hall Putsch happened. Hitler tried to seize the power in Germany. He was sentenced for 5 years but he was in jail only 9 months. And after 10 years Hitler was in power in Germany. We were not looking for the cause.

What I want to tell – the truth about humanity, about ourselves is not taken seriously enough. But Jesus takes it seriously. We have to consider our words and our actions. Very often you hear obvious lies but today people get used to them and do not do anything. So the truth is not true because no one is interested in it. And that is how wars start. Go and make peace with your brother!

I had a friend in the US. He is an alcoholic in recovery. They have an interesting rule. They called it the twelve steps.  So steps 8 a 9 say: Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and be willing to make amends with them all. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

He tried to say his sorry to the cop who had arrested him in the past. He ended up in jail, but he tried.

You have heard the story of Balaam and you know how it continues that his donkey is wiser than he himself. Baalam loved money and he would do almost anything to get it. For money, he would curse a whole nation.

That is very often our situation. For money, we would forget our brotherhood with others. Jesus says but the peace with your brother is the value.

But how do you want to do it when your brother can not comply. Then only one thing remains, to be honest in your heart, to take the truth as the truth. Jesus intentionally pushes the limit to question if we want to do something about it. And if we want to I am sure we will win the heart of our brother and we will receive the favour of our God.

In the background of Mathew´s gospel there is also a situation of the early church. There was a struggle between Paul´s congregations and the Church in Jerusalem. Who is the right believer who has the truth. For the Love of God, make peace with your brother.

I haven´t experienced war myself but as a pastor I know and see fights among people. It is not easy for either one of us. But make peace and be honest in your heart.

Like my great-grand father I also pray, that God would forgive me, because it might have happened that I harmed other people and even do not know about it  Amen

Sunday 30th October 2016  Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

different people can join one party when they have common enemy.  We can see the Pharisees and some of the Herodians plotting against Jesus. Groups of different morals and teachings are for this moment united. Nothing new under the sun.

They also behave like cowards. They sent their disciples to speak with Jesus. Those who arranged the whole situation remained hidden somewhere in the background.

I do not know why we are always surprised that it works? But it is important for today´s story to let us know that it works among the rulers of this world.

They praise Jesus as someone who is incorruptible, who is fearless, someone who always speaks the truth. But the trap is based on the fact that Jesus won´t have the courage, they think, to speak against the emperor or wouldn´t, of course, speak against the Law. Actually whatever he says is wrong, he has to disappoint at least one of these sides and then the trap goes off. That is the reason why Pharisees and Herodians are today together. No chance for Jesus to avoid the punishment.

You don´t have to be a prophet or a genius to recognize when people are not honest with you. Yes, they were right in one thing. Jesus does not pay attention to their status and he says  truly: “You hypocrites”. That solves the situation enough and I think he could walk away right at that moment.

But the story continues and it is no more about the Pharisees or the Herodians, it is about us. It is the reason why we have it in the Bible, now it is about us.  We did not come to church to judge Jesus, to trap him. But we are confused in this world.

The story shifts to the level which is also important for us: property or faith, world  or religion, Christian confession or submission to earthly rules?

Is it against the Law or against our faith? What is Christianity?  Is it correct to live like a monk, closed somewhere in a monastery or under super strict rules to join an Amish community or just to merge with the world?

Wasn´t it an important question for the first Christians and isn´t it also important to us? The cardinal question of the story is how we should live as Christians? To whom we should pay….pay our attention to? Where is the edge of Christianity and where is the empire of paganism.

Jesus admits the argument of Pharisees and he takes into his hands a Roman coin and we must understand what is going on. We should feel the absurdity of the whole situation. They push God´s son to make a statement about taxes because they think that it is so important. The ruler of the universe has to say something about us and the paying of our taxes, about principles we had created.

Whose is the coin? To whom does it belong? Isn´t it true that everything  was created by God? So why can someone tax what doesn´t belong to him?

The owner of the currency was always the emperor. That is the reason why on every coin there was a face of a ruler, Caesar, later kings or any other national symbol. Ordinary people can not own currency. The fact that you have a few pounds in your pocket doesn´t mean anything. For a long, long time, we had on our banknotes a reminder that anyone who damaged a banknote would be prosecuted – it was and it is property of the state. On coins which were used in Jesus´s times there was also beside the emperor´s name inscription: “Pontifex Maximus”. Pontifex Maximus means the highest priest. On the other side of the coin there was the goddess of peace. Now we know where we are. People are trying to create a world where their power or money are their own religion and where they try to grant the peace for themselves. You see that the story is not superficial at all, it deals with an important question for all of us.

But instead of peace we create traps for others. Rulers and states always put religious phrases and statements on their money, because they feel good about it. They do it even in secular societies. I remember when I was a child we had a banknote with a Russian soldier holding a rifle. That is also a religious opinion which says, who would protect you and to whom would you submit. It was also a vision of how to keep order. Americans have on their money” in God we trust”. Who is the God I am asking? Money or someone else? The British pound has the Queen with the saying “defensor fidei” – defender of the faith.

So money is a religion or the religion is money? To whom we pray and in whom we trust, what is reliable. Jesus is kind he doesn´t judge our foolishness. He gives us a free choice. You can spend money, you can pay taxes. God doesn´t have a problem with it. It is similar to when Paul solves the question of meat sacrificed to idols. He says, yes, you can eat it. But for our life there are things much more important than money and things we own.

Pay God what belongs to God! What is God´s currency, what is his treasure? Do you know? If you don´t know then look into the mirror in the morning. Whose face is there? Yours! Because, you were created in God´s image.

Rulers of this world think that they are important. That is why they print their own money. God thinks that you are important, that is the reason why he created you in his image. Every person should reflect God´s good creation. Pay God what belongs to God. You belong to God, not as property, but you are God´s child. In every situation, at all circumstances you belong to God. You were on his mind when he created you, he walked with you in your life. And he will be with you when you are going to walk through the valley of shadows. Do you know poem “Footprints in the sand”? I am sure you do.

 

“….I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, there was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you….”.

If we are God´s image then what is the inscription and what is the name written into our lives? Martin Luther was a brilliant preacher, speaker, thinker, but what we usually don´t realize was that he had also moments of despair. They say that there was a sentence engraved into his table which said: “But I am baptized”. Yes that is the name I am baptized, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the name. Give God what is God´s ….You are God´s. That is the biggest comfort and joy.

“We would never leave the Lord to serve other gods”, says Israel. And why not? Because he brought us out from the Egypt.

We are going to celebrate the Lords table together and I want to be sure that we all know to who we belong. Amen

Sunday 16th October 2016   Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

we have here another parable about the Kingdom of heaven. We all admire the idea of Kingdom of heaven and we want to be there right away. So Jesus unveils for us another quality of the kingdom of heaven.

The Kingdom of heaven is like this – the king decided to check on his servants´ accounts. How about this?  Do you still want to go to kingdom of heaven?  The King is going to check on us. We should all be surprised and the church should empty in seconds. Really is this the kingdom of heaven?

I will leave you for the moment to play with this idea if you want to have such a kingdom of heaven where the king checks his servants and I will tell you a different story.

Albert Einstein wrote his formula E=mc2 (energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared). Many teenagers in our country have the formula on their T-shirts. You all live close to Chapel Cross so you can all explain this formula. But for me as a minister it is simple. It means that every piece of matter (mass) contains huge amount of energy.

There are many books which describe how Einstein found this formula, but if you are unaffected by science like me it is enough to read the parable of the unforgiving servant. If you don´t like the idea of the kingdom of heaven as accounts being checked listen further.
One of the King´s servants owed him millions of pounds. It would not be so bad, there are people who have more than that. But what the Bible really says here is that he owed him over 360 tons of silver. If you consider this amount you are far beyond the budget of the whole ancient world. How did he get such a debt? How did he spend so much money?

This is God´s formula –  Our value equals our existence multiplied thousands – million times by God´s mercies. That is the kingdom of heaven – we have received so much but we are still complaining. And when we are complaining about the situation of our life God has to show us, how much he has invested in us and how much he loves us and treasures us. That is a different view from the statement that God checks on us.

There begins the kingdom of heaven. And if we don´t realize (that) then we are in trouble, because we can be asked to pay it back.

As a small boy I had this idea – the only interesting parts of life are before you enter the school, which was for me was the age of 6, and then after retirement. Anything between is boring. Well, I have had to change my mind now, not because my pension is hidden somewhere in the foggy future, but it is not right to take some days of our lives as miserable ones and some as better ones. There is always God behind our life and his blessings which he sends every day. But sometimes we don´t see it. And God asks: “What did you do with my blessings?”

You know it is a pastor´s daily bread to listen to people. So one day you listen to a teenager who says: “Oh, pastor I am fat and stupid”. And I could not simply say: “Same with me, so what, what do you have next on your list? Or middle aged people talk about losing their job. I know it is hard but very often I caught myself thinking about a situation when the church fires me and do you know the Bible saying: ‘My master is going to dismiss me from my job. What shall I do? I am not strong enough to dig ditches, and I am ashamed to beg”. Old people are complaining about their lives too, they don´t have their friends around, they miss them, some of them wish to die. It is serious trouble.

When my great grandmother was dying, my parents called me to Prague as she wanted to talk with me and that it was urgent. I remember the day – it was a Wednesday, so I came home on the first possible train. And my Grandma told me: “God is going to reject me”. I asked her: “Why” and she replied: “When I pray I am thinking of the cake which is on the table”. I have to explain it to you: the words God and cake have similar sound in Czech and she was so afraid that she would take God´s name in vain. I told her: “I think God won´t have a problem with you when you eat the cake. You know she did not enjoy many things in her life because she was too thrifty, some would say mean. She ate the cake with such an appetite. She died the next day. Her faith is still an example of me and I admire her but somehow I cannot remember a single moment when she would just enjoy what God gave her.

When I am too lazy to do something useful I usually pick songs for my funeral. There are about 40 of them on the list already. So I don´t encourage people to come because it is going to be a long service. But there is one which is very important for me. I cannot rhyme it in English but the first verse goes like this: I am sick and tired of everything…church…people…job…etc.etc. And the second verse is: “How about to be grateful for all you have…how about to give thanks instead of complaining….”.

The first part of the parable is about God´s gift. He gave us so much, but we have to look around, search for it, we have to carefully look for it and then it is most important that we have to use it and live to God´s glory.

New day, the people around us, even church rows, hymnaries, the building where we gather are God´s gifts, each smallest detail in your life was given to you and there are so many blessings that we cannot repay. Do we realize that God´s love and his blessing are so big? If we don´t have an eye for it we are in trouble because God will enumerate all those things and when we realize that the list is so long we will beg for God´s mercy, for one more chance.

I do not want to downplay what you are going through but I also don ´t want to diminish the importance of God´s blessings in our lives. How many are they? So many that we cannot count them, but God can.

The second important point of the parable is that once we recognized God´s grace we have to forgive others, because we received so much. The debts of our brothers are always much smaller compared to what we have received from God. But these small debts make us so angry.

You cannot carry 360 tons of silver in your pocket, but you can carry a few pounds in your wallet. For the feeling of coins we forget and overlook the greatness of God´s gift. The fellow servant owed what could be easily paid in one year.

All societies have an understanding of justice. Justice is simple. When I ¨lend you one pound I expect you to give it back to me – hopefully with some interest. Justice is so easy like this. Justice creates balance among people. Even in societies where dictators rule there is a notion of justice. They have to pretend stability if they want to be at least tolerated.

The problem is when people claim their rights even in the smallest matters. I was surprised in the US on the plastic cups there is written: “it may contain a hot drink”. I asked what does it mean and they told me that the company wants to be secure in case of prosecution. It seems you can sue anyone for anything. We dreamt of civil rights in the past, but now I see that there are things more important.

If you want to get a whole community farther you have to accept Jesus´s way. And it is forgiveness. It has its consequences. If you want to forgive you must sacrifice – not forget but sacrifice. You will never get the debt back – that is the sacrifice. But only forgiveness and sacrifice are really beneficial to church and community alike, because you can continue, go further. Forgiveness and sacrifice is God´s principle, it is what he demands. Without forgiveness there is only revenge or retaliation on those who cannot pay you back.

Example – African countries cannot pay their debts. What should Europe do? Some say, let’s be just – they have to pay back – the result is chaos, violence, runaways, dictators. Because they are not able to pay back. Should we forgive them then? If yes, we create the possibility of a new start. I am not naive, I know it is a sacrifice and that needs even more work done.

And it is same in spiritual matters. If there is no forgiveness in church, church will die, because it doesn´t have a promising future without forgiveness. The king was very angry and sent the servant to jail. I have seen congregations without forgiveness and I have seen jail, it is almost the same. Different buildings but the mood was the same.

There are many common points with the story of Cain and Abel, but I want to quote only one sentence. “Am I supposed to take care of my brother?” Yes you are, forgive him with all your heart. If you don´t you are trapped.

I began the sermon with Einstein´s formula and now I will tell you why. In 1950 there was a lady in jail and she wrote a letter from the jail: “But now that I know what gifts I have received, I feel that I am a rich and happy person. I feel that many people loved me. Don´t feel sorry or bad for me. I have lived a full and blessed life, a life which was on the move, it was not a standing or rotten one, my life was flowing like a beautiful river. Sometimes it was tough, but sometimes it pet?? me, smiling on me in the sun. It was a real life and I am grateful to God for it.” Two hours before they hanged her on the gallows in Prague she wrote: “a minister was here I have asked him to visit you, use everything which can strengthen you and live, live a good life. It is going to hurt only for a while and then less and less. Go to the fields and walk in the woods and watch the beauty and I will be there with you, smell the flowers and you will feel me, watch the people and you will meet me”

Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt asked the Czech president to grant her mercy. Her name is Milada Horakova and her letters were given to her family 40 years after she died. The letters are full of hope and also forgiveness. They were also published in English and she is an example for me of how to live life, a grateful life even in the midst of persecution.

But I want you to remember. Even when it doesn´t look so, you have received from God many, much – uncountable things, much more than any government will spend on you and secondly only in forgiveness can you get further. Amen

 

Sunday 9th October, 2016    Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

we all know that not all stories have a happy ending. In the winter of 1943 there were two sons born to my grandfather. The winter was severe, a doctor came late, the only thing the doctor could do was to say that both boys were dead. My grandfather was a carpenter, he made two coffins and he himself buried his two sons. A minister could not get to the place because there was too much snow, the mother of the boys was ill in bed.

These were the war years, after the war all resistance fighters from the highlands entered communist party, so my father also received membership, although he had never asked for it.

In 1948 the communists confiscated private property and made people enter collective farms and transfer all rights to the communist party. He again did not care so much. But once he needed wood to repair the roof of his house, he went to the forest, he cut down a few trees and he transported them during daylight through the village to his house.

They came for him almost immediately. They made a case from it and he was to be judged publicly. So they brought him to the public people’s court and he said only a few sentences: “You know, this forest belonged for generations to my family and if you want to persecute me for what I have done, then look.” He walked to the stove which was in the room, pulled his communist ID from his pocket and threw it into the stove. He was jailed right away. If he hadn´t had his war friends he would have disappeared like many others. Influential people pleaded on his behalf .

In the sixties he was still working as a carpenter until one day when he fell off the roof, he badly injured his leg.

I remember him as a joyful person, also smart as a fox. Through lawyers he claimed again and again his case to get money for his injury and I do not know how he did it but he was almost always successful.

He enjoyed his life till the last moment. When I think of him I hope he was happy, but I am not sure, imagine – two sons – twins he lost, always on the sharp edge between prison and freedom.

A royal official is looking for Jesus, he needs his help – immediately – because his son is going to die. The Bible says that as a fact. The son is going to die, there is no possibility of healing.

The official walks from Capernaum to Cana, which is not less than 25 kilometres. He finds Jesus preaching there: “None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders”.

There is a story in my church. One of the parishioners came to ask his minister for help and the minister replied, not now I am reading the Bible. So the royal officer found Jesus in the middle of preaching, he did not care about Jesus´s sermon, he just pulled at his sleeve and said: “But Lord, my son is dying, stop preaching and come with me”.

Children are so precious to every father. When parents lose their kids, they lose everything. Children are a blessing, says the Bible. We see what it means for Abraham to have a son. It means that God is really with him. And the sacrifice of his son must have shaken Abraham´s faith. Really God, do you want to take my son away from me and do I have to take a knife and sacrifice him on the altar?

Jesus, you can help me, please go with me. And Jesus replies: “your son will be all right, go home, go, I am staying”.

When I was a student in the US Seminary I failed a test twice, so I went to the professors office to ask if he could give me a third chance and he told me: “Don´t worry you are doing a good job”. It was strange. Is the good job to fail twice? Would you believe it?

Did the man believe what Jesus has said (is) right now? Is faith what we thinkit is  or if we do what Jesus says.

I think it is the latter. The man returned home and you can see the questions from his face, he didn´t know the answer but he obeyed. His servants had to tell him: “your son is going to live”. He did not know it for sure until he reached his home and they told him.
“When did it happen?”; He asked. If he was convinced about the miracle before, he would not ask about the time. But he only listened to Jesus and he went where Jesus sent him with all uncertainties in his head.

There are many doubts in our heads, many questions, but we will still follow Jesus, not because we know, but because his word is so mighty, convincing that when he sends us home we have to go home where we finally find the rest of the story.

Dear brothers and sisters, I did not tell you before, but I will tell you now I have also a son and my son is also dying. And you would ask how could you leave him? The son is the future time, the son is the nation, the son is the church, we are no more than royal officials, everything that we have and that we have created is fading away.

Grass withers and flowers fade when the Lord sends the wind blowing over them. People are no more enduring than grass. Yes, grass withers and flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever.”

Now “go home”, your son will live,  it is the word of our God which endures forever. But it is still a small picture.

There is also bigger picture of the story. “None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders.”
How many people saw the healing of the official´s son? That is the puzzle of the story, was it seen by a large crowd? We can count – his father and then who else? His servants? How many of them did he have at his house?
Even the apostle John did not see the miracle he only wrote about it. You know, the official´s servants are important for me, because they brought good news even when they did not meet Jesus. That is very encouraging, because God can send his good message through anyone.  But the problem of John´s gospel is that not everything we read is how John wants to tell it. Very often he points to the things which are more important.

For example Jesus went to Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. Do we really think that Jesus was an entertainer in Cana, magician? Water into wine – is that everything that  the story contains?

No, there is a message behind it, a hidden meaning. A Message like we had last week at the Guild with the program “joy in the bubbles”. The message was much more serious than to watch bubbles and we understood. There was a personal confession behind it, and behind personal confession there was the good news that Christ can save anyone, even people who lost their faith and  who gave up.

“None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders.” None of you saw the official´s son healing. But we can see and experience Jesus´s cross and resurrection.

Jesus is preaching about his sacrifice, and the healing of the official´s son is a side product. But there is something important we all have to know.

Every valley must be filled up, every hill and mountain levelled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth. The whole human race will see God’s salvation! – Luke 3:6

Look, he is coming on the clouds! Everyone will see him, including those who pierced him. All peoples on earth will mourn over him. So shall it be! “I am the first and the last,” says the Lord God Almighty, who is, who was, and who is to come. Revelation 1:7

Sorry I am not a person who likes to quote single verses but now I had to do it. It is not in our hands.

Miracles and wonders is the deed of Jesus Christ! He died for us, he rose for us and he will come again. Without it there is no healing faith.

When Abraham was stepping up on the hill what was on his mind. Does God really want this that I would cut the throat of my son? We can go part of the journey with  Abraham and we can calculate. Does God want to kill any part of his creation, or his children to be sacrificed?  I am speaking about God´s intentions.

We are as confused as Abraham was and our heart is pumping blood to our body and adrenalin pours into our whole being because we are not sure if we are going to experience fear or grace. And Isaac asks: “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice? And Abraham answers: “God himself will provide one.”

“None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders.” Miracles and wonders are before you: “God himself took our place on the cross”.

There is an answer for me.

How will my fellow Christians survive next day and next week. So I hope and I pray: “God will show them miracles and wonders of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Sunday 2nd October 2016   Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

I was a small boy, 9 years old or so. I went to practice table tennis game in a sports hall which was not so far away from the house of my parents. It was beautiful sunny day. There was not a single cloud on the sky. I had to cross a small stream of water, so I did, there was a footbridge and I remember that the stream had dried up. In our country in the past they had usually tried to stabilize river banks – and they called it “regulation”. They had strengthened the riverbanks with stone and concrete. They also had made another improvement in my town – they had demolished an old barrier (dam) upstream because no-one had noticed any sign of flooding from that small stream for two hundred years. When I arrived at the gym, clouds had appeared on the horizon and there was heavy rain for 30 minutes. The footbridge was gone in a moment, so I could not go home and the strengthened riverbed delivered tons of mud and all the corn crops to the main square. The square of my home-town  is the second longest in middle Europe and it was covered by a one foot thick layer of mud. The whole town looked like a dirty flushing toilet.

The Communists had a slogan: “We will command the wind and rain”. So they did.  Obviously it was polemics, a competition with the Scripture when Jesus silenced the storm. So even in the practicalities of life (like the regulation of the river) we were influenced by this religious fight.

I am telling this story because of our OT reading. The people of Israel were given instructions for the time when they settled in the Promised land. It all begins with the prohibition of creating idols and the commandment to honour the Lord´s day. It is the beginning of all things – Fear of God. Not our inventions, not what we think, not how we are creative, not individuality, but just obedience to God. At the end of the OT lesson there is an assurance that God took the people from Egypt to make them free. It is nicely said in the GNB: “I broke the power that held you down I let you walk with your head held high, you are no longer slaves”.

Because of obedience to God, if it is taken seriously, blessing falls on the people – peace, rich harvest, strength of the nation. The result is God´s presence among the people (God says– I will never turn from you). It is very important to know that obedience to God creates everything. In the Hebrew sense, we use the term – Shalom – that people can be together, that there are no wars, people really enjoy even the harvest, they have enough to eat – they are blessed in every way.

If we create our idols we are also holding our head high, but one day it can all be taken away – by flood, by hybrid wars, by the fragility of our society – don´t we just experience it? Or if we just work so hard that everything would be perfect then there is not time for anything else if we are so busy with ourselves it may happen that we will never raise our heads as God intended for us – we remain slaves.

The parable of the wedding feast has much more in common with the OT reading than we think. The parable of the wedding feast is not easy to read because it contains different time-lines and it speaks about society and also about personal attitudes as well. We have its lighter version in Luke.

The introductory point is clear – it is a parable about the kingdom of heaven – so the king is God. And the king prepares a wedding feast for his son. So the son cannot be anybody else than Jesus. But what is the wedding?

One of my colleagues in the Czech republic says? “You know, I like funerals better than weddings, because people who are buried won´t do anything crazy or stupid in the future.” Which is probably true. Back home I have to keep church records about weddings. Once I filled all forms and I signed the church books prior to the wedding and two days before the wedding an angry mother came to the manse to cancel the wedding. So I told her that I needed to speak with the bride and the bride groom, she told me that I would never see them again. It would be a shame for her son to talk about what happened. And because you cannot pull pages out of church books I took a red marker and over the record I wrote into the church book: “Upon the request of the bridegroom´s mother the wedding did not take a place”.

But a heavenly royal wedding is different. It has its protocol. Everything is ready and everything is provided for the king´s son and the guests and also the bride.
Who is the bride then? It is the church! So the wedding in the Bible is also an act of introduction of a new king. The new king is to be crowned. Therefore it is also invitation to a coronation. While Luke speaks only about the feast, Matthew speaks about the wedding and the new king. Refusal to come actually means that you claim that you don´t consider yourself to be a servant of your king.

So we must also understand the consequences. People who refused and who killed the king´s servants are to be punished – the whole city is burned down. We have to mention that in Matthew we are reading also the reflection about Jerusalem, that is how Christians understood this text after the fall of Jerusalem 70AD. Even symbol of a holy city won´t help and protect the people. Our symbols do not help, symbolic faith does not help.

But you can´t cancel a royal wedding. This point is very strong. It must take place, it must happen, even when the guests are not ready or willing to come.

That is also why I love Matthew´s expression. You cannot stop the coming of God´s kingdom. Whatever people do, God will not turn his back on us. He will come, Christ is crowned and his church won´t be ashamed. So, don´t worry about the church so much, it will be here until the day of the wedding. It is true that servants were slaughtered but even violence cannot prevent the coming of the new ruler.

You can take this parable as a cruel one, but for the first Christians it was very comforting – even in the midst of the businesses, when the economics dictates what the people should do – (one went to his field, another went to trade)… and even in the midst of human cruelties – (they killed God´s servants and in reality they (we) also killed his Son once)…  the kingdom of God is coming.

You can petrify human order inside of the city walls, but still God´s kingdom is coming. To be a church member in communist times this was comforting. On many public buildings there were titles: “With the Soviet Union for eternal times”. But Christians knew and prayed: “Your kingdom come, thy will be done also in earth as it is in heaven”. The coming of the kingdom is not only a matter of the future but somehow in mysterious ways it happens also among people.

The Invitation is still valid but for whom? For bad and good alike, says the Bible. But with one condition, you have to accept new wedding clothes. There is a call to change – good or bad according to our measurements and to God´s, but you have to change – to accept what is prepared. Everything is provided at the wedding even clothes. The peoples approach is also important.

Friend how could you get to the wedding if you don´t change (your clothes). If you are a friend of the old order of old arrangements, of old garments, then you belong outside.

Some Christians read the end of the parable as an expression of hell – it is not hell, the paradox is that man is tied and thrown back to his old previous experience, but now he can compare both worlds because he saw the wedding, and he sees the darkness and hears cries and grinding of teeth all over the place but he cannot do anything any-more because he is tied. His hands are tied, he cannot work, he cannot defend himself and his legs are tied so he cannot run away from his own world– he is a slave of the situation in the world. He refused the opportunity to be free. That is the problem. people receive what they dreamt of.

You know I understand why your country is disappointed because of Brexit and you speak about it very often, but I see it from the other side from English channel. And I was speechless when EU politicians said even before referendum: “Let them go”. These are not new ways, it is our old habit of how to treat people.

Or I watch the elections in the US and neither of the candidates would have my vote. Because I cannot understand that rudeness can be a tool on either side. You are lucky that your Queen is silent about many things, although I am not a royalist I have to say there is something about the behaviour of nobility.

Or I do not understand our fights abroad when we have to defend ourselves against our own weapons. The Czech republic was very active in sending weapons to Africa and the middle East and so many other countries. Now we pretend that such problems don´t exist, we did not create the situation.

Why (are we so afraid about the current waves of immigrants?) we are so afraid about coming wave of runaways. Oh, it is because we do not speak and think about our own confession and about our faith in Christ – we do not change our clothes. Etc…etc…

We put away the wedding clothes which were provided to us for free. Do we prefer our legs to be tied again to experience the darkness of human decisions?

You see what is our reality. Does not God´s invitation sound great? The Invitation to real joy, to new ways, to new thinking.

But be careful – I have to say it again the solution is not in our activism, but it is in God´s order – in accepting His clothes. Do not create idols and your harvest will be plentiful – not only Aldi and Tesco, you will have the promised land without danger in it, you will succeed even as a minority – five will be able to defeat a hundred, a hundred will defeat thousands; you will sleep without fear from the things which are going to come, you will no longer be slaves. Everything is provided because God broke the power, even the power of death and he invited you to his son´s wedding. Accept his name as you new clothes. Amen

Sunday 25.9.16    Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters,

I will tell you something which is, I believe, typical Czech. When I visit families in my parish, men are  pretending they have some important work to do in their workshop, so usually women are at home. And it looks like that the only thing they were doing for the last fourteen? days was cooking. So they bring the first and the last things they have in their house and then they are watching to see  if the pastor can eat it all. And when pastor proves that he is able to eat it all they say: “You know I tried so hard but it should be better. “ So after I eat all those delicious meals what should I say to them? “Yes, you should try harder?” When you visit my church you will find out that our Czech souls are really well fed.

Why not? When you eat with someone, you create a community and the community becomes a communion. We feel it during the Lord´s supper, don´t we? It is not a Christian fast food, but it is the place where God shares with his people through his Son his grace.

Therefore in the story of Martha and Mary and Jesus we have situation of communion but Martha and Mary approach it differently. Martha is preparing the house and everything that is in it but Mary realizes that their guest is more their host than a visitor.

The key sentence for the understanding of this passage is right in the middle of the story or the key of the passage is one word. If we do not pay attention to this single word it might happen that we miss the whole point of the passage. In the middle Martha says: “Lord, don´t you care…Lord don´t you care”. – it is the key. Especially the word: LORD – Master”. Now we have to think. Is Jesus really the Lord or do we use him for our aims, our purposes?

There are four important moments of the story and we should take them seriously:

Situation Nr. 1: Martha is getting crazy preparing the house and the dinner. Initial – starting point is clear. Yes, I can handle the situation. But can we really handle the situation when the real Lord is coming? Do you know what the name “Martha” means? Martha means a housewife – house keeper. Martha is convinced that she has to manage the situation successfully. Who is the Lord then? We think very often that we are the lord of the situation. I cannot even clean and organize my own desk.

They taught us when we learned to drive that we have to be care-full. There can be personal failure or failure of the machine which can lead to an accident. That is almost a biblical rule. People very often fail and sometimes they even cannot recognize it. This happened to Martha and it happens to us. The table-cloth is dirty, the bread is hard, the dishes are in the sink, the carpet is not vacuumed and the guest is already in our living room. Suddenly, simple situations which we have handled many times before we cannot manage now. What has happened? Are we older or just tired?

Now we are not talking about our teatime but about serious stuff when our soul and heart is crying – I cannot make it, I cannot go another step further, it is beyond my limit. Situations which are out of control are very often our personal despair.

So next is the situation Nr. 2: We accuse God  for our personal failures. Lord, Do you not  care? I worked for one year with alcoholics. An alcoholic is never guilty but it is always someone else’s fault. Our speciality is to claim that God is guilty. Martha says: “Lord”. And that is  an important word, The Lord has to be always above the situation. If you say: “Lord, you do not care” you are saying he is not the Lord in real, he cannot handle it, he failed. It is very important if we really mean what we say and confess. And everything depends on it. Not everyone who calls me  Lord, Lord, enters the Kingdom. We cannot experience the peace and the kingdom , when we do not believe that God can handle our troubles. I heard it so many times…”You go to church, your  pray…Is it any good? It is the key of the passage and also the key point of our lives. If we believe that God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit is the Lord then he can give us peace if we do not believe it pushes us into opposition. When Lazarus died Martha, Mary and other people did not believe that Jesus is the Lord although they claimed it. They did not believe that he is in charge, even when death touches us. Notice that Martha and Mary trust Jesus but only in case of our present life they do not take it seriously that even in eternity ,everything is in the hands of God.

So here we are at situation Nr. 3. Do you not care that my sister is lazy and slow? These are our another sweets.(???) When we cannot confess our sinfulness, when we weren´t successful in blaming the Lord, we blame our neighbour and very often the closer he is the better for us. The easiest way is to demolish relations in our family and in our church, because you know very well the people who are next to you. Usually you cannot blame someone who lives far – far away.

Even pastors and churches still play this string (game). They are saying: “You know he is a catholic, you know he is a protestant”. Really do you want to start another war among people? Aren´t there enough fights among people?

But Mary sat at the feet of the Lord to listen to his teaching. Again the word the Lord is important but also another thing is important. She sat at the feet of the Lord. The Bible does not mention what exactly Jesus said to Mary but the Bible recorded exact posture – that she sat down at His feet. Slaves usually kneeled before their lords and placed their feet on the back. Luke describes the situation when Mary obeys the Lord. She is not only a listener but she gives up herself to the Lord.

Martha, Martha you are troubled over so many things. You have an amazing word in English – a trouble maker. Someone who makes troubles even where they are not. Martha could say? “Sorry I could not make it, it is too much for me”. But instead she creates more and more problems. The trouble is not that she is busy, but she creates a situation which accuses everyone present.
Are you also troublemaker? – diligent in making more and more problems? Then don´t be because the only thing you are doing is that you are hurting yourself and others. We must accept that God already knows our real nature, we don´t have to pretend anything, we do not have to say anything – to sit at his feet is enough.

You know sometimes in the church we torture ourselves. We think whose fault is it that the  church is shrinking and not growing. And instead of that we should confess and believe that the Lord is in the charge and we should sit at his feet. But we are cooking something in our church kitchens which will be one day be too hard for us to eat.

There was a minister in our church and he wrote a tiny book, its name is: The last will – the testament of the Czech brethren. And he explains in the book that our church fulfilled the task given by God and it will disappear very soon. What is recorded  in the book is correct and I completely agree with it, but it is interesting that he wrote it in the beginning of 17th century. Since then our church has gone through many stages – it was big and small again. Yes, my church will disappear one day and it will be the same with the Church of Scotland, but not because of my complaints but because of the will of the Lord. Until then I have to do what is necessary but foremost I have to sit at his feet.

Martha’s problem is not her work, but her faith. She believes that she is the Master and Saviour.

And one more thing. We should not forget the first OT reading. Have you noticed that Isaac is not fighting against people and he is not blaming God.  He could claim the property of his father and he could fight. But instead he retreats until the point when he has a revelation of God. He works harder and harder, but in the eyes of his own people it can be seen as a weakness. His whole work is crowned with peace. The endpoint of his story is the altar to God – a place of rest and worship.

So no need to fight. For it is Sunday today, the retreat (???) with our God  – community, communion with God almighty. Sometimes we need to pull back to have more space and time to think…to sit at His feet. Amen

Sunday 18th September 2016     Rev. Petr Penaz

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

notice the question: “what must I do”. Not what must I think, what must I believe etc….”But what must I DO?”: says teacher – the teacher of Law. Usually teachers and thinkers are interested in thought. What does it mean: to do, what is the doing? Love is action, it is not feeling nor sentiment but it is doing.

Love the Lord your God. It is not theology, tons of commentaries, tons of devotionals. You know that we all have our ups and downs, our thinking about God is also changing every minute – it also goes up and down. Every day we think of God differently one day as God the creator, another day that God is judge, next day we think that God proves that we were right. Don´t we have a commandment that we should not depict God?

Love for God is a different thing. God works on behalf of all people, creating good things so we should be good, to be similar to him. Love is doing everything possible on behalf of His kingdom.

Very often journalists write about my country that it is the most atheistic country in the world. Well it is not true, the churches were fighting one another –  the result was empty churches, but people still believe there is God.
More problematic is the second part. Love your neighbour. Usually people do not dispute the existence of God but our idea of God, that is a big difference. But who is our neighbour. Is it someone who lives next door or someone who lives on the next continent. As long as we do not ask this question (who is the neighbour) we are OK and Jesus says to us: “You know the commandment of love, then do not be afraid about the future, just love God, love neighbour, and also love yourself”.

But when we consider the matter of our neighbour, when we select, choose, when we segregate we are in trouble before God – because we try to justify ourselves and our choice.  Can you see that Jesus is tolerant and forgiving but only to the point when WE try to justify ourselves. The fact that we try to be always perfect and right makes him tell the parable.

When there is only our selfishness Jesus has to tell the parable about the Good Samaritan. And the parable stands against our thinking about how good we are.

So what is the parable about. Frankly speaking the parable talks about this world which is crooked, curved, out of balance, I think science has a nice term -the inclined plane.

What does the Bible says about that? One man, who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, was attacked by robbers. We have a saying in our language: Even the toilet falls on the one who is in the trouble. The Bible mentions Jerusalem for one reason – Jerusalem is the place of worship, a holy city – every step from Jerusalem leads down. When you worship you reach the highest peak of your life, every step from the Temple leads you down. Notice that the man went from Jerusalem to Jericho (sinful city). It is a parable and it is a picture of downfall.

“…How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!…”(Psalm133) But the world itself is not in such harmony, Charles Darwin says it is selection of the strongest of its kind, natural selection, not worship but wolves country or robbers country.
You can read the parable as an adventure story, but you can experience it in your own life or as it touches your heart – not as a sentimental nice moving story, but as reality which hurts. It is downfall.        One of my first pastoral visits was in the hospital – I was sitting next to a unconscious person, reading psalms and praying the Lord´s prayer and suddenly all these medical gadgets went crazy. A nurse was there immediately and she saw a scared pastor and she said: “Do not worry pastor she has just listened to you”.
Which scared me even more. And there are more and more stories when ministers meet people who are beaten up. One day it is someone who is sick, second day someone who does not have money to buy a bread, such people are begging for money to buy alcohol because they know that other days will be the same, third day someone loses job. I do not mention all other fights, struggles people go through. That is the way from Jerusalem to Jericho – the downfall. The way itself is full of rocks and you are lucky if there are not robbers. But in the story there were.
Keep on your mind on why Jesus is telling this story. It is because we have the tendency to justify ourselves.
Now we are getting to the point in the story when we are close to moralize? someone. Many commentaries do that  but only to confirm our good stance, good reasons, good meanings and good actions. We will talk about the priest and the Levite here. Usually every reader thinks how bad these  characters are.
I am going to give you a good advise and it is for free. Never argue with your minister while he is driving a car. It happened to me one day when I was taking one of my elders to a presbytery meeting. The elder started: “Oh, you know it is very easy to be a minister, you live easy life – like in the greenhouse – protected from every side, you do not know what the real life is all about”. It hurt. And he continued: “Are you angry because of what I have said? I can see it on your face”. I can tell you we were the first people at the presbytery meeting, I was speeding all the way.
But he was right, to be a pastor is sometimes a life in the greenhouse.  The elder told me later: “Do not take it as an offence, we need ministers who are separated from all these bad things which happen in our world, we need someone who would pray on our behalf, because we can not. Then I understood the role of priest and the levite in the parable.
The Priest and the Levite are people directly connected with the worship. To touch a bloody corpse meant they cannot  worship next Saturday or Sunday, next whole week and even longer. Now judge them. In the middle ages the church sometimes put a priest out of duty. It meant no baptisms, no weddings, no burials in the place. Smelly thing, isn´t it?
In passing the victim by the priest and the levite showed their knowledge of Moses´s law, they love God and they want to DO something for him and also want to do something for people – they feel obligation, duty. The world was and is complicated. And again my reminder, Jesus tells the story because we want to justify ourselves, we want to remain above the situation – untouched and not guilty. The Priest and the Levite are not subject of Jesus´s criticism, certainly they are not worse than robbers, but sometimes we are.
Tomorrow is Monday and the struggle begins for many people and the life wont be easy – decisions on the edge. Can you justify to yourself how you acted. Did you always do the right thing in the face of difficulties of life? I do not try to convict you I am the one who is there with you. Were you a good neighbour, can you claim that? I can say I was not because very often it is not in my power it is above my strength – physical and mental.
You did an amazing thing last week you have collected money to build 8 houses in Nepal. You did, you loved even though you do not know faces and names.  But there were over six million people without a home. Which family will get the house, who will be that lucky? I do not want to make you feel bad, but it is the reality of life. Life is hard and tough and the worst thing we can do in this world is to justify ourselves to feel better.
Who in the world can help – Samaritan. People don´t know him, Jews do not count him in. Who is he? Before people turned the parable into a moralizing article, the Samaritan had always been recognised by? Jesus, the Son of God. No one else. Our heart is full of theory, his heart is filled with pity towards humankind – all people. We can not bear everything, but he can carry the sins of the world.
The animal which carried Jesus to Jerusalem now serves as an ambulance for us – donkey for the people who are sweating and bleeding, people wounded in this world.
I once asked kids at my Bible study if they want God´s kingdom to come. And one kid told me: No because I have to finish the last level of my computer game. For the wounded man the game is already over – no winner, but Jesus comes – he pours oil on the wounds of the world, he bandaged our body. Does it sound cheap? It is not but we have to leave ourselves as a priority, to leave even salvation of our soul as a priority,  we have to rely on Jesus in everything. For the night is coming and everything gets even darker. Jesus takes us to an inn  and says I will come back, and I will pay whatever is to be paid. I will do it for him, for you dear brother and dear sister. I will pay for you.
For I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you. I will give up Egypt to set you free; I will give up Ethiopia[a] and Seba.4 I will give up whole nations to save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you and give you honour. Do not be afraid—I am with you! Jesus is more than a neighbour, he is a friend, The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.
So no more playing to be wise before Jesus. What you must do is Love. It is not easy , very often we fail because reality is not fair but you go and do the same as he did and when you fail and fall Jesus will pay.