Sunday August 29th 2021
A warm welcome to worship this morning. Today we have been asked to celebrate the Church’s publication of Life and Work and our prayers, hymns and sermon reflect that theme.
Hymn 15 The Lord’s my shepherd (tune: Orlington)
Prayer of Approach
You are our life.
You are the One Who, from the chaos of creation
Called us into being,
Shaping who and what we are.
You are the artist and the architect.
You are the poet and the musician.
You bring colour and form, words and harmony
Into the world where we live,
And the lives that we live.
With You we work:
To bring peace and justice,
To bring comfort and blessing
Into the world where we live.
In partnership with You and with others,
We shape and reshape our world
To make it a place where all are welcome,
And all find a place to be safe.
There is life to be lived;
There is work to be done;
For life continues to refresh around us each day,
And work continues to unfold in the vision You give us
And in the dreams we have
For what our world and our communities might yet be.
God of life, God of work,
Blend these twin realities for us,
That in our living and in our working,
We may honour You,
And follow You,
And change this world,
To Your unending glory for the sake of Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying
Hymn 247 Moved by the gospel (tune Kingsfold)
Reading: Mark 16:9-20
An old ending to the gospel
After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. 10 She went and told his companions. They were mourning and crying; 11 and when they heard her say that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe her.
12 After this, Jesus appeared in a different manner to two of them while they were on their way to the country. 13 They returned and told the others, but these would not believe it.
14 Last of all, Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them, because they did not have faith and because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive. 15 He said to them, “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 Believers will be given the power to perform miracles: they will drive out demons in my name; they will speak in strange tongues; 18 if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed; they will place their hands on sick people, and these will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had talked with them, he was taken up to heaven and sat at the right side of God. 20 The disciples went and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and proved that their preaching was true by the miracles that were performed.
Hymn 604 Holy wisdom, lamp of learning (tune Beach Spring)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
About 15 years ago I was asked to be the Church of Scotland representative at the United Free Church General Assembly in Perth. One of the most contentious debates actually revolved around whether or not the magazine of the United Free Church should join with the magazine of the Church of Scotland – Life and Work. As the debate raged, one person posed the question – What does a copy of Life and Work cost? Nobody seemed to know the answer, except for me. I raised my hand for permission to speak and was graciously invited out to the front of the entire Assembly by the Moderator to make my great and memorable speech, which consisted of five words: “It costs £1.20”, I said confidently, and sat down again.
Well, it transpired afterwards that I had completely misled the UF Assembly. In those far-off days, Church of Scotland Ministers actually used to get a complimentary copy of Life and Work each month, so I hadn’t had to buy a copy since I was a student some years before, when it did indeed cost £1.20. Suffice it to say, inflation had been at work since then, and it was no longer £1.20. Fortunately my misleading intervention didn’t actually affect the outcome of the debate, which was not to have a joint magazine.
Fortunately, Life and Work was not adversely affected by my intervention either. It has continued on its way, doing what it has always done, which is to try to present a picture each month of what the Church of Scotland is doing in the modern world and to consider also the big issues that the church is facing and debating. That is what the magazine has been trying to do for a very long time now. (And, by the way, it now costs £3, not much more than the price of a Sunday newspaper.)
I bring all this up, because ministers have been asked to celebrate today the contribution that Life and Work makes to our Christian witness in Scotland.
It actually dates back to 1879 and it was the inspiration of the minister and theologian, Archibald Charteris, whose name is probably familiar to Guild members also. Charteris, who was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1892, was instrumental in the founding of the Guild, restoring the office of Deaconess in the Church, and helping to establish the national social care initiative that would evolve into the Social Care Council, or CrossReach, as it is now known. You would have thought all that activity would have kept him quite busy enough, but, in amongst all that, he still managed to find the time to start a magazine.
Charteris, and his Committee on Christian Life and Work, concluded that there was a demand for a distinctively Scottish Christian magazine because similar English religious magazines were, and I quote, “very nearly unintelligible to the untravelled Scot”. I have never been quite sure whom that judgement reflected most badly on---the parochial Scots who apparently never travelled to England, or the English magazine contributors who couldn’t write intelligibly, or perhaps theologians in general who are incapable of speaking plainly.
In any event, the General Assembly of May 1878 was persuaded to endorse the project , and eight months later Life and Work was born.
In his opening editorial Charteris wrote:
“What can an ordinary Scotchman make of allusions to Epiphany and Advent, commendations of a child who has learnt the collect of the day, casual mention of the chancel, the offertory, the surplice and even the litany. All, such terms, familiar to every English reader, are Hebrew and Greek to many of our countrymen, and even to those who do understand them, they speak of the “Life and Work” of another country, and not that of our own.”
The new publication was distributed through the parish churches with a supplement for local news, and Life and Work quickly became part of the furniture and - with the exception of a two-month break because of a printer’s strike in 1959 – it has been published monthly ever since.
Charteris handed over the editorship and moved on to his next project after a year, but by then he had established the template that in many ways remains to this day: news of the Church at local, national and international level, commentary on the key issues of the day from a Scottish Christian perspective, spiritual guidance and Bible study, interviews and profiles of key figures within the Church.
With the coming of the internet Life and Work moved online, firstly on Facebook and Twitter and then with the launch of www.lifeandwork.org, which offers up-to-date news, exclusive features and extracts from the magazine. You can now also read the whole magazine in digital form.
But however you choose to read it, Life and Work remains an essential news source and platform for discussion for the whole Church.
It has been 142 years since Life and Work first came into existence, and as well as proclaiming the necessity of a Scottish magazine for Scots in his editorial, Charteris also mentioned his strong opinion that the Church of Scotland had not yet made full use of the printing press.
Historians nowadays note that books, newspapers, and magazines in the Victorian age were becoming ever more widely available because of improvements in printing and the possibilities of distribution on the railways, and Charteris seems to have realised that the Church of Scotland had not yet taken full advantage of the new opportunities. He wrote:
“The press has made a revolution in every family in the land, it is, for good or ill, teaching every responsible member of the community every day. The Church is only beginning to see what could be done with its help…. Reports of congregational work and pastoral letters by ministers are becoming more common every year and how much this use of the printing press does to bind congregations together and to deepen their interest in the work of the church, only those who have tried it, can tell.”
I found that very interesting because, when you think about it, Christianity right from the beginning has been a religion that has prospered by using the latest means of communication. When the Roman Empire absorbed Palestine shortly before the days of Christ’s earthly ministry, the effect was to connect that distant Middle Eastern province with the whole Empire, from Arabia to Britain, and Roman roads and sea routes helped carry St Paul’s many vital letters all over the Empire, along with the spread of the Gospels.
The Protestant Reformation depended on the new invention of the printing press, which played a huge part in spreading Martin Luther’s ideas, and later those of the other Reformers. We should never underestimate how much the development of Christianity has been connected with taking advantage of the latest means of communication. That was really the point that Charteris was making about the expansion of printing near the end of the 19th century and it is still a valid point today.
It is important to remember that fact, because in our own lifetime we have seen another revolution hugely expanding the spread of information with the introduction of the world wide web and social media. The use of technology within the Church has taken a huge leap forward during the Covid pandemic with many services now being live-streamed, or available in some sort of digital form. Even a technological dinosaur like me has managed to go online with email distribution of these reflections!!
The opportunities offered by new means of communication are constantly developing and they should be welcomed. But we should always remember that they are exactly that. They are “means”, they are tools which have been put into our hands, but they do not determine what we should do with those tools. You may give a joiner his saw, hammer, and screwdriver, but he still has to decide whether to use them to make a table, or a chair, or a bookcase, or something else.
And that is the challenge the Church faces as well. What should we use the new tools of communication for? What should we communicate to the world?
For Christians there is really only one answer to that question, and it was given to us two thousand years ago by Jesus himself. We can find his words at the end of the Gospel of Mark, in chapter 16, verse 15: “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to the whole human race.” This great commission from Jesus is reported in several places in the New Testament and the early Christians obviously regarded it as their great task in the world.
And it is interesting that right at the beginning of Christianity, Jesus was thinking in the most expansive terms. As one commentator has said: “In an age of narrow loyalties, when national prejudices were sharpened into animosity and often contempt, Jesus ranged the world both in the gifts of his love and the yearning of his gospel.” [Abingdon vol 7 p 622].
And that comment seems to me to highlight the key point about the task Jesus gave his disciples. The aim of it all was to improve the lives of people who heard the message, to make their lives better by assuring them of God’s love and through the Gospel to show them what they needed to do to achieve that better life.
This was the task Jesus gave to his disciples. This was what he wanted them to tell the world: your life can be better and there is a way to make the world a better place. Through Jesus and his message it is possible.
What greater message could there be to communicate to the world?
Hymn 609 Come living God when least expected (tune Sunset)
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (Gwen)
Loving Lord God,
Thank you for bringing us safely through another week and for bringing us here to thank you for all you do for us. We thank you for your promise to never leave us, but to stay by our side to celebrate the good times in our lives, enjoying our happiness and joy as we rejoice and staying close through the sad and difficult times, ready to hold us up and give your comfort and support.
We thank you that we are able to meet more freely though we are ever mindful that the virus is still here and that there is a rise in the number of people infected. Help us to stay safe as we show support for each other and show compassion for all whose lives are less than you designed them to be. As we enjoy our beautiful surroundings in the sunshine in relative safety we pray for those whose homes are destroyed by war, by flood, by fire and whose lives are turned upside down.
We pray for the people in Afghanistan; for those caught up in the war there; for those who are trying to flee the fighting. We pray for those who have families there and are worrying for their safety, and for those who have been unable to leave Afghanistan as the rescue mission winds to a halt. We pray for the victims of acts of violence based on religion and belief.
We pray for those people who are nearer home who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, abuse, hunger, unemployment, addictions and mental health issues and pray for all who are trying to come to terms with changing circumstances in their lives.
Lord God, bring relief to their hardships and we bring to you those who are sick, those who are in hospital and include the care givers. We pray too for those who mourn and for those who have died and we bring to you in the silence of our hearts, those who lie heavily on our minds this day.
Silence - - - -
Show us too where we can show our caring and compassion following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ and thank you for all those example we can hear about through the Church of Scotland media. Help us to spread your word to others by living your gospel in word and in deed doing unto others as you have done to us.
Hymn 642 Ye that know the Lord is gracious
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYqghvkZkJA (tune: Blaenwern)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9TBOuwzDZM (tune: Hyfrodol)
Go out into the world to make disciples
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you all , this day and forevermore, Amen
Closing voluntary: Shostakovich waltz no.2 from the Jazz Suite
Services will resume again in the Village Hall in Borgue starting next Sunday, September 5th at 12noon and continuing thereafter on the first Sunday of the month. We will be using the large hall to allow for great spacing and better ventilation. There will be hand sanitisers available and everyone should wear a mask. We will also need to take your details for track and trace. Please let people know.