Sunday January 31st 2021
A warm welcome to worship this morning. Since Gwen was good enough to do all the Reflections last week and give me a bit of a break, she is having a well-deserved break this week.
Let us worship God
Hymn 63 All people that on earth do dwell
Prayer of Approach and Confession
God of abiding love,
present in all our beginnings, acquainted with all of our ways,
intricately woven into the depths of all things –
You understand our thoughts from far off,
and know our ways intimately.
As we gather to worship You,
nothing is hidden from You.
May we recognise Your voice in our midst.
As we gather to give You thanks and praise, may we relish all of the days You have written for us.
Grant that when we come to the end of ourselves
we would find You,
through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying…
Hymn 96 You are before me Lord
Reading: Acts 10:1-35
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.
Anthem: O come ye servants of the Lord, Christopher Tye
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
A favourite television programme of ours at this time of year is Winterwatch, the BBC nature series that serves as a constant reminder that the world around us is bigger and more complicated than some people like to think. Or, to put it another way, everything is connected with everything else, whether we like it or not.
A report on the programme last week illustrated the point perfectly. They had a report from someone in Orkney who spends his time walking the beaches clearing up plastic waste from the shores around the Orkney Isles. One of the things he had found recently was a stick which had teeth marks on either end of it. “These were made by a beaver”, he told us. “A beaver in North America has used this in a dam, and when the dam broke up, this stick travelled all the way across the ocean and washed up on a beach in Orkney.”
I was struck immediately by how amazing it is that a stick chewed by an American beaver thousands of miles away had been carried by the prevailing ocean currents---the Gulf Stream presumably---all the way to Scotland: those life-giving currents that we need to keep our islands from turning into frozen Arctic wastelands also inevitably join our islands to the rest of the world, and if that life-giving connection were broken, we’d be done for.
It is easy for people in their daily lives to lose sight of that big picture, but another report on that same programme brought it all closer to home.
It reported on the annual migration of Greenland white-fronted geese, which live in Greenland during the summer months but in winter fly all the way to the British Isles in search of food and better weather. We may not see that species very much in our area, but I know lots of us in Gatehouse have been admiring other migratory visitors in the form of the huge flocks of grey-lag geese which have been honking away in the fields round about us. And elsewhere barnacle, greylag and pink footed geese all winter in the UK, after flying from as far away as Iceland and Svalbard. And of course a reverse process brings us warm weather migrants, most notably swallows, whose return from sunnier climes is traditionally for many people a happy sign that summer is coming.
For all these creatures the world seems to be one great unified whole. There are no borders, no visas---and no customs rigmarole and red-tape!
These days such a world may seem rather strange to us, but for many of the characters in the earliest days of the Bible story it is the barbed wire and border police of the modern world that would seem strange. And the idea of a mountain of paper-work to move a few miles across a line on a map would be unimaginable.
Our earliest Biblical ancestors were, like Abraham, nomads who wandered through the desert, following their herds to where the water and food was. This was very much connected, like the migration of birds, to the great patterns of natural forces as people sought out the places where the winter rains had brought forth a new season of life-giving vegetation. It was a world with very different ideas from our own about how people should live with each other, and it reflected something like the nomadic culture of Arabia in recent times. The duty of hospitality to strangers, for example, is a fundamental principle in the desert, where to turn people away without food and drink could condemn them to certain death in the arid desert wastes. That is one reason why, in a famous incident in Genesis chapter 18, we see Abraham going out of his way to welcome the three strangers who appear outside his tent. He not only responds politely to their arrival but even positively insists, in Genesis 18:3, “please do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you.”
It is all a far cry from later developments in the Bible story, and indeed in the world at large, where we see people beginning to settle down in one place and tribal communities being formed. Historians tell us that it is that process which brought with it the development of ethnic groups and nations clutching their own patch of ground and repelling all comers. From that it was only a short step to the mentality of “them and us” which seems to be the hallmark of the modern world.
Regrettably this is a tendency which we see all too often in the Old Testament, most notably in the book of Joshua which tells of the invasion of the Israelites into Canaan. The story is presented in the Bible as a really blood-thirsty example of what nowadays we would call ethnic cleansing and genocide.
But an interesting and very revealing light is shed on this story by the archaeological evidence unearthed from modern excavations in the Holy Land. This suggests that in fact the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan may actually have been much more peaceful than the book of Joshua would have you believe. That, of course, raises the question of why the writers of Joshua chose to present the story in a way which to our eyes seems so criminal. The answer seems to be that the writers were trying to stoke the Israelites’ sense of ethnic and national pride by presenting their ancestors as glorious conquerors trampling over all those foreigners. Scholars suggest that the fact that the Israelites might in many instances actually have had to accommodate themselves to the locals (as for example Joshua evidently had to do with the Gibeonites, who are said in Joshua 10:1 to have “made peace with the Israelites and were living among them”) did not fit with that nationalistic agenda and was therefore largely written out of the Bible story.
But this tendency to misrepresent history for ulterior motives is hardly confined to the writers of the Old Testament, as we can see all too obviously in the world around us, whether it be the situation in the Holy Land today, or the pronouncements of Donald Trump, or many of the promises made to promote Brexit.
Apart from the moral problem of propagating lies, there are very real practical consequences from all such misrepresentations. The gap between the lies and the reality soon begins to appear, producing what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”, a fancy way of saying that people are confronted with a nasty and at times intolerable choice between continuing to believe the lies or facing facts.
Something like that seems to be have been going on rather close to home as we have seen increasingly in just the last few weeks since the consequences of our “oven-ready”, done and dusted Brexit deal have begun to be felt. I see reports that Scottish fish exports are being stymied by the Brexit agreement’s paperwork and red-tape, that Scottish seed-potato exports are blocked for the same reason, and that even shipments to Northern Ireland are entangled in the mess. You may have seen, as I did, the report on ITV border news that a local cheese producer in Gatehouse can no longer afford to ship individual orders to Northern Ireland because the cost of the paperwork is more than the value of the cheese.
It seems our ancestors knew what they were talking about when they told us that “the chickens always come home to roost”.
And at the root of it all is the clash between a world that rejects the mind-set of “them and us” or a world that rushes to build barriers and borders, a clash between a world united and a world divided.
For Christians confronted with this problem the New Testament is very revealing, because there we see Jesus repeatedly challenging the boundaries which existed between people in his day. Last week, Gwen’s Reflections referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan where the hated and feared Samaritan, with whom the Jews would not associate, is revealed as the person who provided help to the Jewish traveller when his own people failed him.
And later on in the New Testament, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the book of Acts and also in the letters of St Paul, we see these attitudes of “them” and “us” being rejected. The revelation begins in the book of Acts, chapter 10 when Peter has his vision on the roof of the house in Joppa. This is a hugely significant and pivotal chapter of Scripture because it documents the sudden realisation which Peter, and therefore the whole of the early church had, that Christianity was not just for Jews, but for everybody.
And we see this change in attitude being continued by St Paul, who believes himself to be called to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Paul’s most famous comment on this appears in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3 verse 28 where he writes: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So while we build walls and close borders to keep other people out, the actual message of Christianity is about letting people in. One charity which I think demonstrates this more than perhaps any other is the French charity Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors without Borders. Médecins Sans Frontières was founded in 1971, by a small group of French doctors and journalists who sought to expand accessibility to medical care across national boundaries and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation. Their “charity”---their caring and the loving kindness they offer---explicitly recognises no frontiers because they know, as Jesus made so clear, that we live in a world where humanity itself, bestowed by God to reflect his image, is the bond that unites us all.
Hymn 254 O God we bear the imprint of your face
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab2Wlj5jAvw (for those who, like me, like the tune by Orlando Gibbons!)
Prayer of Intercession
We pray for Your World.
May all that is divided by doctrine or politics, class or nationality, be united in Your praise.
We pray for a peaceful world,
where children grow up without fear,
where security rests on trust rather than threats,
and where nations fight against poverty rather than against each other.
We pray for all in authority,
that those who lead us,
may establish right priorities,
and that by Your wisdom and their vision the world may reflect Your kingdom.
We pray for those who are ill and suffering,
for all who are worried
for those who are grieving or experiencing trauma
and for a world gripped by the repercussions of pandemic.
May we all know the power of Christ to sustain us and the love of friends near and distanced to support us.
You know our greatest fears, our longings and our hopes,
sometimes these are expressed in so many different ways,
so Lord, in Your mercy, hear those prayers.
Present among us.
You are with us in our gathering,
You are with us in our distancing.
Hear our prayers, and blend our voices together,
unite us by Your Spirit
For the sake of Christ, Amen
Hymn 624 In Christ there is no East or West
May the love of the Lord Jesus, draw us to himself
May the power of the Lord Jesus, strengthen us in his service.
May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls,
And may the blessing of God almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and abide with you always, Amen
Closing voluntary: Bach’s violin concerto in E major 1st Movement
Stewartry Food Bank
The next Food Bank collection will be on Tuesday 9th February, 9- 9.30am at Kirkcudbright Parish Church.
For those of you who are able to shop and like advance warning of needs, the following are items which are in short supply:
Long life Milk
There is still an ample supplies of Pasta, Tea and Biscuits.
In Gatehouse, donations can be left at the Gatehouse Stores or in Jim Logan’s Pend, 16 Fleet Street.
In Twynholm, the church will be open on Sunday February 7th from 10-5 and donations can be left inside the door opposite the main double gate.
Thank you all for your support of this vital service.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about going to the Passion Play in Oberammergau in August 2022, please let me know and I can let you have a brochure. Email: VOtt@churchofscotland.org.uk We already have a group going from this area, rescheduled from 2020, but there are spaces for about another 12. Participants from Corsock and Kirkpatrick Durham, Crossmichael, Parton and Balmaghie would be most welcome to join us.