Sunday November 7th 2021                

BBC hymn book 244:  O praise ye the Lord

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRauK1m7Pko

Prayer of Approach and Confession

We meet as family in the presence of our heavenly Father.

We meet as brothers and sisters in Christ,

accepting the responsibility this places upon us –

to love one another as You have loved us.

 

We meet as Your lights in this dark world,

and pray that through our words and our lives

others might be drawn into Your family,

and accept You as their Saviour and Lord.

 

In our meeting together

let us remember that we worship the God who created this world,

the God who spoke through prophets from generation to generation,

led people from captivity to liberty,

healed the sick,

fed the hungry

and was faithful even when faced with rejection.

 

The same God who wants all people

to be drawn to God's love and grace,

to know forgiveness and the joy of Salvation.

Let us put aside all that hinders

and join together in worship and praise through Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying…

 

Hymn 378 Praise to the holiness in the height

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPBE5r3a0UA

Readings:      Luke 2:41-47

Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 10:25-37

25 A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?”

26 Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?”

27 The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’”

28 “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.”

29 But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”

30 Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. 31 It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. 32 In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. 34 He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’”

36 And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbour toward the man attacked by the robbers?”

37 The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”

Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”

Hymn 348 Praise the One who breaks the darkness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31a8cQkVfTc

Reflections

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

The other day we got an advertisement in the mail for a magazine called The London Review of Books.  It publishes reviews of new books, but also articles about issues of current interest in the world at large, and these articles are generally well-considered and well-written by people who usually know what they’re talking about.

The advertisement was specifically encouraging people to give gift subscriptions to the magazine as Christmas presents.  Nothing unusual in that, I suppose.  But what amused me was the slogan for this gift-subscription offer; it said:   “It’s thought that counts”.   At first glance, I misread it as just that old phrase that people often use about gifts: “It’s the thought that counts.”  But then I realised that the advertisement was saying something completely different and much more intriguing.  It was suggesting that thought---that thinking---was what counted in life and that you could give people the gift of interesting thinking as a Christmas present.

I have to say that it had never occurred to me before in quite this way that thought could be a gift of Christmas, but as I considered it I began to realise that the magazine had actually hit on something that was really a great deal more profound than perhaps they had originally intended.

We live in a world where problems of one sort or another cry out on every side for solutions, but it is also a world where those problems are increasingly difficult to solve.  The great physicist Albert Einstein highlighted the difficulty  many years ago when he said with a certain irony: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”   In other words, it is easy to get yourself foolishly into a mess without much thinking, but it requires an awful lot more thought to get yourself out of the mess.  So indeed it turns out that thought really is what counts.

But what about thought as a gift of Christmas?  People who criticise Christianity like to depict it as a religion that opposes and prevents thought, a religion that objects to the development of new ideas, that stifles debate, that insists on dictating everything.  This has always seemed to me an absurd caricature of the Christian attitude, and in recent years I have felt more and more strongly that in fact it is the people who reject Christianity who are most dictatorial. 

George Orwell in his book 1984  famously painted a picture of a secular society that rejected religion but which nevertheless completely stifled independent thinking about any important question.  The state tells people what they are allowed to think,  and anyone who has an independent thought is guilty of “thought crime” and may be arrested by the “thought police”. 

The state in Orwell’s novel realises that a key element of controlling people’s thoughts is to control their language.  If people do not have the words to express their thoughts, then they simply cannot express them. The state realises that if you can pervert language, you can pervert thought.  So the state tells people what words they are allowed to use, and even decrees what those words mean.  Everybody must accept the state’s definitions,  even if that turns the normal meaning of a word on its head.    In that way it becomes possible for something called the Ministry of Peace to oversee endless foreign wars, while the Ministry of Love is responsible for arresting and torturing  “thought criminals”, and the so-called Ministry of Truth conducts a relentless campaign of propaganda and lies.  

People are brainwashed to accept this perversion of language to such an extent that they cannot even think straight anymore, and everyone is expected to mindlessly mouth the state’s three main slogans, which are: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.  And just in case anybody is still inclined to get out of line, there is a massive system of secret police and total surveillance with cameras installed even in people’s homes on their television screens. 

I sometimes wonder what Orwell would have made of our modern situation, where there are CCTV cameras everywhere, where people’s emails and internet activity are monitored, hacked, and manipulated by advertisers, by criminals and by states, and where every computer seems to have a camera that in some cases can be activated not just by the computer user but also remotely from outside.

I suppose that, in spite of all this, our modern situation is not yet quite as bad as the picture Orwell paints. But one does increasingly see a worrying tendency on the part of some people to try to dictate what is said in public about controversial questions, to tell people what language is allowed and what is forbidden, and indeed in some cases even to try to control what people are allowed to think by preventing open debate and denying the right to consider differing views and new information.  When I read in the papers about respectable university professors who are actually hounded out of their jobs, who are in effect punished professionally and financially,  because they dare to express views that are different from the permitted views on some issue,  I begin to wonder how far we really are from Orwell’s nightmare.

And I would argue that the important point from a Christian perspective is that such an Orwellian world is as far as it is possible to be from the teaching and ministry of Jesus himself. This needs to be said quite emphatically, because in our time it is often the people who oppose Christianity most loudly who are today’s most active thought police.

And that is where it seems to me that the idea of thought as a gift of Christmas is actually so important.  But of course the question then becomes: is it true? Can Christmas give us the gift of thought?

The answer to that depends in its turn on what Jesus---the greatest gift of Christmas---was like himself.  Can we see in the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus an example of how Christianity may nurture and encourage constructive and effective thought---thought  of the kind that Albert Einstein believed was necessary to solve the problems the world faces?

You will not be surprised to hear that I think the answer is an emphatic “Yes”. One of the things that is so striking about the ministry of Jesus is that he himself was always thinking and always encouraging others to think.  Perhaps the most astonishing instance of that comes when we read in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke about  Jesus, as a twelve-year old boy, sitting in the Temple with the Jewish teachers discussing and questioning the religious doctrine of the day, with all who heard him being amazed at his intelligent remarks and the depth of his understanding (Luke 2:47).

What is particularly significant here is that Jesus was not simply absorbing what he was being told, nor was he reticent about offering his own ideas.  In other words, he was engaged in a discussion, perhaps even a debate, about important religious questions and he was neither dictating nor being dictated to.  He had a mind of his own, and he was using it in the give and take of discussion to strengthen his own understanding and enlighten other people.  In this story Jesus was, in fact, a living example of thought in action.  As one Bible commentator suggests,  Jesus was prepared to reach out in debate for any truth that was to be found in the ideas of others.  He was not afraid of discussion and debate: he welcomed it, and we can see that inclination repeatedly in his whole ministry.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus again and again using discussion and argument to explain and develop his ideas and to bring the knowledge of his message to other people.  When he is accused of violating the Sabbath by healing the sick, he does not simply insist that he is right.  Instead, he leads his critics to think more deeply about the underlying purpose of the Sabbath and brings them towards a broader understanding:  Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for Man.  In another incident, when the mob bring Jesus the woman caught in adultery, he does not pontificate or argue: he simply makes them think by asking a devastatingly pertinent question, and that is enough to make the crowd melt away.

And, supremely, there is the incident which generates the Parable of the Good Samaritan, an incident which presents the approach of Jesus very clearly.  When a teacher of the law asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replies with two questions: “What do the Scriptures say?”  and  “How do you interpret them?”  In other words, Jesus is challenging the teacher to remember the Scriptures and to think about them himself.  The teacher answers in part  “Love your neighbour”, but then presses Jesus to say who is one’s neighbour.   I suspect the teacher wanted an easy check-list of people who are neighbours and people who are not.  But Jesus wasn’t going to let him off so easily, and he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, challenging the teacher once more at the end to think for himself about the meaning of the story: “In your opinion”, says Jesus significantly, “which of the three acted like a neighbour?”

This is one of the great examples in the New Testament of the insistence of Jesus in getting people to think for themselves, to use their brains when they have problems to solve and to get beyond easy superficial judgements and lazy thinking.

Jesus clearly believed that the way to transform people’s attitudes and lives was not to dictate or stifle their thinking but instead to make them think more deeply and more clearly so that the change was achieved from within themselves.

With all of this presented to us by Jesus himself,  we can rejoice that his coming into the world can indeed make thought a true gift of Christmas.

Amen

BBC Hymn book 192 Lord Jesus Christ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKsbd5UqKkc

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Heavenly Father,

We give you thanks that you gave us ears to hear and minds to think

We thank you for the example of Jesus who was never afraid to challenge pre-conceived ideas and always encouraged people to think for themselves.

 

Today we pray for those living in countries where there is no freedom of religion,

Where owning a Bible carries a prison sentence and worship has to be carried out secretly.

 

And we pray for those living in countries where there is no freedom of thought,

Or where freedom of thought is only allowed on certain issues, and not others.   

As Jesus always challenged and encouraged people to think for themselves,  help us to do so too,

 

We pray for people who are held captive by their thoughts

Those who need to forgive, but find themselves unable to do so,

Who are prisoners of hurt and brokenness and cannot move on,

And ask that they may know the healing peace of God,

 

And now we bring our own thoughts before you now in the silence…

 

We offer all these prayers in the name of Christ,

Amen

Hymn 352 O for a thousand tongues to sing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-dEfvz6Vms

Blessing

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

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:  Vaughan Williams English Folk Song Suite:  March

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFUHR47y8Jo

 

 


 

 

Intimations

Remembrance Services

There will be an ecumenical service for Remembrance Sunday, November 14th in Gatehouse Church at 10am, followed by an Act of Remembrance at the war memorial just before 11.  There will also be an Act of Remembrance at the Borgue war memorial at 11am.

Twynholm will have a Remembrance service at 11:30 in the Church, followed by an Act of Remembrance at the war memorial at 12:30.  There will be an Act of Remembrance at the Ringford war memorial at 1pm.

From the Foodbank

Dear Supporters

It is time once again to think of our monthly collection which will be on Tuesday 9th November, 9 - 9.30am at Kirkcudbright Parish Church Hall.

We have no specific shortages this month and we will be grateful for any food or toiletries.

We are also beginning to prepare for making up Christmas boxes, and if you would like to include items for these in your November donations, it will prevent it all arriving in the December collection.

Christmas boxes contain extra food 'treats' (eg. tinned ham, salmon, sweets, chocolate biscuits, cakes, mince pies etc.) Please check the expiry date of any food items as, although we make them up earlier, they are not distributed until Christmas week.

We also like to include crackers, a card, and a small gift for each member of the family.

If you would like to wrap these, please label with the gender of the recipient and an approximate age of any children (But don't forget Mums and Dads!)

Thank you, as always, for your continuing support.

It has been a hard year for everyone and we know how much your generosity is appreciated by those who have been hardest hit.

In Gatehouse donations can be left in Jim Logan’s Pend at 16 Fleet Street up until Monday at noon.

In Twynholm, the church door opposite the main gate will remain open after the service until 5.00pm today and donations can be left just inside the porch.”