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This will continue for the foreseeable future
Clackmannan Parish Church of Scotland
Sunday 6th June 2021
Where we stand
Follow previous weeks
We live in a time of uncertainty.
We are coming out of a pandemic and very soon will hopefully have all restrictions removed.
However research is telling us that at least a 1/3 of people that used to go to church are not going to return. That will have long running affects on finances and put serious stresses on the volunteer base that will be more limited.
At the same time we have a General Assembly that has told the church it has over 1000 charges but is only going to fund 600 ministers and the Presbyteries have to work out how to allocate those resources.
I recently received a job application that may show how some presbyteries are thinking this would work.
Dear Mr McNeil,
I’m writing to let you know about an exciting new opportunity to shape worship in Berwickshire/North Northumberland, which may be of interest to you or someone you know. The vacancy is for a Full Time Minister of Word and Sacrament, with a unique twist. The appointee will:
Live in a manse in a borders’ village.
Spend 1 day per week ministering in the village.
Spend 4 days per week equipping congregations across the Presbytery (who will never have their own minister) to take responsibility for their own worship.
I do not deny that we live in scary times.
However we have always lived in scary times.
We will see that from our passage today. But first let us listen to the hymn
Hymn 252: As a fire is meant for burning
Strong and steadfast are you, O Lord, ruler over all creation.
Each human created in your image bound to you in love, called to serve.
From the dust you raise us and place us in communities each with gifts and graces meant for sharing.
That is the way your church is meant to be; a place where love and care can be seen and felt in real and practical way.
Forgive us Lord,
for we can be stubborn, we can be selfish, greedy and unloving. We don’t mean to be, but at times we just slide into indifference, we see the needs of others as an inconvenience to be avoided rather than embraced.
At other times we let fear overwhelm us and that drives us into poor decisions. We hide from others, we stereotype them into characters undeserving of help,
we deliberately see them as NOT in your image, NOT a child of your love and so excuse ourselves from any obligation to them.
Forgive us when doubts seep into us and cause us to question your way. For those times we would rather ;live in the certainty of a wilderness that we know rather than strike forward to go into a Promised land that is unsure.
Lord help us to face our fear and doubts
to honestly bring them to you and seek your guidance.
Give us courage to follow in your way,
give us strength to make the right choices.
Help us to lead each other in your way
today and always.
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
Background to the reading.
Israel is a loose federation of tribes that come together in time of need. When they have been struggling they have centred round a charismatic leader or Judge, who God seems to send when they need one. There are also religious leaders that have been the centre of their leadership. Samuel the prophet is one of them.
But now he is getting old and the people are worried that their loose confederation doesn’t stand a chance against the kings that are rising up and controlling centralised trained armies.
1 Samuel 8: 1-9
Israel asks for a king
8When Samuel grew old he appointed his sons as Israel's leaders. 2The name of his first born was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest grain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
6But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7And the LORD told him; "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights."
I have been studying parts of the Old Testament all through lockdown. I think we have sorely missed the wonderful truths that are there because we give up on passages too quickly.
We look at these passages as of a time long ago when things were very different and the theology is really hard. But the truth is that people are people and when you look at these passages as interactions then we learn a lot more about them, and about ourselves.
We have Samuel. He has served the people strictly but well.
The people have put up with that because he has kept them safe.
But they are not willing to let his corrupt children take over.
Samuel does not take well to the leaders daring to tell him that they want a king, a leader to focus round.
And there is a lack of honesty there that I think we need to face.
Here was Samuel, telling others what to do, but his own sons are corrupt.
Where was his leadership within his own family?
I face this all the time in my own church.
We have Session meetings where we look to trying to encourage people into church.
And then I say those fateful words that stop all, ‘So where are your children?’
We blame the generations that come after us for not being interested in the church.
But the truth is we have let them down.
We were called to be a light to the world.
On the whole we have hidden our light, too embarrassed to talk about our faith to others, to our neighbours, even our own children.
Simon SInek is the author of the book, Infinite Games, brilliant book about how to live life. And he talks about how people aren’t against church; they just think we are irrelevant.
And it is not the message; they can go on the internet and see the best choirs in the world. They can go on you tube and hear the greatest preachers in the world.
To them that is no different than listening to Ted talks and listening to the best of any kind of music.
They are more than happy to listen, but they won’t commit to anything unless it is relevant to them.
And sometimes that is the music and the message they get in church.
Too many churches have the knack of saying they want people in but they aren’t willing to change anything about the church to encourage anyone new in.
But there is something even worse than that.
The truth is that we as individuals are usually not relevant to people outside.
What the leaders of Israel were worried about was that Samuel cared more about his dynasty of power continuing than he cared about them.
In fact I would take it further, Samuel had wonderful intentions, but in the end he was more interested in his own power than he cared about anyone else.
Because if he really cared about his sons and how they were growing up then he would have spent more time trying to lead them to be better people.
But he was so busy doing ‘God’s work’ that he had no time for his sons and his sons turned against him and his God.
How many of our family, how many of our neighbours think that we care more about the church staying open than the problems that they face?
We are not relevant in their lives.
We are not a light of hope in their lives.
So they don’t see us as important, relevant.
Churches are often good at long distance care.
We will give money and food to food banks, we will send money aboard for disaster relief, we will divide our rubbish into recyclable and non recyclable to save the planet...and that is all very good.
But if I invited us all to bring a non Christian to church next week, would we even know one well enough to invite one?
It is not as if we live in a perfect world where everyone is living in luxury, nobody has any cares so nobody needs a God who can help them.
We live in a world where the suicide rate is higher in Scotland than at any other time.
Where job insecurity is higher than at any other time.
Where our children have had to go through the worse levels of disrupted education, which they know will affect their job prospects later on in life.
Where the levels of personal debt, the levels of child and spousal abuse are higher than at any other time in history.
We live in a time that needs a God that cares, and yet they don’t see us as the answer because we are not on their radar.
We don’t get involved.
It’s none of our business.
We are too busy.
One of my favourite phrases over the last year came as a response to a politician who said that we were all in the same boat together.
And the reply came, ‘We are all in the same storm, we are not in the same boat. Some are in a luxury ship where they don’t even notice there is a storm, and others are in a dingy that is leaking and they are scared it will capsize when the next wave hits.’
To those in the outside we look as if we are in this wonderful ship where we find support and comfort and mutual strength, but we are not putting on lifebelts and diving into the waters to help others who are sinking.
The Israelite leaders weren’t going against God; they just wanted someone to care about them. Samuel wasn’t willing to do that, to put their needs first. So they asked for a king, now the truth is that the kings would botch things up, but they didn’t know that, the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence and on the other side of their fence was countries that had kings, so they asked for that.
We have a generation of people that are struggling, and it is not that they are walking away from what God wants for them, it is just that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and on the other side of the fence that they are looking at is rich celebrities who seem to have every security that they want...so they go for that.
If they are not seeing anything different from that then that is not their fault; that is ours.
If the lives that we live are not outwardly caring, sacrificially caring, if we are not showing an eagerness to help others, if we basically only care about ourselves...then why should they bother with us, because we are exactly like them that only care for themselves.
The General Assembly has talked about how the local churches need to be more missional, more evangelical.
Basically we either start growing or we start closing churches because they have died.
And I am sure that in every church there will be a call about what we need to do to encourage people to come to church; what events are we going to create that will encourage people to come into the building.
But the growing churches don’t hold events, because they realised that the most effective evangelism is fellowship evangelism. That our friends see in our lives something worth following. They care about what we care about because they know we care about them.
That it has never been about bringing people into our church, it has been about bringing our lives into theirs.
When we are relevant in their lives, then our faith will be relevant in theirs.
Let us pray
we bow before you.
We come, humble servants,
sons and daughters, created in your image.
Your divinity, our humanity, how we interact, a constant mystery.
You lead us in love, and sometimes we follow...sometimes, when we are wise enough, courageous enough, faithful enough..
Free will often pulls us away,
offers us false freedom and lures us into selfishness.
Relationship takes work, hard work on all sides.
We desire relationship, we long for community, but we struggle to put the effort in.
We need your gentle leading to guide us and strengthen us.
In return we offer all that we are, imperfect and frail, and seek your gentle leading as we strive to use our gifts for the sake of your kingdom.
Hear our prayer, O Lord.
192: All my hope in God is founded