This mornings service has been provided by the Moderator of the General Assembly
There will not be a live service from Moneydig this week. Instead we have a recording from last Sunday nights evening service and the opportunity to watch a service from Templepatrick Presbyterian Church. Our own services will return as normal next Sunday.
As we celebrate Good Friday, we are being reminded that this last year is not the year when we should have cried out ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ For when we look at the cross, we see a saviour who stayed the course, who has been with us through the very worst of this pandemic, who has felt every nail hammered into our souls and hearts, who has hung with us, to the very end. We see a saviour who despite the calls to prove who he is by saving himself and abandoning us, chose to stay, to experience what we experience – to hang beside us right to the very end.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday we reflect on all we took for granted before the Pandemic, socially and spiritually. Then we ask if we need to take up a new invitation to meet with Jesus.
I wonder how our understanding of what it is to be a Christian and the church in this world changed over this last year. I’m guessing just over a year ago before the pandemic we would have said the biggest challenges facing the church were secularism, a lack of interest in spiritual things among younger generations, competition from so many other things; sports; online games; films; internet and so the list would have gone on. Now the biggest threat has become Covid-19; social distancing; fear of crowds and gatherings; churches can no longer have large gatherings where we invite people to come along. Our traditional understanding of evangelism, worship, family and fellowship has changed and traditionally we in the church have been slow to adapt and change and so the future… well we already know we are fearful. What does this changing world mean for how we live our lives as Christians?
Tonight’s session describes what it means to be a spirit filled Christian. This is about how we understand the relationship between authority and submission, but this relationship is one modelled on Christ’s headship of the church; how he submits to the Father and exercises authority over us. The authority he shows is quite different to many of our experiences in modern life.
Proverbs 29:7 reads; ‘The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.’ Throughout scripture there is a biblical imperative to not just have concern for the poor, but to do something to alleviate suffering. It’s worth noting who is concerned about justice for the poor, the righteous. The biblical command to be socially aware, to have a concern for justice and equality is based upon God’s concern.
As we come to Ephesians 4: 17-24 Paul begins to teach the Ephesian church what must change in their lives. We need to put this into some context. Paul’s not arguing for salvation by works, in other words he’s not saying this is what you must do if you want to get to heaven. No, he spent the first three and a bit chapters reinforcing the idea that these Christians were saved because of what God had done for them. He chose them from before the creation of the world, planned for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and opened their eyes so as they could respond to Jesus in faith. Paul’s now saying it’s because of what God has done, because they’ve been enabled to respond in faith, that there needs to be repentance as evidence that God has been at work, that repentance is the change in lifestyle which he’s about to detail.
I remember sitting in a Templepatrick Presbytery meeting when Johnny Moxon was moderator. Every Presbytery meeting begins with worship led by the moderator, usually prayer, bible reading and a sermon. At this meeting Johnny said it wasn’t enough for Jesus to be saviour, he had to be Lord as well. This is the response of both Lydia and the Jailor.
When Charles McMullan was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, he said at his 2018 installation and then again on the night he handed over to William Henry that the Christian life rises and falls on the devotional. He was very clearly stating how important he felt the personal devotional is in Christian growth. I agree with him, I think the traditional quiet time, devotional, personal bible reading and prayer; whatever name you want to give it, plays a central role in the Christian life. When I look back over my life, recent and long ago, I can see the ups and downs in my walk with God clearly linked to times when I was diligent in my own personal devotions and when I was careless with them. What is interesting is that as we come to Ephesians chapter 4: 1-16 Paul answers this question and his primary concern is not the personal, but the corporate. In other words, it is not what we are doing on our own that Paul addresses, but how we live, or fail to live, together as one people. For Paul, the community of believers was paramount, and it is this sense of community he addresses.