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Services of Worship - 16 September 2018

9.30am All-Age Worship -Revd Dr Scott McKenna
10.45am Traditional Worship - Revd Dr Scott McKenna
7.00pm Communion round the Table -Revd Dr Scott McKenna

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Sun, Oct 01, 2017

Can the Church survive?

The Kirk needs a strategy to defeat the narrative of atheism. The Gospel reading was St Matthew 13: 24-33
Series:July - Dec 2017
Duration:16 mins 2 secs
Sermon     Sunday 1 October, 2017
 
Lessons           Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11                     Revelation 14: 14 – 18  St Matthew 13: 24 – 33
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Let us pray.
 
Open our hearts and minds to the Transcendence within us, the Eternal dwelling in the soul’s darkness, sustaining us, nourishing us, in the joys, suffering and mediocrity of life.   Amen.
 
  
Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’  
 
When we read the phrase ‘the kingdom of heaven’ we are to imagine a place filled with the Immortal, a land permeated with the Divine Presence, and a consciousness at one with the Eternal.   Like entering a beautiful garden, we are to see the meandering pathways and the beauty, the colours and tapestry of shapes, and we are to feel the fresh breeze on our face and smell the fragrances floating in the air.   The kingdom of heaven is a different world.   A master of metaphor, a storyteller extraordinaire, Jesus repeatedly invited His listeners to enter for themselves the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.   After years of hearing it read, after a lifetime of familiarity, we may grow deaf to the spiritual depths which Jesus lays before us:  the kingdom of heaven is like this.  
 
The biblical scholar, the late Marcus Borg, said that the kingdom of God is the dream of God.   It is a vision of shalom, of total well-being.   Borg said shalom:
 
          includes freedom from negatives such as oppression, anxiety,
          and fear, as well as the presence of positives such as health,
          prosperity, and security.   Shalom….includes a social vision:
          the dream of a world in which such well-being belongs to
          everybody.
 
In contrast to the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of heaven is the beauty and fragrance of shalom.   In The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to His disciples, He prayed, ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’   Without a doubt, the kingdom of heaven had social and political implications.   It is a vision, Jesus’ vision, in which everyone is valued and, in particular, the excluded are valued and included:  in His case, children, lepers, a haemorrhaging woman, a man, mentally ill, living among the tombs, prostitutes, a Canaanite woman, a Samaritan woman, a wealthy tax collector and a blind beggar.   Before we begin to reflect on the mustard seed, do we hear and feel what is meant by Jesus’ metaphor of choice:  the kingdom of heaven?
 
For Jesus, rabbi and mystic, the kingdom is more than something external, more, much more, than a material solution, more than an economic plan or road map for political peace.   As a teacher of the inner journey, of soul transformation, Jesus taught that freedom from the oppression and violence of the world was directly related to freedom from our own inner bonds of hatred, greed, insecurity and fear.   Unlike the dramatic story of the Exodus, of plagues, the parting of seas and the revelation at Sinai, in Jesus’ day, the people were not liberated:  Rome did not fall swiftly from power; persecution did not wane but intensified; and the Temple was razed to the ground.   Jesus, Jeshu, taught that mutual indwelling, communion with the Divine, was central to our inner journey and central to our transformation of the world around us.   In the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus say, ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’   God’s dream, that place of sacred beauty, of shalom, is within you.  
 
On Friday, I listened to the international mediator Ken Cloke talk about conflict in families, commerce, industry, between government departments and between nations.   In every case, without exception, Cloke said that conflicts centred on emotions:  fear, jealousy, insecurity, love, anger and hate.   An incredibly peace-full man, I asked him how he overcame these challenges, these demons, in his own life.   To an audience of lawyers and business people, he said, ‘I meditate every day.’  On a journey of ever deepening awareness, Cloke said, ‘I confront myself.’   Two thousand years ago, Jesus said that shalom in the world is directly related to shalom within.   At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine.   He said, ‘This is my body; this is my blood.’   He said, ‘As the bread is in you, I am in you; as this wine becomes part of you, I am part of you.’   We are to let the Spirit of Jesus shape our soul, our decision-making, creating women and men who reflect God’s dream.   The Indian Jesuit, Painadath, spoke of letting Christ become our inner guru:  confronting ourselves, nurturing our own spiritual evolution.   When we hear the phrase the kingdom of heaven, do we hear what Jesus meant?
 
Once we have heard, we are to think of the kingdom as a mustard seed, the kingdom that is within us.   The mustard seed starts from the smallest, almost invisible, beginnings but ends up large, spreading everywhere.   There is intentional hyperbole:  the seed grows to the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree!   The point in this parable is that the mustard shrub was renowned for spreading everywhere.   Within us, on our inner journey, we are to let our faith, our sense of communion with the Presence, in all its smallness and fragility, grow, spread and touch every part of our life.   It is to take over everything:  shape, make and break us.   Shalom in the world begins with shalom in the human heart.  
 
Today as we reflect on creation, the Earth, climate change, justice for the poor, moral stewardship of the Earth’s resources and on our care and protection of animal life, what might that sense of shalom mean?   As people of the Spirit, a first step, surely, is to value the Earth, its resources and life, not as mere commodities but as holy:  ‘Divine presence is woven into the fabric of the universe.’   Rowan Williams has said that our relationship to the Earth is about ‘communion not consumption’.   As we make use of the Earth’s resources, we are not to confuse our wants with our needs.   Shalom in the world begins with shalom within.  
 
The French priest and palaeontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, said, ‘At the heart of matter is the heart of God…..We can only be saved by becoming one with the universe.’   De Chardin said that Christianity is coming to the end of one of its natural cycles:  it needs to be born again.   ‘We must let the very heart of the Earth beat within us.’   Our theology needs to be one which is creation-centred.  
 
This week The Times reported that more than half of the Scottish population has no religious affiliation.   Over the past seven years, the government study has found, among all the faiths and Christian denominations, that the greatest decline - by far – has been suffered by the Church of Scotland.   It may be of some comfort that today, in a world population of 6.9 billion people, 2.2 billion are Christian; Christianity is the largest religion in the world.   The religion founded on Jesus of Nazareth is now larger than it has ever been:  a mustard seed indeed!   But in the West generally and in Scotland, the Church has not only lost numbers; it has lost confidence.   Part of the reason that the Church has lost confidence is because it does not believe its own narrative.   Sure, some Christians do, but many have difficulty with traditional interpretations of Scripture, with miracles, with ethics seemingly rooted in the Bronze Age or Iron Age, and many find it difficult to compete with scientific materialism.  
 
For myself, the Church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland needs a strategy which creates a new narrative; Christianity reborn:  a narrative which directly challenges the assumptions of atheism and scientific materialism, a spiritually and scientifically credible narrative which can inspire confidence.   This narrative cannot remain of interest only to the few but must be at the fingertips of every Christian and on the lips of every minister.   People in Scotland are never going to believe in Christianity if the Church doesn’t believe in it.   Though it be the work of Christ, no matter how many homeless people we care for or bridges we bless, if we cannot undermine the narrative of atheism and face down scientific materialism, we will not recover.   Yet the truth is that we can face them and defeat them.   Atheism is not the rational position its followers would have us believe and scientific materialism is a denial of the complexity of what it means to be a human being.   
 
For myself, a Christianity reborn is one which nurtures shalom within, in which we nurture our own spiritual evolution; a Christianity which continues to work tirelessly to create shalom in the world, and one which is in communion with God’s creation, sensitive to the Earth beneath our feet.
 
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
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