The Parishes of Crail and St Ayle

Reflections for the Locked out - Locked Down Church from Peter Neilson 

Sunday 5 July 2020

Good morning and shalom to all my friends in Crail and St Ayle.

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, by the end of the week we will have a parish minister again!  On Friday evening at 7pm, The Rev John Murray will be inducted to the linked parishes of Crail and St Ayle using the all-too-familiar technology of ZOOM.  I hope you have signed up to share in this important moment in the life of our two parishes.

Unfortunately, Mr Murray is still on Skye, and will not be able to move South until the end of July.  However, next Sunday he will lead us in worship at a distance by ZOOM.  In company with many churches, he has been using this method on Skye.  Many of us have used it to keep in touch with family and friends, or for various forms of meeting.  For those of us not equipped for ZOOM, I understand that he will provide a written reflection.

Letters from lockdown to encourage the faithful are nothing new.  We are still drawing on the letters of St Paul who sent letters from various prisons to little churches all over the Roman Empire.  In more recent times, we have the prison letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Pastor who opposed Hitler, and Martin Luther King, during the Civil Rights Struggles of the 1960’s.  There are countless examples from prisons of the world that go unrecorded.  It is a noble tradition.

I have enjoyed sharing these reflections week by week.  I trust that they have lifted the spirits of “the locked down- locked out church” and sustained you during this season when we have not been able to be in the one place at the one time, to worship with one heart and one voice.

But we have been “alone together” in Christ.  That bond of unity is deeper than distance.

So I invite you to find your place of quiet. To light that candle or put on the music that leads you into God’s presence.  He is waiting for you.

Gathering into the Presence of God

Lord Jesus Christ, who walked by the seashore

And called fishermen to follow you,

We know that You still walk

Among the people of these shores

Inviting women and men to your side.

 

In this season when the distractions of life are muted

May your voice be heard more clearly.

In this season when life’s routines are disrupted

May people be ready to travel the unknown path with You.

In this season of choosing between what is essential and what is not

May eyes be opened to see what is eternal

And choose the new life you offer. AMEN

 

Say The Lord’s Prayer into yourself slowly.

Pray it again, lingering phrase by phrase.

 

Our Father in heaven.... gather other members of your family and church family before Father God.

Your Kingdom come.... pray God’s healing for our afflicted and divided world

Your will be done on earth as in heaven.... imagine our community, nation, world living God’s way

Give us this day our daily bread.... more real for you and others than usual as money runs out

Forgive us... as we forgive....what does this pandemic expose that needs forgiving?

Lead us not into temptation..... what temptations come for you with this strange time?

Deliver us from evil.....imagine Jesus rebuking this virus as he did so often in Galilee

For the Kingdom, the power and the glory and Yours....lift up your hearts! God has the last word!

Amen....  say it out loud.

  

Listening for the Word of God

As we prepare for a new phase of life as a church in the East Neuk,

I invite you to pray this prayer of Paul for the church.

Read it through then make it our prayer it for our congregations.

Read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3:14-21

 

Reflecting on God’s Word for Us

This prayer of St Paul was the basis of my first service in my first church in Glasgow.  It was my prayer for that congregation on the South Side of Glasgow.  It was the basis of my last sermon before I left eleven years later, and formed the basis of a National Prayer for Scotland for many years.

At a time when there is so much speculation about the future of the church, I still believe this prayer cuts through all the superficial talk about buildings, money, forms of worship and systems of governance.  This prayer goes to the heart of what is on God’s heart for his people in any place, in any stage of history, and in any of the multiple formats that we inherit or invent.

We have become familiar with the ritual of “taking the knee”.  I had not appreciated that it comes from images of Martin Luther King and others kneeling in the streets to pray during the Civil Rights protests.  Paul ‘takes the knee” before the Father of the whole family of humankind “in heaven and on earth”.  This is a prayer to demolish all racism, sectarianism, denominationalism, or any other tribalism that splits God’s family into little fearful sections.  To bow before the Father is to say we belong to a family without frontiers – Our Father in heaven.....  Imagine belonging to that church....

The prayer is a prayer of abundance.  Paul prays that “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you through his Spirit in your inner being.” (3:16).  Today we speak of “resilience” – the capacity to bounce back from the setbacks of life.  I am sure we can think of many situations where people need that inner resilience – to cope with grief, illness, family pressures, loss of work, financial worries and that all-pervasive cloud of COVID anxiety that hangs over us.

In simple terms, this is a prayer that we be a church where people find the strength to cope with whatever life throws at them – nothing less that the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.  The church is to be a community of hope, sustaining one another with resurrection resilience. Imagine belonging to that kind of church....

A church with Jesus at its heart – “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (3:17).  Not locked up in history.  Not remote in heaven.  Up close and personal in our hearts.  Christ walks and talks again among his people.  Christ teaches and heals again among his people.  Christ reaches out to the last, the least and the lost through his people.  Christ prays to the Father for his Kingdom to come in the hearts of his people.  Christ loves, forgives, comforts, challenges and lives again in the hearts of his people.

Each one of us is a “little Christ” revealing the character of Christ.  All of us together form the Body of Christ, re-enacting the ministry of Christ - the living Christ dwelling in our hearts.  Imagine belonging to that Christ-centred, Christ-minded, Christ-like church.....

Now take a deep breath.  Paul prays that we may “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”  Just stop. In your mind’s eye, stand on the shore line looking out to the far horizon and its ocean depths, looking up into the big skies of the East Neuk and beyond into the aeons of space....... 

These are the awesome dimensions of the love of Christ.  And we are the focus of it all.  We cannot stray too far for him to reach us.  We cannot outrun his patience.  We do not need to climb imaginary ladders of success to earn his love. And however deep the depths we have known, his love is deeper....always beneath to hold us.  This is “love that surpasses knowledge”.  Imagine belonging to a church where we are loved like that....

 

By any of the usual statistical measures, the church in Scotland is growing smaller, older and poorer.  Paul’s prayer invites us to set the statistics of poverty aside and pray for a spiritual abundance “that you may be filled with the measure of all the fullness of God.” (3:19)

The institutional survival of the church is a distraction.  God is about something more radical than any radical plans.  He wants to fill us with the fullness of God. I cannot begin to imagine what that might mean, but it means more than what we have settled for in the past.  Our images of a full church are about pews full of people. Paul’s image is of people full to overflowing with the grace and goodness of God. Imagine belonging to a church filled with the fullness of God....

An impossible dream?  I leave you to ponder the wonderful words of the doxology that wraps up Paul’s prayer.  Savour each word and phrase.  I invite you to pray this prayer over the coming weeks as a prayer vision for the next phase of our life together along with our new minister, John Murray.  Imagine if God answered this prayer.....

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. AMEN

Responding to God’s Word and God’s Spirit

Father God, hear our prayer for Your church

In Anstruther, Cellardyke and Crail,

That we may live the prayer-dream of the apostle

In the embrace of our Father

In the power of the Spirit

In the presence of Christ

And in the fullness of Your love.

 

As John Murray prepares to join us

In our shared ministry and mission to our communities

May he know the welcome of Your people

And may we be open to the new calling

That comes to us all as he comes among us.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, hear our prayer for the nations.

Where power is used to suppress freedom

In Hong Kong, Russia and Israel-Palestine.

We remember that empires rise and fall before You.

We pray that the oppressed may endure with hope

And that the power-hungry will be deposed from their seats.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, hear our prayer for our nation.

For Scotland, may we rediscover God as the Father of all.

For the UK, may political niggling give way to mutual regard.

For those afflicted by COVID-19, may they be healed, comforted and restored.

For those losing jobs and livelihoods, may doors of opportunity be opened. 

For those stepping back into the world, may they be alert, but not afraid.

 

Eternal God, who holds in your embrace

Your family in earth and in heaven

We thank you for the pilgrims of the Way

Who have walked before us,

and alongside us for a while,

But now enjoy the fullness of God

In your eternal presence.

 

With the joyful hosts of heaven

We lift up our hearts in praise and worship,

To you, Holy One

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

 

 A Meditation before we Go

This prayer is attributed to St Francis Drake when he set sail from Portsmouth to explore the non-Spanish areas of California.  The language is modern, but the spirit of adventure is timeless - and timely - for us.

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love. AMEN

 

A Blessing

We bless one another and our communities as we close.

There can be no greater blessing in these anxious days than the blessing of God’s peace.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding

Keep our hearts and our minds, in the knowledge and in the love of God,

And of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Living Lord.

And the blessing of God Almighty,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Be with us all, now and always.

Amen.

© 2018 - 2020 by St Ayle