The Parishes of Crail and St Ayle
Reflections from Rev. Peter Neilson
Reflection for Lent 3: Sunday 14 March 2021
Good morning, friends in Crail and St Ayle
Grace and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
On this Mothering Sunday, I expect there has been a flurry of cards, flowers and special breakfasts to mark the occasion, and also some quiet tears for reasons known and unknown.
Coming at the end of International Women’s Week, it is a good time for us all to reflect on the role of women in our lives. Each of us was born of a woman. Each of us has been influenced by women in our family and among friends, as work colleagues or public figures, people past and present, close and distant. That influence may have been for good or for ill because relationships are complicated. We are complicated people.
The media focus on the Duchess of Sussex this week has unleashed a flurry of competing narratives, and raised many issues about mental health, racial prejudice, the use and abuse of power, media, and celebrity status – casting shadows across many areas of public life. Opinions of what the lady said – and why - are divided, but the questions for our society cannot be avoided.
Lent is a season of penitence. What darkness has been exposed in us by our reactions?
We come into God’s presence….
As we come to worship, we take time to humble ourselves in the presence of God using the “Jesus Prayer” which has been prayed over many centuries. It is a prayer to be repeated many times over until it becomes a posture of the soul before God. It helps to pray each phrase on the rhythm of our breath – breathing out, breathing in…..
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Sit with this prayer, repeating it several times, and then sit in silence for a few minutes.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…. (Psalm 107:1)
Holy God, whose goodness is perfect
In grace, generosity, mercy and loving-kindness
In truth, holiness, purity and everlasting light,
We come to worship You in the beauty of holiness,
Dazzled and transfixed in awe and wonder.
Redeeming God, whose goodness is often hidden,
Moving in mysterious ways your wonders to perform,
Wrapped in dark moments, concealing treasures unseen,
We come to worship you in the mystery of Christ’s Cross
Where You worked eternal good in the deepest darkness.
Loving God, whose goodness shines in the kindness of others:
In the faithful love of parents, mother and father,
In the security of home where love has not failed,
In the random kindness of friends and strangers,
We give you thanks for the imprint of your image
In every human life, and every act of love.
Gracious God, who calls us to follow Jesus in showing goodness,
Teach us to channel anger into justice not self-justification;
to turn the other cheek, rather than seek revenge.
To learn to love enemies into reconciled friendship,
To love generously as Your light shines on the just and the unjust,
Till we become the salt and light of Your Presence where we are,
As those who are redeemed in Jesus Christ, AMEN.
Today’s Gospel - John 3:14-21
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
The Gospel in a Nutshell
The Gospel in a nutshell. That is how John 3:16 has been described. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
It sounds like a great offer, but not everyone sees it like that.
John is an experienced pastor. He has survived the other disciples and has spent a lifetime passing on the good news of God’s love and this gift of new life through his Son, Jesus Christ. Tradition has it that he lived to a ripe old age as pastor to the church in Ephesus.
Over the years it has become clear to him that some people just do not believe that God loves them. They are convinced that God is out to get them. Their image of God is harsh and judgmental. Who would want anything to do with a God who condemns us?
Bob Ekblad was a prison chaplain in USA for many years. He records his experiences in a book with the unattractive title, Reading the Bible with Damned. He tells of how the prisoners he meets all believe that God is out to punish them, that they are “damned”, condemned.
His role as chaplain is to help them see God in a different light so that they can see themselves in a new light. They cannot believe that they are loved – certainly not by God. They either blame him for the mess they were in, or think God blames them for getting into the mess.
I wonder if you know anyone who has that negative view of God – perhaps due to damaging experiences in life that have distorted the face of God for them. John wants to wash the smeared face of God to reveal the face of Jesus.
Look at Jesus, John says. That’s the real face of God – the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever (even you!) believes in him will not die but have eternal life.
Older translations speak of “everlasting life” – life beyond death - but the better translation is “eternal life”. God is sharing God’s own life with us through His Son. That life is undefeatable and irrepressible. It is everlasting life because it is eternal life. It is eternal life because it is God’s life, given to us to live now and hereafter.
Pastor John has discovered another sobering fact over the years. There are people who can see it all too clearly – like sunlight shining through a clear window, but prefer “darkness” to light, preferring to hide from the gaze of God, and opting to live without Him. It is a life choice.
I remember a philosophy lecturer complaining that there was a view of God’s salvation that seemed to impose it on us whether we liked it or not. His question was, “What must I do NOT to be saved?” John would have responded with a heavy heart that he only needed to turn his back on Jesus, and wander in the gloaming of his own intellectual quest. There is a choice.
I wonder if you know somebody like that. It may be shame or fear that makes them hide away. It may be a deliberate choice to be “free” to do what they choose without any interference from the God. It may be an intellectual barrier, an emotional barrier or a moral barrier. For whatever reason, the eyes of the heart cannot see in the dark.
Part of the problem is the word “believe”. In our Western post-Enlightenment world, that means an intellectual assent to a set of propositions. But the Biblical meaning is “to put your trust in”, and that means where you put your feet and your hands as much as your head and your heart. That is why John speaks of those who “live by the truth” (“do the truth” KJV).
Maybe some of our friends who struggle to “believe”, or have opted for the darkness rather than the light, need to hear a different invitation that whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. ( 21)
Come, friend, and walk in the truth of Jesus for a few weeks, and you will begin to see by the Light of Christ that you are walking in the sight of God. God sees you, even if you do not see God yet.
Maybe then it will be possible to hear with new ears that wonderful “Gospel in a nutshell”.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Don’t miss out on this unique offer.
Prayers for Women of the World
God of nurturing love,
We thank you for all the women who have influences us for good
In our family and among our friends;
For daughters and sisters, mother and wives,
Grandmothers and aunties, official and unofficial,
Nurturing us, challenging us, shaping us.
We thank you especially for the women of faith
Who have grounded us and inspired us in the Way of Jesus.
God of hopeful possibilities,
We pray for women whose lives are limited and constrained
By prejudice, by social custom, by lack of opportunity
May your liberating Spirit stir in them courage
And inspire them with Your resurrection resilience.
God of sheltering wings,
We pray for women who are diminished daily by men,
By corroding criticism or by physical abuse.
May their day of freedom come soon
And the deep healing of your redeeming love.
God of challenging invitation,
We pray for women who have heard your call
To serve You in church and community,
To be agents of change in the world.
May they challenge us in new ways
With deep truths of Your Kingdom.
God of eternal life,
We thank you for those heroines of the faith
Who now enjoy the splendour of your glory
And call us to persevere in the faith.
We join with that great communion of saints
In heaven and across the earth
To celebrate the name of Jesus
In whose name we share the gift of eternal life. AMEN
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 Lord.
And now may the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be with us all,
Now and always. AMEN