GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. (1 Corinthians 1: 3)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY WEB-WORSHIP!
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – PSALM 91: 1
HE WHO DWELLS IN THE SHELTER OF THE MOST HIGH WILL REST IN THE SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – JOHN 14: 27; 20: 19-20.
(JESUS SAID) – PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU; MY PEACE I GIVE YOU. I DO NOT GIVE TO YOU AS THE WORLD GIVES. DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED AND DO NOT BE AFRAID. ON THE EVENING OF THAT FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DISCIPLES WERE TOGETHER, WITH THE DOORS LOCKED FOR FEAR OF THE JEWS, JESUS CAME AND STOOD AMONG THEM AND SAID, “PEACE BE WITH YOU!” AFTER HE SAID THIS, HE SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE. THE DISCIPLES WERE OVERJOYED WHEN THEY SAW THE LORD.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” (Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities). Unsurprisingly, these lyrical words could easily be a description of our own situation today.
The world, as we knew it, has been changed – perhaps forever. As new infection-clusters appear all over the country, including here in Skye, and people still don’t know exactly how to respond to the new challenges of Covid-19 Pandemic, anxiety and fear grows. In an age characterised by self-centred behaviour, the demand to follow rules for avoiding exposure to infection, as lockdowns, school-closures, holiday-cancellations, self-isolations, and quarantines – make life even more different and difficult will the world be ever the same again?
Practising church as we did before this crisis may not be possible for quite a while, although we are planning to soon re-open our church for Sunday-morning worships; but this current panic can serve as a reminder that the church is not brick, stone and mortar; rather, is the people whom God has gathered to enjoy fellowship with Him and one another despite the circumstances (New-normal?!). We can endlessly receive the much-needed Peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4: 7) through the work of the same Spirit of the Risen Christ, as it was given to the disciples at the first Easter. Earlier, as Jesus prepared His disciples for His Passion and for the fact that He would soon be leaving this world, he encouraged them by giving a comforting promise: – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you … not … as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. And then … as the Risen Lord returned, found them together, with the doors locked for fear.
THE WORLD’S PEACE. – Earth dwellers do seek peace, but somehow never find what they are looking for: – They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6: 14). Uncertainty does cause people to react in an attempt to protect themselves. They anticipate some evil action falling upon them and they either want to flee for safety or prepare to protect themselves for what they think will become a crisis. The world does want peace, but it has defined peace in a way that is unattainable. Those living in this world want stability of their conditions in which they live; but the world has always been a very unstable place. People want to be left undisturbed, privacy being paramount, so that they can properly enjoy life. People want to be assured that all will be always calm, prosperous, and well, with no danger of anything ever changing, but such conditions are unattainable as long as lives are unsatisfied, and hearts unsettled. The endless pursuit of something to always satisfy the restless heart, will bring unexpected failures, disappointments and angry reactions. John D. Rockefeller was at one time the world’s richest man. On one occasion a reporter asked him how much money would be enough for him. Rockefeller’s response was: – “Just a little bit more.” The Wise Man of the Book of Ecclesiastes was aware that there is a restlessness that marks the life of people. They want what they say is PEACE, but the definition of that pursued peace is quite different from the peace that actually satisfies. Many years after Solomon wrote his assessment of mankind, Apostle John said this: – For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever (1 John 2: 16-17).
THE PEACE OF GOD. –My peace I give you – said Jesus – Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Well, what does Jesus give to not have troubled hearts and to not be afraid, not even of the spread and deadliness of the Coronavirus? Jesus does not promise us conditions ensuring that we will be undisturbed. What He has promised is that whoever follows Him, will have something quite different from mere existence. We possess a new quality of life in the Risen Christ, identified as ETERNAL LIFE, enabling us to realistically assess this present existence, weighing it in the light of what is permanent for us through the grace of God. The one who follows the Saviour will be secure in the knowledge that they will be eternally safe with the Lord beside. For in this HOPE we were saved– says Apostle Paul – But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us… (Romans 8: 24-26). Paul is not denying that the children of God suffer. If our focus is fixed solely on our present situation, anxiety and despair can overtake our faith. And yet, the one who follows the Lord has received a promise that what is now is not even worthy of comparison with what is soon to be revealed. In a world where everyone of us is increasingly exposed to this present crisis, we should not be insensible to the panic that surrounds us; but as Christians we must not surrender to the panic. Christ has promised PEACE, and each follower of the Lord can know and have that peaceful heart, even now.
The disciples were locked up inside their house because of fear, and as the day went on their anxiety grew and grew. Two thousand years later the same is true for us. We are fearful of the things that might harm us. We are concerned over the Coronavirus, and if we would become ill, we fear we might end up dying from it. We are afraid of what this pandemic means for us socially as well as economically. Stress is on the rise. Then … Jesus enters the anxiety-filled room and says, – Peace be with you! Into the disciples’ fears – into our fears – the Risen Christ brings His PEACE, because His very presence is the source of all PEACEFULNESS. In fact, He is the Prince of Peace.
On the evening of April 3rd, 1968, one day before his assassination, in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King said at a church-meeting: -We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it does not matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. May the Peace of God fill you with hope both for the present and the future! AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
GRACIOUS LORD GOD, thank You for wanting us to enjoy a meaningful relationship with You. Not one of master and slave, lord and servant, but as part of Your family, Your care, Your peacefulness. Keep our faith real, fresh and alive. May it never become a matter of habit or duty. Nurture and nourish our relationship with You, so that our love for You may remain natural, deep and sincere. Teach us that there is nothing needed on our part other than to believe, worship and celebrate what You have done for us, and to accept the relationship You have made possible. You have offered the way to life; help us to take it. Deep in our souls we long for You, our hearts being restless without Your Peace. Help us to know the peace that comes through knowing Christ; to experience the tranquillity of spirit, calm within, that You promise to all who follow Him. We have tasted it on occasions, enough to know how special it is, but our spirit is all too often restless and our mind troubled by fears and worries that invade us in these long and hard times of pandemic. Teach us to entrust ourselves solely into Your hands so that we may find rest for our souls, a quietness of body, mind and spirit that nothing will ever be able to shake. Reveal Yourself afresh to us in Christ, fill us again with Your Spirit. Enfold us once more in Your love and help us to recognise Your presence beside and within us. Thank You for the peace You promise, not removed from this world, but found amid the troubles, the stresses and strains of the daily routine. Open our hearts to that special gift beyond understanding, and may it touch each moment of every day. Reach out to all who are troubled, who crave peace yet cannot find it, and answer their fears, their hurts, their emptiness. Bring help and healing to all who need You in these times of trouble, anxiety and fear. Give us Your Word of Peace that we may find quietness for our mind and rest for our souls. Hear our quiet, personal prayers . . . through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
BE STILL, MY SOUL: the Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on when we shall be for ever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past, all safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.
DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT IN EVERYTHING, BY PRAYER AND PETITION, WITH THANKSGIVING, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD. AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS. (Philippians 4: 6-7) AMEN.