BE STRONG AND TAKE HEART, ALL YOU WHO HOPE IN THE LORD. (Psalm 31: 24)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY WEB-WORSHIP.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – ISAIAH 59: 10.
LIKE THE BLIND WE GROPE ALONG THE WALL, FEELING OUR WAY LIKE MEN WITHOUT EYES. AT MIDDAY WE STUMBLE AS IF IT WERE TWILIGHT; AMONG THE STRONG, WE ARE LIKE THE DEAD.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – 1 JOHN 5: 9 – 13.
WE ACCEPT MAN’S TESTIMONY, BUT GOD’S TESTIMONY IS GREATER BECAUSE IT IS THE TESTIMONY OF GOD, WHICH HE HAS GIVEN ABOUT HIS SON. ANYONE WHO BELIEVES IN THE SON OF GOD HAS THIS TESTIMONY IN HIS HEART. ANYONE WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE GOD HAS MADE HIM OUT TO BE A LIAR, BECAUSE HE HAS NOT BELIEVED THE TESTIMONY GOD HAS GIVEN ABOUT HIS SON. AND THIS IS THE TESTIMONY: GOD HAS GIVEN US ETERNAL LIFE, AND THIS LIFE IS IN HIS SON. HE WHO HAS THE SON HAS LIFE; HE WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE SON OF GOD DOES NOT HAVE LIFE. I WRITE THESE THINGS TO YOU WHO BELIEVE IN THE NAME OF THE SON OF GOD SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THAT YOU HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
The Babylonian Exile was a dark and testing period in the history of ancient Israel. It started with a two-stage deportation – 597 and 587 BC – by the victorious army of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and presumably ended with the conquest of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 538 BC. There is archaeological evidence of large Jewish settlements and a so-called assignment list of prisoner-slaves from those times, receiving portions of food to be kept alive for hard labour. The return from exile was a long process of waves of returnees, back into their devastated homeland and homes. They came out of these places singing “lament psalms,” expressing very raw emotions, bringing before God what was ugly, unjust, and painful and asking the Lord to do something about it. Psalm 137 is probably the most representative description of their situation, but our verse from the contemporary Prophet Isaiah – 59: 10 – goes down to the very root of their question: – How to be certain in an uncertain world?
We live in an uncertain world today, and in it, as Christians, we do our best to live with certainty. But change is always around us, and each change brings its own uncertainty, testing our faith and hope in God. In the little letter of 1 John, the word know or to know is used forty-three times to describe our experience with God, in order to gain certainty for our faith. This we know: God loves us. Jesus died for us. We have eternal life in His Name. These we can count on always. When defined as mystery, uncertainty is next to holiness. Moses stood before the burning bush, not knowing what was happening, wanting to know WHO was challenging him. And GOD HAD REVEALED HIMSELF to Moses, turning him to be the man of God. We cannot know it all. All our questions are not always answered. But we are given the Word of God, the source of all the Revelations of God’s love for us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, and the eternal life offered in His Name for all those who believe in Him. It is that touch of mystery that feels so good when our worship is real.
CHANGING WORLD. Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, spoke of change as being the only constant in the universe. We understand that. – “No man can step into the same river twice,” – he wrote. In an instant of time the river changes. Upstream somewhere a leaf or a tree has fallen in and from that moment the river is not the same. The waters that pass by travel on, never to pass by this way again, and the river is not the same. As one who had passed many rivers, I am often reminded that I myself am constantly changing, because of the impacts I am exposed to all the time, in this life. Is change the only constant reality in this earthly life? Perhaps so, except God and His Love that never changes! There is a kind of uncertainty that is really lack of faith, and this uncertainty yields utter confusion; it can be deadly for hope in God. Within the church to which John wrote, there was a complicated and confusing deviation of the Christian faith, a heresy that had to be strongly condemned in the early Church, called GNOSTICISM. It taught that God is good but separated from the world, that in each person there exists a “spark” of God that can find its way back to God if we have the “right knowledge”, and only a few special people will discover it. Because the world was evil, Jesus wasn’t human, and because He wasn’t human, He didn’t really die. Sound confusing? It is, because it’s man’s testimony. God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son (1 John 5: 9). Earlier in the letter John says there are three witnesses (instead of two, required by the Hebrew Law), and these are: Spirit, Blood, and Water. Here is the witness of John’s Gospel: Jesus was real person, born of water – witness of baptism. He was God’s atonement – witness of blood; and the Spirit reveals both. After all, God is the witness, and God is the testimony, the true Revelation we all need. Jesus always said that he knew where He came from and He knows where He is going. That’s the kind of certainty that matters. When things like that are settled, we can relax – and perhaps not until then. Infallible human knowledge is always suspect to me.
OUR UNCHANGEABLE GOD. What we are promised is that, here and now, there can be given to each one of us a share in the very life of God – says William Barclay. In God, there is peace; and, therefore, eternal life means serenity. It means a life liberated from fears which haunt the human situation. In God, there is power; and, therefore, eternal life means the defeat of frustration. It means a life filled with the power of God and, therefore, victorious over circumstance. In God, there is holiness; and, therefore, eternal life means the defeat of sin. It means a life clothed with the purity of God and armed against contamination from a wicked world. In God, there is love; and, therefore, eternal life means the end of bitterness and hatred. It means a life which has the love of God in its heart and the undefeatable love of men and women in all its feelings and in all its actions. In God, there is life; and, therefore, eternal life means the defeat of death. It means a life which is indestructible because it has in it the indestructibility of God Himself. (William Barclay: – The Letters of John, – New Daily Study Bible, – page: 128).
Do we know God? Yes, but at best only superficially. God is greater than our knowledge and experience. Therefore, real certainty requires faith, as a gift of God, to make our biblical knowledge useful. Christian certainty declares, in proper humility, that God is in control, that God is our authority, our Creator, Saviour, and Judge – and that in His care we find peace for our souls. God is Love, Jesus is our Saviour, and so, heaven is our home. Those things we must certainly be sure of. Between here and there, between earth and heaven, we may discover much we will be unable to understand. But the sure knowledge and heartfelt confidence in Christ is enough, because this is in fact the proper definition of the Christian Faith.
1 John 5: 13, – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. It seems that the Covid-19 Pandemic rules life on Earth these days. But not my life, my faith, my hope. God’s Love is still above all in Christ!
LET US PRAY: – LIVING AND LOVING GOD, we thank You that in this restless, shifting world, You remain the same; that though so much around us is changing, Your love continues unaltered, Your mercy uninterrupted, and Your purpose and grace unaffected. Though in these Pandemic-stressed times societies and lifestyles may evolve beyond recognition, You remain constant, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We thank You for that knowledge, and for the assurance that You are with us both now and forevermore. Teach us, Lord, that committing our lives to You is not enough; that there is always more to be explored, experienced, and learned of Your love. Lead us to an ever-deeper understanding of who and what You are. Show us where we need to change, where our faith is lacking, and help us each day to move a little further from what we’ve been to what You would have us be. Where our faith is shallow, deepen it; where it is weak, strengthen it; where it is lacking, supply it; where it is stunted, help it truly to grow. Give us, Lord, a faith that is old yet young: childlike but not childish, youthful yet mature, innocent yet wise, simple yet profound. Help us to be Your children, now and always. Help us to see Christ, through Your Holy Spirit, in the world around us, in one another, in the life and witness of Your Church, in the experience of prayer, and in so much more, Your light shining in our darkness, Your love illuminating our lives. Give us insight to discern You, wisdom to know You, and a heart to love You. Reach out to all who are troubled today and bring them true and lasting inner contentment, healing, comfort, support. Bless Your Christian Church Universal in all its branches, our Church of Scotland in all its Presbyteries and Congregations. Be with all Your children here in our Parish as we plan to re-open our church for Sunday-worship and help us to make and keep it safe from infections. Be with those who won’t be able to join us there and hear our individual prayers for all those whom we name now … through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN…
SUGGESTED HYMN: – TELL OUT, MY SOUL, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of His word; In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His Name! Make known His might, the deeds His arm has done; His mercy sure, from age to age the same; His holy Name – the Lord, the Mighty One.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by. Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.
Tell out, my soul, the glories of His Word! Firm is His promise, and His mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children and for evermore!
MAY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF AND GOD OUR FATHER, WHO LOVED US AND BY HIS GRACE GAVE US ETERNAL ENCOURAGEMENT AND GOOD HOPE, ENCOURAGE YOUR HEARTS AND STRENGTHEN YOU IN EVERY GOOD DEED AND WORD… THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU ALL. AMEN. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, 3:18)
Sandor, your Minister.