Of anniversaries and kindnesses
Despite silence on my part, news leaked out that 18th May marked the 25th anniversary of my Ordination and Induction to the Parish ministry. I had maintained silence, not because I am in any way ungrateful to the Lord for the privilege of these past 25 years, but because I was anxious that it not be a distraction from the outreach associated with our re-opening - which for many weeks was expected to fall on exactly that weekend.
The Kirk Session kindly arranged for the congregation to enjoy a ‘fellowship lunch’ on 19th May and I wish to take this opportunity to express my thanks to you, not least for the hugely generous gift given to mark the occasion. It has been deeply moving to have received so many good wishes and expressions of appreciation, and also serves as a reminder of the privilege of having such a supportive fellowship to make possible my ministry.
This would seem to be an appropriate occasion to say a few words regarding what I have learned over these past 25 years of pastoral ministry to be most important. You will not be surprised to learn that, at the very core of the work of the pastor, is the ministry of the Word of God, declared in all its fullness (Genesis to Revelation) with the Holy Spirit’s anointing in prayer and worship.
During the renovation work, it has been fascinating to attend fortnightly site meetings as the work has progressed, and monitor the development over time. Initially, the work was destructive. Much required to be removed; pews extracted and recycled, old and leaky heating pipes taken away, the pulpit (a patchwork from several pulpits) detached and taken away with the pews, old windows removed, and so on. After the initial emptying, the sanctuary was a vast empty hall. Standing in the midst of this gutted building, I found myself asking: where do we go from here? What should now be here to make this a place of worship? What is of first important and must fill this empty space?
In a similar way, we must ask what it is that is important to be in place for the fellowship of God’s people, the church. It seems clear to me that in a world that is ever-changing and increasingly hostile the church must learn to be herself, and remain who she is called to be. There are all manner of attacks on the church. It is divided from within and assaulted from without, as much that is evil assails from every side. In such a context, the church, the people of God, must be strengthened and fortified. This we do, not primarily by being politically involved (however good it is to write to your MP on matters of morality and faith); nor is it by being socially conscious (although we would hardly fail to be that); nor is it by being ecclesiastically astute (although we are called to play our part in the church). The way the church survives and remains faithful is by being fed on a diet of the whole Word of God. When Paul bade his farewell to the Ephesians elders he spoke of how his ministry among them involved the proclamation of ‘the whole will of God’ (Acts 20:27). There was a comprehensiveness in Paul’s ministry which he clearly regards as essential to the work of ministry. He taught them the whole plan of salvation. To put it plainly - you need a whole Bible in order to make whole Christians. In spiritual life, as in physical life, there is a need for a balanced diet. That is why we systematically cover books of the Bible so regularly.
Taking another angle on this: Jesus said: ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’ (John 14:23-24) That teaching, to which Jesus refers, needs to be made available. Hence the importance of the preaching of the Word.
Being a Christian involves fellowship with the Father and with the Son, and the preaching of God’s word in all its fullness, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is the activity that brings the Father and the Son down from heaven to dwell with us. We ought to expect that very encounter when we gather for worship Sunday by Sunday, and when we expect it, and pray for it, and long for it, and the Spirit comes among us, anyone visiting with us cannot fail to be affected and stirred and made aware of the claims of another world upon their lives.
The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and so the teaching ministry requires the work of the Holy Spirit to break it down for each individual. Sometimes the most unlikely passages of the Bible can be used of the Spirit to bring about conversion, or lead someone to a renewed consecration. The indispensable role of the Holy Spirit challenges us to prayer, both individually and collectively. Do you pray for worship on Sunday? I hope so. It is often true that you get the Sunday you pray for!
If we are to rebuild the church, as a people, then we look to be those who are hungry to be fed on the Word of God and pray for a preacher to be anointed to proclaim the word of God, as the Spirit operates through the prayers of the saints and in the midst of worship. In that context the sacraments take their proper place and a church is created.
With thanks once again for your support in the work of ministry.