Christmas 2023: Pastoral Letter: Christmas Concealed

Christmas Concealed

 Is your Christmas tree up yet? How about adding a Quality Street purple-sweet glass bauble to your collection, or any of the other Quality Street collection in glass for that matter? Alternatively, do you have a green balloon dog bauble to adorn your tree? Perhaps a cottage post box bauble, or even a glass pizza bauble would complete your decorations. Interested?

I happened to be in Glasgow City centre and wandered into a well-known Department Store where I found myself diverted by a myriad of weird Christmas decorations which have no direct relevance to anything remotely ‘Christmas’ (in the sense of relating to the birth of Christ). As you will have concluded, I spent an entertaining time exploring an entire section devoted to themed baubles. There is nothing new in this, but I was struck by just how vast has become the selection of, what may be termed, non-Christmas, Christmas decorations. At the same time, I looked in vain for any reference to the birth of Christ. I could not even find a nativity set.

I should hold my hands up and say we have our own Christmas decorations that have little to do with anything Christian (tree baubles, of a more pedestrian globe variety, for a start, with associated tinsel dangling on an artificial tree). However, the distracting time I spent exploring the Christmas decorations section of the department store, puzzling over such oddities as a Christmas snowman snow globe, fluffy penguins and even a life size Pheasant decoration(!), to name but a few, reminded me that there are really two different celebrations being observed at this time of year – we might even say, two different Christmases.

Increasingly the more public celebrations have little or no reference to the Christian origins of Christmas. It is probably the most important secular holiday in our calendar (certainly in commercial terms) and, as such, has taken on a life of its own. It seems that, as the years pass, the origins of Christmas are becoming less and less well known. Before the pandemic we would run a 2-hour event for Primary 6 pupils from the local school entitled ‘Bubblegum and Fluff’ which, through drama and storytelling, related the events of the first Christmas in a straightforward way. It soon became apparent that these actual Christmas events were entirely new to many of the children. On one occasion, an attending child provided us with the benefit of his family wisdom ‘My dad says this is just made-up stories’. I expect he believes in Santa Claus!

Let me be clear: I am happy to share in many of the good things of the Christmas season that my non-Christian neighbours enjoy. Christmas has become a festival of lights, and as I write this the annual Dalry community Tinsel and Torchlight event is fast approaching, the centre-piece of which involves the formal switching on of the Christmas lights. The idea of light banishing the darkness echoes the profound Christian conviction that an outside intervention brings hope to our dark world.

Christmas is a time of gift giving and generosity, which for believers is a natural response to the extraordinary self-giving of Jesus, as he left behind the glories of heaven and embraced our humanity to go to the cross for our forgiveness. God didn’t send a message about salvation, he came in person as a saviour, come to die for us.

Christmas is a time of year when attention is given to those in greatest need. Apparently charitable giving in the UK is highest in December. Obviously, the concern for the needy is reflected in the way our Lord entered this world into abject poverty and obscurity and in his early years lived as a refugee in Egypt.

Yet each of these themes, when more fully understood, is deeply challenging and provocative. To truly embrace the New Testament theme of darkness and light we must see ourselves as spiritually blind, lost, and helpless, desperately needing the light of Christ to rescue us from our hopeless predicament. Jesus came into the poverty of Bethlehem, and amidst a poor family, not simply to identify with the poor, but because we are all so spiritually poor that there was no other way for us to be forgiven. And when it comes to gift giving, Jesus gives himself to us, but our response to that gift must be a wholehearted and sacrificial giving of ourselves to him.

To many people, all of this is a bit less ‘warm and fluffy.’

Christmas, by which I mean the advent of our Lord, is truly wondrous, but it is also deeply challenging. Indeed, when the message of Christmas is genuinely embraced then it is profoundly threatening to our instinctive, proud and self-assertive autonomy. The great hope Jesus offers cannot be enjoyed and received unless we admit that we cannot save ourselves and that unless the light of his unmerited grace shines into our lives then we are lost. Our natural condition is spiritual poverty until we receive his riches. Yet when we grasp how costly it was for Jesus to give himself up to the cross, plunging into an impenetrable darkness unlike any anyone has known as he took our sin to himself, then we can surely respond by trusting him and giving our lives to him.

Jesus comes to human hearts with gentle tenderness. He beckons us to receive Him, knowing that in Him there is a fullness of life only experienced in knowing Him and in discovering the joyous liberty of bowing to His Lordship over our lives. Then the true joy of Christmas remains long after the baubles are gone.

Your minister

  Martin Thomson

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS SERVICES:

Saturday 16th December 10.30am St Peter’s episcopal church: Interchurch carol service

Sunday 17th December 10.30am: Joint festival of lessons & carols in St Margarets Church

Sunday 24th December (Christmas eve): 

                            Traditional carols by candlelight 6.30pm in Trinity

Christmas Day: 10.30am Family service in Trinity

Sunday 31st December Watchnight service 11.30pm St Margarets

 

 

Barnabas Fund

Once again, this year during advent, we shall give opportunity to help and support Christians throughout the world who are persecuted and in need, through Barnabas Aid. Should you wish to give a gift please place it in a clearly marked envelope and place it in the offering plate. The official website states: Barnabas Aid works to provide hope and aid for suffering Christians. As part of the family of God, Barnabas Aid stands with our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, wherever they suffer discrimination or oppression as a result of their faith. In this way we witness to the love of Christ and build His Kingdom.

 

 

Roof repairs

You may have noticed the water penetration problems in the stairwell to the balcony at the front of the church. Rectifying this problem requires emergency roof repairs which will probably have begun by the time you are reading this. The initial costs are estimated to be around £25,0000, which will leave us with a much-depleted fabric fund.

Any gifts, or monthly standing orders, to the fabric fund would be most welcome and can be organised through Bill Mackay, our treasurer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prodigal God

Fortnightly, beginning Friday 12th January 7pm

Based on the so-called parable of the prodigal son, the material from Timothy Keller shows how the Gospel is neither religion nor irreligion, morality nor immorality but something entirely different.

The Prodigal God is for both curious outsiders and established insiders of the faith as it is meant to lay out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel. If the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous parable would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way down to the bottom. – Timothy Keller       

This is a 6-week study following Keller’s short book ‘Prodigal God’ and will be an opportunity to discuss together after a shared meal and brief video.

The meetings will be fortnightly on 12th, 26th January, 9th, 23rd February and 8th, 22nd March.

For the purposes of catering and organisation it would be helpful to have an indication of numbers. Either fill out one of the cards which will be available in church, or email the minister on MThomson@churchofscotland.org.uk

 

 

 

‘Not Just another Christmas’ by Dave Gobbett

Most of us know what to expect when it comes to Christmas: the lights, the food, the tree, the traditions. But it’s possible to be so familiar with the trimmings that we walk right past the main act: Jesus.

This small booklet, based on John 1:14, explains why Jesus’ message is one that you don’t want to miss, and how he can turn “just another Christmas” into something altogether more memorable.

Over the festive period we will be distributing copies of this booklet together with invitations to Christmas services.

AUTUMN 2023 NEWSLETTER: PASTORAL LETTER: ‘SHOWING AND TELLING’

Showing and telling

Eric Liddell is well known as the Scottish Olympic runner who, at the Paris Olympics in 1924, declined to run in the heats for his favoured 100m because they were held on a Sunday. He then went on to win Olympic Gold in the 400m, whilst breaking the Olympic and World records. His story was made famous in the 1981 film ‘Chariots of Fire’. He is celebrated for his achievements, although it is conveniently forgotten that he was heavily criticised at the time by many in the British press for ‘letting his country down’ by refusing to run in a race in which he seemed certain to secure gold.

Even less well known is that he was born of missionary parents in Tientsin in China and died in a Japanese internment camp at Weihsien a few months before the end of the second world war, in February 1945. Whilst ‘Chariots of fire’ portrays him as the World Class athlete he certainly was (he also played rugby for Scotland), the plot line doesn’t develop his later life in which he turned his back on further athletic success and renown and devoted his life to serve in China as a missionary teacher.

I find it fascinating how so many people admire Liddell’s principled stance about not running on a Sunday, yet who would not share either his principles nor his Christian faith. His life was (and is) attractive and commendable to many who admire his courage and winsomeness, without necessarily sharing his views. Accounts of Liddell’s life make clear that those who knew him were deeply impressed by the attractive integrity of his life and his clear devotion to Christ. I think the distinguishing feature of his life was that he clearly lived the principles he espoused. Whilst he was keen to encourage others to share his own faith in Christ and adopt the same principles by which he lived, he only did so as one who clearly lived consistently by them himself.  Let me share a quote about him:

            ‘….those who knew Eric best understood that he could hold himself to the highest ideals he proclaimed while never looking down on those who did not share his beliefs. It was conviction, not fanaticism – the same unique blend of integrity and magnanimity that enabled Eric to congratulate his Olympic teammates who competed on Sunday while standing firm on his own conviction not to run.’

Notice the author’s distinction between fanaticism and conviction. The fanatic not only holds to certain key beliefs but will go to any length to force others to conform (Think Taliban or the wilder fringes of some Christian groups) whereas the Christ-honouring believer stands firmly by their Christian principles and faith, but is chiefly concerned, not to compel others, but to compel themselves and to ensure their own life conforms to that faith.

Far from bemoaning the reality that we live in a culture where the Christian faith is marginalised and ignored, we ought to ask ourselves why our lives are not more winsome. We are to both speak the message of the kingdom, and at the same time live more and more as Christ-like members of that Kingdom, under the reign of King Jesus. Looking back, Eric Liddell seems to have been a good example to us.

Have we learned to show as well as tell, to be more distinctively and consistently Christian in our daily lives and characters? At the same time have we taken the courage to tell the message of Jesus? We need to do both. I wonder if the temptation in the church today is to do all manner of things under the banner of ‘mission’, commendably determined to show the compassion of Christ, but by our silence fail to explain why we do it. And ‘showing’ is chiefly about the Christlike characters we are called to become, of which acts of compassion follow as a consequent part.

It is one of the striking features of Jesus ministry that those who saw and heard him were struck by his teaching authority (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:27). That authority was, at least in part, the product of a life perfectly and beautifully lived, and that was utterly consistent with all he taught. Jesus did not speak like the run-of-the-mill teachers of the day who tried to impress by quoting what others had taught. Jesus spoke by saying ‘I say to you….’ and reinforcing what he taught in a life that shone with all the beauty of a life conformed to all he said. It was vital to Jesus to tell people the truth by proclaiming the kingdom of God, but only as the one who perfectly exemplified that truth, being the true king in his kingdom.

If we tell the truth without showing the truth, we risk becoming shouty fanatics whose actions contradict our message. If we try to show without telling then we risk leaving people puzzled over what the message of the gospel actually is, and we may be seen as no more than eccentric misfits. The Christian life is about showing and telling.

Your minister

Martin Thomson

The quote comes from the book ‘Eric Liddell – Pure Gold’ by David McCasland p.165. This excellent book traces all of Liddell’s life including his early life before he was famous and his later life in China till his death.

The Chongos: Scones at the Manse and final Sunday

 

Sadoc and Vivi Chongo arrived in Scotland 7 years ago, coming to Dalry from Guatemala in August 2016. Their time among us has hugely enriched our fellowship, and Sadoc helped establish and lead outreach work among young people. We will miss them desperately when they leave us next month, as Sadoc takes up a full-time post with Holy Saviour Church in Southampton. They arrived as Vivi and Sadoc and leave us as Vivi, Sadoc, Olivia and ‘wee’ Sadoc.

To give opportunity to spend time with them, as a fellowship, before they leave, we plan to have a ‘Scones at the Manse’ event in the Manse Garden from 1pm on Saturday 19th August. Please come! This year’s crop of fruit from the Manse Garden has been turned into jam! Your task is to eat it.

Sunday 20th August will be the Chongos final Sunday with us, as they plan to move in the early part of the following week. We will be joined at morning worship by both Martin Haworth, former Scottish secretary of Latin Link who helped bring the Chongos here, and also Mike Fernandez the current Scottish Secretary of Latin Link.

Goodbyes are important, because they honour the relationships with which God has blessed us – so that weekend we will be saying goodbye.

        Shared services at St Margarets 10th, 17th September

St Margarets celebrate the 150th anniversary of their Church building in September. They have invited us to join them for the two services marking this occasion on 10th September, when the Moderator of the General Assembly will lead worship, and on 17th September which is their anniversary date (after which there will be a light lunch). Please note the time is 10.30am.

SUMMER 2023 NEWSLETTER: PASTOR’S LETTER: “WHAT WE ARE ALL LONGING FOR”

SUMMER 2023 PASTORAL LETTER

What we are all longing for

As a student in St Andrews, no more than 20 years of age, I took ill. This was headline news in a life otherwise marked by robust good health. I came down with something which laid me low for a couple of weeks. The illness led me to introduce myself to a stranger called ‘The University Doctor’, who explained that I had been struck by some kind of virus (That’s a medical term for ‘Don’t know what’s wrong with you, can’t do anything for you’). I found myself utterly exhausted, the least exertion leaving me helplessly fatigued.

When my parents heard of this, they made haste to visit the following Saturday. After a week spent confined to my room, I was left feeling somewhat miserable, made worse by a growing anxiety at being behind in my studies. My parents duly whisked me away down the Fife coast, where I remember walking on the beach, enjoying the fresh air, listening to the sound of the sea and enjoying a meal out. I remember this very vividly as a turning point. In every way, I felt considerably better. The experience of the beauty and sounds of nature at the sea shore seemed to neutralise my anxieties and, above all, the kindness and unconditional love of my parents left me feeling strengthened to return to St Andrews and get on with life.

I am sure you will have had a similar experience. You are haunted by fears but then someone’s encouragement, their unconditional love for you, helps you through it all. Or in the midst of suffering, the gentle compassion and love of someone helps you face and deal with that suffering.  Or time spent quietly in the beauty of the world around helps still a troubled heart. This tells us something about our humanity and the healing goodness of experiencing unconditional love, of enjoying beauty in what someone else has made or what God has made in the world around us.

Let me now turn your attention to worship. This seems like changing the channel, but in fact it isn’t. In worshipping together, we are coming into the presence of the one who is certainly the Almighty and Holy Creator of all things; but he is also the shepherd of his people who displays the most exquisite unconditional love for us in Jesus. Meeting the Lord in worshipping him is exactly what we were made for.

The Christian church worldwide recently lost one of God’s great gifts to us in the minister and writer Timothy Keller, who died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He once wrote

worship is a preview of the thing that all of our hearts are longing for, whether we know it or not. We seek it in art, in romance, in the arms of our lovers, in our family.’ Keller then goes on to quote C.S. Lewis from a famous essay entitled ‘the weight of glory’

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely from this point of view the promise of glory becomes highly relevant to our deepest desire. For glory means good (rapport) with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last …. Then our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy but the truest index of our real situation … At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door … but all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get IN.

I suspect that there are believers who think that the essence of being a Christian is about no more than having declared faith. It is certainly not less than that and, of course, believers declare Christ to be their Saviour and Lord. When people profess faith, they give their assent to key beliefs and commitments. However, the implication of that profession moves from what goes on in our heads, and what we say with our lips, into what we experience as human beings in worship. In worship we ought to anticipate (and pray for!) that sense of the presence of the Lord enveloping our lives. In itself this is a foretaste of what Lewis insists we are all longing for; and what we long for is the ‘very face and embrace of God.’ (Keller)

When we worship, we can experience the touch of God on our lives, experience afresh his unconditional love, sense anew the great blessings we have in him and glimpse again something of what awaits us beyond resurrection. Above all the Holy Spirit probes the Word of God into the farthest reaches of our beings, accomplishing transformation which is the progress of new life.

Looking forward to seeing you in worship.

Your minister,

Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New members

 

We are delighted to welcome new members to the fellowship. Okezi and Eucharia join us, having moved from Nigeria with their girls Ruvie and Kovie.

 

Funerals

28/4/23 :     Margaret Aird :     Lynn Cottage

5/5/23   :      Kay Boreland  :     West Kirklands Place

11/5/23  :      Joe Smith         :      Thistle Knowe Care Home

(formerly Vennel Street)

16/5/23   :     Mary Steele              Friars Lawn, Kilwinning

 

 

 

EASTER 2023: PASTOR’S LETTER

The providence of a chance meeting

If you live in China, and some surrounding countries, this is now the year of the Rabbit, or more specifically of the Water Rabbit. 22nd January was New Year’s Day in that part of the world.  Tens of millions of Chinese people take the opportunity of this holiday to return home. It is said to be the largest annual mass migration of human beings on the planet. Vast numbers leave the cities where they work and return to the country villages and towns of their birth. A few years ago, our eldest son Philip, who works in China, sent us a photograph of himself on a deserted four lane motorway. Instead of the customary congestion, it was eerily empty, like a scene from
a post-apocalyptic movie. No disaster had struck. They had just all gone home for New Year.

2,000 years ago, there was an annual migration of Jewish people to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival. The numbers were hardly of modern Chinese standards, but people came in their thousands from all parts of the Mediterranean World, and converged on Jerusalem. Among their number was a man called Simon, who was from Cyrene, which is modern day Libya.

Have you ever wondered what kind of day he thought he was going to have that Friday, as he made his way into the city? Without warning, the Roman soldiers conscripted him to carry a cross, on which one of three prisoners was to be crucified. The condemned man seemed to have been beaten so badly that he simply could not carry it for himself. Simon would have carried, not the whole cross, but the crossbeam, the upright being firmly in position at the place of execution.

So here we have this man arriving in the city from a distant country, presumably to celebrate Passover, and he finds himself walking to Calvary in the footsteps of Jesus. I wonder if he found himself complaining about the turn of events, and how he seemed to be in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.

I suggest you take a picture in your mind’s eye of this scene. What do you see? You see a man carrying a cross whilst following Jesus. It is a dramatic illustration of what Jesus said of being a Christian:

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

Simon provides us with a visual representation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We must die to the world and throw our lives into following Jesus. Hope is found, not in investing our lives in the world, but in committing our lives to Christ. To do that we must die to self and die to the world.

Mark provides us with extra detail about Simon of Cyrene. He tells us that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It is a fascinating detail. Clearly Mark expected his first readers (possibly believers in Rome) to know those brothers. This may well be the same Rufus mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Romans whom he describes as ‘chosen in the Lord’ and whose mother, Paul says, was ‘a mother to me as well.’ (Romans 16:13).

This holds out the possibility that this Simon who, in a seemingly chance encounter on the road out of Jerusalem, was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus, was a man whose family came to faith in Jesus. Simon may have initially thought he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but in the providence of God he was in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time.

Amidst all the turmoil that is sweeping our Church in these days, all the changes that are coming down the line, we must remember that the important thing is that Jesus is building his church. He often does it in ways that we might find overly challenging. But if God can build his church through the unwelcome imposition placed on a man to carry the cross of Jesus, because he seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, then we can face the future with confidence that our Lord can take the impositions of our day and build his kingdom. And it is for the growth of the kingdom that we must pray.

Your minister

Martin

7.30pm

Easter Services
Wednesday 5th April 7.30pm: Taize service in St Peter’s
Thursday 6th April 7.30pm: Maundy Thursday communion service in Trinity
Friday 7th April 7.30pm: Good Friday service in St Margarets
Easter Sunday 9th April: 8.30am outdoor service at the Cross followed by light breakfast in the Biggart Hall.
Our midweek will be held on the Tuesday evening of that week (4th April)

Chongos
Sadoc and Vivi have been with us since Autumn 2016 (and are now a foursome with Olivia and young Sadoc!) They have led our youth work and enriched our fellowship during that time, but are now looking for a new church in which to serve. Whilst nothing definite has yet been arranged, the expectation is that they may well leave us over the summer months.
For much of the time they have been with us, they have been staying on St Palladius Terrace, due to the generosity of Gary and Pamela Caldwell allowing them the use of their house. We are deeply grateful for their help in this! Currently, the Chongos are staying in a house on Reid Avenue.
More news of the Chongos future when we know it!

The Dalrymple family
The Dalrymple family serve in SE Asia in an area that is predominantly Muslim. Graham and Nok have two boys, Joseph and Samuel. Graham is studying for a PhD, which involves much contact and discussion opportunities with local Muslims.
They ask for prayers for workers who are joining them from the region, particularly in connection with visas. Nok is deeply involved in this side of things.
Nok’s brother-in-law, Pat, was involved in a very serious car accident last year, and this has left him with considerable care needs. They ask us to pray for the family and for Pat’s recovery, especially that he can return to the rehab centre.

New members
We are delighted to welcome new members to the congregation: Louise Campbell, and David and Jenny Mewes.

Funerals
We have lost a number of folk from among us over recent months:
21/12/22 Hugh Fairlie Greenbank
22/12/22 Mary McInnes Kilwinning (formerly of Regal Court)
23/12/22 Gilbert Pepper St Palladius Tce
24/2/23 Elizabeth Pattison Mugdock Care Home

CHRISTMAS 2022: PASTOR’S LETTER WITH NOTE OF CHRISTMAS SERVICES

The perfect gift

 Christmas is a time of gift giving and gift receiving. I wonder what your perfect gift would be? For years I have been dropping heavy hints about the ‘Lego Death Star’, a replica of the planet-destroying space weapon which features in Star Wars movies. The Lego version has around 4000 pieces. I am sure it must look fabulous. What boy would not want a Lego Death Star?

It does cost around £600.

To my horror, I see from the official Lego website that it is now a retired product. Nooooo! Those who give me gifts have waited too long!!! However, I notice, with mounting excitement, that the clever people at Lego have a new set called ‘The Razor Crest’, being the space ship used by the Mandalorian – a new Star Wars character. The kit has 6187 pieces. Wow! Can you imagine the fun building it? It does cost £519.99. But what price love? It is, after all, cheaper than the Lego Imperial Star Destroyer which is retailing at £614.99, or the All-Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT) at £734.99. I am thoughtfully not selecting the most expensive sets. Are you reading this, Lorna?

Let’s return to reality. Christmas. All our gift giving, however extravagant, is but a pale echo of the most wonderful gift ever given, the gift of Jesus Christ, whose entry into the world as a human being we mark at this time of year. The sad truth is that recognising Jesus as the perfect gift, to meet our deepest needs, is something we instinctively resist, whether we admit it or not. Sometimes we resist him as a gift by reducing him to an example. Martin Luther saw the problem 500 years ago. He wrote a little booklet entitled ‘What to expect from the gospels’ in which he wrote:

Before you take Christ as an example…..accept and recognise him as a gift’

We have a twisted tendency to view Jesus as no more than an example, in our controlling efforts to live a life that will somehow merit God’s love. This is an attitude born of a determination not to admit our need (far less our sin). We prefer gifts which are like Lego. They please us and perhaps entertain us, but we don’t really need them, and we can ‘put them down’ when it suits us. Reducing Jesus to no more than an example is an attempt to tame him. Yet if we truly try to follow Jesus as an example, then our enterprise will end in abject failure. We won’t succeed. We can’t succeed. That is the bleak route of human religiosity.

 It is not that Jesus is not an example to us, but he is far more than an example. He is a gift. He has accomplished what we could never accomplish and gifts to us the fruit of what he achieved. Freely.

 When we read through the Gospel accounts we read of how, as Jesus began his ministry, he embarked on a career whereby he champions our cause. Immediately he goes into the wilderness and confronts evil by struggling against the temptations of satan. Continue reading and we discover that he exercises authority over sickness, and over the wild forces of nature, and even over death itself. He heals the sick; he calms storms; he raises the dead. Of course, it is at the Cross that these enemies of sin and death and evil are comprehensively conquered, as our Lord turns aside the wrath of God against sin onto himself. This is why the Gospel records focus so heavily on the Easter events (to the extent that Mark’s Gospel has been described as a ‘passion narrative with a long introduction’). The victory is secured at Easter, at the Cross and the empty tomb.

Jesus is on our side. He takes our place. He shoulders our burden. He lives our life and dies our death and brings us victory. He offers that victory as a gift, with himself.

The Christian gospel is not providing us with good advice (do this, do that, accomplish this, accomplish that, try hard, try harder, try even harder!!!.) On the contrary, it is delivering to us GOOD NEWS. The good news is that Jesus has already secured the victory. He gives it with himself as a gift. He is the perfect gift because he perfectly meets my deepest needs. Such a gift does not lie forgotten on Boxing Day, but, precisely because it meets our deepest needs, alters our life thereafter. When I receive this gift by faith, then I will want to follow Jesus, and out of love for him, and gratitude to him, and by his grace alone, make him my example.

With warmest best wishes for Christmas

Martin Thomson

 

Christmas services

Saturday 10th December 10.30am: Inter-church Carol Service in Trinity Church

Sunday 18th December 3pm festival of Lessons & Carols

Christmas Eve 6.30pm: Traditional carols by candlelight

Watchnight service St Margarets 11.30pm

Christmas Day 10.30am joint service with St Margarets in St Margarets

SEPTEMBER 2022: PASTORAL LETTER

When talking to yourself is good

 We joke about talking to ourselves. There are those who quip that it is the only intelligent conversation they ever have. For others it may be a mark of isolation, even loneliness, that they need to hear the sound of a voice, any voice, even their own. Some of us are just plain eccentric!

For Christians, there is a healthy way we need to talk to ourselves. The 20th century Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote a helpful and insightful book entitled ‘Spiritual depression’, in which he commented:

Most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.

He points to an important distinction. Too often we listen to ourselves instead of giving ourselves a good talking-to! We allow ourselves to be preoccupied with our woes, or our fears, or our bewildered perplexity at what is happening around us. In this sense we are ‘listening’ too much to ourselves. Instead, we need to give ourselves a good talking-to, by reminding ourselves of all we know for certain about God.

The Book of Habakkuk is a little-read book towards the end of the Old Testament. Habakkuk is not so much bringing a message from God as entering into dialogue with God. The prophet is utterly perplexed because it seems that God is sitting on his hands whilst his people are in such a spiritual and moral mess (1:1-4). To make matters worse, when Habakkuk brings this ‘complaint’ to God, the divine response leaves the man utterly thunder-struck. God explains that, actually, he is not sitting on his hands, but is raising up the fiercest, most violent and brutal killing machine of its day, the Babylonians, to judge wickedness, and (mysteriously) carry forward his good purposes (1:5-11). This raises all kinds of dilemmas for Habakkuk. But the manner in which he deals with his concerns is instructive. Instead of immediately launching forth in objection to what God is doing, he begins by reminding himself of what he knows God is like:

Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgement, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 1:12

In other words, he talks to himself before he listens to himself. Do you recognise the difference? Before he listens to his own anxious questions about what (and why) God is allowing or doing (about which he has a very incomplete picture), he frames everything with a talk to himself about the things that are more certain – how God is reliable in his eternity, and how God is faithfully committed to his people (O Lord my God, my Holy One), and how he is working out his plans and purposes as he always has, and those plans and purposes are the same, and (we know) lead ultimately to Christ.

We may have perplexing questions about recent events such as ‘Why did God allow a pandemic?’ or ‘Why did God allow my relative/ friend to die of Covid-19?’ or ‘Why is there so much change coming to the Church?’ When we ask these questions, and allow ourselves to be distracted by the issues behind them, we risk ‘listening’ to ourselves too much. On that path lies despair, and endless doubt. Let’s be clear: these are questions we often need to ask. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with asking them (which is one of the lessons of Habakkuk). We ought to bring them with honesty before God. But we must give ourselves a talking-to first, by starting with what we already know about God. Deal with the perplexities of the life of faith and the bewildering unknowns against the background of what is known.

Let me put this another way: What we know about God is far more important than what we don’t know. We need to tell ourselves that in the midst of the hard things of life.

Your minister
Martin



Visit of Gerard Charles 9th October

 We have supported the Charles’s family for many years. Gerard is OMF’s North England representative. Gerard will be speaking during morning worship on 9th October.

Afternoon Services

The Kirk Session is aware that there are a number of our folk who, either because of their own health or that of a loved one, find it difficult to attend worship either in the morning or the evening. We will therefore begin occasional afternoon services. On those Sundays there will be no evening service. The dates we have provisionally fixed for this are: October 2nd, November 6th and December 4th at 3pm.

Communion

 The next communion service will be on the morning of Sunday 6th November.
The resumption of communion services has been tentative, given the concerns surrounding infection control. For many people these concerns are ongoing, and so we will continue to simplify the conduct of communion, taking care to minimise risks. Given the added care and preparation necessary, we will only celebrate communion on the morning of the 6th November.

Farmers in Nepal: Harvest Sunday 25th September

This year we plan to support Tearfund’s work in Nepal. Their information pack describes how:

The climate crisis is forcing families in Nepal to shrink back from their dreams. Trapped by hunger and poverty, communities are withering away. Most farmers in Nepal are subsistence farmers – meaning they plant enough to feed their families. When crops fail, families go hungry. Young people are forced to move away from once thriving villages to find work elsewhere and communities perish.
On Harvest Sunday 25th September we will learn about Mahima who lives with her husband and 3 children in a remote area of Nepal. Their community relies on monsoon rains for a successful harvest. However hard she and her family work, the impacts of climate change over the last 10 years has meant that rains are now erratic and crops only yield enough to last 4 months.

 What is Tearfund doing? Tearfund has been working in Nepal for more than 50 years. This means they have established relationships with local authorities and communities, so able to partner with them effectively to transform lives. Through their local partners they are:
training farmers in new techniques to help them produce more crops in this changing climate setting up irrigation systems to make people less dependent on the rains teaching communities how to farm sustainably so they can protect the land for generations to come
£41 could train a farmer like Mahima in new farming techniques so they can free themselves from poverty.
£88 could help set up a new water irrigation system, enabling local farmers like Mahima to adapt to the climate crisis.
£184 could provide a farmer like Mahima with materials to launch a new business in struggling communities, investing in them for the future.
Please place your gifts in an envelope clearly marked ‘Harvest’ and place it in the offering basket.
Tins for Foodbank: In addition, we will receive and pass on tins of food for the Foodbank, which may be brought during morning worship.

Heating Hospitality

 A number of churches throughout the land are planning to open their buildings to allow people to find a warm place to sit and enjoy company, without having to heat their own homes.

We plan to do this through the Open Door which meets on Thursday mornings. Once we are all updated regarding hygiene certificates (which lapsed during pandemic) we will be able to reinstate Home Baking.

Keswick Ayrshire: Confident Christianity: 1st October

Many enjoyed Keswick Ayrshire earlier this year. This is to be followed up by a day conference in West Kilbride Parish Church on 1st October. All the details and tickets can be booked at keswickayrshire.com

PASTORAL LETTER – “PICTURE THIS” – SUMMER NEWSLETTER

Picture this

    A child’s birthday party.

There is excited movement everywhere, as screaming swarms of children chase balloons through the house. Discarded wrapping paper lies aimlessly under a table that is laden with sandwiches, juice, sweets and, of course, a huge cake deliciously covered in thick white icing and tied with a silk bow. Guests are feasting hungrily. There is laughter everywhere.

The doorbell rings, bringing a small girl running enthusiastically to open the door. Her massive pink birthday badge identifies her as the one whose birthday is being celebrated, and upon whom the gifts are being showered. A late arrival stands holding out a colourfully wrapped box. It is eagerly received with squeals of delight and immediately torn open to expose another welcome gift, to be enjoyed as the next focus of jubilant attention.

Few scenes conjure innocent joy more than a child gladly receiving birthday gifts. There seems a timeless delight in a child captivated by recently accepted gifts.

Now picture this:

An elderly adult’s birthday party. It is a very big birthday ending in a ‘0’.

There is awkwardness everywhere, as groups of embarrassed adults try to make small talk. The atmosphere is strained. A number of gifts lie unopened on a table, next to the uneaten birthday cake and largely untouched goodies. No-one feels especially comfortable eating.

 There is an elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room is the elderly ‘birthday girl’ who has refused all gifts offered to her: ‘I could not possibly accept this, it is too much’ or ‘I am too old to be getting birthday presents’ or ‘I’m sure you could find another use for this.’ Perhaps worst of all is ‘I’m sure Peter could take this.’ Peter wants to jump out the window. Gifts are returned without being opened, many of them lying forlorn on the table, the guests too self-conscious to disturb them.

The party can’t end too soon. People start making their excuses. Most of the food is uneaten. The birthday girl later lambasts her family for the extravagant stupidity of wasting money on such a nonsense event. What is special about being old? This is an event that will live on in family infamy.

Why is the elderly adult such a rude party pooper? The short answer is pride. Have you known people like that? They hate the idea of being in any way indebted to others, and gifts are viewed not as delights to be accepted and enjoyed, but as obligations to be resisted. To them, a gift is not so much a gift as a wholly unacceptable debt.

I have known people not only to refuse gifts that have been thoughtfully and carefully selected, but if unable to do so at the time they manipulate to return them at a later date. It is both bad mannered and exceptionally hurtful. They just hate the idea that someone has given them something, and much prefer to settle for a grey and prickly joylessness which preserves their perceived independence.

There is an amusing episode of the TV series The Big Bang Theory in which the character Howard Walowiz gets married. If you are unfamiliar with the series it doesn’t matter. Howard marks the occasion by giving gifts to his closest friends. One such friend, Sheldon Cooper, is appalled. He views gifts not as acts of welcome generosity but as the unwelcome foisting of obligations. He insists on somehow repaying Howard. He can’t abide being indebted. He seems unable to accept a gift. Whilst the reaction depicted is extreme, the humour of the episode rests on its observational accuracy. Sheldon eventually manages to calculate the monetary value of the gift and duly hands a wad of notes to Howard. Problem solved. The whole episode of being handed a gift has been no more than a stressful encounter needing to be overcome.

 This response, and attitude, goes far beyond gift-giving and gift-receiving. Under the guise of not wishing to accept help (which they typically describe as ‘being a nuisance’) such people are capable of being a menace, and causing frustrating, time-consuming and often expensive trouble for others.

So how are you with gifts? More importantly, how are you with the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ? After describing the way so many of his fellow Jews rejected Jesus, the Apostle John writes of those who, instead, welcomed him:

   But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

John 1:12

 Regarding the gift of Christ, either you are innocently and readily receptive like the child at the birthday party, or you are proudly and stubbornly resisting like the scrooge-like elderly adult. Either you receive the gift of Jesus by faith and find him to be the greatest gift of all, as he brings measureless delight in new life and joy, or you insist on being self-sufficient and, in your pride, you reject him, denying yourself the richness of a life to which you are blind.

When it comes to the gift of Jesus, which scenario describes you? Which birthday party is yours?  On that hangs an eternity.

Your minister

Martin Thomson

Presbytery Plan

    At its June meeting, the Presbytery agreed a plan which envisages the congregations of St Margaret’s and Trinity being united into one congregation, able to call one minister. That new united congregation would then use the buildings of Trinity Church.

    A similar strategy of one church with one minister is envisaged for Kilbirnie and Beith, and the plan hopes these three churches will, in the future, cooperate more with each other.

    The Plan has yet to be confirmed by the relevant ‘121’ committees, and may be subject to appeals.

    Later in the year, the Presbytery of Ardrossan will unite with many of the Presbyteries south of us to form the Presbytery of the South West. It is expected that this new Presbytery will be responsible for the implementation of such plans, which the General Assembly has instructed should be implemented before the end of 2025.

Thank you from Anne Watters

    Anne Watters would like to sincerely thank everyone for the beautiful presents, flowers and cards received on the occasion of her 90th birthday. They were all very much appreciated

EASTER 2022: PASTORAL LETTER: WHEN THORNS BECOME A CROWN

EASTER 2022

PASTORAL LETTER

When thorns become a crown

Line after line of traumatised refugees, leaving behind their homes, livelihoods, their young men and throwing themselves on the mercy (mostly) of their western neighbours. As I write this, they are bleeding out of Ukraine in vast numbers. Nothing on this scale has been seen in Europe in my lifetime. Millions are desperately fleeing all that is precious and familiar to them as they frantically seek safety, and they are doing so in the depths of winter. At the same time, their men are expected to stay and fight. Emotional goodbyes on railway platforms seem like the set of a WW2 movie. But these are very real partings, and we know there will be tragically fewer reunions.

As I write this, parts of Ukraine are being laid waste. Centres of once-vibrant cites are either eerily quiet, the streets emptied of people and traffic, a tense stillness before the onslaught, or worse, the stillness has passed and they have been bombed to rubble by relentless and indiscriminate Russian shelling. The Russian army is doing in Ukraine what it did in Syria, and Chechnya and Georgia – encircle cities and ruthlessly destroy them. The human suffering amidst this violence is excruciating.

We are deeply shocked, and rightly so, by what we see unfolded and described by courageous camera-operators and journalists. Yet we must concede that such suffering is experienced all over the world, from the Rohingya settlements in Myanmar to the cities and villages of Yemen, or the ongoing wars in Ethiopia and South Sudan. And elsewhere. All the time. War is an endlessly sickening reality of human life in our world.

    Where is God in it all?

At Easter time we are reminded afresh that God is not immune from this suffering. Where is God in the midst of a suffering world? He is exactly there – in the midst. He does not stand aloof and insulated from the agony of Ukraine. Jesus came and earthed himself in our flesh. He took our humanity to himself for ever. He takes our suffering to himself, bearing all of our sorrows and griefs (Isaiah 53:4). He takes our sins to himself, the iniquity that lies behind war and ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is laid on Jesus at the cross (Isaiah 53:6). More than all of that, he takes our curse onto himself, surrendering himself to be lifted up on a cursed tree to bear the reproach we all deserve (Galatians 3:13)

When the question is angrily asked ‘Where is God amidst all this suffering?’, the answer is that he has taken it all to himself. God is not some false pagan deity who is detached and shielded from it all. He takes it all to himself in Jesus. He then puts it to death in his own body. He plunges into the horror we have created and takes on the darkness in person.

All of this is represented and symbolised in an aspect of the Easter events which we tend to bypass, through familiarity – the crown of thorns. In the Bible, thorns are emblematic of curse. As soon as Adam sinned, the ground was cursed with thorns (Genesis 3:18). God’s people at their best are pictured as a fruitful vine, but at their worst, rejecting God and embracing violence and injustice they are like briers and thorns (Isaiah 5)

When Jesus taught the parable of the farmer who sowed seed in various soils, representing how the Word of God was received, thorns are depicted as choking the Word (Matthew 13:22). When the Apostle Paul referred to some intense pain or affliction he was forced to endure, he referred to it as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Thorns are anti-life. Thorns are a blight on creation. Thorns are anti-Gospel.

So when Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, as they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, pushed a staff in his hand and twisted thorns together to form a crown, they did infinitely more than they realised. They were mocking the notion that this poor peasant could be a king. But, in fact, this was the King of the entire universe, and the crown of thorns made clear that his reign would not ignore the thorns of life, but embrace them in determined, redemptive purpose.

We have a Saviour who turns thorns into crowns because as he embraces the darkness of the cross, and takes to himself the primeval curse that poured forth in all the evil of a broken world, he then pushes through the cross to resurrection blessing. The curses are not forgotten. Curses become crowns.

The pain and suffering and sin around us is never forgotten or discarded, but is taken up by Jesus. Look to the cross and be assured that whatever thorns afflict your life, Jesus can be trusted to turn them into crowns.

Your minister

Martin

Easter week

The following services will take place during Holy Week:

Wednesday: Taize, 7:30pm @ St. Peter’s Episcopal

Maundy Thursday, Lord’s Supper, 7:30pm @ St. Margaret’s

Good Friday, Service, 2pm @ Trinity,

Easter Sunday, Outdoor Service, 8:30am @ Dalry Cross followed by refreshments in St. Margaret’s Hall.

The weekly Midweek service will take place on Tuesday evening during this week to avoid a clash. Note that this year the Good Friday service is an afternoon service and on Easter Sunday an additional early outdoor service is planned.

Presbytery Plan

A draft Presbytery Plan has been published inviting comments from Kirk Sessions. It envisages one church in Dalry served by one minister. The same is planned for Kilbirnie and Beith and it is hoped there will be cooperation between these churches in what is called a Parish grouping.

Church buildings have been audited and it is expected that a recommendation regarding buildings will be made at the May Presbytery.

February 2022: Pastoral Newsletter: Where your heart lies

Where your heart lies

What we love determines who we are and how we live. Solomon of old knew this and expressed it in the Proverb:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it    Proverbs 4:23

Our lives flow from our hearts. Our fundamental allegiance in life, that on which we place our hopes and dreams and longings, is the very thing that will determine the people we become, and the lives we live. Jesus said something very similar: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

When Jesus refers to ‘treasure’ he is not speaking about the loose change in your pocket (or purse). He is referring to everything we value highly, which may be the contents of our savings account, our pension pot, our house, our relationships, our leisure lifestyle – basically that which we value most. Once we identify our treasure, we recognise what makes us tick and this explains why we live our lives as we do.

I recently read a biography of Elon Musk, currently the world’s richest man. He initially made his money from the internet payment company Paypal, before branching out to found the space exploration company SpaceX, the electric car manufacturing company Tesla and the solar energy firm SolarCity, amongst other ventures. You might think that the world’s richest man would live his life in the pursuit of riches. However, that is most certainly not what animates Musk. Accumulating wealth is of no great interest to him, other than as a means to realise his true ambitions. He is evidently a highly demanding workaholic, who is motivated towards saving the human race from the catastrophe of climate change (hence electric cars, solar power, etc). For similar reasons, he also wishes to advance humanity to the stars, making our species less dependent on planet earth. He is convinced that we need to learn to live on other planets, and so he is determined to make travelling to space cheap, which, in relative terms, he has accomplished with SpaceX. He can launch rockets at a fraction of the price of traditional companies.

Musk, by all accounts, works relentlessly to make his dreams come true. He is inspired by his ambition of clean energy, clean travel and space exploration. Everything he does is driven by these obsessions. In many ways, what he has achieved is both exemplary and admirable, although few of us would want to live with a man whose obvious obsessions so clearly rule his life!

In his case, it is relatively easy to see how his dreams and heart-desires have directed and driven his life. Who he is can be traced to what burns in his heart. But Musk is not unusual in this. He is only unusual in his ability and success. The same principle that makes him the product of his heart-desires works in all of us. We may be less ambitious, but we are no less who we are because of what we treasure.

Let me take you back to Jesus.

Before explaining that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, Jesus gave us a top investment tip. He warned against storing up earthly treasures and counselled us to invest our lives in ‘heavenly treasures.’ Earthly ambitions and goals and products won’t last. The biggest of all investment crashes comes at the end of life and these things get left behind and are exposed as being of no lasting value to us. All the more reason to heed the proverb and guard our hearts.

How do we guard our hearts? First of all, by being honest about what is first in our hearts, what our primary concerns and loves truly are. Then we can reassess those priorities in the light of Jesus’ instruction to ‘seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’. This time of pandemic will have revealed to us (and, let’s be frank, to all who watch us) what is first in our hearts and lives. I am surely not the only one finding I must honestly reconfigure those priorities.

Your minister,

Martin

DECEMBER 2021: Pastoral Newsletter: What is God Like?

DECEMBER 2021
PASTORAL LETTER
What is God like?

If you know you are about to meet someone, then you are usually curious as to what they are like. The more important and powerful that person, the greater our concern to know what they are like. When a new doctor arrives at a local surgery, there is concern to know: ‘what are they like?’ After all, we might be paying them a visit with our medical ailments and it is important to us to know how they will deal with us. When a new boss arrives at the workplace then we are especially keen to know, ‘What is she like?’ Our workplace experience may well depend on the answer to that question.

Here is the most important such question: What is God like?

Recently, in two very different books, I came across exactly the same account of an event in the early life of Tom Torrance. He was the son of a missionary family, born in China, who went on to be professor of Christian Dogmatics in New College in Edinburgh University. As a young man, he served as an army chaplain during the Second World War. One day, he came across a 19-year-old soldier, Private Philips, who was clearly dying from his wounds. Sensing that his end was near, the young man looked at Torrance and asked him, ‘Padre, is God really like Jesus?’

When you are about to die, and aware that you are soon to meet your maker, you are understandably concerned to know what he is like. This is what preoccupied Private Phillips as he neared the end of his life.

Here is the wonderful answer to that question – we have indeed been shown what God is like in Jesus Christ. When we turn to the events of the first Christmas, then we are given this tremendous reassurance – God has shown us what he is like, and he does so by coming in person, in Jesus Christ. John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father. Whatever else we might conclude from that, it helps to remember the obvious – words communicate. You can’t see me as I type this, but the words I type communicate what I am thinking (however inadequately). Words communicate. My thoughts are being revealed by the words I type, and which you are now reading. Words communicate.

Jesus is the Word of the Father and so he communicates and reveals God to us. He does this perfectly. What this means is that God is revealed in a person. Jesus draws near to us by leaving behind the glories of heaven and embracing our humanity and living among us. During his life he loved and taught, healed and helped, before suffering and dying for us. In all this he was revealing to us what God is like. We don’t learn what God is like by great effort in searching, but by receiving what has already been revealed. That revelation is a person. We know God by receiving Jesus.

Tom Torrance shared this with Private Phillips, as the young man lay dying: ‘I assured him that {God was indeed like Jesus} – the only God there is, the God who had come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our saviour. As I prayed and commended {Private Phillips} to the Lord Jesus, he passed away.’

As Private Phillips lay bleeding to death and entrusted himself to God, he was entrusting himself to a God who himself bled out on the cross for him. This is the God who has shown us what he is like. He does not leave us puzzling over what he is like. Usually those who want to spend lots of time puzzling over what God is like, and endlessly proclaiming their search for God, are those who don’t really want to know. Their self-proclaimed search is a smokescreen for avoiding the obvious communication we have. They are like politicians who don’t listen to what is being said by their opponents and insist on talking over them.

God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. He has spoken and communicated in Jesus. Question for all of us: are we listening, and have we received him?

May you have a blessed Christmas

Martin

October/November 2021: Pastoral Newsletter: The Christian, the Environment and COP-26

Newsletter for October/November 2021
The Christian, the environment and COP-26

    The climate of the world is changing, and with it untold suffering is being visited upon countless millions of people. One estimate suggests that by 2036 nearly two thirds of the world’s population could be living in areas of water stress. At the same time, extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent. The impact of these things, together with rising sea levels, is likely to fuel the growing refugee crisis, as millions of people ‘migrate’ in order to survive. At the same time, species of plants and animals are disappearing from the earth at an unprecedented rate, tragically with many believed to be lost without ever even having been discovered. There are fears that the farming, upon which our lives depend for food, will be even more adversely affected.

It is true that the climate of the earth has always undergone change, but the rate of change, and the direction of change, is unlike anything scientists can glean from geological history. In fact, the oscillating pattern down the ages would suggest that we ought now to be living in a colder epoch. The best explanation for the disruption of that rhythm is human activity, especially in the way we have pumped so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the way your car traps heat on a warm day. That heat gets in but not out. So when you return to your car it feels like an oven. Rising global temperatures are a threat to life.

Of course, there are dangers in addressing environmental issues because they have been tainted by extreme political ideologies. This means that there is the risk of being pigeon-holed as either a civilisation-hating, sandal-wearing, tree-hugger on the one hand, or as a greedy, selfish, science-denying, world despoiler on the other. Most of us are neither, but all Christians are certainly called to be environmentally responsible.

Let me make two brief points which we will further explore on the two Sunday mornings in October devoted to these issues, as we approach the time of the COP-26 summit in Glasgow.

First of all, human beings are part of creation, and not insulated from creation, and have a responsibility to care for the world around us. It is clear from the Book of Genesis that we are very much a part of the animal kingdom. We are creatures of the dust of the earth. Yes, we have particular privileges and responsibilities. We were uniquely designed in the image of God. Bearing that image means we are given a dominion which is meant to be an extension of the caring rule of God. Selfish exploitation is therefore excluded. This is made apparent in the remarkable Land Laws of Israel where there is legislation for the wellbeing of not only the poor but also for wild animals:

… but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. Exodus 23:11
It is often overlooked that the concern to save animals in Noah’s Ark is no less a concern for the animals. Interestingly, the Global Seed Vault in Norway, built to safeguard and store the world’s crops from disaster, is typically referred to as the ‘Noah’s Ark’.

Secondly, there is a remarkable passage in the Sermon on the Mount which sheds light on these issues and has lessons about living responsibly. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:25-33

Jesus (perhaps with Psalm 104 in mind) paints a picture of creation as a common home for all creatures, in which God provides for our needs. Jesus goes on, in the light of that provision, to challenge us not to worry about what we wear etc. but to concentrate of God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness in the world:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you

You will see that Jesus is urging upon us a contentedness with what we have, striving not for more and more material things, but striving for the Kingdom. This picture of life is a long way from our modern culture of wasteful excess where new ‘needs’ are invented and manufactured to fuel a careless consumer society.

By way of contrast, Jesus points us to the natural world, to the abundance and beauty gifted to us by an extravagantly generous God. If we would but live in faith-relationship with God and in caring, responsible relationship to that beautiful world then we would be freed from the anxiety that arises when we try by artificial means to create our own world of spurious beauty and self-seeking plenty, despoiling as we go.

The natural world around us is a place of abundant variety and stunning beauty. We are not insulated from it, but depend upon it and are called to exercise a care for it, thereby reflecting the care of the God in whose image we are fashioned. In short, we must all consider how we might play our part in looking after the world around us.

Yours thoughtfully,
Martin Thomson