This week's sermon

This week's prayer

4th Sunday after Pentecost / Sanctuary Sunday / Mark 4:35-41: Jesus Stills a Storm / Sanctified

God was busy on Friday night.   The angels of the Lord were busy on Friday night.  The angel of Caledonia was busy. So too was the Angel of Anglia. Their line manager Angel Albion was trying to remain neutral and trying to keep everyone safe.

I did not watch the game held at Wembley Cathedral because I felt that if I watched Scotland would lose.  When my side is losing, I think “Of course they’re losing…because I’m watching!.   But I did my part and said a prayer.  I knew that I would know the results by 11pm at the latest without having to resort to the internet, television or any other media device.  When the time came, I knew.  The silence of Alloa said it all.  There were only but 2 conclusions that spoke through the calm and quiet of that Friday evening: 1.) Either Scotland had lost OR 2.) Scotland had ended in a draw.  It was through the silence that I had been alerted and given new information.  It was through the silence that I had known.   The silence had spoken.

What makes a sanctuary?  She headed back to her mother who was yet living in the same address. Sanctuary.  A place that was before she climbed the mountain before the landslide.  Before she built her life around him.  But time makes you bolder.  Even children get older.  And I’m getting older too. I took my love, I took it down

So she prays: Do you care Lord?  Do you care that I am trapped in a landslide? Are we not like this woman?  Prayer is not polite.  You pray for healing  You pray and pray for your ailing child and she is not healed.  Why the reticence Lord?

Our lives are filled with the silences punctuated by e-mails, phone calls, texts, or whatever with words like:

Cancer.  Stage 4.  Metastasis As the late comedian George Carlin was wont to say, “We’re all pre-cancerous.”

She said, “My soul is tired.”  She was all of 9 years old.  I had never heard a child speak like that before. Not ever.    And I said, “Don’t talk like that you have a lot of living to do.”  But I am. Reverend.  My soul is tired.”

My dear friend’s younger brother (the golden boy of the family) died tragically in a car accident when he was just 31.

She wrote to me in her e-mail:  So our little brother, who enjoyed beating his older siblings at every game and in every race, had beaten all of us to the GRAVE.   She wrote to me because she thought a minister may give her a moment of sanctuary.  A sanctified moment.

You pray in these stormy moments.  But sometimes all we get is radio silence.  Why the silence?  Doesn’t God care?  Is God sleeping?

Sleep

Our Mark passage this morning immediately begs the obvious question: Why is Jesus sleeping?  I suppose he’s resting after a long hard day.  But there’s that storm raging.  What’s more, he’s on a boat.  Have you ever been on a boat during a storm?  And I’m not talking about that cruise ship that many of you have been on before Covid hit.  This is a small boat.  It’s hard for me to envision Jesus asleep.  I can see him doing other things, like laughing, eating, healing, staying up all night in prayer.   Even fasting for 40 days and 40 nights.  But not asleep.  But here it is in the Bible.  Now I know he had to sleep.  Everybody has to sleep.  I don’t entertain some superman-like view of Jesus, that he never needed sleep.  He had to sleep, just like all of us needs to sleep…Like some of you have done through Sunday mornings.

Some people, when they are awake, can really hold themselves together.  But when they are asleep, they are all sprawled out on the bed, hogging the duvet like a mummy, lying in slanted angles, snoring, talking in their sleep.  They are awkward looking, unattractive.  They might even drool.  They might even drool on you.  Does it not say in the Bible that he Lord of Israel never sleeps, never slumbers…But here Jesus is, asleep.  We don’t want to picture God asleep.

Exegesis

It says that Jesus “made his disciples get in the boat so that we may go to the other side.”  So here we are, the disciples and all of us here this morning in this boat, having been invited by Jesus.   Then a terrible storm grips the sea and the boat.  The contrast between the disciples and Jesus in the eye of the storm could not be more stark.  Their question is ours: Does Jesus care if we die?  Does Jesus care?  Jesus may not care about the storm.  But does he care about US who care about the storm?

Many of you know this, the central space of the church, where you are sitting is still called a “nave” derived from the Latin navis, which means ship.  If you look up at the ceiling of many churches, they resemble the inside of an upturned ship.  Sanctus.  Holy.  Holy.  Holy.

Lord, you called me to this boat.  You placed me here.  “Lord do you not care that we are perishing?”  Do you care whether I live or die?

Death

(As told by Rev. Fred Craddock) There was a woman who was in her late 40s.  She was a marvellous person- generous, patient, kind, humble and beautiful .  She taught music at the local secondary school.  For some reason she never married but we never asked her why. One night she was sitting in her flat grading papers, and she heard a knock at the door.  She went to the door, unlocked it, opened it, and there stood DEATH, with his sad sallow face staring right at her.

She slammed the door, locked I, and called for the doctor.  He said, “Malignant.”  she had surgery.  A few months later, she was back and we all said, “Hey, you’re looking well.”  She said, “ I never felt better.” Now she had lost some weight, but she was back to her singing in the church praise band, doing great.  Everything seemed to be wonderful.

She was at home one night watching television when she heard a knock at the door.  She went to the door, opened it, and  there he stood with his sad sallow face.  She slammed it and locked it and called the doctor.  He  said, “stroke.”  Oh it was awful.  She lost much of her speech and she could no longer sing in the church praise band.  But she was a fighter.  She came back to the sanctuary and played the piano just as she did before.  We said, “You’re playing as well as ever.”  She said, “I never felt better.” And she went back to teaching her music to her students.

One night she was sitting there grading papers in her room, and she heard a knock, so she went to the door, unlocked it, and there he stood, old DEATH with his sad sallow face.  She slammed the door and tried to lock it, but the LOCK was broken.  She called her friends and relatives.  Everybody was there, and we each took turns leaning against that door.  Boy we leaned against that door.  We prayed our hearts out.  We leaned against that door.  We even resorted to some gallows humour, and we joked, “That old DEATH sure is a persistent FOOL!  He’s never getting in here!”  And we looked out the window, and there he sat under  a tree with his sad sallow face.  He was just sitting right out there.  He looked forlorn, really.

But one night , our friend, who was generous, patient, kind, humble and beautiful, she said, “Get away from that door.”  Her speech sounded holy.  Sanctified.

“What?”  we said.  Her speech was strained as she said this.  Like I said, that stroke did something awful.   And her SPEECH sounded more like a SHOUTED whisper.  “Get away from that door.”

So we got away from the door, and HE came in.  I felt sorry for him.  We all thought he would come barrelling in with PAIN and FEAR.  But there he stood;  in one hand he held  PEACE, in the other, he held REST.  He actually looked like  a servant of the Lord.

Oh, I know there are people who say, “What good is LOVING in this world if tomorrow we die?”  But I heard a small quiet whisper as we gathered at the church for her funeral a couple of days later and we all sang, through that searing pain, The Lord’s my shepherd I shall not want.  It sounded holy.  Sanctified.

Death

We said Godspeed to Jean McEwan this Wednesday as she returned to the Lord.  It was an unexpected death.  We had seen her just 3 weeks ago at the Guild tea- first time the ladies were able to get together in over a year.  When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said.   The sort of Christians that will respond to such tragedy by saying “it is the will of God.” After all, Christ spent an extraordinary amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness.

Today’s story also teaches us that the comforting words of Scripture should never be used for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness we simply cannot face. But like God himself, Scripture is not around for anyone’s protection, just for everyone’s unending support.

In the words of the legendary preacher, William Sloane Coffin, God gives all of us — minimum protection, maximum support.

So once more and one more once, I sayeth on to you this morning.  God has given us the SON.

But we don’t want the SON, we want answers.

But again, I sayeth on to you this morning.  God has given us the SON.  His Son not sparing.

Story

It has been said that Christianity started in Israel, then was taken to Greece and turned into  a philosophy.  Then it was taken to Rome where is was made into an institution.  Later, it was taken to Europe where it became a CULTURE, and then it was brought to America where it was made into a BUSINESS ENTERPRISE.  But none of these things can help us when we are in the of the storm.  We need a God who cares.  We need a God who sanctifies.

This month, my tour of duty with all of you has opened on to my 11th year.  11 years ago, when one of the elders from Marchmont St. Giles in Edinburgh (a posh suburb of Edinburgh), where I served as an assistant minister, found out that I was coming to St. Mungo’s here in Alloa, he said rather witheringly “Well, Sang, you’ll find that you will have to significantly CHANGE how you preach when you get to those folks in Alloa.”  And I replied, “Yes, I realize that the sermons will have to be much more intellectually rigorous.”

In the past decade Things have changed.  You have changed.  I have changed.  We have changed.  I have learned great many things because I had to.  Above all, I now have come to understand these lines from C.S. Lewis’s, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

It turns out that sanctuary, sanctus, what makes something holy is about where but who.

So many of the lies of this world whispers to us ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ But the King whispers back, ‘Beware, I am the storm.

minimum protection, maximum support.

On Friday night, it was through the silence that I had known.   The silence had spoken.  And it was holy.  Sanctified.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God. 

 

20 June 2021

Prayer for Sunday 20th June 2021  Sanctuary Sunday

Let us pray.

Almighty God, in our lives storms might rage and giants might roar and sometimes we feel a little bit like our lives are being turned upside down or inside out; but we come to you Lord, we gather as your people and we know that in this world there is a love that is quiet and calm and strong.  So be with us Lord this morning as we gather in your name.

Creator God, in your wisdom you have given us the gift of the Sabbath as a refuge from the care and worries of the world around us.  On this day, after another week of trouble in many places we admit our faith is a little shaken.  At times it feels like the very foundations of life as we know it are under threat, and those don’t even include the “normal” challenges of grief, illness, broken relationships and the collection of demons that go with this thing we call life.

Be our sanctuary, Lord, a haven of rest where we know we can ask for your guidance and blessing for ourselves and the future of our world and your kingdom.  Remind us that throughout history your children have often felt lost and forsaken.  Again this Sunday we are reminded that it was on this day of the week that Christ conquered once and for all the grim threat of death.  In his resurrected and living name we pray that we can all be worthy guides and witnesses to others who will see in us lives of integrity and faith.

Remind us that this is indeed the day that you have made, a time of re-creation and renewal for those who live in God’s presence.  As your breathed life into humankind at creation, we pray for new life and hope for the living of this day and every day.

Merciful God, we ask for release from the sins that hold us captive to our past, release from grievances and anger that only divine forgiveness can heal.  Grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days; challenge us again this day O God to examine our hearts – to renew our commitments to love you with all our hearts and minds and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Lord, be with us on all our journeys, not just the everyday getting from here-to-there, but other journeys that we face and don’t always know how to talk about; the mental, spiritual and emotional journeys that we all find we have to travel now and then as our world unexpectedly changes around us.  Whenever we have to move on we need your presence to support us and reassure us.  So we put ourselves in your hands and say, take us where you will.

Be with us when we feel small and overwhelmed, when life looms large and our confidence leaks away as we feel at the mercy of other people, other forces.  Give us inner strength to keep standing, the motivation to fight on and the compassion to be there for those around us.  Today you might just want us to be someone else’s safe place.

Be with those fleeing from the storms of life, from the power of flood or drought, from war or chaos, from terror or tyranny.  So many in this world are refugees, leaving a cherished land behind, nothing ahead but vague hope and shadowy fears with no-one on their side, nobody wanting to give a welcome. We think of the many who seek refuge in the United Kingdom crossing the English Channel in boats not fit for purpose – risking lives. And for those who survive the crossing there is no warm welcome.  Guide governments and international agencies as you reach out your hand Lord and guide us as individuals and your Church because no-one is forgotten by you and no-one should be abandoned by us.

May we know that your sanctuary is always as near to us as pausing to pray.  Let us feel the power of your Holy Spirit around us now as we come to you in a moment of silent prayer to share with you the troubles of our hearts.

SILENCE

Lead us O God, walk with us that we may be faithful followers of Christ our Lord and Saviour, in whose name we offer our prayers, and this prayer, which he taught us to say –

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever.  Amen