Sermon archive

Sunday 2nd October 2022 - Martin Mowat

Readings: Genesis 12: 1 - 7 & Acts 8: 4 - 13

If you were with us two week ago for the latest episode in our series about the early church, you’ll know that we witnessed the demise of poor Stephen, stoned to death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. So we’ve got as far as the beginning of chapter 8, with the arrival on the scene of Saul or Tarsus.

Today we’re going to see the beginnings of the persecution of the church and we’ll hear about some of the exploits of another of those first Jerusalem deacons, Philip.

Opposition and persecution. Wow, that’s a word we hear and read often enough these days, isn’t it? But let’s not get distracted by current affairs, as important to us as they may be. The point that I want us to focus on this morning is that suddenly everything had changed for the early church.

As we have been hearing, things had been doing nicely, people were becoming believers at a healthy rate, even quite a few priests; people were sharing their possessions, miracles were happening, the needy were being cared for, some kind of leadership structure was beginning to evolve, Jesus would be back soon, or so they thought, … and then BANG!

This nasty character from Tarsus, about 600 miles north by road, Saul as he was called then, Paul as he would later become, was putting a spanner in the works.

Stephen had upset the Sanhedrin, good and proper, and one of the things they did was to license Saul, and certainly others like him, to “go from house to house, to drag off both men and women, and put them in prison”. This was new and it was violent.

Panic! - Run! - Escape! - Get out of here! - Quick!

Suddenly Jewish believers are fleeing Jerusalem and going to surrounding Judea and even to Samaria to escape this sudden wave of intense persecution. Samaria was surprising. Do you remember? Jews didn’t like Samaritans, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.

What, exactly, were the Christians so afraid of?

It’s helpful to know that while it’s common in the 21st century to see a prison term as a punishment for crime, this wasn't the case in Israel at that time. Prison was not a punishment as such, but just a place to hold people pre-trial.

Jewish jurisprudence was administered by the Sanhedrins, there was the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem with 71 members that we’ve already heard about, and then local ones each composed of 12 elders. They judged the cases and disciplined the people. Typical punishments might be:

1. Fines of various kinds.

2. Scourging. The Romans allowed the Jews 40 lashes less one, lest they might kill the prisoner.

3. Expulsion from the synagogue and Jewish community.

4. Stoning, which was reserved for the most extreme cases such as blasphemy, so it was seldom practiced, except perhaps as some kind of mob violence that we saw in the case of Stephen. The Romans forbade the Jews capital punishment but when someone was stones, it was impossible to know who had thrown the stone that caused death.

So Saul's persecution consisted of imprisoning Christians and getting them tried by these local mini-Sanhedrin’s and getting them punished as severely as possible.

In his testimony before King Herod Agrippa in Caesarea, much, much later, he said.

" I ... was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." (Acts 26:9-11)

We can look at things like this and just say to ourselves that it’s what happened. Or we can see it for what it was, the work of the Devil himself. It’s not a very popular thing to talk about these days, I know, but we should. Satan really thought that when Jesus was pinned to the cross, he’d got it made, until the resurrection. He wasn’t ready for that, now the church was growing and he was trying to stop it.

Sometimes opposition, persecution, and hardship can be good things, it hardens us, prepares us, …

Moving on, then, we mentioned Samaria earlier, and I said that it might seem surprising that the Christians were fleeing there. Let’s remind ourselves of a bit of history.

During the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, some of the Israelites rebelled and the nation became two separate kingdoms. In the north the Kingdom of Israel comprised 10 tribes and their capital city was Samaria. In the south the Kingdom of Judah comprised of the other 2 tribes whose capital was Jerusalem. Some 200 years later these 10 northern tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians, never to return. The Assyrians in turn sent people that they had exiled elsewhere to live in northern Israel. Effectively it was a population swop, and that was the way that the Assyrians displaced and dominated the peoples that they had defeated. These new “Samaritans” mixed with the few remaining Hebrews and picked up the Jewish religion, but mixing it somewhat with their own.

This is why, at the time of the early church, the Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be spiritually inferior, and why contact with them was avoided as much as humanly possible, particularly by the Jewish leaders. So, if you’re wanting to get away from them, Samaria might have been quite a cunning place to go.

That was where Philip went, either to the capital city of Samaria itself, or perhaps to Sychar, which was formerly Shechem and is mentioned at least 50 times in the Old Testament, It was, for example the place where God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham. Vaughan just read us that story.

Either way, as we heard, “when the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” Even people like Simon the Sorcerer believed and were baptized.

We shouldn’t skip over what was happening. Luke mentions three kinds of kinds of miracle here:

Exorcism. Evil spirits are being cast out, and making quite a show of it "with shrieks," as these demonic spirits struggle unsuccessfully to resist the power of Jesus' name.

Paralytics healed. Once they were lying in the house all day, too weak to get up, or with muscles that had atrophied from strokes. Now, suddenly, amazingly, they are whole!

Cripples restored. Many had bones that hadn't been properly set when broken, or pulled ligaments that forced a constant limp. Now they can walk, run, and dance for joy.

The point is that all these were very visible signs that point to the Kingdom of God, and to the resurrected Messiah Jesus, in whose name the miracles were being done. The result was "great joy in that city."

In Jerusalem, powerful healings had brought rage from the leaders and plots to kill, but In Samaria, they were bringing open joy in God's goodness, and faith in Jesus. The difference? Open, hungry hearts.

Something else was happening, you’ll notice, and it was the exact opposite of what Saul of Tarsus wanted to achieve. The good news of the gospel was spreading further and faster. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" and we’ll hear, a couple of chapters further on, that this “good news” will go to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch.

Geographically, this is fascinating, because do you remember what Jesus told his disciples just before he ascended into heaven? "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8). This is, in a way, what was happening, but not exactly and precisely.

If we read on from where Sandra left off we discover that “when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John there. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

We’ll probably look at this next time.

As for Philip he’s about to head south to Gaza, and he’ll meet an Ethiopian on the way. We’ll pick up that story next time too.


Sunday 25th September, 2022 - Martin Mowat

Introduction to the start of a new series of sermons.

Readings. 1 Kings 16:29-33. 1 Kings 17:1-11.

You were probably surprised to hear readings from 1 Kings, and not from Acts, and the reason is that we’re now going to follow the Acts series on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month, and I have a new series about Elijah on the other Sundays.

Ahab! You may be asking yourself where you’ve heard his name before.

Ahab was a nasty piece of work. As we heard in the reading, he “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” And if that wasn’t enough, he married an equally nasty piece of work, a woman called Jezebel.

They both worshiped a God called Baal who was a fertility god, which is to say a god or goddess associated with fertility, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and crops. He was probably also a weather god, with particular power over lightning, wind, rain, as well as crop fertility which is associated. Dry summers were explained as Baal's time in the underworld and his return in autumn was said to cause the rains which revived the land.

Elijah, poor fellow, had the misfortune to be called by God to challenge Ahab and Jezebel, and show them the errors of their ways, a message which they were not about to receive kindly. But we’ll come back to all that in a bit.

A little bit of history first to put everything in context. Ahab was the tenth king of Israel, so Saul, then David, then Solomon, then Rehaboam. Under Rehaboam the nation split in half, with Abijah as king of the southern part, Judah, and Jeroboam as king of the northern part, Israel. Jeroboam was succeeded by Nedab, then Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and then our notorious friend Ahab.

As I said, and as we just heard, the Bible presents Ahab as a wicked king, particularly for condoning Jezebel's influence on religious policies. He reigned for 22 years before being mortally wounded by an unaimed arrow in a battle against the Arameans.

The Bible tells us that dogs licked his blood, according to the prophecy of Elijah. But the Greek Old Testament apparently adds that pigs also licked his blood, symbolically making him unclean to the Israelites, who abstained from pork. Ahab was succeeded by his sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram.

Jezebel's death, however, was far more dramatic than Ahab's. It is recorded in 2 Kings 9, where Jehu, 3 kings later, had her servants throw her out of a window. Dogs then ate her body, leaving nothing but her skull, her feet, and the palms of her hands. This had also been prophesied by Elijah.

But let’s move back to Elijah. Who was he? Where did he come from? And why are we talking about him?

He is perhaps most famous for not dying, but being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind instead. If you’re into trivia his name is mentioned 76 times in the OT and 29 times in the New. That does rather put him on the map, biblically speaking.

Tishbe, in Gillead, where he came from, is now in the western part of modern-day Jordan. Whether he was born there we don’t know, in fact we know nothing about him at all until he appears in 1 Kings 17, which David read earlier. His name in Hebrew, apparently, means "My God is Yahweh". You’d have to behave properly with a name like that, wouldn’t you?

So I don’t imagine him sidling up to Ahab, giving him a friendly nudge, and whispering, “Pssst, just thought you should know, there’s going to be a bit of a drought soon. Maybe you should do what Joseph did.”

In fact, what he actually said was “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This was a direct challenge. Think about it.

He is effectively saying that the reason that there’s going to be a drought is that Baal, the god who brings rain, remember, has either gone on an extended holiday, or he’s getting too old, or that he’s disappeared, or that something else will prevent him from bringing the autumn rains that I mentioned earlier.

In other words, “your god is dead on his feet, but my God is Yahweh which means ‘He who makes that which has been made’ or who ‘brings into existence whatever exists’, so when it comes to the upcoming weather, MY authority is going to be stronger than YOURS, or that of your god.” We’ll see how this pans out another time.

Not a great way to make friends though! Is it any wonder that the next thing that God said to him was “Leave here, turn eastward and go hide in a ravine” which is what he does.

Now Elijah is literally between a rock and a hard place, but amazingly, wonderfully, graciously, God gets the ravens to feed him twice a day, and he has water to drink from the brook in the bottom of his ravine.

But the drought did what drought’s do and predictably, the brook dried up.

So God told Elijah to get up and go to a place called Zarephath. I don’t know how far that was, but whatever the distance I guess that it was a long, hot, lonely walk. There he found the widow, just as God had promised, and he asked her for food and water, which she was barely in a situation to give. But it’s an interesting story and you can read the whole thing for yourselves if you want to, in 1 Kings 17, vv 7-24. Very simply she doesn’t have any bread, and she’s just about to use her last bit of flour and oil to make one last loaf for her and her young son, before they give up and die of starvation.

But he says to her, “OK, do that, but first make a loaf for me. Then he makes her a promise. “Your jar of flour will not be used up and your jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.” The promise was kept but there’s a strange twist to the story, because the poor woman’s son, the only person she has in the world, and the key to her survival, gets ill and dies.

Again Elijah says something similar to his request to make bread for him first. “Give me your son”, he says, and then he takes him off upstairs and asks God to bring him back to life. When he reappears carrying the boy in his arms, alive again she exclaims “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

It would be a very charming little story if it were not so full of personal stress and emotion. Can you imagine how that poor woman felt? But there are lots of lessons in it for us, and that’s why we are looking at it today.

1. Miracles make converts, and “miracles do happen”. We must never be afraid to ask God for them.

2. You have to give to receive. You have to sow to reap.

3. God is bigger than our problems

4. God is a God of promise

5. God is a God of his word, he is faithful.

So that should give you plenty to think about between now and when we pick up the story again in two week’s time. Meanwhile let’s pray.


Sunday 18th September 2022 - Martin Mowat

Readings – Psalm 105: 1-9 & 42-45. Acts 7: 54-60

Last week we saw that because the early church was growing so quickly, it was experiencing some organizational problems, and that as a result the 12 apostles appointed 7 qualified, godly men as “deacons” to take a lot of the more mundane work off their shoulders, leaving them free to concentrate on prayer, personal bible study, preaching and teaching.

It seems that the star of the team was a man called Stephen, who Luke described as being “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; a man full of God’s grace and power” and as someone who “performed great wonders and signs among the people”.

We saw how some false witnesses spitefully accused Stephen of blasphemy but we had to leave the story just as it was hotting up, because we wanted to give time to praying for the Royal Family. So let’s take up the story again, from where we left off, but before we do that, let’s pray …

Father, I thank You that millions of people will learn from the Bible today. As we come around your word now, please speak powerfully to convict, to comfort, and to conform our minds to Yours. Holy Spirit, revive us today through your Word, we pray. In Jesus name, Amen.

Stephen was an effective preacher and healer in Jerusalem, especially among the Greek-speaking population, but these false witnesses had claimed that Stephen “never stopped speaking against the temple, and against the law.” They insisted that they had “heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses had handed down to them.”

Of course, that was not exactly what Stephen had said, they had twisted his words, but the charge was very serious and so Stephen found himself before the members of the Sanhedrin who were probably bemoaning the fact that a large number of priests were becoming Christians too.

For anyone else this would have been a pretty scary experience because this was the supreme legal court made up of no less than 71 Jewish elders, but Stephen seemed to have been unperturbed, his face, apparently, looking like "that of an angel".

Anyway, they asked Stephen the obvious question, “Are these charges true?”. But he didn’t even bother answer the question, which could imply that the accusation simply wasn’t credible, even to the Sanhedrin, I don’t know.

What he did do, however, was to give them a history lesson about Abraham, Joseph and Moses, also mentioning Isaac, Jacob and his brothers, David and Solomon, some of the most key figures in their national ancestry, and showing how, despite the fact that the Israelites had repeatedly turned away from God, he had remained faithful to his promise, all the way though to Jesus.

It followed a similar pattern to Psalm 105 that xxx read for us earlier. Stephen made reference to text from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Amos. “The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands” he said, and then quoting from Isaiah he said. “As the prophet says:

“Heaven is my throne,

and the earth is my footstool.

What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.

Or where will my resting place be?

Has not my hand made all these things?”

I’m guessing that by that time he was on a roll, and getting quiet hot under the collar. As far as he was concerned the members of the Sanhedrin were sly, double-minded, political creatures, who had some time ago sealed Jesus death warrant.

They deserved a good telling off, and he was going to be the one to give it to them. Whether knowingly or not, it is difficult to say, Stephen now sealed his own death warrant.

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was given through angels, but have not obeyed it.”

Can you just imagine ?

“Stiff-necked” of course means “stubborn”. God had often called his rebellious people “stiff-necked”. For example, in the book of Isaiah God said "For I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze." (Isaiah 48:4)

That must have really got their backs up, but there was more to come.

Circumcision was a sign of obedience to God's covenant. Circumcision of the heart was a figurative way of talking about a soft and tender heart towards God. Circumcision of the ears would mean an openness to God's voice and his Word. Stephen was saying that although they had been circumcised outwardly, they were not so inwardly. Many times the prophets had accused the Israelites of having uncircumcised hearts, and now here was Stephen, accusing them, the most high ranking of the Jewish priesthood, of having “uncircumcised hearts and ears”. They did not have soft and tender heart towards God, they weren’t open to his leading.

And not content with that, he says that they are even “resisting the Holy Spirit”. Perhaps "to resist" is too mild a translation. The Greek word means "to run against, to be adverse, to oppose, to strive against."

As we consider these accusations, let’s take a moment to think of our own hearts. How often are we stubborn, hard, rebellious, not wanting to listen to God’s correction or to his leading. How much grace God must have to love us, to redeem us, and tenderly put up with us as he trains us to be his disciples!

But even now Stephen isn't finished with his indictment. You are not only like your fathers, he is says, you're worse than they were!

" Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him -- you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." (Acts 7:52-53)

Well, you know what happened next because xxx read us the graphic account. I don’t know whether Luke witnessed it first hand, but the way it’s written seems to me almost as if it’s etched indelibly into his memory. Either that or it was such a horrific and momentous event in the life of the church that those who were present had described it to him in all its gory detail.

You can just imagine those self-righteous Jewish leaders ”gnashing their teeth” at him. “But Stephen”, we’re told, “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

THAT was just the final straw. They dragged him outside the city where they wouldn’t be seen by the Roman authorities, and stoned him so that no one person could take the blame for his murder. How cowardly can you get?

Stoning, or lapidation, has been a form of punishment for grave misdeeds since ancient times. It still happens today in places like Iran for misdemeanors such as adultery. It is brutal and messy, and usually fatal.

Stephen must have known that they weren’t going to stop until he was dead, and he prayed simply, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” . Then he fell on his knees and cried out, echoing Jesus words on the cross “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this,” the text says, “he fell asleep.”

What an amazing man, what a martyr !

But is that it? Do we just say “Wow, what a guy?” Or do we look at Stephen in the same way as we looked at the Queen last week and see someone who literally gave away their life to do what Christ required of them. And do we ask ourselves what Christ requires of US?

Most of us are retired. We’ve worked hard all our lives and now’s the time to take life easy. YES. BUT.

In John chapter 4, after meeting the woman at the well, Jesus told his disciples “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. ” My friends, we are not too old to reap!

I heard yesterday evening of someone who commented that Jesus wasn’t a real historical person. …….. I was astonished and it reminded me how much there is still to be done.

So going back to Jerusalem, there, guarding the coats of the Jewish elders murder a man more saintly than any of them, and thoroughly approving of what he was witnessing, was a young man from Tarsus, then called Saul.

If we take a sneak peek at the first few verses of chapter 8 we read that on the day Stephen was stoned a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." (Acts 8:1-3)

We’ll look at that next week, and we’ll also meet another of those seven deacons, a fantastic Christian called Philip.


Sunday 11th September - Martin Mowat

Reading: Acts 6: 1 - 7

The early church is growing apace, as we have seen in the last few messages, but at the same time it was experiencing some growing pains. In Acts chapter 6 we see that there were at least TWO troubling issues.

The first was that the apostles were overloaded with work, so much so that things started to go awry, notably with the distribution of food to those in need. The second was that two groups were starting to emerge, and they didn’t always see eye to eye. One was the Hebrew converts, and the other was the Greek speaking converts. Today we’re going to have a look at what was going on, and what the consequences were.

Problems in the early church! Tut-tut! We like to think that the early church was perfect, a shining example for us to follow even today.

An example to follow, yes. Perfect, apparently not quite.

I’ve already described the two issues that we heard about in Rod’s reading from Acts 6.

We have a tendency, don’t we, to think that the pastor, the vicar, the church president, whatever title your denomination gives their church leaders, that that person should just get stuck in, and “get it done”, in Boris’s parlance. That’s what he’s paid to do, after all !

But here we had a situation where not ONE but ALL TWELVE leaders were inundated with supervising everything that was going on, so much so that they had to take a step back, and say both to themselves and to the church “It’s just not right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”

Priorities. We are all old enough to understand how important it is to get our priorities right. For the apostles, prayer, personal bible study, preaching and teaching were what they knew they should concentrate on. Feeding those in need was hugely important too, they knew that, and they weren’t denigrating it, but it could be delegated.

But why 7 deacons? Why not 5, or 10? Did they somehow work out that they were 35% understaffed, or was it just that there were only 7 suitable guys? Do you know, it may actually have been the latter? When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus quite a few years later he said that:

1. A deacon should be self-controlled in speech, appetites, and actions dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.”

2. A deacon should be sound in the faith.

3. A deacon should be tested, by which he meant that they should have a proven track record of faithful service before being appointed.

4. And if married, a deacon should be faithful to his spouse. He should manage his children and his household well.

The basic message was that deacons are to be Christians whose morals, integrity, trustworthiness, self-control, and soundness in the faith show that they can be trusted to faithfully care for the church’s physical needs and to serve as an example of faithful service to others.

Later the church would have elders, for whom the qualifications were even more stringent, but that’s not where we’re going today.

I would just like to say, though, that in this church although we don’t have deacons who are called “deacons”, we do have seven ladies who carry out the role of deacon, the wonderful, faithful, diligent, members of the COG, the Church Organizing Group. They are elected by those who attend the church, and when being elected, the qualities we have just talked about should be what we look for. We should recognise, and respect them because they do a huge amount behind the scenes, particularly our church secretary. Organising, setting up, clearing away, dealing with our finances, etc. etc. They deserve our encouragement.

Anyway, before I digress too far, who were these seven guys, and what do we know about them?

They were Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.

Apart from Stephen, we don’t know a lot about any of them, except that whatever the qualifications were that the apostles set, these men qualified. Their names give us a clue because all seven names are Greek, which suggests that their bearers were unlikely to have been Palestinian Jews.

All had, however, been born Jews except Nicholas who was from Antioch and was a proselyte to Judaism. Apart from that we know is that Philip became a powerful evangelist (Acts 8:4-40; 21:8-9) and that Stephen was described by Mark as ““full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; a man full of God’s grace and power” who “performed great wonders and signs among the people”.

Stephen is an important character because he was clearly sold out for Jesus and for his church and even “performed great wonders and signs”. Jesus did miracles, we know that. We’ve been hearing over the last few weeks that some if not all of the apostles did them too. But now we’re seeing deacons, ordinary people like you and I, do miracles.

So powerful was Stephen’s ministry, in fact, that, a bit like Peter and John, it got him into trouble with the Jewish authorities.

What happened was that some members of the Synagogue of Freedmen, so called perhaps because it was composed of people who had been enslaved by the Romans following Pompey's siege of Jerusalem in 63 BC, and later “freed”, they argued with Stephen on certain matters. But Luke tells us that they were unable to stand up against his wisdom, so they went to the Jewish authorities and accused him of blasphemy against Moses. A very serious accusation indeed, so, like Peter and John before him, he found himself in front of the infamous Sanhedrin.

I’m guessing that the Sanhedrin weren’t unhappy about this opportunity to take Stephen to task because they wanted to put a stop to these “great wonders and miraculous signs”. This Jesus movement was getting out of hand.

They were false witnesses. They claimed that “this fellow never stops speaking against this holy place, meaning the temple, and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

They were, of course, twisting Stephen’s words, but meanwhile something quite unusual, something quite unprecedented, something rather worrying was happening. As the members of the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel”.

The false witnesses did Stephen a favour, in that it gave him the opportunity to give those Jewish leaders a powerful scripture lesson, but in so doing he effectively wrote his own death warrant.

Riveting though the story is, we’re going to leave Stephen there until next week because when we’ve sung our next hymn we’re going to move into a time of prayer for the Royal Family, most importantly for His Majesty King Charles III, who has vowed to follow his mother’s example and serve his subjects “with loyalty, respect and love”.


Sunday 4th September 2022 - Martin Mowat

Readings: 1 John 1: 1 - 4. 1 John 1: 5 - 2: 1 - 2

In our study of Acts we’ve talked quite a lot about the activities of Peter and John, but somehow Peter seems to have been the star of the show. John is certainly present, but doesn’t seem to have more than a supportive role, and hasn’t so far been reported as saying anything.

This may have been simply a difference in character, Peter being more extrovert, John, like me, more introvert. It may also have been partly due to Peter trying to redeem himself, after having denied Jesus on the Eve of his crucifiction just a few weeks earlier.


It may also have been due to their rather different experiences during the three years that they were following Jesus physically and being mentored by him. John has been identified as being “the disciple whom Jesus loved” implying that his relationship with Jesus was somehow different.


But John wasn’t a silent person by any means. He did, after all write a gospel, at least three epistles, AND the book of Revelation.


His gospel was very different from the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke shared much of the same material but John included lots of information that the other three didn’t, and had a very different objective. He didn’t want so much to give an historical record, as to prove, without doubt, that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.


I recently read an article on a few verses from his first epistle that I would like to share with you at this point in our series about the early church, partly to give us a bit of a break, but also to help us remember something very fundamental. Let’s pray …


As I just said, John wrote three epistles. The first is just 5 short chapters, the second and third each only one. The second was addressed to “the lady chosen by God and to her children” and scholars think that this was either a metaphor for the church, or because Jesus had entrusted him with caring for his mother, that it was written to her. The third epistle was to his very good friend Gaius.


But I want us to concentrate on the first, which he addressed to “my little children". When he penned these words John was an old, old man, perhaps in his eighties. He was serving as Bishop of Ephesus, a VERY strategic location, and he was planting and ministering to churches throughout Asia Minor.

So 10 times in one relatively short epistle he speaks to his readers as either his “little children" or his “dear children”, a term of affection and love to his flock from an old warhorse in the service of Christ.

To be perfectly honest, if you read this epistle straight through, as I have a couple of times this week, it does seem rather a repetitive ramble from an old man with a few bees in his bonnet. But be that as it may (no pun intended) his bees were very valid for the early church, and they are no less valid today.

Pam and Trevor have just read to us the first chapter, which contains a most discouraging reminder of our sinfulness and of our blindness to it.

Trevor’s reading, however, finished with the first two verses of chapter 2, which the article described as one of the most powerful and encouraging statements of God's love and commitment to us found anywhere in the Bible.”

My dear children,” says John, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

We’ll, come back to that in just a few minutes, but first let’s have a look at some of the things that John was so concerned about.


He talks repeatedly about the incarnation of the Word of Life. The very first verse of this epistle says it all really. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. It echoes, in a way, the first five verses of his gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

For John, if Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh, God “incarnate”, the promised messiah, then the whole thing would have been a waste of time. But John had been experiencing this personally, first hand, for probably half a century. There wasn’t a shadow of doubt in his mind, there couldn’t have been. To deny this incarnation, he said, is very dangerous indeed. He describes the people who know this as those who walk in the light, and about those who don’t as those who walk in darkness.

He also talks a lot about love, God’s love for his creation, and our love, not only of God, not only of his creation, but for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, saying in no uncertain terms that those who hate their fellow believers are not of God. Unity in the church is a very important subject.

And then he finishes by talking about our faith in the Son of God.

So let’s go back to John’s punchline. My dear children,” he said, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

Co-incidentally, our midweek prayer email quoted David’s psalm when Abimelek had chased him out of Jerusalem. Verse 22 saysThe Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.” He’s effectively saying the same thing.


Even if it’s not impossible to live a day without sinning, temptation and sin lie close at hand and we all have to deal with our failure in this area from time to time, me included. We overuse phrases like "I'm only human." or “I'm no saint, but...." or “That’s the way God made me, so…” to excuse ourselves.


But John is certainly not trying to give us a way to minimize the gravity of sin. Sin is serious because, while it doesn’t make God love us any less, it separates us from him. It makes it more difficult for us to pray, and be in communion with him. Our fellowship with him is impaired, even broken sometimes. And that’s sooooo sad

But all is not lost, because according to John “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense”. An “advocate” he calls him, like a lawyer who defends our case in court. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” we’re told. The Greek word used here for to atone means "to gain or regain the favor of, appease, conciliate," that is, to placate, pacify, avert the anger of the deity. As the NIV footnote puts it, "He is the one who turns aside God's wrath....". Put very simply, to “atone” is to make us “at one” with God.

And then finally he says “and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world." This is something that we need to be very clear about. At first glance it looks as if the whole world, believers or not, sinners or not, everyone gets to go to heaven. But no, that’s not what John is saying.

Yes, Jesus died for the sins of all human beings. Nevertheless, unless people put their faith in Christ, this atoning death doesn't do them a bit of good. Reformed theologians used to say, Christ's death is "sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect."

Who are the elect? Those who have called on Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, for their eternal salvation, and who have put the faith in him as their Lord, subjecting their lives to his authority.


For those, amazingly, the Advocate arguing our case before the Father, is the Atoning Sacrifice himself, they are one and the same person, the Lamb of God who took our sin upon himself and bore it away.


"Yes, they've done all these terrible things," the Lamb will tell the Father on the day of judgement, "but I died for their sins and bore them so that they don't have to bear the guilt any longer."


So what are we going to do with this? Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, you told us to ask the Father to send out workers into the harvest. Please ignite in us a renewed passion and urgency for the gospel. May we share the way of salvation clearly, so that many might see and believe, and put their trust in you. Holy Spirit, come to us once more as you came to that first prayer room in Jerusalem, that we might have new courage to share the gospel with others, that many might encounter the resurrected Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen


Sunday 28th August - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Psalm 110. Acts 4: 32 - 37

In Acts 4 we were told that the church consisted of 5 000 men, and rising. So let’s be conservative and say that only half of them had wives who believed too, so 7 500 Christians, in a city whose population was between only 20 000 and 35 000, depending on the religious festivals going on at the time. So that’s between a fifth and a third of the population. That’s all very well as a simple statistic, but can you imagine what effect that was having on life in Jerusalem. And just to add to the craziness of it all, people are beginning to flock in from the neighbouring towns and villages to see what’s going on, bringing the sick and disabled in the hope of their getting healed. This is huge.

Today we’re going to hear about Annanias and Saphira, and about yet another run in between the apostles and the Jewish leaders.

In the passage that Pam just read to us we’re reminded how those early Christians, as they would later be called, shared their possessions in order to care for those in need. It could be that because they thought that Jesus was coming back quite soon, their possessions had become less relevant, but whether or not that was the case I’m sure that because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives they had a genuine care for those less fortunate.

Do you know that something like 35% of the world population, I think it is, live on less than 2$ a day, while half of the world's net wealth belongs to the top 1%. Financial inequality is at an all time high. While millions are starving, the rich are taking rocket rides into space. But let’s not be too complacent. If we talk about the difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, relatively speaking we are among the ‘haves’.

As we just heard, a levite Cypriot called Barnabas, who was also among the ‘haves’, sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then a couple called Ananias and Saphira followed suit, but unlike Barnabas, they decided to keep some of the money back for themselves, which they were perfectly entitled to do.


The problem was that for some reason that we’re not told, they decided to make out that the money they gave so generously was actually 100% of the proceeds, which was a lie, and that turned out to be a ‘biiiig mistake’ (as Barbara Streisand said in Funny Girl) because it cost both of them their lives. You know the story, I’m sure.

There’s discussion as to whether it was because of unbelief, or arrogance, or something else. There’s also discussion about whether they were lying to the apostles, to the church, or to God, or all three. Whatever it was there was a positive outcome to the episode because it resulted in a greater respect for all three. We read in verse 11 of chapter 5 that “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

But there’s also an important lesson for the church today, and it’s the needfor integrity. Telling lies is commonplace today. It’s accepted and expected at almost every level, even in corporate and national leadership. But it’s just a symptom of a disease that is as deadly as Ananias and Saphira discovered it to be.

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, it’s the state of being whole and undivided, it’s having a firm adherence to a code of moral and ethical values, it’s being incorruptible.

In Genesis chapter 20, when God gave his people the set of moral principles that we call the 10 commandments, there was thunder and lightning, and a trumpet sounding, and the mountain was smoking. When the people saw it they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” And that was just receiving the law, before they had even had a chance to break any of it.

Have we lost something somewhere? Where is our holy fear these days?

My friends, there HAS to be integrity in the church. We HAVE to be squeaky clean. And that means being honest both with each-other, and with others, as well as with the God who sees everything.

Look around us. There’s a world out there that doesn’t believe in God. They’ve heard about him but they just don’t believe, and whose fault is that? It’s not God’s fault, it’s OUR fault, because when people look at the church what they see is not pretty, and it’s NOT a reflection of God’s image.

The Greek word for church is “eklesia”. It means “called out ones”. We are called “OUT” of a world whose values are so flabby, we are called to be different, we are called to be holy, and that means that we are called to be people of integrity.

OK, enough said, let’s move on.

We saw last week that they prayed for boldness and miracles. And now in chapter 5 we see that miracles are what they got, so much so that “the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.”

Oh what an ugly and destructive thing that is too, but I’m not going there, you’ll be glad to hear.

Because of all the miracles, the poor apostles got locked up for the night while the Sanhedrin had a pow-wow. We don’t know how many apostles there were on that occasion. Was it just Peter and John again, or were some of the others there too? But it didn’t matter, because they weren’t there very long, an angel appeared and let them out, locking the doors again behind them. Don’t you just LOVE it? Doesn’t God have a wonderful sense of humour?

And then guess what? Peter has the temerity to have another go at them. Here’s what he said in a nutshell.

- You condemned Jesus and had the Romans hang him on a tree, but Israel's God, "the God of our fathers", your God, has acted.

- He has exalted Jesus to the place of honor and he quotes from the psalm that Trevor read to us, psalm 110, “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

- He is Israel's Savior from sin. We, and YOU, are all eyewitnesses to these things, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with all these miracles, is an additional testimony.

They can’t argue with that because they put them in the prison yesterday evening but when they sent for them this morning they hadn’t been there.

And now a guy called Gamaliel comes on the scene. Gamaliel was the grandson of the founder of the more liberal of the two main schools of the Pharisees. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and a "teacher of the law." He was a big-wig and was known for his tolerance, particularly towards divorced women and gentiles. His reputation among Jews is as one of the greatest teachers in the history of Judaism and the apostle Paul trained under him.

Quite a guy, and he gives his colleagues some sound advice. “Let them go”, he says. “If this is of human origin, it’ll fizzle out of its own accord, but if it really is God, NOTHING any of us can do will stop it.”

"His speech persuaded them.” Luke tells us. “They called the apostles in and had them flogged (which sounds rather spiteful). Then they ordered them (yet again) not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go."

Their backs are bloody but the apostles are undeterred. "They left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

After all, Jesus had taught them, in the sermon on the mount

" Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)


Sunday 21st August - Martin Mowat. Service led by Paul Jobson.

Readings : Psalm 2 & Acts 4:23-31

Martin sends his apologies for not being with us again this morning.

We’re currently doing a series on the Early Church in the book of Acts, and if you’re a regular and finding it a bit disjointed it may be because you’re missing the episodes on the alternate Sundays, but you can pick those up on the church site. In fact, I’d say that it’s quite important that you do so that we can all move forward together. Equally, if you’re a visitor and you’d like to read more in the series, that’s where to find them. If you don’t know the address of the site just Google “English Speaking Church Mirepoix” and you’ll find it.

We saw last Sunday that life in the early church was hotting up considerably, and that this was bringing them into conflict with the Jewish authorities who had been mandated by the Romans to keep things under control.

This hostility and opposition drove the church to its knees in prayer and this is what we’re going to be looking at today.

After their night in jail, and a no-holds-barred verbal battle with the religious powers that be, Peter and John gave a full account of their adventure to the assembled church.

When they heard this”, Luke tells us, “they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said, 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.'" (Acts 4:24)

Notice how the first thing they do is to praise God. Jesus taught his disciples to do the same thing when he taught them The Lord’s Prayer. “Pray then like this:” he said to them “'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …” This BEFORE “Give us today our daily bread” and so on.

We know that prayer was one of the things that they “devoted themselves to”. It was their knee jerk reaction by now. Before discussing the situation and trying to work out for themselves what to do, they put the situation into God’s hands. “You made the heavens Lord,” they said, “that was some feat, so here’s a situation that you can fix in a heartbeat.”

Notice too that “they raised their voices togetheror with one accord as the King James version puts it.

Back in Acts chapter 1 we saw that "They all joined together constantly in prayer." Now in Acts 4:24 we read "They raised their voices together in prayer to God." and just a few verses further on, verse 32, we see that "All the believers were one in heart and mind...."

Unity in the early church is clearly a theme that Luke wants us to take note of!

Satan is constantly trying to divide. Couples, families, churches, governments. It’s one of his key tactics to weaken the church and he’s a past-master at it. Even in our own church some of you will remember instances where there has been division and people have left as a result. But it’s not just people leaving that is sad, it’s the affect that it has on the credibility of the message that we are trying to share with our community that’s even sadder. We need to be on our guard, we need to be “of one mind”, “of one accord”, “together”.

Then they quoted that wonderful psalm that we heard earlier, and that starts, (somewhat pertinently for the world today) “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed.”

On that occasion they were referring to what had happened in Jerusalem a few weeks earlier. The scribes and the Pharisees had raged, the Sanhedrin had conspired and plotted, and the gentile Romans had condemned and crucified God's Messiah.

But all to no avail, they say, because it had all been part of God’s eternal plan. The nations and rulers can rage and threaten, but they can't overcome the will of God. He has the upper hand, he has the victory.

The believers continue their prayer in earnest. "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:29-30)

Their boldness had already got them into trouble, yet they prayed for continued boldness! Miracles had got them into trouble, yet they prayed for more miracles.

You can almost feel their faith as they expect God to stretch out his hand and provide the solution.

And then, in verse 31 we read that « After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.” (Pause.)

Can you imagine? It’s quite likely that they were in the Temple because they needed space for so many people, and it shook, it physically shook. It was as if God was saying “I will”, and the second half of the verse says “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” He said he would and he did !

Just quickly, there’s one more thing that I’d like to talk about. We are frequently coming across the expression “filled with the Holy Spirit” at the moment and although we did touch on it a few weeks ago, perhaps this is an appropriate moment to think about what Luke was talking about.

There are basically two schools of thought about what it means.

Very simply, one says that at the moment a person is “saved”, that’s to say they accept that Jesus is the son of God, that he died as a result of their sin, that he gave them new life in him, and accepted his Lordship, his governance of their lives, that that is the point in time when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within him or her. That’s it, they say, we’re filled, once and for all.

The other school of thought says that that is just the beginning. Yes, it’s a spiritual experience, yes, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, but whether or not we were completely “filled” at that moment, life happens, we leak, and we need to keep asking for more, just as we have seen those early Christians doing in Acts 4 today. Some also believe that if we are filled to the point of overflowing, as the word “baptized” implies, we might even speak in tongues. Indeed, this has been, is even, their experience.

I hasten to add that this has been something that has caused a lot of division over the years. Just as the Protestant church parted ways with the Catholic church, so whole denominations have been born and split away, notably the Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God as they are called.

Here in Mirepoix, we call ourselves a “non-denominational” church (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “multi-denominational”) which has to imply that although we come from all sorts of church and denominational backgrounds, we have very different experiences of church, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and that as a result we have different habits, different expectations, and different ways of understanding scripture, different all sorts of things.

If we are to “be church” in and for the area of Mirepoix, and that’s what this series of messages is all about, then we MUST “agree to disagree” on some of these matters, however important they may seem to be.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is one, creation and evolution another, exactly when Christ will return is another. What we say and do and don’t say and do in our services can be another.

It is critical that we keep our focus on Jesus, on his love for us, and for the world to which he has called us to witness.

Praying together, and praying for one another is part of the key. It’s what those early Christians did. Let’s pray together now.

Heavenly Father, you created each one of us, and amazingly you created each of us to be different. Its mind boggling but no two of your creatures are identical.

But while you created is so individually you created us for a common purpose, to represent your kingdom to the world. Show us how to love one another in the way that you love us, so that those around us will see and know that you are God. Help us, Lord to be “of one mind”, “of one accord”, “together in spirit”.

This is something we will never do in our own strength. We NEED you Lord.

Come, we pray, and do your work in our hearts. In Jesus precious and strong name, we pray. Amen.


Sunday 14th August - Martin Mowat. Presented by Jess Jephcott

Readings: Psalm 118, 1-4, 22-29. Acts 4:5-12.

Things were really hotting up in the early church. At first there were just 120 spirit filled believers, but then after Peter preached at Pentecost there were more than 3000.

Now, after only a short time there are 5000 men, so perhaps as many as 10 000 people. It’s strange the way that the Bible sometimes expresses statistics in terms of the number of men.

Peter had just preached the second of his amazing sermons, and so we’re going to start this morning by having a look at that.

Let’s pray …

The Temple was full of people, many of whom had gone there in the hope that one or more of the apostles would be teaching, but a huge commotion was going on. Walking, leaping, whooping and praising God with all his might was a beggar who had been crippled from birth.

Attracted by the hubbub, people “came running”, Luke tells us, to see what was going on. Staggered, amazed, incredulous, they asked each other how on earth this could have happened. But Peter is already on his feet and beginning to preach. Here is a synopsis of what he said. In many ways it’s quite similar to his Pentecost sermon that we looked at three weeks ago.

1. We didn't heal this man by our own power, God did it, and he did it to glorify his servant Jesus (verses 12-13a).

2. You are responsible for killing God's Holy and Righteous one, the Author of Life he called him, but God raised him from the dead and we are all witnesses to this fact (verses 13b-15).

3. Faith in Jesus' name and power healed this man completely (verse 16).

4. Christ's sufferings were part of God's plan (verses 17-18).

5. Although you acted in ignorance, you must now repent of your sins and be forgiven (verse 19a).

6. The Messiah will now be in heaven but at the right time God will send him back to restore everything (verses 19b-21).

7. Jesus is the prophet whom Moses prophesied would come (verses 22-23).

8. All the prophets foretold the Messiah's coming and you are heirs of this promise. In Jesus the Messiah, God fulfills his promise to Abraham to bless all peoples through his offspring (verses 24-25b). Remember that the audience is predominantly Jewish, so this was a very important part of Peter’s argument.

9. Thus, the Messiah is sent first to you Jews to bless you by turning you from your wicked ways (verse 26). He doesn’t say as much on this occasion, but by using the word “first”, he infers that the Messiah came also for the gentiles, and that’s something new.

This sermon was good, solid, uncompromising stuff.

But all this upheaval was coming to the notice of the Jewish religious leaders, who were not at all happy about it.

These men wanted to protect their people from false teaching. I’m sure that their motives were good in that respect. But also, nobody likes change and that’s been the history of the church, one denomination starts where the previous one wouldn’t go any further.

So they were protecting their traditions, but they were also protecting their control. Again, in fairness to them, one of the reasons they wanted, needed even, to control the people, was so that they didn’t upset the Romans, and that they would all be left to practice their religion in peace.

But there’s no doubt about it, they enjoyed the control too, and isn’t that so often the case in politics. I don’t believe in making political comments from the pulpit, although I’ve heard of pastors who have been criticized for not doing so, but you don’t have to look very far to see leaders who will go to any lengths to maintain their personal power over others. Anyway, let’s not get died-tracked.

So the Jewish leaders arrested Peter and John, and put them in prison overnight. What happened the next morning was read to us by Yyyy. All the top-nobs were there which gives us an inkling as to how important this was to them. “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family, the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law.

It was quite a turnout. “By what power or what name did you do this?” That was their main question. Last week we talked about some of the things that the word “name” signifies. Among them is the idea of authority, and authority was something very close to their controlling hearts, as we’ve just seen.

“How dare you?” was effectively what they were saying. “Who do you think you are?”

This was the first of many such encounters, as we will see. But Peter wasn’t to be put down.

Filled with the Holy Spirit” we are told in verse 8, he looked them straight in the eyes and said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! ” It’s important to notice that Peter wasn’t getting big-headed due to the rapid growth of the church, it was God the Holy Spirit who was giving him the boldness he needed in that moment. He had just spent the night in goal, remember, which can’t have been much fun, and he knew that these big-wigs held enormous power, but he didn’t hesitate for one moment. He just hit them with it.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”

Then he comes in with his right hook. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ He’s quoting scripture at them, spontaneously, from memory. Psalm 118 that XXX read earlier so this was hard for them to refute.


According to Wikipedia, “the cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” Jesus himself had quoted this verse when he was telling the parable of tenants to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.

As they’re taking in the significance of that he delivers a blow to the stomach! Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” This is nothing short of swash-buckling.

The Jewish leaders are between a rock and a hard place now. Unschooled Galileans are playing them at their own game, challenging them at their own level. What’s more the fact that the man, crippled for over 40 years, is walking and leaping around in front of everybody is undeniable. Something’s going on and they can’t put their finger on it, so they don’t know how to control it. Biiiig dilemma!

So they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. There it is again, “in the name of Jesus”.


But Peter and John were not to be put down so easily. “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!”, they replied. As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Bam! Point blanc refusal.

This is going to have consequences.

Let’s pray.

Lord, we’re inspired by the all-out boldness of Peter and John. Too often we are timid, but that doesn't move your Kingdom forward. Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit we pray, help us to be bold and obedient and see your Kingdom come. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.


Sunday 7th August - Martin Mowat

Readings : Psalm 8. Acts 3:-10

Two weeks ago, we saw how, as a result of Peter’s explanation of the strange things that people witnessed when the Holy Spirit descended on the 120 praying believers at Pentecost, and of his powerful call to repentance, no fewer than 3000 people gave their lives to Christ and were baptized.


We finished by reading from Acts chapter 2 that in the days, weeks and months that followed those new believers welcomed the message, they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, they devoted themselves to the fellowship, they devoted themselves to breaking bread together, they devoted themselves to prayer, and they cared for the needy among them.


Each of those could be a sermon in itself, but today we’re going to move on to chapter 3 and see what happened one day when Peter and John were going up to the temple one afternoon, the story that Philip just read to us.


As we said last time, those early converts to what was then called “The Way” were all, or virtually all, what we might call today Messianic Jews. The term "Christians" didn't come into use until fifteen years later (Acts 11:26) as we will see in a few weeks. Most religious activities took place in the Temple and in local synagogues, and so it was natural for them to gather in the Temple, as well as in their homes, for prayer and teaching. Jesus had taught there and now the apostles were teaching there too, and the new believers flocked to hear them, they had so much to learn. Luke tells us that that these new believers were seen "Praising God and having favor with all the people” and that “the Lord added to their number, daily, those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47)


Others would listen in too, curious about this new sect, because the effect of this new movement was now being felt right across the city.

The Temple was a truly magnificent building, almost brand new because it had been completely rebuilt by Herod the Great only 40 or 50 years previously. One can only surmise, therefore, that for the gate Beautiful to have that name, then it must have been quite something. This was actually it’s nick-name, not it’s real name, so scholars and archaeologists are not 100% certain which of the gates within the Temple that it was. But that’s a bit academic really, the point is that it was somewhere in the courtyards that surrounded the actual temple building, a funnel through which people had to pass to get in, and therefore an excellent place for handicapped people to sit and ask for help.

Begging like that wasn’t necessarily a shameful thing to do. Without today’s social security systems, everybody had to work if they wanted to eat. Even if you were crippled and couldn’t work physically, you would be expected to contribute to the family budget, and so your family would carry you to a strategic spot where you would spend your day begging. In those days, apparently, giving to beggars was considered to be totally natural, even expected of a practicing Jew.

In the Temple there were two formal prayer services on normal weekdays, at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices. The main one was the morning sacrifice at 9:00 am, and then there was a somewhat shorter evening sacrifice at about 3:00 pm.

So here we have Peter and John. They’ve had lunch and maybe a siesta, and they’re making their way, along with dozens of others, into the temple to pray and to teach.

Imagine that that gate is the one that we come through this morning from the car park into the courtyard here, and it’s perhaps 10:45 on a Sunday morning, and you see a disabled beggar sitting there, looking at you imploringly, begging for money.

Or maybe it’s not Sunday, maybe it’s Wednesday, and it’s not at church, it’s at Lidl or Super-U. In all honesty, how would you react? Do you think to yourself, “Oh great, another opportunity for me to give this person 50€?” Or like me, do you slide past, rather embarrassed, trying to avoid making eye contact with them, giving them not a penny?

I tell myself that whenever I go out I’m always going to have a 5€ note in my pocket for such occasions, but do I remember to do that? No.

Like me, Peter didn’t have a 5€ note in his pocket either, but unlike me he didn’t regret the fact, and he wasn’t embarrassed. Instead he responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and healed the guy.

Well, HE didn’t heal the guy, God did. Let’s hear that passage again.

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet (not struggled to his feet, jumped) and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Let’s take a moment to imagine the scene. The crowd were filled with wonder and amazement, not surprisingly. But I have absolutely NO DOUBT that Peter and John were too, and the other apostles and believers when they heard about it later. Could this really have happened? How could it have happened? Would similar things happen in the future?

It begs the question, doesn’t it, could such a thing happen today, in 2022, in Mirepoix?

The question that I want to concentrate on this morning is “How could it have happened?” and I think that the answer is at least threefold.

FIRSTLY, in chapter 2 we were told that “all of them were filled with the spirit”. In chapter 4 we will see that when Peter and John are seized by the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that at this particular moment, sandwiched, as it was, between those two events, Peter was “filled with the Spirit”, and it was this that emboldened and empowered him to step out in faith and allow God to work through him.

SECONDLY, as I have just said, this was something Peter did “in faith”. He knew that miracles happen. He had probably done it before when Jesus had sent the apostles out in twos, in Mark 6, do you remember, where it says that they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Faith is taking God at his word, believing, and obeying, but again, that’s a whole other subject.

THIRDLY, as perhaps you noticed in our reading, and as Peter explained to the Jewish leaders, he did it In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. This is an expression we hear time, and time again in the New Testament

So, what’s in a name? I seem to remember talking about this before but I don’t remember in what context, during our series on Jesus’ ministry without doubt. But the idea of taking action "in the name" of someone has quite a history in the Old Testament too.

A name is firstly an identifier. "Martin", for example, is what identifies me and distinguishes me from anyone else.

Secondly it has to do with one’s renown. Your name refers to your reputation. We see it, for example, in the expression "to make a name for oneself." If I say “Queen Victoria”, “Winston Churchill”, or “William Wilberforce” you start to think of all the things that they did and achieved.

Thirdly it has to do with your person, who you really are, what you stand for, the principles that are important to you and which determine how you conduct yourself. I only have to say “Liz Truss” or “Rishi Sunak” and you will understand what I mean.

Lastly, and most importantly for us, it’s the idea of a person’s authority, and the power invested in them. We had a classic example just a moment ago when the Jewish leaders asked Peter and John 'By what power or what name did you do this?' (Acts 4:7)

I mentioned the Old Testament. There was the occasion, just for example, in the book of Deuteronomy when God said to the Israelites “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account."

Even in today’s language we’ve all heard the expression “in the name of the law”, and most of us are not too young to remember The Supremes singing the song “Stop, in the name of love, before you break my heart.”

So the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, then, infers the full authority of God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and his power and ability to do miracles, then and now, to heal, to deliver, to change hearts, to change lives, and this is why we usually end our prayers by saying “in the name of Jesus, Amen”.

So, going back to our story, Peter was not getting above his station, he simply did, in all humility, but nevertheless in faith and obedience, that which he feels prompted by the Holy Spirit to do.

This man had been crippled from birth. Seven days a week he sat patiently asking for support from his fellow Jews. What happened to him that day was the very last thing in the world that he would have expected. It was more than he would ever have dared hope for, and so it’s no wonder he was “walking and jumping, and praising God”, hanging onto Peter and John for support. Can you imagine how he would have felt?

And the crowd? Of course, everybody recognised him. They had seen him hundreds, even thousands of times on their way to sacrifice and pray. They knew his family, probably, knew that he really had been crippled from birth, he hadn’t just been faking it and skiving.

And Peter, just as he had done a few days earlier, seized the opportunity and started preaching, then and there. “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

But we don’t have time for that today, we’ll have to wait until next week.


Sunday 24th July - Martin Mowat

WHAT IS CHURCH 3 – 24/07/22

Readings : Isaiah 44:1-6 and Joel 2:28-32

The sound of a violent wind, what appeared to be tongues of fire. All 120 or so people who’d been praying together in an upstairs room “filled with the Holy Spirit", in a way that was observable, apparent to everybody there and prophetic praise in dozens of different languages as simple Galilean disciples were enabled and empowered to speak out "the mighty things of God" in languages they had never learned, at school or anywhere else.

These were the four ways that God chose to manifest himself that day, and it’s not surprising that the amazed onlookers asked themselves and each other what on earth was going on. This was quite literally without precedent. Some of them even suggested that the disciples might be drunk, I mean, what other logical explanation could there have been?

We like logical, don’t we. If it’s logical and orderly we can handle it, can’t we? But this was neither logical nor orderly.

“Fellow Jews, these men are not drunk, as you suppose” said Peter, “it's only nine in the morning! Let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”

Peter understood exactly, this had been prophesied ages before. Sue and Brian just read a couple of those prophecies for us, and we talked about that last week.

We didn’t, however, read anything from Acts 2 this week, but you can do that at home if you’d like to.

Peter makes a series of important points in his epic sermon. Bear in mind that he’s speaking to a crowd of Jews from all over the place.

1. Jesus of Nazareth had been accredited to them by God by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among them through him, as they themselves knew." Yes, miracles could be counterfeited, but the real thing is a powerful evidence of God's power at work, and they knew it.


2. It was them, the Jews, whether directly or indirectly, who had handed Jesus over and put him to death by nailing him to the cross, so for that THEY were guilty.


3. This had been God’s plan from the beginning


4. But God raised him from the dead, and they knew that too. Clearly it had been impossible for death to keep its hold on him and they were all witnesses to the fact.


5. Jesus had now been exalted to the right hand of God, to rule and reign for eternity.

"Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this,” said Peter, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In other words, they were guilty, Jesus had the upper hand, and they’d better look out, or else.


When they heard this, Luke records, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:36-37)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call.

That is Acts 2:38-39, and it’s one of the most important verses in the Book of Acts, so I’ve included it on the service sheet and I’d like us to look at it point by point.

1. Repent.

This was the first thing they had to do. “Repent” literally means to "change one's mind." Here it has the sense of feeling remorse combined with a willingness to go a new direction. Our word "convert" carries a similar idea, "to turn around, to transform." I’m reminded of the Lloyd Weber musical Starlight Express, when the big bully diesel engine gets converted to steam. Peter was challenging them to make a faith decision to change how they thought, how they led their lives, and to go in a new direction.


2. Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

I don’t know that this is really the time and place to get into a detailed discussion about baptism, although it is a subject that is fairly close to my heart. One of the most notable characteristics of our church is that we come from very diverse denominational backgrounds, and will have been taught differently as a result.

Some will have been baptized as babies, some as adults, some, like Charlotte and I, maybe both as babies and as adults, some of us perhaps not at all.

Let’s just confine ourselves to what Peter was telling them to do on this particular occasion which was that immediately following their decision to change direction, and to follow Christ, that’s to say having acknowledged their sinful nature and having received God’s gift of forgiveness, they were to be baptised by total immersion, as a sign of being washed clean and as a declaration to the world of what had happened to them.

This is what some might call “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”.

Just as a side note, they were to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ”, and we’ll look at what that particular phrase signifies inn two weeks time.


3. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is the next thing that Peter says.

One of the key concepts here is to see the Holy Spirit as a gift, not something we earn by our own efforts and again, our decision to repent and give one's life to Christ is a prerequisite.

We are saved by God's grace, because God's Son bore the penalty of our sins on the cross. Repentance is our part; new birth by the Holy Spirit is God's part. We receive the gift by faith, but he bestows that gift and we receive it solely because of his unilateral favour to us.

As I said last time, it is this gift of the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us to live differently, and to fulfil our ministries.

Finally, Peter made the important point, and this was something that was completely new, that this was a gift that was for both Jews and Gentiles, "for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

And the result, as you know, was that no fewer than 3000 people were baptized. That must have taken most of the day.

Within a couple of generations these repentant, saved and spirit filled Christians had taken the good news of the gospel to most of the known world.

There were other things that began to happen in this new Spirit filled existence which Luke describes for us like this. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the result of their living this way was that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

What did they do?

· They welcomed the message,

· they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching,

· they devoted themselves to the fellowship,

· they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread together,

· they devoted themselves to prayer,

· and they cared for the needy among them.

These were the signature marks of the early church and they caused it to grow naturally and quickly. Were they, I wonder, some of the things that Jesus had spoken to them about during those 6 weeks before his ascension? Did they come easily or did they have to work at them? Were they part of a magic formula? Are they vital parts of healthy church life in the 21st century? Are they cross-cultural?


These are some of the questions we’ll be thinking about in the coming weeks.


Sunday 17th July - Martin Mowat


What is Church 2


Readings: Acts 2:1-13, Acts 2:14-21


Last week we began to look at what happened in the days following Jesus resurrection. We’re thinking about “church”, and now that we’ve finished the sub-series on Psalm 23, we’re moving into more serious territory as we look at the early church in the book of Acts to see what we can learn that might help us today in Mirepoix, as we seek to represent Jesus to our community.


If you weren’t here last week, and if you haven’t read the message on the church site, may I please encourage you to do so. It’s important that we move through this together.

Let’s pray …

Last week I left us with something to think about. There were some six and a half weeks between Jesus resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven. During that time, and on multiple occasions he appeared to groups of disciples both in Jerusalem (Luke 24 ; John 20:19-28) and in Galilee (John 21). Paul records, in 1 Corinthians 15, vv 5-7, that "He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, …. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles."


So, if he appeared to those people, he would also have talked to them, but what about?


In the book of Deuteronomy, we can read all the things that Moses said to his people before he left them, and there was a lot of it. In the same way, I’m sure that Jesus would have had a lot to say to his disciples, on all sorts of topics. But unlike in Moses’ case, nothing has been recorded for us.


We get a clue in Acts 1:3a “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

If you think about it, EVERYTHING had changed for the disciples.


They now had a completely different view of who Jesus really was. By choosing to die in the most dramatic and public way possible, and then coming back to life exactly as and when he said he would, he had proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he really was the Messiah, he was the fulfillment of all the prophecies, he was invincible, he was the Son of God, and he was back.


The Pharisees and Sadducees were no longer a significant threat. Nor were the beastly occupying Romans, they had tried their worst, and failed, because he was still alive.

Can you imagine, though, all their questions ?


I think that Jesus would have talked to them particularly about the future, their future, yes, but even more about the church’s future. And I think that it’s what he said to them that fired them up, and provided the material for their powerful, spirit-filled sermons.


On one occasion, (Acts 1:4-5) while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"

This recalls the command he had given the disciples in the last few paragraphs of Luke's Gospel. "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

So what was the first thing that happened ? NOTHING, because they did as they were told and WAITED.

At the same time, they prayed together. In fact, there were about 120 people doing just that when the Holy Spirit came.

They were expecting it, certainly, but when it came, it was SUDDEN, and violent.


It is SO significant that this is the first event in life of the church. It was, quite literally, the spring board that triggered the whole thing, and that, if for no other reason, is why we need to understand it.

1. At least 3 Old Testament prophets, Joel, Isaiah and Ezekiel had foretold it.

2. Jesus had told them to expect it, and to wait for it, as we’ve just seen

3. The very last thing Jesus did was to explain to them that when it came they would “receive power to be his witnesses”. They would be, he said, “clothed with power from on high”.

Jerusalem was full of people joyfully celebrating the Feast of Weeks which marks the end of the grain harvest, and which Jewish males were expected to attend if at all possible. This was why, for example, Paul was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, and it’s why, on this particular day, there were so many people there, and from so many different language groups.


FOUR things happened, almost simultaneously. All were quite unique

· The sound of a violent wind, but no actual wind, just the sound of it, powerful, violent, forceful.

· What appeared to be tongues of fire. It wasn't real fire, but it was a compelling, convincing vision that they all had simultaneously, of individual flames that came to rest upon each person.

· "All of them” we are told in Acts 2:4 “were filled with the Holy Spirit", so it must have been evident to everybody. The Greek word for "filled" means "to cause to be completely full." Hence the use of the word “baptised”, which means immersed, overwhelmed, filled, saturated, swimming in it …

· The was prophetic praise in dozens of different languages, from the mouths of unschooled disciples, that could be understood by all these foreigners. Enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in tongues and continued for some time, until a crowd gathered -- according to God's plan. And what the crowd heard was people speaking "the mighty things of God" in their own languages.


These were phenomena that they had never seen, or even heard about before. Some of the onlookers jumped to the conclusion that the disciples must be drunk and this gave Peter an opportunity to stand up, refute the allegation, and preach. His message was so convincing, so powerful, so compelling that 3000 people gave their lives to Christ and asked to be baptised as a public declaration of their newfound faith. The church was born, and it was God’s Holy Spirit that was the key factor.


We’re going to talk about Peter’s message in more detail next week, but I want to close today by acknowledging that different denominations have different interpretations of what actually happened that day and different views on whether these things still happen today.


The more traditional view is that this was a once only event, never to be repeated. Others, however, believe that this was just a first, that it is only normal for Christians to be “baptized in the spirit” and to speak in tongues, subsequent to and apart from their salvation and their baptism in water.


Whichever school of thought you belong to, it’s important not to miss the point which is that Jesus is building his church. We are his living stones. We are his hands and feet, we are called to love each other and to love the usnsaved. To love the lovable and the unlovable, to minister to their needs, to share with them the gospel, to live righteously, and much much more.


Jesus knew, because he created us and because he was one of us, that on a human level, and in a fallen world, none of that is possible. He knew that we would need something to embolden us, something to empower us. He knew that if we were to have love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control, if we were to live in unity, we would need help.


He knew, too, that the church would need apostles, prophets, teachers, those with gifts of healing, of helping, and of guidance. These are things that don’t come naturally, they are what we call the gifts of the spirit.


He knew that ordinary Christians like you and me would need POWER and BOLDNESS, and that’s the role of the Holy Spirit in the church today.


I once heard David Watson describe the Holy Spirit as being like putting a hand in a glove. I think it’s like putting a battery in an electric drill. You could use it without the battery to tighten a screw, but it would be awkward, and you wouldn’t be able to get it very tight. With the battery, however, it’s a whole different ball game.


The 120 people who received that anointing on the day of Pentecost knew something life changing had happened, and, immediately started to talk about it, even if it seemed to come out as gobbledygoop. The thousands of people who were in Jerusalem for the fête witnessed it, heard it, and marveled at it. Luke made a careful note of it and described it graphically for us.


In the same way that my electric drill is designed to be used with its battery, and the more charged the battery, the better it works, so the church is designed to be filled with charged up spirit filled Christians.


And on a more personal level too, I believe that our Christian walk is more fulfilling, more effective, if we will allow the Holy Spirit to empower us, charge us up, propel us in our ministry as the hands and feet of Jesus, the living stones in his church.

Jeremy mentioned the Holy Spirit frequently in his sermons, but in some churches it, or really I should say HE, is barely mentioned. Surely this is un-natural. The Holy Spirit is not someone to be frightened of, he is a part of the trinity and he’s not going to hurt us, he’s not going to take control and make us do things we don’t want to do, quite the reverse.


As we move forward we’re going to see, again, and again, and again, how he helped those early Christians face and overcome the challenges that they would encounter. The same is true today, even here in Mirepoix.


Sunday 10th July 2022 - Martin Mowat

Readings: Matthew 16: 13-20 Acts 1: 1-5 and v9

What is church for you? I’ll give you a moment to think about that. I’m not going to, but if I asked you to define church in one sentence what would you say? ….


· For some it’s a more or less beautiful pile of brick or stone

· For others it’s a weekly or periodic event

· Still others might define it as a place for fellowship with like-minded people, other Christians especially

· Perhaps for you it’s place to say one’s prayers, feel God’s closeness, …

· For some people it’s not so much a place but more of a community

· Or it’s an opportunity for mutual encouragement and support, both physically and in prayer

· It could even be an evangelizing machine, something that exists for those who aren’t in it yet (ex. The preacher at the bus-stop)

It would be interesting to ask God that same question, and compare his answer with ours, wouldn’t it?

Well, he has given us that answer, very fully, and it’s here, in his word. But it’s not just in one sentence, so that’s what this series of messages is all about.


So what did we discover about church as we worked our way through Psalm 23?

· That it’s because Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” that church is possible

· That church embodies a relationship with God that is both personal and corporate

· That the Lord is entirely benevolent

· That salvation is a key element (we’ll develop this as we move forward)

· That church is, or should be, a place of safety, peace, spiritual healing, restoration, a place where you can re-orientate your life, a place where you can begin to grow again.

· That Christ commissioned his church to share with the world the good news of salvation

· That Jesus is not only is the “Good Shepherd” he’s also the gate, the way, the truth, and the life.

What did Jesus have to say on the subject of church?

We talked about this on a couple of occasions during the series on Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t actually say a great deal.

He simply said to Peter that he would build his church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18.) He would do the building, it would be his church, and there would be opposition are the three things that strike us immediately from this statement.

He also used the word in Matthew 18 when he was teaching on how to deal with sin, and on both of these occasions the word “community” is certainly a good synonym.

The Greek word for church is “eklesia”, which simply means “called out ones”. Those who have been called out of the world’s regime into God’s regime, into his kingdom, into eternal life, “saved” in other words.

So let’s settle, shall we, on “a community of called out ones”? A family whose members are committed to doing God’s will which is, first and foremost, is that we love him and love each other.

In terms of what the church should do, and how it should organize itself Jesus is not recorded as having said anything, but that doesn’t mean, of course, that he didn’t.

We’re going to look at how the started (although Jess has already told us quite a lot) how it developed, what it’s aims and objectives were, how it operated and how it was governed, and all that to see what we can apply to our own church here in Mirepoix.

Our material will be the book of Acts, particularly the first 12 chapters, and some of the epistles, especially Ephesians, and we’ll probably end up in the book of Revelation.

This is important stuff. It’s going to be quite a journey. It’ll be every week, so if you miss one you’ll need to catch up on line. Here are some of the things that the Book of Acts talks about:

1. The role of the Holy Spirit in the new church -- baptism, fillings, outpourings, anointing, tongues, and prophecy. Acts has been called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit," and with good reason. The leading of the Spirit is a prominent theme.


2. The characteristics of the early church which are important because they reveal the character and values that underlay what Jesus was, and still is building. We see themes of unity, fellowship, teaching, breaking of bread, prayers, a boldness to witness, and we see evangelism.


3. The church's early preaching that demonstrates how the apostles explain from the Scriptures how a crucified Messiah can be raised from the dead and exalted to God's right hand. These early sermons form a Scriptural basis for our own understanding of Christ's death and resurrection.


4. The fact that God preplanned Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection from the beginning. A clear hint of predestination occurs several times in these chapters. Salvation and even faith are gifts from God for which we can take no credit.


5. The signs and wonders combined with powerful preaching that accompanied some amazing evangelistic breakthroughs. This will give us an opportunity to think about what we should and shouldn’t be doing in this area.


6. God's heart for all peoples -- Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. Ridding ourselves of our very human tendency to discriminate against people of other races and cultures is an obvious application, as is an impetus to declare good news to unreached people groups around the world.


7. Persecution and witness. The importance of giving bold witness before our enemies is mentioned again and again.

So, as I said, this is important stuff and it’s going to be quite a journey. Here’s something for you to be thinking about this week.

Tess read this to us "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive." (Acts 1:3a)

You'll recall from the last chapter of Luke's Gospel, that Luke recounts:

1. Jesus' appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).

2. Jesus' appearance to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34).

3. Jesus' appearance to the Eleven in Jerusalem on Sunday night (Luke 24:36-44).

These "convincing proofs" included having the disciples look at the wounds in his hands and feet, having them touch him, and Jesus eating a piece of broiled fish in their presence. All this was to show them that he was with them bodily, not in a vision or as some kind of apparition or ghost (Luke 24:39-43).

The verse continues “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3a)

If we take the forty days as a precise number, rather than as a rounded number meaning "about a month," it gives us an idea of what is happening in the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost.

· Passover (Day 0), Last Supper, Thursday

· Crucifixion (Day 1), Friday

· Resurrection (Day 3), Sunday

· Forty Days after the Resurrection (Days 3 to 43)

· Ascension (Day 43)

· Pentecost (Day 50)

That was quite a long time in some ways, 7 weeks. This is my question for you. What do you think Jesus would have said to his disciples during that time ?


Sunday 3rd July 2022 - Jess Jephcott

Readings: Mark 1: v 1-20, Acts 9: v 1-19

Good morning.

In Martin’s absence, I have, for the second time, been entrusted with speaking to you. This time, furthering and sharing my thoughts with you about our 2000 year Christian journey. I suggested the last time that there was much more that could be said about many key points in the story. So, in this instance, I want to look at the period that followed the death of Jesus, up until the time that the Roman Empire gave way to its pagan gods, and became fully Christian. We recently marked Ascension in our church calendar, where we heard how Jesus was taken up, to be with the Father, leaving the disciples to continue His work. After Jesus's death, the Disciples became known as the Apostles. Matthias was chosen by lots to replace Judas Iscariot. Peter, James the Elder and John became regarded as the Apostle’s inner circle. They were all present during many of Jesus’ miracles. St Paul is often included in the Apostles, because it was said that his deeds and passions equalled that of the original twelve. St Paul, born Saul of Tarsus, is believed to have lived from around AD 5 – 64, and as we should all know, was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus during the first- century AD. Generally regarded as one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age, he founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe. According to the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles, Paul was a Pharisee. He participated in the persecution of the early disciples of Jesus, in the area of Jerusalem. Some time after having approved of the execution of Stephen, Paul was travelling on the road to Damascus, so that he might find any Christians there and bring them ‘bound, to Jerusalem’. As we heard in our second reading from Acts, chapter 9, read to us by …... We learn that, at midday, a light brighter than the sun shone around both him and those with him, causing all to fall to the ground, with the risen Christ verbally addressing Paul regarding his persecution. ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ As we read on, having been made blind, along with being commanded to enter the city, his sight was restored three days later, by Ananias of Damascus. After these events, Paul was baptised, beginning immediately to proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish messiah and the Son of God. In Paul’s letters we learn that, some three years later, he met Peter and Jesus’ brother James. From his base in Antioch, he travelled widely, preaching to the Gentiles. Paul’s ministry and religious views are known largely from his letters - or epistles, as they are called - some collected together in the New Testament, which are the first Christian theological writings, and the source of much Christian doctrine that was to follow. It was due to Paul, more than anyone else, that Christianity became a world religion. Fourteen of the 27 books in the New Testament have been attributed to Paul. By asserting that non-Jewish Disciples of Christ did not have to observe Jewish law, he helped to establish Christianity as a separate religion, rather than a Jewish sect. On a journey to Jerusalem, he aroused such hostility among the Jews that a mob gathered, and he was arrested and imprisoned, enduring this incarceration for two years. Today, Paul's epistles continue to be vital roots of the theology, worship and pastoral life in the Latin and Protestant traditions of the West, as well as the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions of the East. Surely, they contain what must be assumed to be Paul's own statements about his life and thoughts. Paul's influence on Christian thought and practice has been characterised as being ‘as profound as it is pervasive’, among that of many other apostles and missionaries involved in the spread of the Christian faith.

Timothy.

The second chapter of the first letter to Timothy, was, and still is, used by many churches to deny women a vote in church affairs, to stop women serving as teachers of adult Bible classes, to prevent them from serving as missionaries, and to generally disenfranchise women from the duties and privileges of church leadership. Women, as with the Suffragettes in more recent times, and their demand for the right to vote, have fought in recent times against this rejection and suppression by the church. Some churches have acceded to their demands. Some have not. You women have a lot to answer for! Let’s not even venture into how Jesus, or Paul, for that matter, would have viewed the modern day ‘phenomena’ of gay marriage or women bishops.

What would Jesus have said about it?

My feeling is that he would have agreed with Paul, as it was the way of the world in those days, and for many centuries to follow, and still is today in certain cultures. Up until the time of Mark’s Gospel, wandering apostles, missionaries, whatever, were slowly spreading the Christian gospel, with Paul undoubtedly the most successful and famous of them. It seems that different apostles and missionaries were already, in Paul’s time, spreading differing ideas about what Christianity was about, and Paul wrote to condemn those who believed these maverick apostles, when they were at variance to what Paul taught.

A little explanation.

The word apostle comes from a Greek word that means ‘one sent out’. A missionary, in another word.

The scriptures never speak of ‘The Bible’, because that word hadn’t been conceived of until at least the fourth century - hundreds of years

after the New Testament authors had died.

The death of St. Paul.

The circumstances of Paul’s death are unknown, but it seems likely it followed on from the destruction by fire in Rome by the Emperor Nero, a time when there was much persecution of Christians. ------------ After Paul the Apostle, St Paul, as he was re-named, and as we have come to know him, the most important event in the first hundred years of Christian history was the preparation, in about AD 70, of the book now known as Mark’s Gospel, the first of our readings, read to us by ……, giving us a taste of the first chapter of Mark, bringing in an element of the Old Testament as well. This was later to be followed by the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. Each of the four gospels give us different stories about Jesus, some contradictory. That is the problem that we have here, some 2000 years after Jesus, what is fact and what is supposed fact, as there are clear differences between the four gospels.

What to believe?

Aren’t we constantly looking at what is written in scripture, to learn, to get a better understanding, to interpret - to challenge, in some cases? That is something that could have got you burned at the stake as a heretic, not so many years ago. Indeed, the very act of translating the Greek original scripture into English, by whatever route, must have needed a degree of interpretation of the true meaning of what was written. ‘Lost in translation’, is a phrase we often hear. The New Testament was completed by AD 100 and those texts were either written by an apostle, or by someone who received it from an apostle and could be verified through eyewitness testimony. That was the standard for historians in the day. In the main, we have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, St Paul - and various other writers, to thank for the scriptures that have survived and have been passed down to us via the Bible. Modern scholars may question what they see, but surely, weren’t the ancient scholars the best placed for accuracy? Just because you don’t agree with what was written all those years ago, does not mean that it is wrong. Today, the Bible is subjected to the same questioning, interpretations and downright misrepresentations. We study and we learn from the scriptures, we worship, and some of us go out and spread the Word to any that will listen. We must conclude that the writers of the day trusted in what they were writing, in the knowledge that their contemporaries would be watching them closely – ‘fact checking’, in modern parlance. Without the advent of Mark, and the New Testament gospels that followed, Christianity might have remained a niche religion spread by wandering missionaries, each giving a different slant on Jesus’ life, and with no great success. Mark’s gospel was a jewel of Christian literature, because this was the first narrative account about Jesus the Nazarene. It told a compelling story and told that Jesus would return on clouds of glory, within the lifetimes of many in the audience.

A growing church.

At this time, the church was growing, and deacons and presbyters were appointed to individual Christian communities, which continued to worship in house and home ‘churches’. By the second century, it was deemed necessary to appoint bishops as overseers in larger Christian communities in the eastern empire and, eventually, in Rome and Lyon, in the western empire. Christianity spread because its message promised a better life for its followers—when, that is, they weren’t being killed or tortured for it. The Roman Empire was not tolerant in the modern sense of allowing something one disapproves of. What Rome did was to absorb the gods of the people they conquered, and simply add them to the Roman system of pagan worship. That is why there are Roman names for all the Greek gods. If the practices of your religion were compatible with Roman practices, you could continue worshipping your god—they would just now have a good Roman name. Christianity became just one more of the thousands of native cults throughout the Roman Empire.

So, who continued the early Christian ministry right after the apostles and Paul had died?

After the apostles (including Paul) had died, the men, who are called ‘The Early Church Fathers’, took up leadership in the Church in the 2nd century AD. Men such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and so on, all playing their part as Christianity spread across the land. There are countless others, many whose names have been lost to history, but who continued Christian ministry into the next century, and beyond.

Constantine.

As I draw this story towards some sort of a conclusion, to a chapter of what is a far bigger story, I now introduce a man named Constantine. Constantine the First (Flavius Valerius Constantinus) was Roman emperor from AD 306-337 and is known to history as Constantine the Great, for his conversion to Christianity and his subsequent Christianisation of the Roman Empire. His conversion was motivated in part by a vision he experienced at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in Rome in AD 312. The night before the battle, Constantine prayed for success. Either in a vision, or a dream, he saw an image with the script, ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces’ (‘in this sign, conquer’). We have two sources for the story: Eusebius, Constantine’s court bishop, and Lactantius, a court adviser and tutor to Constantine’s sons. Eusebius reported that Constantine saw the sign of the cross, while Lactantius said it was the superimposed letters ‘chi’ and ‘rho’ (the first two letters of 'Christ' in Greek). Whatever Constantine saw or experienced, he credited his victory to the Christian God.

By way of some background information: when the Emperor Constantius and his son Constantine happened to be in Britannia (later to be known as England),

battling the Picts (the rebellious Scots as we know them today), Constantius was killed, near Eboracum (later to become the city that we know as York),

in AD 306. The legions proclaimed the son, Constantine as emperor, there and then, on the field of battle.

So, here we have St Paul and the Emperor Constantine, both receiving a visitation of God that changed each of their lives, in a major way.

Persecution.

Amidst much persecution of Christians by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, various Roman generals issued local edicts of toleration, in an effort to recruit Christians into the legions. Not many Christians took up the offer, it would seem. In particular, the Edict of Milan of AD 313, granted Christians throughout the Empire, toleration and permission to meet in their assemblies, so legalising the Christian movement. Christian property that had been confiscated or destroyed was to be returned, or compensated with funds. By AD 300, there are estimates that, out of a total population of 60 million in the Roman Empire, 3 million were Christians. (Jews still numbered 11 million). Some contend that Constantine was smart enough to foresee the winds of change. He may have perhaps been pre-programmed for some of his beliefs, having been exposed to Christian teachings in his travels with his father. It is written that his mother, Helena (later to become St Helena), was a Christian, before her son’s conversion, although actual evidence of that is hard to find. She is the patron saint of my home town, and a statue to her stands high at the top of the Town Hall tower. Legend tells us that she returned to the Holy Land and discovered the true cross, as well as other holy relics. More a medieval fantasy than fact, probably. Constantine was not baptised as a Christian until he was on his deathbed. Perhaps, waiting to the very end to have your sins forgiven, made perfect sense in his world. Despite the delay of his baptism, throughout his reign he was quite open about his Christian convictions in his letters and speeches. He favoured Christians, both financially and theologically. As their supreme patron, he endowed Christians with funds to build their basilicas and to acquire property, returned confiscated property, named Christians to high-ranking offices, and exempted Christian clergy from taxes. In theological support, his position as head of the Church, as well as the empire, contributed to Christian unity of belief. Constantine inherited a vast empire, where he expected loyalty from all citizens. He couldn’t abruptly eliminate the traditions of the ancestors which were incorporated into daily Roman life. In fact, the native cults would not be outlawed until the edict of Theodosius the First, in AD 381. In AD 324, he defeated Licinius and became the sole Roman emperor. In that position, he essentially expanded the ideas of Aurelian, in that he could now enforce, ‘One God, One Emperor, One Church’.

The First Council of Nicaea.

A major challenge came in AD 325. A presbyter in Alexandria, Arius, had been teaching that at some point, God had created Christ. Riots had broken out in several cities, and Constantine brought the bishops together at the city of Nicaea to resolve the issue. The Council of Nicaea resulted in the Christian doctrine known as the Trinity, which articulated the relationship between God and Christ. The council voted to claim that Christ was of the identical essence of God, present at the creation, and incarnated on Earth as Jesus of Nazareth. Until Christ returned, the now Christian emperor, stands in for Christ, and so carries the identical power of God on Earth as he rules. He is also credited with determining the date for Christmas. Christians in Rome celebrated the event during the festival of Saturnalia in December. 25th December was also the birthday of the Roman gods Sol Invictus and Mithras, and this may have been utilised in attempts to unify the festivals. Indeed, we know that, in the year AD 336, in Rome, Christmas was celebrated on December 25th. ------------------------ So, finally, to conclude, you can see how Constantine’s activities were the building blocks for church life in later centuries, leading to a Pope as head of the Roman Catholic church, a primate as head of the Eastern Orthodoxy - and perhaps, in a smaller way, also with our British monarch being the head of the Church of England today. Christianity had, and has, spread out from its homeland, winning converts, particularly amongst the poor and the disenfranchised, with a message of love, hope and inspiration. The love of God and a promise of a personal saviour in the form of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, across the world today, Christians are still being persecuted, as indeed are those of the Jewish faith. Whole Christian and Jewish communities have been eradicated, or forced to flee, in many parts of the world. ……but that is a story for another time.

Sunday 26th June 2022 - Martin Mowat

Readings: Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18

Announcements

· What we’re doing on the 2nd and 4th Sundays

· Pre Sunday Services protocol – conversations outside or in the coffee area please, especially during the 10 minutes prior to the start of the service

Message

This is the fourth and last of this mini-series about Psalm 23, and let’s not forget that it’s, albeit perhaps rather strangely, in the context of a much larger topic, that of the church that Jesus said he would build.


We just have a couple of verses to deal with and then, as I promised, we’ll have a chance at the end of the service to discuss it and contribute a few of our own ideas and reflections.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

You may remember that last week we talked about the fact that God is always with us, that we will never walk alone, even in the “valley of the shadow of death”. We also talked briefly about the shepherd’s rod and his staff, or crook, tools that are used both to protect and to guide.

Now, after what seemed perhaps to be a rather depressing interlude, David seems to be back on a much more positive and encouraging track.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I have seen it said that this is perhaps one of the most puzzling lines in this 3000 year-old lyric. But really, it’s quite simple. If you remember we’re in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the poor sheep would be defenseless were it not for their shepherd. This certainly isn’t the sort of place where you would plan to have a party, to hold a feast or a banquet. No, it’s somewhere where you need to be on the alert, you need to keep moving, you need to keep close together, …

But despite all that, there it is! You come around a corner of the valley and there’s a beautiful flat space, where the Lord has lit a fire to ward off the wild animals, and has prepared a table where we can sit down and relax, take our time, enjoy ourselves, eat, drink, soak in HIS divine peace, forget the dangers, the worries, the enemies.

Talking of enemies for a second, let’s remember that our enemies are not all “out there”, but some are “in here”, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, addiction, bitterness, resentment. Satan will exploit them both the “out there” and the “in here”, he doesn’t mind which they are. Jesus doesn’t mind either because he can help us deal with whichever, IF WE WILL LET HIM. This is a special banquet because what is on the table is love, forgiveness, hope and peace, and because of the “presence of our enemies” the pleasure of the experience is strangely heightened.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Shepherds in the Middle East will gather their flocks into a “sheep-fold” at night and carefully inspect each one for scratches, cuts and sores. If they find any they will lovingly cleanse the wounds and pour soothing oil onto them, to help them heal. So here we are! Not only does he sit us at his table but after supper, so to speak, he comes along side us and gently looks at all our wounds and scars, our hurts, and he pours on his soothing balm.

I mentioned last week that many of us, most of us even, all of us perhaps, have wounds, hurts, worries, physical, psychological, spiritual problems, and …. Jesus is there to give them daily treatment.

But for this to happen we have to do three things. We have to admit them to ourselves, and we have to admit them to him, not easy in my case …, and then allow him to treat them. It doesn’t matter how slight or how serious they are, he is the greatest and most powerful healer the world has ever, or will ever know, despite all our medical science.

Talking of anointing, there is also the idea here that, as a priest or a monarch is anointed at the moment of his or her commissioning, their ordination, their consecration, we too are being anointed for service.

He anoints our heads with oil, he heals us and he consecrates us, he cares for us and he chooses us to be his companions and his ambassadors.

My cup overflows, who could want for more? says David.

An overflowing cup is a sign of perfect hospitality, and a sign that your host wants you to be enjoying yourself. Too many Christians go around with long faces believing that life is meant to be a trial. David clearly didn’t thinks so, for one. He thought we should be having a ball.

6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

This isn’t something that comes and goes, it’s there all the days of my life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, till death us do part, and then for eternity.

Goodness is what we’ve been talking about, but here David introduces yet another element, mercy. Goodness is what we need, but mercy is what we long for most, to be accepted, to be forgiven, to be held in his unfailing, absolute, unconditional loving kindness. Mercy is unwarranted, mercy is unmerited, mercy is divine.

The thing is that we don’t always feel God’s goodness and mercy, we don’t always experience it. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. But that’s not God, that’s us. God is constant, WE are the ones who wax and wane.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Think about that for one moment. Think about it, to dwell in the house of the Lord. There can be no better place in the universe to live, and it’s forever, it’s permanent.

This, my friends, is our destiny. What an awesome way for David to end his song!

We have spent four sermons looking at this Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd, but the punch line, of course, was read by Tess from John 10. Jesus refers back to David’s prophetic psalm and declares “I am the good shepherd …”

In the first 6 words of this gospel, John boldly declares “In the beginning was the Word”. He was talking about Jesus. Jesus has always been, and has therefore always been the Good Shepherd. This is who David was prophetically talking about.

In conclusion can I say that in the few verses preceding Tess’s reading, in chapter 10, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees about sheep-pens and gates. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Then later, in chapter 14 he declared “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”

Maybe we’ll pick up on this thought next time.

Let’s pray …

Father, how desperately we need Your help in aligning our hearts with the truth of Your Word. With our mouths we would say that You are in the midst of the difficulties of our lives, working them together for our good, but the unease in our hearts says otherwise. Help us, O God! By the power of Your Spirit at work in us. Remove timidity and make us bold for Your kingdom. Remove doubt and unbelief and increase our faith.

Because You are our God, our refuge and strength, we will not fear even though trouble may seem to surround us. Because of Your great love for us, we know that You will rescue us. You will protect us, be with us, deliver us.

Because You are our God, and You have redeemed us and called us by name, you will be with us when we pass through the waters of adversity—we will not drown. The swift current of the trial of disappointment that we find ourselves in will not sweep us away. The fiery trial of sickness or loneliness or financial instability or will not set us ablaze!

For You are the Lord our God, the Holy One of Israel, our Saviour. Therefore, we will praise You, O Lord, with all our hearts. We will tell of all Your wonders. We will be glad and rejoice in You and sing praise to Your name. For our hope is in Your unfailing love that is at work on our behalf. Seal this work to our hearts, we pray.

In the beautiful name of the One who died to make us Yours, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday 19th June 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Psalm 23 & Matthew 4: 1-11

We’ve started to look at the topic of the early church, and that was why six weeks ago we started to meander through David’s 23rd psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd”. On the first occasion we looked at the first two verses which talk about a deeply personal relationship, a relationship of perfect trust, one that enables the shepherd to bring his sheep into a place of peace, security and nourishment, a place where we can feel God’s love for us and see our lives from His perspective.

Then, on the second occasion we saw how God wants to refresh and restore our souls by leading us in the paths of righteousness, and we saw why he does that: “For his name’s sake.”


Thank you Bridget for reading us this amazing psalm again just now. I’d like us to look now at verse 4 which says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. At this point David seems to do two things. First of all having been talking about God, he now starts to talk to God, and secondly he seems to change his focus. Having been talking about the wonderful life of a sheep in Jesus’ flock, he now seems to take a more negative stance.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley”. You may be more familiar with the King James version which says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

I have seen this described as “one of the most famous phrases in the whole of world literature”.

One of the most likely places considered to be the setting for 'The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a deep gorge in the Judean Wilderness that runs from Jerusalem down to Jericho, called the Wadi Qelt. It is a very solitary place which the prophet Jeremiah described as “the barren wilderness, … a land of deserts and ravines, a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives

Philip read for us the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and the reason that I chose that particular passage was to illustrate that Satan is a real character, and we’ll talk about him in just a moment. Coincidentally, the place where Jesus was tempted is generally considered to be a mountain which rises up out of the Judean Desert 3 kms north west of Jericho, so not a million miles from “the Valley of the Shadow of death”.

So why did David bring this gruesome place into this psalm? I want to be sensitive here. Many of us have had terrible things happen to us in our lives. Many of us have been through, or may be now going through, VERY difficult times. Just recently, Covid which forced us into seclusion and isolation, created vast physical, psychological and emotional problems for thousands and thousands of people. The war in Ukraine is creating boundless misery. Some of us have experiences premature bereavement, some of us untimely ill-health. I could go on and on.

But my point is that “stuff” happens. Why does God allow it? Good question.

Is Satan to blame? In Job’s case, yes, he certainly was, but whether or not he deliberately orchestrated this or that road accident, is another question. Most of the time these things are simply a result of the fall. Adam and Eve wanted to be able to make their own decisions and live life their way, and when everyone thinks they know best, and live according to their own priorities and agendas, there is conflict and things go badly wrong.

Personally I’m convinced that God does not deliberately cause terrible suffering, but he does USE the hard times to shape us and to equip us. Equally, I’m not sure that Satan deliberately causes these things but he does use them to taunt us and to sow doubt, mistrust, unforgiveness, and division.

But whatever the cause, we have to live with the consequences, and that can be like Jeremiah’s barren wilderness”, his “land of deserts and ravines’, his “land of drought and utter darkness”.

But, of course, the reason that David even mentions this fearsome place, is to say that even there, we need not fear.

Matthew records for us that when Jesus began to preach, he quoted a verse from Isaiah chapter 9 in which Isaiah prophesied that “the people living in darkness (would) see a great light; (for) those living in the land of the shadow of death a light (would dawn).

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” said David.

God described David as a man after his own heart, and we can see why. He knew, 110%, no question, that God not only exists, but that he looks after his children. Yes, life happens, yes, it’s tough, it’s shitty, it sucks at times, but “don’t fear”. Don’t pour another glass, don’t consult a medium or fortune teller, as so many do these days, don’t worry even. God’s in control.

Do you know this song, I wonder ?

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don't be afraid of the dark.

At the end of a storm

There's a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

For your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you'll never walk alone.

You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart.

And you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk alone.

The song was composed for a Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1945. In England it was made famous by Gerry and the Pacemakers in the early 60’s and was adopted by the fans of football clubs like Liverpool and Celtic. More recently it was re-released by Barbra Streisand as a tribute to healthcare workers and in support of COVID-19 relief.

A lot of the time the people who sing it probably don’t know how true that can be. “You'll never walk alone.”

And David is saying the same thing in Psalm 23,. “… for you are with me”. I will fear no evil, he’s saying, because you are close, because you are beside me, because you know me better than anyone on earth and because you love me completely, I will never walk alone.

And the mood of the psalm changes it goes on with another somewhat unexpected phrase, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

What’s this all about? Rods are used for beating people aren’t they? How can such a thing be comforting? I went to school before corporal punishment was abolished, and I can assure you that being beaten for one’s misdemeanors is far from comforting.


But that’s not at all what David’s talking about. A shepherd’s rod is not a stick to beat the sheep, but a weapon to defend the sheep against wild animals and predators, against the thieves and rustlers who come to steal and destroy. God is not meeting out punishment, but he’s protecting and defending us and he’ll stop at nothing to save us.

And the staff? You’ve maybe seen pictures of shepherds carrying a “crook”. Bishops carry them too. It’s a stick with a curved end. Sheep can be fairly brainless and wooly headed. They’re also prone to panic so they will go off in any direction without warning. The shepherd uses his staff to hook around the sheep’s neck and guide it painlessly back onto the right path, “the paths of righteousness” that David was talking about back in verse 3.


The Bible has a lot to say about righteousness, and it’s the path that our shepherd wants us to follow. It’s not just not being bad, it’s not even just being good, it’s more about doing good, promoting good, standing up for what’s right, helping and guiding others in the right direction.

The shepherd knows how to use these two simple tools with great skill, to protect us and keep us going in the right direction, and that IS a comfort when you think about it.

In one commentary I read this, and I think it sums up this verse very well. “God is not a punitive God. He is not about threat and punishment. … the Hebrew scriptures need to be read through the lens of this psalm and many other passages of tender love, forgiveness and protection. Here is the truth at the heart of the universe”, it said.

And I would add that this is part of the message that Christ commissioned his church to share with the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In conclusion can I say that today we’ve only covered another two verses, which leaves us two more. We’ll look at those next week, God willing, and have a chance after the service to discuss what we’ve discovered in this amazing psalm.


Sunday 12th June, 2022 - Martin Mowat

Let’s talk about breaking bread! Also called Holy Communion, the Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper, depending on your denomination and background.

To do that we must of course go back to all that happened at the Last Supper, which we also touched on last week.

It was a particularly precious time for the disciples, one that would be indelibly marked on their memories and remembered over, over and over again. Their last moments with their Master, their friend, the man they had lived with and followed for 3 years.

Several things happened during the course of that evening and they’re all relevant.

1. They relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company

2. They shared a meal that was a joyous part of an important religious festival

3. When they got into the room, Jesus washed their feet

4. As they took their places around the table, the disciple that Jesus loved sat next to him.

5. They broke bread together

6. They drank wine together

7. Jesus gave them a gift to remember him by

8. Judas snuck out and scampered off to do his dirty deed, for whatever motive we will never really know.

Let’s run down the list.

1. They relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it’s important that God be approached respectfully and treated with decorum and I respect and appreciate church liturgy, but from my reading of the Bible, from going to church for most of my 70 years, and participating in communion in all sorts of different ways, I’m not sure that we’re intended to be too po-faced about it. Most of the Jewish religion is based around feasts designed to remember, to rejoice in and to celebrate things that God has done. Communion is remembering, rejoicing in, and celebrating something that God has done, something huge, and the first time that it was ever celebrated, at the last supper, it seems to have been a very relaxed and informal affair.


2. They shared a meal that was a joyous part of an important religious festival

On this specific occasion they were celebrating Passover, and this is VERY significant. Passover was when God rescued the Israelites, his chosen people, from the clutches of the most powerful nation on Earth. Significantly, in order to demarcate where each Israelite family lived, they had to daub their doorposts with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, then they had to cook the lamb with its entrails, and they had to eat it with unleavened bread. That could be a whole sermon in its own right, but you understand, I’m sure, the significance and pertinence of those things. But the point we mustn’t miss is that they were celebrating.


3. When they got into the room, the Lord of the Universe, the Commander of Heaven’s Armies, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, got down on his knees on the floor, and washed his disciple’s feet as an example of servant leadership, and as an intimate gesture of his love for them.


4. As they took their places around the table, the disciple that Jesus loved sat next to him. This was almost certainly John but it didn’t mean that he didn’t love the others just as much. But everyone has a best friend, and that’s OK. However, I want to say that each of us is also a disciple who Jesus loves, and he wants to sit next to you and feel your nearness during these special moments. He wants you to feel his nearness too and be strengthened by that closest of relationships.

Communion can be a time when we are particularly aware of the Lord’s presence.


5. They broke bread together. As it is in France, bread was doubtless an important part of meals like that, and would have been supplied as large round flattish loaves, that were perhaps passed around the table and each person broke off as much as he wanted.


Interestingly, bread in the middle East, particularly in Arab cultures is considered to be a divine gift from God. In the Jewish culture the bread was “broken” at the beginning of the meal as a way of blessing the meal, a bit like saying “grace” perhaps, to give thanks for the meal.

As he did so often, Jesus took two very ordinary actions and used them as pictures for his disciples. This breaking and sharing were now to symbolize, for ever more, the breaking of his body on the cross, and it being shared with each one of us who wishes to participate.


Can I also say, and this may uncomfortable for some, that Jesus did not turn the bread into flesh of any kind (what the Catholic church call transubstantiation) nor did he tell anyone else to do so. None of the 3 gospel accounts give that impression.


6. They drank wine together. Wine was safer to drink that water, because the alcohol killed the bugs, and it was perfectly normal to drink it with food, not just at parties or religious feasts. Perhaps because of its colour, Jesus used it to provide them with a visual reminder of the sacrificial blood that he was about to spill, blood that would signify not death but sacrifice, spiritual cleansing, salvation, rebirth, new beginnings.


Again, Jesus did not turn the wine into blood. All he said, according to Luke for example, was “take this and divide it among you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.


This, Jesus said, was to be the symbol of a new covenant. What’s a covenant? A pact, a treaty, an understanding, an agreement, a contract sometimes.


7. Jesus gave them a gift to remember him by, when he said “Do this in remembrance of me.” That’s the point. It’s not the ceremony, it’s the remembrance. “Do this whenever you break it”, he said, which, in that culture, would have been almost whenever they ate.

“Twice, three times a day, remember me.” Not just in church, not just once a week or once a month, but in your homes, not just with a priest or a licensed chaplain, but when you’re together. Even on a picnic for example, why not? What a gift.


8. Judas snuck out and scampered off to do his dirty deed, for whatever motive we will never really know. This is a part of the story that we don’t really like to talk about. How could he? I mean, how could he be with Jesus for 3 years, and then do such a terrible thing. I mean, inconceivable, unreal, daaa!


But he did, and that’s the sobering thing. He was disappointed because things weren’t going the way he thought they should. And so could we in similar times of frustration and despair.

Afterwards Judas was so disgusted with himself that he committed suicide by hanging himself in a tree, but he needn’t have, because no matter how heinous our wrongdoings, how disgusting, how selfish, how thoughtless, how revolting, in Jesus there is always forgiveness, if we will seek him out and repent, just as there was for Peter when he denied him, not once but three times.

Peter went on to be one of the pillars of the church. So could we.

So, in conclusion then, about communion, yes, let’s treat it with respect but let’s not get over-religious about it. Let’s even be a bit adventurous, occasionally, about how we do it in such a way as to keep it meaningful.

Covid doesn’t help, of course, when it comes to being spontaneous, but it has taught us to be more mindful of each other in terms of hygiene. And so the use of our little wine cups is probably here to stay.

We can however pass the elements around and offer them to each other in a meaningful way.

The bread today will come in two formats and you may choose either or neither according to your preference. Some has been careful prepared beforehand, and some will be broken, and you break off a little piece for yourself as it’s passed round. The significant thing as that all the bread will have come from the same loaf.

CONCLUSION

So that’s why in our communion prayer we say that we do it in obedience, in remembrance, and in gratitude.

Let me close by reading you Acts 2:42-47, The Fellowship of the Believers

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

~~~~~

Sunday 5th June, 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Acts 1:4-11 Acts 2:1-12


Ten days ago, the church celebrated the Ascension, today it celebrates Pentecost. These are two hugely important events because they had a fundamental effect on the life of the early church, which is our subject at the moment, so it would be good to take the time to think about what happened on those two occasions, how, why, and to what consequence. Let’s pray….

I want to focus this morning on some conversations that the apostle John recorded for us in his gospel, in which Jesus talked about what would happen at the end of his ministry, and where he was going. I guess that it was quite a hot topic of conversation amongst the disciples, so these are certainly only a sample.

We find the first in chapter 8. After the Pharisees had brought Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery, he had an argument with them because they said to him that his own testimony, about who he was, wasn’t valid. Part of his response was to say “I know where I came from and where I am going, but you have no idea where I came from or where I am going. …. I am going away, and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.

This made them think that perhaps he was going to commit suicide, but no, he explained. The reason was “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”

The point Jesus was making, of course, was that if people die in their sins, they will be unable to go to heaven. More on that in a second.

Next, in Chapter 13. At the last supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and had a difference of opinion with Peter about it. Peter, you remember, felt very uncomfortable about his teacher and mentor doing such a menial job, when if anything, it should have been the other way around. During the ensuing conversation Jesus predicts both his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and then his denial by Peter, and it was in this context that he said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

This time he was talking to the disciples, not the Pharisees. The disciples, having given their lives to Jesus wouldn’t be dying in their sins. Jesus’ point, of course, is that if we believe in him, we WILL follow him to heaven.

The conversation about where he was going continues in the next chapter, in which Jesus makes things very clear indeed. He said that he was going and prepare a place for them, that he would come back and take them to be with him so that they also would be where he was. You know the way to the place where I am going” he reminded them. And then he had that famous conversation with dear Thomas in which Thomas said “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” He was just so like we would be, wasn’t he?

Then Jesus, almost appearing to twist his answer, says to him so famously, and I’m paraphrasing a little, “Thomas, I am the way, and what’s more I’m also the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, then you know my Father as well. From this very moment, you do know him. Because you’ve seen me you’ve seen him.”

And then I just love what Philip said next, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Think about that. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” He still hasn’t quite got it in his head, but his heart is just WIDE open. Is yours ?

But there was yet another conversation that John recorded for us. It’s in chapter 16 and I’d love to read you the whole chapter, but permit me just an extract. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me;10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

And so, finally, Jesus left them. He didn’t just disappear like a ghost. He didn’t just walk off into the sunset. He rose vertically from the ground, and he rose, and rose, and rose. To make it even more dramatic two angels appeared and started admonishing them for standing and gaping with their mouths open.

This was real, it was visible. This was recorded, this was epic, dramatic, this had a clear life-changing message, this was quite literally “biblical” in proportion, and people have been talking about it ever since.

So let’s move on and think about Pentecost for a few minutes. I have a brother and sister who are 11 and 9 years older than I am, and a younger sister who is 2 years my younger. When we were young I remember that there were occasions when my parents took my elder 2 siblings on holiday and left my sister and me at home. But that was OK, because there was a lovely young woman called Phyllis who lived with us and looked after us, and as far as I remember we had a good time too.

But being abandoned is something that all of us fear, particularly when we’re young, so it’s no surprise that the disciples were so concerned about what was going to happen. Not only was Jesus their guide and their mentor, he was their protector. He was the one who took all the flak from the Scribes and Pharisees, and who came up with all the brilliant answers

So let’s go back now to our conversations in John chapters 14 and 16, where we saw that Jesus reassured them that he wouldn’t leave them stranded. “I will send an advocate” he told them, “a comforter, the Holy Spirit”.

And he did. Jess read about it in Acts 2. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.


It all sounds very dramatic, and it was. It all sounds a bit worrying too because we’re not all comfortable with the idea of signs and wonders and speaking in tongues, though to be honest we should be. But I don’t want to be led down that road today.

“What was going on?” and “Why?” is what we’re most interested in this morning.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. But this wasn’t his first appearance. He was present at creation. He had been part of the Trinity since the very beginning. It’s more as if, now that Jesus, God the Son, also present at creation and part of the Trinity since the very beginning, God the Son having paid the ultimate price for man to have the option of eternal salvation, God the Holy Spirit was to have a more hands-on role to play in the future.


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus had said to his disciples. (Acts 1:8)

Jesus discerned that they would need power, why? Because he wanted them to be the living stones that he would use to build his church and he wanted them to be his witnesses.

The Holy Spirit would also “teach” them, we heard earlier, and “guide them into all the truth”. He would “Testify about him”, he would be their “Advocate” someone who stands in the gap. It’s the person who defends you in court, who pleads your case. According to the dictionary it’s also “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”.

And he would “baptise” them, immerse them, soak them, fill them to overflowing, …

This too was real and visible, this too was recorded, this too was epic and dramatic, this too had a clear life-changing message, this too was quite literally “biblical” in proportion, and people have been talking about this ever since, as well.

“To what consequence?” we said we would ask, and with this I’ll close.

That first Pentecost was just the beginning. We read about the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament, and throughout the history of Christ’s church to this day.

A few dismayed, frightened, lost, confused, uncertain men and women literally changed the course of world history. The spread of Christianity around the globe has changed people and the course of events wherever it has spread. Those few people, and those who came after them became, bold, purposeful, clear-thinking and focused. They had a vision, and a mission. They had a goal, they had a church to build, they had a message of hope and peace and good news to convey, they had care and aid to bring to those in need.


They had a burning fire in their hearts that had been put there by the only person who could, God himself, they were fueled and empowered by his Holy Spirit, and they had the Risen Ascended Lord Jesus Christ as their leader.

And WE are their inheritors. WE are their successors. Let’s pray ….


~~~~~


Sunday 15th May, 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Psalm 23 & Ephesians 1:1-10

Two weeks ago, we started to look at the topic of “church”, but strangely we did so by starting to meander through David’s 23rd psalm. We just looked at the first two verses.

We saw that it talks about a relationship which is deeply personal, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and that it’s a relationship of perfect trust, one that enables the shepherd to bring his sheep into a place of peace, security and nourishment, a place where we can feel God’s love for us and see our lives from His perspective.

If you remember, we ended up last time on the shore of a lake in the Swiss Alps where there wasn’t a breath of wind and the surface of the “quiet waters” was reflecting the mountains, the sky and the heavens. A bit figurative perhaps, but you got the point that I was trying to make, I’m sure.


Before we continue, lets pray …

In the KJV the next phrase, “He restoreth my soul” starts a new sentence, but in the NIV, where it is rendered “he refreshes my soul”, it’s part of the sentence that says “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

So in a way we could have just rolled it into what we were saying about quiet waters, and the refreshment he give us along life’s sometimes tough and thirsty way, but actually there’s more, because the KJV talks about “restoration” rather than refreshment, and it also introduces the notion of “soul”.

The Hebrew word that David used for soul was “nefesh” and it means, apparently, “all of us”, our body, mind, spirit, personality, consciousness, everything that makes us who we are, so what David’s talking about is, effectively, our identity.

In an ideal situation, all of those elements are in perfect balance and in perfect health, but of course we know that that is rarely the case, and so refreshment and restoration are both very much needed.

When we bought the house we live in now it seemed to be in quite good condition, and apart from needing a new roof, it was. But it had been abandoned in the 1960s seems to have been unoccupied for quite a time until it was bought and “restored” by a plasterboard fitter. His idea of restoration was to fit a plasterboard box inside the stone shell, thereby hiding all the imperfections, but with it all the character.


By judicious removing of some of that plasterboard, and repairing the beautiful stone walls behind it, we have been able to restore some of that original character.

Restoration is not about hiding things away, but that’s what we all tend to do. We put up screens to hide our imperfections, we employ all sorts of ways to cover the scars of life, the bad habit’s we have adopted, the dark secrets we have acquired, the relationship problems we have fallen into, etc., etc.

But if we let God restore our souls, he puts EVERYTHING back in balance. He heals the hurts, he rights the wrongs, he makes us beautiful again, the way he created it to be.

The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, but sometimes, looking at us, you’d need a lot of imagination to see God’s image. “He restores my soul.” “He restores His image in me.” “He restores my true identity.” And when we allow him to do that, when we reflect his personality, his love for his creation, we can be his witnesses, and we can be his church.

“He restores my soul.” And then it goes on to say “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.”

There’s a lot in this verse, so it’s as far as we are going to get today, I’m afraid.

We could start with the first three words. “He leads me.” But we’ve talked about how the shepherds lead, and the sheep follow. We’ve talked about this being something individual, personal, special, relational, but perhaps we haven’t mentioned that following someone also implies that we follow His example, we adopt his values, his priorities, his standards of justice.

We could talk about paths, and quote Psalm 119 which says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”, and we could cite Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” But rich as those verses are, let’s stick to our psalm.

There is so much in our world today that is dark and patently unrighteous. The war in Ukraine, the exploitation, the rape, the human trafficking. There’s the blatant disregard for truth and integrity that we see in so many politicians and business leaders. There’s the misuse of social networks by the so-called trolls, the unfair distribution of wealth and resources, the blatant abuse of our planet. The list goes on and on.

Those things are unrighteous and unrighteousness is easy to recognise, easy to define, but righteousness is less straightforward, and the “ways of righteousness” can seem a rather vague concept.

One dictionary definition I found says that Righteousness is the quality of being virtuous, honorable, or morally right. It can also refer to such behavior. Righteousness is the noun form of the adjective righteous. Being righteous means doing what is right.”

I like to tell Charlotte that when I was at school I never did anything wrong, but of course that’s far from the truth. And in a way we all do that. We like to think that we are all basically good and that we do indeed “do what is right”. But the reality is that we compromise left, right and centre. We justify the ways that we give in to temptation, what we watch and listen to, all sorts of things, and in so doing we stifle our own consciences, thus becoming less spiritually alive than we should be.

But God wants to lead us in the paths of righteousness.

In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, we were reminded that a person is not righteous in God's eyes because of his choice or commitment, his good works or his piety, his emotions or intellect, or his good behaviour. Instead, he is righteous because “before the creation of the world he was chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight-,”

One commentary on Psalm 23 that I read says this. “He will lead me in the right paths, he will forgive me for all of the wrong paths I have taken. He will never let me go finally astray because of His eternal love for me and because He has chosen me to be an ambassador for His true character. This is our destiny, to become like Him.

“He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness”. Why ? According to the psalmist David “For his names sake.”

And what does “for his name’s sake” mean? What’s in a name?, in other words. And maybe you’re thinking “daaaaa, we all know what a name is”, but wait.

Your name is not just what people call you, it embodies everything you are. We were talking about it earlier when we were talking about our souls. God’s name represents EVERYTHING that he is. So he is going to make sure that we lack nothing, he’s going to make us lie down in green pastures, to lead us beside quiet waters, to refresh and restore our souls, and guide us along the paths of righteousness, to build his church, for the sake of everything that he is.

Let me just finish by telling you about an email that I received on Thursday from a very good friend of mine, Mally, who’s a pastor in Paris. He wanted to share the story of an American student there who had been struggling with deep self-doubt, shame and worthlessness. She had resorted to substance abuse to numb the pain and was also heavily into alcohol, and self-harm. When she hit rock bottom she happened upon a mini New Testament that had been given to her by a taxi driver in South Africa 5 years ago. As she started to read it she had a sensation of being loved and valued like never before. For the first time in her life, she cried out to God and asked him to speak to her clearly.

Aubrey’s parents are not Christians, nor was she, so it is most unlikely that she had ever read, let alone memorized, any of the Old Testament, so can you guess what God said to her?

He said very clearly, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

That changed her life, she has become a Christian and on Wednesday Mally baptised her in an inflatable paddling pool that her parents brought with them all the way from California for the occasion. Aubrey now has a sense of value that she had never had, and a certain knowledge that God had chosen her personally, and for a purpose.


~~~~~

Sunday 1st May, 2022 - Martin Mowat

Reading 1: Psalm 23. Reading 2: John 10: 9 - 18

We’ve spent a few months studying Jesus’ ministry, and said that we would move on to something different. That’s quite appropriate now that Easter is behind us.

Or is it behind us? No, not quite. We’re in a sort of limbo, a time of 40 days when Jesus was alive again, he’d come back from the dead, and although he appeared and disappeared at will, almost as if he was a ghost, when people touched him he was real, he was flesh and blood, he ate meals with them. He was risen!

But what I suggest is that we look at all that when we celebrate his ascension in a few weeks’ time.

I said that we’re going to start looking at the topic of “church”, and I touched on it a few weeks ago. We were reminded that the church was Jesus’ idea, and he made it very clear that he was going to build it. If you remember, we worked word by word through Jesus’ statement “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Four weeks ago, Jess also gave us a fascinating history of the church which caused me, for one, to ask the question “why”? “Why” have so many people, over such a long period of time, poured so much time, so much energy and so much money into the church? And not only that, they’ve fought for it, given their lives for it, divided families for it, gone into monastic orders for it. I could go on. If you weren’t here that Sunday, I’m sure that Jess will be only too happy to send you a copy, or you can find it on our internet site, as well as the Easter Day message.

Today, and this might seem a little bit “off the wall” I want to suggest that David’s 23rd psalm, so beautifully read for us by xxx, can give us a few clues about what church is and what it should look like.

Psalm 23 is certainly one of the best known, if not THE best known of all the Psalms and it starts off with those immortal words “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”. That’s the KJV, the NIV says “I lack nothing”, the God’s Word version “I am never in need” and the Good News even says “I have everything I need”.

This psalm is so rich, and so pertinent, so relevant to our personal situations, as well as to our church, any church for that matter, that I think we shouldn’t rush through it. So let’s just take our time today with the first few verses, and then pick up where we left off next time.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“I want.” How many times have we heard our children and grandchildren say “I want”? Sometimes they go even further and say “I need”. “I need” an ice cream, “I need” a new pair of latest fashion jeans, “I need” an iPad, …. But let’s be honest with ourselves, we do it too, “I need” another drink, “I need” a bigger garden, “I need” a more powerful computer, “I need” a faster car, ….

As a parent we think we know and understand what children really need, and we try not to acquiesce to all the “I want”s, though sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds, but let’s not digress!

As I’ve said before, I know, a shepherd knows his sheep, he really knows them, and he provides for them, sacrificially sometimes, so that they lack nothing, “no good thing”. That’s his job, it’s his mission in life, it’s his ministry, it’s the thing that brings him the greatest joy, the most fulfilment.

David was a shepherd himself, for many years. There was nothing about the life of a shepherd that he didn’t know intimately.

And David, the shepherd, had a shepherd of his own. “The Lord is my shepherd”, he said.

Jesus knew all about sheep and shepherds too, which is why he told that beautiful parable about the good shepherd who left the 99 to go out and search for that one lost sheep. She was brought back, safely, and was also able to say “I lack no good thing”. It’s a beautiful picture of what a church should be like.

In our second reading from John 10, we heard Jesus say “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and … so when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

He said that to warn us that unfortunately, in the church, there would be good shepherds and bad shepherds, that some church leaders would be uncaring, some would be controlling, manipulating, even exploitative. That’s bad news for the church, it’s totally counter-productive and it does no favours for its reputation. You may have come across some of those people, you may even have been hurt by one or more of those people, and if that’s the case, then I am deeply sorry. If you ever need someone to talk to about that, do please come and see me.

But Jesus is the good shepherd, and the true example for the leaders of his church. It’s because he is the “Good Shepherd” that church is possible. It’s because He loves and cares for each of us so tenderly and so completely that church is possible. It’s because he knows that sheep are wooly headed and wander off and so need rescuing and bringing home, need his love and his care, that church has a context, a raison d’être.

When I was a child, growing up on the farm, and we went to get the sheep from the field in order to take them to the farm buildings for one reason or another, we would go around behind them and goad them forward from behind. But the shepherds that Jesus was talking about didn’t do it like that. In the Middle East the shepherds lead from the front, and the sheep follow. They follow because they know that the shepherd loves them, cares for them, provides for them, and that he can be trusted, ABSOLUTELY. They know his voice, and when he calls, they come to him voluntarily, willingly.

I may have told you that, at night, to protect the sheep from predators, and so that the shepherds can take it in turns to get some sleep, they will often put several flocks into the same stone-walled enclosure. You would think that the sheep would get all muddled up, and they do. But in the morning, when each shepherd calls his sheep, they split up and follow their own shepherd. I can imagine that it’s an amazing sight.

The Lord is MY shepherd. This is personal. Jesus knows you, he loves you, he cares for you, he knows what’s best for you, he will go ahead of you, he will lead you, and you will not want. And that brings us onto the next verse of our psalm.


He makes me lie down in green pastures. Sheep need a sheepfold, somewhere where they are protected, and where they feel secure, and that’s why Jesus said that he would build his church.

The green pastures that David is talking about, though, are not church, but they’re a place where church is possible in an atmosphere of love and safety.

Safety is a rare commodity these days. Wars, famine, politics, abuse, poor parenting, psychological disorders, ill-health and an overloaded health-care network, the list is endless of things that rob us of our security and safety, of a feeling of well-being.

The Lord is my Shepherd, he makes me lie down. David’s psalm is a wonderful word picture because, interestingly, sheep only lie down when they feel safe. The Lord has created a safe space, just for you, because he loves you. It’s a green pasture, a place where you can lie down, rest, de-stress, chew the cud, feel valued and protected, spend time with Him.

It’s a place where you can see the world from a different perspective, from His perspective, from a place where there’s nothing to fear, a moment when you don’t have to go anywhere, do anything, make any decisions, where there is peace, where you are safe.

It’s a place where you feel God’s love for you. It’s a place where you KNOW his love. He has led you here and he just wants to “love on you” as the Americans would say, to spoil you, to let you know how precious you really are to him. A place where you can take off that burden you’ve been carrying around, you can release that hatred and unforgiveness, you can enjoy the grass and the wild flowers, the birds and the insects, enjoy the view, enjoy the company, sleep and dream.

It’s a place of spiritual healing, a place where you can re-orientate your life, a place where you can begin to grow again.

And finally for today, He leads me beside quiet waters.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I would be very surprised if it were not true that sheep prefer to drink still water.

All living beings need fresh clean water to drink. And while some of the younger generation might contest this statement, all living beings need peace and quiet, need to be still from time to time.

The place beside still waters is a very special place. It’s a place of refreshment along life’s path, a place where your spiritual thirst can be satisfied, it’s a place away from the turmoil, it’s a place of beauty.

Charlotte and I like to take holidays in the car. We even drove to Venice for our honeymoon. Well, of course we didn’t drive around Venice itself in the car! Believe it or not the car broke down as we were driving into London on our wedding night. The clutch went, and so our drive to Venice was delayed 24 hours while we got it fixed, but that’s another story. The point of my telling you this is that on the way back through the Alps we stayed in a hotel on the edge of a lake. While we were having breakfast in the hotel dining room, overlooking the lake, there wasn’t a breath of wind and the lake was perfectly still as an Osprey was catching his breakfast too. It was breathtakingly beautiful, so peaceful. The surface of the lake was a mirror reflecting the mountains and the sky.

Still waters, a reflection, a glimpse of heaven. Dare I say that church could, should, be a glimpse of heaven too.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

Isn’t this a fabulous psalm? And it has a lot more for us. Do please read it at home.

SUNDAY 17th APRIL 2022 - EASTER MESSAGE - Martin Mowat

Reading 1: John 20: v 1 - 10. Reading 2: John 20: v 11 - 18

Christmas Day and Easter Day are clearly the two biggest events in the Christian calendar, and for very good reason. Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, of the Messiah, of God incarnate, come to save his people. And Easter, even more gloriously, celebrates the accomplishment of EVERYTHING that he came to do and to achieve.

Those of us who have been working through the Lent Study Course have been reminded that Jesus, although divine, was also VERY human. He felt and experienced everything that we ever will, and far more. We saw the mounting pressure and stress on him during his last weeks and days evidenced by the way that he snapped at the poor fig tree that had no fruit. We considered the bitter-sweet of the last supper, the pain of the betrayal, his anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, and finally the desperation of the cross.

We finished up by looking at the reaction of some of the people who actually witnessed all of that play out, the spectators, the soldiers, the other two poor victims, the centurion who said “Surely, this man was a righteous man”, Jesus’ friends and family.

But all of that is behind us now. A new day has dawned and the tomb is empty.

Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Salome had gone to the tomb, taking spices to anoint his dead body, wondering how on earth they were going to be able to shift the great stone that had been placed, and sealed, across the entrance. But they needn’t have worried, of course, because what did they find? The grave was wide open, the grave cloths empty and laid neatly where the body had been, and an angel. What a sight for their poor eyes!

Mark 16:9 tells us that “when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had driven seven demons” and that she then went and told the others.

‘I have seen the Lord,’ she exclaimed. ‘I have seen the Lord!’

A simple statement, but it says so much.

Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. On his own way there he met up with two believers, Cleopas and his friend, who were on their way home to Emmaus, about 12 kilometers from Jerusalem. This is a particularly lovely story, so real, and it’s only Luke who gives it to us.

They had seen everything that happened 3 days earlier, and one can only wonder about what was going through their minds. We know that their faces were downcast, so was it disappointment, was it even despair, or was there still an element of hope?


As they walked, they discussed these things with each other, and then Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him, the Bible says.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they were told that Jesus was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

They mentioned the fact that it was the third day since the crucifixion had taken place, so must have expected something to happen. They had heard that the women had found the tomb empty, and had seen angels who had said he was alive.

Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

They were obviously enjoying Jesus’ company and his teaching them about all the messianic prophecies, so much in fact that they persuaded him to stay with them overnight so that their conversation could continue over supper.

When he was at the table with them,” Luke tells us, “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Then apparently, they got up at once and returned to Jerusalem in order to find the remaining eleven disciples, and those with them, and tell them that it was, after all, true! The Lord had risen, he had walked with them, he had talked to them, and he had broken bread with them.

‘We have seen the Lord,’ they exclaimed. ‘We have seen the Lord!’

Let’s consider also John’s story about Thomas.

On that same evening, the disciples were cowering behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders, when Jesus came and stood among them and showed them his hands and side. Needless to say, they were not only astounded but overjoyed when they saw him.

But Thomas, for some strange reason, was not with them, so, when they saw him later they told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But you’ve heard the story. He wouldn’t believe them unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes. He wanted to be able to say for himself “I have seen the Lord!”

But it was a whole week later that Thomas, with the disciples again behind locked doors, did in fact encounter the risen Jesus, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” he was told.

Thomas hardly knew what to say, “My Lord and my God!” he stuttered, and Jesus responded, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What was it that Cleopas said to his friend? “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road”.

It’s perhaps unlikely that any of us will see Jesus this side of the grave, though sometimes we can catch a glimpse of him in each other, but we can hear his voice, and it will burn within us when we do so. As we pray, as we read his Word, he will speak to us, reveal himself to us, teach us, encourage us, ….

Let’s listen carefully, and then even if we can’t say, like Mary Magdalen “I have seen the Lord”, we will be able to say like Cleopas “I have heard the Lord”.

SUNDAY 3rd APRIL 2022 – Jess Jephcott

Reading 1: Psalm 2. Reading 2: Matthew 16 v 13 – 30

2000 years of Christian Belief: Why are we here, in this building today? Why do Christians, all over the world, gather to worship God in buildings like this? Well, didn’t Jesus asked Peter to build his church? Well yes - and no. The New Testament was written in Greek, the authors of it wrote in Greek even when it wasn't the language they spoke, thus ensuring that their manuscripts could be widely read and passed on to future generations. The personal name of Peter comes from the Greek word ‘petros’, a pebble or stone. Jesus pronounced a blessing upon Peter and proclaimed Peter's answer as having been derived by divine inspiration. He then stated (Matt. 16 v 18), “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” In a tradition of the early Church, Peter is said to have founded the Church in Rome, with Paul, served as its bishop, authored two epistles, and then met martyrdom there, along with Paul. Known to us today, of course, as St Peter and St Paul. For 2000 years, scholars have been analysing, interpreting, conjecturing, pontificating perhaps, about the true meaning of what is written in the Bible. It can’t have helped our own scholars that the Bible wasn’t written in English, so there has always been that possible ‘lost in translation’ factor.

RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD: Over these two millennia, Christ’s church has grown enormously, with Christianity arguably the largest religion in the world, with some 2 billion followers. It is closely followed by another of the three main Abrahamic religions, that of Islam, with an estimated 1.8 billion adherents. In terms of adherents, Judaism follows along behind. We have come a long way, for sure.

CHRISTIANITY: As we all know, Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Its largest groups are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and the Protestant churches, and Christianity’s sacred text is the Bible. Christ’s teachings have spread across the world, often through missionaries and colonisers, but has also been embraced by people whose ancestors had been violently removed from their countries and sold as slaves in the Americas.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE IN THIS TIME?: So, what has happened during this span of time, as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday next week and, the most important of all festivals in the Christian calendar, Easter, the following week? What I would like to offer here is a commentary on Christ’s legacy; an insight into what we have done with almost 2000 years of our incredible Christian heritage. We cannot be sure of precise dates; we can’t even agree on the year that Christ was born, let alone the day of the week. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Astronomers have even sought to pinpoint the date through the movement of the stars. We take this year of 2022 as that number of years, ‘anno domini’, since Christ’s birth; it is a numbering system that has been faithfully used ever since, and adopted by most countries in the world today. We know that Jesus died at the age of 33, because the Bible says that Jesus started to serve and teach at the age of 30, and that he served for three years, which means that he was 33 when he was sacrificed. Pontius Pilate served as the prefect of Judaea from 26 to 36 AD. So, there is no precise dating evidence to be had there either. Again, I am not here to add to the dating confusion of the ‘ancients’. What I really want to share with you is an overview of what we have done with Christ’s legacy during these two millennia.

AFTER CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION: As we know, after Christ’s death, his disciples went into hiding, fearful of being accused of being one of Jesus’ followers. As Jesus foretold, Peter would deny knowing him, three times, before the cock crowed. Peter was, of course, forgiven. While the gospels of Matthew and Mark end shortly after the Resurrection, Luke and John provide extra detail about what Jesus did during the time between his Resurrection and his ascent into Heaven. Matthew and Mark both close with the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to go out into the world and spread the good news of salvation: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) This passage has long been the basis of the Christian emphasis on sharing the Gospel with the world through evangelism and missionary work. 3 Mark and Luke describe Jesus’ departure from Earth into Heaven, “taken up into heaven”, after speaking to his disciples one final time. It is clear, from the gospel accounts, that the story of Jesus, reaches its culmination with the Resurrection. But the scraps we do get about the post-Resurrection days, not only satisfy some of our curiosity about how Jesus’ Resurrection was received by his followers, but also give us the evangelistic direction that guides Christians to this day.

ST PAUL: St Paul brought Christianity to people some time later. His conversion was, according to the New Testament, an event in the life of Saul of Tarsus/Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus.

THE CHURCH OF ROME: Both Peter and Paul, regarded as the chief apostles, are generally recognised as founders of the Church of Rome, and therefore also, its line of bishops. Why Rome? Why not Jerusalem? The Romans had destroyed the Jewish (and Christian) temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, followed by the building of a Roman colony over the ruins; the building of a temple to the Roman god Jupiter was built on the Temple Mount, and a statue of Venus was built on Calvary. Every effort to wipe out the memory of the city as Jewish (and Christian) was made. Had this not happened, it is likely that Jerusalem, not Rome, would have maintained primacy. At the very least, it may have been regarded as co-equal. Of course, Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and that was the reason for the Church of Rome being where it was, and still is today. It wasn’t until the death of the Emperor Constantius in the 4th century AD that his wife, Helena, a Christian, persuaded her son Constantine, the new emperor, to embrace Christianity and to make his new empire, Christian. No more worshipping of pagan gods. I could talk much more about this time in our Christian heritage, but perhaps we should save that for another day - the Nicene Creed, the fall of Jerusalem to the caliphate in 630, the development of doctrine and practice of the Holy Roman Catholic Church that ensued, etc, etc. Here, in Mirepoix, in a region that became known as the Land of the Cathars, we are in a building dedicated to the Roman soldier, St Maurice, which had its foundation stone laid in 1298. Its beginnings more than seven centuries ago. The people of Mirepoix have been celebrating our Christian heritage continuously, here, since that time.

ST AUGUSTINE: But, we are the English Speaking Church of Mirepoix, so we are inevitably more familiar with our British Christian heritage. My home town of Colchester is the location of the earliest known Christian church in Britain, dating from the 330 period, from when Constantine became emperor of Rome. Archaeologists noted how, before around that date, the north to south facing burial traditions of the pagan Romano-British people that populated the colonia there, changed to the east to west orientation used by Christians, facing Jerusalem, as it still is today. Old habits die hard, and some of those early Christian burials were found to have grave goods for the afterlife, more associated with pagan worship. The Jewish Sabbath was no longer to be used as the day of rest. Instead, Sunday was chosen, as it involved an easy change for the sun worshipping pagans. Christmas Day was decided as working well with the winter solstice, another pagan festival day that would be an easy swap. Easter wasn’t so easy to fix, and we all know it today to be a ‘moveable feast’ day! In AD 597, Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to Britain. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. It is said that Gregory had been struck by the beauty of Angle slaves he saw for sale in the city market and despatched Augustine and some monks to convert them to Christianity. Gradually, Christianity was spreading across Europe, and beyond. So much so that, around 663, was held the Synod of Whitby, a meeting held by the Christian Church of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, to decide whether to follow the Celtic or the Roman Christian usages. The decision led to the acceptance of Roman usage, rather than the Celtic form of Christianity that had developed over the centuries. To cut a long and interesting story short, the bishops were squabbling; the Pope in Rome was not happy. Their big problem was, how Easter was being calculated in Britain, in a different manner than that used in Rome. Iona, Lindisfarne, St Columbus, St Patrick, Bishop Aidan, Bede, etc, etc. Monasteries, friaries, nunneries, Augustinians, Benedictines, Greyfriars, Jesuits, etc. began to find their own styles of worshipping God. So, Britain had deferred to the Church of Rome’s direction – until Henry the 8th started to have marital difficulties. But, that is another story.

What would Jesus have made of it all?

LANGUEDOC: Nearer to us here, in the Middle Ages, France was convulsed by a crusade between the Catholic church and Christians, who called themselves Cathars. The Cathars rejected many core Catholic beliefs. Indeed, today, we live here in France in what is known as ‘The Land of the Cathars’. And so it was that the Pope Innocent the third declared a crusade again Catharism. It was a brutal business. The massacre at Beziers in 1209, brought about that famous reply from the Abbot of Citeaux, who, when asked about saving the Catholics that were in the city along 5 with the Cathars, replied, ‘kill them all; God will know his own’. Some 20,000 people were slaughtered and the city destroyed – in the name of God. Indeed, only three years earlier, Mirepoix was visited by some 600 Cathars - that is, where Mirepoix used to be located. In 1289, a dam in nearby Puivert burst, and old Mirepoix was destroyed by the ensuing flood. Thus we have our wonderful cathedral here, as a result, built in many different stages over the ensuing centuries. A magnificent example of the many cathedrals and churches that were built by rich and powerful Christian men, all over Europe. We think of the Crusades as a Christian versus Muslim thing – but it was also a Christian versus Christian affair. In the Baltics and Russia, Catholic knights fought the Eastern Orthodox Church. While in modern Turkey, the Fourth Crusade saw crusaders smash up the Christian city of Constantinople. Even today, we have Christians killing Christians in Ukraine. But perhaps the most terrifying of all, was the pope’s decision to crush the Cathar heresy, here in southern France.

What would Jesus have made of it all?

THE NORMAN CONQUEST: The Norman Conquest in England in 1066 saw the building of many cathedrals and churches, my old church in Fordham, Essex, being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. With them, the Normans brought great change. The Danes became Normans, adhering to Christianity and abandoning their prior pagan traditions and nasty habits. The English language today is predominantly Norman French, with some German and Old English thrown in. Arguably, the Normans brought order to a troubled isle. In the case of their church, one of the ways that William the Conqueror got the pope to go along with his conquest of England was by promising to impose a complete reorganisation of the English Church and reform the ‘irregularities’ of the Anglo-Saxon Church, which had developed its own distinctive customs. Even though bishoprics existed, worship was very ‘localised’, with many small Saxon churches serving the local population. After the conquest, not only were the vast majority of clerical positions filled by Normans but they built massive stone churches, to imply that their spiritual power was as great as their temporal one. William’s first Archbishop of Canterbury, a monk named Lanfranc, instituted reforms within the priesthood itself as well, including requiring celibacy of all priests. The next few centuries brought the whole of Europe thousands of wonderful Gothic style church buildings, just like the one we are sitting in today, with its largest in France, central arch. Westminster Abbey, the cathedrals of Salisbury, Gloucester, Worcester, York Minster, etc, in England. Beauvais, Rheims, Notre Dame, etc. in France. A beautiful Christian legacy to be enjoyed for many more centuries, we must hope.

THE ENGLISH BIBLE: William Caxton brought the printing press to England in the 1470s, which paved the way for the ordinary man and woman to be able to own a bible, written in English. William Tyndale’s Bible of the 1520s, was the first English language Bible to appear in print. During the 1500s, the very idea of an English language Bible was shocking and subversive. For centuries, the English Church had been governed from Rome, and church services were by law conducted in Latin.

DISSENT: Martin Luther, a German monk, forever changed Christianity when he nailed his '95 Theses' to a church door in 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation. He wanted to place the Bible into the hands of ordinary Christians. He translated it from Latin into German. Our own Henry the Eighth was a devout Roman Catholic who, as we all should know, had six wives. Unfortunately, the Pope didn’t agree with Henry over the matter of divorce, and so Henry separated from Rome and created the Church of England, placing himself at its head. Not surprisingly, this caused a great deal of upset in Europe, which led to wars and many deaths, not least with a few heads of wives and enemies being removed. He was responsible for the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the emergence of many different non-conformist sects. Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Puritans, New Jerusalemites, Muggletonians (look it up), to name but a very few. Not to mention, of course, those deemed as heretics and burned at the stake, martyred for their Christian faith, by Christians who believed they were doing God’s work. What would Jesus have made of all this - all done in His/God’s name? We had Huguenots, who were French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who followed the teachings of theologian John Calvin. Persecuted by the French Catholic government during a violent period, Huguenots fled the country in the 17th century, creating Huguenot settlements all over Europe, and further afield.

HYMNS: Without a doubt though, a steadying factor in all of this Christian turmoil was the appearance of hymns, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer. Isaac Watts, born in 1674, was arguably the Father of the Hymn, an English Congregational minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. We have been truly blessed with the hymns that we have to sing today, thanks to the divine inspiration of generations of hymn writers that have followed in Isaac Watts' footsteps. On that note, pardon the pun, I will start to draw this discourse to a close. Some of you may think I have left out some important historical figures during it - great preachers, such as, Wesley, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, etc. who, together with the great hymn writers, have shaped the way that English speaking Christians worship God today. Let us reflect on how 2000 years of Christianity has changed the world and us. How, despite the many evil acts done by evil men (and occasionally women) along the way, it has overwhelmingly triumphed by bringing God’s love for us through it all, for us to learn from and to enjoy, to thank God for, and for us to pass on to future generations. When I first mentioned the theme of this talk to my lady, she, very quickly, suggested Psalm 2, for our first reading today. Insisted even. An uncanny relevance? No. A Divine relevance. This psalm is God speaking to us. Guiding us. Teaching us. So, this is why we are here today, in this beautiful chapel? Are we not here in solidarity with God’s teaching, through his son Jesus Christ, our saviour? We faithfully come to hear the word of God, to learn, to confess our sins, to ask forgiveness, to share communion, as Jesus asked his disciples to do all those years ago? So, in anticipation of our forthcoming celebration of the persecution that befell Jesus, at this time that we all know as Easter, all those years ago, I will finally close this talk this morning with the last words written in the NIV Bible, Revelation chapter 22 verse 21. The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen