Monthly letter from our minister
Each month our minister Simon, or his assistant Hannah, writes the introductory letter to our Church News magazine. The latest letter is reproduced here.
Previous letters can be viewed by following the links below.
In a Sunday service a few weeks ago, I spoke on the theme of ‘Journey’, and how it is used within Scripture, as a metaphor of our relationship with God. For instance, Jesus does not hand to his disciples a defined creedal statement, but instead calls them to journey with him, and meet God and his purposes for them on the way. As we journey with Jesus as his followers today, we are to be open to the new things he wants to teach us, and the fresh insight he wants to reveal. As we travel with him, we recognise that we are to be constantly becoming all that he asks us to be, in order that we might do all that he asks us to do.
Yet in this constant becoming, there is also great value to be found in the familiar; it does not have to be, and should not be necessarily despised. In the familiar, we often have pillars that have supported, encouraged and held Christian life and witness through the centuries. Often the familiars of our faith have become traditions, because of the value that Christians across the centuries have found in them. I want to tell you here of three pillars of familiarity that have helped me in my life and faith, in the hope that it will help you to reflect on what sustains and inspires you.
Firstly, there is the NRSV Study Bible that sits on my desk at home; this is the Ordination Bible from Spurgeon’s College I was presented with in 1993. This version of the Bible was published in 1989 and I immediately found it to be the translation I found most helpful. It was based on up-to-date biblical Scholarship, yet also sought to be both appropriate for congregational reading and private meditation. Its language is clear but not simplistic or archaic. At College, I had also become more deeply aware of the ways in which women had been marginalised in the life of the church across the centuries, so I welcomed the more inclusive language of the NRSV as it boldly sought to take us beyond patriarchy.
This study Bible has been there for almost every sermon I have ever prepared since College. It is too large to use in church on a Sunday - I do not believe in impressing congregations with the size of my Bible, but its notes, cross references and tables have been an invaluable resource.
Secondly, there is my copy of Common Order, the service book of the Church of Scotland. I bought it very early on in my ministry, and have found it has helped me on innumerable occasions. It draws on the historic prayers and liturgies of the Christian church, but also includes many prayers written for the modern world. It has provided me with a service for renewal of marriage vows, prayers I could adapt to bless a restaurant, and resources for Sunday I could use when my own inspiration was lacking. It has provided me with a healing service, prayers and readings for those near death and has been out in the rain at interment of ashes a few times too many. The inspiration of the Spirit flows through its pages - I value it in my own devotions, and know it has enriched my ministry.
And finally, there is the rich tradition of Christian hymns and songs, that ex-press our worship and our thank-fulness, and which capture both our joy and our wondering. If I had to choose just one it would probably be George Matheson’s “O love that will not let me go”, written out of the author’s own experience of darkness and light. It is a deeply moving hymn, that speaks of the hope that God brings even in the midst of crushing anguish. Each verse takes an image of God’s grace, and through beautiful poetry reassures us of the God who is there despite all. In a world of hardship, where at times the sadness seems overwhelming, Matheson’s much-loved hymn reminds me of God’s promises.
What, I wonder, would be the three familiars that have nurtured and sustained your faith? And yet of course, there was a time when these three of mine were not familiar, when these were the new thing that God was inspiring. As we cherish the familiar through which God speaks, let us also be open to the new and as yet unfamiliar, through which God will speak in new ways, to deepen faith and make known his grace.