The music this week is from the Music Group. The Communications Team, AV Team, Music Group and Piggery Brae have all contributed greatly to the production of these videos. We hope you enjoy. Auto-generated Closed Captions are available.
Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio, or if you are using our Dial-a-Service telephone line.
We are still offering this online service, even although we have restarted 10.30am Sunday services in our church building. If you want to join us in the building, you have to book a seat online. Visit our website for more information.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. May McGown will read Scripture for us.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
Let’s prepare for worship with a moment of silence.
St Paul wrote to the Christian community at Rome:
Welcome one another….
just as Christ has welcomed you,
for the glory of God.
So, I’m pleased to welcome you all to this service,
wherever you are as you watch and listen.
Let us worship God.
We begin with a hymn that thanks God for all his blessings to us!
Let us pray.
Almighty God, we worship and adore you.
Out of chaos and gloom
you have brought order and light.
Out of the darkness of night
you create each new day.
And in the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ,
you have demonstrated for all time
your power over evil, sin and death.
We rejoice that we can worship together in his Name,
and in the power of the Spirit,
to share the joy of his triumph
in the face of pain and suffering;
and to praise you for your greatness,
your faithfulness, and your love.
So we worship and adore you
in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ever merciful God,
you have called us together as your people,
and made available to us all the resources
of your grace.
Forgive us for the times
when our lives have not openly showed
our love for you,
or a loving concern for others.
For we confess that we have been reluctant to offer you,
in praise and service,
the gifts and talents you have freely given us.
Our priorities have been wrong.
Instead of seeking
the peace and assurance of your kingdom,
we have allowed worry, anxiety
and material things to rule our lives.
We pray that our failures may not become our burden.
Grant us your forgiveness to make us free,
and a fresh vision of our calling to follow you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty and gracious God,
you open your hand
and fill the world with plenty.
Teach us to use your gifts
with gladness and care,
that no goodness of yours may become for us
an occasion of selfishness and greed,
and that in the strength of your provision
we may faithfully serve you here
and be counted worthy to be made partakers
of your eternal kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our Bible reading today comes from the longest of St Paul’s letters. Pauls’ letter to the Christian community of Rome is often seen as the one where he most systematically sets out his faith. But at the end of the letter, he sends greetings to his friends and shares his news. It’s a reminder that this is not an academic theological treatise, but a real letter, from Paul to his friends and colleagues.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 15 and verses 20-33, is read to us today by May McGown.
20 My ambition has always been to proclaim the Good News in places where Christ has not been heard of, so as not to build on a foundation laid by someone else. 21 As the scripture says,
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome
22 And so I have been prevented many times from coming to you. 23 But now that I have finished my work in these regions and since I have been wanting for so many years to come to see you, 24 I hope to do so now. I would like to see you on my way to Spain, and be helped by you to go there, after I have enjoyed visiting you for a while. 25 Right now, however, I am going to Jerusalem in the service of God’s people there. 26 For the churches in Macedonia and Achaia have freely decided to give an offering to help the poor among God’s people in Jerusalem. 27 That decision was their own; but, as a matter of fact, they have an obligation to help them. Since the Jews shared their spiritual blessings with the Gentiles, the Gentiles ought to use their material blessings to help the Jews. 28 When I have finished this task and have turned over to them all the money that has been raised for them, I shall leave for Spain and visit you on my way there. 29 When I come to you, I know that I shall come with a full measure of the blessing of Christ.
30 I urge you, friends, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love that the Spirit gives: join me in praying fervently to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to God’s people there. 32 And so I will come to you full of joy, if it is God’s will, and enjoy a refreshing visit with you. 33 May God, our source of peace, be with all of you. Amen.Romans 15:20-33
Last week, our Church of Scotland held a remarkable General Assembly. It lasted less than a day and half, instead of a week as it usually last, and dealt only with urgent business. There was hardly anyone in the General Assembly Hall in Edinburgh. Instead, Commissioners joined remotely, relying, as so many us do, on technology to allow us to have meetings from our homes (we have done a lot of that in our own congregation recently, too). Cambuslang’s Deacon, Karen Hamilton, was a Commissioner, and she told me it was a strange experience. She missed the usual opportunity for informal discussions that happen in the corridors or the care which are so much part of a normal General Assembly. Technology is wonderful, but we are all missing human contact.
The Assembly was trying to deal with how we continue to be Church in the midst of the ongoing COVID crisis. Once aspect of this is, not surprisingly, finance. Across the country, congregations are experiencing what we in Cambuslang Parish Church have experienced- a sharp reduction in our income. Because many people bring their offerings to church Sunday by Sunday, our givings from congregations are down. It’s hard to organise fundraisers without church halls. And we have lost all the income which comes from letting out our halls.
The prediction is that the income of the Church of Scotland as a whole could be reduced by £50 million this year. Already there have been big cuts to central budgets. And the Assembly decided to help local congregations by reducing by 18% the amount of money congregations will be asked to contribute to the central church in 2021.[i]
Of course, we in the church are no different from any other part of society in this regard. Businesses and charities are also suffering. Many people are losing their jobs. All around us are signs of the economy, and society, undergoing big changes.
For example: whenever I drive back to Cambuslang from visiting my dad in Dunbartonshire, there have been two new landmarks to look out for on the M8 from the Erskine Bridge. Approaching Glasgow Airport, you could, until recently, see the remarkable sight of about 10 British Airways airliners, which were parked for months on a remote part of the airfield. I don’t know if they are back in service, or if they have been moved elsewhere for storage. Drive a bit further on, and just after Paisley you see the surprising sight of three large cruise liners, which have been docked for months at the King George V Dock, near Braehead. I wonder if these ships will ever cruise again, how many aircraft will never fly again, how many pubs and restaurants will never open again?
Everyone says that, after Coronavirus, whatever the new normal is going to be like, it will be very different from what went before- for better, and for worse. Martin Fair, the Moderator of the General Assembly, pointed out in his opening reflection last Friday that, for the Church of Scotland, there’s little point in us hoping to get back to how things were before. He said,
If we’re honest, much of what was our “normal” [church] hadn’t been working anyway! You can’t look at sixty years of decline and think, ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal.’ You can’t consider the catastrophic loss of children and young people from our congregations and say, ‘We can’t wait to get back to normal, the way it was before all of this.’
So let’s not even hope for the church to get ‘back to normal’, if normal is who we were before. Let’s work and hope and pray that our new normal is a better than what was before. Let’s not look back, but look to what might be possible for the future.
In our reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes of looking forward- he is making plans to visit the people he’s writing to. As you probably know, Paul was a great traveller. He tells the Roman Christians that he has been travelling to places
where Christ has not been heard of, so as not to build on a foundation laid by someone else
For Paul felt called to a pioneer ministry- to start Christian communityes from scratch in places where nobody had heard of Jesus. And that’s why, somewhat to his regret, he has never been to Rome- because someone else had got Rome with the Gospel message before him[iii], and there was already a Christian community there.
But, as he looks to the future, he he plans a new adventure- a trip to Spain, but stopping off in Rome on the way. But not quite yet. He explains he has to travel firstly to Jerusalem ‘in the service of God’s people there’. And he will be taking with money with him. He writes:
For the churches in Macedonia and Achaia have freely decided to give an offering to help the poor among God’s people in Jerusalem. That decision was their own; but, as a matter of fact, they have an obligation to help them. Since the Jews shared their spiritual blessings with the Gentiles, the Gentiles ought to use their material blessings to help the Jews. When I have finished this task and have turned over to them all the money that has been raised for them, I shall leave for Spain and visit you on my way there.
Macedonia and Acachia were in Greece, and most of the Christians in them would have been from a non-Jewish background. They have decided that they need to help the poor of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, of course, was where the Christian church began: the site of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it was a Christian community which would have consisted mostly of Christians of Jewish background.
Paul gives the Greek Christian communities some credit for making their own decision to support the poor of Jerusalem. They made what we might call a ‘freewill offering’ to make this special collection. And yet he can’t resist making a theological point: he says that Gentile- non-Jewish- Christians have an obligation to help the Jews of Jerusalem. After all, Christianity’s roots are Jewish. Jesus and the first disciples were Jewish. Paul himself was a Jew. I think it is rather beautiful the way Paul puts it:
Since the Jews shared their spiritual blessings with the Gentiles, the Gentiles ought to use their material blessings to help the Jews.
St Paul is blunt about the need for money to support the Jerusalem church, but is also straightforward in giving what we might call a spiritual reason for Christians to committed to sharing their resources with one another.
Quite often, however, we in the Church of Scotland shy away from talking about money, and the fact that we need material support for what we do. For example: until recently, many Church of Scotland churches used to have a Congregational Board, a body which dealt with financial and property matters. The Kirk Session was supposed to be reserved for spiritual matters, such as worship, pastoral care and mission. I was never keen on that set up, partly for practical reasons I won’t go into here, but fundamentally because I thought that it was a theological mistake. Matters of money and property- material issues- are always spiritual issues of Christians. We are called to use our material blessings for spiritual purposes.
Because, for Christians, the material is the spiritual. In Christ, God came to us in material form, embodied as a human being, flesh and bone like you and me. So there is nothing in creation which is not God’s concern, no aspect of life which is not God’s concern. How we spend our money is just as important to God as whether we say our prayers. If, in church, we get apologetic or embarrassed about talking about money, then we are avoiding something which is at the heart of the Gospel.
I once knew a woman whose church had just installed a new kitchen, which cost a lot of money. One day she boasted a wee bit about it, to a man who was a member of another church. He listened to her account of all the fundraising and the shiny new facilities, and then he rather took the wind of out her sails by asking, ‘Shouldn’t all that money and effort have been put to a more spiritual use?’
The member of the church with the new kitchen was a bit put out, as you could imagine. It was only afterwards that she realised that her church kitchen did, in fact, serve a spiritual purpose. For hers was a socialable kind of congregation. They had lots of meetings, of which tea and cakes and biscuits were often a part. They like to have Christmas dinners and harvest lunches, and suppers for people enquiring about the faith. They housed community organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous which depended on their kitchen. They even had a lunch club for the elderly. And they had replaced their kitchen because it was so worn and out of date, that they were soon going to have to stop those activities. And with their new facilities, they could continue their fine tradition of Christian hospitality- and, in fact, it made new activities possible, like a café church and a project to feed the homeless. Rebuilding their kitchen was a spiritual matter, for it supported their Christian witness in that community.
St Paul understood that when his Gentile converts in Greece shared their material blessings with their Jewish friends in Jerusalem, that was a spiritual matter. And, following his lead, Christians today ought to understand sharing our material resources is still at the heart of what it means to be church. And that’s something we still do. I mentioned earlier about the money which congregations give to the ‘central church’- but that’s a misleading phrase. Those funds which we give to the ‘central church’ don’t get spent in Edinburgh. Most of it goes across Scotland to support ministry, and, indeed, it helps keep Christian witness alive in places where we might not be able to otherwise, such as city areas struggling with poverty, or remote rural locations. The congregation in Jerusalem needed help, and the congregations in Greece sent them money. That is a principle we still need to keep alive.
For the church exists, as St Paul put it, ‘to proclaim the Good News’ in words and action. And remember I said that Paul felt himself called ‘to proclaim that news in places where Christ has not been heard of’? For him, that was villages and towns of places in parts of modern Turkey and Greece. Today, our mission field is our own parish.
There are plenty of places in Cambuslang, homes and workplaces, where, if Christ has been heard of, it is only as a swear word. Having put our services online and on the radio is truly an opportunity ‘to proclaim that news in places where Christ has not been heard of’.
The Moderator told the General Assembly that the challenge ahead for the Church of Scotland was to be, in future, ‘to be focussed on mission rather than maintenance’. In other words, not to just bring back the church to how it was before, for the sake of those already part of it; but to be more fully a church which shines a light in the darkness, which brings hope in these difficult times, to people who might not have realised just what it means to have hope in God.
Our new normal will be a world which needs more than ever the hope which God promises us in Jesus Christ. For followers of Jesus Christ will always look to the future, and not back to the past, and look outward, and not inward. We cannot know what the future holds, but this we do know, if we are Christians- that, whatever lies ahead, our eternal God will be there. In these difficult days, we can, as a hymn puts it, look forward in faith, for all time is in God’s hands!
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to May McGown for the Bible reading, to our musicians, and to Fraser Hamilton for filming and editing. I love hearing people’s reactions these recorded services, so if you have enjoyed this, or have questions, or if you just want a chat or a prayer, please do let me know. My phone number is on the Cambuslang Parish Church website, or contact me via social media.
If you would like to know more about our Special Appeal, or if you would like to make a gift for our work here in Cambuslang, please also get in touch, or check our Facebook and web pages.