Are you just holding on?

November 15, 2015
Bible Text: Hebrews 10: 11-14, 19-25 and March 13: 1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp   The letter to the Hebrews is filled with much imagery that comes from the people of Israel and their places of worship and worship practices. For us today these practices and the buildings in which they were offered seem an eternity away from where we are today.  Even if we read about the Temple in Jerusalem and learned something of the rituals practiced in the Temple, I am sure that it never really made a great impression on us as something that was vital to helping us understand what God’s incarnation in Christ meant and how that forever changed the rituals of faith.   Over the centuries religious practice among the people of Israel had evolved from a simple tent to a permanent temple.  The people had gone from finding God wherever they wandered to believing that the presence of God resided in one place and that was in Jerusalem.  And even though the exile had shown them that God could indeed be found anywhere, there was still the strong belief that only in Jerusalem could God be properly and fully honoured and worshiped. Jerusalem was the heart of the faith. It was the royal seat of the kings of Judah and it was the place where the High Priest – the most important religious leader of the people – resided. Along with the other priests and servants, the High Priest presided over and was responsible for the religious life of the people. It was his responsibility to ensure that all things were done decently and in good order and that God would remain the ally of the people.   To that end, the people would come and make their sacrifices according to the prescriptions laid down in the law as they sought to honour God and pray that God would remember them and protect them.  And while the offering of sacrifices to God was a daily ritual, there was one day on which the nation would ask for forgiveness from God for its sins individually and collectively. This day is the Day of Atonement. That day is still kept by Jewish people. I remember my friend Larry telling me of this day and how he was expected to visit everyone against whom he had sinned and ask for their forgiveness. In the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, this was the one day of the year that the High Priest could enter into what was the inner sanctum of the Temple – the Holy of Holies. On that day the High Priest and only the High Priest – provided that he was free from all blemishes himself – on that day he would go behind the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple and offer a special sacrifice on the behalf of the nation.  The hope was that the sins of the past year would be forgiven and a new year could begin with a clean slate.   But as often as the people made their sacrifices and as often as the High Priest visited the Holy of Holies on an annual basis, the people and the nation never felt that full assurance that indeed their sins were forgiven and that all was right between them and God. As close as they may have felt to God, there still was this gap. And when we consider that the High Priest needed to be physically perfect before even he could begin to ritually ask for the people’s sins to be taken away, we begin to understand how people could believe that only our perfection could bring us into the presence of God.   But the author to the Hebrews reminds the people of an event connected to the death of God in Christ. On the day of the crucifixion, at the moment of death, it is said that the curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn apart. For the first time anyone could look into the Holy of Holies. That place wherein only the High Priest had been able to enter to stand in the presence of God now was open to all.   The author to the Hebrews reminds the people that the torn curtain was a sign that no longer would there be a barrier or division between God and the people. No longer would the people need an intermediary to seek forgiveness for their sins.  In fact the people could now be assured not only of the forgiveness of their sins for today and even this year but forgiveness of their sins for eternity.  But it wasn’t just the act of forgiveness that was signalled by the tearing of the curtain. It was a sign that God was no longer to be feared but to be embraced. It was a sign that God was no longer distant and isolated from the people but that now the people could gaze on the glory and face of God and live.   Those who had been alive and met God in Christ as He walked on the earth and even those who had not met God in Christ in that time could be assured not only of the forgiveness of God for their sins, not only be assured that God loved and cared for them but they could also be assured that they could approach to the very throne of God without fear and look on His face and live.   Certainly this was a great revelation to a people who for so long had felt God to be anything but close and loving.  The relationship which was now open to them was one in which they could see God as a loving parent, as a good friend, as a trusted companion.  All the barriers between them were gone. They were now invited to enter into that most inner place where God was thought to dwell and encounter a Person whose true heart was one of love and mercy.   That’s the truth which the author to the Hebrews is seeking to impress upon the readers of his letter.  But it seems that many of them have lost the vision of what God had done in Christ. They had begun to doubt that it was real and their hope that truly God had accomplished an everlasting forgiveness of sin had begun to wane. Many of them had begun to question the value of their weekly meetings for worship.  Their community and their lives were losing purpose and meaning.  Hold on, says the author; hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.   When our life in Christian community becomes simply keeping the faith, doing the ritual, maintaining the shell, we lose the real reason for why we are here. Certainly we are here for ourselves but we are also here for one another. We are here to reveal the love of God to one another. We are here to care for one another, to be kind and merciful to one another. We are here to encourage one another as we seek to live a new life that has come to us from God in Christ.   Our challenge is not to just hold on to that new life in Christ but to grasp that gift and live it as best we can knowing that no one of us lives for ourselves.  We live for one another.   I remember one of the first lessons I learned in choir was this. If you are not singing a solo, you should not be heard above the others. A choir is to be one voice even if it be composed of 10 or 20 or 100 or more.  So we in this community are many and yet we too need to be one voice for we share a common faith, a common baptism, and a common life.   May God richly bless us as we seek to be a community of His people in this place and may we not just hold on to our faith in God but grasp it and live it in word and action! AMEN

OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE

November 8, 2015
Bible Text: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE This is a day that in our churches we set aside as a time of remembrance. It is a tradition that has been maintained for close to 100 years.  It is a tradition that saw its beginnings with the end of a war that came to be known as World War 1.  Of all the conflicts known to the modern era of history, this was the first war that effectively engulfed the whole world. And while it essentially was fought in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, it changed the landscape of the world. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy all conflict and there have been many wars to follow it. But for large parts of our world today, war is something we read about on our computers and perhaps see images of but have little personal contact.   For others – even in our community – war in our present day is something which continues to be very real. And while they may not personally live in the midst of that conflict, they deal with the pain and suffering of those who have chosen to be part of the solution to conflicts in various parts of the world. Often I was asked why a man of the cloth would even consider being a chaplain in the armed forces. For many people it seemed like a contradiction. In their minds, they had images of the chaplain blessing guns and condoning death and destruction; but the reality is far from that. The reality is that the chaplains are there to provide spiritual comfort and counselling to men and women who are asked to face situations that we can never imagine and help them to make sense of the crazy world in which they find themselves. And while as chaplains, we are not allowed to use weapons, we would find ourselves exposed to many of the situations that those who are armed face and may even face many of the same dangers.   And so we have taken time this morning to remember not only the sacrifice of those who died in the major conflicts of the past century as well as the conflicts of this century, but to remember all those who came home and have had to live with the memory of what happened to them and to their comrades.  We remember the families of those who served and are serving. We remember the civilians caught in the places of conflict, those who have died and those who have lived.  As a nation and as a people our responsibility to those who served cannot end when they come home. All of us carry baggage from our lives; our experiences shape who we are and who we become. For those who experience severe traumatic experiences, the baggage can be more oppressive. And just as we know that emotional, mental and physical baggage cannot be just dropped like a sack of potatoes, so for those who served the baggage often hangs on.   In our lives as Christians, we carry not only emotional, mental and physical baggage, we also carry spiritual baggage. The interactions that we have as a community of faith bring to us challenges that touch mind, body, heart and spirit. And we can carry that baggage with us from place to place.  For many of us we will spend a lifetime trying to find a place to deal with the baggage that we have picked up.  One of the struggles we have is finding an appropriate place to unpack that baggage.  Nobody likes the experience of opening their suitcase at the airport to repack.  Our life is exposed to the world. True enough, most of us will find the same items in all our bags but we may have something different or special, something that we have kept hidden in our bag, something that maybe even those closest to us now have no idea.  Unpacking our baggage in a safe place with people we trust is something for which we all hope.  What I am speaking about is finding a place and/or a person with whom we can unpack that baggage and begin to lighten our load.   When we come to a place of worship, we may have an expectation that we can open our spiritual baggage. We may believe in our heart and mind that this is a place where we can lighten our load and find that peace of spirit that we seek. We may believe that we will be able to find forgiveness and healing for the hurts that we carry. I put it that way because too often our expectations are not reflected in the reality of what we find.  In my first congregation there was a lady who was faithful to worship but never attended communion. When I asked her why, she replied that she was not worthy to come to the table because she was not perfect in her life.  Often we judge ourselves or others harshly for the sin in our life. We struggle to be perfect but realize all too often that perfection is beyond us. For some this realization ends in despair as they come to believe that they are beyond redemption and that they will ever be known by their sins.   The author of the letter to the Hebrews knew all too well the struggles of the people to whom his letter was written. He knew that they were not perfect people and that their struggle to be perfect – as so often they believed they need to be – would lead many of them to despair of any future with God.  They feared that God would only love them if they were so perfectly following the lead of Christ.  And often we have brought that kind of perfection into our communities. Its effect is often to cause many to turn away from God believing that only when they are perfect will God receive them.  If that’s the case, I should never feel the hand of God or the voice of God or the Spirit of God in my life.   The author to the Hebrews wants us to reflect on the reality of our lives. We will sin, we will carry baggage but we do not need to despair of our sin or be afraid to reveal our baggage.   In Christ God has become the mediator between Him and us. The death of God in Christ was to give us freedom from our sins and hope that we will not be afraid to reveal our baggage to Him and to one another. For many the second coming of Christ is seen as judgment but it is a judgment that people will place on themselves. Our sins have been paid for – not only the sins of those alive in the time of the incarnation but the sins of all those who have come into this world since and who will come into this world until the end of God’s time. The second coming of Christ is to receive those who have committed themselves in this life to loving God and striving to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.   And so as we remember this day the human sacrifice of life made by those who died and those who survived that we might live in freedom, let us not forget that sacrifice of God in Christ who not only died for us but lives that He may come again to receive us not in judgment but in love. AMEN

HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON

September 20, 2015
Bible Text: James 3:13-4:3 AND Mark 9:30 - 37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON   One of the greatest struggles we have as people and as people of the Word is how to live a life that honours God but also soothes our ego.  Everyone seeks to be recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to the life of the community here in this place as well as in our homes, our places of employment, our social clubs and with our friends.  Being recognized and acknowledged as having value and worth is critical to our well-being.   But too often we either boldly assert ourselves over others so that our value will be acknowledged or we retreat in abject humility to a place where any value or worth we may contribute to the community becomes muted or even ignored.  Becoming a great person, though, is neither about  being so humble as to never allow us to feel any pride in our abilities or talents nor is it about being so bold as to believe that we possess talents and abilities unrivalled anywhere in the world.  Becoming a great person is about finding our place within the community and allowing others to encourage us as we encourage them to share our lives together.  God seeks for us to find fulfilment in life but not at the expense of another person.   When Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them to be first you must be last, he is reminding them that the greatest among them will be the one who is willing to recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of those around them.  The world in which we live encourages us to be bold in our dealings with one another. We are encouraged to look out for ourselves, to grab the bull by the horns, to be aggressively assertive, and to promote ourselves.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing with one another our vision for the life of our community and how we may be able to make contributions but we are to be conscious of how our thoughts, words and actions may impact the life of someone in the community who is not as sure of themselves or who feel that they have less to contribute.  And who does Jesus look to when he is seeking for an example of how the disciples can start on the path to greatness? He points to a child. He then takes the child and places the child in the midst of them and then takes the child into his arms. The child probably has the least ability to make a difference in the world at that moment but for Jesus this child represents the very heart of greatness. To have the ability to see, acknowledge, accept and love a child whose life is just beginning opens us up to see, acknowledge, accept and love those whose lives have been lived and influenced in ways that will bring challenges to us.  If we cannot take time for them, we probably will not be willing to take time for others.  If we think ourselves too good or too important or too great to bother with a child, chances are we will think ourselves too good, important or great to bother with anyone else whom we may feel are beneath us.   It is a fact of our human existence and dilemma that even though we will acknowledge our God and the physical presence of God in Jesus Christ as the greatest person among us, we will still seek to know who comes second, third, fourth and so on.  Somehow we need that pecking order.   In the letter that the apostle James wrote, we find that Jesus’ words concerning greatness are still a struggle for the people.  It seems that everyone in the community wants to be seen as the most important.  People were seeking to become teachers in the community but without the necessary skill and aptitude.  People were boasting of their faith in God but not showing it in practical ways.  In a real sense, people had lost the heart of wisdom.  Wisdom is not just a matter of knowledge.  People can have great knowledge but lack wisdom. Wisdom is about knowing how to apply knowledge in such a way as to truly encourage and teach others the lessons of life as God has given them. How often we want to share our knowledge or experience. We want others to know how knowledgeable we are. We fear someone else might be seen as having more knowledge or a greater experience than ourselves and we will not be valued.  But remember the wisdom of Solomon who knew so well that a wise person often says little while a fool will run on at the mouth.   Someone once said that he didn’t like silence. He said it was like death but silence is fuller of meaning than we may imagine. In silence we can observe movement, we can hear breathing, and we can feel our heart.  But silence scares us.  It scares us because we are so surrounded by the sound of traffic and commerce that the idea of being silent is to us a void.  It seems to be an empty place that we need to fill but in truth that so-called empty place is fuller than anything we may imagine. It is a place where God can be heard, where he can be felt and where we can touch and be touched.   In this passage, James does not tackle all the issues that cause us to struggle with what it means to be great people of God but he does touch on a number of them.  He begins by cautioning us against a wisdom that encourages bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.  Such wisdom brings disorder to our community life as a Christian congregation and disorder to our life in general. When we become jealous of the abilities or talents of others, we can find ourselves seeking for ways to derail them and promote ourselves instead. We can find ourselves working to bring division within the community and so disrupt its life and peace.   He then points to the wars and fights that he sees. He knows too well that the jealousies we feel come from our desire to have something we can’t or to be someone we cannot be. He recognizes that we all struggle with finding our place in the community and recognizing the gifts and talents and abilities of one another.  When such things become all-consuming, the community is in grave danger of dissolution.  Even more, he would say, we are at risk of losing the vision and goal of our faith and life and descending into an abyss of self-promotion and aggrandizement. To counteract this tendency within us, he encourages us to seek for the real wisdom of God. He tells us that such wisdom is pure, that is, it is untainted by the jealousies that afflict us for it seeks to honour the life of all. Further he adds that such a wisdom is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.   The true wisdom of God that we are to seek for and practice in our life will not desire to cause war and strife but will desire to find peace for mind, body and spirit. It will desire to gently instruct and persuade rather than be heavy-handed. It will be open to reason for it will be willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others and see whether there is any truth and any good in what is being suggested. The ideas and thoughts of others will not be summarily dismissed.  The true wisdom of God will be full of mercy for it will not seek to condemn but to inform and teach and it will be a wisdom that will not be seen as temporary or fleeting nor will it be easily shaken.  It will be a wisdom that can be trusted.   We can be certain of what we believe and express it in a firm yet gentle way. We can be sincere in what we believe and yet reveal that we are open to listen.  We can be great people without being dominating or domineering.  After all, no one of us is perfect. Every one of us will make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes and the mistakes of others will reveal whether our wisdom is of God or of man.   Remember the words of Paul in speaking of Jesus. He reminded the people in Philippi that Jesus was above every other creature in creation. In other words, he is the greatest person to ever walk on the earth yet he did not celebrate his greatness by lording it over others. Instead he emptied himself of all vanity and self. He put himself in the position of one who serves, of the lowest in the pecking order. His greatness came not from people looking to him to worship him but from him looking at people with compassion and mercy.   Who among us will be remembered as the greatest? Perhaps we will never find the answer. Perhaps we should never seek to be that person but each of us can be a great person by striving to encourage, uplift and forgive others, by recognizing the heart and life of others in the community and by bringing peace and sincerity to others through words and actions.  

My Faith Looks Up to Thee

August 2, 2015
Bible Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6-9 anbd James 1:17-27 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp What does your reflection look like? – James 1:17-27   The letter of James is a short one and is not sent to any one group of people as Paul’s letters are. James is one of the apostles whose Jewish roots are very evident. He is one who wanted to see the new faith remain within the synagogue and be accepted as a new and fuller revelation of the God the people had known throughout their history.  And so his letter is sent to all those who came to faith in Christ as Jews and who are living in what came to be known as the Diaspora or Dispersion.  Many of the people who lived in ancient Palestine had left the area to pursue business interests or for other reasons. They lived all over the ancient world in small communities. They continued to practice their faith even in these remote places.  James wanted to be sure that these communities would ever remain open to receiving new people and he wanted them to present to the community and the world around them a picture of the faith that would draw others to them.   He also knew how important it was for the community’s continued existence that they be reminded of how they were to conduct themselves.  And so the letter of James focuses on remaining true to the tenets of the faith and even more on how that faith is expressed in the community’s life with one another.   In his opening message to the scattered communities, he encourages them to always seek the wisdom of God. The people are not to rely on their own wisdom or strength but to constantly look to God to inform their choices in life and guide them on the path to full life.  Further he reminds all in the community that whatever their status in the society outside the community, they are not to bring that status or hierarchy into the community.  The lowest in the society and the highest in the society are to find that place where both can be honoured and valued.  James believed very strongly that we all stand equal before God and that the prayers of all are heard.  Each person, regardless of their position in society, is an equal in the eyes of God and in the community of faith.  Whatever path the society around may choose to follow, it is for the community of faith to follow the path of God and to uphold each person.  After all, whatever we may amass in this world will ultimately be lost to us but the life we gain in God will be to us an everlasting gain; and that gain is open to all in an equal measure.   First of all he encourages us to be quick to hear. It is often said that we have two ears and two eyes because we are to listen and look more than we are to speak.  Listening to others and watching them is something that is often hard for people. If someone feels that no one is ever listening to them or really seeing them, they can have the tendency to not be willing to share their thoughts or feelings. And if we are concerned that people will dismiss us if we are not constantly sharing, then we will fail to listen and observe others.  What James is seeking for here is for us to learn to listen and observe one another and discover how best to blend our lives in such a way as to respect the life of one another and enable everyone to feel valued in the community; doing this will enable us to be slow or slower to speak for we will be taking the time to consider more carefully what we are to say.  What a blessing it would be if we could ever achieve this!  James knows it will not be easy but he also knows that the communities can splinter and fall apart if we fail to even try.  Of course hand in hand with being slow to speak comes being slow to anger.  Anger often arises from an impulsive reaction to something that is said or done; perhaps it comes from a feeling of frustration with a person or situation; perhaps it is something over which we have no control; but our reaction can have disastrous results not only for us but for others and so often it is difficult to put the words back into our mouths and swallow them.  I want you to note, though, that James does not say that there will not be times of anger or that anger is totally inappropriate at all times; rather, he is saying that it should not be the first reaction we have.  It is his hope that these words of wisdom will save us from putting our feet in our mouths too many times and perhaps save us from tearing our communities apart.   He then goes on to remind the people that we need to be more than just hearers of what God asks of us.  In other words, when we ask for wisdom, when we ask for patience, when we ask for grace and forgiveness, we need to put such things into action.  We can accept all kinds of things in our minds but they must go from our minds to our actions if people are to see that we truly believe in the word of God.   James likens it to looking at our reflection in a mirror.  If we look at our image and then forget what we look like, we are like people who hear the Word of God and then act in a way that totally contradicts it.   But James knows that looking at the law of God like looking in a mirror will never make that law real except that we carry that law of God with us in our mind, heart and spirit just as we carry that image of our face that we see in the mirror.   He closes his message in this chapter by speaking to the people about what he really thinks makes a person religious. What makes a person religious is not how often they attend worship or how much money they can give or what status they have in the community; what makes a person religious is when their whole person reflects the image of God.  It is when the words of God take root and become real. It is when their faith is more than words or ritual but becomes the pattern of their life.  It is when the needs and concerns of the community are heard and responded to.   James identifies two things that he sees as true religion. The first was a great concern because there was no social network to care for widows or orphans. The community had to care for them. The second is as true today as then. It is about how we choose to express our faith in our daily life.  Today how we express our faith may be different in some respects but it remains essentially the same.  We need to look at who we are called to be by God in Christ and then not forget what that looks like as we go into the world as the people of God!

Preparing for Battle

July 26, 2015
Bible Text: Ephesians 6:10-20 and John 6:60-69 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp   The passage of Scripture from Ephesians 6 is one of the most cited passages in all of Paul’s writings. It portrays an image that would make great sense to the people of his day – even more than in our own time.   The world in which Paul lived was one in which a military presence was always evident. Unlike our world in Canada, you could go nowhere without seeing at least one soldier in full armour with sword and shield.  Many of you have probably visited or know someone who has visited a country in the world today where that reality still exists.  And while the soldier in full armour and carrying weapons is often seen as a sign of trouble and aggression, it can also be a source of great comfort in a troubled place.   At the time of writing the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was a prisoner being transported to Rome for his trial before the Emperor.  He was constantly under guard and would daily be seeing at least one soldier in full uniform prepared for battle.  In his mind he would have remembered and seen soldiers entering battle and probably witnessed how the soldiers’ weapons enabled them to defend themselves against the attacks of their enemy.   And so Paul – as so often he does – finds in the images and situations of his life, examples that he can pull from daily life to encourage and support those who have come to faith in God through Christ.  And while that image may not be a constant presence in our daily life, we can still relate well enough to it as we have no doubt read this passage or heard it many times.   The first thing we can notice about this passage, though, is that Paul uses the image not so that we will don armour like a soldier or arm ourselves as if to fight a human foe.  Paul does not see other humans as the enemy of our faith and life in Christ.  While certainly it may appear that those who seek us harm are very human, Paul would assert that it is forces beyond the human that are at work here. All of the words Paul uses to explain these forces are for him ways in which to acknowledge that there are spirits and demons present in the world whose whole reason for being is to disrupt our life with God and cause us to turn away from God.  As the Celts acknowledged, evil exists in the world and seeks to pull us away from finding and hearing the heartbeat of God in our life. Evil forces seek to cloud our vision, dull our hearing and generally convince us that God is not real and that His love and grace are not as deep and embracing of our human condition.  Our struggles in mind, body and spirit can cause us to lose faith or to doubt the reality of God.  We can become convinced that God is either dead or is no longer interested in our well-being.   Paul sees these things as attacks of the devil, of the evil forces in the world.  However we may think of that which is opposed to God’s hope and vision for this life, we certainly know that there are times when our minds cause us to doubt and to question. There are times when we can be convinced that belief in God and the wisdom of God are not real.  In those times of struggle – and without a doubt they will come – Paul knows that the people need support.  They certainly need the support of one another and so he encourages them to gather together for prayer, worship and to share their concerns and fears as well as their joys and hopes.   But there are going to be times when we will be in a place where there aren’t others around. There will be times when we will be on our own.  How are we to protect ourselves in mind and spirit from the attacks on us that can cause us to doubt our decision to live for God? Paul encourages us to think of the soldier.  The soldier needs to protect himself from the harm that the enemy would bring upon him.  To do so requires him to have certain equipment.  He needs a breastplate – a special piece of armour to protect the vital areas of his body. He needs a helmet to protect his head for without a head the body cannot survive. He needs a shield to deflect the arrows and blows of other weapons. He needs protection on his feet to ensure that he maintains a solid footing. But he also needs a weapon to strike back against the aggression that he faces.   But Paul does not suggest that we become soldiers like the Roman soldiers. He does not suggest that we should annihilate those who seek to destroy our faith in God through physical violence.  He suggests that we prepare for the battle of life by adopting and adapting the imagery of the soldier to ensure that we are prepared to stand firm against any and all attacks on our faith and life.   Before we can even put on the armour, we need to ensure that we are able to support our life in Christ and so we use a belt to surround our body with the truth of God. It will hold us firm and enable us to move in the world with a freedom. Then we don the breastplate of righteousness.  This is our protection in our most vital areas for this reminds us that it is through Christ Himself that God brings us that perfect peace and forgiveness of sin.  The breastplate wards off thoughts that would disturb that peace and sense of forgiveness. With the sandals on our feet, we are encouraged to step forward in faith assured that we need not fear where we go.  We wear the helmet of salvation by which we consciously remember that God has placed His hand upon us and blessed us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have been granted forgiveness of our sins – not only those past but those present and those future.   Now we take up those things which will enable us to ward off attack and meet the challenges of this life.  The shield represents our faith.  It deflects the attacks upon us.  In the days of the Roman Empire, the most common fear was that of the flaming arrows.  The Roman shields were designed in such a way as to best be able to deflect and extinguish those arrows.  The people would see this as an encouragement to know that whatever was directed at them that their faith could provide a shield and protection.  Finally they could take up the sword – the sword of the Word of God.     The Word of God would be their constant companion.  The words of God would be like a sword for they would become their defence and their hope.   Perhaps our daily lives are not so much a battle as those of the Christians in the early days of the church; but we do not know what the future holds.  But let us ever remember that preparation and vigilance are needed even in the most innocuous of times and places.  It is when we fail to remember the past that we find ourselves unprepared for the future.   In closing his letter, Paul writes these words and I am quoting them to you today as we depart from this place to live in God’s world:   Peace be to all the [people of God], and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying. (Ephesians 6:23-24)

BREAD OF LIFE

July 19, 2015
Bible Text: Ephesians 5:15-20 and John 5:51-58 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp It comes as no surprise to me that there are probably some among you who find today’s passage from John to be quite puzzling.  How on earth are we to make sense of the words of Jesus? This passage in which Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life is the end of a long narrative in chapter six of John’s gospel that begins with the feeding of the five. Jesus then seems to disappear only to reappear on the other side of the lake. When the people find him, they wonder how they managed to not see him cross the lake. But to their surprise Jesus instead says to them that they have been looking for him because they were all fed through the miracle of the loaves. Then Jesus encourages them to look beyond the physical to the spiritual. They are to work for the food that never spoils. But they still are focused on the physical miracle and so the challenge to believe in Jesus who has been sent by God the Father does not hold truth for them. They are still seeking a sign. They remembered the manna that God sent which provided food for the people as they passed through the wilderness. In their minds, bread from heaven was still a physical sustenance. And even if Jesus was indeed the new manna, the new bread from heaven for that generation, they still could not imagine that Jesus was the one sent by God from heaven for he was known to be the son of Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth; and as no good thing ever was considered to be capable of coming from Nazareth, the idea that Jesus could indeed be the bread of heaven seemed implausible. Even more so was Jesus’ assertion that this bread of life was his flesh and that his blood. Bread and water are two of the most common of staples for so many people in the world. And while water shortages are a reality for many the idea that we can substitute some other liquid for water does not have a lot of support. Of all the liquids that we have available to us, even if water is the primary ingredient, there really is no beverage that does a body better than water. Water is the only beverage we are encouraged to drink 8 glasses of each day and it is the one beverage that we are so careful about ensuring it is safe and tastes refreshing. When it comes to bread we have far more choice but we choose to find the most nutritious bread to consume. In fact bread and water are probably the two elements which we use for the sustenance of our physical selves that we can’t imagine being without and that we take great care to savor. When the people of Israel were thirsty, God provided water from a rock. When there was no source of food, God provided manna that appeared with the morning dew. Provision for the physical had always been at the heart of the Jewish experience of God and thankfulness for such a provision had ever remained a part of the ritual of the people from the earliest days through the temple period into the exile and right through the time of the restoration and even during the Roman occupation. The challenge that came with Jesus was showing the people that God was not only making provision for physical daily sustenance but that he was making provision for spiritual sustenance. Furthermore, this spiritual sustenance was not just for the duration of this physical time on this planet but it was a sustenance that would take them into a life with God that would have no end. For this bread and water were not just elements from the earth to nourish a present physical need and then be released back to the earth to be drawn forth again; this bread and water were physical in that they could be touched and pondered but spiritual in that they were symbols to draw us into a deeper and more lasting relationship with God. The bread of heaven that Jesus brings to earth is in fact his body for he embodies within him the words and works of God. Symbolically, as we listen to the words of Jesus, as we follow his footsteps, as we study his encounters with people, we ingest the bread of life. It probably never really occurs to us in terms of our relationship to God, but when we learn lessons in school or at home, we are eating life lessons. We are ingesting truths which will guide us through this life. Jesus’ desire for us to share in his flesh as the bread from heaven is for us to understand that we need to ingest the truth of what that God means. Through this ingestion we digest and process in our minds, hearts and spirits what it truly means to be the people of God. Through this we develop our spirits as they are nourished by the words of God in Christ. As the bread of the soil nourishes our physical beings, so the bread of heaven nourishes our spiritual beings. Both are needed for us to live a complete life. And just as water energizes our physical bodies and restores our organs to their full capacity, so the blood of Jesus, the water of eternal life energize our spirits and restore us to that full and lasting relationship with God for which we were created. Jesus describes his flesh as being real food and his blood as being real drink for that which come from God and is given to us for the nourishment of our souls is that which finds our very center, the core of our being and fills a spot in us that no earthly food or drink could ever reach. And the gift of the body and blood of Jesus which we remember when we share in the Lord’s Supper is a tangible reminder to us that God has shared with us a truth that is meant to not only sustain us for as many years as this body may give us but to carry us forward into the future that God assures us is waiting for those who are prepared to eat the bread of heaven and drink the Is this a great mystery? Of course it is but not necessarily one that is like an abyss but rather one that is fantastic and compelling. John is speaking to us not about rules and regulations, moral codes and traditions; rather, he is speaking to us about the essence of life, about the ultimate purpose and destiny of life. He is speaking to us once again about our relationship with God, one that encourages us to listen for and discover for ourselves the Is it a strange thing to imagine eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood? Of course. But to think of deepening our relationship with God by absorbing his words and ways and lapping up his truth so as to be filled with his grace, forgiveness and love, that is a whole other thing. And that is what Jesus is seeking for us to understand! Eat of his body and drink of his blood knowing that through this you are being filled with the knowledge of God, a knowledge that will remain with you both now and forevermore.
Bible Text: Amos 7:7-15 and Mark 6:14-29 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality Two Ways of Listening   As we come to the end of this exploration of Celtic spirituality, it has become clear that the path chosen by the early Celtic church was not unbiblical; rather, it was not the path adopted by the dominant church tradition.  The dominant tradition preferred to base its theology and spirituality on the tradition of St. Peter and the authority which was conferred on Peter by Christ Himself. The theology and spirituality of the Celtic church had taken its lead from St. John.  Both paths were valid and biblical but in its push to reveal a united faith, the people of that time chose to see the issue as needing to be decided one way or the other. A little more understanding of each other’s position might have led to a different outcome.  And so while the battle in 664 for the hearts and minds of the people came down to a decision for Peter or for John, we in this day and age can recognize the strengths and contributions of each stream and so find a place for both of them as we live our lives today.   It is interesting to note that many of the mystical traditions of the Church followed the path of St. John. John was seen as the ultimate guide to the inner self.  It is also interesting to note that John Scotus, whom I spoke of in an earlier talk, believed that there was room for both ways.  He got in trouble for daring to promote the Celtic way. But he saw John as representing the way of contemplation while Peter the way of faithful action.  It is interesting to note that Pelagius never advised people to only a contemplative way of approaching God. He firmly believed that it should issue forth in action. But the emphasis on the interior life and seeking for God within and in creation rather than in the heavens and in the holy places alone is what got him into trouble.  Balance between the contemplative and the active is what we should all be seeking for.   The strength of the John tradition is that it produces a spirituality that sees God in the whole of life and regards all things as inter-related.  John’s way of seeing makes room for an open encounter with the Light of life wherever it is to be found. It is a tradition that is not bound by four walls for the sanctuary of God is to be found within the whole of creation.   The strength of the Peter tradition is precisely that it has four walls.  It enshrines the light of truth within the Church and its traditions and sacraments. It is a rock, a place of security and shelter, especially in the midst of stormy change.  It allows us to turn with faith to the familiar house of prayer where others before us have found truth and guidance.   And so to hold these two traditions together enables us to celebrate the sacraments and remember the traditions and teachings of the faith while allowing for the fact that the love and grace of God are not just for those who know God but for every person and every form of life because God is with and in all that has life.   Even our own experiences in life have taught us that there are times when we have found God in the light of the morning or evening or the freshness of the wind.  Sometimes we need the solitude of a hill to be still and attentive to God while at other times we find the time of communal worship, the celebration of the sacraments, the hymns and prayers a comfort. There is room for both the contemplative and the action, for the individual and the communal.   Another difference between the two ways of listening is when it comes to sin. To John’s way of thinking, God’s goodness is at the heart of each one of us. In repenting of sin, we are not turning away in order to be someone else, but re-turning to our true selves, made in the loveliness and goodness of the image of God. It is a recognition that we have been created in the image of God to be holy as he is holy but that that goodness has been covered over. We need to peel back the layers to reveal again that light that is at heart of our own beings. To Peter’s way of seeing, we are ever capable of sin and are to be warned against this tendency in ourselves and others.  Eventually this led to the Augustine belief that the essential goodness in us was totally erased with Adam’s fall.  Here we need to find a balance where we believe and hope in our God-given goodness on the one hand and yet wise and alert to our sinful leanings.   But how can we do this?  From the John tradition we hear the emphasis on the new commandment from Jesus: “love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)  To John change will come through love. John’s spirituality is guided above all else by a sense of the welling up of love from life’s deepest springs, the place of God’s abiding.  In the Peter tradition, great confidence is placed in the outward strength and rightness of the law.  It is important to note that we need both perspectives.  Otherwise, our faith will be either a vague, unproductive enthusiasm for the sacredness of all life or a joyless moral dutifulness.   And so while the focus of this series has been on the lost Celtic spirituality and the tradition of St. John, let us remember that we can learn from the many different ways of approaching God that have been followed by people over the centuries.   In closing I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Philip Newell and his work to helping us delve more deeply into this ancient way of listening for the heartbeat of God.  Perhaps for some of us this has met a longing within our hearts for a way that made sense to us but that we hadn’t heard expressed before.  Perhaps our awareness of this neglected tradition will assist us in the future to go beyond these four walls and to become a place where people can step into and out of daily life and be reminded that the cathedral of God is the whole of creation.  Perhaps then we will see and others will come to see that God can be found in the whole of life for that is where his heartbeat is and as we listen, we too may hear that heartbeat within us.
Bible Text: Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality   Last time we were learning about the attempt of Alexander Scott to reintroduce to the Presbyterian Church in Scotland a way of seeing God’s presence as embracing all of creation. His radical notion that God’s love and grace were for all people was not welcomed by the established church at that time. However, there was a younger Scottish minister who had been influenced by Scott and the novels of George MacDonald.  His name was Norman MacLeod (1812-1872). In 1843 there was a split in the Church of Scotland. While MacLeod remained with the established church, he began to have a profound influence on the direction of its spirituality and theology. In a real sense, he reawakened within the Scottish church that ancient Celtic spirituality and presented it in such a way that people began to accept it as a path for the modern church.  The Celtic trait of seeking God’s presence in the whole of life and not just within the Church and its traditions led to a relaxing of the Sabbath laws in the Church and enabled places of beauty and nature to be opened on Sundays allowing families to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the parks and gardens on what was - for most people - their only day off work.  When the Church allowed the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to open on Sundays, it was a sign that the Church was beginning to acknowledge that God could be found and worshipped beyond the four walls of the church. The people were once again allowed to listen for the heartbeat of God in the whole of life.   But as much as Norman MacLeod was a key figure in the rediscovery of this ancient way of seeing, it was Norman’s grandson, George Fielden MacLeod (1895-1991) who found a way to get the Church to see that it was not a matter of either/or but rather two ways of seeing and finding God in life.  MacLeod emphasized that we are in touch with God every moment that we live, “for the simple reason that God is life: not religious life, nor Church life, but the whole of life….God is the Life of life.” (Newell, p. 76)  Spiritual awareness, then, is not about becoming aware of God in a setting created by human hands but rather it is about being aware of God in the midst of the change and movement and flow of life, in the rising of the morning sun, in the work and relationships of daily life, in the interior life of the soul, in times of rest and sleep, and even dreaming.  God is at the heart of all life. We don’t have to try to reach God through acts of devotion, for God is closer to us than our very breath. “We have been given union with God whether we like it or not,” MacLeod said, “Our flesh is his flesh, and we cannot jump out of our skins.” (Newell, p. 76)   MacLeod was both a Celtic mystic and a Presbyterian minister.  He was more concerned that people understand themselves to be Christian than Presbyterian and he encouraged people to not take too seriously the religious boundaries by which we so often define ourselves.  After all, God is the Life of the world, not merely some religious aspect of it.  When it came to his understanding of spirituality, he warned against believing that becoming more spiritual led a person away from the world. Rather, it was meant for us to go more deeply into life, to find God at the heart of life and to liberate God’s goodness within us and in our relationships, both individually and collectively.  “It is the primacy of God as Now that we must recover in Christian mysticism,” said MacLeod. (Newell, p. 80)  Our innumerable ‘nows’ as we go through our day are our points of contact with God. (Newell, p. 80)   But while MacLeod emphasized a spirituality of awareness, a looking and listening in the midst of every moment of life, he also believed in setting aside time for formal private and communal prayer.  He also firmly believed that God is not found apart from the stresses of life but within them. Our time of prayer need not be seen as an escape from the pressures of life but rather our conversation with the God who is there in the midst of life where life is lived.   But he also had a vision to re-establish that ancient Celtic community of Iona and so in 1938 he gathered together a group of craftsmen and began to restore the old monastic buildings and begin a community dedicated to the discipline of prayer, rebuilding justice and re-establishing the foundations for peace.   MacLeod brought into the mainstream of the Church a way of seeing that had never died out. Repressed for centuries, it continued to be sought for by the people who descended from that early Celtic community. Through this way of seeing, the essential goodness of creation is affirmed and the image of God is firmly visible in all humanity. Yet there is a keen awareness within this way of seeing that there is evil in the world and that the believer must be aware and vigilant.  As vibrant as creation is with God’s life, there are forces of darkness that would bind us. We need the saving grace of God to liberate us in order that we might once again discover the essential goodness of our creation.  The Celtic spirituality also reminds us that the spiritual realm is closer than we may think. Heaven and earth are connected in ways that are invisible and yet very visible.   MacLeod’s plea for the modern day Church was for a recovery of the vision that would free us, individually and collectively, to see both the heights and depths of the mystery in which we live, the glory within us and in the matter of creation as well as the darkness, which, close and imprisoning, threatens each life.  MacLeod saw danger in separating the secular from the sacred.  When we do that, we make our faith an appendage to our life rather than life itself.  Our salvation in Christ is not just for that part of us that makes time for God; our salvation in Christ is for every part of our life.   When MacLeod passed away at the age of 96, the final prayer read at his funeral was this one composed by MacLeod himself: Be thou, triune God, in the midst of us as we give thanks for those who have gone from the sight of earthly eyes. They, in thy nearer presence, still worship with us in the mystery of the one family in heaven and on earth… If it be thy holy will, tell them how much we love them, and how we miss them, and how we long for the day when we shall meet with them again…. Strengthen us to go on in loving service of all thy children. Thus shall we have communion with thee, and, in thee, with our beloved ones. Thus shall we come to know within ourselves that there is no death and that only a veil divides, thin as gossamer. (Newell, p. 93) His prayer was written in the conviction of the closeness of the saints, and his belief that death is not a departing from life but a returning to its Heart.   Next week will be the conclusion of this series.    
Bible Text: Job 38: 1-11 and Mark 4:35-41 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality As we discovered last week, the Celtic spirituality had gone into hiding. It had been suppressed for a number of centuries and yet had survived. Its survival was given hope by the work of Alexander Carmichael. Yet in spite of this, it continued to be discouraged. In reflecting on what took place, it is interesting to note that those who first brought the Christian faith to the Celts did so in such a way as to incorporate and enliven the faith already present in the people. Their methods were enlightened and led the people to a deep and lasting relationship with God.   Around the same time as Carmichael was collecting the prayers of an increasingly dispersed tradition in the Western Isles, another Scot, George MacDonald (1824-1905), was finding a new channel of expression for this ancient stream of spirituality and communicating it in the form of short stories and novels. MacDonald had been reared on the old Celtic stories and legends of the Western Isles and these shaped the spirituality that he expressed through his fictional works. His writing was meant for those who could see with the eyes of a child and his works of the imagination strove to recover the inner faculty of sight whereby God may be seen within us, among us and in all the things of creation.   MacDonald owed much of his spirituality of the imagination to a so-called ‘heretic’ named Alexander John Scott (1805-66).  Scott was guided in his theology by John Scotus whom we learned of in an earlier message.  Scott’s belief that God’s love is in and for all people was in sharp contrast to the prevailing Calvinist doctrine which saw God as separate from the creation and God’s redemptive love as exclusively for those elected by God to receive the grace of light. Scott saw God as immediately present in the whole of life. He maintained that “everywhere we can find the ladder that connects heaven and earth, God and humanity, with the angels of the eternal light ascending and descending upon it.” (Newell, p. 62) This image is picked up by MacDonald in his stories and also by C. S. Lewis in the Narnian wardrobe.   Scott, who grew up in the Western Isles, discovered that the people looked for God in the whole of life. He described them as listening for God in all things. “In their inmost being,” he said, “they knew a type of communion with the uncreated at the heart of creation.” (Newell, p. 63)  They perceived the interweaving of the spiritual and the material, of heaven and earth, time and eternity. “Always,” said Scott, “there is the greatness that lies within and beneath the common. Everywhere…we can glimpse signs of the presence of God’s life in and among us, for God is the Being on which all being rests.” (Newell, p. 63)   Scott ran afoul of the established Church and was stripped of his ordination because he maintained that the love of God was not limited to the Church and the elect but that the love of God was for all for Christ is the Life of the world.  Scott also took issue with the perception that ordained ministers had a greater presence of God’s Spirit within them than the rest of humanity. He also criticized the Church’s Sabbatarianism. He didn’t disagree that there should be a day of rest but he firmly believed that the Sabbath was not the only holy day – but rather that the whole of life is sacred, every day, every hour, every moment.   God’s life is like the heartbeat at the centre of life, pulsating within, sustaining all that is.  God is forever communicating his life and love in and through the outward forms of creation.  For Scott, the emphasis of Christ that we become like children is evidence to him that we are to recover the inner faculties we were born with and use them to glimpse the presence of the Spirit of God in the creation.  He believed that we need to regain our innate childlike way of seeing that becomes increasingly obscured by neglect throughout our lives.  The gift of the imagination – which in a child is still uninhibited – allows creation to be a lens through which we may fleetingly bring into focus aspects of the eternal.  In a real sense, this way of looking at things forces us to re-examine the materialism that has increasingly gripped our Western society and caused a growing spiritual insensitivity whereby life has come to be seen more and more in limited material terms.  Value and meaning has shifted from the internal to the external.   But lest we believe that the Celtic spirituality is a romantic perspective on creation – one that sees the world in an idyllic way – we need to remember that while maintaining the goodness of creation, the Celts knew that there were forces of evil present in the world. They knew that they needed to discern with inner sight what the essence of God in creation is and therefore what is truest and most unshakeable in life.  They knew that as we listen to hear God’s living Word to us in the Scriptures, we will also hear words of human failure and violence.  When we explore creation, we will perceive suffering and cruelty at one level, but deeper still we will perceive that grace and boundless creativity of God. Evil was described as a snake coiled up in the grass of our lives, ready to spring up and tempt us to violence of heart and action. Any spirituality must take account of the evil in and around us and provide ways of growing in spite of it.   But their recognition of evil and its attempts to stop us from finding that light of God gave the Celts hope for they firmly believed that the darkness cannot overcome God’s essential light. It was even believed that Satan would one day repent and be restored to his original role of angel of light. The spirituality of the old Celtic church had begun to find new life and expression.  It led to much social reform in Scotland and is probably to be found behind much of the ecological awareness in the world today.   Another theme that continued to bubble up from the old Celtic church was the belief that at the heart of all things there is a unity of the person in God. Distinctions of male and female, race and colour disappear. With it came a freedom to use either male or female images to describe God.  A mother’s heart could be imagined at the heart of God – God’s love perceived as that of a father. In fact, the feminine became a rich symbol of the One who gives birth to life, and who nurtures and watches over creation like a mother her child.   The end of the 19th century began a major revival of the old Celtic spirituality in the Scottish church. It began to free itself from much of its enclosed Calvinism and opened itself up again to life and to the world.  Next time – on July 5 – we will explore the next phase of the revival and the re-emergence of the community of Iona.
Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10, 14-17 and Mark 4: 26-34 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality Last time I spoke to you about the people who succeeded Pelagius and for whom the Celtic way of seeing the world made sense. I spoke to you of St. Ninian and how he organized the church in a way that reflected more of the Eastern Church tradition rather than the Western Church. I reflected on the great hymns of St. Patrick whose sense of God in all of creation created a world view in which God and our faith could not be separated from any aspect of our life. Then I spoke to you of John Scotus the Irishman who saw in the Celtic way an important contribution to the wider faith community and sought to bring that contribution into the mainstream of the church.   While he wasn’t successful in that, the Celts doggedly refused to give up on the path that had guided their ancestors through life and had kept them firmly rooted in God and in Jesus Christ. Even when the last old Celtic monastic bastion on Iona had been converted to a more Roman structure and the worship and life of the community altered, Culdee chapels continued to dot the landscape of the outer reaches of Scotland. The Culdees were Celtic monks in the eremitic tradition – namely, people chose to live a relatively secluded prayer-focused life. They banded together in loosely structured monastic clusters and continued to teach and lead the people in the ways that they had come to love and cherish.  And while visible signs of the Celtic spirituality disappeared from public view, it found its home among the people of the Western Isles. In the middle of the 19th century, a young civil servant named Alexander Carmichael began to record the prayers that had been passed down for centuries in the oral tradition of the Hebrides and the west coast of Scotland.   While outwardly the people were part of the modern parish system, in their daily life they continued to pray the prayers handed down to them through the generations.  These prayers were usually sung or chanted and were recited as a rhythmic accompaniment to the people’s daily routine – at the rising of the sun and its setting, at the kindling of a fire in the morning and its covering at night. These prayers were used in the most ordinary contexts of daily life and not within the four walls of a church on Sunday. Carmichael detected in many of them a liturgical character and tone and came to believe that they had come down from the tradition of the old Celtic Church – the chanting being reminiscent of its ancient music.  Evidently the people could not be convinced to let these prayers fade away. They had been taught that the light of God was in them and that the goodness of creation was all around them and that heaven and earth were bound together. If you have ever traveled to the western isles, you know how conscious you need to be of the sky, the sea and all that surrounds you.   The prayers that Carmichael collected are known as the Carmina Gadelica which means the songs and poems of the Gaels. These poems celebrate the goodness of creation. Even though they knew that the elements could be harsh, they believed that the grace of God was to be found in a love for all the elements that surrounded them.  They even believed that the grace of healing was contained within the creation. They viewed the life of God as being deep within creation as well as being distinct from it. For them God is present in the elements but God is not the creation. They understood that there is a distinction between the Creator and the creation, between the Source of life and living things. And while they didn’t confuse the Creator and the creation, they held a great reverence for creation while not defying it.  One of the customs of the people was for men to take off their cap to the sun in the morning and for women to bend their knee to the moon at night. As an old woman at Barra explained it: It is a matter for thankfulness, the golden-bright sun of virtues giving us warmth and light by day, and the white moon of the seasons giving us guidance and leading by night. It was noted that many of the prayers moved like the shuttle on a loom, between the physical and the spiritual giving thanks for the material gift of light while at the same time being aware of the spiritual light of God within creation. (Listening for the Heartbeat of God, p. 44)   God is present at the heart of creation, God is the heartbeat of life but God is also close. There is a personal immediacy of God to us, a closeness not only of God but of the whole host of heaven, enfolding the Earth and its people with love. But this is no sentimental piety. There exists in these prayers a readiness to give and receive warm affection for Christ, the saints and angels. The saints and angels were real to the people and viewed as being present throughout life. They are regarded as messengers of God’s everlasting love for us.   Remember that I told you about the Celtic belief that the image of God can be seen in newborns? Well they also practised what is known as the birth baptism. Three drops of water would be placed on the child’s forehead to acknowledge that the image of the God of life had been born into the world. They would still have the child baptized in the church but it could take months for a priest to come to the more remote parts.   The Celtic belief that we have the light of God within us and that we are to pray for that light to shine through all that clouds and covers it over remained strong. They looked for God’s grace in their life to enable them to become more loving, wiser, more like Christ; but they never denied their need to be protected from evil. They were very aware of the existence of evil and the need constantly to guard against it.   The more formal repression of the old spirituality began in the 16th century with the Reformation. Along with this went the suppression of the Gaelic tongue which was still widely spoken in the Western Isles and the highlands. Its suppression bears resemblance to the manner in which our own indigenous peoples saw the suppression of their language and culture. As people shared with Carmichael, they often preferred to do it in the quiet of the night or they would follow him to the next village to avoid any suspicion that they were speaking of the forbidden ways.   Philip Newell, the author of the book on which these messages are based wonders what was it that the establishment so feared in this stream of spirituality? Was it in part that people of such a spirituality could not be neatly controlled or confined within the narrow bounds of religion and order as defined by the established Church and society of the day?   In the end what really caused the old ways to die the most was the Highland Clearances of the first half of the 19th century. With no central place to be able to keep the tradition strong, the scattering of the clans and the families gradually led to fewer and fewer people remembering and following that old path. Carmichael’s work captured what would soon have been lost to the dust of history. But because of his work, the beauty of that old way of seeing found a new life and enables to not only know how they viewed the world and their faith in God but be able to choose that path for ourselves.   One last thing to share today and that is their perspective on death. All through their life they sought for the light of God as they listened for the heartbeat of God in all things. But death was a place of dark sorrow that was difficult to cross. But while the light seemed to fade, they believed that the angels of God would guide them over to a goodness of unimaginable glory. But rather than seeing this goodness as unrelated to the present world, they saw it as a continuation of the goodness experienced here in creation and in the earth’s cycles of seasons. To them it was a return to the very heart of the seasons, to the Source of all creation, a returning to the One who is the heart of all life. I will end with a prayer which was said at the deathbed of a loved one that speaks of the depth of hope found in this tradition and speaks not just to the one who is facing death at that moment, but to the people as a whole and to all of creation: Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter, To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer; Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home, To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber…… The great sleep of Jesus, the surpassing sleep of Jesus, The sleep of Jesus’ wound, the sleep of Jesus’ grief, The young sleep of Jesus, the restoring sleep of Jesus, The sleep of the kiss of Jesus of peace and of glory…… The shade of death lies upon thy face, beloved, But the Jesus of grace has His hand round about thee; In nearness to the Trinity farewell to thy pains, Christ stands before thee and peace is in His mind. Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm, Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance, Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves; Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life, Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life!