Old High St. Stephen's, Inverness

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Category: Easter

Hope, joy and resurrection! Sermon for Easter Sunday 2019

Scripture Readings: John 20:1-18

Isaiah 65:17-25

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

You couldn’t miss the story of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, during this Holy Week. Thankfully, no-one was hurt in Paris, but much worse has happend this morning in Sri Lanka, where many people seem to have been killed and injured in terrorist attacks on hotels, and on churches where people were gathering for Easter Sunday. The people of Sri Lanka really need our prayers today.

In Paris, the damage to Notre Dame wasn’t quite as extensive as the images of the roof ablaze on Monday night first suggested. Those pictures of that great roof on fire were heart rending, but I’m sure many of you, like me, were struck by the images we saw of the inside of the building after the fire; above all, those pictures which showed the great gold cross above the altar, apparently unharmed, amid the rubble, soot and ashes of destruction.

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Holy Week and Easter services

This year we are sharing Holy Week with our friends at Ness Bank Church of Scotland and St John’s and St Michael’s Episcopal Churches. Do join us as we prepare for Easter!

Holy Week 15-19 April 2019

Monday

7pm Taizé service at St John’s Episcopal Church, Southside Road

Tuesday

6.30pm

Concert by US student choir at Ness Bank Church

Wednesday

7pm Reflecting on Holy Week at St Stephen’s

Maundy Thursday

7pm Communion at Ness Bank

Good Friday

The Old High Church will be open for reflection, 2-4pm
7.30pm Good Friday Evening Service with Musik Fyne,  St Michael’s Abban Street

Holy Saturday

8pm Easter Vigil at St John’s Episcopal Church, Southside Road

Easter Sunday

Services as usual at 10am (St Stephen’s) and 11.15am (Old High)

Sunday Bulletin 14 April 2019

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Tonight
7.30pm Faith for the Future: Lent Study and Worship
at St Stephen’s
Sunday 21 April 2019: Easter Sunday
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
11:15am Morning Worship at the Old High
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
SERVICES FOR HOLY WEEK AND EASTER This year we are sharing Holy Week with our friends at Ness Bank Church of Scotland and St John’s and St Michael’s Episcopal Churches. Please join us as we prepare for Easter:
Holy Week
15-19 April 2019: Monday 7pm Taizé service at St John’s
Tuesday 6.30pm Ness Bank with concert by US student choir to follow
Wednesday 7pm Reflecting on Holy Week at St Stephen’s
Maundy Thursday 7pm Communion at Ness Bank
Good Friday Old High Church open for reflection throughout the day
Good Friday Evening Service with Musik Fyne, 7.30pm St Michael’s Abban Street
Saturday 8pm Easter Eve St John’s
Easter Sunday services as usual at 10am (St Stephen’s) and 11.15am (Old High)
PASTORAL CARE Peter, or your Elder, should be informed of anyone ill at home or in hospital.
SOUTHSIDE NURSING HOME There will be a short service, led by Malcolm Macrae, at Southside Nursing Home immediately after this morning’s service at St Stephen’s. If you are able to assist with the singing, or chatting to the residents, this would be much appreciated: speak to Malcolm after the service. We also seek members willing to lead these service on a rota basis; contact Janet Robertson.
OLD HIGH CHURCH OPENING 2019 Last year we had over 6,500 visitors visit the Old High Church, many of them from around the world. However we are finding that more and more local people are taking the chance to visit the building. We have had hundreds of prayer tags put on the Prayer Tree, so it’s obvious we are meeting a real spiritual need for a quiet space in our busy city centre. Please do consider giving a few hours to be part of this fantastic outreach by our congregation. Prospective volunteers are invited to meeting on Monday 15 April at 2pm in the Old High Church to plan the programme for this year. New members welcome. If you can spare two hours per week/month to show people around the church please come along to the meeting or contact Sheila MacLeod.
CRAFT EVENING St Stephen’s Hall 7.30-9pm, Wednesday 17 April. Crafters and non-crafters welcome (you may wish to learn a craft). Friendly atmosphere and refreshments provided. Margaret McAleer.
OLD HIGH MUSIC On Saturday 27 April at 12 noon we are delighted to welcome back Kevin Duggan, Director of Music at Dunblane Cathedral. Some of you will remember the outstanding organ recital he gave in 2017. For this occasion he has crafted together a programme around the theme “Danish Connections”, covering the period from Buxtehude in the 17th century, via Nielsen in the 20th to his own composition – all of which he will introduce on the day. We hope that many of those attending the Congregational Meeting in the OH Hall that morning will come across to the church afterwards to enjoy this hour of music. Brochures are at the doors detailing the recitals for 2019. More details from Andrew Stevenson. Join the Music Email list: ohssmusic<at>gmail.com
LOCAL CHURCH REVIEW The Presbytery’s regular 5 yearly Local Church Review (LCR) for Old High St Stephen’s is now underway. The visiting team are Rev Ian Manson (Kilmorack and Erchless), Rev Robert Brookes (Cawdor and Croy), Sheila Proudfoot (Ness Bank) and Jim Anderson (also Ness Bank). The team have already met with the Leadership Group and this was a very good meeting. The next step is to meet with the Kirk Session and Congregation. This meeting will be held in the Old High Church Hall on Saturday 27 April from 10.00 – 11.45 am. Refreshments will be provided from 9.30 am. This is an important meeting as it gives everyone an opportunity to have input into the future of our congregation going forward and particularly towards moving to one place of worship, please come if you can. A list of questions from the LCR team will be made available shortly and these will be included in the Order of Service. There is an organ recital in the Old High from 12 noon and hopefully many will wish to attend that after the meeting. On the following day Sunday 28 April we have a Congregational Service at St Stephen’s which will include the Ordination of a new elder and the Congregation’s Annual Meeting. Therefore it’s a busy weekend with lots of important events to attend. If you have any questions on this Review please speak to the Minister, or to Christine MacKenzie.
CHRISTIAN AID WEEK 12-18 MAY 2019 collection envelopes available for collectors to pick up at both churches today. Ccontact Deborah Macrae if you have any questions or if you want to become a collector. All help welcome.
CHRISTIAN AID COFFEE MORNING Saturday 11 May in St Stephen’s Hall. There will be the usual plant stall for which contributions will be welcome. Contact Jennifer Morrison for further information.
LENT STUDY: FAITH FOR THE FUTURE this evening, 7.30-8.30pm at St Stephen’s. All welcome, even if you’ve not attended previously.
TABLE FOR SALE We have a handsome wooden table at the Old High Church which is surplus to requirements, and for sale to any member in return for a donation. If you interested, please contact Pat MacLeod, Church Administrator.
SUNDAY BULLETIN Please send items for this sheet to our Church Administrator: Mrs Pat MacLeod (079 342 85924 invernesschurch<at>gmail.com. Deadline Wednesday at 12 noon. Please keep items as brief as possible, and include contact details and/or e-mail.
OTHER NEWS
HEALING SERVICE Christian Fellowship of Healing (Highlands) will hold a healing service at St Stephen’s today at 4pm to which all are welcome. Contact David Martin.

The Strange Power of the Cross: Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday 14 April 2019

Scripture Readings: Luke 19:28-40

Luke 23.1-5, 13-48

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

View of the Scottish Parliament. The ruined Holy Rood Abbey can be seen just behind the royal palace of Holyrood

This week, an American asked my why our Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh is known as ‘Holyrood’. He said he could see that it was something holy, but what was a ‘rood’? I explained that the Parliament stood near the ruins of the Abbey of the Holy Rood- the word ‘rood’ is an old word, from German or Scandinavian, for a gallows or a cross. In modern English, the area would be called ‘Holy Cross’. Our Parliament’s name reminds us of the central sign and symbol of the Christian faith. A place of political power has a name which reminds us of a powerful religious symbol: the cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth died.

The cross stands at the heart of the Christian story. For the content of our faith is not a list of abstract doctrines, or list of do’s and don’ts: it’s a story- the story Bible tells of God’s dealings with human beings. It is a story on an epic scale, which jumps around different locations- mostly what we call ‘the Holy Land’, but beginning somewhere in modern Iraq, and taking us to Egypt, Sinai, Arabia, Cyprus, modern Turkey, Greece, Malta and Rome. There is war, famine, disaster, as well as joy. All human life is here- friendship, betrayal, love and adultery, politics, deaths and births. All kinds of people are in it- there are acts of barbarity, cunning and evil, as well as acts of kindness and of love. There is faith, and there is faithlessness.

And the climax of this story is one week in Jerusalem. That’s why the Church traditionally makes much of Holy Week, when our thoughts turn to those events in Jerusalem. It’s been called ‘the longest week in history’. A week that begins with crowds welcoming their saviour, and ends with the same crowds turning against him. All played out in a seething cauldron of national and religious passions. For this is an occupied city, ruled by a superpower, but whose people have a staunch sense of their own identity, bolstered by their unique religion- although there are different sects to contend with. Perhaps it wasn’t so different from Jerusalem today.

And into this cauldron Jesus rides on a donkey. And since people in complicated situations very often like simple solutions, they greet him. Surely he’s the Messiah, promised by the prophets. Surely this is God intervening decisively in favour of his chosen people, getting ready to free Israel from Roman rule?

Yes, God is involved- but not in the way they thought. God’s story is not the story the crowds would like to have. By Friday, the sense of disappointment is palpable. He’s not the Messiah they waited for. He’s not done what they expected of him. And behind the scenes, powerful men- their religious elite- have swung the will of the crowd in another direction. Those who on Sunday shouted ‘Hosanna’ will by Friday cry ‘Crucify him!’

It’s one of the great turnarounds in history- how the Jerusalem crowd changed its mind. And it’s frightening story- for we know that this story is true. Not simply historically true- that it happened back then. But true of any crowd of people, in any age. We love to build up heroes, and knock them down. And whereas a few priests and scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees could manipulate the first-century Jerusalem crowd, today our modern media takes these things into a new dimension. Now millions can be swayed to love or hate a public figure by journalists and publicists, or by even by otherwise ordinary people getting caught up in a social media frenzy.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, on trial for his life, he would have known that his public who once loved him had now turned against him. But he was not motivated by some need to be loved by the crowd, like a modern showbiz star. Much more important for Jesus was that he did God’s will. That wasn’t easy- before his arrest, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that God would take away the fate awaiting him. But in the end, he stuck to his principles. God came before the crowd. The passion of Jesus is, above all, the story of man who did what was right, regardless of what the public thought of him, regardless of the cost to him.

We Christians have thought a lot about Christ’s death over the centuries. The Bible itself, and preachers and theologians since, have seen all sorts of meaning in this death of Jesus. Hymn writers have been inspired by it- Isaac Watts wrote about surveying ‘the wondrous cross’, Thomas Kelly called it, ‘the balm of life, the cure of woe’. Graham Kendrick says that Jesus gave his life ‘that we might live’[1]. The cross, an instrument of his execution- has become the symbol of Christianity. We call the day he died ‘Good Friday’. What can be good about the cross? How can we say anything positive about the spectacle of an innocent man put to death for preaching about the love of God? For surely it’s disturbing to spend so much time reflecting on death, as Christians do? Surely we could find a cheerier story than this to live by?

But I think the story of Jesus’ death cross is a realistic story. For when you think about the story of Christ’s journey to the cross, it brings you face to face with how the world really is if you look at the cross, you’re forced to look at the world as it really is. The political machinations which put Jesus on the cross are revealed for what they really are. For the Roman Empire was built, not on noble ideas, but on slavery, oppression and terror. The religious leaders who put Jesus on the cross are revealed for what they are- not noble guardians of God’s word, but small-minded bigots who would rather an innocent man died than they lost their power over the people.

The cross tells us the truth about power, and corruption, and the depths to which people will sink. The cross tells us the truth about humanity, and so it tells us the truth about ourselves. People who know the story of Christ, and how he came to die on the cross, should not be surprised that people are persecuted for their beliefs. For the story of Christ is the story of a good man who spoke the truth, and was killed for doing so. We who know the story of Holy Week should not be surprised to hear politicians use religion as an excuse to discriminate against others because they are of a different faith, race, or nationality, for the Holy Week story a story about powerful people using religion to whip up hatred. And we who know the story of Holy Week know, in our heart of hearts, that it’s not just other people who are sinners. We know that we, too could so easily have been in the crowd that shouts ‘Hosanna’ on Sunday and ‘Crucify him’ on Friday.

Holy Week is a dark tale of religion being used for terrible ends. And we are all too aware that that still happens today- almost every day we hear on the news of atrocities carried out or prejudices justified by an appeal to one religion or another. In many parts of the world, there are people who rise to power claiming to defend their particular religions community from “non-believers”. This has happened in Islam, it happened in India with Hinduism. The Rohingya people of Burma have been pushed out of their homes in Burma because their Muslim religion is seen as a threat to the Buddhist culture of Burma. Extreme nationalism and bigotry are too often made respectable by claims to be defending religion.

It has also happened many times in Christian history. Leaders love to claim that they have God in their side. Right wing politicians in America have long claimed that their Christian culture is under attack. They use religious language, and stir up people by playing to their religious feelings. We are also starting to see that happen across Europe, too. We hear people talking about how ‘Christian Europe’ is being undermined by various dark forces. Sometimes they blame secularism. Sometimes they blame immigrants, especially Muslims. And sometimes these people who talk about defending ‘Christian culture’ give the game away, when they blame the Jews. For the Nazis, too, used to like to try to use religion to justify what they were getting up to.

Whenever we hear people saying they are trying defend a Christian culture, we should be very, very suspicious. For the chanced are that, like the leaders of Jesus day, they are trying to sway the crowd for their own ends. Holy Week is a story of religious and political leaders manipulating public opinion to make it possible for Jesus to be put to death. And we who know the story of Holy Week should shudder, for we know that it is still possible, and that even in our own age, people can use religion to manipulate the crowd for evil ends.

And so repentance is necessary- and forgiveness is possible. In Luke’s account of the death of Jesus, there is one person- an unlikely person- who understands the need for turning to God:

One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at [Jesus]: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.”

And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!”

Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.”

That second criminal understood that the death of Jesus had meaning for him. And if we can admit that the story of the cross tells us the truth about ourselves- that we are all broken, that none of us is perfect, that we are all make mistakes- terrible mistakes- then we begin to see that the cross tells us the truth about God as well.

We like power, we are attracted by power, but the power of the cross is a strange power. The power of the cross is in its powerlessness. For the cross of Christ shows us a God who does not side with powerful people who think they’ve no need to repent. The God we meet on the cross is a God who stands alongside the weak and powerless and humble. The kingship of Christ is represented by him riding on the humblest of animals, a donkey. The God we find in the story of Jesus is a God who aligns himself with others who suffer. And so even as he dies, he can promise a criminal, another condemned man, ‘Today you will be in Paradise with me’. That’s his promise to anyone who turns to him, in faith and in humility.

The story of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter is full of truth about our world, and about ourselves, and about our God. It reminds us how religion can be misused for evil ends. The cross convinces us of our need for repentance. And it also shows us the means of forgiveness. For we can all pray, ‘Remember me, Jesus’, and know the promises he offers.

Ascription of Praise

To God be honour and eternal dominion! Amen.

1 Timothy 6.16 (GNB)

Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated

© 2019 Peter W Nimmo

Notes

[1] CH4 392, 405, 374

Everything's changed! Sermon for Easter Sunday 2015

Texts: John 20.1-18

Acts 10:34-43

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The day after the Sabbath, two days after his execution, disciples of Jesus come to his tomb. Now, when I say disciples, you probably think I mean some of the inner twelve (or eleven, if you take Judas Iscariot out of it)- those men who are often the ones whom the Church has honoured with statues and stained glass windows.

But the four Gospels are unanimous it saying that it was women who were the first witnesses to the resurrection.

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Sermon for Easter Day 2014: I have seen the Lord

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 20 April 2014: Year A, Easter Day

SERMON
Texts: John 20:1-18
Acts 10:34-43

“I have seen the Lord”
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our very materialist world, it is a cliché that ‘seeing is believing’. We kid ourselves that we get to know things by seeing them. For a long time, science worked that way- you did an experiment, and if you could see what happened, then you had discovered a new scientific truth. In fact a lot of science involves things we can never see- like tiny particles, or planets which no telescope could ever see- but that doesn’t mean that the tiny particles or distant planets don’t exist. Scientists can work out that they are there, without every actually seeing them.

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For this life only…?: Sermon for Easter Sunday 2013

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 31 March 2013: Year C, Easter Day
SERMON

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15.19-26
Luke 24:1-12

(from the Revised English Bible)

For this life only…?

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sometimes it’s suggested that Christianity is being marginalised today. No longer are the children’s swings in the public parks of Inverness no longer chained up on Sundays (so it isn’t all bad!). And it isn’t bad if Christianity is no longer being used to prop up the establishment. For Christianity began when a man who had been seen as a threat to the establishment was put to death for being a troublemaker.

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