Last Sunday morning, we began a new sermon series entitled “Blessed,” looking at the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5. The Beatitudes is the name commonly given to the first part of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount.
I hope to set the scene for this new sermon series and Bible study
at our midweek prayer meeting tonight by looking more closely at what the Sermon on the Mount in general and the Beatitudes specifically are about and what they have to say to us today.
I have always believed the prayer meeting should be a meeting of those who wish to pray. In the year ahead we hope that others will come and join us, as we have many reasons to pray and many to pray for in the time ahead. I have also felt that a preacher-led Bible Study lecture should not dominate the prayer meeting, but that our priority should be corporate and private prayer. That will certainly not change, and in the year ahead, we hope that more will join us to pray, and a cordial invitation is given to all to join us on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 PM.
Over time we have looked at several books, passages, topics, and themes in scripture in the prayer meeting that addresses various issues in Christian life. These have included for example; the need for prayer, repentance and to seek the Lord, the need for obedience, the need for holiness, the need for grace, the need for humility, the need for forgiveness, the need for tears even. But in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ combines this heavenly inspired teaching with challenging practical application of these truths to all listeners and readers then and now. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to a radical lifestyle that is shaped by God’s Word and guided by God, the Holy Spirit. What we might say to be the rule and reign of God in the hearts & lives of His people.
As we read Matthew chapters 5-7, we see what real Christian character is. In essence, what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It isn’t just another supplementary law code or rule book. This Sermon takes us beyond Old Testament Law and our good works. It is a thoroughgoing examination of what it means to be a Christian. In carefully rereading these chapters, we have to confess that none of us is ever able to say that we have reached the summit of this Mount!
My prayer is that as we look at Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount, that we will let God the Holy Spirit challenge us and change us to His glory.
Tomorrow night sees the first Gaelic service to be held in Tarbert Church since the lockdown began. Little did we think when the benediction was pronounced at the end of our Gaelic service on Sunday the 15th of March that it would be the last in-person service in the church for several months. Yet here we are on the 15th of November and still unable to meet in the usual way. As everyone is aware Gaelic has always been a vital part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Western Isles, and we all miss not being able to meet for our traditional Gaelic service on the evening of the Lord’s day. For that reason, we will be hosting a Gaelic service of worship via Zoom on Sunday evening the 15th of November at 6 PM. The service will be live-streamed using Zoom from the church in Tarbert and will consist of Gaelic singings, prayers and sermon. Short introductions and sermon points at various times will be in English. Although several pre-recorded Gaelic services have been uploaded to the website , this is the first time we are live-streaming a Gaelic service, and we hope as many as can will join us for worship. We would be delighted to have you share in fellowship with us at this Gaelic service.
In the book of Joshua chapter 4, in the Old Testament, God commanded Joshua to have memorial stones set up that would serve to remind the Children of Israel of how God had helped them cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. At their first encampment in the promised land at Gilgal Joshua had the stones set up, and we read in Joshua 4:21-22
The memorial stones were set up to be a permanent reminder to the people, of God’s provision for them. The God who had led and guided them out of Egypt and fought for them in the wilderness was taking them into the land of their inheritance.
These stones were more than a mere memorial. They were to serve as a permanent reminder to the supernatural power and help of God. Think of the background to this account. A nation of runaway slaves evaded Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and escaped. They had journeyed over forty years in a hostile wilderness but were miraculously sustained and supplied with all that they needed. They were opposed continuously and harassed by marauders but were now entering the place promised to them long before. The stones were more than a memorial. These Stones were saying in effect ” We didn’t do this alone”. The stones are in memory of God’s help and provision for them.
I love Psalm 124 ( 2nd version – especially to the tune “Old 124th”)
1 Now Israel may say, and that truly,
if that the Lord had not our cause maintained;
if that the Lord had not our right sustained,
when cruel men against us furiously
rose up in wrath, to make of us their prey;
4 Even as a bird out of the fowler’s snare
escapes away, so is our soul set free:
broke are their nets, and thus escapèd we.
Therefore our help is in the Lord’s great Name,
who heaven and earth by his great power did frame.”
Metrical Psalm 124 ( 2nd version )
When we are asked what do our war memorials and services of Remembrance mean to us? What will our answer be? Over this weekend, the community and the nation will remember the suffering and loss of many lives in not only two world wars but also in all wars. The present situation means that our gathering at the War Memorial on Main street Tarbert will be much more muted and sparse than usual.
There are 176 names on the Harris war memorial. Each name representing a son, brother, husband neighbour or friend, tragically taken away in their youth. The appalling loss the Western Isles suffered still continue to shock many years later. The number of names on the various memorials pays tribute to the heavy price these islands paid. My grateful thanks to my friend and colleague Rev Alen McCulloch North Uist for gathering much of the data.
Berneray & North Uist 201
South Uist & Eriskay: 177
Barra & Vatersay: 125
It is hard for us to envisage how different our communities and islands would be had these young ( mostly men) survived, and had families themselves and continued to stay rooted to the islands of their birth. It is however fruitless to ask these questions, they have gone and our islands are the poorer for that.
On another memorial far away from these shores are written words that are now closely associated with Armistice and Remembrance.
These famous words are attributed to Major John Etty-Leal and are engraved on the Kohima War Memorial to commemorate the men of the British 2nd Division who fell in the Battle of Kohima in North East India against the Japanese in 1944.
These words tell of a generation of young men and women who not only at Kohima but in other theatres of war, gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. The names on the war memorial on Main street Tarbert have their stories to tell as do all the other memorial stones set up in the island and elsewhere. They speak of those who gave their lives from our communities and villages in the cause of freedom. These memorials are not there to venerate or worship anyone but serve as poignant reminders of the heavy price our islands paid in the wars. The loss of so many young lives so keenly felt by their families was a loss shared by a community and wider world which was deprived of the individual and collective vigour, intellect, talent and energy of these young people.
These stones pay silent witness to a young generation’s love of their country and the cause of freedom. But these stones have more than this to say. When our children ask us ‘what do these stones mean?’ what will we tell them? Will we tell them that if God had not intervened in providence, we would have lost the war, and the cause of evil would have triumphed. Will we tell them that without God’s mercy our whole way of life would have perished long ago. These stones are more than Memorials. They are silent reminders testifying as Samuel’s Ebenezer or ‘stone of help’ was long ago, to remind us all that it was God who helped us.
’Mar a thogras am fiadh a‑chum nan sruth uisge, mar sin tha m’anam a’ togairt ad ionnsaigh, a Dhè.
Tha tart air m’anam an dèidh Dhè, an dèidh an Dè bheò; cuin a thig mi agus a nochdar mi am fianais Dhè?
Seirbheis Ghaidhlig airson Sabaid 25 An Dàmhair 2020
An Shalmaidh le tart airson Dia, Le Deor agus Dearbhaidhean , ach a cuir earbsa ann a Dia.