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Sunday Service, 9th August 2020

Opening prayer

We are called to be a worshipping community, offering all to you our Lord and God.
We are called to be a missionary community, making known your redeeming love.
We are called to be a sacrificial community, generously giving from all that you have given us.
We are called to be an inclusive community, sharing the hospitality of your Kingdom with all.
We are called to be a prophetic community, challenging powers that oppress and corrupt.
Creating and redeeming God we give you thanks and praise.

Lord we come to you today, to covenant with you and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, praying that you will watch over us and walk with us in our daily pilgrimage. Pour your Spirit on us. Help us to walk in your way so that in the promises we have made before you and in the life we live together we may bring honour and glory to your name, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Father God in heaven, you are very special.
We want you to be our King and for everyone to do what you say both here and in heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
We are sorry when we are nasty or unkind and we forgive those who are unkind and hurt us.
Keep us safe from badness, for you are the King of everything.
You are the strongest and we worship you for always. Amen.

(Build version of the Lord’s Prayer.)

Hymn 159 – Lord, for the years. Listen here.

Scripture Reading

Luke 19: 41–44 (NRSV)

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’

Photo by Connor Mollison on Unsplash

Sermon by Rev. Robert Gemmell: Christ and the City

Until the period of lockdown, city breaks were popular with many, the opportunities travel firms offered allowing us to spend a few days in, for example, London or Paris, Rome or Amsterdam, at a relatively cheap cost.

A number of years ago I visited Birmingham to attend the Baptist World Alliance Conference. I was pleasantly surprised by what the city had to offer: the layout of the city centre, the walkways, the canals, the eating places.

Perhaps my favourite ‘city visit’ was to Vancouver. Again the layout was impressive, the amenities it offered, the beauty of the surroundings, the sea and the mountains, the friendliness of the people.

By way of contrast, I well remember the noise, the traffic chaos, the poverty of Bhopal in India when I had the privilege of visiting the Indian pastor who at the time was being supported by our local Baptist Church. Bhopal, I can assure you, is not on the Indian tourist route.

Any list of special cities wouldn’t be complete without reference to our own city of Edinburgh. Normally at this time of the year the city is ‘alive’ with locals and tourists enjoying the offerings of all the various festivals. Not so, of course, this year.

There are different ways of beholding a city and what it has to offer. Going back to the time of our Lord’s ministry this was certainly true of Jerusalem. Our Scripture reading from Luke’s Gospel refers to Jesus, sitting at a vantage point overlooking Jerusalem, a city crowded with locals and pilgrims, preparing themselves to celebrate the Passover. We find him surveying that scene; a scene, however, that brought tears to his eyes.

Tears, yes, but not tears shed as a sign of weakness, but the tears flowing from his caring and sensitive heart, from a feeling of sorrow, a sorrow that the nation had somehow lost its way, its reason for being.

Our Lord isn’t the only person recorded within Scripture as having shed a tear or two. David shed a tear as he cried out with grief on the death of his son: “O my son, my son Absolom, if only I had died in your place.” Peter wept as he rushed out of the courtyard of the High Priest after his denial of our Lord.

But back to the tears shed by our Lord as he overlooked Jerusalem. Why those tears? Let me pose three possibilities and you can see which of them seems most likely to you.

Could it have been because our Lord realised that some of the people were seeking security within their lives, but seeking it from the wrong sources? “The time will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades and close in on you from every side. They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls, not a single stone will they leave in place.” Luke 19: 43–44.

With prophetic insight Jesus was aware of what was going to happen to the city in the not-too-distant future. In the minds of some, Jerusalem, no doubt, offered security; it was in their eyes the city of God, strong, unmoveable, immortal. In reality it was totally vulnerable to outside forces.

Perhaps a second possibility for the tears could have been our Lord’s realisation that some of the people were seeking peace but seeking it, again, from the wrong source. “If only you knew today what is needed for peace. But you cannot see it” (verse 42). In a sense it could be said that the nation was blind to its own interests, it was uncertain as far as its values were concerned, unaware of what true peace depended upon.

A Hebrew poet had cried out in Psalm 122: 6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the tranquillity of Zion.” And no doubt there had been those within the thronging crowd who had indeed been praying for the peace of Jerusalem, but were they seeking that peace in the wrong places?

For example there were the Zealots of the day, desperately seeking for peace, but for them peace could only come through blood and fire and revolution, freeing them from the might of Rome.

And I am sure that there were members of the Sanhedran praying for peace, but a peace that could only be achieved through political manoeuvring, through compromise, even through manipulation.

Added to that, we have the Priests praying for peace, but for them peace meant the pacifying of God through sacrifices and ceremonies and ordinances.

And what about the Scribes? They too, were no doubt praying for peace, but a peace that could only be achieved through obedience to the letter and traditions of the Law.

“If only you knew today what is needed for peace. But you cannot see it.”

A third factor worth considering is whether some of the people were seeking God in the wrong place. Again, Luke gives us a clue from the Gospel passage: “you did not recognise the time when God came to save you”.

God at that very moment in time was there in the midst of his people. Yes, the people were seeking, awaiting the coming of their Messiah. But the Messiah was in their midst and they couldn’t or wouldn’t recognise him. In fact they were about to crucify him on a cross. The Word had become flesh and he was there in their midst, dwelling amongst them.

The various groups were looking forward to the coming of their Messiah, but with their own agendas to the fore, wanting to mould their Messiah in their own image and use him for their own purposes.

I can’t be certain, of course, but from Luke’s recording of this incident it would seem to me that our Lord was probably aware of these issues – and perhaps others – as he sat overlooking the city of Jerusalem and wept.

With a wee bit of imagination I am sure that we can picture our Lord sitting up on Calton Hill or up on the Pentlands, overlooking our city. What do you think his reaction and response might be to what he sees of the work of his church today? Would there be a quiet smile of satisfaction, a shedding of tears or a mixture of both?

Hymn 538 – God be in my head and in my understanding. Listen here.

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

Lord, we delight in your Fatherly love.
We pray that in Your Kingdom there will be justice and peace,
but we know that this is not the experience of everyone today.

We pray for people who find themselves caught up in conflict.
For those navigating difficult relationships and making hard decisions.
For those who have experienced discrimination and unfairness.
For those caught up in dangerous situations around the world.
We pray for people who find themselves on the margins.
For those who feel they don’t quite fit in or are being left out.
For those who don’t want others to know they are struggling.
For those who can’t access the things we take for granted
because of poverty or disability.
Break down the barriers. We pray.

We pray for Your church.
For our parish and the communities who gather here each week.
For our brothers and sisters around the world.
Strengthen and encourage us, Lord.
As we settle into new rhythms of life,
we remember those who have suffered
and are struggling with the effects of the last few months.
We pray for those who are trying to return to a new normality
and for those who are caught between the two.

Amen.

(Based on material provided by Vicky Stigant, Youth Work Facilitator with Gordon Presbytery.)

 

The Blessing