The fire and the dove- a sermon on the Baptism of Christ

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 43.1-7
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

The gospels tell us almost nothing about the training or education of Jesus. There is a little about his childhood in Luke, but soon we are hearing about the preaching of John the Baptist, in the passage we read today. John was a relative of Jesus, a prophet who preached that the Messiah- the one who would save God’s people- was about to appear. John called people to change their lives, to get ready for God’s saviour to appear among them. Crowds of people went down to the River Jordan to hear John’s preaching. And he would challenge them to respond by being baptised. John would immerse people in the waters of the River Jordan, to symbolise that they had died to their previous life- drowned it, if you like. They rose from the water into a new life, with their sins washed away, as water washes away dirt.

John the BaptistEventually, Jesus himself appeared, and was baptised by John in the river as well- and you can see a picture of it on the front of our order of service. Jesus’ baptism marks the point when Jesus passed from being a purely private figure to becoming a public preacher. This is a day he for which he would have been preparing for years. It is Jesus’ graduation day, his passing out parade. Continue reading

The Word became a Refugee- sermon for Christmas Eve Watchnight 2015

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star.

They have haunted our Christmas imagination for centuries. They still haunt our Christmas cards, our carols (of course), our crib scenes. Continue reading

The Word became Flesh- not a book! Reflection for Lessons and Carols service

Reflection for Lessons and Carols service, 13 December 2015, The Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture Reading: John 1.1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
 

In the beginning was the Word

What we have just read is one of my favourite Bible passages. Normally, it’s the stories I enjoy most. But this most mysterious of passages is the one which puts the stories into context. For this is how we make sense of the Christmas story, how we make sense of all the stories of the Bible, how we make sense of Christ.

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. The word we translate as ‘word’ is logos in Greek. It’s almost untranslatable, for it means more than just the ‘word’. It suggest something living, a person, someone who is the personification of God’s message to us. It suggests that our God is not a distant god who wound up creation like a clockwork train and then left it to run. It suggests that our God is a god who has something to say to us. Our God has a Word for his creation. Our God wants to be in relationship with all his creatures, wants to communicate with us.

But one of the greatest problems of the Church in our time is that too many Christians think that God has spoken to us in a book. They believe that the Word is words- the print on a page, the text of the Bible. And so they think that part of being a Christian is that we need to believe a hundred impossible things before breakfast. They would have us all believe, because the Bible tells me so, things we can’t believe in, things which aren’t necessary for Christians, must be believed. That the world was created in six days. That the world was once totally covered in water, and the only survivors took to an ark. That God can command his people to commit genocide. That there was once a man named Jonah who survived being swallowed by a giant fish. That women must be second-class citizens in the church, wear hats and keep silence in the church, and ask their husbands if they want to know the answer to any puzzles. That gay and lesbian people will always find it impossible to find lasting, loving and fulfilling relationships. Many Christians believe these things to be literally true, because they think the Word is a book.

cambridge-bible-zipped-upBut I don’t, and we don’t have to, because The Book itself, the Bible itself, gives us here a hint that the Word of God is something which cannot be bound up in a book- not even a leather covered book with a zip. For in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God, and the Word came into the world, though the world did not know him, and the Word became flesh and lived among us. You cannot know the Word just by reading the text of a book, for God’s Word has come to us not in a book, but as a person. The Word became flesh at Bethlhem- the son of parents who could find no place at the inn. A child who, with his family, had to flee the wrath of a bloody dictator and seek asylum, refugees in a strange land. The Word grew and enlightened the world, teaching grace and truth. Very much from his Jewish tradition, he nevertheless was willing to reinterpret that tradition. He was gracious and kind even to those who the religious thought were beyond the pale. He healed the sick, brought forgiveness to sinners, treated women and children with a graciousness which had not been seen before.

And it is this Word who is still alive in the Church, speaking to us not of ancient rules, but of love and grace and forgiveness. Yes, it is through the Bible that we meet Christ, the Word of God made flesh and living among us. But he interprets the words of the Bible for us, helps us to navigate what it means to live as his followers today. The Word has become flesh to live among us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated
© 2015 Peter W Nimm

Christmas Services

CamelsJPEGOur Christmas Services poster is now online!

On Christmas Eve we have an all-age service at 6.30pm and a Watchnight Service at 11.30pm, both at St Stephen’s.

We also have services at St Stephen’s on Christmas Day and on St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) at 10.30am. Bring your gifts along on Christmas Day!

For more information, please call 01463 250 802.

Embraced by love- sermon for 15 November 2015

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
15 November 2015
(The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Year 2 (Mark), Narrative Lectionary)
SERMON
Scripture Readings: Hosea 11:1-9
Mark 10.13-16
Sermon
Embraced by love
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We too often think of the books of the Bible as having been written so long ago, they cannot have much to do with us. The prophet Hosea preached almost 2,700 years ago. What can a text that old have to say to us? The introduction in the Good News version of the Bible to Hosea says that he ‘preached in the northern Kingdom of Israel… during the troubled times before the fall of Samaria in 721BC’. He preached in troubled times- times of uncertainty, with wars and rumours of wars abounding. And do we not, also, live in troubled times? Continue reading

Strictly come worshipping!- a sermon on David dancing before the Ark for 25 October 2015

Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-5 and 2 Samuel 6
Matthew 7.21 and 24 to 27

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

CeilidhA few months from now, something strange will start to happen in the PE classes in many Scottish primary and secondary schools. As the school Christmas dance approaches, school gym halls will no longer echo to the sounds of games or fitness routines. Instead, there will be dance music, as pupils start learning- dreaded words for many of them- social dancing. Boys and girls will be lined up on both sides of the hall, and have to pair off. And the PE teachers will start to initiate the embarrassed pupils in the secrets of the St Bernard’s Waltz, the Canadian Barn Dance, the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant. Continue reading

Belonging and believing: a sermon on Ruth for 18 October 2015

Scripture Readings: Ruth 1:1-19a
Mark 3:31-35

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

Recently the vicar of St Mary’s Church in Wrexham was having a bit of a clear-out of his church cupboards. And as he did so, he made a surprising find– a virtually complete first edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, the King James Bible, dating from 1611. The Rev Dr Jason Bray had no idea that the Bible was there- it had clearly been forgotten for centuries . The Authorized Version of the Bible was sent to churches across King James’s kingdoms, and as you probably know, our congregation has the care of a copy, which we have not forgotten about. Our copy is on display in the Old High Church, with a note pointing out a curious anomaly. Continue reading

Be grateful! A sermon for Harvest Thanksgiving 4 October 2015

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 4 October 2015: Harvest Thanksgiving
SERMON
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 26.1-11
Luke 4:1-4
Sermon
Be grateful!
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I’m about to become an Interim Moderator. That’s where another minister is put in charge of the Kirk Session for a parish where they have no minister at the moment. The Rev Jan Matheson, currently minister of the linked parishes of Cawdor and Croy, is moving to a parish in Glasgow. Jan is a good colleague, and we will miss her in Inverness Presbytery. Continue reading

To whom shall we go? A sermon for the Anniversary of the Battle of Loos

On 27 September 2015, the Colours of  the 4th/5th Battalion, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, were laid up in the Old High Church. The Camerons were the local regiment, and the Old High was their Regimental Church, and now houses the Camerons Memorial Area. The service took place at the time of the anniversary of the Battle of Loos (1915) in which many Camerons were killed and injured. The Loos commemoration was previewed in the Inverness Courier

Scripture Readings: Ephesians 6.10-18 (King James Version)
John 6:60-69 (Good News Bible)

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

Today our congregation is delighted to once again play host to the members of the Cameron Highlanders Association. I know that you will enjoy the comradeship of your reunion weekend. Yet a service like this has a more sombre tone, especially when, as we do today, we recall an event which led to such loss of life for the regiment- and, of course, for many others. Some of you here served in the regiment, and heard about the Battle of Loos alongside other stories from your regimental history. Others of you are descended from family members who were at the battle- for you, this is family history. And then some of you will be here because of your connections with the battalions whose colours we receive into safekeeping here at the Old High today. Continue reading