Sermon - Sunday, 26 May 2019

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 26 May 2019.

Scripture: Acts 16: 9-15 / Matthew 28: 16-20

Text:  Jesus said to them, All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations            (Matthew 28: 18, 19a)


The annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is a truly international event.

Gathering on the Mound last week with the 700+ ministers, deacons and elders from Church of Scotland congregations at home and abroad were delegates and visitors from partner churches across the world: the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, the Church of Central African Presbyterian Synod of Blantyre, the Presbyterian Churches of Nigeria, Canada, North India, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan, the  Evangelical Churches of Mozambique, Finland, Spain, Egypt, the Federation of Protestant churches in Switzerland, the Uniting Church in Australia, the Hungarian Reformed Church with greetings received from the United Mission to Nepal, the Lutheran Church in Denmark and the Greek Evangelical Church.

As well as being an international event, the General Assembly is also a truly ecumenical occasion and this year delegates and visitors represented the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union of Scotland, the Church of England, the Methodist Church in Scotland, the Society of Friends, the Roman Catholic Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the United Free Church and the Congregational Federation in Scotland.

There were also people representing Action of Churches Together in Scotland, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the World Council of Churches.

International, ecumenical, and one of the highlights of last week was when the people representing all of these churches were introduced to the Moderator, Colin Sinclair, and welcomed to the General Assembly.

Two of the visitors were invited to speak, the Rev Nigel Uden, Moderator of the United Reformed Church and the Rev Ini Ukpuho from the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.

So what was it Jesus said to his disciples about making disciples of all nations?

Suddenly the evidence of the spread of Christianity was standing there in front of my very eyes, people from partner churches around the world, at one level guests who were invited to attend our General Assembly but at a deeper level women and men responding to the invitation and call of Christ in their own time and place and culture.

And for those of us who are members of Cramond Kirk – especially the people who are joining our church today - what an encouragement to realise we are part of something much bigger, something much greater, something truly global in its impact and reach.

Since the Scottish reformation with its emphasis on a church and school in every parish, the experience of faith and church life in the Church of Scotland has tended to be very local.

We live in a particular parish, we worship in a particular congregation, Sunday by Sunday we sit in the same pew – oh yes you do – and one of the consequences is that our vision and expectation of faith and church life tends to be shaped and informed by our local connections.

Of course there are times – and Christian Aid week would be one example – when our eyes are lifted and our horizons broadened to what is happening in the world around.

Inevitably however it is local circumstances and local concerns which dominate our experience and outlook.

How important then to be reminded that as the people of Christ in this place we are part of something much greater, a worldwide Christian family.

In its report to last week’s General Assembly, the World Mission Council highlighted the fact that the centre of gravity of the worldwide church has moved from the global north to the global south. [i]

Where once the vitality and strength of the church was to be found in Europe and North America, today it is in Africa, Asia and South America that Christianity’s growth areas are found.

And in contrast to our experience in Scotland, around the world the church is growing, growing in faith and growing in numbers.

The Council’s report also pointed out that whereas previously in its history the Church of Scotland might have perceived itself to be a large church in a small nation, in today’s global village although we are a small church in world terms, we are still a vital and respected part of the worldwide Christian family.

And as we seek in our time and place and culture to follow Jesus, we do so not as one small church on the northern periphery of Europe but as part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church.

Such a change in understanding matters – from being a large church in a small country to being a small part of the worldwide Christian family – and one of the reasons why it matters is that our method of sharing in the mission of God – of doing as Jesus asked and making disciples of all nations – must be to work in partnership with others.

Increasingly that working together will happen internationally and it will happen ecumenically.

Lesslie Newbigin, probably the Church of Scotland’s outstanding theologian of mission, put it well when he said;

There can be no private salvation, no salvation which does not involve us one with another. In order to receive God’s saving revelation we have to open the door to the neighbour.

International, ecumenical; as well as being one of the best ways to describe the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has it become a good way to describe Cramond Kirk?

Earlier this year we welcomed Stanley Okeke into the life and worship of our congregation and all being well we will look forward to welcoming his wife and two children in July.

As you know, Stanley is transferring into the Church of Scotland from the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.

Stanley joins a growing number of people from other countries – Korea, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Lebanon, Ethiopia, South Africa, Iran, Canada, the United States, Australia and France – who are all part of our worshipping community.

And as well as coming from other countries, there are also many people in our congregation who were brought up in other faith traditions, in no faith tradition or in different Christian traditions and who have now found their church home in Cramond Kirk.

As Stanley learns something about the culture and practices of church life in Scotland during his year with us, one of my hopes is that we will learn something from him about the culture and practices of church life in Nigeria.

And I hope we will do so because as we grapple in the Church of Scotland to find different ways of sharing our faith, different patterns of worship, different models of church life, different ways of engaging people in our communities with the presence and promises and purposes of God, help, encouragement, wisdom and insights will come through our sharing with and learning from churches in other parts of the world.

Exciting, enriching, interesting, yes it is, but in fact it is nothing new.

From the Book of Acts we heard of Paul being called in a dream to travel to Macedonia where he made his way to the city of Philippi.

On the Sabbath Paul and his friends went to the city gate looking for a quiet place to pray where they met a group of women.

As they started to share their faith we hear one of the women, Lydia, introduced as a dealer in purple cloth, a business woman, whose heart was opened to respond to Paul’s teaching and who invited him and his group to her home where she and her family were baptised.

And one of the things to glean from the story is this: diversity is at the heart of the Christian church because, from the evidence of the New Testament, the church has always been a community of people from different backgrounds, different education and life experiences who were brought together by the love of God in Christ and united in a common journey of faith, hope and love.

At its best isn’t this something to which we should all aspire, our congregation, every congregation, our church, every church, a community of people, people of different nationalities, people of different backgrounds, people with different thoughts, views, ideas and life experiences, yet people drawn together into the worldwide family of the Christian church by the love of God in Christ?

International, ecumenical, exciting, enriching; yes it is because then or now the command remains the same, Go, and make disciples of all nations.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


World Mission Council Report, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2019[i]