Sermon - Sunday, 16 September 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 16 September 2018.

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, 14  / Matthew 22: 1-10

Text: For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time           (Ecclesiastes 3: 1)

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

One of the more unusual tasks during my year of adventures as Moderator of the General Assembly was to dedicate a clock.

The request came during our time with the Presbytery of Dunkeld and Meigle.

As well as visits to the Royal School of Dunkeld, Pitlochry Primary and Secondary School, Blairgowrie Boys Brigade, Balween Nursing Home, the Remony estate and the Compass Centre, a Christian Outdoor Centre at Glenshee, the programme also included visits to all 18 congregations in the Presbytery.

Rattray Parish Church was one of these congregations.

Built in 1820 and overlooking the Strathmore valley, one of the distinctive features of Rattray Church is a square clock tower of Italianate design.

Would I be the guest preacher at Rattray Parish Church – and would I dedicate their recently repaired tower clock?

I consulted with the Principal Clerk, John Chalmers, and with the Moderator’s PA, Alison Murray – did they have any advice on dedicating a tower clock?

They knew nothing of Italianate design.

They had never heard of a church clock being dedicated.

You are the Moderator, they said, you work it out!

I consulted the Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order.

It contains an order of service with readings and hymns suitable for the dedication of a new church building, a communion table, communion vessels, a font, a Bible, a lectern, offering plates, an organ, a stained glass window…………… but strangely enough, nothing about the dedication of an 1820 tower clock of Italianate design.

Tick, tock; thankfully the Bible came to my rescue because, from the its opening chapters which tell of God creating light and separating the day from the night, to its closing revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, the end of time, the Bible has a great deal to say about time, its use, its meaning, its purpose.

For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time

With his life largely behind him, the prophet Qoheleth decided it was time to take stock.

As he reflected on the world as he had experienced it, his birth, his life, the lives of people around him, and as he anticipated his death, a horizon beyond which he could not see, Qoheleth wondered if God had a purpose in creation, a plan, and if so did anyone know what it was?

As far as Qoheleth could tell, the world was confusing and enigmatic, the greatest enigma being human beings themselves.

As the narrative of Ecclesiastes unfolds, Qoheleth comes to two conclusions.

Although he believes there is a divine purpose at the heart of life, a purpose which gives meaning to existence and to time, Qoheleth recognised the limits of human wisdom, even the wisdom of a godly person.

As such, he was led to conclude the larger purposes of God in creation, and the ultimate meaning of time and human existence, are beyond the capacity of human wisdom to discern.

Accepting the limitations of human wisdom brought Qoheleth to his second conclusion, namely, that although we might not be able to fathom the deep meaning of life, the life of faith was still worthwhile and meaningful.

Years later St Paul would come to a similar conclusion when he spoke about seeing through a glass darkly, his conviction that although we might not understand everything about the purposes of God or the meaning of life, living with faith mattered because a day would come when all would be revealed and we would, in St Paul’s words, see face to face and know as we are fully known.

And so with words which have rarely been surpassed, Qoheleth said there is a season for everything and a time for every activity under the heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time for mourning and a time for dancing.

These are magnificent sentiments, sentiments which speak into the depth of the human soul……………….yet it is not just their poetry which appeals.

What appeals is the underlying conviction that time is meaningful……………….and time is meaningful because it is embraced in the providence of God, each day, each hour, each season, each moment, held in God’s hands.

And because it is held in God’s hands, Qoheleth encouraged his readers to make good use of their time and to live each day as fully and as well as possible.

Time matters.

Time is not a possession, something we own, something we can keep, something to do with as we please.

Time matters because it comes to us as a gift, a gift from God.

And because time comes to us as a gift from God, the use we make of our time matters.

One of the things I appreciate most about being the minister at Cramond Kirk is the time so many people give to supporting the life and varied activities of the congregation.

Quite simply, if people did not volunteer their time to support the work of the Kirk Session, to maintain the buildings, to attend to our finances or run the many youth organisations and community groups which meet in the Kirk Hall, Cramond Kirk would grind to a halt.

And I never cease to be amazed at the time people give to Fresh Start, St Columba’s Hospice and Edinburgh’s many other charitable organisations.

Cramond Kirk’s health and well-being depends upon people giving their time…..and if they did not, the life of our congregation, the life of our parish and the life of our city would be diminished beyond measure.

Time matters, the way we use our time matters, and because it matters Cramond Cares, our Stewardship Campaign, invites people to reflect upon their use of time.

A time to be born and a time to die

A time to plant and a time to uproot

Jesus had a great deal to say about time, its meaning, its purpose, its importance and much of his teaching is summed up in the great parable of the wedding banquet.

The parable tells of how a king was preparing a wedding banquet for his son and, as was the custom in those days, invitations were sent out well in advance.

(Think ‘Save the date’ text messages ancient Israel style!)

The invitations were followed up on the day of the wedding when messengers would be sent to the guests announcing everything was ready, the feast was prepared, the party was about to begin and it was time to come.

As the parable unfolds the invited guests make their apologies.

Apparently they all had to attend to more pressing matters of family and business.

So the messengers are sent out again to invite people from the highways and byways and village streets to fill the wedding hall.

This is a parable about time.

It was told to the Pharisees who refused to see that in Jesus, the time of their long awaited Messiah had come – Jesus came unto his own but his own recognised him not.

Yet hearing it today makes me wonder if we are any better.

One of the tragedies of contemporary life is people feeling as though they have such little time as the immediate and often pressing demands of home and family and work close out the claims of eternity, the things which are seen preoccupy to the exclusion of that which remains unseen, and when absorbed in all the noise and activity of a busy world we no longer hear, or even expect to hear, the still small whisper of God’s voice.

God has made everything to suit its time, there is no adding to it, no taking away

Visit Rattray Church today and at the foot of the square bell tower of Italianate design you will find a brass plaque.

The plaque reads

The church clock was re-dedicated by the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Right Reverend Dr Russell Barr on 18th January 2017

And when I last spoke to the minister, Linda Stewart, I was pleased to learn the clock was still keeping good time.

Keeping good time …………….for Christian people the birth of Jesus means the rich tapestry of life is no longer quite the mystery it was for Qoheleth.

 

In Jesus the divine mystery at the heart of life came to live among us and lives among us still, laying His claim on your life and mine, on your time and mine.

Like Qoheleth, Jesus taught his disciples to take nothing for granted, to live each day and to live it well.

He taught us to find time for God and time for others.

Quite simply he taught us …………..to keep good time.

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