Speaker 1. Anne: Reflection
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Life can be so unpredictable—joys and sorrows, beautiful blessings and distressing difficulties can come unexpectedly. Our life’s dreams and plans can change in an instant. We all know this to be true – especially at this time of great national and international uncertainty.
So how can we find peace amid such turbulence?
Horatio Spafford, the author of the lines quoted above, knew something about life’s unexpected challenges. He was a successful attorney and real estate investor who lost a fortune in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Around the same time, his beloved four-year-old son died of scarlet fever.
Wanting a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody and [his musician Ira] Sankey in one of their campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days.
“On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’”
Spafford left immediately to join his wife. At one point during his voyage, the captain of the ship, aware of the tragedy that had struck the Spafford family, summoned Horatio to tell him that they were now passing over the spot where the shipwreck had occurred.
As Horatio thought about his daughters, words of comfort and hope filled his heart and mind. He wrote them down, and they have since become a well-loved hymn.
How do we cope when faced with overwhelming events?
This evening, we will hear stories of deep struggles and how we can learn and grow and use them as opportunities for transformation.
Everlasting God, you never fail to help your people.
Throughout history we see you acting in love towards your children.
When they cry out to you, you hear and respond.
When they fail and turn away from you,
you do not turn your back on them.
Jesus Christ, you are the true vine,
in our need we come to You,
needing Your strength
for we too easily become dry and lifeless
without Your life-giving spirit.
Teach us to remain in You
and so to find Your life flowing in us
giving strength and vigour to our discipleship.
Give us a steadfast mind
and fill us with peace as we put our trust in you.
Here, too, as Your church gathered today,
we give thanks for the saints of the past
and the fruit they have borne in our community and beyond.
Like them, help us to remain in You
that we may be fruitful and bring glory to Your name.
Through Jesus Christ, the true vine. Amen
Speaker 2. Colin: Reflection
I like most of us listening tonight have been through many challenging times in life when God may have seemed very far away.
Both in my personal life and in my business life, when unexpected problems have arisen, which often seemed insurmountable, I could have asked myself “Where is God in all this?”
My family and I experienced two floods in our first home here in Alva, so when the opportunity arose we built a house on higher ground. We'd been in this new house a few years when we suffered a major fire. Without a doubt, this was the most challenging time in our lives because the fire endangered the lives of our 4 young children and my mother.
My wife, Elaine and I had gone away for a city-break to Florence, this was the first time we had been away leaving our children at home with my mother and her wee dog Sandi.
On the morning of the day we were due to return from our weekend break there was a flashback from our gas boiler in the hall. It ignited at 7am and a fire quickly took hold. My son Andrew was awoken in his top bunk by the smell of smoke. He quickly woke his Gran, they then went to wake our 3 other children Alyson, Jamie and Euan who were oblivious to the danger they were in. The group of 5 then had to pass down the main corridor passing the seat of the roaring fire to escape from the house. Once the children were safely outside my Mother returned to rescue her little dog from the kitchen. Within no time at all they could no longer see through the thick, acrid smoke.
When Elaine and I arrived back that evening and were approaching the house down the drive, we quickly realised something was wrong. The house was in darkness, - there was a skip in the drive - and we could see the windows were blackened and broken. I told Elaine to stay in the car, but I was too late, she was out the car in a flash with her maternal instincts in overdrive.
Things are a bit of a blur for both us as to what happened over the next few minutes. Our minds were racing and fearing the worst.
However as we approached the front door we found a note from our neighbours reassuring us that all was well with our children and my mother.
Our family were all safe, warm and well in our dear friends and neighbours houses where they were so generously accommodated overnight.
With help from friends we were able to rent a house in Alva for the next four months while our home was being repaired. (Incidentally this was a month longer than it took to build the house from scratch 6 years earlier.)
I am sure some people thought how unlucky we were, but neither myself nor Elaine have ever felt that way. Deep down we felt we were protected through our faith and the love of God in such challenging times.
We felt so blessed with all the generous help and support we were given from our many friends both personal and from our church congregation here in Alva. We were so blessed that all our family had escaped physically safe and the only fatality had been our budgie Sky. (and a few spiders)
Many in our situation may have considered their cup half empty and far from God, but as a result of our ordeal and the support we received from so many, we genuinely felt from that day we became stronger as a family and with Gods help, we could cope with anything else that life could throw at us in the future.
Fortunately, until now we have not come up against any other major catastrophes in life, and with the addition of nine Grandchildren to our family our cup has seemed to be truly overflowing.
Today, however with the devastating effects of the Coronavirus effecting so many here and throughout the world we all need a strong faith more than ever.
In my experience, it is often at the most challenging times in life that we need to realise that God is never far from us.
He is right here at our side, to give us the support and strength we need to face each and every day, we only need ask!
Let us come before God in prayer, Let us pray.
At this time of crisis throughout so much of the world with the devastating effects of the Corona Virus, we realise that we need your love and guidance more than ever.
It's hard to understand healing when so many are sick and dying,
It's hard to understand blessing when so many are in need,
It's hard to trust when trust is often broken.
Yet you come to us, in the midst of sickness, in the midst of need, in the midst of brokenness.
And you see us – You see our very hearts.
And you love us to our very core.
Reading John 15: 1-17
Jesus the Real Vine
15 “I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. 3 You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you. 4 Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. 6 Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. 8 My Father's glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples. 9 I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. 14 And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another.
Speaker 3. Margaret; Reflection
This story begins in the 1950s and is about a wee girl who moved from the big city to a much smaller town. Her parents weren’t churchgoers, but her mum had taught her a bedtime prayer which she said every night, and always she thought about God listening to her and watching over her as she recited it.
For about 3 years she went to Sunday School with the two boys who lived downstairs from her, but when they all moved on to the High School, they stopped going to church on a Sunday.
She grew further and further from God as she got older until, in her mind, she felt as if He was far from her when she discovered that she was pregnant. It felt like God had stopped loving her because she’d done everything wrong. She was the family’s disgrace.
Her parents gave her a choice – she could give the baby up for adoption when it was born, then finish her college course, get her diploma and start work or she could leave home, break the family ties and bring up the child on her own. She was 20. The choice was obvious, for the sake of her child, how could she look after it on her own? What kind of home could she manage with no job and relying only on government hand-outs? She knew she had to choose adoption so that her little one could have a good life. Prospective parents would have money, a nice home and be able to give a great start in life to the child that they so desperately wanted.
When the time came, she took the advice the doctor had given her, so when her beautiful little daughter was born, she held the baby to her, skin to skin for a few seconds before they lifted her away. That was the only contact she had with the baby.
After that, the saddest thing she had to do was hand over the shawl and the baby clothes she had knitted along with the baby toiletries, vests and nappies which would all be given to the foster mother who would look after the child for the first six weeks of her life. She also signed the papers that day, giving her permission for the baby to be adopted, promising she would never search for the baby or try to get her back.
The trauma of those events started to make her think again about God and where He was in her life. She started praying again, for forgiveness and the wellbeing of her daughter.
As the years went by, she often thought about her, wondering how she was getting on. She never forgot the child’s birthday and always took time to think and pray that day. As time passed, the pain and sadness faded. She began to feel more at peace with herself in the thought that she’d done the absolute best she could for her child. Being closer to God was helping her heal.
She got married and she and her husband settled down happily in their own home. She began to feel that she wanted to start going to church again. At first, she felt awkward, different from all these good people, but gradually she realised that she was much closer to God now. It reminded her of how she’d felt as a child at bedtime.
One afternoon in August 1995, the phone rang and a stranger spoke to her. It quickly became clear that this person was in fact no stranger, but her own grown up daughter. She was newly married and had wanted to find her birth mother, whatever the outcome might be, and there and was no law against that.
Her adoptive parents had supported and encouraged their daughter to trace her natural mother, partly because they were quite a bit older than her. They were also ready to help her overcome a rejection or any sad news she might receive, but that was never required.
Natural mother and daughter arranged a meeting and when the young girl got off the train, they went back to the mother’s house. Meeting the husband was a huge success, he and the daughter liked each other instantly. It was a joyous day. There was much to thank God for that night.
The amazing friendship quickly grew into a loving relationship with many conversations of question and answer as they found out about each other, marvelling at things they both liked or disliked, it astounded them both how similar they were. Their faiths also had become stronger with the shared experiences.
Over the years, that wee girl of the 1950s became closer to God, realising that He’d always been close to her, even though she hadn’t been aware of the amazing plans He had for her. At church she began to help with the worship. Then she was invited to become an elder. She’s here tonight, that young woman was me!
Merciful and Loving God,
When we are going through testing and challenging times in our lives, it’s easy for doubt to creep in and make us feel that you have deserted us.
But, like the gardener when he prunes back the fruitless branches on the vine, his care and skill make it become much stronger and healthier. He is closest to his plants when he is tending them.
You are always close to us, even when we don’t realise it. When we know we’ve done wrong, we forget that your love is always given freely, whatever we may think.
If we ever doubted that you are with us all through our lives, then tonight’s true stories illustrate your abiding presence.
The businessman who suffered the tragedy of losing his four daughters was inspired to write the beautiful verses we heard earlier because his faith in God carried him through the misery.
The disaster of a homecoming to a charred and broken house was softened by the kindness of neighbours and friends who had helped the family with so many acts of generosity and hospitality.
And the gifting of a baby to an unknown couple was returned with the most wonderful surprise. A young wife and her husband shared their lives and the ensuing four children to complete a perfect circle.
Lord, when we are facing deep struggles, help us to see where we can lean into your care and hope.
Mission Praise 757 When peace like a river
Hymn 644 O Jesus I have promised
Hymn 191 Do not be afraid.