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Sunday Service 18th February

Lent 1 Follow the path



Call to worship

Hymn 456(MP): Make me a channel of your peace 


Time for all


Hymn 544: When I needed a neighbour


Reading:    Isaiah 58: 3-11 Margaret



Hymn 264: Judge eternal



Prayer of Dedication


Hymn 259: Beauty for brokenness




Welcome to our meditation for 18th February.

This Sunday sees the start of Lent; it is the preparation time for Easter in the same way that Advent is the time we prepare for Christmas.

So how do we prepare ourselves for Easter?

By reflecting on Christ’s life and sacrifice, and what that calls from us.

And what does God ask of us?

We will think about that after our reading and prayer from Margaret.







Did you know that the Red Cross/Red Crescent are dealing with 32 ongoing disasters throughout the world just now?

Earthquakes in Afghanistan and Morocco.

War Zones like Gaza and Yemen.

Floods in Libya and Pakistan.

Drought in huge swathes of Sub Saharan Africa.


The world feels a dangerous place.

And it is not restricted to faraway places.

We have already seen the effects of storm damage on many of our regions in Britain.

Many areas can’t get insurance for flood damage, what are they supposed to do?


As I was writing this sermon Arran was struggling because there has been long term problems with ferries, their main ferry has been in for repairs and to be honest is so old that it just takes longer and longer to fix, and one of the ferries they have replaced it with can’t dock on the island, another ferry is too small to use if the weather is bad.

That is affecting social care on the island.

Every morning the carers from the mainland are meant come over to the island.

Who looks after the housebound that are meant to looked after by carers day after day

if the carers are unable to get across?

What is meant to happen to everyday people when food deliveries can’t get across?

Or the other way round when people can’t get off the island for hospital treatment, say cancer treatment?


We live in an uncertain world.

And when we are aware of that the temptation is to become really selfish.

I don’t say that to condemn or to criticize.

I say it to be realistic.

Because we can’t change who we are or what we are doing unless we admit who we really are and what we are doing.


It’s natural in an uncertain world to try to make our life a bit more certain.

It’s natural in a dangerous world to protect ourselves.

It just makes sense that if you see a 50 foot pot hole in front of you that you try to avoid it.

There is nothing wrong in that, unless that is all you are doing.

You see the temptation is to be so concerned with ourselves; that that is all we think about.

We become so inward looking, so self preoccupied, that we are blind of everyone and anything outside our immediate sphere of attention.


That is the danger the prophet is looking at today.




So the book of was started by the prophet Isaiah and then added to over the centuries by various students of his.

Isaiah inspired a theological tradition, in the same way that St Frances inspired the Franciscan movement and St Dominic inspired the Dominican movement, or our own George MacLeod inspired the Iona Community.

And in the same way you will get compilation books made of essays of both the founder and various students to show how the movement has grown and developed,

so the book of Isaiah is a compilation book of prophecies spanning hundreds of years from before the downfall of Jerusalem,

through the whole exile,

to the beginnings of the return of the people from exile.


And this part of the book is a challenge to the people when they thought the world was going to pot.

The Jewish people started to fast twice a year after the fall of the Temple and going into exile.

Twice a year they would fast in the hope that God would hear their prayers and return the people home.

They had been doing that for 70 years.

70 years they had been fasting.

70 years they had been crying to God asking him to allow them to go home.

70 years God had been deaf to them.

How many times had they watched grandparents and parents die waiting for God to act?

What was the point of all the stuff they were doing if God was doing nothing back?


The sad thing is; that we as humans have a wonderful and terrible capacity of taking something good and then corrupting it.

Even something as wonderful as fasting and prayer.

That’s what had happened here.


Look at lent.

Lent is meant to be a time of fasting and prayer.

What has the world made it?

Something personal and selfish.

I remember one of my daughters deciding to give up chocolate for Lent.

I remember how proud I was of her.

I was thinking that she had maybe heard something in the school about Lent and decided to try it out.

That maybe she was thinking that it would help her reflect on all those children round the world that would struggle to get the basics to eat let alone have luxuries like chocolate.

That maybe she was hoping to develop a heart more willing towards thankfulness, or more willing to sacrifice from her abundant life to help those less fortunate.


You can imagine how those ideas were shattered when one day we were in Marks and Spenser’s and there was a three foot chocolate Easter Bunny, at that time that bunny was taller that she was, and she declared...’Once Easter is over you have to buy that for me as I have given up chocolate for Lent.’

And when I looked at her and said, ‘That’s not what Lent is about.’

She looked at me as if I had horns coming out my head and said, ‘Yes it is. I give up something now so that I can get something better later.’


There was a lot of talking that day...

Though theologically how is that any different from what the Jews in exile were doing, how is that any different from what we are often doing?


We will give up smoking for Lent.

We will give up sweets for Lent.

We may even give up some meals for Lent.

We will start praying for lent.

We will start reading chapters of the Bible for lent.

We will maybe have a quiet time of reflection first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

But why are we doing it?


So that we will benefit.

It has nothing to do with God.

It has everything to do with us.


That’s what the prophet in Isaiah was getting at.

The people were moaning,

‘What is the point of fasting to God,

what is the point of praying to God,

what is the point of reading God’s scriptures,

if nothing changes and we are still stuck in exile,

our world hasn’t changed.


70 years we have been doing this, and either God isn’t listening, or God doesn’t care.


You know the really sad thing is, the greatest lie we tell ourselves?

The greatest lie is that secretly we don’t want the world to change at all, we just want the roles to change.

The Jews didn’t want a world of justice and peace...they just wanted to be the ones in power again.

They wanted to be a nation that could rule other nations.






Look at what is happening in Gaza just now.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are millions of Muslims in Gaza praying and fasting for justice to prevail in that area.

And the truth is, that Israel has kind of backed itself into a corner.

Because if things were evened out and the Palestine’s got control...what do we think they would do with that power?

If we gave the Palestinians the power to completely defend themselves, gave them guns and tanks and planes and missiles to defend themselves, what do we think they would do with that power to defend themselves?

Would they make the Jews suffer the same way they had suffered, would they see that as justice?


That’s the problem the prophet saw.

They saw prayer and fasting as a way to manipulate God.

If we do this stuff for God, then God has to do this stuff for us.

If we are honest, how often is that what we are trying to do with prayer?

If we are honest, how often is that what we are doing with fasting?


Their problem is often our problem.

It is the way we think, and it is difficult to change the way we think.

We want God to change the world to make it better for us.

And we forget that God wants to change us to make the world better.

We see the world as the problem that needs to be fixed.

To be honest God has always seen us as the real problem that needs to be fixed.


And that is a difficult mindset to change.

So we need guidance.

That is why the prophet tries to give them that insight to help them.

They needed to get their reflective life and their active life to mirror each other.

If they are praying for justice, then in their own life they have to show justice to those around them.

If they are seeking freedom, then they need to help others become free.

If they want to have confidence that they have everything they need, then they need to be generous to others so that others don’t have fears of want.


The truth is that the prophet failed...mostly.

The people did get home, but instead of creating a nation of priests to lead the world,  they tried to create an empire and failed, eventually they were conquered again and the people moaned.


But I did say that the prophet mostly failed, but not completely...

Some people did try to do things differently,

some tried to follow the path of the prophet,

some tried to see how God could change their heart rather than try to get God to change everyone else’s heart.


And in the end God was going to do one more thing to help.

He would become an example so that people could not only get the guidance the prophet gave, they could see the example that they needed to follow.


In Christ they got to see, we get to see, the life well lived in action.

Unfortunately, it is so easy to know how to do things badly, we need to be shown how to do it well.

That is why Lent is so important.

Because in Christ we see the way to live life.

In Christ we see the way to live a life that follows the path that God leads on,

rather than us trying to get God to give us a new path that we want to be on.


We see the hope of a life fulfilled rather than a life grasping for what is beyond us.


We see the joy of a life at peace rather than a life troubled by what it can’t control.


We see the wonder of a life that knows and experiences the wonder of a relationship with God, rather than a life desperate for acceptance.


I was listening to a podcast by a guy called John Mark Comer and he put it very simply,

For us we need only three things, three driving forces;

to be with Jesus, to become like Jesus, and to do as he did.


Getting closer to that, is what Lent is truly about.

Let us pray



Heavenly Father

We have been made in your image, and too often we get that image wrong.

Too often we try to be more god-like, to create a world that we are happy with, to control and dominate and not be at peace until it is perfect.

Our burden is that we are not God, but we still try to be, we so strive to gain power over our world, over ourselves.

And it shows in hurtful ways;

the need to point the finger at the flaws of others, so we are distracted from the flaws in our own life,

the need to speak of evil and then use it as an excuse for doing nothing, because we feel it is beyond us,

our proclivity to belittle others so that we feel just a bit more superior;

the desire to be on top because we fear being at the bottom is to be weak;

our necessity to make sure we are secure before helping others, but we never feel that secure, there are always those doubts that hold us back from showing our true selves to others.


Rebuild our ruins.

Ancient indeed is the human need to compete; to be superior; to live in secrecy;

and hide ourselves from our own kin.

Show us that our craving to be above others is what isolates us from others, our longing to be superior prevents us from being beside others and he fellowship they could give us.


Renew us.

Restore the breach within our souls.

It is obvious that we are living in a world of difference,

we can see the gulf between the privileged and the deprived,

we see the consequences of poverty and inequalities everywhere.

So help us to see where we fit in to this world?


Knowing your hope in our lives, where can we bring your hope to this world?

Knowing your forgiveness in our lives, where can we bring forgiveness to those who have caused pain?

Knowing your love in our lives, where can we bring your love in practical ways to this world?

Knowing your compassion in our lives, where can we show others that we can empathise with their plight and help them.

Knowing your path for our lives, where can we show this world that there is another path that they could follow;

a path where they don’t need to grasp for power, a path where they can surrender to your love.

This we ask in Jesus name




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