for the Dromore and Banbridge
Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches.
Welcome, Reading and Opening Prayer
CHILDREN'S ADDRESS & SONG
SERMON - Introducing the 10 Commandments
Rev. Brian Moodie
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
for the Dromore and Banbridge
Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches.
Welcome, Reading and Opening Prayer
CHILDREN'S ADDRESS & SONG
SERMON - Introducing the 10 Commandments
Rev. Brian Moodie
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
SUNDAY SERVICE 10 Jan 2021
Dromore & Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches
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During the week I came across a YouTube clip that has really lived with me for the past few days, and which strikes me as having something to say about our Gospel passage this morning.
The clip is of a conversation with a Dr David Hawkins, psychiatrist, physician, researcher, spiritual teacher. He is not to be confused with Richard Dawkins the Biologist, Author and atheist. Also not to be confused with Stephen Hawkins the Physicist.
Dr David Hawkins describes his experience of a spiritual awakening. He says that he was going through a period of deep anguish of the soul. He used the phrase the black night or the dark night of the soul. He said was an atheist at the time, but had he reached such a state of what he called inner spiritual agony. Looking back he suggests that it was perhaps the anguish of in fact being away from God, that was the source of his inner anguish. In this state of inner spiritual agony, he finally got to the point of saying, if there is a God, then I ask him to help me. He says he didn't hold his breathe, because he was an atheist. He says however that after that it seems for a period he didn't remember anything.
I will quote him directly from here: He said, “Everything was sort of blank and when I came to, everything had changed. There was only this Infinite Presence, of such power, of such immensity, of such dimension, as to be beyond all description. That which Is, that which always was, that which always will be, and which is at the same time all things and beyond all things, is all there was. And the individual person such as David (referring to himself) no longer existed. Had no will of its own. And would not have dared to have a thought of its own. It would have been too presumptuous. And the body did what this Infinite Presence willed it to do, which it has done to this day. ….He goes on to say... “The other thing that’s strange about this Infinite Presence is not only that it is Infinitely Powerful, beyond all dimension. It has the power to be all things, to exist as all things, or not to exist as anything. It is no different from what you are. It is closer to you than what you thought of as your self. What you call yourself is really quite distant. It isn't different from what you are. It does all things, is all things. And it’s Silent. There are no words. So the mind went silent.
Going on, Dr, David Hawkins said the following: The other thing that is interesting, now that I am looking back at it over many years, is the exquisite gentleness, this peculiar combination of qualities, this Infinite Presence which Is all things and is everywhere, is both the space in the room and the objects in the room. It is both the figure and the ground simultaneously, [and] is also exquisitely gentle. It’s touch just melts you with it’s exquisite presence. And whatever there was of the individual self is melted by it. Dissolved in it. There is no violence. It is as though one dissolves. It is like one is salt and when you’re put in water, it just dissolves and becomes one with all that is. One isn’t destroyed however, but how one thought one could be that little doll or that little piece of salt is sort of comical. So then when it happens, you laugh at yourself. And you look at your body and say, how can I have thought I was that...
The difficulty after that experience was that all those things that one calls our common human drives and ambitions and endeavours, the desire for success, to make money, to succeed, all the things that drive people, those are all gone. And so the common human motivations disappeared. There was no ambition. There was no desire even to exist in the next moment…. Anything could stop and [it would] be complete.”
There’s a lot in this quote, and many things that are perhaps beyond me and beyond my own understanding and beyond my own experience. In a way, what Dr, David Hawkins describes could be categorised as a moment of Epiphany, as we spoke about last week, in which he came to a new depth of insight into the nature and significance of life and of God, or the Infinite Presence as he refers to it in this particular excerpt. It was clearly an experience which changed the whole course of his life and his existence.
As I reflected on it, it made me wonder whether within his description, which clearly was one that was beyond words, and beyond the ability to truly express in words, we maybe catch a glimpse of Jesus’ experience described in symbolic language in the story of his baptism.
For Mark’s Gospel, this is the significant moment when the story of Jesus truly begins. Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel, which was the first to have been written, makes no mention of the birth of Jesus, which might raise all sorts of interesting questions as to why they do not appear in Mark’s Gospel. What is clear is that is is Jesus’ profound experience of baptism that according to Mark’s Gospel is the truly significant moment, and spiritual beginning, that changes the whole direction, meaning and purpose of Jesus life. He comes to see himself and God and the world in a whole new light which he later describes with the term, “the reign of God” or more commonly translated as “the Kingdom of God”..
What we have in Mark’s Gospel (and indeed in the other Gospels too) is a symbolic description of this profound moment in Jesus life. I call it a symbolic description because it draws on imagery and symbols from Jewish Scripture, and expresses it within a largely 1st century Jewish world view, which some call the three tiered universe.
According to the 3 tiered universe, which is different from the UK’s 3 Tier Covid system than has been extended to a 4 tier and now a 5 tier system, God was understood to dwell above the sky or the vault of heaven, human beings dwelt on the earth, and those who had died lived under the earth.
And so, within that world view of 3 tiered universe, how does one express an experience of being immersed (or one could say baptised) in God’s Presence? If one was going to describe it to largely uneducated 1st century Jewish fisherman for example, you would say that in that moment, it was as though the sky was torn open with the Spirit, or Breathe or Presence of God descending from above the vault of heaven to earth. As though God’s Presence normally conceived of as being above the sky, had somehow begun to spill down onto earth.
The word baptism itself would have been a helpful descriptive term, because baptism means to be immersed, and in that moment of Jesus baptism, it seems that the true baptism which Jesus experienced was an immersion in the Infinite Presence or Spirit of God, much like Dr, David Hawkins. Just as John the Baptist had suggested. I baptise with water, but he will batpise with the spirit, which can also be translated as the breathe of God.
If you were speaking to a first century Jewish fisherman, how would you describe the gentleness and the peace of being immersed in God’s Infinite Presence? You might draw from the imagery of the Noah story, of the dove that heralds that the flood is over and which declared that God’s gift of peace had been given.
How would you express the sense of a change of identity, the sense of one’s old identity having been dissolved away like salt in water? You might quote from the Psalms, verses expressing a sense of Divine Son-ship and Beloved-ness. “You are my son, the beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” two quotes spliced together from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.
How would you express the sense of a change of motivation, and the giving up of one’s normal human will. You would speak of being moved by God’s Spirit or moved by God’s Breathe, which happens in the very next story, where Mark writes that immediately Jesus was driven into the desert by the Breathe or the Spirit of God.
And what does all this mean for us you might ask? Very nice for Dr David Hawkins to have had this experience. Very inspiring to read of the Baptism of Jesus in all of that powerful symbolism that the Gospel writer uses, but what about you and me who may not have had this kind of experience?
Perhaps their testimony might fill us with a bit of hope and inspiration? Perhaps it might fill us with relief to hear that the Divine Presence is exquisitely gentle, and in the Divine Presence there is no violence and that with the gentleness of the touch of that Infinite Presence, what we thought of as our self will one day dissolve, until we see that we are not our bodies and we discover that what we truly are is not different from the Infinite Presence of God’s love and gentleness, and therefore that death is not to be feared.
Perhaps it might remind us that despite what might feel like our separation from God, who we imagine to be elsewhere, we are in fact immersed (baptised) in the Divine Presence who exists as everything and is beyond everything.
Maybe when we are battling to make sense of life with our thoughts, especially as we continue in this current crisis, it might be an invitation to fall silent before the Divine Mystery, and with our little mustard seed of faith, experiment with trusting that we are indeed embraced and held by something much bigger then ourselves, which, even though we might have only glimpsed it in the story of Jesus, and perhaps the experience of Dr David Hawkins, is closer and more real than that which we most often refer to as ourselves. Amen
SERMON by Rev. Brian Moodie
SERMON TEXT - Matthew 2:1-12
The 6th January in the Christian Calendar marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the beginning of the season of Epiphany which, for those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar will last until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
The season of Epiphany therefore begins on the 6th January and marked by the story of the revelation of Christ to people of other cultures and nations, symbolised in the story of the Magi who see his star in the east. They seek him out, and when they find him, kneel down in homage before the Christ Child, bringing gifts, which in many ways is the seed or the source for our sharing of gifts on Christmas Day. The season of Epiphany also includes the Baptism of Jesus, the moment of Jesus awakening to his own Divine Son-ship. The last Sunday of Epiphany before Ash Wednesday is often marked by the story of the Transfiguration, another story of revelation, or the manifestation of Jesus’ Divine Light and Glory.
The word Epiphany itself has a number of shades of meaning. The Greek word is made up of the word Epi, which means ‘upon’. And phaínō which means to shine, or appear.
In the ancient world, the appearance of a god in ancient mythology was called an epiphany.
In Christian usage, it has referred to the appearance or the revealing of the Divine light in Jesus, to the Gentiles, also at his Baptism and at his Transfiguration.
In more modern usage, the word epiphany refers to a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something of great significance. It can refer to some new level of insight seeing the world and oneself with fresh eyes. The word epiphany could be used as synonymous with the word enlightenment or awakening, in which one sees the world as though a new light is shining upon it.
The epiphany story of the Magi searching out the Christ-child, is another of those wonderful archetypal stories where we see humanity symbolised firstly by the Magi, and secondly by King Herod.
They represent two ways of seeing and interacting with the world.
The Magi represent humanity seeing the world with enlightened eyes. Eyes of epiphany one could say. They represent humanity who has come to some new level of spiritual awakening…
While Herod represents humanity seeing the world with darkened or unenlightened eyes…. a world dominated by an obsession with self, and that obsession with self and self importance casts shadows of fear, ignorance and darkness on everything else. In the story, as Herod becomes troubled, so all Jerusalem with him. He casts a shadow over the whole of Jerusalem. Human beings can do that… we have the ability to cast shadows over other people.
In exploring the text this week, I was fascinated to discover that the name Herod comes from the same root word as our English word Hero and means, ‘one who has sprung from a hero’. In his own eyes, Herod sees himself as a strong Heroic figure. He would like to see himself as stronger and better than everyone else, except for Caesar of course who is the Big Boss. But in his own eyes, he is the self-made man. Triumphant over his enemies who he keeps in their place with military might and force. But if truth be told, his self-imagined heroic-ism is just an illusion. If truth be told, he is not a self-made man. Apart from being the puppet ruler of Caesar, his life in reality is utterly dependent on those who are beneath him. Without others farming his fields, cooking his meals, guarding his castle gates, Herod, the self-made Hero is in fact just as vulnerable and dependent as everyone else. His life in truth is part of a whole network of interdependence. But he fails to see this. In his eyes, he is the Big Man, full of his own self-importance. But his true vulnerability is revealed in the story. Deep down he knows he is vulnerable, even if he can’t admit it to himself. When he hears news of the birth of a rival king of the Jews, we read that Herod the Hero suddenly becomes troubled. The Greek word means to become agitated or stirred up. You can imagine Herod, the self-made Hero, tossing and turning in his bed, restless, agitated, stirred up, disturbed. So much for being the strong hero that he thought he was. It turns out on the inside he is weak and vulnerable just like the rest of us, and all his outward heroic-ism is just an outward show.
As suggested already, this narrow, small-minded self-understanding of Herod the Hero reveals itself as a darkened mind. When he can’t get what he wants by force, then he resorts to deception. To the Magi who are searching for the Christ-child, Herod the self-made Hero puts up a pretence that he also wants to go and pay homage. He is like Judas who greets Jesus with a kiss. Outwardly he is pretending to be one thing. Inwardly, there is something dark and sinister at work within him. He must protect this self-made image of himself at any cost even if by deception, and later by violence. It is his own safety and security that concerns him above everything else. The lives of others are simply props and collateral damage on the stage of his own life, to be used and discarded at will.
By contrast, the Magi represent those on the journey towards spiritual awakening and spiritual enlightenment. They are not guided by their own self made illusions, they are guided by a greater light, a greater wisdom. They search the night sky, the darkness (in which we all live), for signs of light, that will lead them and guide them to their true fulfilment. In other words, unlike Herod who does not know or accept his own ignorance, the Magi are aware of the darkness in which they live, and from within that darkness, they search out a greater Wisdom than themselves that will bring them light and that will lead them into the light. There is something very humbling about looking up at the night sky. It helps to bring perspective. It is a reminder of how small and insignificant our humanity is when viewed against the back-drop of the universe. To look up at the night sky is to be humbled. We modern people don’t look up at the night sky enough. And when we fail to see our lives against the mystery of the vastness of the universe, like Herod, we don’t see life in it’s true perspective. Isn’t that the plight of modern humanity. We have become so self-obsessed, that we have failed to see things in their true perspective. We have failed to see our utter-dependence on the goodness of the earth, and are only beginning to realise in our ignorance that we are destroying our own home.
The Magi by contrast represent those in our human family who live their lives under a greater mystery, and in a deeper awareness of the Infinite Wisdom that sustains us. They journey through life with humility seeking a greater light and wisdom. And, unlike Herod, the self-made man, they are willing to bend the knee in humility and homage when they find the Christ-child.
It is one of the things that modern western humanity has lost, the art of bowing and bending the knee at that which is greater than ourselves. Like Herod the self-made hero we pay homage to our own greatness. In the words of Julian Lennon, “We’re so enchanted by how clever we are…”. But we are reaching a turning point in our own history, where bowing down to our own greatness will only lead to our destruction. Like the Magi, we need to learn bow down, and bend the knee to something greater than ourselves. Like the Magi we have reached a point in our human journey where we are needing to learn that there are things more important that gold and material wealth and luxuries. In verse 11, they opened their treasure chests and gave gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. At the sight of the infant Jesus, they are will willing to part with their wealth and their luxuries because they have found something that is worth more than gold and more precious than incense and myrrh. Meeting the Christ child represents a moment in which the things that they previously valued have shifted.
That can happen sometimes. A near death experience or a severe illness can bring a shift in our values. For such a person, there is a sudden recognition of what is truly important, an epiphany one could say, and most often it is recognised that what is truly important are not our material possessions and comfortable luxuries. Are will living like Herod trying to amass more and more treasures for ourselves in our fortresses and castles. Or are we like the Magi who are willing to part with their treasures because they have found a deeper meaning and purpose in their lives.
On Wednesday morning I came across a wonderful quote attributed to Albert Einstein in which he is supposed to have said that: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”.
This week, I have been intrigued to reflect more deeply on the word Magi in our passage. Magi comes from the same root word as our English word magic. As one reads the story, it is as though the Magi represent those in this world who are open to the magic of life unfolding around them. They see the world alive with magic and wonder, from secret messages in the stars to a newborn infant that evokes within them an attitude of overflowing devotion. Herod on the other hand is too consumed with fear and his own self-importance to see the magic of life around him. Instead, he casts shadows over others.
And so as we have stepped through the portal of 2020, into 2021 the story of Epiphany asks of us: will we live like the fearful, isolated, agitated, self-appointed hero, Herod, who tries to defend his vulnerability in a world that he sees as a threat, or will we journey like the Magi, acknowledging the darkness, but looking up and seeing the vast wisdom above us and looking for signs of light to guide us to that place where we can bend the knee in appreciation and devotion as we become aware of the Divine Light that shines upon us. Can 2021 be for us a year of magic and Epiphany, a year perhaps when we suddenly become conscious of life’s greater and magical significance. Amen.
Prayer after Sermon- Be Our Daily Star, God of all heaven and earth. From the breath of your love came the creation of the world. We are amazed at the vast beauty of the night sky and at the intimate nature of the love you have for us your children – born from the dust of stars. Be our daily star, Guiding our lives to search for Your kingdom love. May we always follow your light of truth in all that we do, Forever trusting, hoping and believing. Lift our eyes this day to see your eternal life shining brightly, Leading us home. |And into that same light, we would now lift up to you all those in need of prayer today……. Amen. From from www.lords-prayer-words.com
SERMON - Rev Brian Moodie
Santa's Poem - by Jeffrey Martin
Santa's lining up his reindeers
The parcels are ready to go
But will he call at my house
That i do not know.
Poor Rudolph's got a bad cold
No wonder his nose is red
He's been drinking Lemsip
And just wants to stay in bed.
The elves have been on furlough
They had their eighty per cent
They've been busy doing nothing
They think Rishi's heaven sent.
The kids believe in Santa
For that letter they sent last year -
Dear Santa, let us skip school
For six months, at least, no fear.
Mrs Claus has made his packed lunch
With a Thermos ready to go
For Santa turns to Rudolph
With their noses both a-glow.
So across the heavens he goes now
Like the streaming Northern lights.
He's put on weight in lockdown
That sleigh barely scales the heights.
And as he stops to drink his milk
At the last house on his way
He reads this simple message -
And it changes his xmas day
"Dear Santa, leave no presents
I have everything here indeed
This year taught me to be humble
To think of others in need.
Of all those who lost love ones
Please bring their hearts some cheer
Of all those who in families
They held so very dear"
Poor Santa looked at Rudolph
They nodded - that "he was right"
And buckled up their harnesses
To head back into the night.
So if you hear sleigh bells ringing
It's old Santa on his way
To tell those who lost someone
They're not forgotten on this day.
[Rishi Sunak - Chancellor of Exchequer]
Happy Christmas and Welcome to todays Christmas Reflection.
Please note that Brian's Sermon/Reflection and Children's message below will only be available to play from YouTube at 9am Christmas Day (UK time).
OPENING HYMN - O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL
Christmas Children's Story - by Brian
HYMN - WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS BY NIGHT
SERMON By Rev. Brian Moodie (Now also available on YouTube)
HYMN - JOY TO THE WORLD