St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 27th August 2020
Led by Rev Professor Kenneth M Boyd
Welcome and opening sentences
Welcome to online devotion with St Giles’ Cathedral, today, Thursday the 27th of August 2020.
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…says the Lord. [Isaiah 66:13].
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
Matthew 18: 1-5
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
In Catholic churches today is St Monica’s day. The Scottish Reformers tried to do away with saints’ days: but it was more difficult for them to escape Monica’s influence. She was not only the mother of St Augustine of Hippo, but also the person most influential in his conversion, as a young man, to Christianity. Augustine’s theology thereafter decisively influenced the development of Christian doctrine, not only in the Middle Ages, but also among the Reformers. Calvin especially admired Augustine and used his writings to develop his doctrine of double predestination – the belief that individuals were eternally predestined by God either to heaven or to hell.
It is difficult today to understand how our Scottish forebears could be so influenced by this aspect of ‘King Calvin with his iron pen, And God three angry letters in a book’: but the teachings of Calvin, like those of Augustine, also include a very great deal of profoundly true spiritual wisdom. The problem, if one may dare to say it, with Calvin as with Augustine, was that while both were deeply spiritual, both were also highly intellectual and longed to express in words what they knew in the depths of their being; and sometimes, inevitably, they failed, for what they knew in the depth of their being was not a logical argument, but the still small voice of the Word of God, made flesh forever.
Deep down, probably, Calvin and Augustine realised this – as did the Psalmist in today’s first reading: ‘O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me.’ These words could sound self-righteous and ingratiating, seeking approval and favours because ‘I’m so humble’. But actually, they are very realistic. The Psalmist’s heart is not proud nor are his eyes haughty: he does not have the kind of ambition or pride in his own achievements that makes him look down on other people. He realistically accepts his own limitations: but does not think less thereby of himself or of his fellow men and women. And he does this because he is praying to the LORD, who is infinitely beyond his comprehension but also intimately present with him.
How this presence can be so intimately real yet so infinitely incomprehensible is ‘too marvellous’, too difficult, for the Psalmist to understand; and in this he is not alone. It is the experience of people of faith always and everywhere, the experience that even the greatest theologians such as Calvin and Augustine could never adequately explain in words – but in the end could only say ‘amen’ and ‘alleluia’ to, as they calmed and quieted their soul, like a weaned child with its mother. For did not Jesus himself say: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”?
Here again, of course, the Psalmist’s and Jesus’ words might be misunderstood. Wanting to become ‘like children’, like ‘a weaned child with its mother’ might seem like wanting to return to the warm dark security of the womb, thereby giving up on the adventure of adult life. But a weaned child is past that stage, slowly becoming less dependent on its mother; and Jesus’ call to ‘change’ is to be ‘born again’: to be born again no longer from the womb, but as those growing ever anew into the generous Kingdom of God, where like the Psalmist, they fulfil the duties and bear the burdens of social and communal life with courageous realism, respecting, forgiving and loving both their fellow men and women and themselves; and they do so because they know that all alike are children of God, God who comforts them as a mother comforts her child – comforts them, that is, in the true meaning of the word ‘comfort’ – to give them the courage and strength they need to keep right on to the end of the adventure of adult life, until the morning breaks and the shadows flee away.
Prayers: Three prayers of St Augustine.
O God, from whom to be turned is to fall, to whom to be turned is to rise,
and with whom to stand is to abide forever; grant us in all our duties your help,
in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection,
and in all our sorrows your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, sustain the dying, calm the suffering,
and pity the distressed; all for your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer. Amen
Almighty God, you know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking:
Set your servants free from all anxious thoughts about the future,
give us contentment with your good gifts, and confirm our faith
that as we seek your kingdom, you will not let us lack any good thing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. to whom all are dear. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
And now may the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep us and all God’s children,
in the joy, simplicity, and compassion of the gospel. Amen
Felix Mendelssohn: Andante con moto (Sonata V)