St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 5th November 2020
Led by Rev Professor Kenneth M Boyd
Welcome and Opening Sentences
Welcome to online devotion with St Giles’ Cathedral today, Thursday the 5th of November 2020
1 John 3:1: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’
Scripture Reading: Luke 15: 1-7
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
How we see the world around us depends on whether what we see is something, or someone, or somewhere in between. We do not see someone, a person, the way we see a thing, such as a machine; and ‘somewhere in between’, is how we may see animals or nature itself. Nature itself is not a person: but nor is it a thing like a machine which we can turn off with the flick of a switch. As both the present pandemic and climate change are now teaching us, if we are to go on living, currently with the coronavirus, and eventually with all other aspects of the natural environment, we have to behave respectfully toward them – just as we have toward other persons.
Behaving respectfully towards other persons, it seems, was just what the Pharisees and scribes in today’s reading failed to do when they disrespectfully called Jesus ‘this fellow’ and dismissed those he ate with as ‘sinners’. They thought they knew what they were dealing with; and although they scarcely could have denied that Jesus and those he ate with were persons, they were confident what kind of persons they were. Jesus disagreed. Conventionally, those he ate with were ‘sinners’: but as Jesus interpreted ‘sinner’, that word applied to everyone; and it was not a condemnation but an invitation – an invitation to believe they were forgiven, and so to repent – to repent, not grumblingly like the Pharisees and scribes, but joyfully as, like the Prodigal Son in the parable Jesus went on to tell, they ‘came to themselves’, as they rediscovered the persons they were always meant to be.
What is a person? Philosophers dispute this endlessly, but the wisest, I believe, say that a person is who someone has become and is becoming in and through their relationships with others; and who someone is, is not something that can be described or defined by observation from the outside. Who a person is can only be recognised – recognised in and through the patience of relationship and conversation, just as Jesus did when he sat and ate with ‘sinners’, who in their relationship and conversation with him might then come to themselves, and so cause joy in heaven.
This insight can be helpful if we are tempted to ask ourselves the question ‘Who am I, what kind of person, am I?’ The temptation, I find, is often to answer with some description or definition of ourselves, a description or definition that is sometimes too flattering and sometimes too self-denigrating, depending on how we are feeling at the time. But the problem with this, is that ‘Who am I?’ is not the same question as ‘What kind of person am I?’ ‘Who am I?’ can’t be answered by any description or definition. And in an important sense it can’t be answered at all: who I am, if I am honest, in the end is a mystery to me.
In the end, the only answer to ‘Who am I?’ is the recognition that it no longer needs to be asked. It no longer needs to be asked, that is, when the need to ask it has been quietened, overtaken from time to time by the affirming reality of relationship and conversation with friends, lovers, neighbours and sometimes strangers. And the affirming reality of this albeit intermittent but deeply human experience reflects the greater affirming reality experienced in our relationship and conversation with the mysterious source of the mystery we are. For those who have known this, the only answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ is to be still, and in the silence give thanks, ‘that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’
God of the new day and God of love, you created us and you have redeemed us.
As you scatter the mist from the hills,
banish the deeds of darkness from the sons and daughters of your light.
Help us to know and believe that, as children of your love, we are free to begin again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN
Loving and Holy Spirit of God, we pray:
that we and all people may increasingly work together
to establish on earth the rule of the kingdom of heaven;
that the resources of the world may be gathered, distributed and used
with unselfish motives and scientific skill for the greatest benefit of all; that beauty may be given to our towns and cities, and left untarnished in the countryside;
that children may grow up strong in body, sound in mind and joyful in spirit;
that there may be open ways, and peace, and freedom from end to end of the earth;
and that people everywhere may learn to live in love through keeping the company
of Jesus Christ our Lord, whose wounded hands still stretch out in blessing over all people,
to heal and to restore, and to draw us all to yourself and to one another in love. AMEN
Lord, as the hand is made for holding and the eye for seeing,
you have fashioned me for joy.
Share with me the vision that will find it everywhere:
in the golden autumn’s beauty, in in the rushing river stream, in birdsong in winter,
in the face of a friend, in the smile of a neighbour, in the overarching sky,
and in the promise of a larger life beyond. 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
Louis Vierne Épitaphe