Palm Sunday from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend David Arnott:
On this Palm Sunday, I want to invite you to reflect upon part of the story for Christians today and specifically on the text ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’.
It is interesting to note that the incident of the cleansing of the temple is mentioned in all four gospels. Yet Mark alone is the one to mention that this house of prayer shall be for all nations.
Let me say three things:
My house will be called a house of prayer
I rather like the use of the word ‘house’ here. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus doesn’t talk about a church or a synagogue or a temple – but he talks about a house. A house is where you live. It’s where you eat and relax, where you rest and re-charge your batteries. Your house is also where you retreat on occasions when you’ve had enough of being battered by the storms of life. There has to be some place that affords you security and safety when everything around you is shaking and trembling.
The story is told of the little boy sitting in church listening to the minister droning on. The church he said is like a harbour. It is the place you retreat into when the storms of life get too much.
Now that little boy who had spent much of his, as yet, short life watching the movements of boats at his harbour thought to himself, ‘What a load of rubbish! A harbour is the place boats set out from. It’s not a place they retreat into.’
And of course he was right. The people who contributed so much to our society are often those who have behind them a secure home. Jane Haining was a Scottish lady who worked as a matron in the Scottish Mission Girls School in Budapest in the 1940s. Sadly she died in Auschwitz – her punishment for helping Jewish children escape the Holocaust.
When asked to leave Hungary and return to the safety of Scotland she refused. And one of the reasons why she refused was because of the outpouring of love she had been given in her own home as a child. She only knew that her job was to love and to care for people, no matter the personal cost.
If part of the role of the church in society is to help to set the tone for our societies, then that tone begins in our homes with our families, by ensuring they are places of warmth and welcome; by ensuring they are places where love abounds and forgiveness is shared so that those who come out from them on their daily business are undergirded by that love and go forth to serve Christ in the world.
My house shall be called a house of prayer.
Before I was appointed Moderator several people told me you will be lifted up and carried through your year by the prayers of many.
When I was appointed I received a letter from an 85 year old man whom I had never met. Congratulations on your appointment, he wrote. I want you to know I shall pray for you every day.
I have never before been so aware of the strength and encouragement that comes through prayer. I find I am given the strength to find physical resources I didn’t know I had. I find I am given words to say I didn’t know I knew. It is the most wonderful and most humbling feeling to be carried along on the prayers of others.
That is what separates the Church from other institutions and makes us so very special. We are able to pray. We can pray for each other, pray for our enemies, pray to know the will of God. When life is at its blackest. When other people scratch their heads and complain that they don’t know what to do, the Christian does. For the Christian is always able to pray, to take the concern, the person, the issue before God in the belief that God always hears our prayers.
I am delighted to be able to say to you today that the Church in China is remembered regularly in the prayers of the people of Scotland. We are bound together in that simple act of prayer.
And so Jesus says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’. Here is where we listen for God’s word to us. Here is where we remember the world we live in and pray for other people in their strength and in their weakness. Here is where we allow that inner peace to seep into our souls till we are at one with God in Christ. For here, supremely, is where we find our contact with God.
But Mark, as I said, is the only evangelist to complete Isaiah’s text fully and to say, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations’.
Oh, I find that music to my ears – for it speaks of a house with no doors, no barriers but rather a house where all are welcome.
I do a lot of travelling as Moderator. And one of the benefits of that is that you begin to understand that we belong all of us to a church that really does span the world. It is a rich church full of such wonderful people doing wonderful things.
When you see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people struggling against the odds in Ukraine to prepare 47,000 meals per year, clothe the naked, care for the elderly, to ensure the health of a populace against a background of an irregular drug supply and power outages and they tell you they do it because this is where God wants them to be, you begin to realise God has no favourites.
His house is a house of prayer for all nations. Why otherwise would the Moderator of the Church of Scotland be preaching to you today, except to reassure ourselves that God’s house is a house of prayer for all nations.
We may come from different countries and have different backgrounds but we are united in our faith in Jesus Christ. That faith, that love which transcends all barriers national or international binds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.