Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord.
(Joel 1:14 ESV)
It is the middle of May and so it must be the beginning of the silly season once again, and no I don’t mean the Eurovision Song Contest !
I mean the beginning of ‘the silly season’ of letters to the Stornoway Gazette speculating about the possibility of further splits and divisions in the Church as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland draws near. Even judging by the letters that have previously been published last week’s Gazette letters column contained a spectacularly pointless epistle. A correspondent who doesn’t live on these islands evidently thinks things are becoming too quiet as far as letters against the church of Scotland are concerned , and so launches into a speculative piece of propaganda designed to stoke up the fire once again. Shame on any ‘Christian’ who deliberately tries to foment division in the church of God .
It is no secret that this year’s Assembly will deal with on-going and divisive matters within the church, and in particular on Saturday afternoon concerning the Report of the Committee on Overtures and Cases ( Report of the Committee on Classifying Returns to Overtures ) . This report seeks to approve and turn into law the Overture concerning Ministers and Deacons in Civil partnerships, based on the returns to overtures received over the winter of last year when by a majority Presbyteries & voting Presbyters backed the change in the Church law.
It is no secret either that this has been partly the catalyst to much of the discontent and rancour in our church and our community in the past few years. Much could be written and said about this matter, but then again much too much has already been said with regard to this sad situation. The only answer is to be found in seeking God’s face. Not only is seeking the face of God in prayer the answer in every case, it is also the antidote to every form of anti-God poison that may war against the soul.
8 When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
(Psalms 27:8 NKJV)
The answer as I see it, is not found at any General Assembly but rather in a Solemn Assembly of God’s people before Him to humble ourselves, pray and seek his face ( 2 Chronicles 7:14) .
Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday and in the morning we will be looking at the wonderful story of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. My hope is that we will see that it is not always when things are fine and dandy that God comes to His people, but very often when things are at very low ebb. That was certainly the case for the powerless and leaderless church of the first century. It is also the case throughout scripture that God often comes when His people are at their weakest and most vulnerable. The antidote seen in Old Testament times ,and echoed into the New is to call a Solemn Assembly to pray , fast and to seek God’s will and purpose for the future.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. (Joel 2:15-16 ESV)
As we think of the coming of the Holy Spirit in tomorrow’s morning service, we see how often a solemn assembly of God’s people is called to fast and pray and repent before God. In the book of Judges 20 during a catastrophic civil war – A solemn assembly is called “Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD….” —Judges 20:26. And in response God answered their prayer.
During the time of the prophet Samuel after a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Philistines (1 Samuel 7) a solemn assembly of God’s people is held at Mizpah leading to repentance, confession of sin and turning from idolatry . A people coming back to God in brokenness went on to know His blessing.
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “ Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?
(Joel 2:17 ESV)
We see the same coming together of God’s people in solemn assembly to fast and pray in the example of Asa (2 Chronicles 15) , Asa one of the best kings of Judah comes to the throne at time when God had withdrawn His presence from Israel. The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the prophet and he prophesied to King Asa, “If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.“
At another time of crisis Jehosaphat another good king, is told that a powerful enemy army is coming against his little kingdom ( 2 Chron 20) . Jehoshaphat feared , but set himself to seek the Lord , and proclaimed a fast throughout Judah and prayed in words that are so apposite . “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You . . . . 2 Chronicles 20:3–4, 21–22
We see the same with Hezekiah, Josiah , Zerrubabbel , and so many other instances in the Old and New Testaments . God answered the pleading burdened cries of his people for help . Help from above is our only hope, the blessed comforter of God’s people , the Spirit of God . But we must continue to seek His face…..
We meet for our final prayer meeting before the General Assembly on Wednesday evening 18th May at 7.30 pm. Let us make it truly a Solemn Assembly of God’s people seeking after God, for ourselves as a congregation, for our community and island, for our children and for the Church and that His will and purpose may continue to be done .
“ Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7 ESV)