Zechariah 10 : 1 - 12
False Spiritual leaders
Zechariah’s inspirational preaching continues in chapter 10. These writings are excerpts from real and live preaching sessions at the yet to be fully restored Temple in Jerusalem. Worshippers gathered to hear this great speaker and he did not disappoint.
Verse 1 - ask the Lord for rain in springtime In 618 BC the economy was farm based. Food was essential for survival. Fields of crops required two seasons of rain. In autumn when planting and in spring to fatten out the ears for a full harvest. In this country we still depend on successful farming for food although we can always import food from elsewhere if necessary. Even so, if seeds do not get spring rain here and further rain to make the crop worthwhile, there will always be a shortage of home grown crops. We are not dependent on God as they were in those days. Agricultural science has meant that farmers can produce far too much produce. European Community rules and payments guarantee income even if excess crops are stored throughout Europe and are not used. We used to call these ‘butter mountains’ or ‘corn mountains’ or ‘wheat mountains’. There were also ‘wine lakes’. In Scotland there was that daft song sung by Andy Stewart ‘Cambletown Loch I wish ye were whisky - I wid drink ye dry’. Really stupid isn’t it? A song about excessive drinking of intoxicating spirit. Oh Dear!
But in 618 BC in the middle east if the rains did not come, there was no food. The people starved. This is true of Africa today in 2009 AD. Much African economy is agrarian based. Many do not earn cash from a proper job. They are subsistence farmers with small plots. Some have no land and do zero grazing or take their sheep and cattle along the roadside to graze every day. The rains often fail in Africa and famine results. In fact though, as a continent, Africa can potentially feed the whole world. Two crops each year can be harvested if sufficient rains appear since the warmth encourages fast growth.
Ask the Lord for rain says Zechariah. It seems the people has lost the habit of prayer for life necessities - their daily bread. They needed to be reminded. It is the Lord who…. 'Gives showers of rain' says Zechariah. In those days, they did not know much about secondary causes. They did not know about meteorology and weather patterns. Their leaders were prophets and soldiers made kings. They were not scientists. They were at best devout theists however. Zechariah believed that God the Creator could be asked for rains at the specific necessary time because it was God the Creator who organised the rain needed for his people’s survival. Our Harvest Festival each year affirms that belief still although it is more sophisticated due to our greater knowledge about the earth’s atmosphere and circumstance. In Africa, people always pray for rain. It does not always come. Global warming is affecting sub-Sahara Africa in a new way. All the tree-cutting over the century has left the land parched and dry. Fewer clouds form and less rain falls. Interdependence is the answer. The world has more than enough food. We only have to share.
Zechariah criticises the false diviners who unsuccessfully promise rain. There were always soothsayers and magicians in ancient cultures who got paid for their services from desperate people. Zechariah attacks them. They tell lies, he says. They deceive. They give false comfort. The people are exploited. The are like sheep who have no good shepherd. Zechariah is incensed by their opportunism to make money out of national crisis caused by lack of rain. Does that sound familiar? How many made good money during the Second World War and set their families up for generations? How many made piles of money in the last two years while many people lost much. There are vultures in every society from whom others' misfortune is their chance for prosperity. Speaking of God Zechariah says 'My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish their leaders'.
Today we have the equivalent of these false people. We have ever more spiritualists, astrologers, New Age intermediaries with potions and cures and rituals for sale for serious money. The wealthy and famous run to them. Members of the royal family entertain them. We also have politically correct society with its reversal of right and wrong and good and evil. We have the thought police and the preponderance of rules.
The Church of Scotland has largely swallowed all of this without question. In the September Life and Work there is a letter from a church organist called Ron Page from Glenrothes. He is protesting against the Church’s decision that all organists must now have criminal disclosures. He asks '..where does it end? Will all the people who welcome everyone to the church and who stand at the door require to have a (criminal) disclosure certificate?…To me this is a most insidious act (he says). As a grassroots educationalist of three decades and more and as a grandparent, I totally object. I have nothing to hide and object to this legislation in principle…Should I now inform my Minister, Session and Board of my forthcoming enforced resignation?'
Zechariah calls the people away from idols and false spirituality to the living God. He assures them that their Maker cares for them and will suffice.
We live in a time when good is called bad and bad is called good, when right is called wrong and wrong is called right.
At the 2009 General Assembly a minister from Brechin who had declared himself to be in an openly practising homosexual relationship with another man was allowed to take up the position of minister in an Aberdeen Church.
The Church of Scotland had never formulated a policy on this matter. On the advice of the Acting Principal Clerk of Assembly the matter was pushed through and it was stated that “this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct”.
I ask - “How can it not?”.
It is not allowed for a male minister to take any woman not his wife to live with him in a Church of Scotland manse and it is not allowed for a female minister to take any man to live with her in a Church of Scotland manse - but it was allowed for a male minister to take another male to live with him in a Church of Scotland manse.
And it is stated that “this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct”.
The General Assembly then in contradiction ruled that a Commission should be set up to report in 2011 on whether the Church of Scotland should have homosexual ministers and that in the meantime no other such appointments would be made.
The General Assembly also ruled that there should be no public discussion or publication on the issue until the 2011 General Assembly. 450 years of freedom or speech and publication in the Reform Protestant tradition was abolished. And for what? So that two avowedly homosexual men can live together in a Church of Scotland manse.
There is a minister’s newsletter called Minister’s Forum. It is published monthly but it is not available to the public. I wrote to the editor to ask if it was to be included in the ban. He replied saying that the Acting Principal Clerk had told him he would need to send each article to her for approval. I thought that this was an outrage. In the Church of John Knox? In the Church which for centuries led the world in courageous and free Christian preaching? In the Church of Tom Allan and George MacLeod, of Thomas Chalmers and of John White, of William Barclay and of Tom Torrance?
The editor of Minister’s Forum found support to continue to edit but there is confusion about what ministers can write and few are doing so.
The whole mess of the 2009 General Assembly weighed heavily on me. I know that many decent Christian people were discouraged. I was concerned about the way this had been handled which, I was sure, was not according to the proper manner and rules of the Church of Scotland.
In June, I wrote a strong letter to the Acting Principal Clerk stating my objections and criticising her own contribution and the general way she handled her office.
I also produced an academic paper The 2009 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in which I detailed what had been done wrong, why it had been done wrong and what should be done to put things right in the Church of Scotland. I made a formal complaint about the way the 2009 General assembly had been handled based on that paper.
I sent this to the appropriate people at 121 George Street and also to all Presbyteries for their consideration.
Recently, I received a letter signed by three people from 121 George Street at about the same time as I was sending my paper out. It was critical of the tone of my June letter to the Acting Principal Clerk and in an intimidating tone invited me to apologise.
I replied courteously but I did not apologise.
These three people then made a formal complaint to the Presbytery of West Lothian about my letter. The Presbytery has decided to investigate the matter.
Due to that investigation, they have also decided that I cannot be Moderator of Presbytery this year.
So - we won’t be needing any salmon sandwiches on Tuesday evening. The Presbytery will not be coming, There won’t be a Communion Service and the Presbytery won’t meet here.
I am not much bothered whether or not I am ever Moderator of West Lothian Presbytery. I was asked before and said ‘No’. I am disappointed for Blackburn and Seafield Church and I can only apologise to you for getting myself into hot water.
I would very much like your support and prayers over the weeks ahead.
I do not regret my actions.
I have always tried to be courageous as a Christian. In 1986 I was expelled from Kenya for criticising the Kenya Government - one of the most corrupt in the world - so corrupt still - that President Barack Obama would not even pay a visit to his father’s country and chose to go to Ghana.
In 2005, I published by study leave research project under the title 'Changes in Spiritual Freedom in the Church of Scotland 1980 - 2005'. It reflected the estrangement and separation of 121 George Street from the membership of the Church. One of the chapters was called 'Are General assemblies managed fairly for Commissioners?' I gave evidence of how and when they are not.
This latest spat is part of an ongoing tale. I don’t know what will happen. It does not affect this congregation directly and so here - it is business as usual.
Whether what I have done is the Living Lord’s will I will know in time. I have not been prepared to be cowed into silence. I have made responsible representations but church politics are as they are.
It is a time of trial and testing and of learning. I put my trust in One who was Himself persecuted and crucified for who He was and what He said. He rose in triumphant victory.