Thursday, 17 August 2017

Sunday preview: 'Everybody'

Can't remember where I came across this cartoon, but every frame tells a story of sorts, and, for me, the overall cartoon is a wee delight.

This coming Sunday, as we continue in our season of exploring the Spirit,
we'll be focusing in on the Spirit of Life; pondering beginnings and endings,
the life to come and the life we have now.

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

'Wordworks' writing group August meet up

'Wordworks', our writing group, meets this week on Thursday at 7pm in the Colebrooke Arms, Crawfordjohn.

This month's writing prompt:
take a headline from the news as your source for inspiration. How might you:
retell the story?
write about something entirely different?
tell the story with the most economic use of words?

Feel free to bring this along, or any other pieces you may be working on.

See you Thursday, by the fireplace...

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sermon, Sun 13 August: 'Spirit of holiness'...wk49 WMRBW

Psalm 98;  John 14:15-29;  1 Cor. 15:20-28

Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

The scene:
a wet and muddy field;
I’m very aware of the hole in my right shoe
and the increasingly damp sock that I’m wearing.
The midges are making me wonder
why they really needed to be included in God’s good creation.
And, I’m not alone in that thought –
some good Samaritan is sharing around their Avon ‘Skin so soft’…
Dotted about me are a cast of characters:
Luke Skywalker, an Obi-Wan Kenobi – or two,
a couple of Princess Leias,
several Chewbaccas, a Yoda,
and not forgetting R2D2 and C3PO.
There’s also a posse of Elvis’s,
some punk rockers,
and Batman’s Boy Wonder – Robin.
A whole assortment of heroes or such-like based on a sort of 70’s theme,
with a random Charlie Chaplin thrown in for good measure.

I have the horrible, agonizing job of having to judge the best costume:
a job guaranteed to make you popular with a teeny number of people,
while making you decidedly unpopular with the wider majority.
In discussion with my fellow judge, we make our decisions knowing that,
while some will be delighted, others will be disappointed.
It’s the fancy dress competition at Leadhills Gala Day – held yesterday.
And I’m always amused, and occasionally awestruck,
by the work that goes in to making the costumes for these kinds of events –
the sweat of brow, and creativity given to
how best to look like,
how to best be like
the particular character you’re trying to show to the world –
how to be your hero?
In this case, some of the props include light sabres, assorted wigs, masks,
and, for some, a lot of… fur.

But… how best, to be like Jesus?
The scene:
an upper room.
In the room, a table.
A meal has been eaten –
breadcrumbs are scattered among discarded dishes
and half-empty cups of wine.
A bucket of now-dirty water and damp towel
sit by a table-leg,
a sign of service given...
of humility shown.
Seated around the table are his friends –
and he is there, in the midst of them,
telling them that change is coming,
that things will be different,
that he … will be different…
that he will be going…
but that, even so,
they will not be left to fend for themselves;
they will not be abandoned,
not be orphans:
he is going in order that
he may live in them still,
live with them forever,
through the power of the Spirit –
the One he calls ‘Counsellor’,
the Spirit of truth,
the Holy Spirit.
He urges them, for love’s sake, to obey what he commands…
As the Father lives in Jesus,
so Jesus will live in them through the Spirit.
God will be all.
God will be all, in all.
Essentially: everything’s going to be alright.
In the words of the medieval mystic,
Julian of Norwich,
‘all shall be well, 
all shall be well,
and all manner of things…shall be well.’

But, not long after this point in that upper room,
things are going to look pretty bleak and hopeless indeed;
not well at all.
Their friend is arrested, crucified, and dies.
It probably feels to them that things are about as ‘not well’ as it gets, really.
They experience an agonising separation –
guilt and grief and desolation,
mingled with so many other emotions.
The dream is over, and death is the harsh reality.
They are stunned.
And then, everything changes.

Initially, there’s confusion.
Then the stirrings of hope.
Later, hope turns to joy.
could it be?
Yes, it could.
And then, …
they wait for the Spirit to come, just as he promised…
and when it does,
it’s as if they suddenly find their eyes
opening wide, and seeing things anew.
Their minds are also open:
to new ways of understanding
his words,
his actions,
his life…
the time he spent with them showing what God is like,
and, how to live in such a way as to best be like God.
But this is no fancy dress –
this is the real deal,
of what a life lived authentically as one of God’s people actually is.

‘Obey what I command,’ says Jesus:
it’s a command to love –
so simple.
So hard.
And yet, in loving, there comes both
and holiness…
Seeing God – the holiness – in all
brings about wholeness;
it’s about restoration:
nothing less than the restoration
of all creation,
of all created things.
It’s where balance and harmony and well-being
are the order of the day, rather than disorder.
It's where everyone, everything
is reconciled to their rightful and true purpose…
and I’m minded of our rightful and true purpose according the good old
Westminster Shorter Catechism:
What is the chief end of man?
Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. 
To shout with the joy of the psalmist;
to live into the peace given by God…

The Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit living within us –
helps to restore us, to put things right:
to reorient us to God,
reorient us to our true purpose:
to be reconciled and whole people of God,
and, as God’s holy people,
to live in our communities,
in our world,
as those who work, who strive,
to see restoration –
of people put right,
of reconciliation of neighbour to neighbour;
of reconciling people with planet –
the whole of creation.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world:
crumbs, the news this week confirms that -
we’ve got the leaders of two nations throwing threats at each other,
who potentially have an arsenal of nuclear weapons to throw as well…
elsewhere, the Ku Klux Klan have been openly marching in Virginia with lit torches,
spewing racism under the guise of patriotism:
I’m not sure about you, but I feel a weird deja-vu…
and find myself wondering how we’ve managed to go back to some
kind of nightmarish re-run of the Cold War and pre-Civil Rights.
We’ve troubles closer to home with the fall-out over what may, or may not, be
with Britain post-Brexit…
and there’s not much point rehearsing some of those arguments either side of the fence,
but merely to say how splintered we’ve become,
not how united.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world:
we are bombarded 24/7 with the news…
we are the people who know the good news –
if we really do believe that there’s more to Jesus
than just being a decent guy who had some nice, moral lessons to tell…
if we really do believe that there was more to Jesus than met the eye…
that, the words he spoke belonged to the Father who sent him…
sent him to show us how to live,
to show us of the restoring, reconciling  power of holiness,
to teach us what God looks like –
what the love of God looks like…
then, we have a job to do:
we need to share that good news –
to live it,
to love,
to be people about the work
of restoration,
of reconciliation,
of demonstrating that all shall indeed be well.
We are the good news people:
though there are fearful things afoot in the world,
we    need   not   fear –
we are not abandoned,
we are not orphaned;
for God has given us the Holy Spirit,
and bit by bit there will be restoration.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world,
but we dare to dream:
that in Jesus, God spoke;
we dare to dream:
that goodness is stronger than evil,
that love is stronger than hate;
we dare to dream:
that holiness, wholeness, will triumph
and that reconciliation and restoration
will be the order of the day;
we dare to dream:
that our songs of praise to God
will be revolutionary actions of change,
will be tools of liberation that will help throw off fear
and bring about healing and joy and freedom.
We dare to dream,
because Jesus showed us what that dream was,
and that, through the Holy Spirit,
we have the strength within us
to do the great work of restoration in partnership with God.
We dare to dream:
for we know, that in the end,
all shall be well,
for God will be all in all
and that we need not fear.

I love Bryan McClaren’s take on not living in fear. He says:
‘we won’t live in fear. 
We’ll keep standing strong with a steadfast immoveable determination, 
and we’ll keep excelling in God’s good work in our world. 
If we believe the universe moves towards purification, justice and peace, 
we’ll keep seeking to be pure, just and peaceable now. 
If we believe God is pure light and goodness, 
we’ll keep moving towards the light each day in this life.
Then, one day, when our time comes to close our eyes in death, 
we will trust ourselves to the loving Light in which we will awaken, purified, beloved, for ever. 
Until then, the Spirit leads us along in that arc towards restoration and healing. 
Like a mother in childbirth, groaning with pain and anticipation, the Spirit groans within us. 
She will not rest until 
all is made whole 
and all is made holy, 
and all is made well. 
Life will not be easy. …
(but) We will never be alone. 
…In the end 
all will be well.
That is all we know, and all we need to know.’

Let’s pray:
Holy God,
the psalmist calls us to sing your praises...
Lord, take our songs
and fill them with Your presence.
Let them bring a word of hope
to weary care-full hearts.
Take our songs
and fill them, Lord.
Fill them with Yourself.

Lord, take this place
and fill it with Your blessing.
Let it be a haven
where the poor in spirit sing.
Take this place
and fill it, Lord.
Fill it with Your praise.

Lord, take our lives
and fill them with Your praises.
Let us speak a word of peace -
the peace that Jesus gives to us.
Take our lives
and fill us Lord.
Fill us with your Spirit
this day, and every day,
we pray...amen.

Hymn 710 'I have a dream,' a man once said

Friday, 11 August 2017

Reflection zone: Psalm 98

Our psalm reading this coming Sunday is Psalm 98...

O sing to the Lord a new song,
   for he has done marvellous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
   have gained him victory. 
The Lord has made known his victory;
   he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
   to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
   the victory of our God. 

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
   break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
   with the lyre and the sound of melody. 
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
   make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
   the world and those who live in it. 
Let the floods clap their hands;
   let the hills sing together for joy 
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
   to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
   and the peoples with equity.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Contacts, information, events to 9 August

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: Mon 24 July to Wed 9 August  

Rev. George Shand
Funeral cover:
will be provided by the Rev George Shand who can be contacted
on 01899 309400.

For any ongoing parish queries, please contact our Session Clerk:
Ms Heather Watt on 01899 850211, or, if unavailable,
one of our elders - Mrs Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Schools: Our thoughts and prayers are with all the P7's from our 5 primary schools in the area, as they make the move to Biggar High School in the new school year: go well, settle quickly, work hard, and enjoy this new adventure.

Local Church Review (LCR): about every five years, each parish in Scotland
undergoes a process called the Local Church Review –
back in the old days, this used to be known as the Quinquennial.
Our turn has come up and over the next couple of months, a team from presbytery
will be meeting with a team from Upper Clyde,
helping us look at where we are and what we’re currently doing;
and then, helping us as we look ahead, and see where we might go,
and what we might do over the next several years.
Think of it as the equivalent of an MOT for the parish.
Our team, I think, covers a good cross-range of views here and
I just want to thank them publicly for giving up time to be involved in the process, so, thanks to:
Keith Black
Lynn Cochrane
Judith Gilbert
Jenny Worthington
and Dee Yates.
These are your ‘go-to’ people.  If you have any thoughts on things you’d like to see
happen here at Upper Clyde do feel free to catch up with any of the team -
they’ll feed your comments back into our team meetings.
It should be a good learning curve, I suspect we may even surprise ourselves,
so, let's enjoy the ride together. I look forward to seeing where our collective
thoughts and prayers will lead us.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Reflection zone: Psalm 150

A great psalm of praise and worship...

First, the psalm as read in scripture:
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty firmament! 
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his surpassing greatness! 

Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp! 
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe! 
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Second, a musical setting of Ps 150 as played and sung by Miqedim

and third, a prayer:
Lord you give life to life!
From day one, your Spirit brooding over the deep,
your wind rushing, your breath filling.
As creatures of the earth we rejoice in life
using our breath, our being
to raise this hymn of praise:
Hallelujah to the sun’s hot passion
embracing the ground’s great shoulders.
Hallelujahs for the growth from seed to plant
greening the earth; its fruit—beauty and food!
Hallelujahs for generations of life
tumbling one after another.
Life creeping, swimming, flying, running,
below, above, upon, within.
All the world sings, calls, signals, speaks
praise to God whose glory grows in all that breathes!

Fill us, enliven us, to be ambassadors of life abundant,
breathing out your song in harmony,
singing to you, our Creator,
whose glory shines through all the world. Amen.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Contacts, information, events 30-July 9 August

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: Mon 24 July to Wed 9 August  

Pulpit cover: 
Sunday 6 August: we welcome the Rev. Elizabeth Clelland, Chaplain at Braehead House retreat centre. Elizabeth is part of Lanark Presbytery, having served as Presbytery Moderator.

Rev. George Shand
Funeral cover:
will be provided by the Rev George Shand who can be contacted
on 01899 309400.

For any ongoing parish queries, please contact our Session Clerk:
Ms Heather Watt on 01899 850211, or, if unavailable,
one of our elders - Mrs Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Schools: Our thoughts and prayers are with all the P7's from our 5 primary schools in the area, as they make the move to Biggar High School in the new school year: go well, settle quickly, work hard, and enjoy this new adventure.

Local Church Review (LCR): about every five years, each parish in Scotland
undergoes a process called the Local Church Review –
back in the old days, this used to be known as the Quinquennial.
Our turn has come up and over the next couple of months, a team from presbytery
will be meeting with a team from Upper Clyde,
helping us look at where we are and what we’re currently doing;
and then, helping us as we look ahead, and see where we might go,
and what we might do over the next several years.
Think of it as the equivalent of an MOT for the parish.
Our team, I think, covers a good cross-range of views here and
I just want to thank them publicly for giving up time to be involved in the process, so, thanks to:
Keith Black
Lynn Cochrane
Judith Gilbert
Jenny Worthington
and Dee Yates.
These are your ‘go-to’ people.  If you have any thoughts on things you’d like to see
happen here at Upper Clyde do feel free to catch up with any of the team -
they’ll feed your comments back into our team meetings.
It should be a good learning curve, I suspect we may even surprise ourselves,
so, let's enjoy the ride together. I look forward to seeing where our collective
thoughts and prayers will lead us.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Reflection Zone: Psalm 1

Psalm 1...

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1: The Two Ways - a reflection by Sylvia Purdie 
[you can find her blog and reflections here at 'conversations']

I was out walking a farm track
one late summer’s day
long since the rain had fallen
long since, grass had faded to gold
I passed a field of crops
as the dry wind whipped the struggling plants
tossing away earth as dust
the plants collapsed and withered

I walked on as the path went down
winding through willow trees
roots deep in search of water
Hidden at the bottom of the gully
under a small strip of green
I found a flowing stream
and as I followed it
there were fruit trees
sheltered from the wind
drawing on the water
apples hanging bright and full
crisp and tangy sweet

I live that my life may be
surrounded by love
inspired by truth
sustained by Spirit
bearing fruit season by season

What does it take?
What choices must I make?
What advice must I ignore?
What paths must I avoid?

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous
but the way of the wicked will perish.
The way of the water
is the way of delight
delight in the way of the Lord.

I choose to sink roots into living water
to rest my mind, my heart and soul
in stillness, in waiting, in resting
(easy to say on holiday, harder to do in a busy week!)
day and night, night and day
I belong in the living Lord

Monday, 24 July 2017

Contacts, information, events: July 24 - Aug 9

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: Mon 24 July to Wed 9 August  

Pulpit cover: 
Sunday 30 July: we welcome the Rev. Dr Anne Logan, formerly Minister of Stockbridge Parish Church for nearly 20 years, and before that, Associate Minister at St. George's West, both in Edinburgh. Ministry runs in the family; both her father and grandfather were also ministers.

Sunday 6 August: we welcome the Rev. Elizabeth Clelland, Chaplain at Braehead House retreat centre. Elizabeth is part of Lanark Presbytery, having served as Presbytery Moderator.

Rev. George Shand
Funeral cover:
will be provided by the Rev George Shand who can be contacted
on 01899 309400.

For any ongoing parish queries, please contact our Session Clerk:
Ms Heather Watt on 01899 850211, or, if unavailable,
one of our elders - Mrs Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Schools: Our thoughts and prayers are with all the P7's from our 5 primary schools in the area, as they make the move to Biggar High School in the new school year: go well, settle quickly, work hard, and enjoy this new adventure.

Local Church Review (LCR): about every five years, each parish in Scotland
undergoes a process called the Local Church Review –
back in the old days, this used to be known as the Quinquennial.
Our turn has come up and over the next couple of months, a team from presbytery
will be meeting with a team from Upper Clyde,
helping us look at where we are and what we’re currently doing;
and then, helping us as we look ahead, and see where we might go,
and what we might do over the next several years.
Think of it as the equivalent of an MOT for the parish.
Our team, I think, covers a good cross-range of views here and
I just want to thank them publicly for giving up time to be involved in the process, so, thanks to:
Keith Black
Lynn Cochrane
Judith Gilbert
Jenny Worthington
and Dee Yates.
These are your ‘go-to’ people.  If you have any thoughts on things you’d like to see
happen here at Upper Clyde do feel free to catch up with any of the team -
they’ll feed your comments back into our team meetings.
It should be a good learning curve, I suspect we may even surprise ourselves,
so, let's enjoy the ride together. I look forward to seeing where our collective
thoughts and prayers will lead us.

Summer wishes: It's a quiet time of the year, with many of our groups on summer break, so...
if you manage to have some time off, relax, recharge, and come back refreshed. 
And, if you can't take time off - may you find spaces just 'to be'.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sermon, Sun 23 July: 'Spirit of power'...wk48 WMRBW

READINGS/ Acts 4:1-35;  1 Thess 5:1-11; Tim 1:1-14

Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

This is a story of one woman.
It’s a cold, December day, 1955; a day that begins like any other.
She gets up, has breakfast, and heads off to her job working as a seamstress.
The hours are long, the work is hard, and she already knows
just how tired she’ll feel by finishing time.
Life has settled in to a routine, and she generally knows what to expect from each day.
Arriving at work, she settles down to the task at hand,
unaware that this day will be different, and that, by day’s end,
her name will go down in history.

Work done, she waits for the bus.
When it arrives the door opens, and she makes her way on board,
carefully avoiding the seats to the front of the bus.
Finding a seat in the middle, the row immediately behind the front section,
she settles in for the ride home.
It’s a busy bus.
At the next stop more passengers get on, filling up all the seats at the front.
The driver then orders those passengers sitting in the middle row to stand,
to allow another passenger to sit.
She has probably lost track of how often this has happened over the years,
and she has always complied like so many others, but today, something inside her reacts;
she breaks the pattern
and breaks the law:
she refuses to give her seat up to the man.
While her day has been long, and the work hard, she will later say:
‘the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.’
Her name is Rosa Parks, and she’s just defied one of Alabama’s segregation laws –
a law which requires black passengers to defer to any white person
who needs a seat by giving up their own.
She is subsequently arrested, which provokes prolonged protests
by the black community, and a boycott of public buses that will last for 381 days –
the nation’s first large-scale demonstration against segregation…
which, in turn, spurs on others around the country to non-violent protest.
It propels a young Baptist minister by the name of Martin Luther King Jr
to the forefront of the movement,
who is himself spurred on by a strong sense of God’s justice and the power of God’s Spirit.
This one woman’s action and the subsequent actions of others,
will eventually lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
bringing in a social revolution.
Parks will later observe:
‘I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; 
knowing what must be done does away with fear.’

Another story: this time of two men.
Over several years, along with other companions, they have been in search of a life less ordinary;
a life more meaningful,
a life that goes beyond the shallows and heads out into the deep;
a spiritual quest.
They want to understand the mysteries of life;
want to know God a little more.
And so, they’ve travelled many miles with their teacher,
listening and watching and eating and laughing with him.
They have heard him turn over traditional understandings of how things are done:
of leaders who should act as servants;
of loving one’s neighbours…but also, of loving one’s enemies.
He has taught them that those counted the least in society are those especially loved by God;
and, of true power being found in humility and in honest vulnerability.
They have watched him do amazing things;
and they have watched him being taken away by the powers and authorities of the day
to be tortured and executed as a political criminal.
But they have also seen beyond his death, to his resurrection…
and, later, have experienced his presence through the power of his Spirit –
living among them,
living in and through them.

In the days that have followed the coming of God’s Spirit,
they have found new strength,
sudden unexpected courage,
their faith growing,
their love for one another growing,
and more and more people joining them: attracted by their message, both lived and spoken.

One afternoon, these two men – Peter and John – are heading to the temple for prayer.
As they approach the temple, they see a man being carried to one of the temple gates.
Every day the man is put there –
put there because he’s unable to get there under his own steam.
He has never known a day of freely taking himself anywhere,
always relying on others to take him where he needs to go.
Every day, having been placed by the gate, he spends his time begging, his way of survival.
As Peter and John walk by, he asks them for money, not even really looking at them.
They stop.
Peter asks him to look at them.
And he does so, expectantly: surely these men will give him something.
And so they do, but not what he’s expecting:
Peter calls on the name of Jesus, asks the man to walk.
He takes the beggar by the hand, helping him up from the place
where he’s sat and begged for…how long?
Years, perhaps?
Energy and strength course through his feet and ankles,
he jumps to his feet, and then accompanies them into the temple –
walking and leaping and praising God…and everyone there is amazed.
People come running from around the temple to see what’s happened.
And, with echoes of another time when Jesus had taught in Solomon’s Colonnade,
now Peter tells the assembled crowd about Jesus,
about repentance, restoration, and resurrection.

It’s at this point, that we come to our reading from Acts, this morning.
In the aftermath of the healing of the crippled beggar, and the preaching of the good news of Jesus,
the priests, Saducees, and the captain of the temple guard come along.
They’re dismayed.
Under whose authority are these two men teaching?
And, worse than that: why do they have to keep mentioning that troublemaker, Jesus?
For their troubles, Peter and John find themselves arrested and spend the night in jail.
Despite the arrest, another great number of people make professions of faith.
The next day, Peter and John are put on trial before the religious authorities,
who really don’t know what to do with them at all.
In the end, after telling them to not talk about Jesus any more,
and uttering a few threats, they are released.
This, despite Peter and John’s statement:
‘how can we NOT speak about what we’ve seen and heard?’
They go home to find their friends – fellow followers of Jesus, and rejoice.
The courage given through the power of the Holy Spirit spurs them on to greater acts of love:
they are united in their love of God and one another –
and this love is shown in their care for each other, and generosity towards one another:
none are in need,
and all continue to tell those around them of the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
Their numbers continue to grow as people watch themand are moved by
the love shown within God’s community.

Later, in the new communities spreading around the known world,
the Apostle Paul will remind the new believers of God’s power –
to those who live in Thessalonica –
that they are sons and daughters of the light:
darkness has been defeated;
and that they are to live together as one in God.
And he’ll write to his young friend Timothy –
encouraging him to boldness;
reminding him that God did not give us a spirit of timidity,
but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline…
‘Don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord’, he says to Timothy…
‘Jesus is the one who has destroyed death who has brought life…’ he says.
You can almost hear him saying:
‘It’s a great story, don’t be afraid to share it…’
It’s the story that, through the power of the Spirit, Peter and John were bold enough
to tell even in the midst of the temple, and, to continue to tell even after being arrested:
‘how could we not tell it,’ they say.

One more story:
the story of a small, rural community of faith.
Sometimes, they feel a little invisible, away from the centre of things,
perhaps, even feel a little ignored by the wider community of faith in which they’re nestled.
Sometimes they wonder how long they’ll be able to continue
going on as a community of faith…
will it see them out…
will it go beyond that?
Sometimes, they wonder about the communities in which they live and work –
they wonder why others don’t come along and join with them on a Sunday;
and, sometimes, they don’t have much time for wondering –
life seems to take over and get a little all-consuming:
so many different balls to juggle and to prioritise.
And yet, as they can, that small community of faith gathers together to worship.
As the seasons of the church year cycle past, they hear again the old stories:
of the God who loves them;
of the God who, in that love, became like them;
of the God who, in that love, suffered and died for them and rose again –
a promise of death conquered, and of a hope that goes beyond time and into eternity;
of the God who, rather than leave them alone, sent the Spirit –
of power, of love, of peace,
of unity and diversity,
of service…
the great encourager, and courage-giver,
so that, in their lives,
in their words,
they might find their own way to share the story that communities of faith
have shared down through the ages.

It is the same God and the same Spirit who gave ordinary men like
Peter and John the courage to speak of new life, and resurrection.
It is the same God, and the same Spirit who was at work in the lives
of ordinary people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. –
who, in understanding God’s love, saw that same love as being for all people,
for God does not have a colour bar but offers the gift of new life for all.
It is the same God and the same Spirit who is at work in ordinary people like us,
as we open ourselves to God’s Spirit,
as we listen to God’s calling on our lives,
and, having done so,
to live the message of God’s love in such a way that one by one,
God’s love changes and transforms the world.
The writer, Marianne Williamson, stated that:
‘In every community, there is work to be done. 
In every nation, there are wounds to heal. 
In every heart, there is the power to do it.’ 

As God’s people, we have within us God’s Spirit of power and love –
there’s work for us to do:
let’s go do it, and in doing so, tell, and live, God’s great story.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Church of Scotland news - July 2017

The latest newsletter from the Church of Scotland
can be found by clicking this link
Why not check out the church at work in and out of Scotland?

Monday, 17 July 2017

Sermon, Sunday 16 July 'A Spirit of service'...WMRBW wk46

READINGS/ Philippians 2:1-11;  Matt 23:1-12;  John 13:1-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditations
of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The music from the main stage fills the air.
Thousands of mostly young people listen, watch, dance,
or, for those a little more challenged in the dancing department,
they at least tap their toes in time to the beat.
Beyond the main stage, smaller stages –
more intimate venues, featuring other musical acts.
Other large tents are spaced about the wider venue,
places used for meeting, and eating, with friends old and new.
Thousands of smaller tents, pitched on the outskirts of the grounds, are for sleeping –
although, with something on the go 24/7, most folk party hard.
All is endless energy, and adrenaline rush.
To be there also involves getting around 80 hectares:
from venue to venue, from music to meal and back to music once more,
or, to head off in search of a loo, or even an elusive shower.
Lines, crowds – noise and crush and fun and slightly chaotic craziness.

In among the various venue tents, there’s one with a difference:
It’s not particularly flashy, no great gimmickry to attract attention...
just signs of welcome on the outside and invitations to come in, and rest.
A larger sign names this area as ‘The Cathedral of Stillness’.
Many pass by, ignoring it completely, headed on a mission elsewhere;
but others stop, curious to see what this apparent chilling out zone is all about...
They enter and discover a quiet space of sanctuary in the festival madness.

It is summer, the season of festivals, and this particular festival is
held each year in Roskilde, Denmark, in July.
Each year the festival attracts well over 100 00 people;
And each year, in among the acts on stage, and the crowds off stage,
the pop-up Cathedral of Stillness provides a place of rest,
and, quietly offers to all hospitality and humble service...
Among the various installations and pieces of art for reflection and meditation,
there are cushions and bean bags scattered about – comfortably seating many a tired reveller.
Drinks, hot or cold are offered...
as is another, more ancient form of hospitality.
Year after year, a team, made up of priests and student volunteers kneel alongside one another,
quietly washing and massaging the weary feet of festival-goers
in what is a practical act of loving-kindness and service.
Year after year, festival-goers react in different ways:
some, a little awkwardly, and who don’t linger long once their feet are done;
some, delighted to get rid of mud between toes and have a cuppa;
some pleased just to have a little time out from the noise and busyness;
and some, moved by this gentle, unhurried act, ask questions,
share their stories, and occasionally even stay a while longer and join in...
helping to do something that is done with no other agenda than to do to others
what was done in an upper room in Jerusalem nearly 2 000 years before...
done, because the team believe it’s what Jesus would have done;
done to connect and to care;
done, to serve, and to demonstrate
what God’s love looks like,
what God’s love feels like
in a 21st century context...
which happens to be at a music festival,
but which, could equally be done any place where
weary feet are needing washed,
tired folk are wanting a cuppa,
anxious hearts long for a listening ear,
and lonely souls seek to feel connected and cared for.

It is something not being done, according to Jesus, in our reading from Matthew this morning.
The very ones in society who should be leading by example –
the ones who have studied Scripture,
who know God’s laws inside out,
who know the history of God in relation to the people of God...
the ones who should have the greatest understanding of God’s love,
the very ones who talk of that love,
are the same ones who think that practising God’s love is a task that’s for everyone else but them.

Jesus shines a most unflattering light on the religious leaders of his day.
His fierce gaze highlights not humble service given in love for others,
but pride and actions done in the pursuit of self-service and glory-seeking:
for love of self.
If the religious leaders Jesus mentions were transported to Roskilde,
they’d be doing their darnedest to be up on the main stage
drinking in the adulation of the crowd...
Where they wouldn’t be found
is in a tent a little away from the action out of the spotlight,
kneeling and washing filth from feet.

Everything they do, according to Jesus,
is designed to show off how important they are –
how grand, how highly favoured they are by God and society.
They have a sense of entitlement around their office, their role.
They expect and demand the best seats in church, the places of honour at banquets.
They make sure that what they wear will be noticed –
make ostentatious shows of just how pious and prayerful they are.
Not ‘look at God’,
but ‘look at me.’
They are actors, reciting lines:
playing a role, a part, but who are not putting their heart into it –
not living the life of faith.

Because everything they do is done to demonstrate how powerful and important they are,
they turn God’s love into a tool
to keep people down,
to keep people in a lesser place.
Instead of showing how God’s law is one of liberation
they make it a burden, point fingers accusingly,
give the message that only they are worthy –
and that nobody else will ever measure up.
They have made an idol of the law,
a religion of rules,
a system in which only they and the favoured few prosper.
They do everything in their power to do nothing that will show
the way of faith,
the way of loving service.
And Jesus... tears strips off them.
Sure, they have the knowledge:
they sit on the seat of Moses –
by this, Jesus means they have authority.
Sure, listen to them, says Jesus.
But don’t do what they do.

This passage is where we get that phrase:
‘to practice what you preach.’
And the religious leaders of the day are not doing practising what they preach at all.
Jesus teaches his listeners what practising what you preach actually involves:
first, equality –
we are all one, all on equal footing.
God is God and, as his people, we are to be brothers and sisters
to one another, and not lord it over anyone.
Second, those who follow Jesus are to leave their ego at the door.
To follow Jesus is to live a life of service,
to understand God’s love in your own life in such a way,
that it leads you to share it with others in concrete and practical ways
that don’t draw attention to how awesome you are, but rather,
that point to how awesome God is.
To follow Jesus is to seek to connect with others:
just as God, in Jesus, connected with humanity.
To follow Jesus is to seek to demonstrate God’s way, not our own way,
just as God, in Jesus, demonstrated loving-humility.
But what is humility – what does it look like?

American theologian and priest, Carter Heywood states that:
'Genuine humility is a gift from God which has nothing to do with 
downcast eyes, a misty voice and noble stories of sacrifice. 
Humility is, rather, living courageously in a spirit of radical connectedness 
with others, which enables us to see ourselves as God sees us: sisters and brothers, 
each as deeply valued and worthy of respect as every other.'
Genuine humility…
Jesus doesn’t just point to the religious leaders of his day as a bad example:
in our passage from the gospel of John, we see him put word into action.
As with our reading from John last week,
this scene takes place on the night of his arrest –
the night before his trial and execution.
Unlike the other 3 gospels which focus on the sharing of the last supper,
it is John’s gospel alone that gives us the account of Jesus
washing the feet of his disciples – his followers and friends.
He has talked the talk of humble service – of being love in action,
now he shows them how it’s done.
He knows who he is:
God’s beloved.
That knowledge is enough to enable him to see others as beloved by God:
deeply valued,
worthy of respect,
connected to God and to one another.
He takes a towel,
a basin of water,
and, in the words of an old, old hymn:
‘kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet;
Master who acts as a slave to them.’

These days, washing another’s feet is…unusual.
Feet are generally safely tucked away hidden out of sight
by shoes and, mostly, by matching socks.
We don’t really wash other people’s feet –
perhaps in an occasional service on the Thursday of Holy Week in some places –
where those feet have probably been washed to within an inch of their
life and have been made sweet-smelling;
and, perhaps at the occasional music festival in Denmark…
but, for the most part, it’s unusual, and maybe even a little uncomfortable to think about.
In Jesus’ day, however, it was common practice:
sandaled feet, dusty roads –
the washing of guests’ feet was part and parcel of practical, everyday hospitality.
But always done by the most menial of servants.
And suddenly, in that room, among his friends,
the Master chooses to practice radical hospitality, becomes servant;
shows what genuine humility is,
shows deep compassion,
shows his connectedness to God,
and to each one of his friends;
shows them the upside-down power of God’s kingdom of love.
Shows them.
And expects them to go and do likewise –
to have the same attitude he has.

To live as followers of Jesus today may or may not involve washing the feet of others.
But it does involve seeing others with Christ’s eyes of compassion;
seeing others as connected – as loved by God,
just as you, yourself are loved by God.
It may mean fighting for the most vulnerable in society when no-one else even notices they exist;
it may mean challenging governments that seem to find enough money for
the buying up of party votes to hold on to power…
but can’t seem to find enough money to alleviate the need for people
to resort to food banks, or invest in education and health;
it may mean making a cup of tea and having a blether
with someone who is shut-in or lonely…
or dropping off a casserole to the family with a new wee arrival;
or passing along some home baking to the person who’s just moved in to the house next door.
There are many ways to demonstrate love in action, loving-kindness and service,
knowledge of God in both head and in heart.
What one random thing might you do this week to demonstrate God’s love in action?
No matter how large, or how small, you think it is, do it.
Do it to remind yourself of God’s love for you;
do it to remind yourself of God’s love for all;
do it,
and in the doing, give God the glory,
for in our serving others, it is God we truly serve.  Amen.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sermon, Sun 9 July: 'What Jesus prayed'...WMRBW wk45

READINGS/ Eph 4:1-16; John 17:1-26

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

There’s a story told of a minister, whose kitten had escaped out the window, and, being a very nimble wee kitty, had managed to climb up a rather tall tree.
It found a nice-looking branch, high up, padded along, and promptly decided
it didn’t really like being there.
Unfortunately for the kitten, having tried to turn back, it suddenly realized it was stuck.
It froze in fear.
Heartfelt mews of alarm began to sound, eventually reaching the minister’s study.
The minister went outside, looked up at the kitten, sighed deeply, and,
rather than calling out the fire brigade, went to find some rope, and her car.
Making a loop in the rope, she flung it up, trying to lasso the branch, which she eventually did.
The kitten continued to mew pitifully.
Tightening the rope, the minister tied it to the car’s tow bar,
and began to move the car forward –
this, in the hope that the branch would lower itself enough to get the kitten safely down.
Gently, gently, the car edged forward.
Slowly, the branch lowered, and lowered.
So far, the plan was going well.
Just at the critical point, the rope suddenly snapped,
catapulting the poor wee kitten into the heavens and out of sight.
The minister looked on with horror.
Sadly, she muttered a small, helpless prayer:
‘Lord, I commit this kitten into your keeping.’
Feeling utterly dreadful, the poor minister spent the rest of the day searching
the village for the kitten, but, with no luck, alas.

A couple of days later, in the village store, the minister bumped into a member
of the congregation, who was buying cat food.
This was rather unusual, for the woman was well-known for hating cats
and would certainly never entertain the idea of keeping one.
The minister, curious, asked about the cat food.
And the woman replied,
‘Ach, minister, you won’t believe this but I’ve been refusing to buy my girl 
Daisy a cat even though she’s been begging for one for ages. 
The other day, she was on again about getting a cat.
Finally, just because she was so persistent, and, in the hope of getting a little peace,
I said to her:
“Daisy, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.”
She looked at me for a little while, and then, headed out to the back yard, 
got on her knees and began to pray for a cat.
And, well,’s the thing – 
she’d just finished praying, and, was looking up to the heavens when suddenly,
this kitten came flying out of nowhere with its paws spread out 
and landed right in front of her.
I could hardly not let her keep it, now, could I, with such a clear answer to prayer?’
The minister, wisely, said nothing, nodded, and headed back to her car.

there are many ways in which we approach God in prayer,
and there’s a variety of things that we bring before God when we pray.
Sometimes, it feels like we have a whole shopping list full of items –
we are burdened by the state of the world,
problems at home,
friends or family who are ill,
our own worries...
Sometimes, we feel weighed down by something we’ve said or done –
or not said or done...
which has caused hurt,
and so we feel the need to bring it to God, to say sorry,
to look for a way of bringing about reconciliation, a healing of hurts.
Sometimes, we feel blessed –
a moment of serendipity when out walking,
when everything is suddenly bathed in light,
and we pause with wonder at unexpected beauty and find ourselves in God’s presence
filled with awe and giving praise and thanks for creation.
Many ways to pray,
and many different reasons for praying.

Scattered throughout the four gospels, we find instances of Jesus praying:
providing the disciples with a template for prayer within the framework of the Lord’s Prayer.
And, perhaps the most well-known:
time spent in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to take his cup of suffering away,
but, in the end, reconciling himself to what will happen to him the following day.

In our reading this morning, from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus at prayer –
the longest of all his prayers recorded in the gospel accounts.
It’s a prayer offered to God on the same night as his time in the Garden,
the night of his arrest,
the night before the events of Good Friday take place.

The prayer itself happens in the upper room where Jesus and the
disciples have just shared in the Passover meal together.
It has been an evening of instruction:
Jesus, sensing his time is near,
that his hour is coming,
is making sure that the disciples will have everything in place to aid their understanding of
who he is,
what his mission is,
and their own task as his disciples, once he’s left them.
Before the prayer, he has talked of:
leadership as service,
demonstrating this by washing the feet of the disciples;
he’s talked of betrayal and of his ‘hour’ soon approaching;
he has given them a new commandment:
to love one another, just as he has loved them.
He’s tried to prepare them for a time when he will no longer be with them –
that he must go and prepare a place for them,
that He is the way to the Father,
that they will not be alone –
for when he goes, then, God’s Spirit will be with them always –
God’s Spirit, who will bring them peace.
He’s encouraged them to remain with him:
he is like a vine,
they, like branches –
‘bear fruit that will last,’ he says.
He comforts them, promising that their grief will turn to joy:
that all is not lost by his going –
but, rather, the whole world will be gained.
And so the Teacher teaches them these last remaining lessons
over the table where they have shared in bread and wine together.
As he finishes, he brings the evening to a close by raising his eyes heavenwards, and praying.
And as he prays, so the disciples learn a little more of who he is,
through his prayerful and open conversation with the Father.

The prayer is broken into three sections:
first, Jesus prays for himself...
or rather, that, as he is glorified,
so God will be glorified:
that, at the last, the message he shares with the world is the message of God’s great love,
shown in suffering and in sacrifice...
and in the early dawn light, a message of resurrection and new life –
eternal life.

Second, he prays for his disciples:
as God as loved him,
so now, he entrusts the disciples to God –
places them in God’s hands to protect and to preserve.
He asks that the disciples may be one –
living in unity of purpose, in the Spirit,
just as Jesus and the Father are one.

And, drawing the circle of the prayer wider, Jesus prays for all believers:
for all who will be believers through the message that the disciples will share with the world.
All who will be believers:
those who come to faith on the day of Pentecost;
those who come to faith in the decades following,
as the young church grows and expands throughout the known world;
those who come to faith down through the centuries as that message is passed on,
as the story of Jesus is shared;
those who are believers even here, even now.
This is the part of the prayer where, effectively, Jesus is praying for each one of us.
And what is it that he prays for us?

That we, also, may be one –
just as he and the Father are one, just as the disciples are one...
That the Spirit of God would dwell within us;
that we would bring glory to God in and through our lives;
that the message of hope, and life, and resurrection, would so shine in us,
that we would be the good news – the gospel – in action, in the world;
that we would be God’s messengers of love, using our power in the service of others –
or, as Paul phrases it in his letter to the Ephesians –
that we would ‘live a life worthy of the calling’ we ‘have received’;
to ‘be completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love.’ 
To ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace.’
This peace, the peace that Jesus left his disciples, is also given to us,
who, like the disciples are called to believe in
‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’
and to live that message with every particle of our very being.

It’s sometimes very easy to get distracted:
to lose focus on the large message of unity and love
as we go about our day to day lives -
easy to get the wrong end of the stick in a conversation;
easy to get drawn into an argument;
easy to start second-guessing what someone
may or may not be thinking and get it completely wrong;
easy to share a story about someone because it’s too good not to without checking the facts...
It’s easy to forget to say ‘thanks,’
or be so absorbed in something that you ignore those around you.
So many little ways to sow the seeds of disunity.
Yet, here, in this prayer, we see Jesus –
Jesus, who is praying for us,
praying that we might be one.
That, through lives lived in love, God’s love will be shown to the world –
just as in Jesus’ life, lived in service to God and neighbour
God’s love was demonstrated to the world.

Having sat at table with Jesus,
and had their feet washed by the One who was their leader,
by the One who Peter had earlier professed to be the Messiah – the Promised One of God;
having sat at table and watched as Jesus
took bread and broke it,
took wine, and shared it,
and talked of his suffering and death;
I wonder what it must have been like for the disciples to listen to Jesus praying at that table?
Having talked of leaving, did Jesus’ prayer, asking for their protection,
give the disciples comfort and peace to hearts that were growing increasingly troubled?
Later, much later, did they remember this prayer when they, in turn,
encountered suffering for daring to share the radical message of God’s love for all...
when, in living out their lives in love for God and neighbour,
they, like Jesus, found their hour had come?

there are many ways to pray,
and many different reasons for praying.
This prayer of Jesus is a great model for prayer, seeking as it does to give God glory,
and to pray that the message of God’s love be made known in the lives of those
who have taken up their cross to follow in faith.
It’s a selfless prayer,
a prayer that looks outwards, not just inwards;
a prayer expressing total dependence upon God for protection;
a prayer of concern and care and tenderness;
a prayer that acts as a call to unity to those who are listening.

Earlier we were thinking of bumper stickers – of the messages they give out about us;
what they tell others about us:
likes, dislikes, and so on.
As we read this long prayer of Jesus, we see his message loud and clear:
we see his concern that his followers be one –
united in their love for God,
united in their service to God and to neighbour.
As we do so, perhaps we begin to see those things in our own lives
that may need a little tweaking,
that need a little handing over to God,
so that we can better focus on being the whole people of God:
so that we’re singing from the same hymn sheet
and showing the world, through our unity and love, the glory of God...
who loves us and who is present with us always.

Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus Christ,
who prayed for your disciples
that they might be one,
even as you are one with the Father;
draw us to yourself,
that in common love and obedience to you
we may be united to one another,
in the fellowship of the one Spirit,
that the world may believe that you are Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.*
*written by William Temple (1881-1944)

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Sermon, Sun 2 July...'Spirit of wisdom' wk44 WMRBW

READINGS/ Proverbs 4:1-27; Romans 12:1-21

Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

As I was thinking about the reading from Proverbs this week, particularly its emphasis on following the way of wisdom, and then, Paul’s letter to the Romans, urging the believers in Rome to follow wise ways of living out their faith, some wise words of Albert Einstein came to mind.
The first:
‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’  
And the second:
‘Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not so sure about the universe.’

Stupidity, or wisdom: which path should we take - how should we live?
It’s a good question.
Several weeks ago, we remembered the day of Pentecost:
the coming of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus to his friends, the disciples.
From hiding away through fear in a locked room,
suddenly, through the coming of the Spirit,
they are transformed –
set free in both their way of thinking and their way of being.
The Spirit unlocks the door of their minds
and, released, they then unlock the door of that upper room in Jerusalem
and move out into the city,
out into the world around them.
They are excited.
And, the crowd that gathers are wondering what’s going on –
so much so, that Peter has to reassure them that that the disciples are perfectly sane:
that they’re in full possession of their wits –
‘they’re not drunk’, says Peter, ‘it’s only 9 ‘o clock in the morning.’
Clearly he's not spent much time around some of the harbour areas I grew up in.
And then he explains what’s happening:
he tells them of Jesus, who he is;
his life, his death, his resurrection…
his promise that, in the sending of the Spirit, God would dwell in the hearts of all who believed.

It’s a story of doing things differently, seeing things differently,
of not conforming to the same old patterns,
but of being open to transformation.
On that day of Pentecost,
Peter, along with the other disciples, are living examples of this transformation:
Fear is gone.
Joy bubbles up.
There is hope.
There is new life,
and they just can’t help but tell this good news to anyone who happens to be nearby.

The Spirit transforms their understanding:
of the time they’ve spent with Jesus;
of the relationship between God and the people of God;
of God’s love and of who God loves;
of their love for God and love for their fellow human beings.

As the days, weeks, months, and years roll on, new communities of faith spring up:
in Jerusalem,
throughout Israel,
and beyond.
The church – the community of faith –
the community of believers
who have sensed something of God’s transformation in action,
has been growing rapidly.
And, inevitably, there are teething problems, and questions –
questions in general, but also, questions related to more localized, specific contexts.
Is this simply a Jewish sect,
or, is this a faith movement that has its roots within Judaism, but which is open to non-Jews?
Do the Gentile converts need to be circumcised?
What about the old purity laws - should they just be dumped?
What about food: are prawns still off the menu, or does anything now go?
And, for that matter:
should you eat food that’s been offered to idols?
Who should share in the Lord’s Supper – and how should it be conducted?
Then there’s the thorny matter of varieties of gifts, and a diversity of people…
are some believers better than others?
Are some believers more like 2nd class citizens in the heavenly kingdom?
Or, are all equal under God and, equally beloved?

The early church is growing and spreading and trying to work out
the wisest course of action when it comes to loving God,
loving one another,
and, just following Jesus’ teachings.
And here we have this text from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Demonstrating the spread of the faith, Paul is probably writing this letter
during his time in Corinth with the believers there.
The letter will, in time, be sent on to those believers living in Rome:
the heart, the capital of the Empire.
Paul is hoping, at some point, to visit there.
And, just to give a sense of timing,
the letter is probably written somewhere between the years 51 to possibly 58 –
roughly 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Christian faith is beginning to bed in at Rome,
as it seems that from fairly early on, after that day of Pentecost,
followers of Jesus are reported to be in Rome.
And, who are they, these followers?
Well, a mix of Jewish and Gentile converts, and it’s not been all plain sailing:
there are some issues.
The Gentile converts are claiming equal privileges with the Jewish converts,
while the Jewish converts are outright refusing
to make any allowances unless the Gentile believers are circumcised.
Each group comes with a sense of entitlement, a sense of privilege:
for the Jews – we were here first, so get in line you lot;
for the Gentiles – you lot are yesterday’s news, you’re not the chosen ones any more, we are.
With that cheerful wee mix of attitudes,
you’re looking at some seriously divisive and unhealthy behavior that has the potential
to cause the community of faith to shrivel up and die…
It’s why Paul steps in, and feels the need to say:
‘do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…’
‘live in harmony…’
‘live at peace…’
basically, echoing the way of wisdom described by the writer in Proverbs.
He reminds them of their diversity:
sure, they’re Jews and Gentiles –
sure, they come from diverse backgrounds and traditions,
but, he also reminds them that they are now all God’s people,
called to present themselves as living sacrifices;
called to worship together as a community.
And there’s more:
thinking again of the diversity by reflecting on the variety of gifts within that community
he points out that it’s not a competition about who has what gift;
each gift forms a part of the whole –
should be used as part of offering up themselves as living sacrifices as it’s for the whole community:
each one is a part of, not apart from, the rest…
Or, to borrow a line from the theme tune of the Lego Movie:
‘Everything is awesome when you’re part of a team,’
And Paul is saying to these Christians in Rome, that they are indeed a team:
they are part of the body of Christ –
those who no longer need to conform to the old ways of living,
but who are, rather, transformed –
with their minds renewed, able to test God’s will –
to find God’s way for living wisely and well.

Paul goes on to provide examples of what the transformed life looks like –
of what the community of faith that chooses to walk in God’s way,
the way of wisdom, would be like.
And, this holds just as much for the community of faith now, as it did for the Roman Christians.
Individually and corporately,
it’s a community of people that take a real look at self –
and, who, in good, honest reflection,
decide that wisdom’s way is not the way of conceit, but humility.
It's about being authentic.
It’s one that recognizes the unique gift or gifts we have,
and doesn’t get caught up wishing they could be just like someone else:
each person, each gift, is needed.
It’s one that not only recognizes the gift or gifts we have,
but also dares to use what’s been given in service to God and the community.
'Don’t hide your gifts away, use them,' says Paul.
It’s about sincerity, love, not doing what is harmful – but doing good;
it’s about honouring – respecting – one another;
serving God;
being joyful, patient, faithful, prayerful, generous, and hospitable.

But, what of those people you don’t like,
those who you think of as enemies,
those who think of you as an enemy – what to do?
Well, says Paul, it’s not about spending your life bent on seeking revenge –
leave God to be judge, and get on with living.
Following the path of vengeance leads to the drying up of the soul and death:
it’s all-consuming, and everything good in life becomes as dust.
What’s the different way of dealing with this?
The transformational way?
The way of actually breaking the cycle of needless tit for tat act?
Pray a blessing on your enemy,
feed them if they’re hungry,
provide drink if they’re thirsty –
basically, show kindness –
and, perhaps, by doing so,
by working as someone transformed,
it may move that person into a different way of seeing and doing –
it just may transform them.
Paul says ‘don’t be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good.’
Another take on that is from Martin Luther King:
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’

Stupidity, or wisdom: which path should we take?
How should we live?
The writer of Proverbs urges the reader to mediate on wisdom’s ways –
not to make foolish choices, but to seek out that which is good,
which is life-giving and life-affirming,
which blesses both individual and community.
Paul, follows this theme:
through the Spirit be transformed –
and, let that transformation be a blessing,
flowing out to your brothers and sisters in the body of Christ…
flowing even to those who wear the label
‘enemy’ or, who label you as an enemy.
Do this, in view of God’s mercy.
Like those disciples in the upper room…
let go of fear;
let joy bubble up;
be filled with hope;
embrace new life in the Spirit…
and share God’s good news of transformation
to anyone and everyone who happens to be nearby,
for in so doing,
we transform ourselves,
our community,
our world…
and bring in the kingdom of heaven. .

And let’s ask for God’s help to do this…
Let’s pray:
We thank you, God, for the call of Christ to follow him.
We thank you for those moments of profound joy and faith
when we have experienced the certainty of your presence and we have grown in belief.
We ask for your help when faith does not come so easily:
when the clamour of life drowns out any chance of hearing your still small voice;
when we are overwhelmed by our own or other people's problems and cannot feel your touch;
when the ways of the world and the stories of inhumanity and injustice
told by the media mean it is easier to see darkness than light.
O God, you do not call perfect people to follow you.
You have called us,
and on our journey of discipleship we sometimes stumble
and sometimes leap forward in faith.
In the difficult times, sustain us with the knowledge of your love,
and when we feel close to you, help us to strive for a depth and breadth of faith
that will withstand the challenges of life.
We have heard Christ's call to follow.
Bless us in our journeying, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Sunday 25 June: Songs of Praise service w. reflection

Sunday morning saw us holding our annual Songs of Praise service. Huge thanks to our friends from Leadhills Silver Band, and our two pipers for playing.
Over the course of two weeks in early June the congregation voted on hymns to be played for the service. Seven hymns were chosen along with a new hymn that we've been learning through June. The play list yesterday was:

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Sing a new song to the Lord
Be thou my vision
Blessed assurance
[during the collection - Glory, glory, Hallelujah]
What a friend we have in Jesus
Amazing grace

Our readings picked up the theme of singing new songs, via a selection from the Book of Psalms:
Ps 33; Ps 47; Ps 138; Ps 146; Ps 147; Ps 150

And, finally, the reflection for worship: 'It is fitting to praise'

‘Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous! It is fitting for the upright to praise him.’ Ps 33:1
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy!’ Ps 47:1
‘I will praise you, O Lord with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will sing your praise.’ Ps 138:1
‘Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. I will sing praise to my God all my life; 
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.’ Ps 146:1-2
‘Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, 
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!’ Ps 147:1
‘Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.’ Ps 150:1

The six psalms chosen for this morning’s Songs of Praise service don’t beat around the bush:
they are very much a call to sing songs of praise – and, they’re not the only psalms to do so.
But why? Why sing songs of praise to God?
Why does this seem to be such an important thing to do?
Well, each psalmist tries to unpack that in different ways.
Each reminds the reader or hearer of the psalm of who God is, and what God has done:
sing a new song, says the psalmist, it is fitting –
to sing joyfully, in all sorts of ways;
so many instruments to choose from, including trumpets…
and I’m sure the bagpipes were somewhere in the list.

It is fitting, says the psalmist in Psalm 33 because:
God is faithful,
God loves righteousness and justice,
the earth is full of his love – his unfailing love.
If that’s not enough, praise is fitting because:
God spoke the world into being…
And, unlike earthly rulers who flip flop on policy and seem to want to work by populism,
God’s plans stand firm:
there’s a long-thought out strategy at work –
a plan that is built upon mercy and justice, peace and love.

Our other psalms also flag up why to sing a song of praise to God.
In Psalm 47, we’re reminded of the awesomeness of God:
that it’s God who’s ultimately in control – that’s also the trumpet psalm, by the by!
‘Sing praises to God’, cries the psalmist, for,
in the midst of a world that seems in turmoil,
that seems to be spinning out of control,
that seems to be run by folk who favour the rich and the powerful –
in the midst of it all, God will ultimately prevail;
a long-term plan of bringing in a kingdom that is based on self-giving love –
modelled by God who so freely gives of self
for the whole of creation,
…for each one of us.
It is fitting to sing songs of praise for this present mess isn’t how it will always be:
sing songs of praise,
and work to bring in God’s kingdom.

It is fitting to sing songs of praise, for, in the words of the writer of Psalm 138:
God answers when we call;
God looks upon those considered lowly;
God is a preserver of life;
God brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

It is fitting to sing songs of praise, according to Psalm 146 because:
those whose hope is in the Lord, are blessed;
God is faithful forever;
God upholds the cause of the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry,
sets prisoners free,
gives sight to the blind,
lifts up those bowed down,
looks after the alien, the widow, and the fatherless –
and, in Psalm 147:
God heals the broken-hearted, and binds their wounds…
and knows each star in the cosmos by name.
A picture of intimate tenderness, and also, of God’s magnificence.

It is fitting to sing praises, for we worship the One who leads by example:
shows us, who are created in his image,
how to be, what to do, how to live.
To live with a song of praise on our lips,
to live with love in our hearts,
to love, as God loves:
with every fibre of our being –
and, in joy,
to sing in the kingdom
where all are valued,
where all are beloved –
where none live in poverty,
where there is food and water for all,
where, blossoming and flourishing in God’s love
everything, everyone, that has breath will, in turn, be able to praise the Lord.

We are God’s hands, and feet, God’s body on earth:
let’s sing a new song of God’s love, and let us be God’s love in the world. Amen.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sermon, Sun 18 June: 'Don't'...wk43 WMRBW

Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the
thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

‘Don’t touch it – it’s dirty!’
‘Don’t go near that beggar with the skin disease!’
‘Don’t forget to wash your cup the right way!’
‘Don’t play with those boys – they’re different!’
‘Don’t eat that – it’s forbidden!’

All his life, he’d been hemmed about by a wall –
a wall built upon hundreds upon hundreds of ‘don’ts’.
The ‘don’ts’ determined how he navigated his way through life –
who he spoke to – or didn’t;
when he worked – or didn’t;
where he went – or didn’t;
what he ate – or didn’t;
how he prayed – or didn’t.

The don’ts determined his identity:
who he was and who he belonged to.
The don’ts reminded him that he was special, different…
The don’ts reminded him, too, that if he disobeyed the rules, he’d be unclean;
that unless he went through particular rituals, he would no longer be marked out as chosen.
Rather, he’d just be like those beyond the wall of don’ts –
the ones less special,
the ones…who didn’t belong.

His very identity had been physically incised on his body
on the eighth day after his birth:
his circumcision.
And as he grew from baby, to toddler, to man
he learnt about why he, and his people were special: marked out by God.
A people of destiny, busy building up their identity
by showing the rest of the world who they were …not.

When we first come across him we don’t really know just how old –
or young – he is, when Jesus calls him to follow.
He’s worked on boats – a fisherman.
There is later mention of a mother-in-law, so we do know that he’s married.
But, this man, in accepting the call to follow a wandering rabbi,
begins to broaden his horizons –
often due to encountering the very people he’s not supposed to be spending time with.
Those who are not like him;
those who risk making him…unclean;
the ones who could get him into trouble;
the ones on the other side of the wall of don’ts.

For three years, he follows the rabbi.
For three years, he meets with those that the rabbi spends time with:
respectable folk like him…
and the disreputable –
outcasts, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors;
the flotsam and the jetsam of society.
He encounters Gentiles – non-Jews – and he can smell them a mile-off:
It disgusts him.
It makes him feel sick.
For three years, in the company of Jesus, he finds his carefully built wall besieged,
his assumptions continually challenged – by the rabbi –
and, by the very people that, for his entire lifetime, he’s been told not to spend time with.
Maybe, as he listens to the rabbi teaching,
an occasional chink of light is let through his wall…
Maybe, as he watches the rabbi accept water from a foreign woman at a well;
as he watches the rabbi touch the sores of lepers,
or dine in the house of tax collectors,
more light breaks through that wall of don’ts.
Perhaps, after three years, his wall has extended, just the tiniest bit,
through watching, and living with, love, not only in word, but in action.

When the rabbi dies, his own world feels like it’s ended –
and he hides behind another wall in an upper room in Jerusalem, wondering what to do next.
And then, resurrection:
and the rabbi, walking straight through walls and locked doors.
Obediently, he, and his friends wait as instructed.
And then, Pentecost:
the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing out the cobwebs in their minds,
warming up their cold hearts and blowing hope and understanding into their souls.
And 3 000 people from all around the known world become followers
of the One who is love with skin on.
Love, in flesh and bone.

The wall of don’ts is getting harder to live with, harder to maintain –
so many chinks of light seem to be pouring in through the now-many cracks
in this heady time of the early church.
How to live and be and grow together when old rules and regulations
seem no longer fit for this new purpose?
For a while, the old guard is insistent:
certain rules still apply:
Gentile followers – the males – are to be circumcised…
are to be grafted in to the old system.
But, those in charge of that very system, are in process of distancing themselves
from this new movement – building their wall higher, thicker, and stronger.

Since that strange day of Pentecost, he has been travelling,
just as before, just as his master did.
He walks the dusty roads, passing through towns and villages,
and shares the story of the man called ‘Jesus’,
and encourages, and spends time with, those followers who have chosen
the path of peace, and the way of love.

He is staying in Joppa – at Simon the tanner’s house…
Simon the tanner who, if working within the framework of a wall of don’ts…
would cause Peter to be ritually unclean, due to the nature of that work.
Peter is up on the roof at noon, taking time out to pray…
and has the strangest vision:
as he begins to feel hungry, he falls into a trance-like state,
and watches as the heavens appear to open.
Through this opening is lowered a large blanket, on which is all manner of animals.
Animals that he would never contemplate eating;
animals all listed under ‘don’t’.
And yet, in his vision, this is what seems to be required…
Three times, a voice commands him to kill and eat.
He is shocked.
He can’t.
It’s impure.
Eventually, the voice tells him that these are now no longer impure:
God has made them clean.
The blanket with animals disappears back into the clouds, and the vision ends…
just as a group descends, and knocks on the door, begging him to visit their master, Cornelius,
A Gentile.
A Roman Centurion –
the enemy, in fact, who is part of the vast empire that holds Israel in its vice-like grip.
At the urging of the Spirit, Peter goes with these men to the house of Cornelius,
tells those gathered, about Jesus, and is amazed, along with the
other circumcised believers present, at the Holy Spirit’s presence at work, right there in the midst.
His wall of don’ts is fairly tumbling down now:
‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?’ he asks.
And the answer is ‘no’.
Cornelius and his entire household are baptized.
Peter’s wall has crumbled into bits by his feet, and he understands more deeply
- to borrow from last week’s text from Ephesians –
the amazing width, length, height, and depth of God’s love, for the many, not just the few.

This breaking down of barriers will be on ongoing process in the early church –
in fact, it still is a process that’s ongoing:
we are nothing if not keen to put walls up when we should be pulling them down…
But, for the early church, and even for our much later church,
bit by bit, the circle of God’s grace and love is drawn wider and wider
to bring more people in, rather than to keep them out.

Last week, we talked of God’s love for us, and our response to that love -
being, to love God in return.
But it’s not just about God and us – sitting all comfy and cosy –
that love needs to overflow further and extend to those around us.
to those who are just like us, and who like us;
and, to those who we’d rather keep out by building a wall
because we find them extremely hard to like.
But the blowing breath of God’s Spirit challenges us:
to break down walls;
calls us to notice our neighbour and, more than that, to see God’s image in our neighbour.
The Spirit of love calls us to follow that ‘most excellent way,’
according to Paul, the way of love.

The community that Paul is writing to, in his letter to the Corinthians,
is a group of relatively new Christians.
They come from all classes, and all walks of life.
They are a hugely diverse bunch of people and they’re squabbling and fighting
and forgetting the core of the gospel:
namely - to love the God who loves them,
and, to love one another…
to love their neighbour.
Some of them are investing in trying to become the power-brokers in the community.
Others want to maintain social classes and barriers –
when it comes to communion:
making sure the elite, the higher-up, are served first,
and are served the nicest bread, the best wine…
after all, the servants and lower classes should be thankful for the dregs and left-overs.
Some are lording it over others, implying that, given their gifts, their skills,
that God favours them most; that those who don’t have certain gifts
are somehow second-class Christians.
Basically, the church in Corinth is a mess.
They’ve lost the glue that holds them together: love…
and without love, they are lost,
they…are nothing.

Into this messy, divided community, comes Paul’s letter,
and, within it, this passage – so often used at weddings –
but really aimed at how to best live in community.
Paul has observed earlier in his letter, the variety and diversity to be found
in Christ’s body in Corinth;
and he encourages them to celebrate that diversity for it’s a demonstration
of the Spirit at work in their lives.
He doesn’t want them to break up into little tribal groups…
he doesn’t want them to point fingers at those who may express their faith a little differently;
he wants them to follow that more excellent way
of living within a culture, living within a community, that has at its heart love.
As the saying goes: love covers a multitude of sins,
but, in this instance, it is what should be the life-blood of this Corinthian community.
They are called to witness, to model, God’s love in their lives,
and to share that love with all.

Instead of a wall of don’ts,
instead of identifying themselves by their rules, their gifts, their status,
their ethnicity, their gender, favourite doctrinal position,
or a myriad of other things…
they are to find their identity through who they are loved by,
and their response to that love:
to understand that they are God’s beloved, and to share that sense of being beloved…
which is tricky, when they’re at each other’s throats.
They’re not called to be clones, though they are acting a bit like clowns:
they’re called to love.
As are we.

We bring into our community a diversity of experiences, gifts, skills, personalities.
There may be some similarities too.
But we’re not called to be put into a box,
nor are we to put others into a box –
or build a wall…
to make folk fit in with our expectations.
We celebrate one another because
each is made in God’s image,
each is loved by God,
and each in turn, should love one another…
and enjoy the whole diverse mix.

Love for neighbour should also extend beyond the church walls –
our love for God should see us speaking of God’s love –
showing our love in our wider communities demonstrating that:
God’s love is the glue that truly holds us together…
without it,
we are fractured,
we are…

Love of neighbour should see us use our various talents and skills
to share, to care, to bear one another’s burdens;
to protest when lack of love for the other results in poor, unsafe housing,
or in the increased need for foodbanks.
Love is understanding that, in this present age, we live with imperfection,
while longing for the perfection of all things
and working for the coming of the kingdom – when there will be no more tears.
To live in love, in that excellent way, is to daily demonstrate
God’s love at work in the world;
to show that love can’t be walled up, or boxed in…
that love in action is stronger than any wall or box,
and that it can be found in the most surprising of places,
among the most unexpected of people.

Writer, Andrew King, described the way of love in his poem titled
‘Escaping from the boxes’:
There you go again, God, moving to the margins,
taking love to the outcast and the alien,
breaking through the barriers we’ve constructed from our prejudice,
a light that shines into the world’s dark corners;
unfettered by our selfishness, unhindered by our blindness,
there you go, defying our expectations,
surprising us with the wideness of your grace.

There you go again, God, slipping through our fingers,
escaping from the boxes put around you,
crossing fences of theology we build to hold you prisoner,
a wind that blows beyond our closed horizons;
uncaptured by our doctrines, unbounded by our dogmas,
there you go, defying our expectations,
surprising us with the freedom of your grace.

There you go again, God, calling us to a journey,
prodding us to leave our shells of comfort,
bidding us to examine the rigid shelters of our thinking,
a voice that reaches deep within our souls;
undiscouraged by our stubbornness, patient in our fearfulness,
there you go, defying our expectations,
surprising us with the closeness of your grace.

‘Do touch – for God makes all things clean’
‘Do go near that beggar’
‘Do play with those boys – they’re cool’
...‘Do - love’
‘Do love, with every fibre of your being’
Do love,
this moment,... this day, ...this life.