Monday, 13 November 2017

Contacts, news, events

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Mon 13 Nov to Tues 21 Nov  

Nikki is using up her leftover annual leave before Advent and Christmas begin. She’ll be off from Mon 13th to Tues 21st Nov.

Urgent pastoral matters/ funeral cover will be provided by:
the Rev. George Shand who can be contacted on 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact:
Heather Watt, our Session Clerk on 01899 850211

Sunday 19 November, Morning worship: we welcome back the Rev. Sandy Strachan, former NHS Chaplain at Dumfries General, as he conducts worship for us.

Thurs 23 Nov., 7pm: Upper Clyde Kirk Session meets in the Church Hall this evening.

Sat 25 Nov., 10.30am: Guild Coffee Morning will be held in the Roberton Village Hall... Join us once again for our annual Coffee Morning: with tombola, sales table, baked goods, and morning teas available.

Sunday 26 Nov., 6.30pm: Evening worship in Leadhills. Our last in our year’s series on the Fruit of the Spirit. This week, we reflect on ‘self-control’. Worship will be led by Keith and Morag Black and tea/ coffee will be available thereafter. All welcome.

Church magazine distribution: the Christmas edition of our magazine has now been published – speedy printer was faster than we thought! As ever, many hands make light work when it comes to distributing these across the parish. If you can help share the load by distributing copies to neighbours in your street, surrounding streets, village, or wider, please let Dee know, and we can then coordinate this. Every little helps, and the more folk willing to help, the easier the task overall. Huge thanks in advance!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Service, Remembrance Sun 12 Nov

This morning, in our main service of worship, following our pattern of  observing the centenary years of WWI, we reflected on some of the events of 1917.
Prior to our Act of Remembrance in the service, we heard poems that in some way connected to 1917:
*E. A. Mackintosh - In the glen where I was young - Mackintosh was killed at Cambrai

*W. D. Cocker - Storm Memories - Cocker was taken prisoner at the start of the Passchendaele offensive. He survived the war.

*Donald MacDonald - Song of Arras - reflecting troops marching to Arras. He survived the war.

These were followed by John McCrae's In Flanders Fields

Shorter sermon today, based on the following readings:
READINGS/ Ps 46; Micah 4:1-5, 6:6-8; Matt. 5:1-12

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 redeemer. Amen

In the mid-years of the First World War, the pressure is on:
politicians are feeling the heat from the public, and press to see an end to the war.
The sheer cost in terms of human life is staggering, almost incomprehensible.
On the battlefields, horror and despair and dark humour mingle –
things no human being should ever see, ever experience, have become the everyday.
Over vast swathes of land, men on every side are literally bogged down in mud.
In answer to the public pressure, new offensives, new battles are undertaken,
but most end in stalemate and ever-mounting casualties.
The Battle of Arras, beginning on the 9th of April, and ending 5 weeks later,
initially sees ground gained by the Allies, but the eventual push-back means little is gained militarily.
The cost in terms of casualties roughly comes in at 275 000 on both sides.

In June, the Battle of Messines commences and is viewed as an Allied tactical success –
General Haig deems the result worth the heavy number of casualties left in its wake.
The success is short-lived:
the much larger  Battle of Passchendaele,
fought in July through to November sees casualties on both sides numbering around half a million.
Later, in his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George would write:
"Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war ... 
No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign ..."
Towards the end of the year, the Battle of Cambrai results in 80 000 casualties.
Added to all the other casualties outwith these campaigns, 1917 is an horrific, sobering, costly year, just like its predecessors.

What did men like William Cocker, and Donald MacDonald, who’d signed up in 1914, and,
who’d possibly believed the hype about ‘being home by Christmas’ ...
what did they think, as the days, months, and years of war dragged on,
and as the high heid yins continued along a course of destruction and death?
Did they wonder if it would ever end?
Did they wonder if they’d make it out alive?
Did they ever question the necessity of the war?
Very probably, I suspect.

There are so many reasons used to justify war but sometimes I wonder, if, at the heart of it,
pride, ego, greed, the need for power over others -
the worst of the things that make us human -
are really the causes?
Whether on the smaller scale of family or neighbourly interactions, or on a more global scale,
choosing not to listen to your neighbour,
choosing to ride rough-shod over them,
or choosing the way of revenge,
will generally always lead to conflict.
What is it about us, as human beings, that makes it seem that we so often
prefer to choose the way of war, and not the way of peace?

The way of God’s kingdom is always about reconciliation –
which is not the same as being a doormat.
It is the hard work of listening to the one you’re struggling with;
it is the hard work of being prepared to bend a little – to let go of pride, of ego –
as a way to better work towards a healing of relationships;
it is the hard work of acknowledging your own faults and failings as
opposed to just pointing an accusing finger at your ‘enemy’;
it is the hard work of looking for a fair and equitable outcome for all,
so that each may sit under their own vine, their own fig that each may flourish
and, in that environment,
to know that swords and spears are no longer necessary:
that, instead of a harvest of destruction, war, and death,
what is found in God’s kingdom is
a harvest of healing, peace, and life – of ploughshares and pruning-hooks.
Not a harvest of fear,
but a harvest of hope...
cultivating a climate of friendship and mutual flourishing.

The Psalmist says that ‘God is our refuge and our strength’ 
and, that in Him ‘we will not fear’.
In a world where fear is used as a weapon to control human behaviour –
where fear is used to keep people from speaking out against the misuse of power;
at a time where we watch as certain world leaders recklessly allow their ego full reign
as they threaten to unleash nuclear weapons without considering either cost or consequence,
seeking God’s kingdom and the way of peace is as timely as it ever was.
Jesus, in his Beatitudes, taught his followers that 'blessed are the peacemakers.'
In our homes, in our neighbourhoods,
in our nation, and in our world,
our job is to speak peace in the face of war –
to do so as a way of remembering, and honouring all those who hoped to put an end to war,
and were themselves casualties of war, certainly...
but, more than that:
our job is to speak peace in the face of war
for, in doing so, we live into our calling as those who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace –
and, with him, through the power of God’s Spirit,
we work towards bringing in God’s kingdom of peace –
where there shall be no more suffering, death, or pain;
and where there shall be no more war.  Amen.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Jenny Worthington: in memory

Today we said our goodbyes to our friend, and elder, Jenny Worthington -
first, at South Lanarkshire Crematorium, and then back down the road at the church.
In the first part of the day's proceedings, the Minister paid tribute to Jenny, while, at church,
Jenny's son Rhys shared memories of his mother.
The amazing turn out at both locations was a visible demonstration of just how many
lives Jenny touched over her own life.
Huge thanks to the many folk within the church community who helped in different ways
to ensure that today went smoothly.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and friends, at this time.

The following is the Minister's tribute to Jenny...

‘utterly professional’,
'inveterate loser of keys...
‘great story-teller’,
‘loving mother and grandmother’,
‘most excellent friend’...
Just a wee mosaic of words that help to describe the kind of person Jenny was,
and even then, they barely scratch the surface.

Jenny was one of life’s givers, and didn’t make a fuss about it:
she quietly just cracked on with whatever job it was that needed doing –
and, if she was in charge, it would be done with a keen eye for detail,
with maximum efficiency, and done well.
Both in her professional, and personal, life Jenny’s focus was very much on hospitality –
quite literally, catering to the needs of others whether in the thick of it at Royal Ascot,
tending to the needs of Heads of State at a European Summit, cooking for the First Minister,
or organising medieval banquets where she got to be 'Queen Jenny',
nothing phased her:
she rose to the task, and her energy, ability, and passion for what she did not only
enthused the many teams she led but brought out their best.
This was also evident in the many years spent in in training generations of
students at Motherwell College:
tho, when she got to the point where she began teaching the grandsons of
former pupils she rather thought it time to hang up her professional apron...

Her professional provision of hospitality was an extension of who she was as a person:
welcoming, warm – the kettle was always on.
She paid attention to people, noticed the small things:
she worked out very quickly that the minister was quite partial to a cheese scone –
and, let me tell you, those cheese scones were fabulous.
While we never did quite sort out world peace around her kitchen table,
I swear, at times, aided by her warm hospitality, that we were pretty close.
All these little touches, quietly done, spoke volumes about the way in which Jenny cared for people:
whether cooking or baking,
driving folk to where they needed to be as a designated driver in her community,
looking out for people in her role as an elder in the church...
in a myriad of ways Jenny gave of her time and her impressive skills in the service of others.
The other day, I was reading something that Jenny had written for her retirement ‘do’ –
she said:
‘Opportunities I’ve been given, I have tried to return.’
She did that, and more:
I suspect the balance sheet falls strongly in her favour.

Jenny knew things:
I often called her one of my ‘wise women’ –
I truly valued her vast storehouse of knowledge and advice –
she made me a better minister, and for that, I’m grateful.
But beyond that, ‘Ask Jenny’ was just as much a catch-phrase at the College as it was the church.
if you didn’t know where something was,
or who might be related to whom,
or something needed sorted,
Jenny was your woman.
She was also stickler for getting a thing right:
woe betide if you thought it might be a good idea to put teaspoons in a mug
and pop them on a table at morning tea.
You’d learn very quickly that no, it was not such a good idea after all –
and, yes, she was right about that and so many things.
But while she had high standards, she wasn’t stuffy – she had a great sense of fun:
when she was working in London in the 60’s, having been out on the town at a ball,
she ended up with friends all still dressed in their ballgowns, at the airport,
waiting to welcome the Beatles home.
Jenny had the best twinkle in her eye, and a lovely sense of humour –
and her face would light up when she talked about her family:
she was so proud of Sian and Rhys
and so delighted to welcome wee Gethin when he arrived into the world.

With her characteristic no-fuss approach, when she received the news of her diagnosis,
she just got on with things – began to organise and put things in order.
I was privileged, as her minister, over the last three years,
to have had some good conversations about the deeper stuff of life –
and in these last weeks, her faith helped her to find a place of peace in a hard situation.
She had the hope of resurrection in her heart,
and knew that she was indeed, a beloved child of God.
And, while it feels too soon, and while we will miss her so very much,
even so, she will rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Sun sermon 5 Nov - 'Philemon' /People of the Bible series

READINGS/ Ps 139:1-18; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Philemon 

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.

He’s a servant, or slave:
pretty close to the bottom rung of the social ladder.
He lives and works in a large house in the town of Colossae.
Is he content with his lot?
Not really.
He wonders if there’s more to life than this.
He dreams of what else he could usefully be doing with his life –
Onesimus - it’s what his name actually means.
Mostly, he feels useless.
He’d rather be anywhere else than here.
He finds his mind occupied with thoughts of getting away.
...Dangerous thoughts, these.
If he leaves, and is caught, it could cost him his very life:
That’s the law, under the Roman Empire.
One day, however, something snaps.
He makes his bid for freedom:
a different life,
a different place...
and, in the leaving, perhaps he helps himself to some of his
master’s belongings in order to survive.

His master, Philemon, is prosperous –
clearly, a successful man about town:
deferred to by others,
used to power,
used to being in charge.
People notice Philemon,
listen to him,
and generally, they probably do as he asks.
His house is of a size that can comfortably hold a good number of folk:
meetings are held there often, and there’s a regular gathering –
each week on a Sunday.
It’s a strange assortment that gathers.
It’s a strange kind of meeting.
Letters are read out, and then discussed.
They sing.
They share bread and wine,
and pray to a strange god
and talk often of his Son.

Time has passed since the loss of his servant.
And, out of the blue, a letter arrives from an old friend, and brother in the faith.
Paul has been a mentor to him.
Has worked with him, in Colossae, building up the group of
those who follow in the way of Jesus –
the One who, through his life, the great bridge-builder,
reconciling all people to God –
restoring what had been a broken relationship,
and bringing freedom and new life.

Now, friend Paul writes from prison, in chains because of his faith,
and his letter contains surprising news,
as well as a challenging request.
It seems the lost servant,
the runaway slave, Onesimus,
has found his way to Paul,
and, in finding Paul,
has found the new life he sought –
as a follower of the way,
a follower of Christ.
Like the potter Jeremiah talks of, God has reshaped Onesimus –
no longer nothing, but God’s own;
no longer unnoticed, but known;
no longer in spiritual chains, but free;
no longer useless, but useful –
through God’s love,
Onesimus has found his own, true self.

Philemon reads this letter, and sees that Paul talks of this servant
as his own ‘dear child’;
a beloved brother;
his 'own heart'.
And challenges Philemon to treat this servant as he would his friend Paul –
to give him honour,
to love him...
to treat him like...a brother.
He may not have been useful in the past, Paul puns,
but, my word, he’s jolly useful now –
for God has remoulded Onesimus into someone who now understands
and lives and shares the message of God’s amazing, and transformative love.
Onesimus is living proof that God’s love is for all –
God does not just bless the wealthy,
the ones with status and power;
God blesses even those deemed 'useless'.

‘I’m sending him back to you’, says Paul:
‘forgive him.’
You can almost see Philemon’s eyebrows raise.
If there’s no forgiveness,
this story will end in death.
Paul’s using his ties of friendship with Philemon, to save the life of this new Christian brother.
And it’s interesting the way Paul addresses his friend:
instead of emphasising his own spiritual authority
and commanding Philemon to forgive, and even release, Onesimus,
Paul emphasises his own chains –
essentially, empathising with Onesimus’ situation as a captive.
In asking Philemon to forgive –
to reconcile, rather than seek revenge –
Paul shows the radical nature of the Gospel:
it is life-bringing –
not just spiritually, but in this case, very literally.
For Onesimus, it’s good news on several levels.
But what about Philemon?

Well, here, the radical nature of the Gospel just makes things
a little bit challenging and somewhat awkward for Philemon:
he has to go against every cultural and societal norm he knows.
In a society built upon a strongly defined system of class,
Paul is showing that in God’s kingdom,
in Christ’s community –
there’s only one class:
status is found in Christ alone.
All are equal.
Jesus as brother,
Jesus as friend...
Jesus not emphasising his own authority,
but instead showing humility,
not showing airs and graces as King of kings,
but instead providing the example of what it is to serve one another in love.
Paul challenges Philemon to set aside his rights as master, to forgive his servant...
and encourages him to see that the community called to follow Jesus,
is a community called to
serve one another in love,
to work together,
to regard one another not just as friends,
but as spiritual kin:
brothers and sisters in Christ.

In forgiving his servant, and taking him back, Philemon is faced with a dilemma:
those weekly Sunday meetings are now going to be attended by his servant...
who, in that time of worship will be on equal terms with his master, as a fellow believer in Christ.
How will that work?
How will it affect their relationship?
Paul’s letter suggests that the new relationship will see Onesimus as being ‘better than a slave’...
perhaps a suggestion, ultimately, to free his servant, in order that Onesimus
might more freely serve the Lord, and the community of faith.
The radical Gospel –
tells the story, the good news, of a kingdom and a community
where all are free,
and all are loving and serving
just the one master, Jesus.

What will Philemon do?
Will he rise to the challenge?
Will he reconcile, and in doing so, see his own community transformed
by God’s liberating, radical grace?
Grace, that sows the seeds of resurrection within the faith community
where God is making all things new?
It’s certainly an act of trust, on the part of Onesimus,
to go back and see if Philemon’s willing to give it a try.

What has Paul’s letter to Philemon,
a personal letter to a friend about a very particular situation,
got to do with us?
Well, we are the inheritors of the faith –
Christ’s body,
Christ’s community,
called by him to live in love,
and to live in the service of God and each other.
Called to be counter-cultural in our relationships:
we are bound to one another in and through Jesus.
What are the chains that are stopping us from being a community of love?
What holds us back from accepting God’s radical love for us,
and sharing that love with one another – as brothers and sisters?
How might we better be communities of transformation, grace, and welcome?
What rights and privileges do we have that we might be willing, as Christians,
to give up in the service of others?
What might a transformed, reconciled community of faith look like?

The good news of the Gospel is that,
in Christ, we are transformed,
reshaped, remoulded, made useful;
are freed to be who God created us to be;
called, not just individually,
but called into community:
we are not alone –
we have each other,
and God is with us.
In that knowledge,
let’s bear one another’s burdens in love;
let’s serve one another in love.
Let’s strike out in faith,
and be the change in the world that God wants to see.

Let’s pray:
We are not alone,
we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,   
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen

Friday, 3 November 2017

Jenny Worthington

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Jenny Worthington,
who died on Monday.

Her funeral arrangements are as follows:
11am Committal at Sth Lanarkshire Crematorium...
1pm at Upper Clyde Church for a service of thanksgiving for her life
2.15pm Funeral tea at Cornhill Castle

Thoughts and prayers are with family and friends at this time.
May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reformazing: remembering the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

This morning in worship we reflected on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation...
signified by Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.
We thought about:
Luther's journey of faith,
pondered his understanding of salvation by faith alone,
sang a hymn he wrote, based on Ps 46 - 'A mighty fortress is our God',
and even had a wee visit from him and our own Scottish reformer, John Knox...both of whom were cheerfully perched on the pulpit.
Rather than a traditional sermon this morning, there were several shorter reflections
picking up on Luther's understanding of God, of faith, and of scripture.
Our readings today were: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; Eph 2:1-10; and Ps 46

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Sunday sermon: Rahab - 'people of the Bible' series

READINGS/ Joshua 1:1-6; 2:1-24; 6:1-7, 20-25

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...

Sometimes, it’s good to have a little mood music, to set the scene,
and what more appropriate background music than a little jazz – feel free to tap your toes...

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
and the walls came a-tumbling down
You may talk about your men of Gideon
You may talk about the men of Saul
But there's none like good old Joshua
at the battle of Jericho ...

Actually, you may talk about a man like Joshua,
but the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho is one that proves the saying that:
behind every good man... is a woman –
and, in the case from our bible passages this morning, that woman Rahab.
But before we get to Rahab, a little recap of how we’ve got to her in the first place.

Last week, we heard Hagar’s story –
Hagar, the servant of Abraham and Sarah,
and mother of Abraham’s son, Ishmael.
Many generations have passed since then.
Abraham’s son, Isaac, the one he had with Sarah, has had children, notably, Jacob.
Jacob later fathers many children, but here again, notably, Joseph,
who manages to annoy his big brothers so much that they sell him into slavery –
and he lands up in Egypt.
Eventually, he saves that nation through a prophetic vision –
the Pharaoh is grateful and invites him to bring his people into Egypt.
Hundreds of years pass...and Joseph’s people find themselves under a less kindly disposed Pharaoh.
These Hebrew ‘foreigners’ are seen as a threat to the country –
‘taking our jobs’
‘taking our women’
‘taking what’s ...ours’
something needs done.
And so, Pharaoh forces the Hebrews into virtual slavery.
They’re worked punishingly hard, and, in the midst of their servitude, I wonder:
do they dream of freedom, and make up songs of liberation to sing quietly under their breaths,
while they work on pyramids, or other projects?

Eventually, God sends a deliverer, in the form of Moses –
a Hebrew who’d grown up in Pharaoh’s own court.
With God’s help, and, with Moses at the helm, the Hebrews make a bid for freedom.
Escaping the army chasing them, they cross the Red Sea, and go out, into the wilderness,
where they’ll spend the next 40 years wandering and wondering,
and learning to trust in God, as they, as our first hymn states:
walk like pilgrims, through this barren land.

At the end of 40 years, we find the Hebrews in a time of transition:
coming to the end of their wandering,
coming to a change in leadership –
from Moses, to Joshua;
coming face to face with the now real thought of stepping upon
the land they feel that God has promised to them...
They are on the cusp of being able to finally throw off the last traces
of the shackles of slavery -
on the edge of claiming, and living into, the liberation given to them by God;
they’re ready to freely embrace their freedom:
to have a place to call their own;
to settle, and to prosper, without fear of Pharaohs –
for their only master will be God.
They stand on the brink of new life, but before they enter that new life fully,
they decide to investigate a little further –
Two spies are sent out to investigate the land, especially the city of Jericho.

Jericho’s seen better days;
truth be told, both its inner and outer walls are already a wee bit crumbly in places.
Housed within the inner walls of the city,
are the wealthy –
the ruling classes,
the richer kinds of merchants:
the inner wall gives them an extra layer of protection from marauders...
and, helps keep out the riff-raff – the less desirable inhabitants of the city...
These folk dwell on the edge,
tucked behind the outer wall
yet caught in front of the inner wall:
fodder and first defence in the face of attack.
It’s in this edgy, in-between place, that we find Rahab –
a woman who makes her living in the oldest profession.
When the Hebrew spies head to Jericho, they find their way to Rahab’s house:
perhaps such a place is the perfect spot to hear stories, idle talk, the latest news;
perhaps, too, as strangers it’s easier to blend in at such a place;
perhaps they think they won’t be noticed.
However, our two spies aren’t as subtle as they think:
they’re very much noticed –
and their appearance and location is reported to the king.
The king sends a message to Rahab –
basically: ‘bring ‘em out, we know they’re spies.’
And here’s where it gets interesting...
she doesn’t.
Instead, she does everything within her power to keep these two ‘enemies’ safe.
She’s already taken them up to the roof and hidden them;
She lies to the messengers,
effectively sending the king’s men off on a wild goose chase outside the city walls,
with the gates firmly shut behind them.
And then, we listen in on a conversation between Rahab and the spies – she says:
‘I know the Lord has given this land to you...’
Hang on:
not: ‘I know your God has given this land to you’
But: ‘the Lord’...
She’s identifying with the Hebrew God, not the gods of her own culture –
she’s already made a shift in her mind, in her spirit.
There’s an emerging faith here in the God who she’s heard stories about.
She, like all the inhabitants of Jericho,
knows the story of the parting of the Red Sea.

I wonder what it is about this God that moves Rahab to help those who should be her enemies;
I wonder what it is that causes her to cast her lot in with them, and follow their God?
Perhaps, given her line of work,
a dangerous, oddly lonely job,
perhaps...she understands the fickleness of the human heart only too well, and wants more than this.

Perhaps the story of a God who saves,
a God who uses strength to fight for the captives, the underdogs,
perhaps the story of a God who is ever-present,
who never abandons his people, who is faithful,
is a god worth following.
In a different way,
just as the Hebrews were trapped in Egypt,
she is trapped in her particular life situation:
if she chooses to follow the God of the Hebrews
might she, too, find rescue and safety, freedom and a fresh start?
Perhaps, she thinks it’s worth a shot
and as she waits in her house in the walls of Jericho, perhaps she sings, ever so quietly,
a small song of freedom, of liberation?

We know the rest of the story.
Jericho is attacked,
the walls come a’-tumbin’ down.
Rahab and all in her house are protected:
the promise is made good.
But what happens later?
How does the rest of Rahab’s story –
a story of a person living on the margins of society:
both physically on the outer wall,
and socially, with her line of work...
how does the rest of Rahab’s story pan out?
Well...having cast her lot in with the Hebrew God,
we hear of her again beyond the Book of Joshua –
she’s featured in the New Testament several times.
Twice, Rahab is held up as a hero of the faith –
she’s celebrated as an example to believers:
in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, she features in the great list
of those who made the Hall of Fame for faith...
this woman who has a dubious line of work is in there with folk like Noah, Moses, David, and Samuel...
She’s also mentioned in the Letter of James,
again held up as an example of being a person of great faith.
And then, there’s that other mention.
We find Rahab in the Gospel of Matthew.
At some point, Rahab, having chosen to make her future with the Hebrews,
settles down, gets married, has at least one child.
We know this, because there she is, listed in a long genealogy.
We find as we read that list of names in Matthew, that she becomes a mother –
to a son named Boaz.
Remember Boaz?
We were talking about him a few weeks back:
he’s the chap who married Ruth.
They have a son,
who has a son,
who is the father of King David.
Basically, Rahab not only helps the Hebrews move into the Promised Land,
it is from her that Israel gets a king.
Multiple generations later, in Matthew’s genealogy,
we discover that Jesus is a descendent...
of Rahab –
Rahab, an unlikely ancestor for a Messiah:
It’s a case of God, throwing a wee curve ball when it comes to expectations of acceptability;
God throwing a different perspective –
showing that all things are possible,
that all people are created in God’s image,
that God calls all kinds of people
however unusual,
however different,
whatever side of the tracks they’re on.
And, whatever you might say about Rahab,
she wasn’t on living on the so-called ‘right’ side of the tracks...
But God’s Spirit blows where she will and faith appears in likely and unlikely places:
sometimes among the palaces of the powerful,
sometimes in the in-between places populated by the underdogs,
the Ruths, the Hagars, the Rahabs of the world....
who quietly sing the song of God’s liberation,
just as those in slavery in Egypt did,
just as those in slavery in the American South did, when they sang songs like
‘Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.’

We worship a God who seeks liberation:
a God of justice,
who longs for his people to hear his call to freedom –
to shake of the shackles of all that holds them down,
of all that stops them from living fully,
from living abundantly.
Sometimes, it is the real, physical chains of slavery...
and sometimes it’s the stuff we live with
in our hearts,
on our minds,
that we can’t seem to let go of –
regrets, bitterness, guilt, unforgiveness,
particular patterns of behaviour...
We worship a God who seeks liberation for his people:
who calls us to rise up from the chains
that keep us down,
that keep us from following him,
the keep us from walking out of the wilderness,
and into new life with him.
We worship the God who told Joshua ‘be strong and courageous’
and the God who found a place in Rahab’s heart...
As we follow in the faith example of Rahab,
so we pray for the courage to follow God
wherever God takes us,
whoever God brings alongside us,
and whatever God asks of us on the way...

Monday, 23 October 2017

a little slice of Harvest Festival

Slightly belated Harvest note...
Huge thanks to the many hands that helped make our Harvest a great success the other week:
the catering team;
the flower folk who decorated each of our windows and set up the harvest offerings around the Communion table;
all who donated various goods for the harvest which later went to Clannalba and to the Clydesdale Food Bank;
our five primary schools for their wonderful harvest banners which greeted everyone as they came into worship;
and to everyone who turned out to support our Festival in many other ways. Great team effort everyone - lovely!

This year, our special offering went toward the work of 'Farm Africa'. Our primary students were also undertaking various activities for Farm Africa, including the 'Great African Welly Walk', welly decorating, and participating in Harvest assemblies learning more about Farm Africa and who it helps. Wel oh

The pic's serve as a wee taster of some of the decorations and harvest offerings in UCPC

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday, sermon 15 Oct: 'Hagar'/ people of the Bible series

READINGS/ Genesis ch. 16; Gen 21:1-21

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.

Had she been with them, when Abraham had taken the plunge,
and moved out of his comfort zone in the city of Haran?
Had she known that he did so because he’d heard the voice of the Lord calling him
to leave his country, his people, his home...
and to go to an unknown Promised Land?
Or, had she been collected along the way, just another of the many possessions
being carried along in the wake of the Promise:
people and goods, all travelling along Abram’s journey of faith?
Did she know of God’s promise to Abram:
that he would be the father of a mighty nation,
that his descendants would be as numerous as the glittering stars in the sky?
...She did know that he and his wife, Sarah were childless...

Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
They get the job done,
no fuss, no bother,
and fade into the background.
Servants are unseen –
unless something’s amiss.
And something is indeed amiss by the time we get to Chapter 16 of Genesis,
and the ongoing story of Abram.

The wait for God’s promised child has been stretching on, and on...and on.
Years have passed since God spoke to Abram of the blessing of a child,
of descendants without number.
Perhaps God expects them to sort a little something out?
And suddenly, out of the shadows, comes Hagar.
We hear her story –
the story of someone who, in normal circumstances, would be overlooked.
Suddenly, this formerly unseen servant,
steps into the light because Sarai and Abraham see her in a different way than they have before.
They are free to make use of her in whatever way they want,
and what they want is a child.
Surely God meant for them to sort out the matter themselves –
for doesn’t God help those who help themselves...
except, that’s never ever written in Scripture?
And so, trying to second-guess God’s plan,
they do a little micro-managing, to make sure it actually happens.
Sarah sends Hagar to Abraham.
A child is conceived....
Except it’s not.
Somewhere in the seemingly simple plan of micro-managing an answer to prayer,
human dynamics – emotions and feelings – are forgotten.
Having arranged for Hagar to conceive, Sarah is now filled with jealousy.
And Hagar...
well, her social status has suddenly gone up:
she’s not just a servant, she’s carrying the child of her master –
and because of this, Sarah really doesn’t have the same authority over Hagar as she once did.
So she makes Hagar’s life such a living hell that it seems better to Hagar to flee
into the wilderness, than to stay in that unhappy place of torment any longer.
Perhaps it’s better, after all, not to have been seen, not to step into
the drama that is Abraham and Sarah's?
But having fled, out in the wilderness, Hagar is seen –
by God.
The angel of the Lord tells her to return,
tells her that she, too, will have descendants without number, just as Abram.
She has not been forgotten –
nor, with so many descendants,
will she ever be forgotten:
her story will be told
and her name will live on for generation upon generation.
But, hang on, that’s not supposed to happen:
she’s a servant,
a woman,
a nobody.
Why is God bothering... with her?
Why is God promising her that she’ll have vast quantities of descendants?
Well, because, while she may be a nobody in terms of the human worth of the day,
the story demonstrates that God sees things a little differently:
God sees the ones who are unseen –
the least,
the lost,
the most vulnerable,
the ones who apparently just don’t matter.
God sees. 
Not only is she seen,
Hagar is known, and named.

And something quite gob-smacking happens here:
Hagar, recognising that God sees her, names God:
gives God the name ‘el Roi’ – meaning ‘the God who sees’
Hagar is the first woman in the Bible visited by a messenger from God;
She’s the first woman to see and talk with God.
And, she’s the only person in all of scripture who names God –
sure there are men who encounter God, or messengers from God,
and who subsequently set up an altar at the place
and rename the place:
but Hagar ...names God.
She sees the God who sees her.
In response to the message she’s given, she returns back to camp.

Months pass, the child is born.
Abram is now 86.
Tensions still simmer.
14 years pass, and another child is born – this time to Sarah...
They name the child Isaac – meaning ‘God has brought me laughter’,
for, Sarah’s long-held wish has been answered.
But while there’s laughter for Sarah, there’s not so much for Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
And Hagar, the servant, and mother to Abraham’s child has not been invisible for a long time now.
Every moment of the day, she is a constant reminder to Sarah of what has happened.
Isaac is born, and Sarah makes plans:
for, clearly, with his birth, they are in the way,
and Sarah is determined that Isaac will not have to share his inheritance.
Sarah determines to get rid of them once and for all.
Eventually agreeing, Abraham gives Hagar food and drink and sends them away into the desert.
It’s horrific, and it doesn’t paint either Sarah or Abraham in
a great light – our heroes of the faith are flawed and fallible just like the rest of us.

There in the desert, the water soon runs out.
Hagar, the unseen,
Hagar, the exiled, unwanted, and vulnerable,
senses the end is near and cannot bear it.
She’s so distraught at the thought of losing her son, she walks a wee distance away from him.
She weeps –
it’s all that’s left to her in the barren desert wastes.
The boy also weeps.
And there, in the middle of nowhere,
God hears.
God sees.
And God answers their cries.
Water is given – life restored.
And they find, at this journey’s end, that the desert is their home, their place of refuge,
and that they are not forgotten.

Hagar’s story comes down to us through the generations –
a reminder to us of who God values:
who God sees.
History has a way of managing to record mostly the so-called ‘great and the good’ –
a king here, a general there,
perhaps an occasional queen.
Prominent, powerful.
People of status.
In this bible story about the not so invisible,
not so unseen servant, Hagar,
someone of seemingly no importance is raised up –
is shown to have value in God’s eyes,
is given life-giving water,
is given ... life.

I wonder, how often we feel like Hagar?
Deserted, walking in a wilderness,
feeling small, insignificant, invisible?
Living in and through the hardest of times that feels overwhelming,
that feels paralysing,
where the only thing left to give is tears?
Living a life where everything feels shrivelled and dry –
where’s the life-giving water,
the well from which to drink?
Where is God in the midst of the suffering?
Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
But I’m so glad that Hagar is not.
As we see Hagar, the not so invisible woman,
as we hear her story,
we are reminded that, as God sees Hagar,
so too, God sees us.
God doesn’t watch from a distance, but is right in the midst of it.
The God of the resurrection sees us,
walks with us in the good places –
but also, in the hard.
Read Hagar’s story, if you’re feeling bereft, deserted, invisible:
be encouraged,
and know that God sees you,
is with you.

And it goes broader – beyond ourselves, this business of seeing:
I wonder, who are the Hagars in the world today?
Who are the ones we don’t see, don’t notice –
or who we try not to see?
What of the refugee – fleeing from war, wanting nothing but to live safely?
What of all those people caught up as victims in human trafficking – modern-day slavery?
What of those who have lost all hope,
have nowhere to go to,
have no one who sees them?
God sees the forgotten,
the lost,
the invisible,
the ones whose names we don’t know,
but whose names God knows.
In the story of Hagar,
we see the God who sees say to such a one:
‘I see ... you.’
And, in the seeing, demonstrates that they matter.

In a sea of human need, so often brought about by human greed,
we too, can choose to see;
we too, can choose to say:
‘I see you: you matter.’
And as we open our eyes and look, really look,
we will be following in the footsteps of the One
who knows us,
and who sees us,
and who calls us by name...
we will be following the One
who came to help ‘the least of these’,
and in so doing,
we’ll be bringing in God’s kingdom,
in which all are seen –
all are loved,
and all are valued.  Amen.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Sun 8 Oct: HARVEST FESTIVAL - supporting Farm Africa

Our annual Harvest Festival will be held on Sunday 8 October. 
This year's chosen charity for our Harvest Festival is Farm Africa.
There's a little information about them provided below, and, you can also visit their website here
Having given a wee challenge of collecting change in empty jars a month ago, with only a few days left, how are you doing? There's still a little time to add your loose change to a jar and bring it along in aid of Farm Africa...every little helps.
Our five primary schools have been busy preparing as well, by doing their own version of the
Great African Welly Walk, and by making some fabulous Harvest banners which will be on show on Sunday.

Who is Farm Africa?
Farm Africa is an international organisation working to build a prosperous rural Africa.
We help farmers to increase their harvests, build their incomes and sustain natural resources, partnering with governments and the private sector to find effective ways to fight poverty.
closely with local communities, who actively participate in all the decisions about our work. Typically, our staff are from the local area, can speak the local language and have a deep understanding of the local context.
Farm Africa works in four countries: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania

What Farm Africa does:
Farming doesn’t just provide food, but income and prosperity. Good agriculture can change lives. Farm Africa focuses on transforming agriculture. We help farmers to increase their harvests, protect the environment and sell their produce in thriving markets.
By providing support, training in effective farming methods and links to markets, we help to build more profitable farming businesses so that whole communities can lift themselves out of poverty.

Eight out of ten rural Africans scrape their living from small plots.
Soils are often poor, drought ever near. Farm Africa brings in the smart crops, drought-busting techniques and marketing skills that make such tough farming viable, profitable and sustainable.

Where land is arid and crop cultivation hard, many farmers make their living by keeping animals. Animals are generally the family’s most valuable possession and Farm Africa helps with basic animal health services.

Pollution and overfishing have put wild fish stocks under pressure. The price of fish has rocketed, hitting people hard. Farm Africa is pioneering fish farming in Kenya, which ensures sustainable protein supplies and a major new source of income.

Deforestation destroys wildlife and dehydrates soil. We help forest communities replace traditional tree-cutting and wood and charcoal selling with new eco-friendly enterprises that protect biodiversity and provide a sustainable income for future generations.

Climate resilience
If the current consumption of fossil fuels continues, global temperatures could rise by
as much as 4⁰, which would have a devastating impact on farmers' livelihoods.
Farm Africa helps smallholders to farm in ways which don't damage the environment,
and to build resilience to future climate shocks.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Sermon, Sun 1 Oct: Jonah/ 'people of the Bible'

A lovely surprise today in worship, as we received the gift of music, by Stuart, from Leadhills - who turned up to play the organ. Our digital hymnal does the job, but wow, how wonderful to have 'real' live music.
Huge thanks, and haste ye back!
Love a bit of spontaneous organ playing, we do...

READING: today we read through the Book of Jonah

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.

Shortly, we’ll be singing the hymn:
‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’.
It’s probably one of my favourite hymns, and, given our text for this morning,
it’s hugely appropriate as we consider the story of Jonah.
‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.’

I said earlier that the Book of Jonah is a fun story -
the fun can be found in the extreme responses and situations that our friend Jonah experiences.
And, it’s a story told each year to Jewish children, at Yom Kippur, as a type of comedic ‘fairytale’ –
fun, and with a seriously good point to make.
So, let’s have a wee look at this story.

It’s a funny old job, being a prophet.
You’ve one thing you basically have to do –
just the one –
which is to be a messenger.
God says ‘x’, and your job is to go and tell folk just what it is that God’s saying.
And here, in our story, is a prophet who will do anything –
seriously, anything else but that one thing he’s supposed to do.
Within the first three verses you have:
‘the word of the Lord came to Jonah…
“Go to Ninevah, go and tell them that their behavior is pretty much out of line.”
And without skipping a beat, Jonah skips off…in the entirely opposite direction.
In fact, he goes to quite extreme lengths, for Tarshish is not merely the opposite direction,
it’s at the uttermost end of the then known world.
Seriously, Jonah does not want to go to Ninevah.
So here we have a case of a reluctant prophet,
refusing to do that one thing that a prophet is basically meant to do.
And we already have a sinking feeling that things are not quite going to
go that well for our man Jonah.

Off he heads to Joppa, a sea port on the Mediterranean.
He finds a ship bound for Tarshish and he’s away.
In next to no time, however, Jonah’s plans begin to come unstuck.
A storm at sea;
a ship at threat of breaking up;
a crew imperiled,
each one crying out to their god for help.
In the midst of the noise,
the waves,
the storm,
Jonah… is below-decks sound asleep.
Reminds me a tad of Jesus, asleep in the boat on the storm-wracked Sea of Galilee,
except in Jonah’s case, unlike Jesus,
he doesn’t have the power to command the wind and waves to be still.
The only way that lives will be saved and that peace will prevail is if he throws himself overboard:
for it’s recognized that it’s Jonah’s presence that’s putting everyone else in danger.

A nice touch, in the midst of the horrific storm:
even when Jonah has told them to throw him into the sea, those on board don’t, initially.
Basically, these folk who pray to different gods, are decent folk.
Instead, they do the best that they can to row back to land.
We all know it doesn’t work.
And so, reluctantly, Jonah goes for a long walk off a short plank, and into the sea…
and, immediately, all is calm.
Those left on the boat don’t know who Jonah’s god is, but they are mightily impressed,
and try to honour God through prayer and sacrifices.
Meanwhile, Jonah effectively gets the equivalent of a time-out on the naughty step –
except, in this instance, the naughty step is a rather large fish who happens to swallow him whole.
There he is, in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights,
with nothing else to do but cool his heels and take stock of the events
that have led to this…fishy situation.

He prays:
for God’s help,
acknowledging that the God he worships is one who hears the cry of distress;
he prays:
for God’s mercy,
recognizing that the God he worships is one who is compassionate;
he prays:
asking forgiveness for being so reluctant
to follow the one that he’s called to serve;
the one he remembers who has rescued his people,
the one who is holy;
the one who can restore him to life.

And hearing Jonah’s cry,
God is indeed merciful,
and rescues Jonah from the mess he’s managed to get himself into.
The God of the second chance gives Jonah another opportunity to live into his calling –
to go to Ninevah and bring God’s word to them.
This time, Jonah heads off in the right direction.
He gets to Ninevah – and we discover just how vast a city it is:
it takes Jonah a full three days to get around it.
And the message he brings is stark:
they have forty days until they’re destroyed utterly.

So just who are these Ninevites?
They are part of the bigger, Assyrian Empire:
an empire that, like other empires, has been throwing its weight around,
making war upon its smaller, surrounding nations –
and, they are fierce, both in battle, and in victory,
determined to make those around them know just who is in charge,
determined, by sheer strength and brutality, to keep their neighbours in their place.
And, one of their neighbours happens to be Israel.
Jonah knows this people, their tactics;
has very possibly suffered, or, has friends who have suffered at their hands.
He is initially reluctant to go to them because he hates them,
in fact, he’d be quite happy for God to annihilate them.
Perhaps, even as he walks around the vast city of Ninevah, he’s imagining their destruction
and maybe, even enjoying the thought.

The message provokes an immediate response, from the Ninevites, however.
Unlike Jonah, the disobedient prophet,
the seemingly wicked Ninevites
hear the message,
take it on board,
and respond immediately.
They believe;
they make a fast of repentance;
they put on sackcloth garments –
a symbol of humility…
all of them:
the greatest to the least –
even the beasts –
and the king goes even further,
he gets off his throne and sits in the dust.
This is not a leader who goes off to play golf while his people face peril,
he is there with them, as one of them.
He issues a proclamation –
a lament calling on all his people to repent,
to pray to Jonah’s god.
They have nothing to lose:
maybe this god will listen…
maybe this god will change his mind…
maybe this god will show mercy
and let them live.
And the God who heard Jonah’s cry
hears the cry of the Ninevites;
God is indeed merciful,
and relents.
Back to the words of the hymn:
‘There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than in God’s heav’n;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgement giv’n.’

The God of the second chance extends that second chance
even to…  Ninevites
and gives them another opportunity to live.
In doing so, the God of grace challenges Jonah’s sense of exclusiveness:
here is a God for all people, not only one small group.
The door to the kingdom is swung wide open
and all who want, are welcomed in…
and Jonah hates it.

Let’s be frank, Jonah doesn’t come out of this story well:
his response to God’s compassion?
He sulks.
‘It’s not fair, God. I knew you’d do that.
How dare you be gracious and compassionate?
How dare you love those people?’
And off he flounces in a huff.
He’s outraged.
Jonah’s angry that God would have the temerity to demonstrate
the very same compassion, grace, forgiveness, and love,
that have been given to him.

Our pouting prophet takes himself out of the city and finds a place to rest.
As he sits and waits, and watches, to see what will happen to the city,
God causes a vine to grow by him to provide shade, to give him comfort.
Jonah likes this vine – it’s a fine vine.
And then a worm comes, and makes a wee meal of it:
the vine withers.
Jonah is angry again.
‘Why’d you kill the vine, God?
Seriously, I’m so angry I could die.’
He does come across as a bit of a drama queen, does our Jonah.

And then, God tries to gently put things into some perspective:
Jonah’s more upset about a vine dying
than he is about the potential deaths of one hundred and twenty thousand people.
Where’s the grace?
The compassion?
Where’s the mercy that’s been shown to him?
He’s so fixated on one way of seeing things
that he can’t move beyond it,
can’t see a new way forward,
can’t see God’s love
even when it’s staring him right in the face.

‘For the love of God is broader
than the grasp of mortal mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.’
Sometimes, as the church, we look around at society, at the world,
and shake our heads while quietly closing the doors of our hearts
and, sometimes, our buildings, to those who might not be quite like us…
to those whose presence might mean
rethinking the way we understand God,
the way we approach God…
the way we do things
the way we be the church.
As we hear the odd, and sometimes funny tale of Jonah,
we hear of the God who challenges our preconceptions;
we hear of the God who extends compassion and love, mercy and grace,
far wider than we might expect.
This is the God who hears our cry,
the God who is merciful, forgiving,
and who rescues us from the mess we sometimes manage to get ourselves into.
This is the God of the second chance, who gives us –
like Jonah,
like the people of Ninevah –
the opportunity to live,
and, in living,
to share the story of God’s wide love –
a love that’s more than enough for all.

Earlier, in setting the scene for worship,
I asked these questions:
What’s the size of a fish that swallows a prophet?
What’s the size of a city that takes
three days to walk through?
What’s the size of the grace
that forgives that city,
that prophet and the whole world?
In the story of Jonah, the answers are:
verrrrry big;
and, bigger than we can ever fully imagine.

‘If our love were but more simple,
we would take him at his word;
and our lives be filled with glory
from the glory of the Lord.’

Let’s pray:
Creator God,
thank you for a faith that is
more of an adventure than a declaration,
more of a journey than an arrival,
more of a question than an answer.
May we live within the dynamism of belief
that takes us and shares with us experiences yet unknown,
that opens our eyes to what is yet to be,
that stirs our souls with longing and intent.
Thank you for a faith that is
open to renewal,
willing to journey,
that dares to believe that not all things stay the same
and that you, O God, are in the changing –
and that wherever we go,
wherever we are,
you are with us on the journey, loving us without limit. Amen.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Contacts, information, events to 27 Sept

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Mon 18 Sept to 1pm Wed 27 Sept  

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

News, events, and general notices:

SUN 24 Sept
10:30am: Morning worship
will be conducted by the Rev. Sandy Strachan

who makes a welcome return visit while the minister is away on leave.
and, at 6:30pm: Evening worship will be a Songs of Praise service
with music provided by some of our friends from Leadhills Silver Band. 
This will be held in Leadhills Village Hall. All welcome

Wed 27 Sept, 7pm: Local Church Review Task Group meets in the Church Hall.
*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.

SESSION PLEASE NOTE: Change of date for Kirk Session meeting
due to a recent scheduling of a Presbytery event, Session will now meet in the Church Hall on Thurs 5 October, and not 28 Sept, as previously announced. 

Sun 1 Oct, 9am - 9.45: TIME FOR PRAYER: 
Our new prayer group meets on the first Sunday of the month. 
The church will be open from 9am, with time for prayer/quiet meditation 
between 9-9.45. This is open to anyone to come along. 
Should you have any particular people or situations that you would like prayer for, there will be a small box with notelets in the vestibule: 
please make use of this, and note down who/ what you would like prayer for. 
All prayer requests in the box will be prayed for during this time. 
To preserve people’s privacy, unless you’ve checked first, please just use an initial, 
and keep the request relatively general: 
in faith, we trust that as we pray for the person and situation, 
that God knows all the details…so an example might look like: ‘please pray for S, who will be having an operation later this month’. 
See you there.

Sun 8 Oct, 10:30am: Annual Harvest Service, followed by simple soup lunch in the Church Hall. Come and join us, as we give thanks for the Harvest, and support the work of Farm Africa. You'll also have the opportunity to enjoy the great artwork created by our five primary schools - each school is currently involved in creating a Harvest banner.

BY Sun 22 Oct - 
Advent/Christmas Newsletter - deadline for articles, poems, etc.: 
it's that time of year again, and our newsletter editor, Dee, is on the lookout for articles, poems, or other items of interest for inclusion in our upcoming Advent/Christmas newsletter. If you have something to submit, please get it to Dee by Sunday 22 October - and thanks!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Sermon, Sun 17 Sept: people of the Bible series - Ruth, pt 2

READINGS/ Ruth, chapter 3 and 4

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...

Last week, we met the family of Naomi,
heard the story of what drew them to the land of Moab;
heard the story of what happened there.
And, in that story, we met another woman, named Ruth...

Ruth had been born in the land of Moab.
Grew up there.
Knew the stories of her people’s gods...
knew the story of her people;
knew from her earliest days that her destiny was to marry a man of her people.
But that... didn’t happen.
Instead of taking the expected path, she headed down the road less travelled –
married a man who followed a different God,
who came from a different nation:
a man whose family had escaped famine –
and who’d travelled the many miles from Bethlehem, in Judah,
and who’d embarked upon a new life in Moab.

Breaking with tradition and culture,
she married a stranger, a foreigner,
and lived with him for about ten years, until he died.
But it wasn’t only her husband who’d died:
her brother-in-law was also dead.
She, and her sister-in-law, Orpah, were now widows,
just as their mother-in-law, Naomi, was a widow.
The mother-in-law decides to return to her homeland,
and the young women travel with her for a little way until she tells them to turn back:
to take the safer option of staying with their own families.
One weeps, hugs her in farewell, and travels along the more secure road...
It’s not a bad choice:
she’s not a bad person...
and the person telling the story doesn’t condemn her for making it.
Presumably, Orpah settles back into her family, her country, ...
it is the safe, sensible choice,
and in making it, she settles into a life of obscurity –
and is never heard of again in this story, or elsewhere.
The other young woman weeps, and begs to go with her mother-in-law:
will not take ‘no’ as an answer.
Having already broken with making a safe choice to marry a man from her own country,
once again, Ruth chooses a different path –
a less secure path...
takes the road less travelled into the unknown.

The two women arrive back to Naomi’s homeland
and begin the task of settling in,
making a new life.
For Naomi, it’s mere survival –
she has no real hope,
has only the feeling of bitterness and a sense of God’s abandonment.
She would rather be known as ‘Mara’ now:
meaning ‘bitter’, as opposed to ‘Naomi’, meaning ‘sweet’.
Names are interesting in this story –
‘Ruth’ means ‘friendship’, ‘comfort’, and can even mean ‘to refresh’.
And we see, as the story continues,
Ruth’s gift of friendship and comfort to Naomi...and, of bringing refreshment to her.
While Naomi lives with her grief and her sense of hopelessness,
Ruth is someone who does hold hope:
she hopes for new opportunities
in this new land,
among new people –
even while she tends to the needs of her despairing mother-in-law.
But being practical, first things first:
they’ll need to eat.
As is the privilege of widows, she heads out to glean the fields –
it’s harvest time.
She’s a hard worker.
She wins the admiration of the local foreman,
who passes on a good report of her to the land-owner, Boaz...
who happens to be a relative of Naomi.
He offers her kindness, and protection.
When she returns home, she tells Naomi of this benefactor.
And, that’s where we pick up this morning:
Naomi is hatching a wee plan,
all of which is based upon the cultural expectations of her people.

Ruth has been an excellent and faithful,
kindly and companionable daughter-in-law.
She has given much to care for Naomi,
and now it’s Naomi’s turn to see what is in her gift to give to Ruth.
Of all the kinds of people in society,
women, and particularly widows, were vulnerable –
who would protect them in what was a time of chaos and turmoil?
The people had no real leader, apart from occasional champions - also known as 'judges'.
Naomi wants to find a way to provide a safety net for Ruth...
to give Ruth some kind of security,
and Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, might just be the way.
It’s quite a dodgy-sounding plan, to be honest.
‘Go and make yourself pretty’ says Naomi...
‘Go and hang out at night in the threshing room’...
‘Go find Boaz’.
Now, we know from hearing the story, especially in the cold light of the next morning,
that it’s not quite the done thing for a woman to be spending time at night in such a place as this.
So, what’s happening here?
By placing herself where she does, Ruth is putting herself under the protection of Boaz –
asking him to act on his responsibility as a member of Naomi’s family.
He is surprised at her boldness,
he is pleased that she has come to him, when she could have chased after younger men...
she has made the right choice:
the legally appropriate choice, and he praises her,
and, decides he’ll honour her action by agreeing to act in the role of kinsman-redeemer,
that is, if he can...
for, unbeknown to Naomi and Ruth, there’s one other relative who is in the line ahead of Boaz –
he might want the land that would have belonged to Naomi’s husband, Elimelech...
and, if he does, Ruth would then go to him.
He would take back the land – redeem it –
and, take Ruth, and, by marrying her,
and by having a child with her,
redeem the family name...
rescue it from the possibility of disappearing.*
[*plus, some off the cuff comments on women as property/ cultural customs]

We know that Boaz goes out that very morning to find the other relative.
When he does, he asks about the land:
‘do you want it’ says Boaz...
‘Oh, yes,’ says the relative.
‘you do realise that you’ll also be responsible for Ruth, don’t you,’ says Boaz...
‘Ah. You know, it’s fine, you take the land,’ says the relative,
who then pretty much melts away into the distance.
If he takes on Ruth, he will have to split his inheritance... it’s not a great option for him.
And so, we go back to Plan A:
the Boaz option.
In front of witnesses, Boaz declares that he is happy to redeem the land, and to take Ruth as his wife.
Naomi’s hopes are coming to fruition:
Ruth will have her security, her safety-net after all.
And the next plan involves Ruth and Boaz getting married,
which in turn, leads to a child:
and there’s something about a child that is a living breathing hope for the future.

So we have a story that, in the beginning, had hopes dashed – had created bitterness.
But, through the steady, loving-kindess of Ruth,
and, through the faithfulness of Boaz,
God was able to show his own steady,
faithful loving-kindness to Naomi.
Hatching a plan,
she dared to find hope in a most unexpected place,
and in the end,
discovered her God,
her joy,
her hope,
and her future once more.

It’s an interesting story, this story of Ruth.
And it doesn’t end with the birth of her son, Obed.
We’ve got a wee P.S. at the end in the shape of a family tree...
in which we discover someone further down the line who is rather well-known.
And, there’s another P.S. to the story which we can find in the Gospel of Matthew,
in the genealogy in chapter one.
Remember last week, I said the town of Bethlehem might just be important? Hmmmm.

Naomi’s desire to give back to Ruth,
as Ruth had give to her resulted in a rather interesting security plan taking shape,
that went way beyond what Naomi might have foreseen.
It was a security plan:
for Ruth, beloved daughter-in-law,
and for the future of the family... for the family name not to disappear,
but to be refreshed through Ruth...
and to continue along a slightly different path to the one that may have been expected.
But it ended up going further than just one small family –
affecting the future of the nation,
a nation that will later move from the time of the judges, to the time of kings –
for the child Ruth and Boaz have, Obed,
will be the father of Jesse, the father of...
the future King David,
the king chosen and beloved of God.
But it goes beyond even the future of the nation:
for this will affect all people, for 28 generations later,
the outcome of the story will be heard in the cry of a child in a stable,
the child who will be named ‘Jesus’ –
the one who will redeem the whole of creation,
the one who will redeem
and bring us back to God.

'In the Book of Ruth the whole world is new again.  
Relationships have been righted. 
The outcastes have been taken in.  
The lowly have been raised up.  
A new generation of men—represented by a boy-child—
comes to inherit a cosmos where women are its co-creators.  
In Ruth, we get a glimpse into God’s world and find that it runs just the opposite of ours.
Overall, the sense of mutual commitment between Naomi and Ruth is ultimately 
the source and mark of divine blessing. 
Only once in the entire story is the word “love” used and it is used to describe the relationship between these two strong and determined women. 
This is the kind of love that molds and drives the universe.' 
*Shelli Williams

In Ruth, we are shown a mirror of God’s loving-kindness,
a loving-kindness that is about both relationship and redemption:
God’s love for us,
and, in that love,
God redeeming us, and claiming us as his own,
offering us hope in the most unexpected places,
and the possibility of a future that is richer, better than we can imagine...Amen