Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sermon: Sun 11 Mar - wk5 Ps23 series: You prepare a table before me

Communion Sunday...
READINGS: Ps 23; Luke 22:7-27

May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’

Over the last two weeks around the UK, a variety of activities have been happening to highlight Fairtrade fortnight, which ends today.
Given ‘Snowmageddon’ the week before in our own area, I’ve been busy catching up on school assemblies this week, where we’ve had some fun, and thought about food, and fairness.
Or, more to the point, unfairness.
At each school assembly, the children were divided into two teams and I asked them to choose a team name that was a little more exciting than just ‘Team 1’ and ‘Team 2’.
I was a wee bit alarmed when one of the teams named themselves ‘The Terminators’
and thought to myself:
‘Hope we won’t need any medics, ‘cos this group seem pretty serious about winning!’ 

The object of the game was to collect as many chocolate mini-eggs as possible
from a large glass bowl on a table. On each side of the bowl, there were smaller bowls,
one for each team. Both teams were given a dice and had to throw a number –
which allowed their team champions to come up and gather mini-eggs, one egg at a time.
Meanwhile, the other team would throw their dice so that they could send their
team champion up, while the other team champion had to go sit back down...
And so on.
Fairly straightforward, yes?
But, of course, it wasn’t.
One team was allowed to start first, without having to throw their dice.
That team also had a lovely spoon to help fish out the mini-eggs...
And when they had to throw their dice, they could take their turn
on the roll of a #6, a #3, or a #1.
The other team...
well, the rules were a little different:
they were only allowed to start after their dice rolled on to the appropriate number;
they only got the one number, #6;
and they didn’t get a spoon, they had to use chopsticks.
The looks on the faces of children from both teams were priceless:
you could tell when the penny dropped about the implications of the rules
by either the looks of horror or the big grins.
And the responses from each of the school teams who were on the side with
the harder job of it were fascinating.
There were cries of ‘But that’s not fair!’
or ‘But that’s really hard!’
Some small shoulders visibly slumped,
while some brows furrowed – trying to work out how to best meet this challenge.
All of the teams with the harder task did gamely give it a go:
...after all, chocolate is a fairly strong incentive.
However, I was hugely impressed with one team, who responded by really working together:
as each person on their team came up to try and use the chopsticks
the others would come up too, and try to encourage them, and offer advice:
‘oh, what if you do it like this...or that?’
The difficult challenge ended up turning them into a team,
where all were involved in a common goal,
where all were encouraged,
and where each played their part in helping.
It was wonderful to see.
And, they even managed to get some of the chocolate eggs.

When we finished the game, we talked about how it felt to be on each team:
Who enjoyed the game?
Clearly, the teams that won.
Why didn’t the teams that lost enjoy it?
Clearly, it just wasn’t fair.
How did that make them feel?
‘Sad’, ‘angry’, ‘tired’, ‘a bit hopeless’.
We began to think about what it might be like to live in a country where
the rules for trying to sell your food, or other goods, didn’t seem to be in your favour.
We thought of the head start that some countries had because they had more money:
more money meant more opportunities:
for education,
so that people could learn how to make better equipment to use for working,
or to spend on research to find new ways to have better harvests.
We worked out that the more you had, the more you could do,
and that you had more power to make the rules that would work best for you,
so that you could become wealthier, and get more things.
And we thought of those countries around the world that didn’t have the same opportunities.
It just wasn’t fair –
and, even more unfair was the thought that there were more than enough resources
in the world to feed every single human being:
that nobody in the world needed to go hungry...
but, because of unfair rules,
some countries could stockpile and even waste vast amounts of food,
while others had barely enough to go around.
As we thought about this, we wondered about ways in which we could help
balance things out a little more:
we talked about ways that might help change the rules,
and that this was the whole point of what Fairtrade was about:
that if everyone played by the same rules,
then everyone could eat at the banqueting table where there was more than enough for all.

‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’

Jesus...changes the rules.
All through the gospels, we get glimpses of Jesus heading to a meal, or being a guest at a meal.
His first miracle in the Gospel of John happens while he’s a guest, at a wedding in Cana,
where he ensures that there’s enough wine to go ‘round so that cups truly can overflow.
We see him as host, at meals where many thousands of people are fed;
and here, in our gospel reading from Luke,
we see him as host of a smaller, more intimate meal with his friends,
a meal that has been referred to down the years as ‘The Last Supper.’
It is a meal that is uniquely his,
and yet a meal that has been fashioned out of an earlier meal – the Passover meal –
which looked back and remembered the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt...

Perhaps, the ‘last supper’ might better be named ‘the first supper’ –
for as he shares it with his disciples in that Upper Room, he’s doing a new thing.
As Jesus shapes it, this meal becomes a meal that’s designed to remember:
‘Do this to remember me’ 
he bids his friends, over bread and wine.
But it does more.
This meal is also one that looks forward:
to each time that friends of Jesus gather –
and who, in the Holy Spirit,
and in the meal shared,
are made one in him.
It’s not a meal for individuals – it’s a community meal –
a meal we share in common...
It’s a meal that binds us together in God’s love,
it’s about being together,
being Christ’s body:
all playing our part,
all helping one another,
encouraging one another,
as we share in that common goal of living out that love shown to us in the life of Jesus.

Ultimately, the meal that Jesus creates,
and bids us share, is a meal that looks forward to the end of all days –
to that great heavenly banquet.
As we take and eat the bread and wine here,
we remember that this is a meal that symbolises life:
the bread of heaven
the water of life...
nourishment that strengthens us now,
and food that sustains us eternally.

Jesus...changes the rules.
And Jesus is the bread of life.
The meal he creates is not
the sole province of the rich and the powerful;
it’s not to be kept for the select few.
We do know that it’s made for the ones who feel surrounded by enemies –
enemies who would keep them
poor, hungry, vulnerable,
dependent and disadvantaged.
A ‘table in the presence of my enemies’:
a table that makes the statement that
in God, all have a head-start in his love, for all are equally beloved;
a table that has at its centrepiece justice and mercy and reconciliation,
and an understanding of power that is about service –
service to God and to others.

Jesus...changes the rules
and sets before us a meal.
It’s a new meal, a new way:
a feast of shared abundance where all are welcome,
where all are invited to feast upon life as together, we feast upon the gift
of bread and wine,
of forgivenenss,
of liberation,
of justice,
and freedom.
And, having been fed,
we move from the table and go back out into the world
and change the rules, as Jesus did,
and in so doing, bring in God’s kingdom of heaven for all. Amen.

Friday, 2 March 2018


Drifts and other unexpected obstacles on the roads. Stay safe, stay at home!


In consultation with the Kirk Session, worship this coming Sunday has very reluctantly been cancelled due to the extreme winter weather conditions.
The road up to the church is impassable, and will be for some time. With drifts blocking roads around the wider area, best to stay home and keep safe.
Communion will now be on the following Sunday, 11 March

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Sermon, Sun 25 Feb: Wk4 Ps23 - 'Walking through the valley'

READINGS: Ps 23; John 11:1-4; 17-29 and John 11:30-44

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

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’

They were a tight unit.
The two sisters, and their brother.
No parents, or grandparents.
Just these three –
sharing their resources,
caring for one another,
occasionally falling out with one another,
but always, always, loving one another.
The brother was the man of the house –
representing their interests in the wider community.
The sisters too, had their distinct roles in the scheme of things:
one was the practical planner –
keeping them all organised,
keeping everything running smoothly and well;
the other sister was the listener,
the storyteller,
the calm centre.
Just as a three-legged stool is the most stable,
so the three of them, for the most part,
were a harmonious balancing act,
working together for the good of all.

But the brother became ill.
Seriously ill.
And so, the sisters tended him,
tried to nurse him back to health,
couldn’t bear to think of life without him,
and, hoping for a miracle, had sent a message to a friend
who seemed the sort to be able to fix things –
make things better...
make...people better.
But the friend was delayed.
Their brother died,
and their whole world was thrown off-kilter.

In the immediate aftermath, they were kept busy with the sheer practicalities:
preparing his body –
that one last act of tenderness that they could offer to their brother,
and the funeral and burial needed arranging.
Their house filled with friends and neighbours saying a mix of helpful and unhelpful things:
‘He was so kind: maybe God needed another angel.’
But what kind of God would take their brother
away from them, when they needed him...when they loved him so?
‘Well, perhaps it was just his time.’
Well, maybe it was, but the observation gave no comfort.
So many words swirled around them.
All they really wanted was a friend not afraid to just sit,
just be,
just be with them and perhaps hold a hand...
not rush to fill the awkward, gaping silence
that mirrored the gaping emptiness
where their brother had been.

Death is always awkward.
And though they loved God,
it was hard to feel God’s love in this valley of shadows that they walked in.
And why didn’t their friend come?
So many emotions.
But then, too, not able to feel anything at all.
Wanting to hide away under the duvet;
or wanting to just keep busy, keep occupied.
And a sense of aching tiredness that sucked the life out of them.
What was the right way to grieve?
Nobody teaches you that:
but if you can’t cry on cue, you’re heartless;
and if you weep heartfelt tears, you’re overdoing it.
But grief has no rules –
even though some think that there’s a check list.

The sisters buried their brother,
commended him to God,
went back to the house
where his voice was now silent,
where his seat was now empty.
The practical sister began the business of tidying his life away –
cupboards needed cleared.
The listening sister heard the sighs as clothes were put into bags,
observed a pair of sandals kept back and a set of clothes –
in case he needed them...
but, he wouldn’t, of course.
And, in the evenings, she told stories of their brother –
bringing him back to life in mind’s-eye, and in their hearts.
Shared conversations,
shared silence, over wine.
And questions.
Why hadn’t their friend come?
If only he had, surely...
surely all of them, brother included, would be sitting together, laughing, and telling stories?

The days pass slowly.
Dreary, drab, hard days.
People, still coming and going:
bringing food, trying to show care and kindness.
It’s on the fourth day after the burial,
when news comes:
their friend is on the way.
And the practical sister,
the one who keeps herself ever-busy,
leaves the house to meet him on the road.
Others are there:
there are always so many others around whenever he’s around.
Her eyes, meeting his,
with a greeting more in the way of hurt rebuke:
‘If you’d have been here, he wouldn’t have died.’
And even in the grief and sadness, words of hope:
‘But even now, God will give you whatever you ask.’
But what is it that she’s asking for,
what is it that she’s hoping will happen?
That particular door’s been firmly bolted –
or, at least, the stone’s been rolled across the tomb.
The comment is there,
just as her brother’s shoes are still there in the mostly empty cupboard.
You can’t beat death.
And then, this much-delayed friend offers words of comfort:
‘Your brother will rise again.’
In her head, she understands this –
it’s part of the way she’s lived her faith, and she trots out the usual formula:
‘he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
But so...abstract.
It’s not as if he’s coming back now.
She wants, needs, something a little more concrete,
a little more...real than theological statements.

Death is ...awkward.
Faith is hard.
And then, this friend speaks once more:
‘ the resurrection and the life...whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
And she does.
But she wants to go and find her sister:
she’s much better at dealing with all this philosophical stuff.
The other sister comes out to meet him;
again the words are said:
‘If you’d have been here, he wouldn’t have died.’
She’s tearful.
And he’s moved to tears.
He, too. misses his friend, and hurts for the sisters:
they’ve been like family to him.
They go to the tomb and he asks for the stone to be moved.
The ever-practical sister points out the pitfalls of this idea.
‘Believe, and see the glory of God,’ he replies.
He prays.
All around, the people look on, wondering what he’s up to.
The sisters stand beside him,
watching, waiting, puzzled, oddly hopeful:
but not sure of what they hope for.
He calls out to his friend:
‘Lazarus, come out!’
And so it happens, that on this day, death doesn’t have the last word,
for there, in the valley of the shadow of death,
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls forth life:
shows, in this extraordinary act, God’s power over death itself;
shows the promise that there is more to life than just death –
shows that while we will all die,
we’re not born to die –
we’re born to live;
and we’re reborn into eternity.

This story is not about a corpse, it’s about life.
It’s about promise:
God’s promise to us that death is not the end of everything,
although it can be bitter, and hard, and painful.
It’s about presence:
God’s presence with us
even in the midst of evil
of darkness,
...of death...
of that rod and staff guiding us even in the darkest of valleys –
and of God, not leaving us there,
but leading us through and out the other side of it,
even though at times it’s so hard to feel his presence with us.
Yet, God is faithful:
regardless of what we feel, God walks with us.
And, this story is about learning to live –
even here, and even now, on this side of death,
not just looking to eternity and the promise of what’s to come –
but thinking of what it is to live as those who understand
that even now, the kingdom is among us;
that even now, we are called
out of the tombs of worldly expectations and pressures and life-limiting definitions,
and called to live fully, truly.
Not to live with our lives on hold, waiting for eternity,
but rather, to live our lives holding out the promise of life to those around us,
and the promise and comfort of God’s presence.

At the beginning of this series on Psalm 23,
I said that the psalm was written as a response to a crisis in the life of the psalmist.
Most of the time when we hear this psalm being read, we’re probably at a funeral –
very probably, because the writer acknowledges the hard stuff:
there’s no denial of it.
But the psalm, like the story of Lazarus,
is not about the corpse, 
is not about the dark valley:
it’s about the God who is with us and brings us through.

There’s a song by the Eurythmics –
which just goes to show my age –
and it has the lyrics:
‘dying is easy, it’s living that’s hard.’
Facing death is part of being human — we can’t change that.
Being human has its share of good and bad — and we don’t deny that, either.
And yet, within this present life we live,
what we do affirm is that we already have the hope of eternal joy.
How do we live this life we’ve been given,
and make space to look, and to listen for, God’s presence of life within us,
and, in the life of the world?

Jesus calls us to come out into the light of God’s glory,
and to live into his joy –
it’s not a light and fluffy, happy-clappy,
‘stick your fingers in your ears and pretend the tough stuff isn’t there’ kind of thing...
but a joy that goes deep into the core of our very being,
that’s true, real,
and that sustains us in the valleys or on the mountain-tops,
as we make our way in this world
and walk toward the next.
It’s why:
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’

I’ve often wondered about Lazarus:
about what happened next.
When faced with the opportunity to live,
what did he do?
When faced with the opportunity to live,
what will we do, I wonder?

Let’s pray:
God our Shepherd,
God of all consolation and compassion,
just as your Son comforted Marth and Mary,
so your rod and staff comfort us...
your breath alone brings life
to dry bones and weary souls.
Pour out your Spirit upon us,
that we may face despair and death
with the hope of resurrection
and faith in the One
who called Lazarus forth from the grave. Amen

Thursday, 22 February 2018

News, events, and other happenings...

Sat 24 March 10am: Lent Study Group meets in the Church Hall. We’re following the Lent course ‘Glimpses of God’. All welcome for tea, coffee, and food for thought. If  you can make all 5 weeks, great, if only some, or even one, you’re still very welcome: each session can work as a ‘stand-alone’ or as part of the series.

Sun 25 Feb. 6.30: Evening worship: 'On the road with Paul' – this month, Rome – well, Wanlockhead Community Centre. Join us as we continue travelling with Paul on his journeys. Tea/coffee and baking will be available after worship.

Fri 2 March, 2.30pm: World Day of Prayer -
This year we will be joining with Douglas Water and Rigside  Guild in the Community Hall, Rigside. If you would like to go please contact Heather on 01899850211.

Sun 4 March, 10.30am: Service of Communion – we join together, as Christ’s body,
to share in bread and wine, and remember the One who calls us his own,
and who gathers us together as his people.

Parish Magazine distribution: the Easter edition of our parish magazine will soon
be back from the printer. As ever, if you’d be willing to help with distributing the
magazine to neighbours, your street, a part of your village...Dee would love to hear from you!
This system seems to have been working very well over the last while, and the more of you
who can pass along copies to people in the parish, the less of a task it is.
Huge thanks to previous volunteers, and in advance to those of you willing to offer your help!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sermon, Sun 18 Feb:Wk3 Ps23 - 'He guides me in paths of righteousness...'

READINGS: Ps 23 and John 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.

‘He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’

Way back in the day, people who were particularly serious about following God’s paths of righteousness would take themselves off, away from all temptation, to the desert –
or, at least, as far away from human civilisation as they could travel.
Over time, others would travel out into the wild, deserted places, searching for these holy men and women – and settle near by them, hoping to learn about God through their example.
Whole communities would spring up – convents and monasteries –
in awkward, truly difficult places to get to.
Some of these you’ll see in Greece, in a place called Meteora, where the monasteries are
perched precariously on top of near-vertical outcrops of rock.
The way to get to these monasteries often involves being hauled up by a large basket
attached to ropes...
And so the story goes that one day, a young man, wanting to better understand God and
better follow, travelled to such a monastery.
He journeyed for many days, through barren desert places.
The stones bruised his feet, while the sand crept between his toes eventually causing blisters.
Often he was parched with thirst, unsure of when he might next find water.
Still he continued – keen to get to the monastery.
Occasionally, there would be an oasis, where he would eat his fill
of dates and bread, and slake his thirst.
But he never stayed overlong:
he was determined to get to the monastery and begin to walk in the ways of righteousness.

The great day came when he found himself at the foot of a great rocky outcrop,
where the monastery sat, perched far above.
A sign on the rock, by a rope, instructed him to pull it.
This he did.
A little later, he heard sounds from above, and saw a wicker basket descending, suspended by ropes.
Inside the basket was an elderly monk.
As he looked beyond the basket, he could see several monks at the top, working at lowering it.
When it arrived, he stepped in, and greeted the monk, who silently nodded, t
hen tugged on one of the ropes.
Slowly, the basket began its perilous ascent as the monks above guided it on its way.
It was terrifying.
Higher and higher he climbed up the steep cliff in the basket.
He thought, as it swayed in the wind, just how flimsy it seemed and he began to grow a little twitchy.
The monk beside him, however, was a study in serenity, and merely said:
‘Do not let your heart be troubled, my son.’
Still the basket ascended.
The young man looked down and realised that he was a long way up.
He clutched the side of the basket a little more tightly.
The monk remained calm, and placidly repeated:
‘Do not let your heart be troubled, my son.’
It was a little unnerving.
Growing ever more twitchy, the young man then began to eye up the ropes that held the basket.
They seemed very old, and very frayed.
Feeling a little frayed around the edges himself, his nerves completely shot,
he addressed the elderly monk:
‘How often do you change the rope?’
The monk raised an eyebrow, thought a wee while, and replied calmly:
...‘Whenever it breaks.’
While keen to walk in the ways of righteousness, I suspect there were other motivating factors
for his eagerness to get to the monastery in those last few minutes.

‘He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’
As a basic rule of thumb, in many churches around the world on the first Sunday of Lent,
you’re generally guaranteed to hear a reading on Jesus, journeying into the wilderness
to prepare for his public ministry,
and, where he’s faced with temptation to walk away from the path of righteousness.
But we’re doing something a little different this year, and so, we find instead Jesus
a little further on in the story – he’s come back from the wilderness, and begun his ministry;
a ministry that involves journeying around the countryside,
and journeying alongside others as they try to work out how to walk along the path of righteousness.

In our gospel reading from John, we find an odd assortment of folk who have decided
to go on a journey.
Each one, at a point in their life where they have an urge to want to get to know God better –
to understand God,
to follow in God’s ways...
to find in God meaning for their own lives.
It’s time to explore, time to go on an inner journey.
And into their lives, at this particular point,
comes Jesus, who calls them from the comfort zone
of where they are,
and where they’re known,
and leads them on paths both outward and inward:
dusty ones,
often crowded ones - with folk eager to get a glimpse of the rabbi...
paths where at times, they’re confused,
and at times, they’re elated,
and at times, they feel as if they’re in a flimsy basket suspended in the air,
held aloft only by some very dodgy looking ropes.
But wherever they go, they are guided by One they have begun to
learn to trust, even though they don’t fully understand him.

As they follow, there are times when they want to keep him to themselves:
so many others want a piece of him:
will he have enough energy left for the ones he’s called and gathered?
As they follow, there are times when they realise that he’s making enemies of those in power:
if he doesn’t play the game, will he survive long enough for the disciples
to learn all they can from him?
As they follow...
they grow increasingly twitchy.
Will this whole show come crashing down?
As they follow,
they find themselves in the great city of Jerusalem –
the city of power and privilege and possible danger.
They fear for his life.
They probably fear for their own.
Whispers of plots insinuate themselves into fabric of the disciples’ souls, and they begin to
lose sight of the One who is leading them,
lose sight of the path,
lose sight of their purpose.
What’s scarier, is that Jesus is talking of walking a little ahead of them – is he leaving them?
But he says he’s coming back.
But will he?
How will they find the path, the way, without Jesus?
The ropes are fraying in their basket...
And into their anxiety, Jesus speaks words of comfort:
‘Let not your hearts be troubled.’
But they’re still troubled.
Thomas, who’s always got a question or two to throw into the mix, voices their concern:
‘We don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?’
They still have much to learn, even though they’ve been with him for three years.
‘I am the Way...
and the truth...
and the life.’
To know Jesus is to know the way.
To know Jesus is to walk in the paths of righteousness.
To know Jesus is to know the Father,
for to see Jesus is to see the Father...
and to follow Jesus is to find yourself walking along the pathway to God the Father.
Jesus’ whole existence embodies the Father –
his whole existence is a demonstration of righteousness lived out.

There’s that old, old song:
‘To know, know, know you, is to love, love, love you’
Jesus is basically saying to his friends, his followers:
‘to see me, is to see the Father’
And then he talks of love.
‘If you love me, you will obey my command.’
Jesus, when questioned elsewhere about following in God’s way sums up the
commandments into one great command – to love:
to love God,
and to love your neighbour, as you love yourself.
In essence, to be led in the paths of righteousness is to be led into a life lived in love.
Righteousness isn’t about having the moral high ground –
that’s what the Pharisees and the Teacher of the Law were seemingly falling into the trap of doing.
Righteousness isn’t about ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’
Righteousness *is* about what happens when turn your face to God
and see that the path you’re being led upon is the very expression of love in word and in action.

Apparently, yesterday was ‘International Random Acts of Kindness Day.’
To be led in paths of righteousness is less about random acts of kindness,
and more about practising intentional acts of kindness.
To be led in paths of righteousness will take us to some places well out of our comfort zone:
but where love is, there God is also -
the God, who is our Shepherd;
the God who supplies our needs,
who restores our souls,
who leads us to the way of love
and who lives within us through the Spirit of love,
nudging us ever forward –
to clear out the clutter that puts obstacles on the path to righteousness and to God;
the Spirit of love,
encouraging us to speak love into the places where it is absent:
in the cut and thrust of political debate, or in neighbourly disputes.
The path of righteousness takes us into places where
we find ourselves speaking truth to power –
when those in positions of power misuse their position to keep others down
because of race, of creed, of ...any kind of perceived difference –
for the path of righteousness involves God’s justice and compassion;
it’s about raising up the downtrodden and downcast;
it’s about holding out a hand and welcoming the stranger;
it’s about feeding the hungry,
clothing the naked,
believing, and caring for, the victim,
and, in fact, anything that seeks to live out and share God’s love in this world –
for the journey of faith only works when love is at the centre –
for God is love, and we are his people:
we love, for God loved us first,
and in his great love,
he gave us Jesus,
who showed us the way,
for he is the Way –
to the path where righteousness is lived in the midst of every-day life.

On this first Sunday in the season of Lent,
we make time once again to accept God’s invitation of love, and, to love.
It’s an invitation to travel on the path of righteousness, the path of love.
Perhaps over Lent, you might choose to give something up, or take something on –
give up those words, those actions, that aren’t loving...
that take you away from walking on the paths of righteousness?
Perhaps you may choose to take on love:
what’s one thing each day you could do, or say, that would demonstrate love –
whether random or intentional?

The great preacher, Willian Sloane Coffin once said that:
"If we fail in love, we fail in all things else."
As we are led on paths of righteousness, we are held in God’s love:
suspended mid-way between heaven and earth,
living in the now and the not yet of God’s kingdom of heaven.
Sometimes, the rope feels frayed,
and we become afraid...
but unlike the ropes holding up that flimsy monastery basket in the story earlier,
do not let your hearts be troubled,
for God’s love never breaks.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Snow cancellation: Guild + Ash Wed Service

Hi folks -
Due to early morning snow fall today,
and, with more heavy snow forecast for most of Wednesday,
the Guild meeting and Ash Wednesday service have now cancelled.
While the season of Lent is traditionally a time of reflection and bringing any regrets to God, there's no point reflecting on, or regretting
a broken arm or leg...!
If folk could pass this information on to others who might have been inclined to come along, the Minister would be very grateful.
Thanks, and stay safe out there!

Monday, 12 February 2018

News, events, and other happenings wk beg 11 Feb

Wed 14 Feb. 
2pm: The Guild meets in the church hall. We will be hearing about the work of the Salvation Army.
7pm: Ash Wednesday service. A short service marking the beginning of the season of Lent, as we make the symbolic journey towards Jerusalem with Jesus to the Cross and resurrection.

Sat 17 Feb. 10am: Lent Study Group meets in the Church Hall. We will be using the booklet ‘Glimpses of God’ which can be ordered from Nikki for £4. For ordering purposes, please let her know by Sun 11th, morning tea.

Sun 18 Feb. 10.30: Morning worship – Week 3 of our series on Psalm 23. 
This week: ‘He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’
Grateful thanks to Carol Taylor and Dee Yates for the use of work from their collaboration ‘Living on the Land’, which will accompany our worship and reflections.

Minister’s day off: Monday
Food for the journey: bite-sized spiritual nourishment for the week ahead:
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month - what do you turn to?
When you are overwhelmed or exhausted by life, what helps you to relax?
We probably all have several things we turn to, to help us unwind or get back onto an even keel.
I wonder where God is on our list of things we turn to?
Or do we keep God in reserve, for emergency use only?
Do we have to be in a crisis before we ask God for help?
The Psalmist says "God restores my soul", because he recognises that he cannot restore himself - and neither can we. However hard we try, however reluctant we may be to admit it, there are some things we cannot do ourselves. Although we may temporarily hide from problems, deaden pain, or ignore a situation, for lasting help, for true restoration and renewal, we need God, because only God can restore us.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sermon, Sun 11 Feb: Ps 23 - Wk2: He restores my soul

READING: Ps 23;  John 10:1-18

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.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul...

The old house had sat there for years, gently decaying, slowly falling apart, little by little.
Back in the day, when it had been built, it was charming:
a whitewashed stone cottage looking out on the sea.
Roses were planted, with the hope that they’d climb up the walls on trellises.
A neat square of green lawn was split by a path made of pebbles collected from
those washed up on the beach.
A pretty place.
Everyone who walked by smiled and wondered what it would be like to live there.

Over the years, the family who did live there made their mark on the cottage –
the usual wear and tear –
and often, there were so many things going on,
that little jobs were overlooked and gradually became bigger jobs.
The busy family made half-hearted attempts to fix the occasional problem,
but really didn’t quite have the time needed to do the job properly.
The house, still charming, was...a little shabbier,
the once-neat garden...a little wilder.
Being in such an exposed position also took its toll on the cottage:
the salt spray and wind combined to peel the paint off;
water edged its way through the lime mortar;
the wooden shutters came loose a little too often.
It seemed as if the cottage was fraying ‘round the edges.

Eventually, the family moved away –
keeping it as a holiday home, but, hardly ever going there:
so many other things demanded their time.
They loved the idea of the cottage –
but the reality of going there ...well it was just a little overwhelming:
there were so many other, more pressing things.
A ‘for sale’ sign eventually went up in the overgrown front yard, but, it remained empty.

The years passed, and the cottage quietly deteriorated.
Instead of smiling, those who passed by frowned and wondered what it
might take to fix it up –
and remembered with sadness just how bonny it had been.
Now, truth be told, it was a bit of an eyesore.
But, one day, the ‘for sale’ sign came down.
A couple of vans appeared.
Over the following weeks, a variety of folk worked busily on the cottage:
hammering, mending, roofing, gardening,
tending to the needs of the cottage –
bringing it back from the brink of ruin.
Those who walked by on a regular basis began to feel as if, bit by bit,
the old cottage was... regaining its soul.
The great day came when a young couple moved into the cottage –
the cottage, with its newly whitewashed walls,
repaired and painted shutters,
neat square of green lawn,
and beautifully trained climbing roses.
It had been a labour of love, but now, the place was restored –
and signs of new life glimmered,
just as the lights in the cottage glimmered out from the windows as the evenings crept in.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul...
The Lord is our Shepherd, and he’s in the restoration business.
He takes what is broken, falling apart, run-down, or neglected,
and breathes life back into it...
breathes life back into us:
restores our souls –
maybe in such a way that, those who pass by us
see the restoration and smile –
see the light twinkling from our eyes...
see the difference,
just as those who walked by the old cottage saw – and rejoiced –
at the difference after its restoration.

The Lord is our Shepherd,
and green pastures sound nice,
as do still waters and soul restoration –
But, where do we find the time? busy.
There’s a great list of never-ending tasks;
things jumping up and down on the ‘to do’ list that seem overwhelming.
The phone’s ringing off the hook,
the ‘ping’ of the computer announces the arrival of another batch of emails –
all needing to be answered right this minute.
There’s a bunch of looming deadlines –
invoices to sort,
or animals needing fed and tended, or scanned –
or, even just watched, for signs of new arrivals shortly on the way;
there's flowers needing bought for a poorly friend;
parts suddenly needed for machinery which has decided that today is the ideal day to breakdown.
It’s busy:
busy with a village ‘do’ that you’ve said you’d help out with...
buses needing caught to get up to town for an appointment,
or get that birthday present,
or visit that elderly aunt
or just to get to school on time.
It’s busy.
And sometimes, it’s hard to work out what to prioritise in the midst
of all the things yelling for your attention...
Some days, some weeks, some lives, are just like that.
Times when you feel like you’re on a treadmill and you just want it to stop –
but you just can’t seem to find the ‘pause’ button.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores... my... soul...
The Lord is our Shepherd, and he’s in the restoration business.
Part of that restoration involves
still waters – places of peace;
green pastures - places to rest, to be.
This goes against the whole notion of what it is to be human in our
own Western culture, for, we live in a culture of relentless busyness.
We live with a focus less on us as human beings, and more on us as human ‘doings’.
So many demands on our time.
Or, so much guilt, if we’re not doing something useful with our time –
although, I often wonder just who it is that determines what is, or isn’t ‘useful’.
There’s a voice that whispers to us:
‘Don’t ‘waste’ time just sitting there: ‘do’ something.
Be ...productive'
And sometimes we listen to that voice and buy into the lie that our worth
only found in what we do, not in whose we are.

We all know that the pressure of busyness can be crushing and can come from all sides:
pressures of work,
pressures of family,
pressures of all those things taken on because...well, someone has to do it,
and nobody else was putting their hand up.
Then there are the pressures of not wanting to let people down;
the pressure of not wanting to let yourself down;
perhaps, even the pressure of not being busy – the fear of emptiness, of pointlessness.
And we sometimes listen to that voice which tells us that:
if we’re busy, it means there’s some kind of meaning, some kind of purpose, to our lives –
...well, doesn’t it?
Sometimes it feels like we’ve so many plates spinning in the air, that, if we pause,
if we stop, even for a moment,
the whole show might just come crashing down on top of us.
And anyway, we haven’t got time to pause.

But actually,
sometimes, the most productive thing that we can do is to take time...out.
Be still.
Stop the relentless busyness.
Get ourselves a little soul restoration by listening to another voice:
the voice of the One who leads us away from the plate-spinning madness
to green pastures,
still waters:
places where we can safely rest and be restored.

Last week, we were thinking about how we viewed things:
did we see the gaps?
Where did we choose to focus?
Was it on what we didn’t have,
on what we couldn’t do?
Or, like our Psalmist, did we move our focus to what we do have:
the Lord, in whom we lack nothing?
As we move further into the Psalm, the Psalmist again invites us to do some refocusing –
reminds us that we need to move away from the temptation to relentless busyness:
because it’s quite easy to make an idol out of being busy –
as if doing all of the things in some way validates our existence.
We can easily run ourselves ragged, wear ourselves down,
through the constant business of being busy –
through the pressure of feeling we have to keep the show on the road.
It sucks our souls dry....
God’s not interested in shows:
God wants us to be real.
And God is all about grace –
it’s not our job to validate our existence –
that’s God’s job.
Constantly focusing on what we need to do takes the focus away from God:
Again, our worth, our value,
is found in the One who calls us,
who knows our very name –
whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light...
and, who ‘makes’ us lie down.
Perhaps, not to rest, is not to trust God –
the very One, who, having created the heavens and established the earth, did just that:
To listen to the call to rest is an act of trust:
trusting that it’s God, not ourselves, who’s in charge.

Restoration mattered – matters – so much to God that he told Moses
to write it down as a good rule to live by:
‘remember the Sabbath’ –
remember to rest. important.
To rest, is to allow ourselves to be restored.
In the midst of the relentless busyness, if we don’t pause,
we end up looking as ramshackle and rundown as that seaside cottage.
We get deafened by all the clamouring voices
demanding our time,
our energy –
life becomes lived in an ocean of noise that threatens to drown out the voice
of the One who would call us out of the cycle of busyness
and into the green pastures –
finding nourishment,
finding ourselves, as found in God –
in whose image we’re made,
and in whose image we’re restored.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores... my... soul...
Still waters – not raging torrents:
still waters where we can drink our fill without fear of being swept away.
Our Shepherd leads us to places where we won’t be overwhelmed.
When we feel like dried up husks because we’ve been so busy,
he calls us to come and drink,
to come and be refreshed,
to come and live life in all of its fullness – for water is life-giving stuff.

Just as taking on a house restoration,
the business of soul-restoration is a life-long work:
it’s about balance between doing and being;
it requires us to shake off the noise of all those voices
calling us to constant busyness
and listen more attentively for the voice of the Shepherd,
who invites us to pause awhile.
And, who calls us, having rested, from those places of rest to go back out into the world
to demonstrate what it is to be fully, authentically human:
and that the glory of God can be seen in a human who is fully alive:
a human...
and, a human being restored by God.
This week, as you go about doing those everyday things that need done,
don’t forget to take time out –
and smell the roses, or do whatever it is that restores your soul –
For the Lord, your Shepherd, gives you permission to rest and be restored –
and, hey, you can’t argue with that.

Monday, 5 February 2018

News, events, and other happenings wk beg 4 Feb

from our pew sheet:
Sun 11 Feb.
9am: Prayer Group meets.
Just to note that the Prayer Group has moved to the 2nd Sunday morning of the month.
All welcome to join us. Prayer requests can be placed in the box in the vestibule –
a notepad is nearby for your use.
10.30: Morning worship – Week 2 of our series on Psalm 23.
This week we reflect on the verses: ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures. 
He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.’ 
Grateful thanks to Carol Taylor and Dee Yates for the use of work from their collaboration
‘Living on the Land’, which will accompany our worship and reflections.

Wed 14 Feb. 7pm: Ash Wednesday service.
A short service marking the beginning of the season of Lent, as we make the symbolic journey towards Jerusalem with Jesus to the Cross and resurrection.

Sat 17 Feb. 10am: Lent Study Group
Meeting in the Church Hall. We will be using the booklet ‘Glimpses of God’, which can be ordered from Nikki, for £4. For ordering purposes, please let her know by Sun 11th if you would like one.

Church magazine – Easter edition:
Easter being early this year, Dee, our Editor, is now beginning to look for pieces for the Easter magazine. Articles should be a maximum of 300 words. If you have an interesting story or piece of news Dee would love to hear about it. All material needs to be with Dee by 11th Feb.
Thanks in advance!

Minister’s day off this week: Thursday

Supporting our young people: 
A Burns Supper will be held in Crawford village hall on 9th February, 7pm for a 7.30pm start. This will be to raise funds for Jill Hamilton's year in Guyana, voluntarily teaching maths and science. Tickets should be purchased from Marion Hamilton on 07926966323 by Monday 5th February

Food for the journey: bite-sized spiritual nourishment for the week ahead:
As we begin our 7-week walk through Psalm 23, this week use the Psalm as a focus for prayer – and as a particular focus, think about the opening to the Psalm:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.’ 
What other images do you find helpful when thinking about God?
What things in your life do you feel a lack of?
What three things can you give thanks for each day, over the course of this week?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sermon, Sun 4 Feb: Ps 23 series wk1 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want'

This week, beginning a seven week series on Ps 23...which will take us through Lent up to Palm Sunday.

READINGS: Ps 23;  Exodus 3:1-14

SERMON ‘The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want’
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.

A million years ago, well, back in the 90’s - as some of you know, I used to live on the small Inner Hebridean island of Iona.
And, at some point while I was there,
18 000 kilometres away, on the other side of the world, on a much bigger island – Australia –
my Dad saw a T.V. programme about Iona.
And what he noticed most?
‘Nothing. There’s nothing there!’ he said, in a letter.
A wee stony, boggy place, with no trees, in the middle of nowhere –
that’s how I think he viewed it.
No shopping mall – just Finlay Ross and the Spar, with perhaps one choice of shampoo on the shelf.
No bank – well, actually, there was: the mobile bank that came to the island once a week.
No movie theatres, no hairdressing salons,
no resident doctor – like the bank, she visited once a week;
no proper system of street lighting beyond the 4 lights at the jetty.
No pub, or tearoom open in the winter to warm up the one poor, benighted tourist
who’d bravely – or foolishly – decided to make the journey across from the mainland,
which involved 2 ferries and a bus, and which didn’t always connect....

‘Nothing. There’s nothing there!’
To my dad, the thought of living in such a wasteland of nothingness,
a small, seemingly barren rock in the Atlantic, far beyond actual civilisation, ...
well, it was just astonishing.
Almost incomprehensible.
Why go there?
Why stay?
Why, when there were so many things...lacking:
you don’t have this,
you can’t do that.
He saw... the gaps.
Living on the island, I saw differently.

I saw the soft light,
the white sandy beaches,
and clear clean sea;
watched the way the colours changed the rocks and hills on the other side of the Sound of Iona –
oranges, purples, and browns.
I found the one wee pocket of trees, and heard the cuckoo calling there in the dusk.
Discovered the beauty of the small as I stumbled upon the tiniest and most intricate of flowers,
and picked wild thyme on the machar.
Watched dolphins dancing, and seals swimming.
Drew deep breaths, taking in the smell of fresh-baked bread -
and, in the sharing of bread, the sharing of stories and laughter.
I made friends for life at beetle drives
and village ceilidhs where toes where trod on but nobody cared a jot;
and I and delighted that I could actually get shampoo – even if it was just the one kind.
There was so much, that truly, I lacked nothing.

‘The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.’
So begins the traditional version of Psalm 23.
When I was younger, I’d occasionally get a wee bit confused:
‘Why would I not want the Lord my Shepherd?’ I’d often wonder.
Later on, a different version of the Bible cleared it up for me.
‘I shall not want’ became:
‘I shall lack nothing’, as our own pew version of the bible says.

As we read the Psalm, and sometimes, because it’s so very familiar, it’s almost hard to see it:
what we’re seeing, what we’re hearing... is something that’s a response to a crisis.
Whatever’s going in the psalm writer’s life is not spelt out for us –
but there’s been, possibly still is, some kind of major difficulty.
A little later, the psalmist will talk of needing some soul restoration,
will refer to walking ‘through the valley of the shadow of death,’
will make mention of the evil that’s around and about,
and speak of being in the presence of enemies.
Things are, and have been, tough.
And as the writer of the psalm notices this,
rather than focus on lack,
rather than focus on all the things that aren’t available,
that aren’t there,
that can’t be done,
what is focused upon is:
the Lord, who is shepherd.
The Lord in whom...
I shall lack nothing.
The Lord who supplies my needs.
Acknowledging the difficulties, yes, and yet, the focus is not upon the problems
but upon the One whom the psalmist follows.
Whatever has gone on,
whatever is going on,
whatever will go on in the psalmist’s life in the future,
the one constant,
the one thing that the psalmist does have, is
the Lord...
the Lord, who is as a shepherd;
the Lord, who will protect and provide
the Lord, who will enable the psalmist to live.
The focus is on the Lord,
and of faith being affirmed, not fear.

Our other reading this morning, from Exodus, is also well-known:
the call of Moses at the burning bush.
There is fear, and lack, here in this reading.
A little re-familiarization with what’s gone before our reading:
The place is Egypt, in the time of the pharaohs.
There’s a steadily growing fear among Egyptians that the Hebrews, who’d been invited to live
in Egypt centuries before, are now becoming too numerous –
will they take over?
Will they perhaps fight alongside Egypt’s enemies?
Will the glory days of the Empire –
of Egyptian power, culture, fame... be eclipsed or destroyed by these incomers?
And so the fear turns to hatred,
which turns to oppression,
which turns to genocide:
the slaughter of every Hebrew baby boy.
In the midst of this horror, a male child is born,
but instead of being killed,
in the hope of giving the boy some slim chance at life, a basket is made –
the original ‘Moses basket’ –
the child is placed in it, and then pushed out, onto the Nile River.
The daughter of Pharaoh finds the baby, adopts it, and brings him up in the Palace
as a prince of Egypt.

As a grown man, this prince, Moses, hears the cries of the Hebrew slaves,
is brought to anger by the harshness of an overseer, kills him, and then flees for his own life.
Now fugitive, he makes his home in the wilderness, marries Zipporah,
and tends the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro.
The years pass, the old Pharaoh dies, and a new Pharaoh takes the throne.
The Hebrew slaves cry out to God in their oppression...
And Moses, tending Jethro’s flocks, stumbles upon something very much out of the ordinary:
a bush, as if on fire, and yet, showing no sign of being destroyed or burnt.
He goes closer.
Things get stranger:
a voice seems to come from out of this burning bush –
a voice that calls his name. 
Moses is told that he’s standing on holy ground,
instructed to take his shoes off,
and is then told that he’s being addressed by the God of his ancestors.
Now, I’m not sure what you might do if faced with such a thing,
but Moses is a little blown away by this –
and hides his face, afraid to look at God.
Perhaps a fear, too, that God will find him lacking – in faith, and just in general.

And then God gives him a task:
to go back to Egypt,
to speak up for the Hebrew slaves,
to tell them, and Pharaoh,
that God has heard their cries,
to place the hope of liberty into the hearts of the captives.
And Moses responds –
not by writing a psalm,
not by focusing upon the One who has given him this difficult and unsettling task –
but by focusing upon lack,
focusing on the gaps:
what he hasn’t got,
what he can’t do;
‘Who am I, that I should do this?’

Later, Moses will list off the many reasons why he’s not up to the job,
why the job just can’t be done.
And one by one, God will knock aside all of Moses’ reasons.
But immediately after saying ‘who am I?’
Moses basically asks:
‘And who are you? 
Who shall I say sent me?
What’s your name?’
And the God who created all things says:
‘Tell them “I am who I am sent me to you.”’
Or, another way of saying this:
‘I will be what I will be.’
Or...another way of saying this:
‘I am able to be what you need me to be.’
And eventually, with God’s help, Moses leads the Hebrew slaves to freedom,
to journey in the wilderness where they are visibly led by God by pillar of cloud and pillar of fire,
where they are guided to water,
where food is provided,
where, over time,
they throw off the shackles of Pharaoh, and learn what it is to begin to trust in God
who quite literally supplies all their needs while they journey to the Promised Land.
It’s not an easy journey – they don’t necessarily get all their wants met:
at times they pine for leeks and garlic by the Nile.
But they do get their needs met, and live as free people of God.

‘The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want,’ says the Psalmist in the midst of difficulties,
and, in doing so,
echoes that Exodus story,
echoes those wilderness wanderings;
remembers that the God he, or she, follows, is the same God
who brought freedom to the captive Hebrews,
who heard their cries,
who travelled with them,
who met their needs –
God was, God is, faithful.

We follow in the footsteps of Moses,
in the footsteps of those liberated Hebrew slaves,
in the footsteps of the Psalmist...
we follow the One who is our Shepherd,
in whom we lack nothing.
And we follow a path that is utterly counter-cultural,
for our Western society is based upon ‘want’ and upon ‘lack’.
It’s based upon the gaps – on what is missing,
on what we don’t have,
on what we can’t do...
or, on what we could do, if only we had all of the things deemed necessary to construct our lives.
All of the things that would show others:
how hip and trendy we are,
how wealthy,
what taste we have in music, art;
how up to the minute we are with gadgets.

Consumerism has an inbuilt dissatisfaction switch, specifically designed to make us focus upon
what we don’t have:
our deficiencies,
what we lack...
Consumerism tells us that, if we don’t have it, then, we can’t truly be happy.
And, consuming us:
our essential selves,
our authentic selves.
We’re conditioned to live
‘with an imagination dominated by a pervasive sense of scarcity, 
far more aware of what we don’t have...than what we do.’
That sense of scarcity fires up our minds and hearts in all sorts of ways.
It may be that:
we envy those who have what we don’t;
It may be that, sometimes, we even take, or destroy those things that others have:
if we can’t have them, then no-one else should;
we store up more than we’ll ever need or be able to use – just in case –
at the expense of others...
others we scapegoat, or somehow decide are less deserving, others who aren’t like us.
We see this played out big, on the world stage;
and we see it in the small, everyday interactions between people.
And we are called, as God’s people, to call this out in our wider society:
to respond as the writer of Psalm 23 does, and say those words of reassurance:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd...your Shepherd; shall not want.’
To remember and to call to mind that
the One who created us all is the great ‘I AM’,
the One who provides our needs –
who sustains us,
who restores us,
who calls us to readjust our focus from lack,
to finding in Him, abundance in the most surprising, unlooked-for places –
whether in the wilderness by a blazing bush,
or on some small, seemingly barren, Hebridean island.

Before Christmas, I shared with you that one small way of focusing for me,
involved the very simple practice of looking at the end of each day,
for three things that I could be grateful for.
And, I’m still doing that:
I’ve found that this wee thing that I can do has so helped me to work against
focusing upon scarcity...of lack.
And it’s particularly helping me as your minister, and, as a minister within the Church of Scotland.
Currently there are just over 200 vacant parishes in the Church of Scotland –
many of them in rural areas.
And, over the next five years, there are about 300 ministers due to retire...
and the rate of incoming ministers is roughly about 30 per year.
So, as the national church, we are living in interesting times and the current way
we undertake ministry may look very different in the future.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have...
and hard not to look inward, rather than out,
hard not to give in to fear.

At our own parish level, we too, have been facing difficult, challenging, and sad times,
over this last year – especially this last few months.
And it’s easy to get caught up in our own fears around scarcity and lack.
It’s easy to focus upon those we’ve lost over the last few years –
missing faces, missing friends, gaps in pews.
No this, no that, no other...
It’s easy to get caught up in
what we can’t do,
what we don’t have.
And I want to say to you all:
that’s not where our focus should be.
Like the Psalmist, of course we acknowledge the difficulties, to not do so would be delusional.
But, we don’t stay there, coorying down in what we don’t have.
We, worship the Lord who is also our Shepherd.
We worship the One who:
never promised that it would be an easy journey;
who never promised that we’d have everything that we wanted...and in the way we wanted it.
We worship the One
who liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt,
who walked with them
and who taught them to take off the chains that kept them still shackled.
We worship the One
who would liberate us
from the chains of defining ourselves by what we don’t have –
the One who wants to teach us,
as Moses, as the Hebrews, as the Psalmist,
about freedom to
walk from a life focused on lack,
and instead, walk to a life lived in its fulness.

As God’s people here in Upper Clyde remember, and hold fast to the words of the Psalmist:
‘The Lord is our Shepherd. We... shall ...not ...want.’
As God’s people, I want us so much to refocus:
to switch the lens from scarcity, to thankfulness for God’s faithfulness.
Let’s walk into the freedom and the blessing of
what we can do,
and what we do have,
mindful that:
we belong to God.
He is our faithful Shepherd.
In Him, we lack for nothing –
for he is our joy and our strength forever. Amen

Sunday, 28 January 2018

News, events, and other happenings wk beg 28th Jan

This morning in worship, Keith Black preached on 'The Ministry of Jesus'.
This evening, we began our 4th Sunday evening services for the year. Our theme for evening worship in the hills this year is: 'Journeying with Paul'

Sun 4 Feb. 10.30: Morning worship – ‘Psalm 23’.
This week we begin a seven-week series on that much-loved portion of scripture, Psalm 23. The series will take us thru the season of Lent. Grateful thanks to Carol Taylor and Dee Yates for the use of work from their collaboration ‘Living on the Land’, which will accompany our worship and reflections.

Prayer Group change: our prayer group has now moved to the 2nd Sunday morning of the month. We meet at 9am on Sun 11 Feb, in the Parish Church. This will avoid clashing with Communion Sundays.

Church magazine – Easter edition:
Easter being early this year, Dee, our Editor, is now beginning to look for pieces for the Easter magazine. Articles should be a maximum of 300 words. If you have an interesting story or piece of news Dee would love to hear about it. All material needs to be with Dee by 11th Feb. Thanks in advance!

The Minister will be unavailable Mon-Wed this week.
For general queries, contact our Session Clerk, Heather Watt on 01899 850211. Urgent queries can be directed to the Rev. George Shand on 01899 309400

Supporting our young people: 
A Burns Supper will be held in Crawford village hall on 9th February, 7pm for a 7.30pm start. This will be to raise funds for Jill Hamilton's year in Guyana, voluntarily teaching maths and science. Tickets should be purchased from Marion Hamilton on 07926966323 by Monday 5th February

Reflection space - 
Food for the journey: bite-sized spiritual nourishment for the week ahead:
Keith Black poses the following for prayer, reflection, and action this week:
Can we find ways in which we can take God at his word this week? 
To believe that the kingdom of God really has come near? 
Can we take hold of this good news?
Can we be looking for any opportunities to share with others the good news that the kingdom of God is near at hand and easy to access?

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Contacts, news, events: 14-25 Jan

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Sun aft. 14th Jan - Sat 20th until 1pm
[briefly back Sat 20th, 1pm to Sun 21st, 1pm]
and then off again until Thurs 25 Jan

During this time, urgent pastoral/funeral cover will be provided by the Rev. George Shand of the Tinto Parishes 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Heather Watt, our Session Clerk on 01899 850211 

Sun 21 Jan. 10.30 – Morning worship: 
Nikki and Keith Black will be sharing in the conduct of worship this week, with, Keith preaching

Watchnight offering total:
traditionally, our offering for this service is given to a charity. This year’s offering was given to the Brain Tumour Charity, in memory of Mrs Struthers in one of our neighbouring schools, Tinto Primary. The total raised was £117.03. Thanks to all who donated.

Church magazine – Easter edition:
Easter being early this year, Dee, our Editor, is now beginning to look for pieces for the Easter magazine. Articles should be a maximum of 300 words. If you have an interesting story or piece of news Dee would love to hear about it. All material needs to be with Dee by 11th Feb. Thanks in advance!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Weather and worship update: worship Sun 21st cancelled

Due to our part of South Lanarkshire having turned into the Scottish Siberia...
with heavy falls of snow already causing chaos, and more on the way for Sunday,
this is to advise that morning worship on Sunday has now been cancelled.
Please let friends and neighbours know, who would normally come to worship.
Stay warm, and stay safe!!

And some of the parish even made it on to Ch4 - c.2 minutes in Leadhills and Wanlockhead, with a wee mention of Abington... click on the link below for some well-kent faces, and some great pics.
Channel 4 snow report

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Contacts, news, events 14-25 Jan

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Sun aft. 14th Jan - Sat 20th until 1pm
[briefly back Sat 20th, 1pm to Sun 21st, 1pm]
and then off again until Thurs 25 Jan

During this time, urgent pastoral/funeral cover will be provided by the Rev. George Shand of the Tinto Parishes 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Heather Watt, our Session Clerk on 01899 850211

Sun 21 Jan. 10.30 – Morning worship: 
Nikki and Keith Black will be sharing in the conduct of worship this week, with, Keith preaching

Watchnight offering total:
traditionally, our offering for this service is given to a charity. This year’s offering was given to the Brain Tumour Charity, in memory of Mrs Struthers in one of our neighbouring schools, Tinto Primary. The total raised was £117.03. Thanks to all who donated.

Church magazine – Easter edition:
Easter being early this year, Dee, our Editor, is now beginning to look for pieces for the Easter magazine. Articles should be a maximum of 300 words. If you have an interesting story or piece of news Dee would love to hear about it. All material needs to be with Dee by 11th Feb. Thanks in advance! Sun 21 Jan. 10.30 – Morning worship: Nikki and Keith Black will be sharing in the conduct of worship this week, with, Keith preaching Watchnight offering total: traditionally, our offering for this service is given to a charity. This year’s offering was given to the Brain Tumour Charity, in memory of Mrs Struthers in one of our neighbouring schools, Tinto Primary. The total raised was £117.03. Thanks to all who donated. Church magazine – Easter edition: Easter being early this year, Dee, our Editor, is now beginning to look for pieces for the Easter magazine. Articles should be a maximum of 300 words. If you have an interesting story or piece of news Dee would love to hear about it. All material needs to be with Dee by 11th Feb. Thanks in advance!

Help Jill help children - in British Guyana. Jill Hamilton is currently fundraising for her year in British Guyana, where she'll be teaching maths and science, sleeping in a hammock, and living in a rainforest. She's hosting a Burns Supper in the Crawford Hall on Fri 9 Feb. Tickets are £18 and can be bought from Marion H. Further details via Gandl facebook page, and on the church noticeboard.

Food for the journey: bite-sized spiritual nourishment for the week ahead:
As God saw Samuel, as Jesus saw Nathanael, this week look around you.
See the people in your worshipping community: each called, seen, known by God
Think about those with whom you will share time this week.
Think about where you can be a blessing to friends and strangers in Jesus’ name.
Look at your hands:
think about where and what they will be doing this week (e.g. at home, at work, in leisure time). Think about where you can be a blessing in Jesus’ name.
Look at your feet:
think about where they will take you this week, the places you will journey.
Think about where you can be a blessing in those places in Jesus’ name.
Listen to the silence and the noises around you, sounds of God’s created world and of humanity.
Listen: is God bringing to mind people, places and journeys where he is already working?
In silence, offer all these people, places and journeys to God.
Ask that this week you can be a bringer of God’s light and blessing.

Monday, 8 January 2018

this week at UCPC...


A cheery welcome back to all staff and students at our five Primary Schools after the Christmas break: hope you're all refreshed and ready to go!

Wed 10 Jan: 2.30pm - The Guild Annual Afternoon Tea will be held in the Church Hall. Please let Heather W. know if you'd like to come along, by Tues evening.
at 7.30pm - Kirk Session and Local Church Review Task Group meets with the LCR Presbytery Team in the Church Hall

Thurs 11 Jan: 7pm -  'Wordworks', our writing group, meets by the fireside at the Colebrooke Arms, Crawfordjohn. Open to anyone - bring along something you're working on, or a favourite poem or short piece of prose to share...or, make use of the following writing prompts: footprints, beginnings, new year, endings. All welcome.

Sun 14 Jan: 10.30am - Parish worship at UCPC, Abington. This week's theme: 'A community of the called'

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Sermon, Sun 7 Jan: 'Water: powerful, wet stuff'

On Sunday morning we thought about baptism:
the baptism of Jesus, and our own.
The baptismal font had been prepared, as if for a baptism, with the jug of water at the ready.

In our 'thinking about' time after the first hymn, we had the following meditation:

In the beginning: darkness and chaos;
and the Spirit of God,
hovers over the water...
[some water is poured into baptismal font]
Morning breaks: a new day begins –
a world is created:
light and order;
a garden, in which God
walks companionably
with a man and woman created in love,
and made in God’s image.
But the humans get caught up
with other things;
the light is less bright...
and death enters the world.
[some water is poured into baptismal font]

A baby wails: a new life for all;
the darkness is shattered by
the light of a great and shining star;
is shattered by hope
found in a manger.
[some water is poured into baptismal font]
Water flows: and days turn to years...
The baby becomes a man,
who watches the river run:
who washes in the river –
a ministry, begun.
Who speaks of the living water:
bubbling, overflowing –
cleansing, refreshing:
the water of the river of life...
Who says that he
is the living water:
the way, the truth –
the love of God revealed
in a new, and living way,
and who calls:
‘Come, follow me’.
[some water is poured into baptismal font]
Water is poured: a fresh start is offered,
as it has been down through the generations;
a sign of God’s grace,
a symbol of God’s love –
showing that God never gives up on us...
for He made us with love
to be his people.

This morning, as you came in, I hope you were each given a wee heart.
That represents you.
And on that heart, are the words, ‘made in love’ for that is true for each one of us.
Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith:
and so this morning, in a short time of quiet reflection, let’s think about baptism –
*what does that mean to you?
*How do you live out Jesus’ call to follow –
as someone who has been forgiven,
and who is loved and claimed as God’s own?
*How has living into the promises of your baptism
changed you, changed others, and changed your small corner of the world?
(time of quiet reflection, then stewards gather up hearts, bring them forward)

I place these symbols of ourselves, and of our baptism, into the water –
reminding us of our baptism
and that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God...
(hearts poured into the font - where 'we' stayed in the waters of our baptism throughout
the rest of the service: the hearts were given back during the closing hymn, with the charge 
to live into our baptism by going out into the world)

Thereafter, the service followed its general pattern...
Our readings were -
Ps 29;  Gen 1:1-5;  Mark 1:4-11

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 scene in C. S. Lewis’s book ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ 
that features a band of tiny dwarfs. They are not the brightest of wee souls,
and their chief has a gift of stating the blindingly obvious.
Each time he does, he’s meet with a rousing chorus of approval:
‘That’s right, Chief! No truer word was ever spoken,’ and suchlike.
At one point, he proclaims very grandly:
‘Water: it’s powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?’
‘Aye, Chief’, say his clan, to a man...or, to a dwarf.

‘Water: it’s powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?’
Well, yes, it is wet.
And yes, it’s pretty straightforward:
a non-controversial statement that’s... well, blindingly obvious.
Water is wet.
But, there’s something deeper, more profound –
maybe the wee Dwarf chief is smarter than we give him credit for...
Water is wet, yes,

Water is there, in our story of beginnings:
it’s there, right at the beginning –
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’
And the Spirit.
Connected since the beginning of creation.
Water and the Spirit
as part of the movement of God,
bringing order out of chaos.

Water: it’s powerful wet stuff.
Every time we touch it, drink it, bathe in it –
just think, it’s been there since time began –
without it, there can be no life.
Basic survival teaches the ‘law of threes’:
one of which is that, as a rule of thumb,
you won’t really survive much beyond three days without drinkable water.
Water refreshes, and sustains life...
it’s powerful, that wet stuff.
So powerful, that beyond its mere physical properties,
water has been used for millennia to point to spiritual truths;
which is what we see when we find ourselves at the banks of the River Jordan.
There in the Judean countryside, in the back of beyond,
crowds come flocking to see God’s stern prophet, John.
They come, and hear his words about another more powerful than he:
‘I baptise you with water, he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
Water...and the Spirit...
connected once more.
The people come, hearing his call to repent –
to turn away from putting everything else first
and to turn back to God:
to put God at the centre of their lives.
They come for baptism:
washing off the old stuff,
washing off the layers of things that have come between them and God,
washing off the mask,
becoming again who God made them to be,
living into what God created them for:
to be his,
to be real,
to be whole –
to be remade again in God’s own image,
remade... in God’s love.

They come to the Jordan, somehow knowing that, water, that powerful wet stuff,
will get rid of the gunk, and the junk,
will wash them clean.
That baptism offers the chance to start afresh:
a new beginning...
blessed by God,
claimed by God.
Water...and the Spirit...
once more bringing order out of chaos.

And there, on the banks of the muddy Jordan,
among the many compelled to make a new start,
to find a new way forward,
there... stands Jesus.
The One who understands just how powerful water is,
who will later say of himself:
'I am the Living Water...those who believe and are baptised will be saved.'
And, showing humanity the way,
Jesus is baptised:
here, demonstrating new beginnings –
the baptism is the launchpad for his public ministry.
And again, we see water and the Spirit connected:
as Jesus comes up, out of the water, the Spirit once again hovers...
and God’s voice proclaims:
‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
Heavenly affirmation,
and a blessing as Jesus begins this new stage of his life,
a life that will shake the world as powerfully as that wet stuff, water.

‘Water: it’s powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?’
In baptism, we see the water symbolising a change:
demonstrating the power of God to transform lives.
In our own tradition where we baptise infants,
there’s a deep and profound acknowledgment of God’s grace and
of just how powerful that combination of water and the Spirit can be.
Having recently baptised wee Jenson and Nairn in the weeks
leading up to Christmas, we heard the words:
‘all this God did for you, even though you don’t know it yet...’
God at work in ways we can’t fathom,
God at work, even before we’re able to ask for anything, or do anything in return –
the spiritually life-giving water of baptism -
given freely, unconditionally.
A demonstration that there is absolutely nothing we can do to buy God’s love;
God’s love is.

Some of us here may remember our own baptism, some, not.
And whether we feel it, or not, God’s Spirit is at work in our lives,
working on transforming us in ways to better reflect the One who made us.
We are works in process:
we mess up, that’s part of what it is to be human.
And when we do, we take it to God:
we lay it at God’s feet,
we remember our baptism –
and remember we have a lifetime’s guarantee of beginning again, and again and again.

Water...and the Spirit:
it’s a powerful combination.
And as we live into our baptism,
and grow into God,
that combination should lead us from looking inward, to looking outward:
to seeing others –
others created in the image of God.
It might lead us to look below the surface
and ask what might really be going on down in the depths of a person’s life –
to try and walk in their shoes a while.
And in doing so, might transform the way we approach that person,
might inspire us to acts of kindness and compassion –
acts of kindness that move out in ever-spreading circles:
from family, friends, neighbours, to those we don’t know
but whose plight we may have seen on social media...
acts of kindness that can be challenging, hard,
might cost us time, effort,
occasionally other things.
The powerful combination of water and the Spirit -
of living into our baptism
and into our calling as God’s people,
is where we may also see, close at hand,
God in our small corner of the world,
bringing order out of chaos,
and, if we listen carefully,
we may even hear those words from heaven, saying to us:
‘You are my beloved one, with you, I am well pleased.’

Let’s pray:
Loving Father,
you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit,
and revealed him as your dear Son.
Thank you for making us your children by water and the Spirit.
Keep us faithful to you throughout our lives.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen

HYMN 502 Take my life, Lord, let it be

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Worship, Sunday 31 Dec: 'At the gate of the year'

Today, we stand, at the gate of the year... 
time to take up the challenge and step through, 
daring to dream, 
daring to hope, 
daring to be God's people in the world.

Given we're still in the Christmas season until 6 Jan, we had one last opportunity for a bit of a Carol sing.
Our readings featured travelling Magi, plus Simeon and Anna at the Temple on the day of Jesus' presentation at 8 days old.

One poem, by Godfrey Rust, pondered what the story of the Wise Men might have looked like, had they slightly overshot their mark both in place, and in time...

‘The journey of the magi (cont.)’ 
Coming as they did from the first century 
they had a few problems with London traffic 
and were seriously misled by signs 
to the Angel and King's Cross. 
Inquiring diligently about the star 
they were referred to Professor Brian Cox, 
who thought it was amazing
while smiling in a constant and strangely unsettling way.
In Harrods the camels 
made a mess all over Soft Furnishings.
On the Underground
commuters glared at No Smoking signs
as incense wafted gently through the carriages,
and when the great day came 
they saw the entire voting population 
slumped on sofas by four o'clock, 
rendered senseless by too much 
dead poultry and the Queen, 
while over Liberty's and Hamley's 
the flickering angels sang
Glory to God in the High St
and they found him,
with the inns full up once more, 
in the old familiar place, 
bringing their unregarded gifts 
to the empty stable 
of the human heart 
where the infant Christ is born 
again and again.

A beautiful piece by Mary Lou Sleevi reflects upon Anna, the prophet:
Her laugh is simply happy
The prescribed pair of turtle doves,
averse to captivity,
refrain for the moment
from their soft, plaintive moans.
From their perch
they lurch forward
to take in The Occasion.
Anna recognizes a child
at his Presentation in the temple.
She talks of him in no uncertain terms!
Her particular words are shrouded,
but Delight registers profoundly
under the veil of widow-black.
A lifetime of focus
is all in her eyes.
Thanks be to God!
The old woman is truly Beautiful
and beautifully True.

Anna comes to Her Moment laughing,
her face the free expression
of all that’s inside.
Her life of late
seems to have staged
an ongoing soliloquy.
That heavenly smile authenticates Anna.
She is the Recognized Prophet
who came and confirmed
the word of a brother who said,
“‘My eyes have witnessed your saving deed
displayed for all the peoples to see…'”

As prophets do,
Anna ensured that the message
would get beyond temple precincts.
She probably heard Simeon speak,
and may have embellished
his Inspiration
by extending her hugs to the Chosen parents,
very tenderly. 

Anna had seen it all.
Grown-ups talk anxiously about 
fulfilling the dreams of children.
Anna’s Jesus-Moment
is an elder’s consummate Belief
in a dream come true.
She speaks truth beautifully,
The gift of prophecy is backed
by her life/prayer of eighty-four years.
Stretch marks from 
solitude and solicitude and solidarity
show in The Wrinkling,
giving her face its certain Lift.

Anna of the free Spirit
is no solemn ascetic.
She talks to the baby,
as well as about him,
She shoulders him closely,
absorbing his softness,
his heartbeat,
his breathing—
experiencing a Benediction of Years
between them.
This is Manifestation embodied.

The prophet knows
she has looked at him
Years later,
words of Jesus would Beatify her vision:
“Blest are the single-hearted
for they shall see God.”
Those eyes have twinkled
as she wrinkled.
“Constantly in the temple,”
the temple of her heart,
she became familiar
with every inch of her living space
—including its limitations—
and the Beneficence of Sister Wisdom
dwelling therein.
Anna liked the view from her window.
And a comfortable chair.

In “worshipping day and night,”
she had spent her Vitality
on an extravagance of prayer,
and discovered she was strong.
Life with Wisdom was a trilogy
of faith, hope, and love.
In Anna’s everyday Essence,
love of God and faith in a people—
faith in God and love of a people—
were insatiable and inseparable.
And her fasting produced
a Gluttony of hope.
The disciplined disciple,
never withdrawn,
stayed in touch with the world
and kept finding God.

upon his time,
she welcomed The Promised One.
“She talked about the child…”
And talk Anna did.
She is more than prophet:
she is a grandmother!
Because it is the Christ-child she hugs,
Anna, as prophet,
is particularly aware
of the vulnerability of less-awaited children
and parents, who also have dreams.

Dimming eyes,
still forward-looking,
crinkle with joy.
Anna is Anticipation.
She is an Image
of constancy and change…
the progression of peace and purpose
at any stage of life.

Hers is the Holy City.
as Anna lived it
lessens fear of the death-moment.

For, with God, one never stops saying

And so, through Scripture readings, carols, poetry, and brief reflections, we thought about journeys, and power found in unexpected places, as well as stopping to pause to leave regrets behind as we stepped into the promise of a new year.
And, in preparation to step through the gate into 2018, we said John Wesley's Covenant Prayer together:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, 
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things, 
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, 
let it be ratified in heaven.

May God bless us all, as we step through the gate of the year...