Monday, 9 April 2018

News, events, contacts...Mon 9-Mon 23 April

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Mon 9th - Mon 23rd April inclusive

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 15 and 22 April, 10.30am: Morning worship will be conducted by the Rev. Sandy Strachan, making a return visit while the Minister is on leave.

Thurs 12 April, 7pm: Writing group meets at the Colebrooke Arms in Crawfordjohn. All welcome to come along and share a short piece of your own writing, or bring along something from a favourite writer.

Sun 22 April, 6.30: Evening worship: Wanlockhead Village Hall. We re-join the Apostle Paul on his travels. This month, thoughts from Corinth. Worship will be lead by Moira White. All welcome to join us for this more informal style of worship. Tea/coffee and baking will be available after worship.

Thur 26 April, 7pm: Kirk Session meets in the Church Hall

Fri 11 May, 7.30pm: Caledonian Fiddlers' Orchestra return to Crawfordjohn hall. This is a fundraiser for the church, so it would be great to see a good crowd. Tickets are £10 can be purchased from: Janet T, Isobel T, Anne B, Mary H. Molly W, Jeanette W.  Offers of help, by way of: baking, furniture moving etc would be very much appreciated. Please contact one the above members of the Social Committee.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sermon, Sunday 8 April: 'Every day is Easter'

READINGS: 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20.19-31

This morning, it was a case of a sermon in two parts. The initial section commented on Thomas' reputation, making use of the cartoon further below, and upon the ups and downs of faith - and that faith was something that was always in motion. It ended with the following reflection written by Roddy Hamilton:

Every day is Easter
When Thomas touched the wounds
and set himself free
it was Easter day

When Peter’s three “yes’s” to Jesus
finished his three denials
it was Easter day

When Mary ready to embalm the dead
ran in fear from the empty tomb
it was Easter day

When the disciples looked from afar
at a breakfast of fish on the beach
it was Easter day

When Emmaus became synonymous
with welcome, and the breaking of bread
with strangers
it was Easter day

When Paul was blinded by the light
and recognised the voice niggling in his head
it was Easter day

When the hungry are fed at the table
the same table as the rich
it is Easter day

When weapons are beaten to ploughshares
and peace is a word to be shouted
it is Easter day

When the stranger is welcomed in community
and the lonely are restored to relationship
it is Easter day
                      Roddy Hamilton

SERMON pt 2/

Happy Easter: Christ has risen –
he has risen indeed, alleluia!
Earlier, I said that every day is Easter.
And certainly, although we celebrated Easter Sunday last week,
in a pretty all-singing and all-dancing way,
we’re still very much in the season of Easter.
So, at least for the next few weeks,
you’ll be hearing some of the stories of people who met with,
who experienced first-hand, the resurrected Jesus.
And this week, we meet the disciples –
and particularly, Thomas, in a story that moves from Easter day,
through to the following Sunday.

It must have been disconcerting that first Easter Sunday.
Early in the morning, the women had gone to the garden,
where Jesus’ tomb was –
where Jesus’ body was...
or, so they thought.
Distress, fear, and then, wonder,
as they discover
the stone rolled away,
the empty tomb,
and messengers proclaiming:
‘He is not here: he has risen.’
Mary Magdalene races back to tell the strange news to the other followers.
Peter and John race to see for themselves,
then head back to the upper room where the disciples have all gathered.
Meanwhile, Mary has also gone back to the garden
and meets the gardener, who turns out to be the risen Lord.
He tells her to go and tell the others.
Essentially, the first person to preach the gospel is a woman.

That first Easter Sunday morning has been a busy, unsettling one.
Dare the disciples hope, as they sit in their locked room,
that the impossible news is ... possible?
Dare they think, behind the firmly shut door,
that the unbelievable...can be believed?
Morning turns to afternoon, turns to evening.
And still the disciples are there, in that room –
with that closed, and firmly bolted, door.
Apart from our friend, Thomas,
the rest of Jesus’ friends are clearly going nowhere any time soon.
Perhaps as they’ve talked and talked of the morning’s news.
Perhaps as they’ve pondered every tiny detail, they’ve fallen into the paralysis of analysis.
The sit, they talk, and they don't go anywhere.
So, Jesus comes to them.
Jesus walks into that locked room and begins to open their minds –
if not totally blow their minds.
And, in the process,
somehow, picking over the little bitty details don’t seem as important,
as they encounter the light of the One
who is the Light of the World,
and who bids them to follow him,
to walk in the light,
to walk the way of peace,
to walk the way of forgiveness,
to walk the way of faith –
with all its ups and downs.

We know the other part to that first Easter evening.
At some point, Thomas comes back, and finds his friends suddenly alive, transformed.
They talk of having seen Jesus.
And he, ever the realist, won’t accept the impossible possibility of resurrection.
As they have seen it for themselves, so too, not unreasonably, Thomas refuses to believe until he has seen Jesus.

A week passes.
And there they are:
still in that upper room,
still with the door firmly closed,
the lock securely bolted.
What have they been doing all that time?
All, apart from Thomas, have now seen Jesus;
have been amazed;
have felt the flutterings of the Spirit
as Jesus breathed upon them
and spoke words of peace.
Yet, they seem stuck.
Maybe they’re still so stunned, they can do nothing else.
Or, maybe they’re wondering just what it is that they’re supposed to do.
Will Jesus come back with instructions?
We don’t know what keeps them there behind closed doors.
But, again, if they won’t go out, Jesus will come in:
locked and bolted doors are child’s play
to the One who overcame death,
and opened the door of the tomb.

Jesus seeks out Thomas,
and that pragmatic, practical realist
now has to broaden his ways of thinking,
widen his understanding –
open his mind to the radical reality of the resurrection.
It’s not long until these followers of Jesus
will fling open the doors of that locked room
and go out seeking to transform the world
with the message of God’s love,
with the message of the good news of life.
And Thomas ends up travelling far.
According to legend, he travels to India, telling the story of Jesus along the way,
and eventually settles in Kerala, planting churches from about the year 50.
He reputedly dies there around 72AD.
No longer stuck in particular ways of thinking,
no longer stuck behind closed doors,
Thomas’ faith transforms him,
moves him, halfway across the world,
to witness to the resurrection:
to tell the story of the impossible,
made possible.

Sometimes, we get stuck:
sometimes we’re like the disciples in that securely locked room:
for whatever reason, we find ourselves not really going anywhere fast.
Sometimes, we add into that mix, an added dash of Thomas’ pragmatic, practical realism,
forgetting that his particular story ends with the transformation to an opened mind and heart:
faith in motion.

Like Thomas,
like the other friends and followers of Jesus,
we are called to be a people in motion,
for faith is not static,
hey, faith can even move mountains.
Faith works best when it’s not kept locked in a room behind a bolted door...
And, as we see in the gospel reading,
if closed doors can be opened by Jesus,
even locked hearts and bolted minds can be opened by him.
Faith moves us from being locked into death and being open to life –
to entertaining possibilities of the resurrection:
of new life,
of a full life,
of a life lived authentically in the here and now;
and faith opens up the possibility of  life and hope to others around us,
and around the world.

As Jesus breathed his peace upon his disciples,
so he is the One who breathes his peace into us;
who gives us strength, and courage,
and dares us to move towards hope;
who bids us follow him;
who sends us out into the world;
who calls us to be his witnesses
to life in all its fulness;
to love in all its transforming glory;
and to tell the story of the impossible,
made possible,
for, with God, all things are possible.

Happy Easter: Christ has risen –
he has risen indeed, alleluia!
For now, every day is Easter.

Let’s pray:
God of life, in the wake of Easter,
may we ride a wave of irrepressible hope
rising from the deep,
following the trajectory of love over
the turbulences of our living and
through its currents.
May we be open to joy,
and may we sense Your presence
hovering ever with us—
ever speaking new creation—
ever calling us into possibility. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Easter 2018: Of halleluias and hot air balloons

Happy Easter!
Christ has risen, he has risen indeed! Alleluia!

After a busy, and very full service, with stories told by friends of Jesus about that first Easter morning, and resurrecting the Alleluias that had been 'buried' through the season of Lent, the short clip above is a wee walk through the worship space in the quietness after the morning service...

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Holy Week and Easter services...

Services for Holy Week and Easter:
7pm, Thurs 29 March, Maundy Thursday: 
A short service, around the communion table, as we remember and reflect on the Last Supper. We will share the bread and wine of communion together

7pm, Fri 30 March, Good Friday*: 
'Tenebrae' service, in the style of Taize. Through readings and Taize music, we remember the events of that first Good Friday. 

10.30am, 1 April, Easter Sunday:
We'll be celebrating the Resurrection and resurrecting our 'buried' Alleluias at our all-age-friendly Easter service 

*All services will be held in the Parish Church in Abington this year....
[due to Lamington Chapel refurbishing works] 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Psalm 23 series: windows 'Living on the Land'

Some photos ... of photos!

Our series on Psalm 23 was accompanied by decorated windows, featuring photographs by Carol Taylor and poems by Dee Yates, from their 'Living on the Land' exhibition.
Huge thanks to both of them for permission to make use of their work.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Palm Sunday to Easter services...

Services from Palm Sunday, through Holy Week, to Easter:
Sun 25 March: Palm Sunday
10.30am: 'Palms to the Passion' - a service of readings and reflections walking from the palms, to the Passion.
At the Parish Church in Abingon
6.30pm: 'A journey with Jesus'. Informal evening service in which we'll share a simple communion

7pm, Thurs 29 March, Maundy Thursday: 
a short service, around the communion table, as we remember and reflect on the Last Supper. We will share the bread and wine of communion together

7pm, Fri 30 March, Good Friday: 
'Tenebrae' service, in the style of Taize. Through readings and Taize music, we remember the events of that first Good Friday. 

10.30am, 1 April, Easter Sunday:
We'll be celebrating the Resurrection and resurrecting our 'buried' Alleluias at our all-age-friendly Easter service 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Sermon, Sun 18 Mar: wk6 - 'surely goodness and love...forever'

The last in our shortened series [due to snow!] on Psalm 23.

READINGS: Ps 23; Matt 7:7-12; Rom 8:18-39

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.

‘Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’

He’s known as the ‘trickster’.
He’s a maker of mischief,
a bringer of troubles.
He’s cunning and clever and always comes up with new ways
in which to embarrass and annoy folk.
He’s always looking to amuse himself at the expense of others.
He can’t be trusted:
he’s shifty –
quite literally –
he can change his shape.
He’s a giant, he’s a joker,
...he’s a god.
Specifically, he’s Loki,
one of the gods from Norse mythology and, his character is such that,
even his fellow gods get a bit fed up.
Eventually, so the story goes,
Loki is banished to a cave and is faced with a fairly nasty punishment.
And, if you’ve seen any of the ‘Thor’ Marvel movie series,
you’ll know that Loki is not a good god.
Run into him, and you do so at your peril.

In the world of our psalmist, there are varieties of nations and
peoples surrounding the nation of Israel.
There’s also a variety of gods –
so many different gods to choose from.
What makes the god of Israel the one to pick?
And so the psalmist draws up a list of
character traits to encourage the Israelites to stick with their particular god.
This is a god who is like a shepherd:
he doesn’t just sit detached looking down on us and leaving us to our own devices –
he looks after us;
he makes sure we lack for nothing;
he ensures we are fed and nourished;
he leads us, guides us –
rather than just let us fend for ourselves;
he takes us to places of refreshing and rest;
he walks with us in the dark places –
and doesn’t abandon us...
with him, we come through the dark places and out to the other side;
he cares for us, even when we are surrounded by enemies;
he shows us that we matter, are special,
by the pouring of oil upon our heads – he treats us like royalty;
he blesses us with his goodness and loving-kindness all our lives –
‘loving-kindness’ a word which we often translate as ‘mercy’.

But there’s more, says the Psalmist, it doesn’t end there –
God’s love and care for us stretches beyond our finite space and time.
It stretches beyond the grave, for, when our days on earth are done,
God invites us to live with him forever...
In life and beyond our earthly life,
God is with us,
and God is loving us –
God’s love never ends.

This is our God, says the psalmist.
Our God does all of this, for us.
And he does all of this because at the very core of his being is love – loving-kindness:
everything stems from God’s great love.
The whole of creation was created in, and with, love:
and God saw that it was ...good.
Good, because it was created in love by the One who is the source of all goodness.
And, here’s a thing:
the great God who made everything –
the Ruler of the heavens and the earth –
is not too grand to stoop to loving us mere mortals.
This is the God who’s worth sticking with;
this is the God who is worth choosing.

This theme is taken up in the New Testament.
In a world surrounded by a variety of gods to choose from,
we find in our Gospel reading that this particular God hears:
ask – and you will receive;
seek – and you will find;
knock – and God will open the door to you:
not with an arm twisted behind his back, but cheerfully, willingly;
delighted that you are asking, and seeking, and knocking –
delighted that you are coming to him,
and no good thing will he withhold.
In Romans, Paul also picks up on this sense of God’s love and goodness:
‘And we know that in all things – all things – that God works for the good of those who love him.’
Paul also understands that God’s goodness, God’s loving-kindness,
is a past, present, and future thing:
God loved us before we were even created;
God loves us here and now;
God will love us for eternity.
Time can’t separate us from God’s love –
God has loved,
God does love,
God will continue to love.
God’s ongoing, consistent love, born out of his sheer goodness,
is...and always will be.
If time can’t separate us from God’s love, what can?
Death can’t.
Life can’t.
All the spiritual powers on heaven and earth can’t.
Nothing we have done, nothing we will do can separate us from God’s love.
In echoes of Psalm 139, we can’t go anywhere without being in God’s loving presence –
whether we’re on the highest of heights,
or in the deepest of depths,
no matter the distance –
there is no distance in God’s love:
we are not held at arm’s-length...
we are held close,
close to the very heartbeat of God.
And there’s nothing in all of creation that can ever separate us:
God, our Shepherd,
looks out for us,
and looks at us with extravagant love.

God has more than enough love to go around –
God’s love is not like pie that needs to be portioned into set bits and kept:
God has enough love to go around with plenty to spare besides.
That is our God.
In amidst the many gods that vie for our attention here in the 21st century,
the god of goodness and loving-kindness is the God who we choose –
or, more to the point, is the God who chooses us.

My Gran, was one of those people everyone should have in their life:
probably the funniest person I’ve ever met,
filled with goodness,
filled with love –
and, standing in her stockinged feet at all of her 4ft 11inches,
she was a fierce fighter on behalf of underdogs everywhere.
When she wasn’t telling stories, or off helping others,
she’d have quieter moments where she’d think about her life: not an easy one.
Occasionally she’d tell me about different people,
or different situations in her life,
and end with saying:
‘Y’know, God plays funny tricks.’
It made me think of Loki – the trickster god, the maker of mischief.
But, our God is not the Loki-variety kind of god:
no shifting sands,
no amusing himself at our expense.
While God does have a sense of humour –
after all, where do you think we get it from? –
God doesn’t amuse himself willy-nilly at our expense.
Our God is not capricious,
is not a will-o-the-wisp,
who messes with our lives based upon a whim:
our God can be trusted.
Our God is entirely consistent.
And we come right back to love and goodness:
it is because God is entirely motivated by love that God is not a god who plays funny tricks.
Probably one of the rare times I disagreed with my gran on something.

Held in God’s love, and, trusting in that love,
we find incredible freedom to let go of all that would stop us from being
the people that God created us to be:
and, as God loves,
so God calls us to love.
As God loves unstintingly, generously,
so we are called to love in that same manner –
to spread God’s love,
not hoard it and hide it away.
Nothing is stronger than God’s love.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
We see that, in a journey made by God into the territory of human beings:
we see God’s the flesh and bone of Jesus.
We see love lived out by him as he challenged the powers that be to be loving, not oppressive;
in him, we see love lived out in service of others – and especially the least, and the lost;
we see love moved to journey to the Cross –
travelling into the darkest of valleys...
and love conquering death:
love showing us the way through that valley,
and into the hope of redemption and resurrection,
love that held nothing back:
goodness and loving-kindness without measure.
We see love –
found in the One who is with us –
not against us.
This is the God the Psalmist sang of to his people,
the God that Matthew wrote of,
as he told the story of Jesus telling stories
of asking, seeking, and knocking –
and of the God who responds;
this is the God that Paul spoke of, in a letter to a community of believers in Rome,
faced with persecution at the hands of a ruler who believed himself to be a god...
yet was merely human,
and narcissistic and toxic.
The God of the psalmist, of Matthew, of Paul...
is our God,
who loves us
and whose goodness and loving-kindness is with us all our days,
and who, in his goodness and loving-kindness,
brings us, at the last, to live with him forever:
where there shall be no more tears,
no more pain...
where there shall be:
a place of rest,
a place of joy,
a place of perfect love,
a place promised to us, and in which we hope,
for Jesus has gone before us and shows us the way –
for he is the Way.

What makes the god of the Psalmist,
the god of Matthew, and of Paul,
the god we pick,
the god we choose to stick with?
It’s simply this:
it's because...
1 The Lord is our shepherd, we shall lack nothing.
2     He makes us lie down in green pastures,
he leads us beside quiet waters,
3     he restores our souls.
He guides us in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though we walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil,
    for you are with us;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort us.
5 You prepare a table before us
    in the presence of our enemies.
You anoint each of our heads with oil;
    our cups overflow.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow us
    all the days of our lives,
and we will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. Amen.

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