Monday, 30 March 2015

Good Friday: worship at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington


Join us for this special Tenebrae-Taize style service to mark Good Friday...

A note about the evening:
Worship will be based upon what is known as a Tenebrae service, traditionally used on Good Friday.
Over the course of this service, candles will be extinguished, mirroring the readings and meditations used, which recount the events of  that first Good Friday. 
The music used in the service comes from the Taize Community in France - an ecumenical and international group who employ simple chants in various languages as part of their tradition of worship.  Each of these simple - easy to pick up - songs is meant to be played several times, 
and aimed to create a meditation within music. 
The words will be provided, and as you feel comfortable with the music, please do join in with the music group - and feel free to add harmonies if you wish. 
We hope this service of music and meditation provides a prayerful space as we gather together this evening and watch and wait at the foot of the Cross...

UCPC would like to thank the Biggar Museum Trustees for allowing us to use the chapel, and for their very practical assistance as we explored the possibility of setting up this special service of worship.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter services


Palm Sunday 29 March, 10.30am: at the parish church in Abington...
Join us as we mark the beginning of Holy Week, and walk from palms to the Passion.

Good Friday 3 April, 6.30pm: Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington...
A special service of music and meditations, candles, and chants from Taize Community to help our contemplations as we watch and wait at the foot of the cross.

Huge thanks to the folk at Biggar Museum Trust for allowing us to use this lovely space for this special service.  Directions can be found on this link

Easter Sunday 5 April, 10.30am: Come along and share in the resurrection celebrations!
*chocolate may make an appearance...

Monday, 23 March 2015

Sermon, Sunday 22 March, 5 Lent: 'The Forgiven Community'

The fifth and final in our series on 'the kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community'

SERMON ‘The fresh air of forgiveness’

1st reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd reading: John 12:20-33

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

What is forgiveness?
Comedian Emo Philips tells a story
from his childhood.
He says:
‘When I was a kid I used to pray every night 
for a new bicycle. 
Then I realised that the Lord 
doesn't work that way ...
so I stole one      
and asked Him to forgive me.’

I have a hunch that this is probably not quite
the right approach when it comes to forgiveness!
So, what is the best approach?
And why bother with forgiveness anyway?

Let’s explore our reading from
the Book of Jeremiah...
First, some background context to help us
understand the text.
And we know some of this already - clues that from the book of Isaiah -
readings we looked at before Christmas.
Jeremiah is a prophet -
called to warn king and nation of their impending fate
at the hands of the Babylonians.
The Babylonians are the major power in the area.

Try as he might, Jeremiah’s words are not heeded:
he’s initially ignored, and later, actively persecuted:
by false prophets
by the priests in the temple
and by those who serve the king -
all of them are living in a state of denial,
none of them want to displease the king by
telling him potentially devastating news.
However, Jeremiah’s prophecies come to pass,
and the Babylonians conquer the nation of Judah.
To emphasise that they’re in charge,
they raze the Temple in Jerusalem,
bind the king in chains
and lead him into humiliating exile in Babylon.
In a stroke, the spiritual and earthly leadership
of Judah is destroyed.

With their king now gone
and, with the destruction of the temple,
those left behind are left wondering:
has God disappeared as well?
In the midst of all of this,
Jeremiah calls on God’s community to repent.
But he also reminds them of God’s faithfulness.
The shattered nation has not been deserted -
God is with them.
God will forgive them.
This, despite a lack of faithfulness
from his people;
despite turning to other gods,
despite their leaders - spiritual and national - priests and king - being corrupt,
despite a myriad of failings -
of exploiting, not loving, their neighbour,
of allowing injustice, not God’s justice,
to flourish...
...Despite all of this,
Jeremiah tells the people that
God is still with them.
Calling them to him
calling them to turn back to him
loving them
and forgiving them time after time.

In the aftermath of their defeat
by the Babylonians
Jeremiah tells the community of the
not-quite-as-faithful-as-they-could-have-been
that God is faithful, that God forgives.
And with forgiveness, there’s hope:
Jeremiah talks of a new covenant
that will be written on the people’s hearts -
a new way of being,
where being faithful is as basic as breathing.
God will wash away their sins permanently -
enabling the relationship to continue,
to blossom and flourish
not wither and fade into bitterness.
They are forgiven...
in order that they can move on,
and start afresh.

From our text, it would appear that God’s approach
to forgiveness is one of persistence:
God doesn’t give up even when, to all intents and purposes, things look hopeless.
Instead, the olive branch of forgiveness and reconciliation is offered;
the door, not slammed shut, but left open -
and in that act,
demonstrating a willingness to keep talking,
demonstrating hope,
demonstrating that forgiveness brings healing
and new possibilities.
And, given the merry run-around the people of Judah have given God,
demonstrating that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness
but a sign of strength.
Because the seemingly easier course of action
would be simply just to walk away.
Clearly, forgiveness... is not for wimps.

If forgiveness is potentially so hard, then why bother?
We are the people of God.
Called to follow,
called to love as he loves -
and if last week, we talked of modelling
the manner in which God loves,
this week, we’re thinking about
how to model the manner in which God forgives.
We’re called to love as God loves
and to forgive as God forgives.
And I find it an interesting thing that so many of us
have trouble with forgiving ourselves for past mistakes.
If the God who created the universe, and all therein,
if the God who created us, and who loves us,
can, and does, forgive us,
then we should probably take notice of that,
and learn to live in the light of God’s forgiveness -
and forgive ourselves.

Every week, we think about forgiveness:
we pray about forgiveness -
as we pray the Lord’s Prayer:
‘forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.’
Or, another way of putting it:
‘in the same way in which we forgive others...
forgive us, God.’

So, how are we at forgiving others?
Because, effectively, if we can’t forgive,
we get caught in an ongoing cycle:
holding that grudge,
nursing it close to our hearts, is a recipe for bitterness...
but there’s something else at play - and it has to do with power.
In the act of not forgiving,
we allow the one who has caused hurt,
who’s offended us,
to have a hold over us -
if we keep picking at the scab
it will always be there, raw and bleeding.
We’re trapped.
And it’s only through forgiveness
that we get our life back,
that we find both freedom and peace.

There are some people who would rather die, than forgive.
And effectively, that’s what happens:
relationships wither and die.
And, with no hope for healing,
we begin to wither inside as bitterness takes hold.
This, is not the abundant life that we’re called to:
it’s the opposite and it’s grim.
...The most powerful thing we can do
is to forgive.

In the struggle to overturn Apartheid in South Africa,
Nelson Mandela was thrown into prison.
Desmond Tutu observes that:
‘before Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, 
relatively young man. He founded the ANC's military wing. 
When he was released, he surprised everyone because he was 
talking about reconciliation and forgiveness and not about revenge.’
Mandela’s approach,
choosing the way of forgiveness,
paved the way for reconciliation and healing,
and for the nation to find a new way of living and being together.

Tutu describes forgiveness like this:
‘a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, 
you've closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, 
and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, 
you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.’

Forgiveness is hard.
It requires that we admit we’re hurt -
it’s an admission of vulnerability that risks being open to further hurt.
It requires that we see the one who has caused the hurt -
not as a monster, or any other dehumanising term we might use -
but as a fellow human being.
Flawed - yes.
But, then, so are we.
And it’s in seeing the one who has caused you pain as human
that leads to pity...
and pity takes away the power dynamic
somehow lessens the rage...
paves the pathway to forgive...
breaks down walls -
a little like the Greeks discovered when Jesus agreed to meet with them -
for there was a wall of cultural hostility between Jews and Greeks
that needed breaking through in order to see the other face to face.
Jesus breaking down the walls, letting them in:
was forgiveness, in a seemingly simple action.

Sometimes we don’t get the chance to meet face to face
with the person who’s hurt us or our loved ones.
Sometimes they refuse to meet,
or acknowledge the wrong they've caused;
sometimes it’s just too late - they've died.
Even so: forgive.
Ask God to help you - he’s been in the forgiveness business a long, long time.
Forgive, so that you can live -
and let the light and fresh air in.

If you were to look in the papers, or on the internet, you’d find many stories
of forgiveness in action:
forgiveness given in seemingly impossible situations.
Forgiveness is not an emotion,
forgiveness is an act of will.
Some of you may know of the Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom -
she was a Christian speaker and writer.
Corrie lived with her family - her father, her two sisters and a brother.
They were a family of watchmakers who lived
a relatively unremarkable life, until the German occupation of the Netherlands.
They joined the Dutch Underground, actively working to hide
Jewish people escaping from the Nazis.
Eventually they were discovered.
Corrie, her sister Betsie, and her father Casper were sent to a concentration camp.
Only Corrie survived - released due to a clerical error.
She returned home, and, after the war wrote of her experiences
in a book called ‘The Hiding Place’.
Corrie later returned to Germany,
and, one night, after a speaking engagement
where she’d talked of God’s forgiveness,
a man approached her.
The following, is in her own words:
“It was 1947, and I’d come from Holland to defeated Germany 
with the message that God forgives. It was the truth that 
they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, 
and I gave them my favourite mental picture. 
Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, 
I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, 
‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. 
And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God 
then places a sign out there that says, ’NO FISHING ALLOWED.’

The solemn faces stared back at me... 
And that’s when I saw him, 
working his way forward against the others. 
One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, 
a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. 
It came back with a rush—the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, 
the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor, 
the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s 
frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. 
That place was Ravensbruck, and the man who was 
making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: 
"A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, 
as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!" 
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, 
fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. 
He would not remember me, of course—how could he 
remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? 
But I     remembered him. 
I was face-to-face with one of my captors 
and my blood seemed to freeze.

"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. 
"I was a guard there." 
No, he did not remember me. 
"But since that time," he went on, 
"I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me 
for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it 
from your lips as well. Fraulein,"
—again the hand came out—
"will you forgive me?"
And I stood there—
I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. 
Betsie had died in that place. 
Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? 
It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—
but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult 
thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. 
And still I stood there with the coldness 
clutching my heart. 

But forgiveness is not an emotion—
I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, 
and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 
"Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. 
"I can lift my hand. I can do that much. 
You supply the feeling." 
And so woodenly, mechanically, 
I thrust out my hand into the one stretched out to me. 
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. 
The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, 
sprang into our joined hands. 
And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my 
whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!" 

For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, 
the former guard and the former prisoner. 
I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. 
But even then, I realized it was not my love. 
I had tried, and did not have the power. 
It was the power of the Holy Spirit.   ...
[Corrie Ten Boom, 'Tramp for the Lord'

Corrie Ten Boom’s story is a powerful story of forgiveness
and reconciliation under the most extreme of circumstances. ...

We are the kin-dom of heaven on earth -
spiritual kin, brothers and sisters called to live
as a community of reconciliation:
for as we have been forgiven,
by the One lifted up from the earth to draw all humanity to him,
so too, we are called to forgive -
it’s not easy, it’s costly.
For that’s what it is to follow in Christ’s footsteps:
we pick up our cross,
we remove all the obstacles that prevent us - and others -
from following him....
and we go out, into the world,
as God’s beloved and forgiven community:
to share the good news with others,
to be like ears of wheat that fall to the ground
and which sow the seeds of healing,
of peace,
of reconciliation,
and forgiveness.
To sow seeds of hope, and light, and life
and the message of      God’s      love.
And we do all this, with the One
who walks by our side
and who will give us the strength to keep us walking.
And to him be all glory, honour and praise, amen.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sunday preview: forgiveness meditation

This coming Sunday, we finish our Lenten series on 'the kin-dom of heaven' by exploring what it is to be both forgiven, and a community of forgiveness.  To get your thoughts stirring, why not take a little time out and watch this wee video?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Community Choir: the hills [and the valleys] are alive...

'When you know the notes to sing...you can sing most anything!'
And who would argue with Dame Julie Andrews?!

As a response to post on a facebook page about community singing,
UCPC is very happy to host this - by inviting folk who'd like to get involved in some community singing to make use of our church hall as a practice space and to see if we might help try to get a Community Choir up and running.
While it's hosted by the parish church, you don't have to be a member of the church,
nor do you have to be a Julie Andrews vocal gymnast:
you just have to like singing.
The key here is to have fun, give our lungs a bit of an airing, and learn music from all sorts of places
[hmmm, did someone say 'let it go...'?].
And it's open to all ages.

Check out THIS PAGE for further details.
Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sermon: Sunday 15 March - 4 Lent: 'the beloved community'

Continuing the series on 'The kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community'
This week, looking at 'The beloved Community'

1st READING: Ephesians 2:1-10
2nd READING: John 3:14-21

SERMON  
‘And the good news is: God loves

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

I wonder, well, at least for those of you who are old enough,
I wonder if you remember a bit of a trend back in the 70’s
and through the 80’s?
It felt as if no big televised sporting event was complete without
the camera inevitably panning across the stadium and passing a large
hand-made sign with
‘John 3:16’ emblazoned upon it.
Everywhere.
These signs were everywhere.
And then, at some point, I’m not sure when, they seemed to just fade away.
But not today: because here it is - we find this verse within our Gospel reading this morning.
John 3:16.
If we were suddenly put on the spot and told to recite a bible verse from memory,
I suspect most of us would know this one,
at least.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

‘For God so loved the world...’
Back in the day when I was relatively new to the bible and to church,
and all this God-stuff,
I remember a conversation with a friend of mine.
We were talking about this verse.
‘Wow,’ said I, ‘God really does seem to love us heaps.’
She grinned at me and my teenage enthusiasm.  
‘Well, yes, he does, but that’s not quite what this verse means.
It’s not talking about how much God loves us,
it’s talking about the way in which God loves.’
It was a good lesson to learn.
It turns out that:
‘For God so loved the world...’
is not about the measure of God’s love
it’s about the manner of God’s love.

What then is the manner of God’s love?
It’s wide - big - vast.
It’s not just an individual thing, not just about you or me,
it’s about the world - the universe - in the Greek: ‘the kosmos’.
God so loved...the world...
that he gave his Son...
verse 17 - ‘not to condemn, but to save.’
‘Not    to condemn’ -
It seems that any time we look at the news,
read the papers, or watch films or tv dramas,
the community of faith really doesn't come across very well at all.
There’s a tendency - because it makes the story more dramatic -
to flag-up faith at the very extremes.
Reasonable, kind, everyday people, who happen to have a faith,
tend not to get interviewed,
tend not to be ordinary, relatively normal characters in dramas.
It’s all hard-line or nothing at all.
The result is, that an assumption is built up
by folk outwith the community of faith
that all Christians are scary, judging, condemning.
And I think this extends to other faith communities as well:
Muslims can be outraged by acts of terrorism and concerned
that those acts will somehow impact on how their faith community is seen.

Assumptions hurt.

Imagine if, simply because of the clothes you wore or because of your name,
people made assumptions about your faith.
Or perhaps associated you with a form of Christianity with which
you strongly disagreed.  For me, it might be like linking Christianity
to that which is practised by the Westboro Baptist Church in the USA.
Who are they?

They are members of an American unaffiliated tiny church –
a small group of people, mostly comprising extended family members -
who seem to be extraordinarily skilled in getting US media coverage,
and courting publicity through sheer controversy.                                                          
They specialise in picketing the funerals of gay people, but also the funerals of
service men and women -
shouting out horrible things to those in the midst of grieving;                                          
letting the mourners know in no uncertain terms that this is God’s just punishment
upon the country for allowing gay people to simply exist,
let alone to have human rights.
And the American news goes wild when this group comes into town to share
their understanding of ‘good news’.
And the reason this group is even cropping up here in the sermon
is due less to the issue they spend their lives protesting about,
but due more to their picket signs:
picket signs that have their slogan,
which begins with ‘God hates...’
and so their signs range from
‘God hates ...this person’,
to ‘God hates ...that group’.
Picket signs that you just can’t miss because they’re brightly coloured,
with those words, ‘God hates’ in big, bold capitals.
And the message that ‘God hates’ is spread -
all over the telly,
all over the papers,
and across the internet.

‘God hates’...?
That breaks my heart.
This group certainly doesn’t speak for me as a Christian.
‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but to save the world through him.’
God did this, ‘for God so loved the world’ -
God loves, not hates....

Ephesians chapter 2 talks of God’s love -
‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - 
it is by grace you have been saved...’
...It is through God’s grace that we can walk tall, lift up our heads.
In grace and love we are, and will be, shown God’s incomparable kindness.
We are God’s beloved community.
This is the very antithesis of hatred.
God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - from itself.
From poor choices that result in
environmental disasters
in order to make some easy money;
from the situation in which the whole world
has more than enough to feed
everyone on the planet,
and yet people starve to death...
and even in this United Kingdom,
where the constituent parts are deemed
to be prosperous,
we see and seem to accept the
rise in food banks.

...God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - from itself.
from poor choices based on naked power and might is right -
where young women who dare to go to school are kidnapped or terrorised,
and young men are radicalised through frustration, alienation,
and a sense of disempowerment.
from poor choices based on
misunderstanding or manipulation
where entire groups of vulnerable people
pay the price for a lack of vision
or self-serving decision-making.
...God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - not   condemned.

...‘For God so loved the world...’
Not a measure
but the manner in which God loves.
We are loved, rescued,
are free from condemnation.
As followers of Jesus - the One who came to free us -
as a community of the beloved,
what is the measure of our love:
for God
and for the world that God loves in this way:
‘that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish 
but have eternal life’?
As God’s community of faith,
how do we model the manner of God’s love for the world?
For this is what we are called to do as his beloved community:
to model love, not hate, not condemnation.

Emerging from a sense of the church as God’s beloved community,
called to model love, the term ‘The Beloved Community’
took on a broader, more global context for the great social
justice campaigner, the Martin Luther King.
Steeped in the Christian tradition,
and stemming directly from his understanding of the good news of the gospel,
King’s vision was for a nation - a world -
in which people were treated with equal dignity and respect,
where people were judged
‘not by the colour of their skin, 
but by the content of their character.’ [I have a dream speech]
For King, the vision of ‘the beloved community’ was one in which
all people could share the good things of the earth -
where ‘poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because
international standards of human decency will not allow it.
Racism and all forms, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced
by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood...
where love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred...                                                      
and where peace and justice will prevail over war and military conflict.’
[from The King Centre - www.thekingcenter.org/philosophy]
King stated that the:
‘goal is to create a beloved community and
this will require a qualitative change in our souls
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.’

Thinking of his words, I’m reminded of the hymn
‘let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me’
Each one of us is a member of God’s beloved community -
called to model God’s love - God’s belovedness - to others...
For ‘we are his workmanship, 
created in Christ Jesus to do good works’.
As we grow in the knowledge of God’s love for ourselves, and each other,
our default position of just looking out for our own interests is re-set:
because, as those who are beloved,
we understand more fully the good news of God’s
immeasurable love for the whole world - and, in the
sharing of that good news - the gospel of God’s love,
we incline to King’s wider understanding of the beloved community -
as we work towards the creation of a place where all are valued -
and where we find the image of God in those we encounter in our daily lives...
and where we seek, in small and big ways, to respect the dignity of all...
As King also said:
‘darkness cannot drive out darkness. 
Only light can do that.  
Hate cannot drive out hate.  
Only love can do that.’
As the kin-dom of heaven of heaven on earth,
we work to bring about the
kingdom of heaven on earth -
To be bringers of light,
and to live and love in such a way that the good news -
the good news of God’s love - actually does come across
as good to a world starved of goodness and love.

...‘For God so loved the world...’
Not a measure, but the manner in which God loves.
And the manner in which God loves is good news indeed:
transforming,
life-giving
and very much worth having.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sunday preview: Martin Luther King and the 'Beloved Community'


Last week, a nod to Che Guevara,
this week, a little MLK...

Join us as we:
ponder the measure of God's love and think about the word 'beloved'...
What is it to be beloved of God - and what is it to be the 'beloved community'?
And where does Martin Luther King fit into all of this?

Come and hear [the unedited for radio version!]
Sunday, 10.30.
At the parish church, in Abington.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Guild 'Songs of Praise' evening


FANCY A WEE SING?
An open invitation from the Upper Clyde Guild to join in 
this Wednesday evening from 7.30pm for a 'Songs of Praise' evening.
Come along and sing some good, old-fashioned favourite hymns, 
and see if we can raise the roof!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sermon, Sunday 8 March - 3rd Lent - 'A reforming community'

1st READING: Psalm 19
2nd READING: John 2:13-22

SERMON  ‘Meek? Mild? As if’
Let’s pray:
may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts
be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart. ...
For some of us here, this morning, hearing the words of this old, beloved hymn
may have taken us right back to early childhood -
to Sunday School, or school assemblies,
or perhaps bedtime prayers
after warm milk and a chocolate chip cookie.
It’s a hymn that’s familiar and comfortable
and comforting.

Written in 1742 by that great Methodist hymn-writer, Charles Wesley,
‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ expresses
a quiet simplicity,
and a child-like desire to be just like Jesus -
quiet, good, gentle:
a well-behaved Jesus,
perhaps seen, but never heard,
and certainly never speaking out of turn.
A role model for any parent to present to a small, somewhat noisy person
as a reminder to behave.
Which is all very well until you come across a reading such as the one we
encounter in John’s gospel this morning.
...Which occasionally has me wondering if Charles Wesley
ever actually read this particular text!
A very different Jesus is portrayed:
here, it’s less ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’,
and more ‘rambunctious Jesus, loud and wild’.

If you were wanting your child
to be seen and not heard -
to keep out of trouble,
then this passage is perhaps not the best one to use as a model for behaviour:
With loud shouts and a whip made of cords,
Jesus rampages through the temple courts,
overturning tables
scattering the coins of the money changers,
driving out the various animals on sale
for use in the ritual sacrifices.
The temple courts are cleared of the clutter
by a Jesus who is anything but meek and mild:
this     is angry Jesus,
prophetic Jesus - acting in the manner of prophets before him,
calling God’s people to repent, to reform,
to put aside those things that
distract from being God’s people -
to resist the temptation
to become comfortable,
or of getting a little...slack in the
way of doing things.

While there’s a wealth of material in the text
that could be used to explore the church’s uncomfortable issues around anger,
and a pervading pressure to fall into a comfortable culture of niceness,
that’s a sermon for another time.
This morning, I want us to reflect a little
on the sense of the church as a
reforming community.

There’s an internet meme that’s been doing the rounds for some time now.
And I’ve copied it onto the back of your orders of service:
The text, over a picture of Jesus in
the Temple reads:
“If anyone ever asks you
‘What Would Jesus Do?’
Remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip
is within the realm of possibilities.”

Putting on my historian’s hat for a moment:
In a famous sermon in Perth, John Knox preached on this particular event in Jesus’ life
to a crowd no longer comfortable
with the old religious ways.
Such was the power of his preaching,
that his call for reform
effectively resulted in a 16th century version
of a clearing of the temple -
removing altars, statues, and anything
that the crowd felt was
cluttering up, and distracting from
the worship of God.
This was judiciously assisted by the use of stones that just happened
to be in their pockets.
Apparently they had a smashing time.
But reform in the church was not just some Protestant invention:
the church has always been in a process of reform,
going right back to the time of the disciples.
There’s an expression:
‘ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei’
basically meaning:
‘the church reformed always to be reformed according to the word of God.’

The church - the body of Christ - us...
is not called to be comfortable
we’re called to challenge,
to encourage repentance
and reformation of lives...
to clear away the clutter that distracts from the worship of God.
Given that, we need to look at ourselves and ask some
potentially uncomfortable questions:
Are we a little too comfortable with the way we do things?
Is the phrase ‘we’ve always done it this way’ pointing to deep
theological and liturgical reasons for what we do...
or, is it more a case of
‘we don’t want to change, 
to do new things, 
we’re quite comfy as we are,   thanks’?
Do our comfort zones help, or distract us from what we,
as the people of God, are called to do?
What are those things we do within worship,
within our meetings,
...within our lives
that clutter up and distract ourselves, and others from seeing,
from hearing God’s good news?
and which dull our longing for God?

Let me tell you an old story...
On a rocky seacoast
where shipwrecks were frequent
there was once a ramshackle life-saving station.
It was no more than a hut and
there was only one boat,
but the few people at the station were a devoted lot who kept constant watch over the sea.
With little regard for themselves and their safety,
they would go out fearlessly in a storm if there’d been a shipwreck somewhere.
As a result, many lives were saved and the station became famous.

As the fame of the station grew,
so did the desire of people in the neighbourhood
to become associated with its excellent work.
They generously offered of their time and money
New members were enrolled,
new boats bought
and new crews trained.
The hut was replaced by a comfortable building
which could adequately handle the needs of those who had been saved from the sea.

Now, shipwrecks in those parts,
while frequent, didn’t happen every day.
And so the building became a popular gathering place – a sort of   local club.
Over time, the members became so caught up
in socializing, fundraising, and other such activities, that they had little interest
or energy left for life-saving -
although they duly sported the life-saving motto on the badges they wore.
It got to the point that, when people were actually rescued from the sea,
it was a bit of a nuisance -
they were dirty and sick -
and they made a mess of the carpets and furniture.

Eventually, several members became concerned that the club had lost its focus.
At the AGM, they insisted that all the social activities - nice as they were -
had become a distraction:
they called the members to move from a social club back to a life-saving club once more.
After a stormy meeting, a vote was taken.
The small handful who had called for change were accused of being troublemakers,
of   upsetting things,                                                
of creating hurt and discomfort with their provocative behaviour.
Having lost the vote,   they were asked to leave.
‘Why don’t you start your own club?’ they were asked, as they were shown the door.
Which is precisely what they did –
a little further down the coast, with such selflessness and daring that,
after a while, their heroism made them famous.
Whereupon their membership was enlarged,
their hut ...was reconstructed,
and their idealism smothered.
If you happen to visit that area today
you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs dotting the shoreline.
Each one of them is justifiably proud of its origin.
Shipwrecks still occur in those parts, but nobody seems to care much.
[a story by Anthony de Mello]

As we are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus,
so too, we are called to be a community of repentance and reformation.
The season of Lent is one traditionally used as a time for repentance,
for refocusing upon God,
for re-forming unhelpful practices.
For getting rid of clutter:
those things that distract us from being connected to God
- both individually and communally.

Sometimes, the process of reforming, and renewing, is gentle.
But often it’s a discomforting process.
We are not called to be comfortable we’re called to follow the One
who knows us completely,
who discerns our errors
and who forgives our faults...
the One who is both gentle Jesus meek and mild and angry Jesus -
challenging, reforming, removing the clutter that prevents others
moving into relationship with God, from worshipping God.

Thinking of Jesus’ decluttering of the Temple,
I was reminded of an advertising campaign by the Church of England, back in 1999.
The advertising firm they hired came up with an image of Jesus as a type of Che Guevara - revolutionary idealist and freedom fighter - a turner-over of tables.
The campaign itself caused quite a controversy -
suddenly everyone, even the Guardian - was talking about God and about church.
The tag-line on the picture of this revolutionary-looking Jesus?
‘Meek? Mild? As if’
Quite.

Change for the sake of change is pointless -
but not changing the way we do things just because we’re comfortable
is something that Jesus made quite a dramatic statement about.
So, we carry the tension between tradition and not getting stuck.
This morning -
each and every day -
we’re called to a decluttering challenge:
to be in a process of reform and renewal;
to question how and why we do the things we do, individually,
but more importantly,
as the kin-dom of heaven - as brothers and sisters in Christ -
as we worship the One who calls us for his own.
And to Him, be all glory, honour, and praise,
now and forever, Amen.

Called by God to challenge ourselves, we are also called to be
God’s agents of change in the world - and so we sing together...
HYMN: 360 Jesus Christ is waiting

Sunday, 8 March 2015

UCPC on the BBC - episode 2

The second of our Radio Scotland broadcasts.
Readers - Greta C and Andy F - great job.

The link is here and will expire in roughly 30 days.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sunday preview: 'Meek, mild. As if.'

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?
Or/ revolutionary Jesus, fierce and wild?

You decide.

Church.  Sunday, 10.30, Abington.

See you there.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Evening worship: the 'comfort' of new plasticine

Evening worship - postponed and then moved - finally happened on Sunday.
Our worship theme for most of this year is based on the beatitudes.  Sunday evening saw us reflecting on 'blessed are those who mourn'.  Early in the service, we wondered about those things that bring us comfort.  Thereafter, with the use of brand new plasticine, the younger among us got to work creating what we'd said.  Here's the result:
some of our comforting things: teddy, cup of tea, sunshine, a good walk, fireplace, a hug, chocolate, music
Well done! :)

And here's the beatitudes, from Matthew 5, verses 1-10:

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Sermon, Sun 1 March - 2nd Lent - 'A cross-carrying community'

For those who didn't get to church, and those who'd like to use it as a reflection tool, here's the sermon from Sunday past.

Readings:
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

SERMON  ‘A Cross-carrying community’
Let’s pray:
may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.

There’d been miracles:
healings,
the feeding of multitudes.
Surely, surely these were signs that God was with them.
People everywhere had heard of him -
were speaking of him,
   were speculating about him.
Who was he,
this wandering rabbi performing wondrous deeds?
‘Who do you say I am?’
he’d asked his closest followers.
And, in a moment of startled insight,
Peter found himself uttering words that generation after generation
had yearned for, had longed for:
‘You are the Christ.’

Four little words,
weighed down by a myriad of hopes and expectations,
and chief among these: liberation.
Liberation from illness,
from hunger...
and indeed, Jesus had shown his credentials there,
but beyond these,
a liberation from the yoke of oppressive empire
that echoed down through centuries
of having been in thrall to other empires:
Egypt
Persia
Babylon,
and latterly, Rome.

‘You are the Christ’
expressed the hope for a new David -
a deliverer anointed by God to free the Jewish nation from
the tyranny of Rome,
a deliverer who would visit God’s judgement upon those
who would dare to crush his chosen ones;
 ‘You are the Christ’ came with expectations of a warrior Messiah,
who would avenge the wrongs done to Israel
and restore Israel to her former glory;
who would resurrect national pride from the gutters of inglorious, humiliating subjugation,
and cause other nations to humble themselves and bow down -
to pay homage.

But...
it was all so upside-down.
Madness.

‘You are the Christ.’
Four little words that are immediately seized upon by Jesus
to teach those closest to him just what it is to be the Christ.
What follows is plain speaking - blunt talk.
In no uncertain terms, the disciples are disabused of any notions
of glory they may have had when thinking of the nature of Messiahship.
No amazing escape across a miraculously dried sea-bed,
no joyous return from exile,
no heroic, battle-hardened warrior leading God’s people
to victory over Rome.
Jesus’ description of Messiahship is completely counter-cultural,
and utterly shocking:
a Messiah rejected -
a Messiah...killed.
And Peter is unnerved by this teaching,
so much so that he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him -
because suffering and dying Messiahs
make absolutely no earthly sense at all.
Which is exactly what Jesus picks Peter up on when he says:
‘you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’

Quite a turnaround for Peter:
from profound insight to utter confusion.
From ‘you’re the Messiah’ to
‘but not that kind of Messiah!’
But it gets more alarming:
there’s talk of picking up one’s cross -
not only does the Messiah suffer, so too, do his disciples.
No power, no prestige:
rather, a call to put aside personal gain;
a call to a very different kind of faith -
a faith not built upon material symbols of earthly success,
but grounded in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.
It    still    is, in the eyes of the world.
To deny self,
to deny gain, fame,
to let go of our preconceptions of success and of what we think
a Messiah should be:
to choose, instead, a very different way of being.

But we don’t do it alone -
as followers of the Christ -
as Christ’s body here on earth -
we are called communally to pick up,
and carry our cross -
we are a cross-carrying community.
Nourished, strengthened,
and sustained by the One we follow -
and at whose table we feast -
we are called to give of ourselves to God
and to others.
To be real, authentic:
understanding that to be fully human
is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable,
to open ourselves up to the possibility of pain and of hurt
just as God, in Christ did.
To follow, in faith, is to love sacrificially:
love our friends, yes, but love our enemies as well -
to seek ways of reconciliation.

To pick up one’s cross and follow in faith
is to call out political expediency
which relies on scapegoating those who are the most vulnerable in society
in order to gain votes in a ballot box;
it’s to engage in society,
to question the growing gap between rich and poor;
to uncover and challenge abuse of power
both on a grand scale and, at the domestic level.

To pick up one’s cross,
in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, is to:
enter ‘into the reality of a child,
of the poor,
of those wearing rags,
of the sick,
of a hovel, ....of a shack.
It is going to share with them.
And from the very heart of misery,
of this situation,
to say to them,
“You aren’t trash.
You aren’t marginalized.”
It is to say exactly the opposite,
“You  are valuable.
For Romero, picking up his cross and walking in faith,
challenging oppression, and speaking out on behalf of the poor
in El Salvador, resulted in his assassination in the middle of worship.

As a cross-carrying community,
we are not called to look the other way when we see others hurt,
we’re called to get involved,
just as God, through the incarnation,
got involved with the whole human race.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.
Returning to the conversation between
Jesus and his disciples for a moment:
In the midst of all this odd talk,
this overturning of cherished definitions of Messiah,
it’s interesting that one quite significant detail appears to get lost:
so shocked are the disciples,
that they seem to miss what Jesus says immediately after he’s told them that he’ll be rejected, suffer, and be killed:
they miss the bit about
‘and after three days,  rise again’.

As we pick up our crosses,
we discover that in the very act of giving our lives -
through sanctified love of God and neighbour -
we discover what it is to truly live;
that in giving, we discover that we truly receive.
As we walk towards Jerusalem over the course of this Lenten season,
nourished and strengthened for the journey by the
bread and wine of communion:
let us pick up our crosses,
walk in faith,
walk with our brother Jesus ‘in paths of love and justice.’
For this is the way of the upside-down kin-dom of God -
the community of faith.
Madness, perhaps,
but a life-giving,
love-giving madness
that chooses to give glory to God,
being fully persuaded that God has the power
to do what he has promised.

Amen.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

UCPC on the BBC - episode 1

And so it came to pass that our first service on national radio was broadcast this morning.
You can find the link here - it should play for the next 30 days.
Three more to go.
Well read Robert and Morag!

Evening worship - update 1 March


Due to the weather last week, the parish evening service scheduled for Wanlockhead was moved to this week.
Seems that pesky weather is still making its presence felt so another slight re-jig:
Worship will take place tonight instead at Leadhills Community Centre, and will be led by Teresa B.
Come and join us - all welcome!