Thursday, 31 March 2016

Sunday preview: is it Thomas this week? I doubt it...

We'll be exploring the story of Thomas, as told in
the Gospel of John, 20:19-31:

The disciples are all holed up in the upper room,
in hiding. Puzzled, confused, amidst rumours that the tomb is empty, and of Mary Mag's assertions that she has seen the Lord, what are they to do?
And in comes Jesus.
But where's Thomas?
Wherever he is, when he gets back, the rest of the disciples are trying to get him to buy a very strange story indeed....
The dead don't rise from death...or do they?

Join us this week, as we spend a little time with
Thomas, and his very reasonable doubts.
UCPC, Abington, 10.30am.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Palms to Passion: Holy Week stories with Sarah Agnew







Can't let Holy Week and Easter go without a mention of the fab Sarah Agnew, who shared in conducting worship through telling the stories of Palm Sunday leading to, and including, the events of Good Friday. [On Sunday 20th]
A moving and dramatic service, allowing the gospel accounts to speak for themselves.
Huge thanks, Sarah - and haste ye back!













Monday, 28 March 2016

Sermon, Easter Sunday, March 27

Easter Sunday came in with a blast of sleet and hail
through the hills and valleys, and with three Sunday services:
The 8am 'early bird' service at Crawford suddenly became an indoor event,
looking out to the Clyde and hills from the warmth of the manse lounge-room.
After a short time of worship, an Easter breakfast of bacon rolls and tea was cheerfully consumed (with thanks to Aileen for her fab organising!).

As 10.30am approached, the parish church in Abington was filling up fast, with standing room only by the end.
We had the delight of an Easter baptism, and welcomed Orla Isabella Josie Leyden
into God's family represented here at the Upper Clyde.
To the call: 'Christ is risen, Alleluia!',
we joyfully responded: 'He is risen indeed, Alleluia!'
And our first hymn was the cue to release our buried Alleluias
from the first Sunday of Lent - this year, 8 helium balloons each 
with a letter from 'Alleluia' magically rose from the pulpit, 
while the paper-tear crosses we'd made all those weeks back
were suddenly suspended via fishing line from pulpit to lectern... 
all this, while daffodils were being used to decorate the Cross. 
It was great to see so many folk of all ages turn out for our busy and fun service,
and during the last hymn, Easter eggs were given out to everyone - not
sure how many eggs made it back home.  
The sermon for the service is further below.

Evening worship, at 6.30, was held in Leadhills, during which, we shared in
a simple act of communion together. We also test-drove a digital hymnal, as
our organist for the evening was unwell. Smaller members were very generous
and open-hearted, sharing Easter eggs with the rest of us after worship.

Easter 2016 at UCPC: a busy, happy, joy-filled day. 
Christ is risen, Alleluia!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!


The sermon preached at 10.30:

READINGS Isaiah 65:17-25, John 20:1-18

‘For I am about to create new heavens 
and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered 
or come to mind but be glad, and rejoice forever in what I am creating.’
Words from the prophet Isaiah - 
and over 500 hundred years later, 
in the early-dawn of not-yet light, 
a new thing   has taken place.
Mary comes to the tomb where the body of Jesus 
has so recently been laid and sees that the tomb has been disturbed:
the stone has been rolled away –
alarmed, puzzled, not knowing what to think,
she rushes off to tell the disciples.
In the early-dawn of not-yet light,
a new thing has taken place:
in the movement of a stone from a tomb,
the very foundations of heaven and earth 
tremble, tremble, tremble...
the former things are coming to an end –
except, Mary, and the disciples who come running to see,
don’t understand this yet...

Someone I know once decided to try to summarise Easter in five words.
He came up with: ‘the disciples were utterly gobsmacked.’
We get a sense of this, in our gospel passage this morning,
with all the to-ing and fro-ing, 
and running from house to garden tomb and back again.
Confusion reigns supreme:
who’s taken the body?
why would anyone do that?
There’s a feeling of conspiracy in the air –
‘they’ have taken the body...
presumably the authorities?
But the big question...?
Where is Jesus: where have they put him?

‘The disciples were utterly gobsmacked.’
They’d been with Jesus for three years.
They’d seen what Jesus could do,
heard his many stories,
travelled the dusty roads with their friend, and rabbi.
He’d challenged them –
through his teachings; 
through his habit of spending time with people decent folk 
wouldn’t - shouldn’t be seen dead with;
through his attitude to the religious authorities...
And lately, he’d challenged the disciples with his single-minded 
determination to journey to Jerusalem:
they’d had misgivings about that particular idea.
Even he had said, as he wept:
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets 
and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather 
your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, 
and you were not willing.’
Nothing good could come of this plan of his to travel to Jerusalem.

And yet, they dared to hope that something good might just come of it.
The noise and smell and excitement of the crowd
as Jesus rode into Jerusalem was astonishing:
coats and palm branches were being waved, 
or made into a pathway – it was all heady stuff,
a good start – perhaps the start of new things:
a new kingdom free of Roman tyranny – 
God’s kingdom brought in,
in that very act of riding a donkey into the city...
A new heaven, 
a new earth
brought in with songs of ‘Hosanna!’

‘The disciples were utterly gobsmacked,’
perhaps even more so, when things turned nasty so very quickly.
Turning tables in the Temple
turned the tables on Jesus;
turned the crowds into a mob...
Challenging authorities in their own places of power
brought the full weight of their power crashing down on him,
brought betrayal,
brought arrest, and death,
brought a place of rest in a borrowed tomb.
And perhaps, as the stone rolled into place,
blocking out the sun,
and shutting in the Son of God,
perhaps...those who had ears to really hear,
might have heard those words of Isaiah, 
whispering promise,
whispering the prophecy:
‘For I am about to create new heavens 
and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered 
or come to mind but be glad, and rejoice forever in what I am creating.’

Perhaps, if the disciples had picked up the whispers of the ancient promise, 
they may not have been quite so gobsmacked...
But, for them, death was the end.
The final destination.
Nobody comes back from the dead... do they?
And yet:
In the early-dawn of not-yet light,
in a garden where a stone had rolled away from a tomb...
a new thing had taken place:
the powers and principalities had thought they’d laid his ghost to rest;
the disciples were crushed by his death,
and sat in an upper room in hiding, in despair.
Where would they go?
What would they do?
Go back to their old lives?
The nets? The tax collecting?
And Mary’s rushed entry,
her confusion,
her news of his missing body
had created new fear in their midst:
what was going on?
What new thing was this?
And so it transpired:
she was right – the two who had gone to see, came back:
the grave was empty indeed.
As they pondered this turn of events,
Mary, back again in the garden, 
was talking to one she supposed was the gardener...
and then the mist of grief and confusion cleared:
and she saw him for who he was.
And you could almost hear the ancient prophecy
wrap itself around the scene:
‘For I am about to create new heavens 
and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered 
or come to mind but be glad, and rejoice forever in what I am creating.’
...Be glad
...Be glad and rejoice forever...
...Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating...

And what is being created 
is a new heaven
a new earth...
even now –
even though the news brings darkness and despair,
and tries to bring in a kingdom of fear and hatred and suspicion.
Even now –
as the powers that be try to crush the most vulnerable in society
and try to bring in a kingdom of ‘might is right’
or even, ‘white is right’, whilst sowing seeds of division
among people who have more in common than that which differs.
Even now – especially now:
for what is being created is a new Jerusalem:
not of baying crowds,
not of bloody violence
nor political machinations...
the kingdom of heaven on earth is brought in
by the One who set the heavens and the earth a-tremble
when the stone rolled away from the tomb
on that first Easter morning.
The kingdom of heaven on earth is brought in
when the followers of that One continue the work of Him 
who taught us what it is to live:
who taught us how to live:
to roll away the stones that blight the lives of others –
to be bringers of justice and mercy;
to be bringers of compassion and kindness;
to be bringers of love in the loveless places
and to be bringers of light in the darkest places –
For we   need    not    fear:
we follow the Lord of the dance –
the One who defeated death and showed us life:
we hear the whispered words of the ancient prophet
and see the empty garden tomb...
and we can be glad, and rejoice:
for we know the kingdom that he is creating,
the kingdom which we are called to help build:
a kingdom where there shall be no more weeping nor cries of distress;
a kingdom where all shall live full and rich lives;
a kingdom where all shall have enough – more than enough;
and where there shall be no more war,
for it will be a kingdom of peace,
where all shall rejoice and be glad:
where all shall love God and love their neighbour...
... for that is the power and promise of resurrection:
death and destruction don’t have the final word,
for we are an Easter people, 
and ‘alleluia!’ is our song...

Earlier, I talked of questions, of confusion, 
and the big question racing around in the minds 
of Mary and the disciples:
Where is Jesus: where have they put him?
Jesus is risen – they haven’t put him anywhere, 
although they, the authorities, thought they had.
Jesus is risen – 
and his resurrection is simply...
gobsmacking. 
It was to the early disciples.
It still is. ...

We may not have seen the risen Jesus in the garden, like Mary,
but... we have seen the Lord –
in acts of kindness, of giving of self, of warm generous love;
we have seen the Lord every time we have seen the helpers emerge 
out of nowhere in times of crisis, 
bringing comfort, bandaging wounds, 
holding the hands of the dying, 
or grasping the hands of the ones in boats, 
fleeing from war and persecution.
We have seen the Lord.
And because we have, we are to be those who help
to bring restoration, restitution, resurrection.

Last week, as we walked through the story 
of the Jesus’ last hours, I sang – and some of you joined in – 
most of the verses of ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord’
Most...of the verses.
But not the last.
It goes:
Where you there when he rose up from the grave?
Where you there when he rose up from the grave?
Oh-oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Where you there when he rose up from the grave?

Let’s sing it everyone... ...

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  Amen.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Easter Sunday Services 2016

EASTER at Upper Clyde Parish:

3 different services, 3 different times, 

3 different villages

Early bird? Later starter? Like to unwind with worship in the evening? 
Wherever you find yourself in the day, you're welcome to celebrate Easter with us.

Reflection Zone: 'Christ of St John of the Cross'

CHRIST OF ST JOHN OF THE CROSS.

And still his head is bowed,
The cross uncluttered now
By family and friends,
Adrift;
Unearthly brightness ghosts his outstretched arms,
God's well-belov├Ęd son.

The storm is spent.
No ripples break the water's calm.
Two fishermen seek comfort
In their nets
And, in the eastern sky,
A new day dawns.
                                               c.Dee Yates.
(Inspired by the painting 'Christ of St. John of the Cross' by Salvador Dali. 
This wonderful painting can be seen in the 
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum).

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Remembering the Last Supper, 24 March, 7pm

A short service with simple communion,                                         

                             as we reflect on a meal in an upper room in Jerusalem...

Monday, 21 March 2016

Summertime in Lanarkshire by Isobel Taylor, 1934-2016

This morning we said our goodbyes to, and gave thanks for,
our friend Isobel Taylor.

As part of our remembering,
Isobel's sense of fun and her enjoyment
of poetry were recalled, and the following poem closed the eulogy - summing up her love of the area she called home... no rose-tinted spectacles
here, rather, Isobel's very practical understanding of what it was to live in Lanarkshire:


Summertime in Lanarkshire

It’s summertime in Lanarkshire, in the valley o’ the Clyde,
Wi' rollin’ hills an' heather glens, whit better place tae bide?
But the summer season in thae pairts is a law untae itsel’,
For whit oor weather’s gaun tae be, naebody can tell.
Believe the forecast if ye wish, I mean, it’s up tae you,
But see yon mannie, Michael Fish? He hasnae  got a clue!

Ae day we micht hae poorin’ rain, the next it’s bilin’ hot,
There’s hail an’ mist – an endless list – oh, aye, we get the lot!
We cover up oor plants at nicht, but still we coont the cost
Next day when we discover there’s been five degrees o’ frost!
But sometimes there’s a guid day, when the sun comes shinin’ through,
An’ ye sit oot wi’ yer People’s Friend an' a gless o’ Irn Bru!

But there’s a snag here in the country, when we lie oot in the sun,
There aye comes waftin’ on the breeze the familiar reek o’ dung!
“A fine, healthy smell,” the fairmer says, “It fairly clears yer tubes!”
Says I, “Weel, suit yersel’, but me, I’ll stick tae sookin’ Zubes!”
Weel, there’s no’ much point in worryin’, or startin’ tae complain,
For nae sooner hae ye settled doon than the rain comes on again!

Ye pick up a’ yer stuff an’ hope it’s jist a passin’ shower,
But the first draps fell suin efter twel’ an’ it poored till half-past fower!
Then jist when ye start thinkin’ the sun’ll never shine,
The rain goes aff, the sun comes oot, an’ then – it’s Midgie Time!
They come doon in their thoosan’s – ye dinnae stand a chance -
Thae wee black de’ils aye seek ye oot – ye’re led a merry dance.

Ye never will escape, nae maitter hoo ye duck an’ dive, 
They move that quick, an’ they fairly stick tae yer Factor Twenty-five!
If I kent wha brocht thae midgies here I cheerfully wid shoot him
But I doot they sneaked on Noah’s Ark, when the wee man wisnae lookin’!

Noo, maist o' this has been in fun, it’s no bad a’ the time,
We get some days when it disna’ rain, an’ days when the sun does shine, 
Ye’ll find a welcome here in Lanarkshire, so please, pay us a visit –
But maybe no’ in summertime, ‘cos if ye blink, ye’ll miss it!

But I’m no’ movin’ hoose nae mair, I’ve burnt a' my bridges,
Here I am an’ here I’ll bide – in spite o’ a’ the midgies!
There’s nae ither time or place on earth whaur I wid sooner be
Than summertime in Lanarkshire – that’ll dae for me!  

by Isobel Taylor...
April 22, 1934 - March 13, 2016
Rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Manse musings: 'Early on the first day of the week'

... from our Easter newsletter.

‘Early on the first day of the week...’
The beginning of an old, familiar story.
The beginning of a story that cuts to the heart of the Christian faith. A story of darkness and light, for John’s Gospel account of that story begins in the gloom and dark before dawn.
But we, as his audience, know that light is coming...

Over the last weeks, we’ve been marking the season in the church year we name ‘Lent’. A time in which we symbolically emerge from the
wilderness with Jesus, and travel with him as he turns his face towards Jerusalem and probable death.
When travelling, a good rule of thumb is to travel light;
travelling in Lent traditionally involves letting go of something for a time
to help us focus on the journey. Alternatively, some choose to take on a
particular practice – although, I suspect taking on eating chocolate for Lent
is probably not quite the done thing...!
Regardless of letting go, or taking up, the season of Lent is a time
in which we take time to reflect on what matters in life,
a time we use to refocus upon the One who knows us each by name, and who loves us utterly.

By the time this newsletter is edited and distributed,
we will be approaching the events in that first Holy Week nearly 2 000 years ago.
There will be palms and cheers.
There will be Gethsemane: a garden, sleeping disciples, betrayal with a kiss.
There will be arrest and trial, denial, death.
A time of darkness and waiting.
And, after the waiting, in a garden shot through with
the light of a new dawn, an empty tomb – because you can’t nail a good man down.
The quiet of the garden broken by a question to a weeping woman:
‘who is it you’re looking for?’
In these latter days of Lent, and as we move through Holy Week to death and resurrection,
may we find anew the One who shattered the darkness with resurrection light.
May we find who, and what, we’re looking for at the end of our journeying –
and may we experience the joy of the story of Easter once more.
A happy Easter to you all
Nikki

Monday, 14 March 2016

Sunday 13 March: Lent 5 - 'Unexpected'

Focus reading: John 12:1-8

SERMON 
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.

Picture the scene:
you’re at home with friends and family – 
and a particularly dear friend has come to visit:
you’ve gathered around the dinner table.
The conversation has flowed, 
as has food and wine.
Stories have been shared:
joys, sorrows, hopes for the future.
You sit, enjoying this special time,
relaxing in each other’s company...
and then, something odd happens –
something    unexpected.
One of your number takes a pint...
a whole pint of perfume,
opens it,
and pours it over the feet 
of that dearest of friends.
The room is heavy with the scent of spices –
pungent, intoxicating...
Silence.
All eyes are fixed on the woman 
as she kneels at his feet,
anointing them with costly perfume,
wiping them with her hair.

A shrill and brittle voice breaks the spell,
irritation oozing in each syllable uttered:
judgement pouring into that room, 
tainting with scorn
what had been a strangely beautiful act of love...
But bringing with it a conversation about values,
about real cost,
and, again, unexpectedly, 
a conversation about an imminent separation.
This dearest of friends, having challenged the one complaining of waste,
makes the link between perfume and burial,
tells you all that you will not always have him with you.
And as you sit, taking in his words 
in the same way that you’d taken 
in the smell of that wondrous perfume,
you hear others outside...
others curious to see this friend of yours –
some who are not best-disposed toward him...

I confess that while I have been to some very odd dinner parties in my time – 
‘Famous Five’ theme, or a ‘wear a Onesie’ party –
that I’ve never been at a meal where someone has done anything 
remotely like Mary did in the house at Bethany:
Bethany, less than two miles to Jerusalem...
Over this long season of Lent, we have walked with Jesus, as he’s journeyed.
Listened to stories of temptation,
of sin, guilt, repentance...forgiveness: 
of God’s great and extravagant love.
And, here, in our gospel story this morning,
we see extravagant love enacted –
selfless giving, 
costly giving,
by Mary, as she worships this  beloved family friend
and washes his feet with perfume.
The friend who not so long ago had brought her brother, Lazarus,
back from death.
The friend who, in heading for Jerusalem,
is very likely heading to his own death.

Unexpected.
It is the word that seems to be at the heart of this particular story.
Expensive perfume being unexpectedly used to wash feet;
an unexpected display of love –
Mary breaking with cultural tradition
and touching this male friend in so familiar a way; 
and, unexpected anointing:
for, that is what Mary is doing, in washing the feet of Jesus,
and in doing so, breaking again with tradition:
for usually, men anoint men.
And then there’s an unexpected conversation: 
of a feast unexpectedly taking a sombre mood, 
becoming more like a wake...
Unexpected.

The story reminds us that we follow the One 
who tends not to do things in the way we might expected:
in his birth in a manger, the expected Messiah arrives unexpectedly;
in his life as a carpenter, 
in his ministry to those on the margins,
in his challenging of the religious authorities –
the longed-for Messiah never does quite conform 
to the expected way of doing things.
The Lord doesn’t Lord it over others – rather, unexpectedly, 
he comes to serve all of humanity –
humbly offering himself in love.
Power turned unexpectedly to sacrifice.

As we journey with Jesus, we are now less than two miles to Jerusalem.
Soon, we enter that great city:
the city that kills its prophets;
the city that will see Jesus enter the gates,
sitting not on a battle horse, but riding on a donkey –
the prince of peace,
not an avenging warrior-messiah.
The crowds will see him.
Will cheer him.
And eventually, will turn on him,
calling for his crucifixion.
...A crucified Messiah.
That’s very unexpected.

As we follow Jesus, what do we expect of him?
Are we prepared to be surprised – 
to allow the God of unexpected things turn our expectations upside-down?
As we think of his extravagant love, what is our own response to him?
Might we see his extravagant love 
mirrored in our own acts of love as his body here on earth?
Dare we choose to meet those we encounter in our daily living 
with the unexpected response:
to meet fear with faith;
to meet cynicism with boundless imagination
to meet selfishness with selflessness;
to meet hate with love?

God shows up in ordinary and unexpected places,
uses ordinary – and – unexpected people...
people like Mary to anoint his Son;
people, like us, to love generously and fearlessly 
in a world unwilling to share, 
a world holding on to what it has, out of fear.
So, be who you are called to be:
unexpected messengers of God’s love –
using your faith, and your gifts ... your costly perfume...
to share God’s love that is free and without measure.

There’s a song, written by Sydney Carter – the chap who wrote ‘Lord of the Dance’. 
The words are in your order of service...
And, as I play the song, why not listen, 
why not follow the words,
and why not use the time as space to reflect upon 
our response to the God of the unexpected....
[music is played]     


‘Said Judas to Mary’
Said Judas to Mary, "Now what will you do 
with your ointment so rich and rare?"
"I'll pour it all over the feet of the Lord, 
and I'll wipe it away with my hair," she said, 
"I'll wipe it away with my hair."

"Oh Mary, O Mary, O think of the poor. 
This ointment, it could have been sold; 
and think of the blanket and think of the bread 
you could buy with the silver and gold," he said, 
"You could buy with silver and gold."

"Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll think of the poor; 
tomorrow," she said, "not today; 
for dearer than all of the poor in the world 
is my love who is going away," she said, 
"My love who is going away."

Said Jesus to Mary, "Your love is so deep 
today, you may do as you will. 
Tomorrow, you say, I am going away, 
but my body I leave with you still." he said, 
"My body I leave with you still."

"The poor of the world are my body," he said,
"to the end of the world they shall be.
The bread and the blanket you give to the poor 
you'll know you have given to me," he said, 
"You'll know you have given to me."

"My body will hang from the cross of the world" 
Tomorrow," he said, "and today. 
And Martha and Mary will find me again 
and wash all the sorrow away," he said,
"And wash all the sorrow away."

Friday, 11 March 2016

Writing Group: wield your pen...or pencil...or crayon

CALLING ALL THOSE WHO CAN WIELD A PEN (OR TAP A KEYBOARD).

Have you ever had a desire to write ... stories, poetry, articles for the newspaper, pieces for the church magazine perhaps?
Maybe you've 'dabbled' in the past and need the incentive to do more. Maybe you've never tried but would like to have a go. Maybe you think you've nothing interesting to say ... nonsense! We are all unique and so are the lives we lead.  We may have climbed Everest ... or we may have had an interesting conversation with someone sitting next to us on a bus.
We are thinking of starting a writing group  for anyone who would like to come - no experience necessary! 
If you are interested, please contact Janet Telfer on 01864 504265.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

UCPC Guild news


The members have been enjoying their meetings since last you heard from us.
In November 2015 sixteen members travelled to Dunfermline Abbey for the Guild Big Sing. 
What a great day! Over two hundred and fifty voices singing many favourite hymns.
We got the New Year off to a good start with our Afternoon Tea, which was well attended by 
members and congregation. Tony, from our own Wanlockhead, entertained everyone and was 
a massive success. Many thanks to him, and also to Biggar Flavour and the ladies who served 
the food provided by them.
The syllabus has had to be rearranged, so the Revd Nancy Norman will be with us at our 
February meeting.

Please come to our OPEN MEETING ('open' means everyone welcome) on: 
Wed. 9th March at 2pm in Upper Clyde Church. 
The ladies of the Bells of St. Ninians are so looking forward to coming to perform on that day.
Aileen Gemmell, on behalf of UCPC Guild

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sermon, Sunday 6 March: Lent 4 'All is discovered: flee!'

READINGS Psalm 32 and Luke 15:1-9

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

There’s an urban legend variously attributed to writers
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain...
One version of the story goes that, apparently, Doyle...
or Poe... or Twain – take your pick..
had been involved in a rather heated dinner conversation
in which the writer had categorically stated that:
‘there was no man, who, having reached 40, didn’t have a skeleton in the closet.’

Deciding to test out the theory in the cold light of day,
the writer concerned thought up a prank involving 5 friends –
all who had been at the dinner party,
and all who were due to dine together again the following week.

The prank involved sending each of the five a message which:
bore no signature,
contained no information.
and was comprised of just four words:
‘All is discovered. Flee!’ 

The following week, when the writer and his friends gathered for dinner,
the table conversation was abuzz with the news about one of their number who
had disappeared quite suddenly, and who hadn’t been heard from since...

Guilt.
It is a hard thing to carry the weight of things done
– or not done – that you later regret.
At some point or other, because we’re human and not yet perfect,
we      mess     up.
We say things,
we do things,
that, at the least, aren’t best helpful,
and, at the worst, are seriously hurtful and harmful to others.
And then, we have to live with ourselves,
and with the knowledge of what we’ve done.
Guilt coories in and makes a home in our heart,
gnaws away at our soul.
And guilt – the heaviness and the horror of it –
is what the Psalmist is writing about in Psalm 32,
and, especially, the importance of letting it go.

Now don’t get me wrong:
I’m not saying that our Psalmist is suggesting that,
when we mess up, we should sail blithely through the situation
and not acknowledge what we've done – far from it:
not recognising the fall-out of what we've said or done and ignoring it,
well, that’s verging on pathological behaviour.
Having that sense of knowing that we’ve done something wrong,
is about being a responsible human being...
and in that sense, guilt is a useful tool to make us re-examine
what we do and why we do it –
it provides us with the opportunity to reflect, to grow, and hopefully,
if what has been done has involved others –
it provides a spur to reconcile and build bridges...
But...holding onto guilt,
holding onto the situation that’s caused it,
and revisiting and revisiting it
is unhealthy and possibly verging on narcissism. ...

We’ve all heard the phrase:
‘I can never forgive myself.’
Some of us here today may even have said it on occasion.
For those of you who have,
and even for those of you who haven’t:
read this psalm –
take it to heart –
follow the example of the person who has written it.
Here’s why:
For the Psalmist, living with guilt –
living in guilty silence –
has had a profound effect on his or her well-being:
the Psalmist claims that guilt was the cause of physical illness –
in verse 3, there’s a description of bones being ‘wasted away’,
this, caused by ‘groaning all day long’ –
the inner conversation and turmoil produced by living with guilt.
In verse 4, there’s a sense of heaviness,
of strength being sapped –
guilt using up and wearing out the Psalmist’s energy:
guilt sucking the very life out of the Psalmist.

If our gospel reading concerns lost things –
a lost sheep,
a lost coin –
our psalm concerns a different kind of loss:
loss of peace,
loss of quality of life,
loss of joy.
But it doesn’t stop with that -
the Psalmist doesn’t just go
‘well, guilt pretty much stinks and that’s all there is to it.’
It’s not all there is -
and so, another kind of loss is offered up for our consideration:
the loss of guilt – a way of letting it go and getting our life back on track.
What’s suggested is turning from our introspection
and from picking away at the scab of guilt –
to changing the focus and looking out and up -
handing this thing that is a blight on our life over to God.
Instead of hiding away in a closet and hanging out with the resident skeleton,
the Psalmist urges us to open the door of our heart,
to acknowledge the skeleton,
and let God be our protection and hiding place.
If we do that, suggests the Psalmist,
we’ll regain our peace,
find our joy,
find life in all its fullness.

Forgiveness,
and freedom from the soul-destroying,
life-sapping weight of guilt,
is central to what the Christian faith is about.
Each time we have our quarterly formal service of communion,
as God’s people, we make an affirmation of faith
that has been handed down through the centuries: the Apostles’ Creed.
The Creed is a shorthand way of gathering together
the most important aspects of the faith – of what we believe.
In amongst the various doctrinal statements
that make up our faith-in-a-nutshell, is:
‘we believe in the forgiveness of sins’...
We affirm that we believe in a God who forgives –
who doesn’t hold a grudge,
who doesn’t keep a tally...
All we have to do is turn to God and say
‘I messed up. I’m sorry. Help me.’
And because forgiveness is at the heart of our faith,
and is what is in the heart of the God who we worship -
because we believe in the forgiveness of sins,
we let the burden, the weight of the guilt go
as we turn to God and no longer remain silent
about what it is that we’ve done.  ...

While the psalm talks about guilt, and the effects of living with guilt,
essentially, Psalm 32 is a psalm about joy –
the joy of forgiveness
the joy of living free from guilt
and the joy of being able to
share the joy – the good news:
that our God is not about constant recriminations,
but that our God loves us
loves us so much that he’ll go looking for us
like that lost sheep or the coin in our parables...
that our God loves us with an everlasting love
and wants us to live in the freedom of that love...
this day and always.

In a wee while, we’ll be sharing in bread and wine –
it is the meal of forgiveness,
the meal symbolising the great and merciful and loving heart of God,
who takes away our guilt if only we turn to him.
The God who already knows our heart –
a heart where all is discovered,
but where, unlike the chap in our Conan Doyle story,
the only place we need flee when all is discovered,
is straight into our Father’s arms. Amen.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

March Communion

Join us as we share in bread and wine as God's beloved people.

Sun 6 March, 10:30, in the parish church, Abington