Saturday, 31 August 2019

A Place at the Table

Sermon preached at Larbert West Church on Sunday 1st September at which service the congregaton votes for their new minister... 
Hebrews 13: 1-8; Luke 14:1, 7-14

A Place at the Table

I am sure we have all attended weddings and big family events, where there are many guests.
The good thing about those gatherings is looking around and seeing familiar faces, that you see rarely, and enjoying the pleasure of catching up.

Of course, if it is a gathering for a wedding, there will also be many faces that are not at all familiar: the family of your loved one’s new spouse; the friends they have invited who will be completely unfamiliar.

Now, normally at these occasions there is a table plan.
Place settings with your name, anchoring you in the right place. Next to people you know; or perhaps your host mixes it all up a little and puts folks together who do not know each other?

Have you ever been to a wedding where there is no seating plan? I have!
Just the once. And it was really tricky – there was a kind of free for all as everyone went in to the marquee; and it made me a little uncomfortable: where to sit?
Who to sit with?
What if there’s no room for both of us and we have to sit apart?
So many unknowns!

So this parable rings bells for me.
Where shall I sit?
How important am I? do I go close to the family?
Do I wait it out? If I sit here, will someone want me to move?
What if they run out of seats?!

Oh my goodness!

Now, wedding stories aside, there is a point to all of this.
Jesus was in the habit of quietly observing people; he was invited to dinner by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. This particular dinner was a big affair; and he knew he was under scrutiny.

As he watched, people vied with each other to get the place of honour; each trying to assume a greater status, a greater level of importance.
Each guest was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to the great new teacher.

Often in these times, as well as the invited guests, there would also have been any number of hangers on.
People who sat on the periphery, watching, listening, taking stock… for these were not private secluded venues, and many people followed Jesus.

So that, when Jesus gave the advice to his host, to choose the poor and the outsiders to be his guests, those very ones: the poor, the blind the lame, were very likely sitting at the side, watching, waiting, listening in.

What a message of hope that must have been!
They who sat on the sides, watching everyone else feast, they were the ones for whom the feast would be presented!

The instruction to the host to welcome strangers – that stands the test of time.
We too are called to be welcoming; to have open hearts and minds; to find space for those who have less that we do.
To put those who normally come last at the top of the list.
To be generous with whatever we have.
To give without any expectation of receiving the same in return.
To give without counting the cost.
For in doing so – as we heard in the first reading, we may entertain angels unawares.

Jesus’ stories and parables always had a deeper meaning too; a story for everyone, at every level…

The deeper meaning of the feast and the host – not that physical feast in the home of a Pharisee that Jesus was attending;
not even the parable feast he described;
instead the feast of heaven at the invitation of God;
the hope of eternity for those who are on the outside looking in;
for those who feel left out, alone, marginalised, outcast – those are the ones for whom Jesus came.

His message of hope did exactly that.
It brought hope; a hope that was steady and reliable.

As I told the children; as we heard in the reading from Hebrews: Jesus never changes.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow – Jesus stays the same.
And so do Jesus’ promises.
That invitation to the feast continues now.
We are all welcome at the host’s table.
We are all invited.
We will all have a seat at the table.

For in God’s house  
All are welcome!

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Puppies, trauma and the wonder of creation

It's been a while!
My beloved dog, Tabi gave birth to three very large healthy puppies last Thursday - 25th July.
That's the short version - buckle up for the full story!

Wednesday morning she started nesting - pacing round, digging in her crate and in the whelping box next to the crate. This continued for most of the day, and by late evening she was clearly in labour. Panting and pacing; pacing and panting.
I set up a garden recliner in the kitchen, put the lights down low and settled in for a night delivery.
She fell asleep around 1.30 am, so I decide I would take the opportunity for a short snooze in a real bed.
She woke me around 4.00 with short sharp barks.
Back down to more pacing and panting - everything pretty textbook TBH!

Late morning the panting got deeper, the pacing and digging diminished and she began to try pushing... and then, at 1.20 pm, or thereabouts, out dropped the first puppy! Oh! I cried - well, it was so amazing to watch, and she proceeded to roll and lick the pup, freeing her from the membranes, encouraging her first breaths - and it was indeed a miracle - the wonder of creation, that instinctively she knew exactly what to do for her baby.

She sat for a while; got up, licked and pushed the pup; lay back down following this routine for some time, and then the panting began again and it became clear number two must be on way...
But no! Eventually, at 4.00 pm, the placenta was delivered.
The pushing continued and still no more pups.
Meantime, regular calls to the vet with updates and monitoring.
When her water broke for no. two, things got sticky - no pup and a very distressed mum; another call to the vet and instructions to get her into the car and over to the vet hospital!!
We got puppy wrapped in a towel and placed in a shoe box and Tabi onto a lead and into the car and then headed off.

Arriving at the vet at 6.30 pm, a quick assessment confirmed definitely puppies in there - so into the theatre, sedation and emergency caesarean!!
Meantime, puppy #1 now six hours old, is also distressed, cold and floppy! She was put into a warming box and we were sent to the pet store to get puppy milk formula.

Off we went; trying not to panic; assuring each other and praying hard.
An hour later we returned - with a small box of supplies for puppy feeding.
To discover two more pups - both huge! and a very sleepy but stable dog.

Thank God for the skills and technology, for the miracle of birth, for the relief after trauma... 

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Trinity Sermon: Star-maker, Storyteller, Breath of Life: Trinity of Love

Trinity Sunday…
The weekend of heresies!
Back when I was studying theology one of my favourite subjects was Church History. As part of that we got to study the various stages the church went through trying to decide what we actually should believe about God and Jesus and especially the Holy Spirit.
Those early Church Fathers really got themselves tied up in knots!!

How could they explain the relationship between God – our creator, our Father. And God who was Jesus Christ. How and when did Jesus the man become God? When did he come into existence? and what about the Spirit, the helper, the counsellor? Was she a new, post-Jesus manifestation, or had she been around from the beginning?

Once you’d tied down when; you get to the how. And that’s when things really hotted up! Different philosophers came up with different descriptions – and some lived, or died, by their understanding.

Of course, being a history buff; and really enjoying the ins and outs of how they decided, I then witnessed every shade of heresy as, on student placements, I heard different supervisors trying to explain it in simple terms.
The Trinity is NOT like a clover leaf.
Nor is it like me being a daughter, mother and wife all at the same time… God taking on different guises: Modalism.
The Trinity is not three separate gods either – that’s Tritheism, God as three separate gods to make up the One. God is three persons of One God.
Jesus is, was, and continues to be, he wasn’t a man who became God at his baptism – that one is Docetism!

The Trinity is not three sides of a triangle…
Although – the image of a triangle does help a little.
In the order of service there are two illustrations.
On the cover is a Celtic Knot, interlaced with a circle – that knot is often used to show how the three persons interlock and work together. It is one line, but it shows three separate points.
And inside the sheet is another triangle: each corner named for Father Son and Spirit, the centre God, and the arms with the words “is” or “is not”
Father is not Son is not Spirit is not Father
Father is God
Son is God
Spirit is God
Father, Son and Spirit all have very specific roles; they are all one and the same, yet different.
And, basically that’s it.
It is mystery
It is incomprehensible
It is a faith thing; we trust God, we trust Jesus, we trust the Spirit.

For me it is enough that I will know, one day; to truly get it, right now, is less important. Because I do trust that God has this.
It is enough to know that when I pray, God hears me, the Spirit guides me and Jesus intercedes.
It is enough to know, that God the Creator loved us all so much that he sent his son to save us, and that his Son, Jesus left us this special meal as a remembrance of that love, and promised to send a Helper – the Spirit who would be our constant companion and guide.

Many cleverer people than me have tried over the years to describe the phenomenon of Trinity; others have encapsulated the three-person God in word and song; and others simply choose to believe, to know, to trust God…
Here is a poem describing God’s love story, the Creator, the Saviour and the Sustainer united with us, for all of our days…
In the beginning,when all was not as it is now;in the darkness,when light was just a twinkle in the Creator’s eye;in the past,when history was waiting to be born;a new day dawned.A day when the Creator shaped the universeby the power of his living Word,and the breath of his live-giving Spirit.He spoke and called forth life,he breathed and his spirit hovered over the waters,he took dust and formed the foundations.Creator, Word, Spirit.The Holy Community,working, living, being as one,harmonised in love and purpose,shaping, forming, gifting light and life.Before time, throughout time, when time has run its course.Days without number, life without end.Love without limit.Three and one, above us, beyond us, beside us, within.Mysterious and majestic,humble and holy,creative and kind.Father, Son and Holy Spirit
(Dave Hopwood:
Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

Sunday, 9 June 2019

To the Ends of the Earth Part 2

Sermon for Pentecost 2019
this sermon is unscripted; here are some of the bullet poins and thoughts that have gone into this sharing of God's Spirit.

Happy Birthday!
Pentecost Pulpit Fall in Earlston Ccchurch

Young and old
Male and female
Rich and poor
Slave and free

East and west
 North and south
Wherever, whoever, whenever…
God’s message of Hope is eternal, universal, unconditional
The Spirit came – and no one was ever the same
Everything changed

And ever since – man has tried hard to define and confine
The Sprit
Redefining Jesus’ message to suit their own means
Redefining God’s plan, to fit with their  understanding…
And yet… as St Catherine of Sienna is quoted:
“be who you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire” 

Another Pentecost – many, many years ago…
My story, my revelation - a conversation with my Father, on a Pentecost long ago, in which he reminded me - the Spirit came, and never leaves us. We just have to remember to look.

Last week I said we were ascension people
Watching Jesus go up
And waiting for the next thing
This week
We are Pentecost people
The Spirit is here
No need to wait
The waiting is over
The Spirit comes
And all is changed
The new chapter beings

As people of faith we are asked to trust
Trust God
Trust God’s Spirit
Trust God’s leading

The Church of Scotland is doing a Big Thing
And we, we can embrace the challenge
Step out in faith on the journey
We do not know what lies  ahead
But we do know, God is with us
The new chapter is NOW!

Sunday, 2 June 2019

To the ends of the Earth Part 1

Psalm 47; Luke 24: 44-53 

Sermon for 2nd June: To the ends of the Earth Part 1

We live in exciting days!
You may not know this. You may even be a bit surprised by this!
But we live in exciting days.
The Church is moving; change is happening; and we are part of the new chapter, the new version of church, fit for the times we live in.
There is much to be done; yesterday, in Innerleithen around 60 people met from right across the Presbytery. We listened to each other and we explored together what might be.
The news filtering down from the central church can be difficult to hear: change is coming, and we must reduce our costs.
That same news also contains things which are exciting to hear: change is coming and in order to make the church fit for purpose new funds are available, and new ways of being the local church are being proposed. These changes will affect us here in the Leader Valley. There will be new ways forward, and new ways ahead.
Nothing specific was decided yesterday – but ideas were heard; and visions shared. The task of the Presbytery Planning Group now is to collate those ideas; to bring them together and create something new.
It seems somehow appropriate, that as the new plans are coming together, the church year is moving from the season of Easter and New Life, to the season of Pentecost and New Energy!
Today we heard about Jesus’ final act on earth – reminding his disciples, one last time, of the task ahead, blessing them, and then being lifted up… Part Two comes next week – what happened next?!
But for today. What does the Ascension tell us?
First: patience!! Jesus was lifted up; and they have to wait some more.
Waiting is not easy… the days and hours stretch out; time seems to slow down. As we wait for The Thing to happen.
And then, it happens and suddenly we really want things to slow down for a moment so we can catch breath, take a moment.
The disciples are at the culmination of three years of travelling with Jesus, hanging on his every word; followed by the three longest darkest days of all when he was gone and hope and light gone with him.
Now, they are at the end of  fifty days of wonder. The resurrected Jesus, with them, teaching again, showing again that God’s Love is paramount. Jesus’ teaching hinges on that one premise: God Loves you, me, us.
If we live by that, if we can live that out, then everything else falls into place.
Now, what do you think they did after he was finally taken up into heaven?
Clearly not yet fully ready; not yet equipped by the Spirit to go into the world, they retreated.
Here is, what I think is the most important lesson about the Ascension and the period between Jesus leaving and the Spirit arriving.
They did not go home and hide in the privacy of their own homes. They went to the temple and spent the days praising and blessing God.
“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God”
They stayed together and they prayed.
I cannot emphasis enough the importance of prayer. Praying in the peace of your own home; praying together with others; praying out loud; praying in silent mutterings deep in your heart.
Prayer. In waiting.
Prayer. In hoping.
Prayer. In celebration
Prayer. In anxiety
Prayer. In pain.
Praying, worshipping, blessing, praising, naming our fear, our requests, our joys,
Praying and handing over to God, that which we cannot yet name.
As Jesus went up to heaven; to claim his place in God’s kingdom, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and spent the next ten days in prayer; singing psalms and praising God.
The psalmist describes the same:
 God has gone up with a shout,
    the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm.
We are in a season of waiting.
Waiting for the joy of Pentecost next week
Waiting for the coming together of our neighbours to create a new plan for our area.
Waiting for the start of something new.
We could wait and worry and fret.
Or, we could wait and pray and praise God, seeking God’s vision, God’s plan for this community, and for our hope-filled future.
Remember: God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king of all the earth; take that message to ends of the earth. 
And back again!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Sermon for 26th May - A Whole New World

Sermon: A Whole New World (or, The End of the World as we Know it?!)
 Revelation 21:10, 21.22 – 22.5; John 5: 1-9

Our readings today share themes of new beginnings; the ending of old ways; and the vision of God’s perfect creation as it was meant to be in the vision of New Jerusalem in all her glory.
As we, mired as we are in political uncertainty and uncertainty about our own future, contemplate old ways vs new ways, what can these two readings tell us? Where is our hope? Where is God moving us? Pushing us? Nudging us forward?
In these uncertain days there is still certainty. For God is the constant in our lives. The theme which overarched this week’s General assembly was Jesus’ call “Follow me”, and every day, as debates and discussions took place, the Moderator, with gentle humour, reminded commissioners that all that we do, we do remembering who it is we follow, who it is we serve.
Through the Radical Action Plan, and the Special Commission investigation into the practises of the church, the Church of Scotland undertook to commit to change. Big changes which will devolve some of the power and influence away from Edinburgh, to the local and regional church.
From reducing the number of presbyteries; to reducing the number of staff in Edinburgh; to endorsing new ways of being church in our communities; reaffirming the commitment to the people of Scotland – regardless of faith or creed.
The church has confirmed that as the national church we want to be in our communities, caring for those who look to the church for comfort and support.
What does that look like in reality? Finance; buildings; personnel – all have been subject to decisions which will cast ripples far and wide. And to assure you – it was not all about cut! There is a new “Growth Fund” specifically for church planting; for developing local churches projects and initiatives.

It is hard to say, right now, just how we, here in Earlston, will be affected – though we know because of the discussions we have had over the past six months, that there will be change in the whole Leaderdale area.
Next Saturday is an important day for our Presbytery; there is a full day conference for representatives from every church in the presbytery – the discussions we have had, alongside those of other groups will be brought together to see if, working collaboratively, we may come up with a new look for the Presbytery (and neighbouring Presbyteries too) – groups, hubs, clusters – whatever we call it – we are exploring new ways of being and creating church.
Change is nothing new: time and again Jesus moved people to change: change of heart; change of status; change of life.
Jesus’ encounter with the man at the pool brought about huge change in everything he knew. Jesus’ question to him: “do you want to be healed?” was the very core of the issue. His life was not perfect, but it was predictable, relatively comfortable, it had rhythm and familiarity.
His answer, a stumbling excuse for not changing was not enough. He acceptance of the command, “stand up!” moved him from life as a crippled beggar, relying on others for  everything he needed, to (literally) standing on his own two feet – making his own way in the world. The secondary command “lift up your mat” ensured he did not simply lie back down, but rather HAD to engage with this new thing.
It will not have been easy – he had never walked; never had to work; never looked after himself. This is a whole new world for him. Scary and overwhelming. I suspect that once the initial euphoria wore off he may have wished to go back to those days of lying on his mat. Begging. Waiting. But. Waiting around for someone else to act is not what Jesus requires: get up! Walk! Do your own thing! Follow me…

St John’s vision of the end of the world offers a vision of New Jerusalem and life as it could be: life with no darkness in it; no pain; no death; no sin.
Life in all its goodness. Complete and whole – living in God’s eternal light. Lion and lamb together. An abundance of fruit sustaining us. Life as God intended… the end of this world marks a transition into a new and perfect world.
We, both Earlston Church, and the Church of Scotland as a whole are waiting beside the pool for a sign.
We have choices. We can continue to lie on the mat, waiting for something to happen.
Or, we can listen to Jesus’ call “Follow me!”
“Get up! Move! Step out!!”
Instead of passively waiting for someone else to tell us what to do; we can move forward with others; it’s a whole new world out there!
"A whole new world,
A new fantastic point of view,
No one to tell us no,
Or where to go,
Or say we're only dreaming…
A whole new world." (Disney's Aladdin)

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Walking Together

Tripoli Lebanon 28 April 2019

Psalm 119: 97-106; Luke 24: 13-35

Dear Friends,
It gives me great joy to be able to speak to you today. 
The people of Earlston, send their greetings, and are delighted that we are able to visit with  you now. 

Our bible readings tell us a little about one of Jesus conversations after the resurrection; the psalm is a beautiful song in praise of God’s laws. It summarised some of the good advice on how to live. It is like an instruction manual for living with God. 
The disciples had been privileged enough to have Jesus as a guide to steer them through God’s manual: someone to explain when things happened why they were happening… so with all that knowledge you might be forgiven for wondering how they did not understand what had happened at Calvary and why they did not expect Jesus to come back again. 
But they lived in difficult times, and even with Jesus to explain and guide them once he had been taken from their sight they felt that they were cut adrift no longer with anything to hold them safe 
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the bible, it is also, amazingly, a song in praise of law – not because of what it prevents, but because of how it empowers 
“Your commands make me wiser than my enemies” (vs 98)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (vs. 105)

You know, the thing about lights on the path, is that they shine forward: no point in looking back where you have been, the light guides you forward,  on to the destination. 
God’s word lights the way forward and the disciples simply needed to remember it – in amongst the anguish of raw grief and the pain of loss and the confusion of danger and the threat of further betrayal they had totally lost sight of the way forward, all the teaching, all the instructions, and all the love were invisible in their hearts and minds, and yet,
If they had turned to God’s word they would have seen answers to all their woes… 
In fact, so deep is their despair that when the stranger asks them what is troubling them they cannot even bring themselves to refer to Jesus as anything other than a prophet powerful in word and deed… not the miracle worker, not the Son of God and certainly not the Messiah even though just a few days earlier they had been so certain of it. 
Grief and fear are a potent mix and together they conspire to dull the senses and impede clear thinking 

Jesus understood this and he knew that in his rising he would need to show himself and encourage and cajole… and he knew also that his resurrection appearances needed to be to as diverse a section of his followers as possible. He did not appear only to the chosen few; nor did he limit his visits, each took as long as it needed; the retelling of the encounter on the road to Emmaus should not be underestimated.
Jesus joined them on the road. They were going to Emmaus and clearly they arrived there, as he was invited to join them for supper; we are told the village is seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were walking… seven miles is not a five minute stroll! they probably walked  and talked together for several hours, during that time Jesus allowed them to tell him about all that had happened, he listened and encouraged, and then, he explained the meaning of all the scriptural prophecies to them… 
Have you ever wondered why they, like so many of the others were prevented from recognising him immediately?
Excitement and overwhelming joy do many things to us – but making us pay attention and listen and understand is not in the list!! 
If Cleopas and his companion had realised immediately who they were travelling with they would not have been able to absorb anything that was said to them, and above all else it was important that they gain understanding of the immensity of what had just happened. Instead of being distracted by his presence they simply listened to the stranger who had such a deep understanding of God’s Word… I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me… (vs 102)
As Jesus words sink in, and they begin to fill in the gaps.
They begin to realise that the stories that have filtered through from the othersmay be trueand they realise that the women weren’t hallucinating after all. Then they find themselves at their destination but this amazing stranger is leaving so naturally they press him to stay a while, for they want to hear more of his wisdom. 
It is not until they are absolutely ready that Jesus acts. He takes bread and breaks it and in that moment the light shines out on the path and they can see exactly where they are going and who is taking them there.
Sometimes we are confused
Sometimes we are slow on the uptake
Sometimes we are impatient, disappointed and afraid 
Sometimes we feel that we too are adrift and have lost sight of what it is that holds us fast 

God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light for the path 
God’s words guides us into all truth and all knowledge 
All we need do is listen,
As you walk out on life’s journey, you have a companion for the journey; you have a guide book and you have a light leading you ever onwards to the destination.
We are all Easter people; we too walk with Jesus at our side. We are companions for each other, in Scotland, and here in Tripoli – travelling together, with Jesus to guide us.