Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sermon 21st August - A Time for Everything

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 

Our mini-series on the Wisdom books comes to an end this week with a review of Ecclesiastes – a review of life the universe and everything.
It is supposed that the teacher referred to is none other than King Solomon; well known for his wisdom and grace; his closeness to God and his great wealth. It is perhaps lesser known that Solomon drifted from God in his latter days; sought only his own counsel and ultimately abandoned God in favour of pleasure.
The very end of the book (which I preached on last summer!) contains the philosophical and theological reflections of an old man who found that his life was meaningless because he had not relied fully on God.
Today we are examining the third chapter; the one immortalised by the Byrds in the 1960s – To everything, turn, turn, there is a purpose, turn turn… etc.

I chose for the reading to be split because those first 8 verses are so very difficult to read without it sounding like a shopping list. Breaking it up as we did helps us to listen to the words.
The second half is deeper and more philosophical; it is about how to balance life; it is about how to deal with evil in the world; it is all about faithfully living – working hard and accepting our lot.
Easy to say. More difficult to live out!
There are some wonderful things in this passage: God makes everything beautiful in its own time.
He sets eternity in out hearts – I believe this is the longing we have to know there is more than this earthly life – that sense of knowing that there is something else to come.
The teacher is observant of all around him: and once again we see – that nothing changes! Still evil and good co-exist; what will be, will be.
We are born; we live; we die. Some things will never change.
This could be really depressing!!
There’s a fatalistic air; a sense of everything being inevitable; so why bother? Why make an effort?
Well – because this is our lot and it is up to us to make of it what we can.
We all have moments of surety and moments of doubt
We all have questions; and occasionally find answers.
We all see evil in the world and feel the pain of it; the terrible destruction – both natural and man-made. And we feel the loss keenly.

The teacher observes it all; records it; reviews it; and then concludes that what we can do; the only thing to do is to work hard; enjoy what we do – make the most of it, the best of it – because what else is there to do?

 On Friday morning I came up to church; as I was going in I saw someone wandering around the graveyard; not an unusual sight  people frequently visit and wander around our cemetery. As I was leaving I noticed that the man was now sitting on one of the benches and taking in the view. I waved and said hello, and then decided to go over and chat to him. He told me he found great comfort in sitting there and I agreed it was a peaceful place. He then asked me where I thought God was? Because with the world as it is today it didn't seem like God was anywhere to be found. I then told him I was the minister - and he looked truly shocked! He said that his memory of ministers did not include anyone like me!
There followed a long and interesting conversation about the world and the evil that we witness; about the goodness and kindness of some people; and about how it is up to us to choose. It was a great conversation; far reaching, deep and insightful. I invited him to come and join us one Sunday to see what church is like now. 

I find, that whenever I stop, pause, reflect… whenever I take a moment to be intentional about what I am doing, and where I am going then God puts opportunities in my path.
I had meant to call in to the church earlier in the week – but didn’t
I was going to go up earlier that day – but I didn’t
I almost didn’t stop to chat – but the simple good morning grew into something much more meaningful.

Life can be full of vanities; of the meaningless – but it can also with no notice, no clue, suddenly become full of meaning
A chance encounter
A coincidence
A God-incidence
To paraphrase vs 12 & 13:
“There is nothing better for us than to be happy and do good while we live. That each of us may eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work – this is God’s gift to us”
Be content
Be satisfied
Work hard and honour God
This is our lot.

And this is our reward. 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Sermon 24 July: Forgiving and forgiven

Matthew 18:1-6 &  Ephesians 4:25-32 

We reach the third week of four on our series on the Lord’s Prayer – for me it has been a revelation, as I have heard two really great reflections on the opening lines.
Hearing others’ reflections is always helpful and I am blessed to be able to receive that blessing during the summer months.
This week we reach the thorny issue of forgiveness.
It would be very easy to be distracted by the word debts, and focus only on one aspect – money.
Of course this really has absolutely nothing to do with financial debt, and everything to do with personal, indebtedness; the things we do which are so very difficult to undo.
And, the things done to us which we find so hard to let go of… and there’s the rub.
If we want God to forgive us; to wipe the slate clean and help us make a fresh start, then we need to start with our relationship with others.
The words in the prayer are very specific: forgive us, as we forgive others.

Today is all about family. We have just welcomed this darling wee boy into God’s family – our family; we have witnessed as his parents promise to love him and cherish him, and we all feel the joy and wonder of this occasion.
Baptism is the physical sign of something much deeper; in it we are reminded of all that God, in Christ did for us.
Jesus was baptised
He lived, and died and rose again – so that we could have these promises: to be part of God’s family.
He taught us to pray: and when we pray he taught us to acknowledge that we need to forgive just as much as we need to be forgiven.

If I hurt you and simply say, it’s ok, God’s forgiven me for the hurt, but don’t make it right with you too, then I am not worthy of that gift from God.
If I truly want to know forgiveness, I must make good on the whole thing.
It’s that simple.

Forgiveness, like so many other parts of our relationships, is a two-way thing.
And sometimes. Sometimes even if we don’t feel we are in the wrong, to save the relationship, or to preserve the spirit, we have to make the first step.
Speak up
Speak out
Build the bridges
Live the love
Be the one who is big enough, brave enough to say – hey, I’m sorry.
This is painful to us all; can we start over? Make it better? Try again?

When we welcome babies, or people of any age into the church we are affirming that we are all in this together.
We are all part of one big family.
And we all know families can be both the best and the worst!!

When families fall out – it can sometimes be hardest, the slowest to heal.
But when families stick together – they show the strongest bond that exists.

As we welcome wee Byron into the church family; we do more than just witness one simple action.
We promise to pray for him; his family and all God’s children.
That means we are promising again to pray for each other; to pray for those we love, and those we find difficult; we are promising that in all things, we trust in God, to find a way through the mess of difficult things, into the promise of new and wondrous things.
In all the different version of the Lord’s prayer (which you can see again at Hy 652) – forgive us includes: debts, sins, trespasses… how we choose to live it is up to us.
How we choose to receive it – that’s for us too!
Open armed
For as we forgive, so may God forgive us too.
And that’s something to rejoice over!

Byron George -  bless your walk in this world; may you find in all your relationships – over a long and blessed life – forgiveness, understanding, compassion and true acceptance.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Generosity - sermon June 26

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Well – what a strange week we have had!
I did not believe it could happen – but it did.
In fact two major things happened – one personal, one national.

The thing that has rocked our world this week, is of course the result of the referendum and the subsequent fall out across the world.
I am not going to make any political statement about it but I am going to reflect on what we do now.
The world has changed because of the results that came in over Thursday into Friday.
And as ever, the collision of lectionary and real life, the real world seems to be able to speak to us.
Generosity: giving out of what we have – wealth or poverty.
Getting on and finishing the work.
And not counting the cost.

Two years ago, after that other referendum we had to pick up and move on some elated and others bitterly disappointed; and here we are again, picking up and moving on, some elated and others bitterly disappointed.
Now is not time for recriminations but instead a time for unity; for looking forward and hoping against hope that good will come as stability is restored.
Because stability WILL be restored, it will take time and considerable effort, and I do not doubt there will be much turmoil in the interim. But what we need to do now is look forward, pray for unity, pray for peace and acceptance and pray that out of this will come new strength and new hope.
As Christians we have a job to do; Paul puts it this way when talking to the Corinthians –
God’s grace can accomplish much;
Give yourself to God; then give yourself to the community.
Your richness comes from: faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness to help and love.
He exhorts them to help those who have less, or are less able.

And most of all to finish the work – to finish what was started.
We cannot know what the future will bring; but we can determine how we work within it.

On a personal level this week was tumultuous too; after six years and one month of knowing Alastair, he moved from being my fiancĂ© to being my husband. Friday was quite the day!

The world moves on; life goes on.
Politicians will keep making bold statements and then trying to stand by them; or wriggle out of them; or declare that we have misunderstood their intent.
People will keep going the extra mile for friends, and colleagues and family and total strangers.
I believe
I still believe that the world is inherently good.
That people are inherently kind
That it is in our nature to seek the good, the kind and the hopeful.
The prophet Jeremiah received a vision from God and this is what God told him:
“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.  Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.  You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)

Those who listen for God’s word; for God’s vision
Those who live out and live within God’s word
Those who strive to be generous in their giving – of money yes, but more than that – giving of ourselves
Giving without counting
Giving support, kindness, compassion and love
Those who do these thing; are God’s people
We follow God
We follow Jesus  
We do our best to live faithful lives; generous and kind and loving.
And finishing what we begin.
Praise God!
God knows the plans – we may not – but that is ok – because God has this.
And God we can trust.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon 19 June: Reconciled

2 Corinthians 5: 11-21

What a week it has been!
Death and violence seems to have haunted the news; guns; flares; knives; rocks; weapons and non-weapons used as weapons.
My heart sinks
I avoid the news, I turn off the news programmes – because I cannot bear to hear once more about the “brutal attack” or the “injured fans” or yet another candlelit vigil… what is happening to our world?

Whatever you think about the LGBTQ community; or football hooligans; or the Labour Party; none of us can condone or approve a mindset that takes such exception that it is deemed a right action to protest by taking lives; threatening lives; causing injury.
Each person whose life was cut short or changed forever this week, is a beloved child of God.
God created us all in our own rich diversity
God gave us free will to choose
God loves each one of us: regardless of creed or race or outlook or gender or orientation or faith.
God does not wait for us to turn to God before love is poured out

God’s love is unconditional
Freely give
God’s forgiveness is also ours – given freely – but not without cost. The cost was paid by Christ; the reward is ours.

Knowing we are forgiven and accepting it, living with it, are totally different things.
God’s forgiveness is holy, is pure, is without an agenda.
We on the other hand have less capacity in our hearts for such magnanimity.
How can we forgive and move on?
How can we see people we know, or love, or respect hurt, injured, killed and forgive, and accept and move on?

Reconciliation is more than simple forgiveness.
Reconciliation implies renewal; refreshing; a new start.  
“Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also” (2 Cor 5:17-18)

Reconciliation in mere human terms is virtually impossible. We may be able to do it a little on our own strength, but through faith, through grace, through our coming together in Christ something deeper, more wondrous more amazing happens
And we have this New Thing.
We are New Beings
Enemies can become friends
Because God’s reconciliation is bigger and better than anything we can muster.

Moving on
Letting go
Re-newing – becoming new.
Another of God’s amazing gifts to us
Reconciled, made new in Christ
Today and always
Even in this mad and scary world

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sermon 5th June: Hope

Sermon: Hope: We are in this together!
2 Corinthians 4:1-15

The traditional Chinese Folktale of the Cracked Pot was read earlier in the service.
There was once an elderly Chinese woman who had two large pots, each hanging on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream: “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them

“God in his mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged”. V.1“As God's grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving”. V.15

Today's reading is bracketed by a couple of typically Paul declarations:
God gives us the work – so we are not discouraged. And,
God’s grace reaches out and everyone offers prayers of thanks…

This reading, and those declarations cause so much unnecessary pain and guilt in so many believers…. Because what happens when we do get discouraged?
What happens when we do not see God being given the glory?
What happens when our lives seem to implode and nothing goes right and we simply lose hope?
How on earth can we take any comfort from these words, and all the others that seem to condemn our very human frailties?

The truth is we all have times in our lives when we lose heart; when we are discouraged; when we cannot find it in ourselves to give thanks – because life feels terrible.
And, I’m going to say it right now: me too. Often!
My faith remained, but it kind of felt like it was on the back burner.
And – this is ok.
This really is OK!
Paul’s writing is often controversial – and this is a real doozie. Becoming a Christian, declaring that we believe in Jesus, and claim him as our Lord and Saviour is not some magical formula that will suddenly protect us, empower us and enable us to be immune from the vagaries of life.
And Jesus never said it would.
Paul’s theology was speaking to a particular time and sometimes his teaching can do more harm than good.

In the middle passage Paul describes “this… not that…” to a whole lot of situations. (v.8-9)
Troubles but not crushed
Doubt but never despair
Enemies but never without a friend
Hurt badly but not destroyed

Once again he leaves mere mortals feeling inadequate.

Here is where I found the hope in all of this.
First, I think he’s wrong – you’ve probably realised that.
Second, even within that wrongness I found a nugget which did give me hope.
“There are many enemies, but we are never without a friend”

In my experience this is really true within our church community; within my circle of friends. When I am despairing, grieving, sad, anxious or feeling hopeless; there are friends who will comfort me, pray for me, support me, encourage me and simply sit by me until I feel better, showing the living love of God.
This is my HOPE – as Christians we are never alone. We are in this together. It’s what being the Church Family really means.
This is what I understand by that last verse of today’s reading:
“God’s grace reaches more and more people, they offer prayers and thanksgiving” together we are strong; together we are better; together we can make a wondrous thing.
Christian Hope is bigger, brighter, better, because of the love of Jesus; because of the treasure not always visible or known, but there nevertheless; just like the cracked pot – grace comes in unexpected ways.
We all may indeed as Paul asserts be common clay pots – but hidden in each pot is treasure: grace, love, hope, faith
Hope: because we are all in this together

Footnote: writing this as I did on the first anniversary of my Father's death, I found I was remembering all the friends and loved ones who supported and held me, both physically and spiritually; restoring my hope, my peace and my faith. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Forgiveness: Letting go, moving on sermon for 29th May

2 Corinthians 2:1-10 

Once upon a time; a long time ago; I received a letter telling me amongst other things what a bad mother I was.
It was hurtful; it was based in untruths; and it was really aggressive.
And for a while I sat with it. Pondering. Reflecting. Praying. To this day I believe it was well intentioned; that the writer thought that by writing down their perceived criticism they would be helping me.

Eventually I decided to write back, I outlined the accusations and responded with explanations and affirmation of the gist of the critique.
It sort of helped. I felt a little better afterwards.
Eventually I received a response.
And, as I suspected my correspondent had no clue that what had been written would be hurtful.
It was beyond their comprehension.

Forgiveness is one of those tricky things: we can forgive a wrong, and we can hope to move on, but very often this moving on necessitates forgetting as well as forgiving. Letting go. Moving on. And that is not easy.
But it is full of grace.
Beautiful, wonderful, freeing, exhilarating, God-given Grace.
 We cannot know exactly what it is that has prompted this part of Paul’s letter – but we can be sure that the behaviour or words of another has caused unrest, anxiety and upset.
Paul is writing to appease; to calm; to send love and prayers into a hurting community. Because this is sure: the behaviour or person has caused a stushie!
It is not clear if they actually realise how much hurt they are causing; nor indeed if they acknowledge that their behaviour has caused such hurt and sadness.  But the result has been immense sadness for everyone; the ripple effect is in full flow and it seems no sector of the community is immune.
Sadness and upset is just as contagious as joy and happiness; and from this stems our corporate responsibilities: to care for each other; to share each other’s’ burdens and to let each other know that even if certain behaviours upset us, make us sad, we still love them. We still care. We still want what is best.

This reading reminds us again – if we ever needed it – that there is nothing new in the world.
Here we are 2000 years ago, and a Christian community is in uproar over the behaviour of one of their number. It is the same in families; it is the same in churches; it is the same in this century as it was back then.
People are people.
We are not perfect
We act in haste and repent at leisure
We speak out of turn; without thinking; too quickly – and once the words are out there they cannot be pulled back; they cannot be unsaid.

We each have things to forgive and things to seek forgiveness for
We each have things we need to let go of; stop worrying about; move on from.
Forgiveness is a holy thing; a holy gift.
We are all gifted forgiveness – forgiveness we may not have sought; forgiveness we may feel we do not deserve.
Nevertheless it is ours.
All is possible through Jesus

At the last supper the words he used were deep and full of meaning:
This is my body broken for you
This is my blood – poured out so that sins may be forgiven

We are forgiven through all that Jesus did for us; in that case, who are we to withhold forgiveness?
Who are we to revisit old wounds?

Forgiveness is a holy thing
To give and to receive.
To forgive takes courage and not a little vulnerability
Forgiveness is also powerful.
To know we have done wrong, hurt another and feel terrible, and then the wonder and joy, the great blessing that comes from knowing we have been forgiven – that joy cannot be underestimated.
It takes a brave person to not retaliate; not leap in when we are hurt
It takes courage and grace to be able to forgive and then move on, letting it go.
Grace – the free gift from God that never runs out; never fails us.
Let’s try to hold that thought
Let’s try to use that grace to let go, move on and be fully reconciled
Because let’s face it if Jesus can hang on a cross, his blood pouring out and his life ebbing away, and still proclaim forgiveness, who are we to withhold it?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Gifting Spirit - Sermon for 15th May

Pentecost 2016
Acts 2:1-4 & 1Cor 12:1-13

Earlier in the service we used a hot air blower pop corn machine to illustrate the Spirit blowing through and changing everything - permanently.

Sometimes, when I’m chatting to someone and they discover for the first time what I do, how I am called, what my job description is they respond
“Oh, I’m not really very religious”
To which I respond, “Neither am I!”
Or they will say, “You don’t look like a minister”, to which I reply, “Yes, I do – this is what a minister looks like!”

In both instances, people can be a bit nonplussed, because they have an image of what they imagine a minister to be: holy, religious, male, old, boring, strict, humourless, correct, and basically pretty much everything I am not – and to be truthful, what no minister is really like (apart from the male bit – there are still male ministers!)

I cannot really remember how I knew I needed to respond to the Spirit’s prompting, nor indeed, really when it happened. It just did. Through all sorts of people, events and encounters.

The only thing I know for sure is that the Spirit worked something in me, and I was never the same again. It’s like the popcorn.
Before, it’s a hard, tight, lifeless looking thing.
After, it’s broken open, soft, expansive bursting with life.

Before I was happy enough; I’d already followed, responded, changed. So I was feeling pretty good with where I was. The Spirit has already worked in me, and she was still there but I’d done the big stuff…
But you see the thing is, the Spirit doesn’t stop.
She is on a mission.
She doesn’t just come, do stuff and pass on
The Spirit comes and stays – and continues to work us, mould us, move us, change us and rewrite the story with us dragging along, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but ever moving.

We have been following the life and actions of Paul for several weeks now – we have seen his journeying, heard his writing, reflected on his teaching and witnessed to his changed life.
It wasn’t a one off thing
Everything changed
Everything moved
Everything was different – all the time
The Spirit comes – and life is never the same again.

Years ago – it must have been the mid-1990s, on what was probably pretty much the last time my parents travelled to Scotland my dad came along to our evening, interactive all ages family service with us, it was Pentecost. We were in small groups for discussion…
The discussion question was something along the lines of, “Could the Holy Spirit come down here like it did on that first Pentecost?”

There was much talking; about what it would be like; whether or not we’d believe it; whether we would reject it. Until my Dad spoke up saying, “Of course it couldn’t happen again! Why would it? God promised that once the Spirit came it would be here with us, for always. It doesn’t need to come again – it’s here right now!”

The Spirit is here, right now in our midst
We may not see her
But we feel her
What are you good at? What are your gifts and talents?
Hospitality? – thank the Spirit
Compassion? – thank the Spirit
Thank the Spirit!

“The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person”
In each person
That means you, and you, and you, and you… each and every one gathered here today, and everyone else too!

We are all gifted by the Spirit (even if we do not realise or acknowledge it)
We are all integral parts of Christ’s body the church
We are all important
It was the Spirit who guided us into faith, or towards belief – before we even knew it.
It was the Spirit’s prompting which moved us on, gave us courage when we needed it; inspired us to action, to speak, to pray to seek out that otherness which we could sense but not articulate.

The coming of the Spirit prompted the believers to action. They had to respond – it was impossible not to.

So what about us?
What are we going to do?
How are we going to react?
Where are we going to go?
Because whether we realise it or not, we are Pentecost people.
We are all touched by the Spirit.
The wind of change blows through
And we are touched by its breath
The breath of the Spirit breathes new life into us – changing us forever
You can’t un-pop the corn once it’s been blown on.

The Spirit is generous in her gifting – all are influenced by her – “The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person” (vs.7)
The spirit’s presence is shown for the good of all
In everyone
For everyone
For all time

Blow Spirit Blow
Come, show us all
Help us to remember you are with us, in us, for us… for all time

The Sanctuary at Earlston - all ready for Pentecost