Sunday, 17 June 2018

Called to growth

Sermon for 17 June 
Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15 
Mark 4: 26-34 

A seed is planted; a small dry hard thing. No sign of life.
Just a tiny pip of a thing.
And yet, when it is buried in warm damp earth, something magical, miraculous begins.
The seed swells, and that which is stored in its very heart stirs. 

First comes the root, stretching deep, seeking sustenance, food, water, the basic elements required for life.
Next the stem begins, tentative at first, seeking light, seeking warmth, and growing, imperceptibly at first, the stem carries a small bud, the first leaflet. Not a full leaf, and not even recognisable as the plant it will become.
That’s for the second leaf. And the third. And fourth.

Sometimes in our house there’s a box of seed. Collected in the autumn.
We might know what it is, and we might think we know what it is… but sometimes the tomato becomes a pepper.
The columbine becomes a poppy. 
It is not until the combination of warmth and moisture and good compost and the mystery of creation have got to work that we will truly know what will come.

This, Jesus tells us is what the kingdom of God is like.
The seeds are planted; and we watch and wait for the growth we know will come.
Ever hopeful.
Ever waiting.
Knowing there will be fruit.
Knowing also, that a poppy can never become a tomato; and a pepper will never be a pretty dancing columbine.
Yet, we know also that each has its place; each has a role to play, and each we accept and enjoy for what they are. 

The Psalmist knew that hope and patience are necessary not just for a gardener, but for all who wait on God; all who follow God’s call. He also knew that age is not a barrier, old age and youth are both equally fruitful in the house of God.
It’s now more than twenty years since I first had a conversation with my minister about answering a call. He was a very wise man; he didn’t come right out and say, have you thought about ministry Julie?
He just suggested I might like to talk to the children one Sunday; and then another time, perhaps a prayer?
Bit by bit; little by little, he encouraged me to share, to try, to experiment. 
Eventually he suggested I explore being a lay Reader; preaching, leading worship; training to offer services where needed. 
I had already turned down being an elder; because I knew that was not my calling; but this seemed much more accessible to me.
Of course, it was a revelation! Spending time with scripture; reading it; walking with through the week, viewing everything else I did through the lens of scripture, so that over a few days the words began to run through my mind, bubbling, first the root then the shoot, and finally that first leaf - 
What would it grow into?
Where would it take me?
What did God want me to talk about this time?

Every week I begin with the scripture.
Then I might read a commentary or an online resource. 
Sections form; what is happening in the world, in our community, in our church life?
How might that filter into what is said, what we all might need to hear?

The sermon grows, the words fill my mind and eventually fly from my fingers across a keyboard until they fill the pages. Usually it gets finished on Saturday – occasionally it gets rewritten on Sunday morning. 
Always on a Sunday I am up around 5.30; to reread, to refine. To pray. To ask God to bless my words; to bless those who hear. To inspire us as we work together. 

20 years ago, when I first was asked to test my call, to share the gifts God had given me I was reluctant.
I felt ill-equipped.
I was, I am, terribly shy; crowded rooms terrify me; people I don’t know unnerve me. I have been physically sick on the way to see someone I don’t know. How on earth can it be that I would be called to do something that was so far outside my comfort zone? 
 But, give me scripture; give me time in prayer reflecting on God’s word and I know this is part of God’s plan. I trust God will equip me, with the strength I need, and the people I need to enable God’s Kingdom where I am called to serve. 

This is the same for each of us.
God’s seed planted deep within us, grows and produces crops.
Some are called to befriend.
Some are called to listen.
Others are called to share a word; to serve, to comfort. Each in their own strength, each called and known by God – we cannot ever know how each one will respond and grow. We cannot look at another and compare by our call, our skills, our gifts. Each is called to be their own judge; and at the end of it all, we only really have one judge, one true minister – that is God – our parent, our saviour, our guide. 
Father Son and Spirit are with us in all we do, and in all the ways we answer God’s call. 

Last week our worship was led by my colleague from Melrose, Rev Rosie Frew; she also talked about seeds and growth, and gave us a hopeful message to take forward as we undergo this period of review.
The review meetings have taken place and there is now a written report for the trustees to consider which will be presented to the Presbytery.

The process is robust; and there is both praise and criticism within it.
It contains the observations of faithful people from outwith our circle, who highlight for us the things which are good and the things we need to work on, together, as we serve God’s people in our community. 

God has planted many, many seeds in our community; and there are people who are working with those seeds, and seedling; sapling and full grown plants… between us all we have a rich resource.

God calls.
We answer…
God equips.
We act…
God inspires.
We respond… 

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Out of Sight sermon for 13 May

 Out of Sight…

As most of  you know, this time next week I will be in Edinburgh at the General Assembly.
As some of you know, the General Assembly is the annual gathering of the church, where representatives from every area where the Church of Scotland serves come together, representing their Presbyteries, but acting independently, to listen to reports of the work that the wider church has done over the past year, reflect on what that means, and instruct those councils for the work to come.
Alongside our commissioners there will be representatives from the world Church and Interdenominational Bodies; from charities and other organisations who work alongside our church. There will be youth reps and older people; there will be ministers and elders – it will be the church gathered from around the world – and around 800 voices will lift in praise and prayer.
General Assembly can be dry and dull; but it can also be vibrant and encouraging, uplifting and inspiring. The theme this year is “Peace be with YOU!” – with an exclamation mark – it is a triumphant shout, not  a passive murmur.
More than 2000 years ago, as Jesus left the earth for the final time he promised that although he would be gone, out of sight, they would not be alone for he was sending the Holy Spirit, to fill them with power and strength and the enable them to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth”.
Here we are, 2000 years later, the descendants of those witnesses, in the furthest reaches of the world; in every corner; on every continent, responsible for sharing the news and love of God in Jesus Christ, in our community, in our small corner.

As we prepare to remember again the first outpouring of the Spirit, I am preparing for the General Assembly.
This week, in preparation for this I received a copy of the “Strategic Plan” for the next 10 years; it states, “whatever we do, we do prayerfully, with humility and seeking to be in tune with the Spirit of God at work in the world”
Alongside preparing for GA, I have also been preparing for our own local review; this happens every five years, reviewing our work, our place, our church. And I find I am challenged; we are blessed with a small but active and committed congregation and trustees – elders and board members who willingly give of their time and talents for the church here in our community; alongside the work I do here in the parish, I also fulfil my ordination vows in engaging with the wider church at both presbytery and national level.
Currently, our charge is under terms of what is called reviewable tenure, which means every seven years, the charge is reviewed to consider whether it is still right to have a full time minister; do we need more help? Could we manage with a minister who works less time? Other charges in the area are under unrestricted tenure – there is no compunction for review of tenure every seven years; (I’ve been here seven years so it happens that that review is also due this year, but it will not happen until later in the year)
It has long been the view of our trustees and minister that we should move to an unrestricted tenure, to give more stability and security. But, as I look at our national church; there are challenges which in all consciousness mean that I can no longer support that thought.
The numbers of vacancies continue to rise; the length of vacancies continues to grow; almost one in four congregations do not have a minister at all!
The sad reality is that in the next five to ten years this number will not improve, it is estimated that the numbers will continue to drop.

And yet!!! We are resurrection people!!
We are ascension people!
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God” (Earlston)
“whatever we do, we do prayerfully, with humility and seeking to be in tune with the Spirit of God at work in the world” (strategic plan)
“when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Jesus)

The week after assembly there is to be a gathering in Galashiels for members of congregations in Presbytery to gather and try to do a creative positive forward looking realistic appraisal of our area.
Can we collaborate with our neighbours?
Can we create a hub where fewer minsters work together with lay people to bring together the three elements of being church today: Worship; Community; Discipleship.
Can we work together – to build our community; to bring worship in new more accessible ways to more people; and to make disciples of those who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Maybe you think “I am too old for change”
Maybe you feel, “this church (my church) will see me out”
Maybe you hope that if you just keep your head down it will all somehow just be ok.
Or maybe, just maybe you can see opportunities here?
Maybe, just maybe change doesn’t feel like a terrible thing – maybe it is scary, but maybe also, it is exactly what we, what the church needs!
Maybe, you can help to envisage a church fit for our children’s children? And their children? Maybe you can be creative, and help to come up with a plan that will bring the news of Jesus’ love into hearts who are crying out for it.
Our church meets for an hour a week in this building; but  continues to be church, at home, on the street, in the hall, and the working place for the other 167 hours in each week…

Jesus may be out of sight; but the Spirit is living and here and active – we are Resurrection people!
Are we looking out? Or in?
Are we looking forward? Or back?
Up? Or down?
The angel came to the disciples as they looked up to the sky and told them to stop gazing  at clouds, and get back to doing what Jesus told them to.
We are Earlston Church.
We can sit and wait for the end, or we can go and share the joy of being Ascension People, Children of Pentecost – we are Earlston Church:
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Born of God

 Sermon 6 May; John 15: 9-17; 1 John 5: 1-6

Today we bring to a close our short exploration of John’s first letter; this letter which has been full of a desire to share God’s unconditional love with the reader.
This letter which has filled us with hope and encouragement and love.
This letter, which explains God’s love, and – explains to the reader, to us, the role we are expected to play in the world, God’s world.
John makes bold claims: believing that Jesus was the Christ, is God’s Son, carries with it other responsibilities – obey the commandments; love each other.
John the  evangelist, “The Disciple Jesus loved”, was probably one of the younger disciples; he was trusted with the care of Jesus’ mother; he is the author of not only a gospel and three epistles, but the final book of the New Testament – the Book of Revelation.
All of his writings focus on two things: light and love; God’s love for humanity; God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ; our love which is a divine gift from God; our capacity for transforming, sacrificial love. The Light of the World – Jesus; the power of holy light to overcome darkness; the role of light in our lives – to make us  children of light…
The final discourse, which is recorded through chapters 14, 15 and 16; begins with the footwashing and teaching about what it really means to be a leader (chapter 13) and then an impassioned prayer for his beloved disciples (ch. 17) asking the Father to help his followers, to strengthen them for what lay ahead. It is a prayer which is compelling, beautiful, full of love.
The crux of today’s gospel reading, and the final part of the epistle can be summed up in two verses:
“The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments”, and,
“You did not choose me, but I chose  you”
For me this second verse, from the gospel, is the one which has inspired me and encouraged me, through all my years of ministry – from before I considered I might be called into ministry I have been aware, of God’s prompting ne, nudging me, nurturing me.
And it is awe inspiring!
The knowledge that is at the heart of this, that my dawning realisation of the reality of God, is not through my own power, my own choosing, but because God already knew me; God already chose me; God already, to quote the prophet Jeremiah – “knew the plans he had for me”
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (29:11)
If we truly believe that Jesus is God’s Son
If we truly believe that Jesus’ mission was to show us how to live in love and light
If we truly believe, that through Jesus we have hope for the future, hope for eternity; then everything we do; everything we say, everything we hope for, can be realised.
Now, let me just pause a moment.
Because, even believing all of this does not give us some magical protection against disaster or illness or other people’s wilfulness – bad stuff still happens to good people; good things still happen to bad people. It may sound simple in theory, but we all know that in practise life is not that simple.
So, although Jesus’ teaching shows us love is the way; and John, the beloved disciple’s writing expounds on the power of God’s Love, reality sets in.
Life happens.
Jesus’ words in the gospel do not point to some magic formula. For after saying that he chose them, he goes on to tell the disciples that they are appointed to go out and bear fruit.
They are told to love one another.
They are not told life will be perfect or easy. Far from it, this passage concludes with the reality that in some cases, the world will hate them; that they will be expelled from the synagogue; that they will feel alone, bereft, abandoned. Jesus wants them to understand the difference between this world and the next. And to know  that through all he does, the world – the worldly – is conquered.
I was once challenged as a student, when I made this assertion that in the next world, in eternity, all will be well.
The challenge came in a question: are you suggesting that happiness, peace, light can only be found in heaven? Can we not be happy and blessed now?
Much has changed in the intervening years; my view of the world is far less simplistic than it was back then; I have witnessed great sadness and tragedy as I have ministered to those God has called me to care for.
I do truly believe that our heavenly life will be perfection.
But I also believe that happiness is not only a heavenly gift; that in spite of tragedy and difficulties we can have a life of light and love in this world; we can conquer our worldly struggles and burdens.
“(God’s) commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faithWho is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:3-5)
That’s us.
We are the ones who believe  that Jesus is God’s Son; we are born of God; we can therefore conquer the world. Not the whole world, but the whole of our world.
We will suffer hardships – but God is with us
We will feel sorrow and pain – and God is with us
We will have moments of darkness – but God is with us – bringing light.

God’s love; God’s commands all bring us to this point.
We are God’s children; born of love; born of God.
And with that love
We can conquer; we can overcome
We are: LOVED.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

God is Light

After a hiatus of almost three months, I am back to sermon writing, back to work, back to health. 

God is Light - a sermon preached on 8th April 2018
John 20: 19-31; 1 John 1:1-2:2
It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that it is still Easter!
As this new season progresses it is a good time to explore the question – what does Easter mean now? Both for us as individual followers of Christ and for the whole world – who may, or not, know it is still Easter.
Some would argue that the season of Easter isn’t just the seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, but that every Sunday is a mini Easter – we worship and acknowledge that we are followers of Jesus Christ – Our RISEN SAVIOUR.
Earlier we heard about the events of the week after Jesus resurrection; which seems entirely appropriate today. I have questions. Why wasn’t Thomas with the others on that first day?
Where did he go?
Why did he feel the need to be away from everyone else… well, might I suggest that we all mourn differently? That sometimes we need space to grieve without everyone else sharing how they feel about it? maybe he had just needed a little alone time.
What a time to step out! I can only imagine the building up of frustration and irritation as those who had been there went over and over it; leaving Thomas more and more determined that he will not believe them until he has his own proof…
And there he was, a week later, mired in his own darkness and misery; not daring to seek quiet or solitude, ‘just in case’… and lo and behold!!
Here is Jesus. Thomas sees; Thomas touches; Thomas hears his own name called; Thomas believes – he sees the light!
And then, he worships God.
The risen, living Son of Man – Jesus – God the Son.

Some years later… John writes to a church – we are not told if it is a specific group, or a general letter to the many churches that had built up in the interim. But his message is clear.
He repeats – over and over:
We heard Jesus
We touched Jesus
We saw Jesus
We are telling you what we know because we were witnesses to Jesus, life and death and resurrection.
The message Jesus told us is this:
God is Light
We tell you this so that we may all share fellowship -together and with God.
The importance of light and dark; of confession and forgiveness cannot be underestimated.
There is darkness in the world; there is darkness in our lives; in acknowledging that we are able to move from dark to light; this enables our fellowship, it enhances our worship, it develops our relationship with God.
All of this is made possible because of Jesus; the reading from John’s letter included the opening verses of chapter two – because this is the conclusion of the first verses – if you sin, if you fall into the dark, do not worry! For Jesus is our advocate; Jesus’ sacrifice has brought light into the darkness: forgiveness for our sins; and he did it for all humanity.
Not just one or two chosen ones; but also for the whole world.
This is the Good News!
God is Light
Through Christ there is hope for all humanity.
Whether you are Thomas – confounded and doubting
Or Peter – impetuous and denying
Or any of the others – zealous, fearful, brave, loyal, betraying, defeated and triumphant. They were all of these things, light and dark all mixed up together.
Just like now
Just like us
And that, that really is Good News.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

January dreaming

We are two weeks into a New Year
And I feel like I've been in a dream for the past three weeks.
Three weeks ago, immediately after Christmas, my mum took ill.
she was alone at home.
She wasn't found until the next day
She was admitted, unconscious, to hospital.
She never regained consciousness,
and the following day, at around 4.00 am
She passed from this life into glory
Leaving behind her frailty; her brokenness; her sadness and despair.

She was 83 years old, and she had been widowed for two years 6 months and 24 days
For most of those days she had longed to join her beloved husband, my dad.

There was no warning; she'd spent a happy day at my sister's, but she never liked to be away from her house for long; and was taken home, at her request.

And ever since, in those three weeks, I have been in a dream.
I didn't know my last inane conversation about Christmas, and family, and grandchildren and hopes for the new year to come, and her loneliness and our frustrations, was to be the last conversation.

I can hardly remember it.
We said nothing of any importance.

The day after she died, I went on holiday. It was arranged, it was paid for, we needed the break. And it would serve no purpose cancelling the holiday - so with my sister and brother's encouragement - we went. It was warm, and we rested, and we renewed our flagging spirits. 
And every day I spoke with my sister over WhatsApp and messenger. We planned and arranged everything long distance.

And every day I was numb.
I thought that once I was home, and then travelled south, and went to her house it would hit me; sink in; as I wrote her eulogy I kept waiting for it to affect me.
As I greeted family members; listened to her priest; witnessed her burial - I waited. Surely I would begin to feel?

But I haven't.
I am still numb.
My brain is clouded.
My thoughts unclear.
I am immensely sad. But this grief is so different to any other I have felt.

I am going through the motions. 
Sleepwalking through
Functioning. Not functioning.

Present / not present.

So here I am.
My mum died three weeks ago
And I miss her.
And I miss me. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Our Buildings, Our People, Our Future

Our Buildings, Our People, Our Future
1 Kings Ch. 5-8

Solomon’s plan to build a temple worthy of God was a bold ambition, born of a promise delivered to his father, David.
It had lived with him through all his childhood and now, as he has succeeded his father, the time is ripe. There is peace in the land, and God has blessed him with wisdom and discernment.
All is well, and now, is the time.
The temple was magnificent! In the verses that were excluded from our readings this morning, the cedars, the bronze, the gold – the tens of thousands of workers, the dimensions and the planning are detailed. Nothing was stinted; nothing denied – this house for God to dwell in would be like no other.
The temple was an important statement too: ‘We are Here’. The kingdom is established; and by dedicating it, establishing and performing rituals, Solomon is instilling in the people a certainty for their time. By repeating and performing set rituals they created a sense of belonging, a sense of self, and, most important of all, a permanent connection to God.

We live in a world of constant change and uncertainty. All around us things we knew are changing. We are in a change of age.
I’m not sure what the historians will make of it all a hundred years from now; but think for a moment of all the things you have witnessed in your lifetime.
Wars; communication; travel; entertainment; education; health… there is no area of life that has not been subject to change.
Not even in the church. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women. In those 50 years the numbers of churches, ministers and members in the Church of Scotland has changed drastically.
Statistics are not always helpful – taken alone they can paint an extremely gloomy picture of decline and fall.
In the past fortnight, I have attended two particular events – the first was an introduction to Path of Renewal, and the second a Presbytery day with an excellent talk from Professor David Fergusson on Faith & Religion in Modern Scotland.
Each gave new insights, and each was very encouraging, even with those gloomy numbers.

Solomon was King in an age where the people had finally established a peaceful kingdom; wars were a thing of the past, and now was the time to look forward and plan a future with God in the midst of them.
I wonder – if I were to ask you right now what our church’s mission statement is, could you tell me? If not the exact words, can you recall the emphasis? The main hope?
Don’t worry – I didn’t remember it all either. I did remember something about being in the community, and bringing people closer to God.
It was that thought of Solomon’s desire to bring God into the midst of the people that brought our own mission statement to mind. It actually states:
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”
Our motto appears on the wee logo that is always on the order sheet: Earlston Building Faith and Fellowship.

Those are our aims for the people of our community.
They are aims for all; not just the faithful few; not just those who happen to have their names on a list.
They are for everyone who lives in, or is part of, our community.
It is that desire which has inspired our application to join Path of Renewal. Over the past six months or so, a small group from Session and congregation have been working together to look to the future for our church community.
You have seen aspects of this in the questionnaire that asked you about what you might want to see happening to our buildings; you’ve seen it in the development of the Church Newsletter from a single sheet to a 20-page magazine with input from both church and community. You’ve seen it through the developing of a Community CafĂ© and of Messy Church.
Now though, we are seeking further development, and looking to join the Path of Renewal movement in order to get extra support and training; which we hope will help us build on the foundations we already have, to reach out to more people.
Our application has been successful – we just have to now accept and take the next step.

Solomon’s desire to build a place for God to be in-dwelling with God’s people was fit for his age. The Temple became a place for God to be contained. Yet, God can never be contained, for God is everywhere; God is everything; God is.
Solomon’s Kingdom was settled and secure, yet that magnificent temple would be pulled down, and rebuilt, and destroyed again. Nothing is really permanent.

As we reflect on that, we can reflect also on where we are. Settled? Or in turmoil? Or maybe, somewhere in between.
As I said earlier, we are in an age of change: this is the technological age; life has changed exponentially in the past century.
When I was a little girl, we didn’t have a phone in the house until I was 5 or 6 years old; we didn’t get a TV until I was 7 or 8… the radio had to be left to warm up; milk arrived on the doorstep every morning; there were two post deliveries every day; shops were only open five and a half days a week – or some even four and two half days.
My dad went to work, and my mum stayed home.
We went to church on Sunday – and it was simple, there were no shops open and no rival groups or clubs. We knew our minister and he knew each of the families in his very small parish.
The village I grew up in, was similar in size to Earlston, and it had three different churches, each with its own congregation, and its own story. And each had regular full attendance.
Fast forward from the 1960s to now and life couldn’t be more different. We can choose to wait in the church for the people to choose to come to us, or we can break down the barriers, and take the church out into the community.
That is the heart of Path of Renewal, to help us explore new ways of bringing the church beyond these four walls to the community.
This mission may involve doing things differently, but the one thing that will never change is our faith. Keeping God at the centre, encouraging faithfulness, helping others discover faith, showing those who’ve never heard or understood the Good News, that faith really is good news. That it is not for a small elite group, but for anyone, everyone.
If we as Earlston Church are able to grasp this challenge to bring the gospel out of the church and into the community, then being part of Path of Renewal will help us to increase and develop our missionary outlook, to bring the Good News of Jesus; to show God’s amazing love; and to build a team of people with a heart for God.
Everyone can have a role too!
Because even if you may feel you can’t do anything else, or take on anything more, there is one essential thing we need – your prayers. Prayer is the tool which we rely on; it inspires and encourages.
Path of Renewal isn’t a set programme with a defined number of stages. We can’t tell you that in month one we will do such and such, and by month six we will have achieved this or that. The tagline for Path of Renewal is “A Movement not a Programme”
Growth is still possible, even in this strange technological age; we can take small steps forward just as we have been doing in the past couple of years; or we can continue taking those steps with others alongside, to help and encourage each other, and bring about change that will last and leave a church fit for the future.
As Solomon dedicated his temple he prayed:
“You, Lord, have placed the sun in the sky, yet you have chosen to live in clouds and darkness. Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live in forever.”
Solomon’s Temple was right for its age; we have the opportunity to do something that is right for our age.
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”

We are Earlston Church: Building Faith and Fellowship with our community.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Hearing God in the Silence - sermon 15 October

1 Samuel 3: 1-16 - the call of Samuel

Names are important to us; knowing who we are, and knowing others.
Identifying who they may be related to, and discovering family connections, all can often begin with a name.

If you have ever attended a conference or a large meeting where you were expected to network and mingle you may have been faced with the dubious joy of the name tag
Often a sticky label and a marker pen
And the task of writing your name and sticking it to your chest so no one has the inconvenience of having to ask who you are.
I think they are meant to help
Meant to make people feel more at ease
Being known and knowing others is important to us.

Now, sometimes our name is not exactly how we are known.
For example, if you have ever visited a friend or family member in hospital you’ll have seen a board above the bed with your loved one’s name ascribed.
Nowadays, the staff work hard to make sure they know the name a person goes by, but it doesn’t always work, if like me your given and known name match- it’s not likely to be a problem
But, often we discover, our friends are not known by their given name.
My father, James Bernard; was always called Bernard
But doctors invariably call him James, or Jim, or Jimmy
My son known to all of you as Jamie, is actually James!

And sometimes, the person we know should always be Mr or Mrs – not the familiarity of their first name. it simply is as it is.
Knowing our names; being known
Hearing our names and listening or responding when someone calls.... can never be underestimated.

Do you think God calls you by name?
Names are very important to God.
In fact, there are many times in the Bible when God called someone by name.
One day, Moses saw a burning bush and went over to take a look. God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses answered, "Here I am." (Exodus 3:4)
As Jesus walked down the streets of Jericho one day, he stopped and looked up in a tree. "Zacchaeus, come down right now. I am going to your house today." When Jesus called his name, Zacchaeus came down. (Luke 19:5)
God also chose to change given names:
Before the apostle Paul became a follower of Christ, his name was Saul. As he was going to Damascus to persecute the disciples, a bright light flashed around him. He fell to the ground and he heard a voice from heaven say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul answered, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:1-5) – Saul of course was later renamed Paul.
Simon the fisherman, was renamed by Jesus – Simon, I name you Peter, for on this Rock I will build my church.

Abram became Abraham
Jacob became Israel
And so on…

This morning we were once again reminded of the story of the boy named Samuel.
Samuel's mother was a woman named Hannah. She suffered greatly because she was barren; she wanted a son more than anything, so she prayed and asked God to give her a son. She promised God that if he would give her a son, she would give him back to the LORD to serve him all the days of his life.
Her prayers in the temple were so fervent that the priest Eli thought she must be drunk. However, God heard her prayer and Hannah bore the son she asked for, Samuel, and she kept her promise to God. When the boy was old enough, she took him to the temple and presented him to Eli the priest. From that day on, Samuel served in the temple under Eli.

As Eli was an old man, and Samuel a boy, it was Samuel’s role to care for and learn from the aged priest. So, to hear his name called in the night was not entirely unexpected. However, when again and again the voice calling him was not the old man, the boy was confused.

Eli’s heart must have filled with dread as he realised what was really happening… and telling the boy to answer, knowing that there could be dire news coming…

"Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."
Some people think that God only calls adults, or holy people; or wise people; or especially good people.
Truth is, God can call any one of us, at any time.
Because God knows us
Knows what we can do; knows also what we need, when we need it.

God doesn’t need us to wear sticky labels; for God knows our name just as he knew the name of Samuel.

Samuel was placed in a dilemma; he may well have received a prophecy, but it was not good news, and it was especially not good news for his master Eli and his sons.
Yet, the old man helped him along; encouraged him, helped him to put the vision into words. The old man listened, just as he had encouraged the boy to listen to God’s voice.
In his heart I am sure he knew that his sons were going to bring punishment down on themselves and the family. And he accepted the news for what it was. Knowing that God’s judgment was righteous and fair.
For Samuel, this was just the start; from then on, he grew in wisdom and became God’s prophet, bringing the people back to God, and eventually, bringing them a new king. But that’s another story!

Samuel, teaches us that age is no barrier; that whatever our age, or our position; whatever the story around us, God sees into the heart, and God can choose to use and inspire in and through the most unlikely of circumstances – if we can just pause, and listen.  

Hearing God in the stillness - Iona 2017