Wednesday, 19 October 2016

moments of grace

Yesterday I went visiting with the puppy in tow.
It was her first go at a pastoral visit

I was going to one of a few old farmers in the congregation; he has got more frail in the past year and is now unable to get out; it was a sad day for him when they took his car away.

He has not managed to church for more than a year - except for coming to my wedding in August when he persuaded his oldest son to take  him along. I visit him regularly and we frequently share in communion.
Yesterday though, I took wedding photos and the pup. She is 7 months of bouncing spaniel - but he had specially asked to see her. So we went! 

He and his wife are in their late 80s and live pretty independently; they were thrilled to see the pictures, and more so to get to play with the puppy.... 
She is usually terrible with new people, jumping up, nipping, doing all the things she shouldn't. But with George (Dod), she stood; then she climbed onto his lap and snuggled.... 

This is them
Man and Dog
and God 
Dod & Dog

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Passover Promise - sermon October 2nd

Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8
Family traditions and rituals become part of our lives so much so that when someone new joins us they often are surprised by what or how we do things.
Family traditions and rituals are passed from generation to generation, and it is often difficult to remember when it started, or why.
It can apply to anything – and pretty much every family will be different – have their own particular idiosyncrasies – but each family will also have their own similarities… and, often we believe, because we have always done it, the surely people all through history have done it too…  the way we do Christmas; the way we celebrate birthdays; the way we mark the passing of the years – the way we remember.
It is personal; it is important; it is our tradition and once established it becomes very difficult to change, unless there is some sort of upheaval.

The Passover is probably the biggest Jewish Festival of all; it marks an important event in the life of the tribe of Israel; and it is still remembered today; still celebrated every year; it becomes special for us as Christians because it was the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends before his death. It carries great significance – for from this meal – a meal to remember the actions of God – comes our own celebration of communion – another meal to remember the actions of God.
Strangely today is known as World Communion Sunday – though generally this is celebrated most frequently by American Presbyterian Churches; it is a good day to remember that even communion has its own traditions and rituals – and that they differ from church to church, denomination to denomination.
In America today, many churches will mark World Communion, by having a special communion service, using many different types of bread from across the world; the left over bread will be shared out and given to members to take home to continue sharing the blessing; others will keep it there and it will go to a shared table lunch; still others will want to keep its sanctity and therefore it will be removed and returned to the earth – either by scattering or by burial -   so many ways; so many interpretations, but who is to say one is more right than the other?

What is really important; vital even, in all of these traditions and rituals is not the how, but the why. Why do we remember certain things? And why do others get left by the wayside?
On the personal, family level: we celebrate birthdays – to mark the passage of time, to recognise milestones: become a teenager; reaching adulthood; maturity; moving from one decade to another; passing retirement age – each is marked; each small triumph.
We mark anniversaries: wedding anniversaries in these days of broken marriage or no marriage are increasingly important – a sign of permanence and the fulfilment of promises.
There are other promises we make that are not generally observed – who knows the date they were baptised? Or the date they were confirmed? If you became an elder – do you know which date is your anniversary?
Because of social media – I know that this week marked in the 11th anniversary of my ordination – and I was a little sad that I had not remembered myself – that it took a Facebook reminder.
These last ones: baptism; confirmation; ordination – these I want to think about for these are all holy promises we make.
All through the bible we are reminded of God’s promises to the Chosen People in the Old Testament, and then all people in the New Testament – the Passover meal was repeated, and is repeated and will be repeated year on year to remind the Chosen People still that they can rely on God; that God will rescue them; that God will be with them, come what may.
For us, as Christians, we take not the Passover meal, but the offering that came out of it – our Holy Communion, which we have repeated, and will continue to repeat month by month to remind us the we can rely on God; that God is with us; that God will always be with us, come what may.
God’s Promises are to be relied upon; unlike the promises of individuals – which sometimes are constant, and sometimes may be beset with trials and tribulations; with betrayal and infidelity; God’s promise to us, through Jesus Christ is that he prepares a place for us and that he will be with us until the end of all time.
What a wonderful promise that is!
God totally understands our human frailty; knows that we make our promises with good intentions and constant hope; accepts that sometimes we will fail, or give up, or simply be overwhelmed by life. None of that is important to God – what matters is that we continue to do our best; to share God’s love; to remember.
Remember God’s promises to us and to all generations: from Passover in Egypt, to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, to us here in Earlston today: to be with us to the very end of time.

That Passover Promise is worth holding on to. 

Communion celebrated at Lake Galilee

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sermon 11 September: Fallen Promise

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 

Sermon: Fallen Promise
Perfection to Imperfection

Today we begin a new series looking through the Old Testament to some of the key stories which make up the history of God and creation. God and humanity.
As we start over we go to the beginning of it all.
Creation. Purpose. Existence.
Why are we here and what are we to do with it? 
Genesis has two versions of the creation story.
Two similar yet different interpretations - because let's face it, who really knows? There wasn't anyone there to record it for all humanity! 
today we hear snippets from the creation, and the first people set in the Garden of Eden; they were designed perfect. Innocent. They were given charge over Eden; all creation was there and they wandered freely. There was just one condition; but, the condition created temptation, and temptation drove them beyond Eden out into the world.
In the biblical story temptation comes in the guise of a serpent; a wily creature with the power of speech who is able to give voice to the internal argument we all experience every time we are tempted. And temptation can be good as well as bad; a wee treat; a moment of calm in a fraught day – temptation to pause; to stop; to enjoy; to relish. This is all in our vocabulary – and of course the temptation to stray…
During the week I read a question that bright me up short for a moment. In the biblical telling of the story God says, if you eat the fruit you will die the same day. 
Yet they did not die - so was God lying? Can God lie? 

After being a bit nonplussed, I came to these conclusions.
First: it's allegory! We cannot know for sure the detail. This is more about humanity’s relationship with the creator than the ins and outs of what Adam and Eve did. 
Second: they did not die the same day, but they were expelled from Eden the same day. They did lose eternity the same day. They did move from perfection to imperfection. They lost their innocence. Suddenly they knew. Everything.
They knew good and evil. They knew right and wrong.
Innocence died in that instant. 
Third. And this is an answer from a colleague which resonated beautifully. God as creator is our parent. As parents we tell our children to do or not do something, if it's important and for safety it may be a stern warning, even a wee threat attached. 
Don't do it, you'll die, is the threat. But it doesn't mean if they do it, we are going to literally kill them. We forgive them. We may remove them from the treat, take away the toys. Punish the offence. But we don't stop loving them, caring for them, what we want is for them to thrive, to grow to learn. 
Thus it is with God too. Innocence was lost. Knowledge was gained which would have far reaching implications. And that first implication was the realisation that they were naked and needed to cover up. The second implication was the desire to hide from God, because the knowledge also told them what they had done was wrong.
Wrong as wrong could be. 
That simple act of giving in to temptation has far reaching implications. God could have left those trees out of the garden – not put the temptation there at all. God could have not created the wily serpent. God however wanted them to be able to make choices; wanted humanity to work out for ourselves the difference between good and bad; right and wrong; to choose God or not.
Here we are today. In a world where people still sin, still lose innocence, still seek to outwit God and others. 
Evil is in the world. 
We cannot deny it.
There are those of us who will remember exactly what they were doing 15 years ago today. And already, there are those for whom today is just another day and they have no idea what anniversary it is.
Fifteen years ago today the world was changed forever. 
An age of innocence died when those men chose to take control of and fly those planes to New York and Washington DC. 
Suddenly, the violence of extremism became a reality rather than a theory, or something that happened to other people in other countries. 
And in the fifteen years since that day extremism, terrorism has become a stark reality in the western world.
From Paris to Syria; from London to Egypt Westerners have become targets. Travel has changed; security checks, what you can and cannot take with you – on 11th September 2001 innocence died. And the world was changed forever.
In some ways of course it was not new; it was not the first terrorist attack ever; it was not the first large scale attack in the world. It wasn’t even the first in the USA; but it was different – for this was not a lone voice, protesting, planting a bomb or opening fire; this was the first coordinated multi targeted attack on US soil; it was the first to play out live in TV – in that moment everything changed. Fears were born as people died.
Mistrust on a scale never before seen
Arrests and imprisonment of people because of what they wore – which marked them out as being of one particular faith and suddenly the imperfect world become a little more imperfect
Suddenly the colour of skin; the family name; where you worshipped God became factors in whether you were trustworthy or not

So…. Before we begin to spiral down into a pit of despair – let us pause.
Because, we are still here.
Humanity continues to live and love; children are born; lives go on. Temptation is a reality we all live with every day
God is still with us; Eden is somewhere on the horizon
God made us to choose. We are all made in God’s image – this doesn’t mean we look like God; it means we have potential: to love and care; show compassion; help others; protect life – my lasting image from that day 15 years ago is not the collapsing towers and other terrible images; it is of the first responders; filthy, exhausted but still helping; still searching – and then in the following days all of those who travelled to New York however they could to join the bucket lines; they were tempted to help.

The world may be imperfect – but in this imperfect, fallen world are people who are prepared to step up and reflect God’s light in the darkness – and that give me hope.


Sunrise over the Forth JMR2013

Monday, 5 September 2016

sermon 4 September - All God's Family

“Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family” – that’s people; that’s you and me. And that was the verse that inspired my choice of reading this week.
Two months ago, when we held the Civic Week service here I spoke about us all being in this together; and in fact that had been the sermon title again until I looked back and had second thoughts!

Today is the other village event of the summer – Community Day; a much newer event than Civic Week, but with a similar aim – to bring people together.
There will be stalls from many of the village groups – each showcasing, perhaps raising funds, definitely sharing information and hopefully generating a feeling of family. Focusing on the things which unite us and make us part of our community.

All through the bible there are examples of families working together; and, what happens when they do not work together, but instead fall out, bicker and turn against each other.
Although things may go terribly wrong for a while, God still finds ways to help them, move them and bring them to a better place.
The writer of Hebrews was trying to explain to the Hebrew people what Jesus did, and why. The Hebrews of course are the Jews, the Chosen People – the ones who had rejected Jesus as Messiah because of their own convictions of what a Messiah should look and behave like. Thus, here we are at the beginning of the letter with the author spelling it out:
Humans: given an amazing opportunity through Jesus – who became a little lower than angels, in order to fulfil God’s plan.
That plan was to bring all the children: all humanity to glory; to salvation. And because he does that, he is not ashamed to call them family.
What a gift!!!
We are God’s family through Jesus death and resurrection.
We can do this simply because he came and lived and was one of us. He became human in every way – he was tempted, he suffered, he laughed and cried – he experienced life in every way. And because of that he was able to break the power that sin has over all humanity – because of that we believe that death is not the end; death is only a new beginning.

That promise; that gift of life is open to all God’s People.
Who are All God’s People?
Well, everyone. Every. Single. Person.
Everyone has the same opportunity to hear that message; to be told who Jesus was and what he did, and make their own choices.
They can choose to believe or they can choose to turn their backs.
What do we do then?
How can we respond to this?
Actually I think it’s very simple; not everyone is called to preach; not everyone is called to be a missionary or serve the church in formal ways. But from the moment we invite Jesus into our lives and choose to follow him we are called to share that.

Tell people you go to church
Tell people why, how it helps you, what it means to you. In simple terms – share the Good News!

God’s family is all God’s people
All God’s people are welcome in God’s house
All God’s people are all of humanity – and each needs to have that chance, that same opportunity that we have had – to hear the promise: Jesus is not ashamed to call you family; and Jesus is here to help us – his teaching tells us to love – love each other; love ourselves; love God
And, as I have said before (and will no doubt say again)
If we can each do that – what a wonderful world we would have


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.