Sunday, 17 March 2019

Preaching from Afar

This week I am guest preacher in Southminster Church, Boise, Idaho.
Here is the sermon for Sunday 17th March
Matthew 20 - the labourers in the vineyard

Me with a quizzical looking Jesus in Freak Alley, Boise, ID
Work… work… work.
We go to work; we get home from work; we go to work; we get home from work and at the end of the month, God-willing, there’s a pay cheque.
We go to work; we get part way though the day, and hey, there’s a late arrival. Yeah, but he’s late clocking on so he will have to make up the time – right?
We go to work; we get back after lunch, and what? There’s a late arrival. She did what? Yeah, but she’ll need to make up the time – right?

Same scenario; different venue. Workers in a vineyard, sweating under the fierce sun.
They work hard; they know at the end of the day there will be a pay-out. They will have earned their keep. The family will eat tonight. And all will be well.

Jesus knew people.
He knew what a well-defined sense of right and wrong looked like.
He knew what a well-defined sense of justice thought of the world.

Jesus was not into a well-defined sense of anything really
Jesus was in the business of shake-up; of turning things on their head.
You think you know what right and wrong is?
You think you know truth?!
Think again.
Think again.

God’s Kingdom. God’s Kin-dom is not what we think it will be.
God’s Kin-dom will welcome in the people we do not necessarily consider are really worthy.

If God chooses to be generous with the entry requirements – who are we to complain?! 

The question we need to consider most when we hear again the story of the workers in the vineyard is: who will be taken on at the 11thhour?

What if the people we struggle with most in our world are the ones who get the late pass?
What if, the very people, who cause us the most grief are also welcome in the Kingdom? 

Think of one person right now. 
Think of the one person who causes you to pause; to pray; to shudder.
The one person who you really cannot imagine in the Kin-dom.
The person, who challenges your sensibilities – their attitude; their politics; their moral code; their work ethic… the way they choose to live their life. 
That person. 

That person is a beloved child of God
Just as you are a beloved child of God

That person has as much right to a place in the kingdom as you or I.

Picture them. 
And then, if you can, picture that person in God’s kingdom. 

Alongside you. 
How does that feel?

Alongside you in the kingdom, living in God’s special place…

Jesus’ stories do that. They make you pause
They make you see. 

Jesus told stories that people could identify with for a reason.
Stories they could imagine, picture, relate to…
He told stories that resonated then, and can still resonate today.

Jesus’ stories told TRUTH. 
Jesus’ stories still tell TRUTH today. 

And sometimes that TRUTH can cause us to cry out… “but it’s not fair!!” 

So, what do we do, if we who feel we labour hard, look across and see those we consider do not?
What do we do, when they are rewarded, and we want to cry out: “It’s not fair!” 

 How do we respond, when we see those whose work appears to our eyes, to be counter to the kingdom, invited, included in the Kin-dom too?

How do we respond when we witness those whom we do not accept – being accepted.

How do we feel knowing that THEY are invited to labour alongside US?

If Jesus stories tell us a TRUTH, that is still relevant today, how are we to perceive it? Live with it? Work alongside it?

Am I going to shout at God?
Rail against God’s just decisions?
Question God?

Am I going to return to the childhood wail… “it’s not fair!!!”

And as I stamp my foot
And as we complain bitterly at the unfairness of it all

Jesus looks at us
Jesus looks right at each one of us
Right at the heart of each of us
Right into our hearts and minds

And reminds us (again) – all are welcome in the Kingdom.
All have a chance 

Jesus reminds us, “friend, I do you no wrong. Take what is yours. If I choose to share it with these others it is not your concern. I may do what I choose with that which is mine to give.”

On Monday, in Seattle, at NEXT Church Gathering, I heard a phrase which has stayed with me.
We are all used to hearing the question “who is my neighbour”
The question was reframed: “to whom may I be a neighbour today?”

When Jesus calls the labourers to receive their pay
There will not be degrees of God’s kindom – for we are all kin.

There will be no hierarchy
For God is fair and just and all are equal

All will be welcome
First and last
Last and first

Each equally welcomed
Each equally rewarded

Who is my co-worker in God’s Kin-dom?
How may I work to accept that God’s grace and love and gifting is far greater than I may imagine possible?

God. Our God of justice and fairness, turns the world upside down
God turns us upside down too.
And that, my friends, can only be a good thing! 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Lent Photo a Day - Fear

it is the second day of Lent... today's photo is yours truly, wrapped up, hidden, disguised even... 

Today's word for the Lent Photo is fear... 
as I contemplated Fear, I wondered, 
what is it that I am fearful of?
What do I wrap myself up in
to avoid fear?
What do I hide behind in order to not face my fears? 

Precious Holy
as I hide from fear
make me bold, make me brave
if not today, then at least tomorrow
Help me to open up and remove the comforts
To step out, knowing that I am never truly alone
but resting in your love and guidance
Trusting that in all things,
you walk beside me,
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
I will fear no evil, for you are with me"

#lentphotoaday19 #lent19 #fear

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Ash Wednesday - Pray

Gritty, black, moist, staining, reminding...

Remember you are dust and ashes
Remember you will return to ashes and dust
Turn back to God
Turn to God
Dedicate and rededicate
Your ashes
Your life
Your love
Your very self....

God, of ashes and dust and earth
Breathe new life into us we pray


Sunday, 3 March 2019

From Mountaintop to Valley Below – walking in God’s Footsteps

Sermon for Transfiguration 3 March 2019   Exodus 34: 29-35; Luke 9: 28-36
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”― Flavia Weedn

Traditionally the Sunday before Lent begins is Transfiguration Sunday. Now, you may know exactly what this means; you may have an image in your head right now of a person transfigured…
But, before I ask you to picture that, let’s explore a little.
When I spoke earlier – we looked at light and brightness; we looked at shiny happy people
And I am sure when you heard the story of Moses coming down the mountain, his face shining brighter than  the people could bear, that some of you like me, thought of Charlton Heston, coming down the mountain in the classic film The Ten Commandments
I watched a clip of it during the week, and I was also able to imagine just how different that would be if they made the film again now – the special effects would be far greater I am sure!

Here we have two mountaintop experiences; encounters with the Divine. Life changing moments, snatched, glimpsed, stored away to be revisited time and again.
For Moses the change was permanent, the Exodus reading tells us that he had to speak to the people with a veil covering his face, and he only uncovered it went he went in to the tent to speak with God. Moses came down from the mountaintop, but even in the valley below, God’s presence stayed with him.

Some of us will have had the experience of being in the company of someone in whom we get a sense of the heavenly, the otherworldly, come to earth.
It may be difficult to pin down exactly what this person exudes that gives us this impression. But nonetheless we sense the presence of a certain holiness, a certain lightness of being that affects those with whom that person has contact.
There can be little doubt that Jesus had this affect on those who knew and followed him, but in this moment there is no doubting, no uncertainty for Peter, James and John.
They are assuredly in the company of the saints and life suddenly takes on a whole new dimension.
Empowered by this experience, not afraid any more the disciples must have felt they could do anything with Jesus.
But then they come back down to earth. They cannot stay on the mountaintop forever; they cannot freeze the moment in time. Life goes on, and they must descend.
Back down in the valley the disciples are confronted by their inadequacy in being unable to heal a young lad of the convulsions that were attributed to an evil spirit. They still have so much to learn…
Back down in the valley the Israelites cannot stay on track either – even with God’s commandments to guide; every time Moses went from them they lost faith, began to stray. The very reason they spent forty years wandering in the desert is because of their reluctance to follow and trust God, and God’s servant Moses.
And then, in full circle, as Jesus, on the mountaintop is revealed in all his glory, he is joined by Moses and Elijah. Moses, back on the mountaintop, encouraging and strengthening Jesus for the task ahead.
Earlier this week, as I was doing some preparatory reading. There was a suggestion made, that when Jesus went off to pray alone, maybe he met Moses and Elijah every time – it was just that this time he brought witnesses along.
It is an interesting thought. Jesus, joining the prophets of old, for encouragement; for support; to be fortified for the task at hand. For we cannot stay on the mountaintop – there is work to be done in the valleys below.

This has been a long season of Epiphany; the season of revelation, a time to reveal who Jesus is.
Week by week we have witnessed little by little, the signs of Jesus divinity; the wonder of his power, the revelation of his task.
Each of those moments were moments of transfiguration along the way.
This contemporary reading takes us back over the season and reminds us of those places where we have met and learned something, and been signposted to who Jesus is. When we realise what has been happening perhaps we see it not as a revelation, but more a revolution in the way God reveals the love offered for us all.
Not on a mountain-top but by the Jordan we saw the glory of God.It was a revelation as the Messiah showed himself not as being set apart from all of us but being baptised as one of us.God beside us, God one of us; this everyday epiphany is revolution.Not on a mountain-top but in the synagogue we saw the greatness of God.It was a revelation as his words filled us and called us into a new hearing; a word moved from promise to fulfilment; this everyday epiphany is revolution.Not on a mountain-top but in the celebrations of life the truth of God is revealed.This is a revelation where the best wine is kept till the very end, the fullness of flavour, the generosity of God, the final revelation becomes a revolution.Not on a mountain-top but on the roadways of the world glory is found.This is a revelation that Jesus has been revealed not in mighty cathedrals but on the roadways of life amid all who leave footprints in the dust and stoor of everyday epiphanies.This common revelation is heaven’s revolution. (Spill the Beans Issue 6: 2013)
This week Lent begins, the season of preparation in the run up to Easter; we will once again climb to the mountaintop: the hill of Calvary; the tomb of death and the mountaintop of resurrection.
For now, we must stay in the Valley: there is work to be done; but we know, the journey to the cross will take us to new heights, we can trust that God will walk with us, every step of the way – we are not alone.
As we go into our time of prayer, read now, those words I read right at the beginning:
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” ― Flavia Weedn

– from the mountaintop of  love, God leaves footprints of Godly love in our hearts and we are never the same again.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Love and Good Judgement – the world is still upside down.

Genesis 45: 3-11, 15 ;Luke 6: 27- 38 
 Sermon for 24 February 

Forgiveness; reconciliation; love; compassion; mercy; generosity; they all sound so wonderful don’t they. Especially if we are on the receiving end.
But the actual doing; giving; being of these is much, much harder.
Jesus adds to the task by insisting that all of these attitudes need to be applied, not to your friends and loved ones, but to those who hate us, those who are our enemies, those who wish us harm!
For goodness sake!!
Does he know what he is asking?
Of course he does.
The story of forgiveness in the bible is not a new concept, the story of Joseph tells of astonishing forgiveness.
The reading we heard from Genesis is the culmination of an event begun years before.
It is a tale full of jealousy, anger, betrayal and deception. It is not the finest hour for Joseph’s brothers.
I wonder – did they regret their actions in those ensuing years?
When they saw their father’s grief, did they wish it was different; did they replay it in their imagination, seeking a different outcome?
Joseph remembered them; they did not recognise him for many reasons. The most obvious of course being that they thought he was most probably dead!
But also, he has been away from them for around ten years; he had grown from a boy to a man, and he is living as an Egyptian. There is little by way of clues for them to recognise a man they had assumed lost.
Joseph had realised who they were; and had made them suffer by over filling their bags; and putting some of the Pharaoh’s sliver in with the grain so he had an excuse to call them back and confront them, his anticipation and excitement at the big reveal must have been enormous.
He knew, with the wisdom of hindsight, that the gift of dream telling had placed him in the right place, at the right time; he knew that God had been with him throughout, and because of that, God had blessed and preserved him for this time.
He also knew that forgiveness was his to give. Forgiveness to his brothers, whom he loved, in spite of the fact that they had plotted to kill him; had attacked him; and eventually sold him to slave traders… all that they had done, and yet, his faith enabled him to let it go, to free his own pain and offer forgiveness and love to these estranged brothers. And then, because God had placed him exactly where he needed to be, was able to help his family in a time of great need…

Jesus’ teaching hits home; the instruction is easy to understand, but almost impossible to put into practice – unless we remember that in all things, God’s grace abounds. Under our own power we are powerless; with God’s grace we can achieve amazing and wonderful things.
The key point, the Golden Rule, is Love your Enemies. It is not difficult to understand but it is very difficult to do!
I find I ask myself how? How can I make this work in my life? There is responsibility, there are rules…
 I do not have a satisfactory answer yet, though I am working on it.

Earlier this week I was at the annual Presbytery Clerk’s conference; we received previews of some of the things that are going to be coming up at General Assembly in May, including two far reaching pieces of work that look into the administration of the church and the new revised radical plan which looks at the future of the whole church.
Both will require hard, brave action.
Both are created with input from the whole church – not just those admin people in Edinburgh, but ordinary people from the parishes; parish ministers – like you and me, the people who are on the ground, being the church.
Forgiveness; reconciliation; love; compassion; mercy; generosity; all the elements that Jesus was talking about are going to be needed by the church as we move forward in the next months and years.
Stepping out boldly!
Change is coming. The world does not stand still, and neither can the church as a whole stand still.
In our Presbytery, and in our area, talks continue, prayerfully looking forward, seeking new and creative ways to sustain and build.
Our challenge is to be open to what may be suggested; to think beyond this building and our village; to be generous with those we do not know well; to be encouraging, even if we are unsure ourselves.

I do not know what is coming; and I do not know how we will be affected.
I do know, we can be like Joseph; trusting God’s plan, even when it seems impossible.
I do know we can follow Jesus’ lead… for God’s kingdom, God’s love, God’s family is ours too.
The future is hidden from our eyes; the world is still upside down
But we are reminded again: God’s love takes us into new ways, new adventures as we follow.
God blesses us with grace and love; the world may be upside down, unpredictable, constantly changing…
But we are equipped by God: forgiveness; reconciliation; love; compassion; mercy; generosity; all ours through Jesus  
And with that hope – we can be strong. Amen 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Turning the World Upside Down - sermon for 17 February

Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Luke 6:17-26 

Blessings and Woes 
One of the advantages of a late Easter is that we get to spend more time looking at Jesus’ early ministry. The sermon on the mount is a familiar scene, Jesus, on the hillside, sharing his wisdom. The version of this in Luke’s Gospel is a little different from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel as the short list of blessings is mirrored by a short list of woes. These blessings and woes are significant especially because for those who hear these words, both two thousand years ago, and today, they seem to be the wrong way round.
Blessed to be hungry?
Woe to be full?
Blessed to be poor?
Woe to be rich?
Blessed to weep…
Woe to laugh.

It seems all wrong doesn’t it?
Turned upside down… wrong way up.

The prophet Jeremiah also has warnings of who is cursed and who is blessed: these on first glance seem more acceptable: cursed are those who trust in human things; blessed are those who trust in God… and a warning too: God sees into the heart – God knows what it is we really trust!

Those who heard this proclamation first-hand struggled: their society believed in the rule of you reap what you sow; that good things happened to show you were favoured by God, and if bad things happened it must be because you had done something bad and God was punishing you.
And we sometimes fall into that trap too: we hear others saying, what have I done to deserve this? Or, we say, you don’t deserve that; or, we ask, why didn’t God prevent this, or that from happening.

Well, truth is, stuff happens. Bad things happen to good people; good things happen to bad people, and vice versa. Stuff happens.

Jesus was turning it round to help us move beyond the ‘stuff’, and into a real God relationship.
If terrible things do happen – find the blessings – because those who suffer are blessed, known and loved by God.
These blessings. The Beatitudes are not a list of conditions to aspire to; nor are they some weird contract Jesus is setting out for us to strive after. There is no condition attached.

It is part of our human condition to believe we are not worthy; that we are not special enough, good enough. Yet, what Jesus is telling us is that we ARE worthy. 
We ARE special. We ARE loved.
If we find we are suffering, that our spirit is hungry, that our lives do not feel worthy, we are blessed.
Not, we will be blessed at some point in the future, once we’ve repented or apologised, or made good.
But we are blessed
Right now
Right here
Right where we are.

Jesus' teaching was to show people who were marginalised, who were constantly feeling unworthy and unacceptable, that God loved them.
Jesus' teaching was aimed at those who felt they did not have a place in God’s Kingdom. To tell them, that their place was now. That they were indeed part of God’s kingdom; that they were indeed part of God’s family.

That teaching stands the test of time; and we hear it again today: we are part of God’s story now. Today.
We are part of God’s kingdom.
Do you have things you are unhappy about in your life?
Me too!
Do you have things that make you feel unsure, uncomfortable, unacceptable? 
Me too!!

Does that exclude us from God’s kingdom? Does that bring us woe?!
That blesses us; that confirms the blessings that God wants us to receive.

When we hear the Good News of the Gospel again, we are reminded we are part of God’s Story.
We are: beloved. Blessed. Known. Loved. Forgiven.

As we strive to live as well as we can.
We live into our blessedness
We take up the blessings God bestows
We accept that God loves and blesses us

The blessings – the beatitudes are not a statement of intent; they are not even a promise.
They are a statement of what IS. Now.

The beatitudes tell us, without condition
Today, you and I, are blessed.

If this seems all wrong and for others but not for you… remember, Jesus turned everything upside down and wrong way round.

You are blessed
Believe it
Live it
Know it.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

When Women Stand Together

I have spent seven wonderful days at sea, with amazing women, our common link the organisation RevGalBlogPals. We gathered at sea to hear words, to share stories, to study scripture, specifically Hebrew Scripture, and womanist* stories of oppression and domination.

What will be the enduring memories?
What will be my new hashtag?

I am saddened to report that my enduring memory will not be the laughter, the sistership, the learning from each other, and the inspirational Rev Dr Wilda Gafney.

Instead it will be the ugly face of racism, compounded by an unwillingness to listen and respond to the pain and the improper behaviour of one employee of the giant cruise line Carnival.

My sisters dealt with the stress and the ugliness without sharing with the wider group. This spared us. But also leaves me feeling helpless to respond, or react. I do not know, we cannot know if the unfolding catalogue of missed opportunities and minimal response would have been any different if instead of 14 voices the management had been bombarded with 63 complaints. 

Our sisters have been supported, championed, by the President of our Board, and our Director. They have been carried by those who were part of the initial incident, and the subsequent one. (Yes, subsequent!) 

But why is this even necessary? This is the 21st Century. We are educated. We are articulate. And yet a man was able to disempower and ridicule legitimate complaints. 
The lack of appropriate response.
The clear void in understanding does nothing to encourage me to consider cruising with Carnival again. 

Carnival needs to address the systemic racism and misogyny that appears to be endemic within their structures. Education of all employees needs to be stepped up, so that every member of staff recognises and calls out inappropriate behaviour in their colleagues, they need to not defend the indefensible. 

The cruise “bubble” is no excuse. 

you can read RevGalBlogPals statment and open letter here 

*Womanist = women of colour who stand up for themselves and their sisters, in our context within the biblical narrative