Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sermon 28 April: Being Reconciled (Part One)

Revelation 21: 1-6; John 13: 31-35
“Write this down, because these words are true and can be trusted”.

Last week, whilst on retreat, I was privileged to join in debate, to listen to some excellent lectures, and most of all, to sit in quiet and solitude and contemplate exactly what it means for us as the church today to be reconciled with God. The Fellowship of which I am a member meets annually to reflect on particular topics, to stretch the mind and understanding and to engage with topics that are relevant and important for all God’s people as we try to live out our faithful lives.

This week as we return to the lectionary, we are greeted by John’s vision, from God, of the world as it will be when Jesus returns in glory. And we are reminded of Jesus’ simple yet profound final instruction: “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”

 Profound indeed!!
If we love each other – people will know we follow Jesus
All we have to do is love one another...

Aye... there’s the rub!

Jesus didn’t say, love the people you like; or love those who think like you; he didn’t say choose who to like; choose who to show love to.

He told us to love one another.... without restriction, without holding back
Simply: love one another as I have loved you

So the next question is how did Jesus love them?

Jesus loved
Jesus also chastised, and warned, and encouraged, and forgave and restored, and renewed and healed as he loved.

His was not a passive, distant, uninvolved love.
For that really isn’t love

Jesus simply met people were they were, how they were, and if he thought they needed to change he told them so.
But still he loved them.
He loved them to death – literally.
Dying for those he loved.
Dying for all of humanity.

Dying, so as to open up heaven, and bring about the possibility of the New Heaven, the New Earth – that which God intends for us. In that place “God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared”

And then, there is another question that comes to my mind: why did Jesus love them?

Jesus loved them, us, humanity because he created us; he brought us to life; he came to earth so that we may be reconciled to him, to God.
He loved, so that our relationship could be restored.

In the same way that a parent cannot help but love their child, so Jesus, God the Son, could not help but love his wayward people, who needed him; who needed direction; who needed to understand what God really had planned for them.

And thus he came; and thus he gave his final, profound, beautiful command: love one another as I have loved you
Love one another wholeheartedly
Love one another unconditionally

And after he had gone, and returned, and then finally departed for good, he left us his promise and he left us the vision which came through John

This awesome vision from Revelation: the new heaven, the Holy City, New Jerusalem... in that place God himself will be
In that place He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.
In that place there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.
In that place the old things will have disappeared...

When John was given this vision of what was to come he was told: write this down for these words are true. These words can be trusted.
This vision is not some airy fairy notion
Some silly, unrealistic, unattainable utopia
This is heaven!
This is the promise of our life to come

Now I know there are those who struggle with trying to imagine heaven; let’s face it, there are those who struggle with day to day stuff, without trying to imagine what life after this life will be like!!

I believe this is why John was blessed with the vision, and received the comfort of that explanation, the instruction & the promise: these words are true and can be trusted. 

We don’t need to try to invent it, or imagine it: it is right here in these words:
No more pain
No more tears
God right there with us
All the old difficulties gone – all is new and shining, and bright, and golden

Jesus- the Lamb of God, God the Son – he is the first, the last, he is everything – all we will need to know comes from the Son
And his instructions, his guidance is profound, and simple
Love one another as I have loved you. This is how people will know you are my disciples if you love one another.

And if we truly love each other
Then we will learn how to accept the differences of opinion
We will learn to respect lives that are different to ours, but no less faithful, no less loving, no less worthy of the name, child of God.

One of our speakers last week really challenged me: he was talking about the history of division and restoration in the church. And the dark days we have in our history. Days when the church broke apart, divided, bickered and more than bickered – turned to hating each other – not loving.

The challenge came to me when it was suggested to us that we consider that such division, such schism, has no place in the life of the church. Schism is wrong, sinful, and to be avoided at all costs.

I found this particularly challenging in the light of the current debate in our church. For sadly I believe that the church will split in some form or other in the months ahead.
I found myself asking why I think this, and in that light, what should be MY goal as we move forward.

I asked myself these things:
Can reconciliation happen within a fractured and broken body?
How can we be reconciled to those who themselves do not seek reconciliation?

I am still working through the conclusions!!
And I will develop the theme a little more next week too.

Revelation tells us a lot about how to be the church, and how not to be the church. It contains warning and signs; it tells of churches full of faith, and churches who are lost, it speaks of churches full of enthusiasm and churches stuck in the quagmire of delusion and despair.

As a church, the Church of Scotland has always celebrated the fact that it is broad in its theology and practise; it celebrates that it has much diversity and variety.
As members of that church we are individual people and congregations, but we are also corporate, part of the greater body – if we can accept that we are part of a larger body, with as many differences as there are similarities, perhaps this is the way forward?
We celebrate our diversity, our difference our individuality and at the same time we embrace the unity that draws us together in Christ and restores and reconciles us to God.

Think on the old children’s hymn:

Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light
Like a little candle burning in the night
In this world of darkness so let us shine
You in your small corner, and I in mine


Friday, 19 April 2013

Solitude and Silence

Each day was ordered and blessed
We gathered together within the ancient walls
Separate yet united 
Each in their own small space
But acutely aware of the others 
Who listened to that still small voice
Whispering down the ages
Of life and worship and hope and faith and spirit and God
Listening to words shared
History and scripture
Facts and verses
Images and memories 
Resonating through the rafters
And then silence.....
Silence and solitude
Solitude longer, much longer than the voices that shared a thought. 
And in that silence came voices through the ages,
informing the reflections
Our charge was to consider reconciliation 
What does it mean to be reconciled? 

Silence and solitude spoke volumes
Silence and solitude informs and inspires
Silence I welcome you
Solitude befriend me
Speak. Speak Lord, for your servant listens 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Time For Sabbath

Today is the first day of my leave... I'm taking two weeks. It has been a full on few months, life in a busy country parish is rich and varied and certainly never boring, and it is all too easy to be so caught up in the lives and interests and concerns and stuff that you never really stop.
stop and listen
stop and wait
stop and pray

So I am taking two weeks
First to travel to visit with good, good friends, to conduct thier daughter's wedding (yes, it's work, but in a good way!) and to join in the celebrating
Then two days of just us - spending time together, with each other and away from the manse
Then, I am on retreat - nourishment for the soul
Time to reflect and share, to consider how we deal with conflict and reconcilliation, and to be quiet. Each day has specific hours set aside for silence and solitude, to reflect and pray - and that will be very good indeed
After those four days, I'll return home, and we will travel south to visit with my family - to catch up, to revisit old familiar places, and to renew... that's another three days
which takes us to 12
the final two days I will be back home
not working, but houseworking!!
And that's my sabbath - rest and fun and thought and silence and words and friends and family and joy and me and him and HIM

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Celebrating a life not a death

I have been pondering....
Yesterday Mrs T. more recently known as Baroness Thatcher died.
To my mind the place of her death says more than I ever could about the legacy of Thatcherism: she died in the place that she had called home for the last four months: The Ritz Hotel in London. 
I cannot imagine ever in my life even taking tea at the Ritz, let alone making it my home! 
Yet she, who strove to bring greater riches to the wealthiest, who sought to remove all power from the Unions, who instilled into my generation such an ethos of self aggrandisement that when I reached forty for a brief while I truly believed I must have failed because I was not "wealthy", this woman, made that extraordinary hotel her home. 

In recent years she has been seen rarely and then all have been shocked by the diminishing of the Iron Lady. It seemed both poignant and tragic that a woman of such substance was reduced to a frail old lady. Her politics I totally rejected and despised. The woman, in her determination and singlemindedness I had a grudging respect for. 

But last night I was appalled to see people dancing in the streets, dancing on newspaper pictures of her face!
What is this about?!
This is not how we mark the passing of a human soul. No matter what they did, or how aggrieved any individual may feel, rampant celebrations and vitriol are not appropriate on the death of another. (And incidentally, many of those doing the dancing can barely have been bairns when she was in her prime)

She may not have been universally loved. But she was loved, she has a family, she has close friends and they will have been hurt and shocked by the response. 

The days of passionate left and right wing politics are a dim and distant memory.... the middle ground seems safer and more acceptable. But there is a part of me that misses those heady days of the 80s and 90s when you knew exactly what politicians stood for, even when you thought they were wrong. 

Rest in peace Mrs T, I never once agreed with you, but I always knew what you believed. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Faith, Hope, Joy

You may remember my sermon from this, the second Sunday of Easter two years ago... and you may not!

This is the week when, by sticking to the traditional readings we consider good old Doubting Thomas. Now, just to remind you – two years ago I spoke about how maligned Thomas was, how he’d actually lots of faith, and lots of courage, for he did not mind voicing his doubts, nor was he slow to admit when he was wrong. And considering it was one small event in a whole life of faith, it seems a bit small minded to call him doubting Thomas – especially when we don’t call Peter- Denying Pete; or Mark- Run-away-with-no-clothes-on Mark.

So, today we once again consider Thomas the Twin (no idea who his twin was btw!) and what this chapter of his story can tell us about our own faith journey. 

When I think about my faith, and my journey of faith (not entirely the same thing) I am all too aware that it has never been a constant line; there have been some constants, but the line is not unwavering at all.

The constant is simple: I simply cannot remember a time when I have not believed in God, and in all that he did for us through Jesus. There have been times when the dogma, the practises, the traditions and some of the extras that seem to get added on have caused me enormous grief and difficulty. But underlying it all was the sure knowledge and foundation that God made me; that God loves me and that God calls me to be his own.

I have had my doubts; I have had my crises of confidence, but because the foundations went deep and were solid I have managed to weather every storm.

And, I suspect, if I am really honest with myself... the crises have more often than not been brought about because I was in the wrong place, or listening to the wrong people, or putting myself into the wrong circumstances.

But through it all, God was constant; God, through the Spirit’s prompting nudged me back; sometimes even dragged me back!

And I emerged the other side of whatever it was a stronger person and better equipped to follow the life he has called me to.

I have learned that God’s amazing grace, God’s strong and powerful forgiveness have enabled good to come about, and new adventures experienced. I have learned that Peter’s flawed lifestyle; and Thomas’s and Paul’s and Matthew, and James and John and Mark – all of them, whose stories are recorded in these pages, are able to show me, that when I feel I have failed; when I am assuaged with guilt, or overcome by circumstance, that it’s ok! I am not the first, and I am not the last. And actually it’s alright. God knows exactly what we are like and he still loves us, calls us, chooses us, wants us to experience his love and his awesome power for ourselves – and that really is stunning!!

So, Thomas, who on one occasion had his doubts, teaches us that it’s ok. And Thomas, who was resilient in amongst friends who had seen something that he’d missed, shows us that we too can hang on in there, and we will come through the other side.

When Jesus came amongst them, he singled Thomas out – not to be told off, but to be comforted. Peace Thomas, Peace.
Stop your doubting, it’s ok Thomas, it’s ok. Here you go – it really is me, believe it.

Thomas was so lucky!!
He saw and he believed
We may not see as he did
But we too are blessed
We hear the words; in our minds eye we see the story unfold; and in our hearts the words turn into a deep heat, bubbling up within – yes indeed!! Jesus is God’s own Son; and God has raised him from the dead.

How awesome is our God!!
This is our hope, our faith, our joy!
That God sent his Son.
That his Son lived to show us life; died to bring us life; and lives on to fill our lives with good things

Jesus stands among us: he whispers “peace be with you”
Stop doubting and believe!

Monday, 1 April 2013


On Palm Sunday I did something I do not often do.... I strayed from my script
It has always been my practise to script my entire service - prayers & sermon and it has always been fine. Occasionally I'll stray slightly away from the script, but usually just a wee aside.
Palm Sunday was different - somehow what I had prepared did not feel right as I stood up to preach - so I ignored what I'd written and went with my gut/ heart/ the Spirit... or I suspect a combination of all three. Whatever it was, I knew I was "on Fire" I could feel it, and see it on the faces of those who were listening. And the feedback 'at the door' was very positive too.

Over the past two years, here in my lovely village parish, I have had one elder in particular who has been an enourmous encouragement to me; he often tells me he sees the Spirit in church, and is aware of her presence during worship.
This Holy Week I experienced it first hand
Our Evening Services were also unscripted.... and the words that flowed from my lips did not feel like my own.
Holy Saturday dawned with me utterly exhausted - wrung out - and I could not imagine where or how I would have energy for the Resurrection Morn. God will provide!!
Suddenly around 6 pm I knew what I would say - but was unable to write more than a couple of sentences - but also knew it would be fine - I had the most amazing evening with my family. Just fun and relaxing and perfect!
Easter dawned. We gathered to worship. The Spirit again opened my lips.... and the words of inspiration flowed.

Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed. And God - Father, Son & Holy Spirit reign