Thursday, 30 May 2013


Bluebells are not always blue....
for in this springtime of new life
we see a myriad of colours
shades of blue and pink and white
tones with purple and mauve and lavender
all in one small bunch of bluebells....
Scottish Bluebells
dance the dance of creation
isn't it just like our amazing creator God
to give us metaphors and clues
a bluebell is a bluebell
whether its white or blue or pink
or something in between
just like you & me

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Sermon: the Power of Three  
Romans 5: 1-5 (p.192 NT) The Experience of God in the power of the Spirit
 John 16:12-15 (p.139 NT) The Voice of God through the Spirit’s prompting

 As you will all know – to one extent or another – this week the Church held its General Assembly in Edinburgh, as elders, ministers, church partners, overseas delegates and youth representatives all gathered to debate and discuss and seek God’s will, God’s plan for the church in the years ahead.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the church had spent the whole week talking about who may or may not be allowed to serve the church.
But actually the discussions were far reaching and centred on injustice, poverty, health, education, nuclear disarmament, the referendum, encouraging vocations, what to do with the buildings, the future of tenure and its implications for individual parishes, how to help people at the difficult time of bereavement and many of the issues that are really important in our society right now.

The General Assembly is part of our institution and constitution
It is like many other things in our church and the wider church, one of those things that happen that some people know lots about, some know a little of and others have not a clue... just like some of our doctrines really!!

Today is Trinity Sunday
That is, it’s the day we think about what the trinity means or is...
If you were to look up Trinity in a bible index – you wouldn’t find it, instead it lies in theological dictionaries and reference books.

But, although Trinity is not named specifically, it is visible all through the bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the Three-Person God is visible moving and breathing and inspiring humanity.
In the prayers of the church, in the way we share a blessing – the trinity is present, a constant reminder, even if we are not fully aware of it.

We pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
And our blessing at the close of every service echoes the same
When we close a meeting – we pray The Grace together: a direct quote from 2 Corinthians (as on the front cover today)

And so many of the things we pray for, the things we live with are set in triplets
The very way we talk about life, past, present and future is three-fold. Life is lived in three dimensions... up & down, left & right, forward and back. It is understandable, yet inexplicable.
It is what it is, as is the Trinity.

Whenever we try to pin down a definition of God, a way of understanding and explaining who or what God is, we begin to stumble: God is bigger and stronger and wiser and kinder and more mysterious that we can ever begin to grasp... and any explanation confined to words alone will fall short – words can only begin to touch the real awesome depths of God.

I used to struggle and wrestle and worry about this and many other doctrines; I sought absolute clarity; total understanding; a nice, rounded, complete explanation that would answer all my questions... and then, the older I got, and the more I read and studied and sought wisdom, the more I realised how little I knew, and how little I really needed. For faith is best kept mysterious.

Faith works especially when we are unsure or undecided; faith makes sense only after the life experiences happen.

Our two bible readings today, from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, and from St John’s Gospel, are really short, and really, really full!!

Romans is all about hope: real, beautiful Godly hope – hope that come from God, by means of the Spirit.

And John’s message here is all about truth: truth which is revealed to us by the Spirit – truth about God. John records Jesus’ particular teaching: “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much to bear. The Spirit comes and reveals the truth about God, and will lead you into all the truth” I think this is outstanding news! Jesus knew more, much more, but knew also the timing was not right, so he explained what the Spirit would do: the Spirit reveals – the Spirit shows us new ways to live and be.

It is the Spirit who helps us understand, it is the Spirit who guides us to know God’s truth
As we read his Word
As we reflect on life and faith coming together

We rely on the prompting of the Spirit to lead us and move us, not only to words confined to a page but to the Word himself – Jesus, who came and dwelt with us, Jesus said that he could not tell them everything, that in time the Spirit would reveal the Truth

Our faith, our belief that Jesus is God the Son, puts us right with God; through our faith we gain peace; we have faith because of grace... and through that we can be hopeful; we have hope, hope which will never disappoint us, because, as Paul puts it: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit – God’s gift to us”

I am a huge fan of C. S. Lewis – many folks know only of him as a writer of children’s fantasy fiction, via the Narnia books – or just the one Narnia book: the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

But there is so much more!
This man was a great theologian, and a great teacher

An atheist, who by his own investigations was converted to Christianity, and became one of the twentieth century’s greatest Christian writers, Lewis made it his aim to help people understand God and to draw them in to a greater relationship with him.  

His classic book is Mere Christianity, a collection of radio lectures delivered between 1942 and 1944; during the dark years of WWII and they are as inspiring and fresh today as they ever were.

This is how he described the working of the Trinity: “An ordinary Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening? God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motivating power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole three-fold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little room, where an ordinary man is saying his prayers” (Mere Christianity)

I love this: what he is saying is like this: we decide we need to pray about something – yet even before we begin to pray, it is the Spirit which is working in us that prompts us to pray

It is the Spirit’s prompting that causes us to seek to know Jesus, the human face of God; Jesus, God made man who dwelt with us, so that we could have a better, closer, more knowing relationship with God. It is our very knowing of Jesus which in turn helps us to accept, to grasp to begin, little by little, to know God the creator – who has given us everything we have.... and thus as we look around us, at loved ones, at the countryside, at animals in the fields, at the changing seasons – we see God at work in creation itself and are prompted again to pray, and it is the Spirit that prompts us....

It is a perfect cycle; it is God’s perfection at work in us, before we even realise it

And as we begin to grasp it; as we begin to articulate it, we are beginning to think about, talk about, know about God – and whether you realise it or not – you are doing theology!!

Lewis again: “People already knew about God in a vague way. Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet He was not the sort of man you would dismiss as a lunatic. He made them believe him. They met him again after they had seen him killed. And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before. And when they worked it all out they found they had arrived at the Christian definition of the three-personal God” (Mere Christianity)

The trinity is a doctrine, established in order to help us understand more about God
Because God is as God is: mysterious and awesome, it is virtually impossible to tie down one single definition that works for everyone

The bible, written my many different people, over many hundreds of years, contains truths about God
And it contains The Truth about God

It is through the Spirit’s prompting, the Spirit’s power, as promised by Jesus himself, that we read scripture, talk to each other, and pray and gain an understanding of those truths, and that truth.

The past is behind us
And the future is before us
We live in the present

And we seek to know more about God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – we call that Father, Son and Spirit the trinity
It is through our faith
And with God’s grace that we grasp those truths

Jesus promised the Spirit would come, and would stay; that the Spirit will continue to reveal God to us; we can only live in faith, and trust that when God speaks, we are listening

I conclude today with a prayer that is more than 750 years old, but as relevant today as it was when it was first written by Richard, Bishop of Chichester.

Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.
--St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sermon: To be in That Place

First Reading: John 14: 8-17
The Spirit who reveals the truth about God
Second Reading: Acts 2: 1-21
The day of Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came they were all gathered together in one place....
I wonder...
I wonder how it felt, what they saw, how many were there, and exactly how long it took for the penny to drop
Was there a moment of “freeze-frame”?
An instant where time stood still – were the reality waited in suspension – for the reaction to come

Like when we suddenly see
Or we are witness to something amazing and it doesn’t sink in at first... when although time seems to stop – it is only a millisecond before everything starts again

Full colour
Full volume
Full impact!
What was it like to be in that place, on that day so long ago?

Being prepared is one thing – and in theory they should have been fully prepared. Jesus had told them it would happen, both before his death and after his resurrection. And they had the words of the prophets from long ago. But somehow, I suspect they were totally unprepared. That hearing those words “my Father, will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever”, went no way at all towards preparing them for the day that came.

As I told the children earlier, Jesus gave us all a Great Commission, and a Great Command, and he made this, the Great Promise: the Helper who stays with us forever.
And the Spirit does amazing things; and wondrous things; and marvellous things.

The Spirit reveals for us The Truth about God.  I cannot emphasis enough how important this is... for we have never needed to hear it more.
We have never needed the Spirit as much as we do today
Not just us, here in Earlston – as we ponder our future
But in Scotland. In the Church of Scotland – as we consider the present
And in the whole world as Christians all round the world struggle to reconcile society and life with the REAL gospel imperative –
Not to judge
Not to exclude
Not to impose our will or our understanding
But to bring the good news – the Good News to the poor
Set prisoners free
Give sight to the blind
Lift up the downtrodden
And share the Good News of God’s Kingdom

What does it mean to be in that place?
Well, I guess it depends what the place is
Is it a real physical position, address, map ref?
Or is it a frame of mind? An outlook and attitude that informs or affirms?

To physically be in that place – is simple. You go, you arrive, you are there and you witness 
But to be spiritually present is something else all together
It implies an openness of mind
And a willingness to receive
For us today, to be in that place, is to be prepared to receive again, or for the first time, the Spirit’s anointing.

To feel it physically
To know it deep within
To absorb it into our very souls
To inspire – literally to breathe in – to inspire the Spirit
We say the Spirit inspires – but really, we should aim to in-spire the Spirit – breathe in and absorb all the Spirit can offer

When Peter stood up and preached his first sermon; his first, Spirit inspired message, he was suddenly able to know, to understand.
All the teaching, all the former experiences came together, to this one, small moment, which turned into one huge, unforgettable, passionate and amazing message – suddenly he understood.
Suddenly the ancient words of the Prophet Joel clarified
Suddenly he understood what those ancient words meant: “I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams.  Yes, even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will proclaim my message”
Suddenly, it was Peter who proclaimed God’s message
It was Peter who had the dreams and the vision
It was Peter, anointed by the Spirit who proclaimed the transforming, astonishing, renewing message from God

The words of an ancient prophet turned to reality
No longer just words on a page, this was a tangible, real event
It moved from surreal to real
From dreamlike to true
Peter felt it; lived it and responded to it – for him the Helper was a real, terrible, awesome experience which he could not, not share.

So what about us?
What about today?
2013 – so long, long after that Pentecost
What do we think of the Spirit in these days?
We hear, "my Spirit is with you always"
A constant presence
The revealer of truth
These are dynamic phrases, creating vibrant images

People who focus on the Comforter role of the Spirit have a gentler image
And there are times when the Spirit is comforting, is gentle, does act as a sweet encouragement in difficulties. But the Spirit’s main focus is not sweet and gentle; not at all!
God’s Spirit is there to move us, shake us up, to inspire us to bigger and better things
Another phrase used to describe the Spirit is Midwife.... in the letter to Romans, Paul writes: “all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth.  But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God's gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us his children and set our whole being free, ...the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.”(Rom 8)

The Spirit brings about new life in us; creates us anew; anyone who has ever witnessed any sort of birth knows – birth is messy, and loud, and noisy; and those who help at a birth cannot be quiet and retiring – they get in and roll up their sleeves. They encourage and shout if necessary, and they move us on until that new life arrives, kicking and screaming – just as does the Spirit as we are moved to a new and deeper spiritual life

When Peter received the Spirit and was made new, he didn’t suddenly have all the answers!
He didn’t hide away either and
He didn’t sit in a quiet corner thinking about it!
He stood up and told it like it was – God’s Spirit is poured out
The day of judgement comes and on the Day of the Lord – whoever calls out to the Lord will be saved

The Spirit reveals the truth about God
whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.
The Spirit reveals it
Jesus promised it


Hope for the future
Hope for the present
Hope for all eternity
Dream the dreams
Grasp the vision
Proclaim the message
God sent his son Jesus
He died for us
And God raised him to life – so that we can know for certain that God’s promises are trustworthy and true
He promised to send his Spirit – to be here for all time – and God’s promises are trustworthy and true

The Spirit makes us new
And moves us forward
What does it mean to be in that place?
To be in this place – to know God loves us – as we are – where we are – who were are
And this is the place to be!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sermon 12th May - Uniquely Made

Ephesians 4: 2-7; Acts 1: 6-11

I need to tell you all, that some of what I am going to say today I have borrowed...
I belong to a wonderful virtual ministry fellowship – it is virtual, because we all live all around the world, in Scotland, and Australia, and the USA and Japan, and Europe... but we all share together via the internet – on a blogsite and on Facebook. This week, one shared something she had written for a baptism, and it was so beautiful, so special, I asked her if I could borrow – and dear Ruthie said yes!

Today is a very special day
Today we welcome a little child into God’s family
And that is a precious and wonderful thing
Today is a day that little Aimee won’t really remember herself – though there will be reminders, and her parents will tell her, and I’m sure show her the photos of the party
Each baby is precious; whether it is your first or your third or fourth or fifth it is a special gift from God
And each of us – whatever generation we are from is as precious to God now, as we were when we too were tiny children brought to church by our parents and welcomed into God’s family through the water of Baptism.

Now, my message today is for Aimee, and for everyone listening to this and witnessing this special moment
Because today Aimee, I want to tell you that you are unique.
You are special.

Of all the people who have come and gone on the earth, since the beginning of time, not ONE of them is like YOU!
No one’s hair grows exactly the way yours does.
No one’s finger prints are like yours.
And just like your fingerprints, your lips have little markings on them, little grooves in the skin … and everyone has a different pattern, so no one’s lips are like yours.
No one smells just like you.
And no one’s eyes are just like yours.
No one is loved by the same combination of people that love you – NO ONE!
No one before, no one to come.


And as you grow up I want you to enjoy that uniqueness.
You do not have to pretend in order to seem more like someone else.
You weren’t meant to be like someone else.
You do not have to lie to conceal the parts of you that are not like what you see in anyone else.
You were meant to be different.

And if you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from the plan for humankind.
Treasure your uniqueness.
It is a gift given only to you.
Enjoy it and share it!

So many people these days feel like they are nothing more than a number on a computer card somewhere in a government file. Just one of the crowd.
But God says you are more than that.
You’re a special design.
You were made special.
Because that is the way God created you.

You are different.
You are not just a number.

You are not just one in the crowd
And because you’re different … YOU are important.

Maybe not important to the government but you are important to God.
Because He is the one who designed you.
He is the one who made you different.
He is the one who made you unique.
(Along with your mummy and daddy of course.)

Scientists have only just recently discovered how unique and special each one of us is — how special you are.
But God has always known it.

God knows all about you.
She knows what you need.
She knows what you feel and what you think.
She knows exactly what you have done.
And She loves you in a way that is only for you.

Because God made you special, She has a special interest in you.
Her love is for you and it is special.
Her plan for you and your life is unique too.
It’s special.
That’s something worth thinking about.

Today as we listened to God’s word being read we heard advice for living – be always humble and gentle and patient.
We heard about the church and God: there is one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism there is one God and Father of all
And we heard about Jesus’ final departure as he ascended back to heaven to be reunited with God the Father, and his final words: the Holy Spirit will fill you with power and you will be witnesses to Jesus’ life & teaching

Those words, written down so many years ago are as valid and important today as they were back then
There is still one body, one faith and one baptism
The Holy Spirit is still here guiding and empowering us
And we are still Jesus’ witnesses in the world

Each of us is uniquely and wonderfully made
Each of us is precious to God; special, unique and blessed
God’s word contained in our scriptures is there to guide and lead us; it tells us all we need to know, and those words of advice stand true today: show your love to each other; be humble and gentle, preserve the unity of the church as best you can

As we welcome Aimee into God’s family, we remember our own promises, made on our behalf, or made for ourselves. That we will, by prayer and example and dependent upon God’s grace, follow Jesus, being his witnesses through all of our world

And to finish as the children come back, let’s share a few more...

Remember each bubble is unique too.
There are no two bubbles the same.
Each one is a different size or shape or colour.
Each is special.
Each is unique.

Just like you.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sermon 5th May: Being Reconciled (Part Two)

John 14: 23-29 & Rev 21:22 – 22:5
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.

Part Two.... hmmm!
Last week, as many of you will know I began to explore some of the things I had learned while on retreat. And I promised that I’d continue on the theme this week too.
Now, some of you may well think that because this is part two that must make it easier!!
Personally, as I was preparing this, and deciding how to follow, I was quietly annoyed with myself – stand alone is easy, you don’t have to link it to anything. And continuing a theme means you have to keep checking back on the things you said before so as not to repeat, and not to exclude. So, actually, in a busy week, I gave myself a mammoth task! Way to go!
Each of our readings is an extension from last week too: in the Gospel, further thoughts from Jesus’ farewell discourse with his closest friends; and in Revelation further descriptions of John’s vision of heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Holy City.
Last week, we heard Jesus giving his disciples his last command: love one another. This week we are reminded of his gift to them, and to us: my peace I give you, do not worry, do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid: Jesus used this phrase so often. And so often he needed to use it. For his way, his teaching was so different and unfamiliar that it was no surprise that the disciples were fearful
Change is scary
Change is difficult
Change is unsettling
So like those disciples, long ago, we too need to hear Jesus speak words of encouragement: do not be afraid.
Do not worry.
My peace I give you, my peace is not like the world’s view; my peace is bigger and better than that.
In Revelation the vision of the Holy City continues. It is descriptive and vivid, painting an image of a rich and beautiful landscape, and promising a place where there is nothing evil, nothing shameful, no lies or deceit. And the trees bear fruit, and the leaves bring about the healing of nations.
Wow!! The healing of nations: imagine what our world would be like if all the nations were healed. No one to disagree; no one to fight or argue or compete, no one to seek power over another.
That is what Jesus’ peace is like!
The Holy City is the place of the Lamb: the Lamb is Jesus- and in his place is true lasting holy peace.
If all the nations, and all the churches of the nations, and all the people of the churches were healed by the trees of the River of Life – we wouldn’t be needing reconciliation anymore.
The vision of the Holy City shows us possibilities: heaven in all its glory and abundance and life!
Life after life here: the afterlife, is teeming with life
So, how does this knowledge, this vision inform our current situation? How might it help us to move forwards?
Last week I talked about how broad the Church of Scotland is; how this is paradoxically both its strength and its weakness. It means we have different outlooks, different interpretations, different priorities, all under the unity of Christ, and somehow, through all of this, we need to steer a way forward, where we can stay together, and work together, celebrating our variety.
The current big issue that is exercising the church – and especially colouring the media view of the church is relatively inconsequential, when compared to the real issues in the world: poverty, injustice, inequality, enough food, clean water,  healthcare and education – these are far more important than gender or sexuality concerns.
The sad truth is, that although all of these other issues really are more important for us to get involved in, until this particular issue is sorted we are effectively prevented from doing anything else.
And, the other sad truth is, that it will not all be over after the report and debate on Monday 20th May. Whichever way the decision goes, the final decision will not happen on that day.
Any fundamental change must be approved by the whole church – it is our constitution. It is what makes us distinctively Presbyterian. So, if a fundamental change is accepted, it will be sent down, under the barrier act, for local presbyteries to debate; and be brought to the following Assembly for the final decision. At each stage it will be debated again – if the Presbyteries decline to approve, a following Assembly may overturn that decision; and vice versa.
If however, this year’s assembly decides to depart from the current trajectory, there will be a right of appeal. And the subject will be revisited again in years to come. For this is our age, and this will not go away.
In the Times Weekend Magazine which comes with the Saturday edition there is a regular columnist Caitlin Moran: yesterday she wrote about a Hollywood magazine which published its annual Top 20 Most Hated list – she had looked at the list to analyze why these particular people were so elected. She discovered that the majority of those on the list were there, not because they behaved terribly badly, but because they simply get on with their lives, their work, and they avoid publicity, they avoid gossip.
These are the hard working actors who refuse to buy into the Hollywood machine. The magazine editors choose to hate them, because they don’t feed the hunger for scandal and over-exposure.
If the church was getting really steamed up about poverty and injustice – there’d be no publicity.
And here’s the sad thing: the church IS getting steamed up about poverty and injustice – it’s just that the world is not prepared to listen.
Jesus told us: love one another as I have loved you. My peace I give you, do not be afraid.
Jesus died, and rose again, and opened up heaven: the gates of the Holy City stand open all day, the River of the Water of Life runs through it and the Lamb is there, waiting for us, as he promised he would
Can we as his church here on earth catch that vision and move forward, celebrating the things which unite us and putting away the things which divide – for His sake?
It’s up to us to choose – to move forward and share the Gospel, to fight for those who suffer huge injustice and inequality, or to get hung up on the media frenzy and scandal of gender and sexuality.

It is time to choose – the choice is not easy, but for the sake of the whole church we need to find the better quieter kinder way.