Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Created - Known - Loved

Yesterday it was a post about size
Today it's a post about hair
Last week it was a post about height
and another time it was about sight
before that age, gender, etc.....

And it's got me thinking....
Yesterday Size: this beautiful girl, 17, seeking a prom dress (creeping into the UK now, but still not as big as it is in the USA) and finding 'the one' she went to her local shop to see if they had it, and to check about ordering... to be told, we don't do your size. we only do the average dress size - 6 to 8!! (in the UK this translates to 10-12).
her size? US 12 - not big by any stretch!!

Today my friend had a wee rant, about her fabulous curly hair - not because she hates it, but because of the way other people treat her because of it. If you have curly hair you are not: serious; clever; picky; and you won't mind folks touching you (seriously!????)

Now, I am not petite- I'm 5'7; I weigh more than I'll admit too; I am short-sighted AND long sighted (varifocals rule!) and I have long wavy hair (oh yes- apparently at my age I should thnk about getting it shorter cos I'm far too old for long locks!! 53!)

All that said: I am beautiful. I am loved. I love others well.
I am as God intended - beautifully, fearfully, wonderfully made
Now - if God is OK with how I am - then why isn't the world happy too?

Let's stop believing the  media
the average British woman is size 16-18 (not 10-12)
Blondes, brunettes, redheads all have fun!
And we are all far more intelligent and beautiful than you think!!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sermon 23rd June: The Power of Fear

1 Kings 19: 8-15 Elijah on the mountaintop
Luke 8: 26-39 
All the people... asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear (v.37)

Scary movies; roller coasters; spiders; heights; birds; closed spaces; open spaces; cows...
Fear is a great motivator
It can also paralyse

Fear can lead to depression and introspection
But it can also energise and inspire

And fear, often, is very difficult to explain or rationalise:
I can pick up a moth to help it out my kitchen – but I couldn’t pick up a spider
I can easily go up to a horse, but wouldn’t approach a cow
I can look out at an amazing mountaintop vista, and sit in a cable car, but I couldn’t actually look over a precipice...
I will not watch a scary movie, but I probably would go on a roller coaster

And I’m sure you all could give me other suggestions of things which are similar, but not the same because of your own particular sensibilities
Because fear is many things, but rational is rarely one of its descriptors!

A lot of the time I think it depends on how we deal
What we do
What our mood is when the fear finds us....
There are some things that I really dislike.... and I guess there are some that I am really fearful of.
There is a book (that I never actually got round to reading) very popular a few years ago:

“Feel the fear ... do it anyway”

The book’s basic premise is that your aim should not be to get rid of your fears. You should feel your fear, but not let it stop you from doing things you really want to do, that the best way to handle your fear, isn't to make your life safer - it's to increase your abilities, or your faith in your abilities. The more you know you can handle, the less reason there is to fear...

This is my final “The power of...”, sermon, we have covered in the past five weeks:
The Power of Three (trinity)
The Power of Faith
The Power of Prayer
The Power of Forgiveness
And this week, The Power of Fear, and in today’s readings we have two very different, and similar, fearful situations.

Elijah has every reason to be afraid – Jezebel is after his blood, she wants to hunt him down and punish him – because she is a bully; because she doesn’t want to have any voice challenging her authority. She is wrong; Elijah is righteous – but that doesn’t stop his very genuine, and reasonable, fears.

So Elijah runs: it is a classic fight or flight situation, and he chooses flight – he cannot take on a whole army.
Elijah runs, and runs, and runs.... (40 days!!) and finds a nice little cave away from the danger; away from the turmoil
A cave
A place of solitude
A place to recover
Except, he isn’t trying to recover – his fear and the running and being tired and hungry has sent him into a downward spiral
And he moans!!
Oh how he moans

"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." – that answer to God’s question is a long, long moan...

I did what you asked
I followed your commands
And now everyone’s got it in for me – he is petulant; he is miserable and he feels really sorry for himself.... in today’s language he’d be moaning
“It’s not fair!!” – in a really whiney voice.

See – fear can do that to you
It can turn you from who you are into something else all together
And often it isn’t pretty!

In the gospel, we hear of a very different sort of fear; I have preached on this story many times; and I always feel sorry for the farmers who just lost their entire flock of pigs for a start.... but when I was looking at this a couple of weeks ago, the thing that stood out was right near the end of the passage: All the people... asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear (v.37)
Fear here is a motivator not an inhibitor – but the motivation is all connected to the flight or fight response.

They suddenly saw such power; such clearly mysterious, other-worldly, magical, miraculous power that it terrified them.
And they could no longer stand to listen or learn from Jesus – it was all too much.

Fear can do that
It can stop us dead in our tracks
It can build up barriers and prevent us from being who we can be; it can stop us from reaching our potential.
But fear, with a different attitude can also inspire, lead, move and energise us: the feeling of triumph when you face a fear; when you recognise it and just get on with things is exhilarating.
You did it!
You managed – the world did not stop – and you feel amazing!
Elijah realised, what those people had forgotten – that when God is with you, you can do anything.

Elijah’s fears threatened to overcome him; the people of the Gerasenes allowed the fear to overwhelm them
Elijah turned to God
The people rejected God (whether they realised or not)

God is there – not in the earthquake; nor in the violent storm; nor in the fiercest fires.... God is there in the silence.... “The inspiration you seek is already inside you – be silent & listen” (Rumi 13th C mystic)

“One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, "Mommy, will you stay with me all night?" Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, "I can't dear. I have to sleep in Daddy's room." A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, "The big sissy!"

Fear is powerful
Fear used to harness God’s strengthening, God’s resilience, God’s sustaining will move us forward to greater, better, stronger and more inspired ways of engaging with the world.

The Power of Fear: don’t fight it – embrace it!

Monday, 17 June 2013


29 years ago today I became a mother.
It was a celebration of creativity like no other... and in that moment I remember two things with utter clarity
LOVE: overwhelming, heart stopping, fierce, fabulous love
REALISATION: this feeling took me into that club which is reserved for women who give birth and that my mother before me, had experienced the same thing when she became a mother at my birth.

In the the years that have passed, many things have changed and been added - two more boys; and some grey hairs (which I carefully hide!)
I have changed and grown; there have been joys & sadness along the way.
Most of which I could never have anticipated.
And  Ricky, born 29 years ago today, has grown into a handsome young man, along with his brothers.
I am a creative spirit - I love to use that gift - to craft with my hands and my words and my love - things that are new and challenging

I have created much in my lifetime
my three greatest creations:
Ricky, George and Jamie

love you boys!!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

Psalm 51
Luke 7: 36-50

“The great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven” (v.47)

To know we are forgiven
What a gift!
What a blessing!
What freedom and relief... from one small word: forgiven

Forgiveness is a topic that runs consistently throughout both Old and New Testaments. Through, the psalms and the prophets the people are reminded that God, though our judge is also forgiving.

And in the gospels and the epistles, we are reminded, over and over that God’s love was so great; his gift so generous that he sent his Son – to help us see just how big and broad and unconditional is his love: for Jesus died, for the forgiveness of sin.
Our sins are forgiven – before we come to faith; before we confess; before we know we need it.

Now, that is a huge statement
It is a huge assertion
I cannot underestimate the power of knowing that we are forgiven
And it is very easy, when saying we are forgiven, to make it, or us, sound totally arrogant or condescending even...

Because for some people knowing they are forgiven leads them to believe that they need not apologise, need not make amends – because God’s already forgiven it.

Right?! Right!!!
Well, technically, yes.
But practically – are you serious?!!!!

Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us we pray – forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Or: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
What are we doing when we pray this prayer?
What does this statement mean for each of us, personally?

If I withhold forgiveness, am I denying my own forgiveness from God? Because one of the things that Jesus wanted to express for us, as he taught them, and us, how to pray, was that forgiveness is a two way street.

He didn’t just say forgive us our sins
He qualified it: as we forgive others... as we forgive those who hurt us, insult us, sin against us

Jesus wanted to emphasise the relationship between humanity and God was a two way bond.
That forgiveness must also go both ways

And our two readings today, from so many that explore this topic, also emphasise the relational aspects of forgiveness
When Jesus talked of this sinful woman – who was clearly being judged as unclean, unwelcome and a total outcast – he talked first about her capacity for love.
It was her love that showed she was forgiven
It wasn’t her forgiveness that showed love.
When King David was found out in his devious manipulation; his abuse of power, his betrayal of his loyal general... when he was found out; and his sin revealed, he was truly penitent.
His psalm seeking forgiveness is utterly beautiful... and it underlines that simple, profound truth:

To err is human, to forgive divine (Alexander Pope)

God’s divine gift of forgiveness enables us to forgive, to love, to grow and to be the best that we can be
The great 20th century theologian, Lewis Smedes, wrote several books on forgiveness – and its effect on us as individuals, he wrote:

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you – and feel the power to wish them well”

He does not suggest forgiveness is easy.
But he does suggest it is powerful

American author, Jackson Brown Jr. wrote: “Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, forgiveness”

And Reinhold Niebuhr, said “forgiveness is the final form of love”

This talk of forgiveness, and its link to faith, is a subject that runs through the bible, through many theological discussions; it has been written about for hundreds of years – because we all understand how much we need it, and how hard it is to achieve.

Both in the giving and the receiving
In the knowledge that it can be given grudgingly or extravagantly
And it can hold us back, when it is retained, and free us when it is released.

Forgiveness is powerful
Forgiveness is generous and liberating
It is ours to give
And it is ours to receive

When Jesus was anointed by this woman he summed up for us the gift that comes from knowing he has forgiven us: great and generous love
If we know God has forgiven us; and those who have hurt us
Who are we not to harness this great and powerful gift too?
Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available: love, prayer, forgiveness

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sermon for 9th June: The Power of Prayer

Galatians 1: 11-24
Luke 7: 11-17

Some of you may have noticed we are in a series here!
Last week, the power of faith; the week before the power of three; today the power of prayer.... next week – wait & see, but it is the power of...
The series thing wasn’t totally planned, but happened naturally, as I was looking forward to see where the scriptures would take me; the first two were accidental, and then this week and the next couple are quite deliberate.

Patterns are a pleasing thing; well, for some they are at least.
I like to see patterns in things, counting colours, spacing things out; looking for rhythms, patterns, groups and themes, all help to fix things in my memory. And once there, so long as I can picture the pattern, I can remember whatever it was I was trying to grasp or understand.

Our two readings today are interesting because both are about the transformational power of prayer, and neither mentions prayer directly.
Prayer happens, unspoken, unidentified, but nevertheless present.
And thus it so often is with us – prayer is there in our conversations, in our thoughts and considerations – often without even realising it!

There is no doubt, that Saul, as he then was, prayed constantly to God, for he was a great man of faith, and believed he was on a mission from God to eradicate this nuisance uprising of followers of the great blasphemer, as he saw him.

And, there is absolutely no doubt, that his encounter with God transformed him, from Saul to Paul; and then served to strengthen and empower his prayer life as he realised that in listening to Jesus’ teaching, he was listening to God, and that in then communicating that, he was talking with God – praying, deeply and earnestly.
His prayer life was as transformed as his faith life

And the story of the widow of Nain – we are not told that she begged Jesus to help; or that she was imploring God to listen to her plight.
But I am sure she was praying, praying for her dead son; praying for herself; praying to God for comfort and consolation, and to bless her son’s final journey.
And then into that scene of sadness and mourning comes Jesus – “and his heart was filled with pity” and he transformed that situation from despair to hope; from mourning to joy; from emptiness to fulfilment.
The widow received an answer to prayer that she may not have been seeking... her life was transformed and she was given hope. Her son’s life was restored and he was transformed!

We do not know – and actually I do not think we need to know, what happened next; what is important is what was happening:
The situation was transformed, transforming – turned around – and she and her son got a new start, and as a result people praised God – remember the song we sang? Praise the Lord all you servants – songs of praise to God – praise and prayers
Praising is singing our prayers

Prayer is a powerful and amazing tool in our lives
But sometimes it can feel like it isn’t working
We pray, and pray, and pray for change
For the solution to our problems; or for healing for a loved one; or for the answer to our questioning – and it seems like our prayers fall on deaf ears; God does not hear us; or respond or answer... and so we doubt the power of prayer

It is a natural reaction; if God is ignoring me, what’s the point of prayer?!

Now, there are days when I could easily fall into that trap; there are people I see; situations I am called into, where the thing that is prayed for is so worthy; so precious that I can only wonder at God’s apparent lack of response...

And then there are other days; days when suddenly it is absolutely clear that prayers have been answered, and there is such a sense of peace of acceptance a sense of rightness about the situation that we know this is the answer

It maybe not the answer that been requested, but nevertheless, there is an answer, which on reflection is exactly right: God knows what we need, better even than we do it seems!

Prayer is our deepest yearnings
Prayer is the cries of our soul
Prayer is simple and complex
When we pray we do not pray alone, for the Spirit and Jesus are with us, interceding on our behalf; inspiring our thoughts and words

And when we do not have the words
When we are lost and do not know what to do... prayer answers when nothing else will do.
Some of you may have seen buses and banners around Edinburgh with the slogan “Try Praying” – or you may have received this little book (show Try Praying Book) from our bookstall – one of the questions it raises is what to do when prayers seem unanswered
“prayer is a conversation between friends... less about ‘getting something’ and more about ‘knowing someone’. Our needs often propel us deeper into relationship with God”

Prayer is a tool that Jesus relied on
If Jesus knew he needed prayer – then who are we to doubt it!?
If you look at the words of hymn 546 you will see a wonderful poem all about prayer

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire... prayer is the burden of a sigh.... O Christ by whom we come to God, the path of prayer yourself have trod, Lord, teach us how to pray (CH4 546, Prayer is the Soul's sincere desire, James Montgomery) 

Prayer is powerful
It inspires and leads us
It soothes and heals us
Whether of things we know, or things unseen – prayer is ours for the taking

Talk to God and see what happens!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Power of Faith - sermon June 2nd

Luke 7: 1-10
"I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!"

“Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul will be healed” – it’s not quite a quote from the gospel reading today; but it is a prayer from my childhood, and from the Roman Catholic liturgy. I said that wee prayer, every time I received communion as a girl and young woman – not ever realising it was taken from this encounter between Jesus and the Roman Officer.

Jesus’ response to hearing those words uttered was astonishment!
Yes – Jesus was astonished!

And then stated how impressive the Man’s faith was; and healed his servant – remotely – from a distance – just as he had been asked to do.

And it got me wondering
Was Jesus ever astonished when he heard me utter those words?!

Or indeed any other words when my faith; my belief; my trust in God’s ability to make something happen in my life, was so assured, so definite, that my prayer was answered in that very moment

This story, is about the power of faith
The power that comes when one is so sure, so certain, of God’s power, and our ability to relate to it, that God, in astonishment grants our desires.

Now, I am sure that there are some of you here, who are thinking, or wondering, or doubting the real tangible power of prayers of faith

Thinking that prayer may be answered indirectly, or in a remote, or distant way – but not that impossible things will happen because of faith - for it requires a certain suspension of belief: not belief in faith or God; but suspending belief in the things we know, hard facts, scientific evidence or that which is right in front of us... suspending one belief system, in order for the working out of something mystical, in its truest sense.

Faith is not really a tangible thing – is it?
Faith is mystical.
Faith requires.... faith!!

I can describe in quite good detail – my boys; or my parents; or my fiancĂ© – but to describe how or why I love them; how I trust or believe in their particular talents and abilities is a much more elusive thing.

Some of the things we know are easily described, or defined, and others are not.
So it is with faith: faith that can move mountains; faith that can reassure when it seems no reassurance is available.

All of this because faith is intangible
It is subtle
Mysterious and powerful
And pinning it down to a particular description somehow seems to limit it or diminish its power

Faith is very often best described, or understood, or defined AFTER an event
For it is only in looking back that we can really make sense of it
And sometimes, the looking back is not just yesterday, or last week – but last year, or ten years ago – it can be a whole lifetime of living in faith – until that one thing comes which brings it all into sharp focus, and suddenly it all makes sense

It is our Roman Soldier moment: the moment when you just know: if I ask, this will happen.
Jesus will be astonished
Jesus will see, or know, or witness MY faith and be astonished...

Some of us have had little Solider Moments already
Others live in hope
And others still do not actually want or need it
There’s another paradox in the story of our faith; my faith, your faith

In exactly the same way that we are uniquely made, uniquely different and uniquely the same...
Our faith is thus too.
We all have different needs

The  Roman Solider – did not need Jesus to come with him; for he was a man used to giving orders, and receiving a response.
Other people Jesus met needed him in their homes; or needed to touch him; or needed to watch from afar
And each of those, like the Roman Soldier, received Jesus in the way that was right for them

This is the power of faith
That God responds to us, through Jesus; by the Holy Spirit, in exactly the way we need, and at exactly the right time

There is a hymn in the hymn book, “Inspired by Love and Anger”, which is about mission and also about Jesus’ response to injustice... the final verse though, articulates just this point about how Jesus meets us where we are, and responds to our faith as it is:

Amused in someone’s kitchen
Asleep in someone’s boat
Attuned to what the ancients
Exposed proclaimed and wrote
A saviour without safety
A tradesman without tools
Has come to tip the balance
With fishermen and fools
(CH4:253 John Bell & Graham Maule)

The power of faith is ours for the taking
Surprise yourself! Astonish Jesus!
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word...”