Saturday, 30 November 2013

Advent Sunday Sermon - December 1st

Isaiah 2: 1-5
Matthew 24: 36-44 

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven...

And, no, you are all right, we did not have the reading from Ecclesiastes this morning!
But, that refrain has been something of an earworm.... running through my mind the past few days, but especially Saturday as I was trying to pin down my rambling thoughts.

Advent begins the new liturgical year with signs of hope...
Now, you may be forgiven for thinking the gospel reading, with its warnings about being ready and not getting left behind,  isn’t exactly hopeful....
And, you may think after the tragic events in Glasgow on Friday night and through the day that things here aren’t hopeful either

There is a time.... for everything
And a time for hope
And there is hope
To my mind, a helicopter, crashing into a crowed pub, and people being able to walk out – is a sign of hope.
And, passersby, strangers in the street, not running away, but running in to help; to form a human chain to get the injured out – is a sign of hope.
And being part of this church family and welcoming a new member into God's family, a new child into our midst – is a sign of hope.
And, displaying for the first time a beautiful piece of embroidery that will enhance our worship space and remind us of someone we loved, who had great faith – is a sign of hope.
And hearing Jesus warn, and encourage, and reassure – is a sign of hope
And hearing Isaiah, all those thousands of years ago, speaking of hope at the end of turmoil and war; speaking of the day when love will reign, when weapons will no longer be necessary; when soldiers will become farmers and we will all walk into the light – is a sign of hope!

Isaiah was writing at a time when for the people of Israel there had been little to hope about; they had spent more time warring with other nations, and each other than anyone could remember. Life was not hopeful... yet into this time of hopelessness came Isaiah’s prophecy – a day when all God’s people would come together; would forget their differences; would be united in returning to God – gathering at God’s mountain – people from all nations, united in peace and love of the Creator.

And that unity leading to the day when all that humanity chose was to follow God’s ways.
Follow God’s teaching
Knowing that God’s way was peace
And thus giving up arms: turning swords to ploughs; spears to pruning hooks
And gathering them into the light.

Imagine how life would feel if we had even a tiny inkling of that!
Our world is full of violence and war; distrust and corruption; disease and sickness; poverty and injustice.... all things that were also prevalent all those thousands of years ago... the exact situation that Isaiah was talking into
How can we not relate?!

But how would it be – what hope would we have, if we began to trust in these prophecies?
This advent, as we think about the things we hope for; think about how we can be the change... step-by-step – little-by-little until we can realise that vision.

We may not be able to change the whole world
But we can change our part of it....
Whether we are supporting disaster relief for the people of the Philippines
Or we are praying in solidarity with the people of a tiny wee pub in the city of Glasgow
Or we are coming together, inviting others in, welcoming new people into our fellowship – we need to start somewhere...
And that is hopeful!
Hold onto the hope – and come, let us walk in the Light which God gives us!


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Out with the Old ~ In with the New

Those of you who run in church circles will know that this week marks the start of Advent.
And... it also marks the turning from one year to the next in liturgical terms
from year C to year A.... 
When I started out in ministry (as in, when I was ordained and left to get on with it myself, make my own choices, and indeed my own mistakes without the comfort of a supervisor in the sidelines) I began by resisting the Lectionary all together, I wanted to do it all myself. And, at that time (2005) the Church of Scotland via a report named "Church Without Walls" was encouraging churches to take a year and walk through a gospel. So that is what I did in my first year (18 months!) of parish ministry, in my three congregations I planned all the worship around Mark's Gospel. 
If you are strict with yourself, this means every single verse.
You don't miss chunks out, like the lectionary does, and it was a good experience; I hopped in to Christmas and Easter as needed, but the rest of the year we just continued with the story of Jesus as told by Mark.
Then I started  on themes.... and I don't remember all of those - Minor Prophets was one, and  the Apostle's Creed was another (a great series over a few weeks!) 
And then I realised what hard work this was, and how much I already had to do... and how at some point in history a whole gang of older, wiser heads than mine had spent a deal of energy faithfully reading the bible and choosing texts to go together, to follow a pattern and reflect the passage of a year  to give us this Common Lectionary, a three year cycle, which if we followed it, would take us through the bible, picking up  the major characters and themes in a balanced and careful way. And sure, it doesn't include every single bit; but, it does give us a great insight. So I chose to go with the Lectionary and have been in it ever since.

So this week, as I contemplate Advent, and moving from C back to A again, I  wondered about doing something else; something new; or trying a different Lectionary to the RCL that I use.

I am thinking about it... but I don't think I will change!

It's New Year....

and a New Start
but saying farewell to Luke and hello to Matthew is about as new as I'm going to get! 

There's an old saying "Don't try to fix what ain't broke" and that goes for all sorts of things in life

When I see those phrases on my regular grocery or toiletry shopping it make my heart sink... 
and the same goes for church
in a world  of constant shifting
continuous change
there are some things that are just better left to be.... 

That doesn't mean I think the church shouldn't ever change.... because let's face it, you wouldn't be happy if your doctor was still using the same medicines and methods that were in use 100 years ago - would you?! 

Change can be necessary, but change just for the sake of it isn't helpful

The new, newness we need is pretty straightforward:

Finding new ways to tell people about the love of God
To show them that the church is there to love, not to condemn
To show them that the church is as full of sinners as it is saints - and that we don't check which category you are before we let you in

So as this year turns - throw out the old views of closed doors and hard hearts

and welcome in the new: our door is open, are hearts melt, and all who love God - Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Friend - and enemy - all are welcome here 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Job 19:23-27 
Reflection part one: want it, need it?

“How I wish that someone would remember my words and record them in a book!”
Job, all those thousands of years ago made a plea that resonates through the ages.
We want to be known
We want to be remembered
We want to make a difference in the world – however small or insignificant that may be, we want to matter, to someone.
 Sometimes though, what we want, and what we need, are two totally different things.
And they are not at all exclusive to each other.
 Job, made that plea to be remembered, to leave something eternal, but that was not the end of it. For he also said, “I know there is someone in heaven who will come at last to my defence”. Job recognised the eternal truth; that even if here on earth nothing is right, nothing is going our way, nothing really matters, still, it matters to God.
 Today, as we gather to reflect and remember, the things, the times, the places and most of all, the people we remember who could also have made that same plea – remember my words, record them in a book... carve my words in stone... so they last forever.
We remember them – their names are carved in stone and on brass – their names live on in countless churches and war memorials all over our country, and in countless other countries, other memorials.
We remember them
Because if we forget what we need, rather than what we want – then their names will be lost
 We need to be loved
We need to feel safe
We need to be at peace
We need to remember the paradox: peace is costly for it often comes at the expense of others

"remember my words, record them in a book... carve my words in stone... so they last forever".(Job 19:23,24)

 Luke 20: 27-38  
Reflection Part Two: Living God: Living People

For those who study the bible and biblical times, today’s reading should provoke a wry smile.
In New Testament 101 at university one of the first things I learned was the difference between all the different sects that we come across in reading the gospels in particular, but the bible as a whole.
And I particularly remember my professor teaching us how to remember what the Sadducees believed: they were sad you see... for they did not believe in life after death. It was all for now, and nothing for eternity.
So, for these Sadducees to come and ask Jesus about husbands and wives in eternity is something of a nonsense. For them, when you’re dead, you’re dead, so the answer was fairly academic.
Jesus’ answer to them therefore is a correction of their belies: he states very clearly Moses’ teaching to prove that the dead do rise to life; that there is life after death. And his words are a strong reminder for us too.
Our God is “the God of the living, not the dead, for to (God) all are alive”
To God, all are alive.
All those whom we remember today
Countless numbers who gave their lives, willingly or not; all those saints who have gone before us – all live.

There is no grey area in what Jesus says
There is no vagueness
“Men and women who are worthy to rise from death and live in the age to come ... will be like angels and cannot die. They are the children of God, because they have risen from death. (Luke 20: 35,36)
What an awesome promise!!!
What a truly comforting thought
People who are worthy
Not all the good people
Not all the religious people
Not all the powerful, or clever, or rich, or influential... but simply, those who are worthy.
These are the ones who will be like angels who cannot die.
They have the eternal promise
We... yes WE too have the eternal promise; it is ours; it is for us to claim
As Job knew,
“there is someone in heaven
    who will come at last to my defence.
 Even after my skin is eaten by disease,
    while still in this body I will see God.
I will see him with my own eyes,
    and he will not be a stranger...” (Job 19:25-27)

God knows us by name
Just as through every age, God has known the faithful by name
And what’s more – when the time comes he will not be a stranger
Just think for a moment what that means
If someone is not a stranger it means they are known, we know each other
We know God
For God, is the God of the living
And all people
Through all ages
However they lived or died
Have that promise to hold onto: the children of God rise from death to life, and to God we are all alive – for all eternity.
As we remember those who loved God and country today, we have that eternal hope:
God knows and loves and lives and we and they have a place with him


As I once again prepare for this season of Remembrance, I have been thinking about a couple of things. First, the "what" of remembering and second the "why". 
The sermon (well, two part short talks this week...) I will post tomorrow, but meantime the season began yesterday with an assembly for the Primary School children, followed by an Act of Remembrance with the Primary 6 & 7s. Doing something meaningful that will work for a whole school, from the little 5 yr olds for whom this all just a bit much, to the Primary 7s - top year of the school and feeling so grown up and ready for more is a challenge.
Yet, somehow, they made it!
They sat quietly and listened.
They responded - stirring for me that age old truth, that shows that in our deepest being the act of remembering, honouring and respecting is as much nature as it is nurture. 
They may not know why they need to respect - but they know that they must. 
They may not know exactly what they are honouring - but they know it is important. 

Tomorrow, we will gather for worship
Tomorrow there will be ceremony and solemnity and ritual.
Tomorrow, people of all backgrounds will gather together, at the church, and at the War Memorial, and together we will remember:
What? Those  who fell, those who gave of themselves, those who survived, those who mourned, those who lost, those who fought - for and against, and those who seek peace that will last.
Why? Because we must not forget the real cost of peace; we must not forget the true price of victory; we must not glory in death, but celebrate that freedom is possible through the sacrifice of others.
Jesus told us, greater love has no one that this, that he lay down his life for his friends  

"we will remember them"