Thursday, 23 January 2014

Garden visitors

The Garden is usually busy at this time of year - finches, blackbirds, robin and also a big fat pigeon, and many, many jackdaws
each morning my regular visitors arrive to see what treats are laid out for them:
bacon fat
apples... my how they have loved the windfall apples this year!

but this year I have a new visitor...
and each day he gets bolder and bolder
now standing at the back door and calling
now tapping on the glass
And, when I go out to top up the feeder, or scatter some seeds, he only runs a little further, waiting until I go back inside

Pheasant are not generally known as intelligent birds... often running when flying would get them to safety
Often choosing to run into the path of a car instead of into the hedgerow
But this handsome chap has worked out where to come to get easy food! 

How often would we benefit from some simple learning?
How often would learning to follow bring us to untold riches?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Come and See - sermon for 19 January

John 1: 29-42
They say that word of mouth or peer recommendations are the best way to choose a new piece of equipment, or new book to read or even finding a new employee, or new job.
The recommendation of someone you trust gives a degree of confidence that is not so easy to come by when searching ‘blindly’.

The first eight verses of the gospel reading tell us how John recognised and named the Lamb of God; how he witnessed and gave his testimony
How his assurances, his assertions, were such that two of his followers, his disciples turned from him, John, and followed the new guy.

When I read the gospel accounts in particular I like to visualise... I like to imagine what this scene looks like, how it plays out; how, if I were directing this as a scene myself, I would build up the tension and anticipation.
“There is the Lamb of God!” he said.
37 The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?”

These two verses make me ask a very particular question: what’s the time scale?
When John said, “There is the Lamb...” did they go immediately? Did they ask other questions not recorded here; did they have a wee discussion between themselves?
Or, were those words so empowering, that they just went?

And then, we have the equally sparse, “They went with Jesus...” talking? Listening? Walking behind? Walking close? How long was it before Jesus noticed them? Looked at them? Spoke to them?  
Now, his question to them on the face of it seems fairly incongruous, “What are you looking for?”
Not unambiguous; everyone knows what this question means... but they didn’t answer it!!
Maybe, having been told he was the Lamb of God, and taking that step to follow was enough... because, the real answer to that question would have been somewhere along the lines of,
“Well, John said...”
“Yes, John told us you are....”
“Well, we are looking for the Lamb of God and....”
“We are looking for answers, looking for the Messiah; we are looking for you!”

Yes... much easier to simply avoid the confrontation and answer a question with a question!

You will remember that I’m using each week of Epiphany to focus on the different ways God is revealed through the gospels… so the question Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” is the key thing for me… answered with another question, but leads to that invitation “come and see”… and wow!! So many things are then revealed in these verses…

In asking, “where do you live, Rabbi” the disciples do two things, first, they avoid making a statement too soon; and second they elicit an invitation to explore further.
The next few hours remain a mystery of speculation. They spent the rest of that day with him... in conversation, in listening, and most likely sharing a meal together. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we are told, so the evening meal would take place during that ‘rest of the day’, and during that time something astonishing happened.

By the end of the evening, Andrew was convinced!
Andrew’s assertion, “We have found the Messiah” is a God given inspired revelation. It was a new beginning for him, and for those he knew.
There’s a gap here in the narrative.
They spent the rest of the day, and then, presumably they returned home... we are told that at once he found his brother.
At once at home that night?
At once, at home, next morning?

Before we look at the next part of the encounter, the first meeting between Jesus and Simon Peter... take a moment with me to reflect on the spiritual aspects of these verses, and how they might encourage us.

Jesus asks the disciples, ‘What do you seek?’ They reply, ‘Where is it that you dwell?’ Jesus says, ‘Come and see.’ This can be the language of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. The two disciples had already started to follow Jesus before He asks them what they seek.
Only when we are open are we willing to enquire and follow.
 It is our spiritual hunger which compels us to search for new possibilities.
It is our dissatisfaction with where we are in our life and in our spiritual life which forces us to go in search of something new.
The dwelling-place of Jesus is with the Father; He abides with the Holy; He is at home with the Sacred. It is to this encounter that the two disciples are drawn. Jesus invites them, ‘Come and see.’
We too can be drawn into encounter with Jesus. It is our natural instinct to seek the divine, to search for the holy; it is human nature to respond to our inherent sense of other so that when we follow Jesus, when we ask him where he lives, he asks us too, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?”
And if we continue to follow on that pilgrim path, he will invite us to come and see, and then...
Then, anything can happen!!

What happened to Andrew when he first responded to Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See”? well, the first thing he wanted to do, was to share it!
He wanted others to have the same opportunity as he had. He knew instinctively that God in Jesus Christ was not exclusive; he wasn’t there just for a few privileged individuals; Jesus came for all humanity, and Jesus was to be shared with all who would listen.
So, for Andrew the only thing to do was to bring his brother along to meet Jesus; to meet, the One – the Messiah, the Christ – the Lamb of God

I don’t know for a moment what Simon was expecting when he first met Jesus
Maybe a teaching moment; or a sense of holiness; or an instant recognition of who this man from the north was... instead what he got was a new name.

Simon’s new name...Simon, son of John, brother of Andrew
Simon, the couthy old fisherman, not given to fancy; not given to subtlety. Simon: a man’s man; a man who liked to call a spade a spade. A man who would give as good as he got.

I wonder what he thought about this strange man from up north.
And I wonder what he thought about this upstart giving him a new name?
And what does it tell us, and him?
Simon noisy, brash, opinionated, hard worker... not the sort of man you’d want to give a solid, dependable sort of nickname to.
And yet, that is exactly the name Jesus chose for him: from now you will be called Cephas: the Rock.
The Rock: solid, reliable, steady, unmoving, the foundation and base layer... what would being given that name do to your confidence? Your self-image? Your confidence?

I wonder, if Simon has been asked to chose an alternative name, if he would’ve come up with something different, something to reflect the personality traits he was proud of?

Trusting God to choose for us leads to all sorts of revelations.
Just as, when choosing our starwords, we were trusting God to lead and guide; to show us something we need. We still may not know the why or the how or the what of our word. But that’s the beauty of it!
It is a word for a whole year, not just a moment
Simon’s new name was a name for him to grow into; a name for him to wear in, to work with, until it really did fit him.
Simon encountered Jesus and was utterly changed: the change did not happen overnight; the change took much wrangling and many moments of joy and utter dejection over a period of time; but all of that happened because of this first encounter:

We too can be drawn into encounter with Jesus. It is our natural instinct to seek the divine, to search for the holy; it is human nature to respond to our inherent sense of other so that when we follow Jesus, when we ask him where he lives, he asks us too, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?”
If we let him, Jesus can bring about change in our lives; Jesus can give us a new name; he can give us a new sense of purpose, he can lead us on the Pilgrim Way, to walk with him into a great new adventure.
 And if we continue to follow that pilgrim path, he will invite us to come and see, and then...
Then, anything can happen!!

When we “come and see”, anything can happen!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Living Water – A Talk for Children

On the chancel we have our Baptismal Font – moved to the centre as if for a baptism.
On the table to the side are two jugs, one the big baptismal jug, and a second smaller one

What do you see here today?
Now, we know this is for when I am going to Christen or baptise someone don’t we?
Can you remember what all these different things are?
What’s this called? And can you remember why we call it the font?
What’s the special word?
Yes, a fountain with water that never stops moving – that looks like it’s alive!!
Usually when we have a baptism, one of our elders lifts up the big jug to pour the water for everyone to see... so we can remember that we are baptised with living water...
See my smaller jug?
Would anyone like to have a go at making some living water this morning?

We do not have a baptism today... but our bible reading tells us of a very special baptism indeed... who’s do you think that may be?
Jesus was baptised
He was baptised in a river
Now, if you got baptised in a river it would be really easy to remember about the living water wouldn’t it?
Yes! Because the river never stops flowing...
And our lives with Jesus don’t stand still either
So today we remember Jesus baptism
We remember that Jesus, came as a baby, then he grew into a boy, and a teenager and then a man
And when he was grown up, he had a job to do
He began his job, his mission, with his baptism
Taking time apart to get God’s blessing
Taking time so that when it all began, he was as ready as he could be

Let’s try to remember that too
That when we begin a task
Whether it’s a tiny errand or a great big project
We too spend time with God
Remembering that living water always flowing

So that when we begin, we too, are as ready as we can be 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Sermon 12 January: Man on a Mission

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Matthew 3: 13-17

The next eight weeks are the weeks of the season of Epiphany; Epiphany, liturgically speaking is a season of anything between four and nine weeks depending on when Easter falls, so this year it is almost as long as it can be as Easter is not until the third week of April. Epiphany is all about discovery, understanding and the revealing of something new.
It is the season of Revelation

Last week, we considered the way God revealed who Jesus was to the wise men and we asked God to reveal something to each of us as we drew our Starwords, and hopefully each of those words will guide us as this New Year progresses.

Now we fast forward, from the infant child to the grown man.
Jesus coming into his own
Jesus beginning his ministry

From the gospel of Matthew we learn very little of this event; it is pared back; minimal in its description: Jesus approaches; John resists; Jesus persuades; John complies...
And then!
Then all heaven breaks out!
The Spirit of God descends
The voice of God is heard
The Son of God is revealed

The season of revelations gets off to a flying start!

Earlier we thought about baptism with the children; we remember that rich symbolism: the living water.

We remember that our baptism marks the moment when we are grafted into God’s family.
When Jesus was baptised, God’s voice is heard claiming His Son.
When we are baptised, we too become children of God; God claims us as God’s own:
We too are part of the family
Through his baptism Jesus is revealed as God’s Son; and I repeat: we too are part of God’s family; our own baptism; and indeed every time we witness a baptism, reveals that deep family connection.

In our tradition, wherever possible, baptism happens at public worship, with the church family gathered round; it is a family event.
The family gathers to witness; and promises to support and uphold the person being baptised, whether child or adult.
And it is important also that we include the whole being of God in that too: when Jesus was baptised both the Spirit and the Father were present affirming the Son; approving his mission; commending his work; endorsing his identity – this is the Son of God
Father, Son and Spirit are present
And thus we baptise in the name of Father, Son and Spirit

John the Baptist had a very specific mission – his task as messenger was to prepare the way
Jesus too was a man on a mission; his mission is just beginning, and now, authorised by God, upheld by the Spirit, that mission takes off
Isaiah’s vision of the Servant can so easily be laid on Jesus – this servant, filled by the Spirit, called by God, sent to open up new paths, new ways, sent to reveal God to the poor and the marginalised of the world.
Sent to deliver a new promise; establish a new relationship...

The mission reveals itself step-by-step
And we will follow this mission, this series of revelations, over the next few weeks, trusting that God will reveal new things to us along the way
Trusting God will reveal to each of us a new mission, a new chapter, a new start...
Knowing as we do, that God looks at each of us and sees a beloved child who is loved and cherished and valued
If we can hold that thought, and remember that promise as we go into the unknown of the future then I think we will be ready for pretty much anything!!
You, and you, and you...
Each and everyone is a beloved, chosen child of God

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Epiphany Sermon: Written in the Stars

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Matthew 2: 1-12

Over our Christmas break, Jamie and his girlfriend Lara visited with us, one evening as we were looking out Lara was delighted to see so many stars. Stars that we take for granted- she doesn’t see them so clearly, only 35 miles away, because in the centre of town there is far too much light pollution – it’s a blessing we are hardly aware of – let’s give thanks for that!

When we look out, into our clear skies, and see those stars, I wonder how similar they are to the stars that those wise men looked at.
How dark were their skies?
Did they take them for granted? Or did they notice the minute changes taking place?

And if we go back even further in time, what were the stars that Isaiah looked out at like?
What did his night sky tell?
Light was important; light in the darkness, for they did not have much in the way of artificial light; no light pollution for them – light came from the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night; and in the home, light came from small lamps, burning oil – smoky dim light... so imagining the city lit by the Light of God – well that was something special
Something glorious...

And to look at the stars, seeking news; scanning for changes; reading and interpreting, on the hunt for information... to look out and up was truly the only way to know... or to hope and dream of the future.

Things written in the stars....
For the wise men, the stars told of the birth of a new king... and the portent was such that they gave up home and familiarity to make that perilous journey into the unknown – with a star and eternal hope their greatest motivation.

It’s hard for us to imagine it really;
Hard for us to grasp
Beyond our wildest imaginings
It would be like receiving an email today – telling us of a new and exciting venture. And we deciding it must be true! And not only that, but dropping everything and going to see it for ourselves.
If someone we knew did such a thing we’d be amazed; we’d be incredulous- and likely we’d brand them to be fools!

And yet. For these men who studied the stars, this was no fool’s errand; this was important, vital, urgent – it was what they must do. They felt utterly compelled.
When was the last time you or I felt so utterly compelled to do something? Anything?!

The starts spelled it out for them: their star words were invitation, journey, amazement, opportunity, worship, pathfinding, prophecy, determination.... wonder. Wonder indeed!
And they felt compelled to act on them.
Would that any of us had such resolve!

What happened next we know, and the story is familiar... so instead of visiting with that little family, take a moment now to think about what was written in the stars for you last year. If you had had a word for 2013, as you think back over it, what would it have been?
What was the overriding theme for you last year?
What had you hoped for?
What did you get?
Where did you find answers?
Who was your greatest inspiration?

And, if you had had a word given you, how might that have affected the way you looked at the world? At your life?

You heard me explain a little to the children as they found their starwords earlier.
A word to guide your prayers; to guide your life... a word from God

After we celebrate communion, I will invite those who are comfortable to come forward and take a star.
 If you want me to draw  a star for you later on, I will do that too.
Keep your star – pray that word
Let it guide you; inspire you
If at first it seems strange, or wrong, or uncomfortable – sit with it! Ask God to guide you

And all through this year, the star will remind you, inspire you, challenge you and ultimately by this time next year, you may have a whole other view... or outlook, or simply know that as God guided your prayers, and responded and responds, God also helped you to take the word he had for you, for this year!

if you are unable to be at church this weekend and would like a word drawn on your behalf, please just leave a comment here, or comment on the church Facebook page.