Sunday, 28 September 2014

Standing on the Edge sermon for 28th September

(Exodus 14: 10-14 & 21-29)
“There is hardly anything more obvious than the fact that evil is present in the Universe”Martin Luther King, preaching on today’s text said this: “The Bible affirms the reality of evil in glaring terms... This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It symbolizes something much deeper than the drowning of a few men, for no one can rejoice at the death or the defeat of a human person. This story, at bottom, symbolizes the death of evil. It was the death of inhuman oppression and ungodly exploitation...“The death of the Egyptians upon the seashore is a glaring symbol of the ultimate doom of evil in its struggle with good...“There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil.This is our hope.”
(Martin Luther King “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore,” Sermon Delivered at the Service of Prayer and Thanksgiving, Cathedral of St. John the Divine1956)

“There is hardly anything more obvious than the fact that evil is present in the universe”

Today, our journey through the Old Testament reaches the shores of the Red Sea; the tale has moved on, Abraham’s descendants; the children of Israel, now live in exile in a foreign world; they are so multitudinous that Pharaoh has decreed that any male offspring born must be put to death; Moses escaped death and was raised in a place of privilege, but now his time has come.
His life was spared; his life has a purpose; and he has worked with God to free the people.
Yet already they are wishing they were back in Egypt under the tyranny, but safe!

Thus the scene is set; the army closing in behind, the impenetrable sea ahead, and the feel that they are doomed.

This Red Sea rescue has been repeated time and again through history, when faithful people, in the most extreme of circumstances have come back from the brink of disaster, to restoration and renewal.

Thus it is, all around our world today: this year we have an outstanding harvest: the weather has been perfect: and all around we have seen crops brought in early, in our gardens we have harvested fruit and vegetables – yet only 12 months ago, we were bemoaning the harvest, the weather, rain had flooded the land, and local homes; all seemed lost. Crops were poor; the soil waterlogged, the few warm days had lifted the spirits, but were not enough to save the harvest...
This week we have been privileged to host the I Witness Exhibition; I have taken it to the Primary School and the High School, and we have shared the story of the triumph of good over evil; we have learnt of how evil, corruption is alive and well, and we have learnt that there is still hope. That goodness will succeed, that the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere can rebuild in the face of utter destruction.
Our floods and torrential rain last summer were terrible and detrimental to our land, our harvest; but that is nothing compared to what Haiti has endured in recent years.

2010 saw a massive earthquake which all but flattened the country: the capital Port O Prince was reduced to a pile of rubble; and then in 2012 hurricane Sandy added to the devastation... yet still they move forward, the spirit is not bowed, and the restoration work continues.

Christian Aid works tirelessly wherever there is poverty, injustice and persecution; we all know they come in during major disasters; but how many of you know that the work is long term, on-going.
It doesn’t stop.
If there is a need, then Christian Aid will keep on working to create better circumstances for the people.
This is a different sort of harvest, but no less worthy of celebration!

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – not that there is no money, but that it is not used in the best way.
Houses are built, but government contracts are not honoured, so they lie incomplete, empty – a ghost town.

Yet, even there, is hope!
Christian Aid has had offices in Haiti for more than 25 years! Their offices were also lost in the earthquake; they had been working at that time to help with reforestation; and with health services, providing education on nutrition, and clinics to give not only immunisations, but advice, and hope.

So, following the earthquake, there were people already there, to get the help to where it was needed.
Terrible things happened; but out of that came goodness in new and unexpected places.
New communities: moving out of the densely packed capital, into the fertile lands; building homes, and community centres; and forming farmers’ cooperatives, so they could get the best prices for their crops and their milk: which in turn made milk available at much better prices...
Such simple things, but the effect is vast.

As Martin Luther King said so profoundly:
“The death of the Egyptians upon the seashore is a glaring symbol of the ultimate doom of evil in its struggle with good...“There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil.This is our hope.”
This is our hope still: that bad things happen; but even then good will out. The harvest comes and goes: from year to year it varies: rich and full; disappointing and poor, life continues.
We stand at the edge of the sea, in the knowledge that God is with us; offering protection, showing us the way forward, we trust God to be with us every step of the way.
Stand at the shore, and step out – watching God make the way clear for us and remembering always that the way was made clear by Moses raising his arms....

The real blessing that comes from reading about the rebuilding of Haiti is the knowledge that people worked together to bring renewal and restoration and hope.

When people get together, and work together for good, there is no limit to the harvest that will be brought in.
And that is worth celebrating!


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Sermon September 21: Hope and Dreams

Genesis 39:1-23

What a week we have had!
What a week for our country – it has been a mixture of high emotions for all concerned.

I stayed up through the night, finally crawling to my bed around 3.30/ 4 am.... images of excited and dejected folks in my mind.
I awoke a few hours later just as the final results were being declared
And I watched on as the media retold the story over and over...

And, of course for me there was the added responsibility of recording this momentous day; responding to all that had happened, all that had gone before

And the irony of today’s bible reading for this week could not be escaped!

When I saw the reading weeks ago, when I was preparing the overview for the next few weeks I had to laugh... at God’s sense of humour!
The week before we have Abraham stepping out in faith into the unknown; the week after we have Joseph – the dreamer, the favoured, unjustly imprisoned, and now waiting patiently for God to bring about the change that is needed, to bring forward the opportunity needed for things to be put right...
This particular chapter in Joseph’s story contains many threads: slavery; hard work; honesty and integrity; temptation – and resisting it; and injustice: how one person’s action – in this case Potiphar’s wife saving face – can lead to misery and imprisonment for another.

Joseph’s whole life story is about a man blessed with a particular gift, and how even in the most unlikely and unpromising situations, God can still work; good things can still happen; and in the end the promise is fulfilled.

Joseph’s story is our story too.
We each are blessed with particular gifts – which we may not always recognise... yet because of these gifts we are drawn into places and situations we may never have dreamt of.

On Saturday, watching the interactions at our Church & Community Hobby Day was fascinating – crafters sharing tips; writers chatting with artists; others discovering new things – and the sheer delight of sharing stories and experiences.
This is what our lives are really about: stories. Each chapter of our lives leading on to the next; each adventure, each path that crosses with another.

Joseph was placed in Potiphar’s household from a place of privilege. His life was not that of a slave, of a bound man, yet that is where he ended up: sold into slavery, placed in a household and from there thrown into jail on a trumped up charge.
And yet in all of that Joseph remained strong, true, constant to the faith and the God he trusted.

This too is our story: our lives do not always go the way we hope or dream.
Plans fall by the wayside
Friends, loved ones leave us or reject us
Life throws unexpected obstacles into our paths. 

Some here today hoped, dreamed of a very different Friday to the one we got; others prayed hard for the day that came.

Both sides were praying for the outcome they truly hoped and believed was best. And here’s the rub!
Both side cannot both get what they want – life is not like that.
So what do we do?

In jail; outcast; alone Joseph did not give up; he did not feel sorry for himself, or blame God, or give up. Instead he played to his strengths; he had vision; he had skills and he used them, so that even in jail he was able to prosper, he was able to be the best he could in difficult and trying circumstances. And above all he was patient.
He waited patiently for God
And God blessed him.

And so must we too
We do not give up
We do not cast blame in every direction
We do not bemoan the fact that God did not answer one particular prayer
Instead we focus on what we do have
We have our skills and talents
We have a hope of a new start
We remember that we are united – we are one people, in one amazing beautiful country
We remember the incredible thing that happened this week – 84% of the population who were eligible turned out to vote – thousands of people engaged in the political process for the very first time; they exercised their rights and that is something to really celebrate.

If we can harness even a fraction of that enthusiasm, that hope and channel it into our united future – well, then I believe God will bless it; God will be with us every step of the way into whatever the new future brings.

We know the rest of the story of Joseph.
It does not end in a jail cell
His patience and constancy is rewarded, and he continues to prosper
He is reunited with his whole family
Reunited and reconciled

That is my prayer for our community, our nation
To be patient and constant
To reach a point of unity and reconciliation so we can build together on what we have
And go forward together into that future under one faith, one hope, One God.


Friday, 19 September 2014

The Morning After

The morning after the night before 

I did not have the resilience of some of my friends, 
I retired at around 3.30am 
The result seemed clear
And the pundits were out in force
And my eyes were heavy

This morning, just a few hours later
as the final call came in
When the result was confirmed
I watched history in the making
We were asked to respond
And respond we did
What an amazing thing has happened!
The country was engaged in the process
People stood up to be counted
For finally they believed that their voices really do matter
Finally they were prepared to make a mark
To stand up and be counted
And overwhelmingly the majority joined in
It was a new experience for many
It was an opportunity to really engage
And that made me proud!
Proud to be British, proud to be an adopted Scot
I may not have been born here
But it takes more than being born in a place to establish identity

No. Is an answer
For many it is not the answer they sought, dreamed of, hoped for
But it is an answer
Now the die is cast
And the work begins
Forward we go, united as One country
United in hope for a future that will be better,
Better working together
Better sharing together
Better talking together
Together moving forward to make a better future
Full of hope
Full of resilience 
Driven by the desire to be reconciled, so that we can 
Build a better Scotland
A better Britain
A better nation - together. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Big Day

Tomorrow is a big day
That's capital B capital D
It's a day of reckoning that has resonated
In harmony and in dissonance 
It has sent ripples across a pond
Ripples that have touched myriad others
Others with no direct stake in proceedings
But nonetheless it has struck a chord
So that people who live in far flung corners feel they too have a stake
They too wish to express their opinion, or support, or indeed their opposition 
Such is the influence, the image of our wee country
That folks all around the world feel connected
Deeply connected to us
So, tomorrow when we make our decision
When votes are cast, not in election, but in referendum
All the world will watch and wait with us.

Tomorrow will come and go
And the excitement of the moment will pass
Then begins the real work
The work of bridge building
Of hopes and dreams, realised or dashed
For every happy one there will be a sad one
For every relieved one there will be an astonished one
For everyone there will be a new start
Because of tomorrow all will change
Mibees aye, or mibees naw 
Makes no odds

For aye or naw there will be work to do
We are who we are
And that we still shall be
We will still be in Scotland
We will still be Scottish 
We will still live with neighbours and friends and colleagues 
who view the world differently to us
And we will still be one nation
One nationality
With one hope
One love
One God
United yet unique
Just like everyone else 
Hold onto that thought
Pray for the unity of our nation
This day and all days 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Sermon for 14th September

Abram’s Promise

At 75 years, many folks are thinking about winding down; handing over to the next generation; taking it easy as the autumn years approach... some folks.
The reality of course is totally different!
The volunteers who keep our community going, who make sure we have paths to walk, flower borders to enhance our village, members of clubs and groups, archivists and activists are those who have stopped full time paid employment, and have instead taken on whole new ventures – new adventures very often stepping out in faith as they begin to do something totally new and challenging.

Thus it was with Abram; a good and faithful fellow, who at the age of 75 is issued this challenge from God
Go, and I will bless you and your descendants.
I will bless your many descendants..., who will become a great nation, and blessing.

Abram obeyed, taking with him his entire household – wife, nephew, slaves and off they went.

The story of Abram – who became Abraham is recorded over 12 chapters of Genesis and spans 100 years – for he was 175 when he died! And during that time God’s promise that he would father a nation came true... and indeed there were as many as there are stars n the sky or grains of sand on the shore.

But – what is this call to a man of faith telling us?
How can it shed new light onto the world for us today?
It speaks strongly of faith – of stepping out in faith, without any real plan, or reason except the hope and the trust in God, and God’s promises.
Reading the chapters concerned with Abram’s life and his journey with God we can see that he did not always get it right; that sometimes he got it spectacularly wrong! Yet still God was with him; still he trusted God, followed God, believed God’s promises and fulfilled God’s call.

He had the option to say no! He had the option to stay where he was, living out his comfortable life securely in Haran; but instead he chose to accept God’s challenge, to start that journey into the unknown; to step out in faith, and hope, and trust following wherever he was led, and at every turn, dedicating the time and the place to God.
We can learn a lot from that!
Abram realised some eternal truths.
You are never too old.
It is never too late.
With God on the journey, anything is possible.
God’s promise to Abraham is recognised in the billions of stars in the night sky; in the billions of descendants – people of faith throughout the world
Abraham’s faithfulness to God is remembered in every cairn; every memorial stone; every place where God’s word is declared all around the world.

To receive God’s promise, God’s blessing, Abraham couldn’t simply sit still and wait for something to happen where he was – he had to step out on the journey; he had to move in response to God’s call.

So with us in this exceptional week.
We have been given a task that is like no other, for it is in our hands to decide the future of our country, whether like Abram we are seventy-five; or whether we’re sixteen and just starting out in life.

 I have listened very carefully over the past months, to discussions and debates; I have read so many reports, and opinions, and some not very kind reflections too.
I have finally reached a decision – not that I am going to tell you!
I hope you too have reached a decision and, upon reaching that decision I hope that you too have thought long and hard, have reflected and considered what you believe will be best for the country, for future generations. This Thursday we will join with the rest of the country in exercising our democratic right – to vote. And, on Friday to accept the result – whatever it is.
God calls us to follow faithfully; whether we are within the Union or without, we will still follow faithfully, we will still answer God’s call; we will still be who we are – and we will faithfully continue the journey.
Within our community, there will be friends, colleagues, neighbours who are disappointed, or distraught; there will be friends and neighbours and colleagues who are delighted and overjoyed – it is essential that we pray for peace, for acceptance, for vision and for those who will then have to work on the next phase – for again, whatever the outcome there will be work to do.

Like it was for Abram, it will be God’s work
He moved
He travelled
He stopped to pray and listen for God
And he was blessed
He received God’s promise

We too need to move
To step out
To pray and listen to God
And to receive blessings in faith

I have both dreaded and looked forward to this week; I have no idea what the future will bring; what the future will look like
But this I know; in stepping out in faith and hope, we trust in God’s promises – and they are eternal. Amen

Like pebbles on the shore...  Lossiemouth Beach spring 2014

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Sermon for September 7th

Genesis 6: 9-22 & 9: 8-17 ~ Hope and Promise

Imagine you are a parent of small children – some of you of course don’t actually have to imagine – you’re living the dream!
But this is not a dream – this is a nightmare!
Your children are bad; not just creating havoc naughty, but bad – through and through
You’ve cajoled, and persuaded, you’ve threatened and shouted – all to no avail
You warn them if they don’t start behaving; playing nice; stop this destructive, abusive behaviour you will pull the plug! You will abandon them!
You will disown, disinherit; destroy them forever...
And finally,
Deciding you’ve had enough
It’s all just too terrible to put up with any longer.
And then actually going ahead with your threat... to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Wow! When we look at the story of Noah, which is also the story of humanity, a story of death and destruction – terrible destruction, it is not an easy read.
We are so used to focusing on the ark; the animals; the man who was ridiculed by his peers... and the story of after – that we forget the story of the storm and flood.
For this is not a sweet bedtime story for children
This is a horror story of death and destruction on (wait for it!) a biblical scale!
How can such a story of devastation and death still be relevant today? And is there anything new we can learn from it?
I have known for weeks that I was going to be starting and Old Testament series this month – and indeed that this week would start us off on a series that looks at God’s promises – or Covenants. And this story had troubled me – because the more you study it; the more uncomfortable it is.
This is the first covenant: God destroying and then renewing
God seemingly despairing of humanity – all but one good man, and then, realising that annihilation is not the answer.
Did God get it wrong?
Did God change his mind?
Did God – who is good, really give up? Did he really wreak such havoc on the world?
I spend so much of my time now – tussling over natural disasters – did God make it happen? No! God is in all things; stuff happens; God is alongside us in the pain and turmoil.
Humans make bad stuff happen...

Yet, here is a story which unequivocally states that God made the bad stuff happen – and when it was all over, was so shocked by the devastation that he vowed never to do it again...
And, to make sure we and he remembered that promise, the rainbow was painted across the sky as a reminder – God is good. God will never again destroy the earth...
The world may be a bad place at times
But it is not all bad
There is great love at work
People care for each other; care about their community; people matter
And in these uncertain days we have hope
We may not always agree
Or walk the same paths as our neighbours
But if we can respect each other
If we can care for our neighbours
If we can pull together when bad things do happen – well then the hope continues
The future brightens
And we can look to the sky to remind ourselves of God’s promise too:
“When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living beings on earth. That is the sign of the promise which I am making to all living beings”
Bad stuff does happen
But love and hope and light can overcome anything
That’s a promise!

Our Church Float in the Village Fancy Dress July 2014

Friday, 5 September 2014

Friday Five Favourite Places

Over on the RevGalBlogPals blog, Today’s Friday Five from "3dogmom" asks: 
If someone told you they were coming to your city/state/country for the first time, what five things would you recommend that they be sure to see or do? 

I live in Scotland; now down in the borders, so just a few miles from England. Previously I lived up in the North East of Scotland, which is where my heart still lies really... 

Here is a photo journal of five of my favourite places to visit... 
first  is Findochty on the North East coast (pronounced Finechty!) where I have a lovely little house above the harbour to one side, and this wonderful beach to the other.  

 This is the beach at Earlsferry on the Fife coast - my heart really does belong to the sea 
 No one should visit Scotland without trying to set aside time to go to Iona - I could have used a picture of the Abbey, but this wee close and ancient post box warm my heart every time I see them!
 You must visit our capital city too! This is Prince's Street  Gardens in the heart of Edinburgh 
and this is Loch Ard near Aberfoyle in the Trossachs... such beauty!!!