Saturday, 19 September 2015

sermon for 20 September - Ridiculous Faith

Genesis 18:1-15 & 21:1-7
The Ridiculousness of Faith

There is nothing quite so wonderful as a good laugh; laughter is infectious, it bubbles up within until it can be contained no more. There is a phrase “laughter the best medicine” which was I seem to remember a  regular column in the Readers’ Digest (it may well still be so…) the column features stories from real life which were funny and often utterly absurd – but gave one a sense of yes –  that’s just what life is like…

It is clear that this week’s bible reading features laughter – laughter in discomfort and laughter in joy. It also features patience and faith – great faith in an impossible situation. Abraham has been promised many times that he will be blessed with thousands of descendants, yet his wife has never been able to conceive. In the face of reality, he still believes in the promise given to him by God. Believes when there is no earthly reason why he should. But, faith can be ridiculous like that can’t it?
But what about the absurdity of laughing when things are not funny or joyful? I’m sure we have all done it; an uncomfortable situation, making us feel unsure, and so we laugh at our discomfort, because we are embarrassed, because we are relieved it isn’t us… because it’s better than crying, because we need to do something… sometimes no matter how inappropriate it may be we laugh anyway, because ridiculously it’s the only appropriate thing to do.

Laughter is a gift – it is an instinctive response, and it is biblical. This story of Abraham and Sarah is the first time we hear of laughter occurring in the bible; first in the passage before this one, Abraham laughs when God tells him he will have a son to be his heir and that Sarah will be the mother; then Sarah laughs. Twice.
First at the absurdity of the conversation she is overhearing; and also at the ridiculousness of what she hears. The suggestion is absurd – she is 90 – she is well past child bearing – it is total nonsense.
And let’s not beat about the bush, this is no miraculous conception they are talking about – she and Abraham have to be proactive in the conception – the church bible translation is explicit – this is about the sexual act!
Other translations are less forthright!

Sarah’s second laugh comes nine months later – as she cradles her new born son, and her laughter is utterly awestruck; joyful – God has blessed her and now she laughs for sheer joy, inviting her friends to laugh with her, and naming her son – Isaac.

As I mentioned with the children, the name she chose is symbolic of all that has gone before: in Hebrew the name of the child born of God’s humour and Abraham and Sarah’s humanity is Isaac – Yitzhak – which means: the one who laughs! What began as a laugh of doubt and even fearful sarcasm, became a holy prayer bringing new life and hope to humans through their laughter. That phrase “became a holy prayer” I have borrowed from Lynn, another RevGal – she coined it, and it spoke volumes to me. I love the idea it purveys – that something tangible that we do is a much of a prayer as words uttered in hope, or joy, or supplication.
Laughter is God’s gift – Isaac – Yitzhak.
Rabbi Micah Goldstein, of Temple Emmanuel in Memphis, makes this observation about the text: “What is clear in the bible … is that with Isaac, the age of laughter begins. And as we are in seasons of our lives or our culture that are solemn or overwhelming, God forbid we close the age of laughter which began with Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. We need laughter in our lives. It is God’s gift to us.”

In this season; in this place; in this world today – we need laughter; humanity needs laughter – to renew, to release, to share a common thread; humanity needs love for sure – but we also need that precious gift of Yitzhak – laughter, to bubble up within and cascade out – reminding us, that even at the worst of times, there is still a smile.

Those of you who have attended funerals I have conducted may well be familiar with the words I use at the conclusion of every service
“The time has come to say our final farewell; if you laugh or smile as you remember, if you shed a tear, be happy for all these things are what…” make us love and be loved.

Laughter shows us love, shows us God; laughter is God’s precious, life giving, love incarnating gift to us – let’s laugh and live and love together. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Sermon for September 13th - Perfect Creation

Genesis 2: 4b-25

Well – what a couple of weeks!
While I have been away, visiting the family half way across the world, in America and Canada, things have moved on…

Today we get back into the lectionary again; prescribed readings and a sense of belonging to God’s Kingdom. Creation – the story that tries to explain how we came to be; how it is we seek to know our creator; how we seek to find meaning in our lives.
This is the second telling of creation – the order is different, God’s intent seems different, God’s emphasis is in a different place.
God creates the universe; and then, before creating anything else, God creates man. This version doesn’t say, “in God’s image” but it does tell us the it is through the breath of God that man began to live.
Next God plants his garden… including that tantalising tree – the one that gives knowledge of good and evil. And orders the man: do not eat of this tree; eat of any other plant, but not this one, for if you do, you will die.

Stark warning! Next come the animals and birds – to be companions for the man. And even though the man knows them, names them, cares for them, none was considered exactly right to be man’s constant companion. So, God causes the man to sleep, and from his rib creates woman. And all seems well.

Life is perfect
God’s creation was perfect…
So what happened?
How did humanity go from perfection to a world where some people have less value that others?
How did we get to a place where we witness death through poverty, injustice and greed and are not moved to act?
How did we get to a place where the ordinary people begin to rise up and speak out, because suddenly, it is not good enough?
Suddenly, we realise that this is NOT how God ordered things.

Creation. However you take it – either by a literal acceptance of the biblical tales (though, which do we choose?) or from the other extreme via the Big Bang Theory.
However you take it. We are here. All of humanity is here, and we sense, know, and believe in God’s presence.
I have no doubt that God created our world, and set us as stewards of that creation, and of each other. I also have no doubt that the world as it is today is far away from God’s original purpose, God’s original design.
 For, God did not call us to ignore the little ones; the less able; those who see the world, and God and creation differently to us.
God made us to respond to each other, to respond to God.

While I was away the world was rocked by the image of a tiny child on a beach. It should have been a happy sight: a wee boy, in the sand, playing at the shoreline. But it was far, far from that.
Aylan Kurdi was his name. He, and his brother and his mother all perished. And I know that you know this – but I need to try to make sense of it for me too. For this is not God’s plan – that families flee from persecution and lose their lives in an attempt to find safety. That to stay is worse than to risk losing all in a fragile boat on an indiscriminate sea.

And so – it is, the world has reacted. Oh how the world has reacted!

While the politicians keep on talking about it, the people have risen up and acted. Collecting points are springing up; individuals, churches and organisations are grouping together to take action. Food, clothes, shelter, essentials gathered up and transported to camps all over Europe.
And, the people’s voices are loud!
Clamouring for the governments to act, and to act quickly.

We have so much!
And nationally our country could act – if it had the will.
The knowledge of good and evil is a burden; before that knowledge there is innocence; afterwards, innocence is lost forever. 
We cannot un-see; we cannot un-learn, we cannot un-know the stark truth that evil walks the earth; that the perfection God envisioned is far from our reality.

So what can we do?
God’s gift to us, is the knowledge of GOOD as well as evil. All is not lost; Jesus' parable of the sheep and goats reminds us that what we do is known by God.
I was hungry and you fed meI was thirsty and you gave me drinkI was a stranger and you welcomed meNaked and you clothed me… (Matt 25: 35,36)
We know.
We know what to do – we act.
We give to those who have nothing
We welcome them; feed them, clothe them.
For when we do this; we do it to God.

You were all given a flyer today, with details of Borders Aid for Syria; this is one of many groups all across Scotland that have sprung up in the past fortnight. They are affiliated to a registered charity in Edinburgh and are acting to collect goods which will be transported to real refugees who have lost everything and are now in makeshift camps, seeking hope and dreaming of a better, safer life.
If you feel moved to act – then look at the list of goods needed and bring whatever you are able to church next Sunday, or to the cafĂ© over the next couple of weeks. Take one of the flyers for a neighbour or friend if you think they too want to help.

God’s world may be broken, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. For, when we see hunger and thirst and need and we act – then we are taking God’s love and hope to the broken world.
God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain, come change our love from a spark, to a flame. (Chorus, Beauty for Brokenness, Graham Kendrick (c) Make Way Music)