Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sermon July 26:Try all the Things and ask the question– where do you place your trust?

Ecclesiastes 1: 1-18 & 12: 9-14 

There are phrase that are in common use that folks quote regularly that are sourced from the bible; and there are popular songs that use words based from scriptures...
And today we read from a book that is often used as a source.

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the wisdom books: a collection that provides advice and reflection and philosophy... and it is from here that we get such phrases as
“cast your bread on the waters”
“nothing new under the sun”
“eat drink and be merry”
“what goes around comes around”
“a time for everything”
And of course – immortalised in song in the 1960s: For every season – Turn, turn, turn, the Pete Seger song written in 1952, and popularised by the Byrds in 1965, that is taken right from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. And which, if you were asked to quote from Ecclesiastes is the one that is most likely to be identified: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance, etc...

So, to today’s reading, for one of the other most easily identified phrases, is “vanity, vanity, all is vanity” which is the King James Version.
All is hevel to use the Hebrew word (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The refrain runs throughout the book (25 times in all).
Though traditionally translated “vanity”, the Hebrew word hevel is better translated “absurdity, meaninglessness, vapour.”

There is clearly much debate for the word hevel is translated differently in virtually every translation:
Meaningless; vanity; useless; smoke; nothing makes sense; futile; and pointless to name but a few!
I chose the NIV translation today because I feel that for us the word meaningless is the most clear. We know what it means. We can understand the phrase at least...
And here’s the thing!
I have studied Ecclesiastes many times; and very often, especially if you use a study guide, the focus is on all the things the Teacher (King, Philosopher, ruler...) tried in his quest to gain some understanding of the ways of the world. He tries good and he tries evil – and finds that both ultimately are meaningless – a chasing after the wind (you’ll never catch it!)
He tries hard work and toil; and he tries laziness and pleasure – and finds they carry no satisfaction either. They are simply vanities; they are pointless occupations; they carry no deeper sense of meaning or importance when you break down what you are doing.
This may sound like a pretty dismal way of looking at life – at what we do. But when reading Ecclesiastes, and the musings of the Teacher, and all of his research, contemplating, reflecting really will be meaningless, unless, you do as we did today, and read to the very end of the book. For the conclusion is the most vital ingredient, it is the key to all that has gone before.

If you read the order of service you’ll see the title for today’s sermon is a question “Where do you put your trust?” the longer working title went like this:
Try all the Things and ask the question– where do you place your trust?

Because that is the whole of Ecclesiastes in a sentence: try it all if you must, but at the end of it all there really is only one question, one conclusion worth anything: where is your trust?
The answer comes in those final few verses:
"Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."

When it all comes to the end; when we take the tally – however you want to phrase it, the end of all things comes down to one thing only: trust God (remember that phrase from our look at Psalm 27 last week?)
trust God, keep God’s commandments;
in the church Good News Bible the phrase “fear God”, is translated “have reverence for God”.
I like that – have reverence for God

Imagine what the world would be like if we all did that?
If we all gave God due reverence, and kept God’s commands; if we treated our brothers and sisters with respect and honour – that would be a world!!
Treating everyone – no matter their creed or race or colour or gender with honour and respect – that, that would be something!
That would be the world as God created it to be.

And that would be a wonder.
And we, God’s people – all God’s people
Would be blessed


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The first of firsts....

Today would have been my dad's 83rd birthday.
So, today we reach the first in a year of firsts....
And because it's a first, and not long into this weird year, the calendar reminds me.
As if I needed reminding.

There it is.
In big bold letters
Dad 83 
July 22nd.

Today I am feeling, more keenly than ever, the distance between my home and the homes of my siblings.
Between where I live, and where the rest of my family live.

Thinking of you all
With love and tears

Rest in Peace Dad - Happy Birthday 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sermon 19 July: To be a Pilgrim

Psalm 27
"From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth . . . so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God, though indeed God is not far from each one of us." ~ Acts 17:26-27

As many of you will remember, back in the spring – so long ago! I undertook some study leave: Two different courses in February and April. The first was all about transformation through conflict – a strange concept, but one which gave me some very helpful and interesting insights, and the second one was about being a pilgrim: a traveller moving from one place to another; either physically or spiritually. It was about travelling to the Holy Land – Palestine / Israel; but it was also about travelling within yourself to discover more about God: for we are all pilgrims, even though we will not all travel to the Holy Land. 

Some of the journeys we make are completely life-changing: as we make discoveries, or encounter new things, new people, new places, new situations our view of the world changes; our place in the world changes; and who we are changes as we encounter God in the most unexpected corners of life.

During the course, Ruth our speaker, told us about a journey she had made to Jerusalem and the holy places, with a group of total strangers. She quoted from the book she had written. She took us with her, not into Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Galilee, but rather into an encounter with God. And although we did not travel out of the conference room in Edinburgh – we felt that we had journeyed long and hard during those four days, Ruth used some interesting and often challenging quotes through the different sessions.
“A pilgrim is open to where the Spirit leads...even if that’s uncomfortable...”
The words of the Psalm remind us of this:
It describes times, places and situations which are frightening and difficult- but assures those who listen that in all these things – God is there.
And the psalmist responds, by praising God!

Thus when we too journey into the unknown we are reminded that:
“A pilgrim has the opportunity to brush against the presence of the Divine.”

Being in God’s presence – in the presence of the divine can happen in so many different ways: up on a mountaintop, down by the sea, in the beauty of a new born child, in the holiness of holding the hand of a beloved one who struggles.
And, for me in recent times, in the holy moments of grief and death.

In all of these different times and places, I am sure each of you has your own story to tell, your own experience of discovering God, when you least expected it, for,
“What you expect to happen on a spiritual journey will not happen.”

The psalmist concludes his journey into difficulty and out the other side with a pilgrim statement:
Trust in the Lord. Have faith and do not despair. Trust in the Lord.

So we too travel;
through sickness and health;
through success and failure;
through hard times and good, knowing that it may be hard or painful or confusing or distressing, but in it all, we are never alone.
For God travels the road with us, sending other pilgrim travellers to shine the light, and share the load

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Press On, Claim your Prize! sermon for 5th July

Isaiah 40: 28-31
Philippians 3: 10-14

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?”
In our scriptures lie many truths; many visions and inspiring words, that can offer us wisdom, insight and hope.

Last week, those of you who were in the marquee may remember me talking about Paul’s letters, and his trait of using the phrase – “And finally...” which is not always a final statement, but more often than not does highlight a particular point or insight.
So it is also with Isaiah, who uses the phrase “Have you not heard?” on more than one occasion to remind people of God’s love, mercy and compassion.

Here we hear, following “have you not heard...” that God is tireless; that God can keep going whatever the circumstances, and, that those who call on God, may find that they too are tireless, they too can find strength they did not know they had.
For to put trust and hope in God, is to tap into extraordinary strength and power.
It is a great promise!
It is our great hope.

And then also back to Philippians, this week to an earlier chapter, still with the same message, the same sense of hope and assurance that comes from knowing Jesus in our lives.

Many years ago, when I was first interviewed when I applied to go into ministry, one of the questions I was asked was if you could preach on any verse in the bible, what would it be?
I hadn’t been forewarned of the question, so I came out with one of a number of verses I knew well – “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” – it is a verse that has given me much strength over the years; reminding me that it is God who calls; reminding me that the strength I have comes not from anything I can do, but from the one whom I serve – God: Father, Son and Spirit. And reminding me most of all, that ultimately the prize for faithful living is beyond all, it is out of this world. It is a heavenly prize.

And finally...
Have you not heard?
Do you not know?

God – our God can overcome all things – if we are able to accept it
We can do anything; achieve everything; through God’s strength and power.

For Isaiah, it was the hope of something away in the future – he was a prophet – God gave him a vision of things to come, of possibilities, and Isaiah was charged with turning that vision into words that would stand the test of time, and bring meaning to future generations.
Thus we have the image of the eagle, rising high above; the most majestic of birds, the very word conjures up power and might in our minds; all because of Isaiah’s vision all those thousands of years ago.
We do not think of the eagle as a fragile or weak animal; we think rather of a magnificent bird of prey; indefatigable, powerful with no equal amongst the other birds.

Both Isaiah and Paul were blessed with the gift of visioning and interpreting; a gift that came straight from God; a gift that enabled them to see the world through God’s eyes – even for a short time. And through that vision to inspire others; to lead, to guide, to chastise and admonish if necessary, but to move those who listened, those who read – those who still read from where they were, to where they could be.

That is exciting news!
Have you not heard?
God calls us!
Press on then... press on and win the prize that God calls you to.
For with God – everything is possible!