Saturday, 31 October 2015

Sermon for November 1st - A Promise for all God's People

Acts 2:38-39
Mark 10:13-16

Promises, promises – some promises we can trust; others we are not so sure about. What about those promises we have heard today?
From our readings:
“God's promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away”
“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”
And from the baptismal liturgy:
“All this he did for you, Rachel though you do not know it yet”
The phrases that stand out for me here are
You and your children
All who are far away
And, though you do not know it yet….

The promises of God are not tied to knowledge or understanding – they are there anyway
The promises of God are not reliant on us doing anything, or being anyone – they are for all the people, all the time.
Making a family; joining a fellowship; being part of something, belonging… all of these things are elements of the Christian Church; and reading the stories and memories recorded in the New Testament writing reminds us of the real meaning of following Jesus, of being the church – because, in the words of the hymn: the church is not a building or a steeple, the church is the people!

And ALL the people: children and adults; teens and the elderly; all are needed, all are welcome, all are part of what makes the church.

How does this work today, in the 21st Century, when society is busy; work happens 7 days a week; sport is considered more important than worshipping God; and world religions seem to be adopting extreme behaviours? How does all of that fit together with being church?
How can we live well; love our families; do the best for them and somehow honour that sense of otherness? That vague inclination that there must be something else, there must be more purpose to life that simply live until you die and that’s the end?
It will not have escaped your notice that yesterday was Hallowe’en and today is November 1st… do you also know what this day is called? It is All Saints Day. The tradition of Hallowe’en is ancient, and is actually not about witches and ghosts and ghouls, but about preparing for the Holy Day that follows.
All Saints used to be called All Hallows – All Holy; and Hallowe’en, is Hallowed Eve (like Christmas Eve?!)  Hallowe'en was traditionally a time when people chased away all the evil spirits so that the next day - All Saints - dawns bright and clear and hopeful.
It was a holy day, a day to go to church and remember the saints; November became a month to remember all those who have gone before: the cloud of witnesses who died in faith and were gathered into heaven… and there we have it! Heaven!
Historically the majority of people believed utterly that this life was just one chapter; that there was more; that we would ultimately be reunited with our loved ones in heaven. Nowadays, people are not so sure; there are those who believe it absolutely and those who deny it equally vehemently and then there are all the others who simply do not know.
Truth is, we do not much think about death and dying until we have to: We do not think about what we want, by way of expressing end of life wishes… or what we wish for our loved ones, or how we want to say goodbye… but, sure as we are born, one day we will have to address these things
Now – before you begin to think this joyful occasion has turned into a depressing exercise in thinking about death and dying let’s go back to those promises…
“God's promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away”
“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”
And from the baptismal liturgy:
“All this he did for you, Rachel though you do not know it yet”

What is God’s promise?
That we will receive the Holy Spirit in our lives
That God will prepare a place for those who love him
That God’s kingdom is for everyone – those close by and those far away.
That gives me hope!
God’s kingdom is for everyone
Not some elitist place for the chosen few, but for everyone.
All God’s People
If we can manage to trust this promise, even if we do not have all the answers or understanding to carry it right through, we can have hope.
You may not have an active faith; you may only come to church for holidays and special occasions; you may even have more questions than you dare to ask – but that’s ok.

That is OK!
One of the greatest mysteries of faith and life and living is trying to understand God.
To know God.
Jesus told the people who were trying very hard to be proper and grown up and exclusive, to stop!
Let the children come, he said, let the children come.
Receive the Kingdom of God like a child, or you’ll never get there.
I love that!
Receive the Kingdom of God like child… it’s not complicated; it’s not a trick; you don’t have to be clever, or rich, or powerful, or understand it all – you just have to be like a child
The Kingdom belongs to such as these: the ones who can enjoy life and live it; the ones who offer friendship and love, and can equally accept it too.

God wants us to know God
If you want to come to church – great!
If you find God in the countryside, or through caring behaviours – wonderful!
If you haven’t yet found God, but you are still looking – keep it up!
This is all God asks of us: to seek, to be kind and compassionate and to listen because God will be heard and seen and found in the most unlikely places

If we just allow it to happen….  

Big Sister

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Step in Faith sermon 18 October

Ruth 1: 1-17

And God – invisible, but ever present.

The story of Ruth has it all. Ruth is a woman of faith – even though she does not know it.
Ruth is a woman who is dedicated, devoted and loyal – in spite of the difficulties it brings her.
And today, if someone is without loyalty, compassion, generosity of spirit we call them Ruth- less.

Ruth was not a Jewess like her mother-in-law; she was not tied to the traditions and rituals that Naomi was, yet, her deep sense of duty led her to make a life changing decision.
It is clear that she and Orpah are devoted to Naomi; they love her and they want to continue to love and support her. But Naomi releases them from their obligations. You don’t have to do this; you don’t have to come with me to a foreign land; I release you from that obligation – because I will never be able to fulfil my own obligation to you… so go! Go back to your families with my blessing. Start again with my approval.

And as we know, eventually Orpah is convinced to return home; but Ruth – Ruth is determined that she will not; and her declaration: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people; your God will be my God…” has become synonymous with declarations of love & commitment.
The whole story of Ruth is not long; just four chapters, chapter 2 – Ruth begins to work to care for her mother-in-law and herself. Chapter 3 she finds her nearest relative and asks him to marry her; Chapter 4 she and Boaz are married, and Naomi is blessed with a grandson to carry on the family line.

This shows us, as do so many of the stories in the bible, that faith is at its most powerful when we step out in uncertainty.
Ruth did not know what would happen to her, or even if she would have a future when she took those steps towards Bethlehem with Naomi. But she knew deep in her heart that is was right; she felt something stirring that could not be named, yet was irresistible: she must stay with Naomi; she must dedicate her life to her, and, more importantly to her God.
This was a true leap of faith; stepping out boldly, without knowing what lay ahead. And her promise, which turned her away from her own people, her own gods, is all the more beautiful because of it.

Anytime we are privileged to witness a stepping out in faith, we are truly blessed; today we are reminded of the ancient tradition established all those thousands of years ago; and we witness something wonderful as we share in Matthew’s own declaration of faith and love.
As we hear him, vocalising; praising God, responding to God’s call in his life; we remember the cry of Ruth:
Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God
And we are truly blessed

Love is the answer - sermon 11 October

Deuteronomy 6: 1-6 & Mark 12: 28-31 

How do we recognise love?
In the English language we only have one word yet in the languages of scripture – Hebrew, Greek there are many variations depending on which way it is used
I love dark chocolate
I love my brother and sister
I love Alastair
I love God
They may sound the same, but you all know that each is a different sort of love
The act of expressing enthusiasm; the familial love; romantic love; loyal covenantal love

When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?”
The man asking genuinely wanted to know; he was a teacher; an expert; he knew all the laws; as a teacher of the law it was his role to help the people understand and follow God’s teaching.
There are more than 600 different commands and rules in the Hebrew Scriptures; detailing the minutiae of life; they make life itself difficult and complex.
Yet everything was not easy, not simple and he sought to know more deeply what it was that God actually wanted humanity to do.
‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 
If we were to read on in this passage we discover the teacher is satisfied; he agrees with Jesus, and Jesus tells him – “you are not far from God’s kingdom”

This phrase ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’  is one that is contained in both Old & New Testaments;
in Judaism it is considered so important it is included in daily prayers; it is used to begin every worship service for it lays down the foundation of everything.
It is called the Shema – from that first phrase: Listen, O Israel – in Hebrew Shema is Listen or hear.
Hear this!! Know this!
Listen to God’s teaching: Love is it; love is all; love.
And love crops up everywhere in the Bible!
In the epistles of Paul and John, and Peter and James; in the gospels; in the Prophets, in the Psalms. Everywhere you look Love is the answer!

But what does it mean?
From the flippant, I love chocolate – to the declaration: I love you there is a vast range of emotions and definitions.
Listen! Hear this! Love life. Love God. Love others. Love yourself.
Which of these is hardest?
It may be that for each of us the answer is different; and maybe even that in different times; in different seasons of our lives the answer may change; but for me, generally the one that has been most difficult over the years is the very last one.
Love yourself.
Loving me; accepting who I am; what I am has been one of the hardest things ever. Accepting that others may express love for me; that I have worth; that I am loveable has been a difficult journey.
Many things contributed to the fact that I was not happy in myself; I did not like who I was. I wanted to be different: more clever; thinner; prettier; happier. I wanted to be different to the way I was made.
Little by little that has changed; until now I am content. I know I am not perfect – but I try.
I know I get things wrong from time to time – but I do my best

For someone who lacks self confidence and is naturally shy and uncomfortable in a crowd – God has a great sense of humour! Calling me to a job where I am in the public and open to criticisms all the time – thanks God!
It’s a good job I love you!

But this is the crux of Jesus’ teaching and example. He didn’t call twelve confident, articulate, holy, educated, loving men.
He called a mismatched bunch of earthy misfits who constantly got it wrong and tripped up; he had a larger group of followers comprising foreigners, slaves, tax collectors and women – he sent out 72 of them to spread the news; but he didn’t expect them to work alone – they were sent in pairs. To be company for each other; to encourage and support.
And he taught them: love God; love your neighbour; love yourself.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were able to really live this out in practise?
To be truly loving, we wouldn’t talk about folks behind their backs; we wouldn’t ignore those who are different from us; we wouldn’t try to get the better of others; we wouldn’t make our own comforts a priority…
And as it radiates out into the wider world
People wouldn’t seek to use and abuse others
Countries wouldn’t seek to take over their neighbours
Death through violence would disappear
Physical and psychological harm would be a thing of the past
The world would seek good things for each person: a full life; a safe home; clean water; enough food to eat…

Is it all a pipe dream?
A distant utopia that is impossible in our day and age?
In the Book of Revelation we get a glimpse of the world to come
No more tears or mourning, or pain or death – only God and light and hope and joy and love.

So when Jesus declared that there was no commandment greater than to love God, love others, love yourself, he was also declaring a vision of perfection; a situation to strive for, to the very best of our abilities.

Love God, love others.
Keep it simple.
Love brings generosity, compassion, selflessness, kindness and hope.
For, whatever the question:

Love is the answer.