Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ring out the old...

Well, 2016, what a year!! 

Over on the RevGals Facebook Group yesterday's Friday Five asked us to list five stand out moments from 2016 - a year that the world is damning as the worst ever. The five things did not need to be all good, or all bad either, just things which will stand out when we look back.
My five things were pretty easy, having gained two grandchildren, finally celebrated my wedding, and got a darling new puppy there have been highlights aplenty. 

Back in January, in my congregation we had once again taken Star Words - a word for the year, a word to view the year by; for me the word did not sit well at all, right from the moment it chose me when I dipped into the bag, the word has created dissonance. what was it?!

Acclaim. I did not want it. Acclaim - what do I do with it? It's not the same as affirmation - which I could happily have taken. Nor is it praise. It is something else all together. And it discomfitted me. 
I wrote about it here
Acclaim is loud and brash and over enthusiastic, and I am not. 
In fact the older I get, the quieter, shyer and more introverted I seem to become.

2016 was loud and brash; sometimes discordant; sometimes shocking; often tragic; frequently grief stricken.
Many of my heroes have died. Musicians, actors, broadcasters; people who I grew up listening to and watching; people often who were far too close to me in age than I was comfortable with. This has absolutely added to the feeling of 2016 being an "Annus horribilis" 

But. In all things it is so important to have balance.
Yes - we have Brexit; We have Trump. 
Yes, we lost... David, Alan, Victoria, Caroline, Leonard, Terry, Rick, Prince, George. And there were many more, but these I admired most. They made me laugh, they made me sing, they made me think, they made me. 
But I gained also: wonderful international friends - spending a few days at the beginning of the year on a cruise ship has become, after just two occasions something which I both look forward to and yearn for. Friendship with like-minded women, where we are able to laugh and sing, and share and be. 
Two darling grandchildren: first we Maggie in January - the second granddaughter to my beloved, and mine through him. And then, just days before Christmas, wee Callum, firstborn son of my own firstborn son. His story is messy and complicated and not how any of us would have planned it, but nevertheless this beloved babe is a joy and a blessing. 
My own dear beloved; after a complicated and tortuous process, he was finally free to marry. And so we did! Twice!! We had a civil wedding with a handful of friends in June; and then in August a great, big, wonderful, noisy, wedding blessing in my own church with family and friends. 
And, finally we gained a new four-legged friend in the shape of a Sprocker Spaniel puppy, born on Easter Monday, she came to live with us at the end of May, and is now a beautiful young dog. 

So, 2016; you did your worst, and it was bad. It really was.
But you also threw in some moments of joy, and glimpses of glory; you managed to shine through those dark days, wee shafts of light penetrating the mire.
And as you draw to a close - just seven hours left as I write, I will not damn you forever, I will acclaim - praise with enthusiasm - the joyful times we have shared. 
Acclaim them as my own.

And, 2017, when you arrive, you'd better take care, the world is waiting with bated breath to see what on earth you will do with the mess your younger sibling left behind. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Song of Joy - sermon for third Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-55

When you think of Mary do you have a particular image in your head?
Is she young, innocent, demure, quiet, willing, obedient, meek and mild?

When you think of Elizabeth, what do you see? And old woman, beyond her prime, perhaps slow on her feet?
When you think of an unmarried mother; do you shrug to yourself? Do you simply put it down to experience and move on?

In our generation a number of things have happened; well actually many, many things have happened; the world has changed beyond all recognition.
Who would have imagined women choosing to have a baby alone; no man required, just an appointment at a clinic. Who would have thought that women in their sixties could become pregnant by the application of science? It’s preposterous really isn’t it?
Yet. These things are now possible. It’s not a miracle, (though maybe it is?) it’s the progression of scientific research. It means fertility can be extended and the natural order disrupted.
The Victorians have a lots to answer for – the images of sweet innocent child mother Mary; the perpetuation of the demure young woman, weak and acquiescent… are far from the reality of what really happened.
Scripture of course doesn’t help us much; there is sparse detail; we have to fill in the gaps for ourselves. There is an assumption that we know what’s missing. That we can fill in the gaps from our own experiences.

But. Let me disabuse you of some of these notions.
Mary – sweet, demure and innocent; weak and mild.
She, as a devout Jewess would have known the punishment for being pregnant outside of marriage: the sentence could be death.
It would be a huge scandal. She would be outcast; she would be ostracised; and likely abandoned by her intended, who would not want to have anything to do with her if she were pregnant not by him.
Mary’s “yes” was brave and bold; it was rebellious and strong;  by saying yes, she was accepting the risks that  came with it. and she was stepping out into the unknown.

Now. If you had been met by an angel; told that you were to become pregnant; accepted all that that would bring – what would you do next?
Would you call your loved ones and explain? Would you perhaps see about bring the wedding forward so that no one would know?
Or would you undertake a perilous journey from one end of the country to the other to visit your cousin who it seems is also miraculously pregnant.

Of course! that’s exactly what you would do!! Of course, maybe the very fact that it was the angel who told you that your cousin was pregnant prompted this particular response. But to gain a little perspective, the journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea, which is around Jerusalem is anything between 80 and 100 miles.
Having done some research, we can estimate the journey took her between 3 and five days depending on whether she joined a caravan or did entirely on foot.
On foot. Pregnant. Alone. On roads where travellers were frequently set upon by robbers and bandits. weak, timid? I don't think so!

Elizabeth’s baby is also a miracle – she is barren and beyond child bearing. I’d like to point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean she was ancient. She could have been in her fifties. Whatever for her to suddenly conceive after all those years was nothing other than a miracle.
The first person to recognise that Mary’s baby was indeed holy was Elizabeth’s baby – she felt him jump in her womb as Mary approached.
The phrases announcing Mary’s condition, and responding to this first encounter are combined to make the Roman Catholic prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” and “Blessed art though among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”
The Holy Spirit reveals this to Elizabeth. How else could she know? Mary hasn’t told anyone at home yet; all of that is still to come.
To me, it seems, Mary needed the comfort and companionship of another woman who would understand and not be angry with her. She was brave and bold; she was strong and determined.
And, her response when Elizabeth greeted her is this wondrous song of praise, known universally as the Magnificat and immortalised in the song – “Tell out my Soul” which we shall song to close our worship today.
This song of joy praises God; but more than that it acknowledges that Mary knows absolutely what is happening and what will happen. That her son is God; that her son will save the world. She also underlines all that God has done throughout history – it is truly magnificent.

Mary – strong, determined, faithful servant of God

Never underestimate the power of a determined woman! 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

hope in unexpected places

First Sunday of Advent

What on earth has Daniel in the lion’s den got to do with advent?!
Also, how can I weave into all of that something of what I have experienced in the past week?!
It's a valid question, but, before I attempt to develop that, let me begin with advent itself.
We have our themes: hope, peace, joy and love
We have another set of themes for this year’s readings: dreams and visions 
And we have new start, new beginnings, new horizons, as we begin a new church year.

This week we have hope and we have visions. For Daniel was an exile and a prophet. He was incarcerated because he refused to worship another God, because he stood up for what he believed in, because he would rather face death than betray God.
He had been blessed with a vision from God which changed his life, changed him. His faith, his determination to resist protected him. 

Advent is all about dreams and visions, about waiting patiently for God to do a wondrous thing. During the past week I have witnessed what should be, could be, desperate situations- but within it all I also witnessed pockets of hope. Pockets of God's grace in action. Pockets of determination to stay alive against all odds, to live in hope against all odds, to resist the temptation to give up.

We heard stories of pain and persecution of trauma and desolation, and yet each story was also wrapped in hope. The source came from amazing People who dedicate their lives to following God's call and offering hope, peace, joy and love where it did not exist. This is what it means to be Advent People. This is what it means to live out faith under the most extreme circumstances.
For me, one of the mostly holy things I observed was teachers working for a pittance, willing to love and witness to the love of God with children and their families. They offered education where none was available. They offered, love, compassion, kindness, patience, an opportunity to learn, regardless of nationality or religious affiliation. These Christian teachers, taught Muslim children, children for whom there was no place in the system. Children whose status is negligible; who had suffered such trauma, such abuse; yet, all these teachers saw was children who needed a chance, needed stability, needed hope, needed to know that not everyone is bad, not everyone will exploit them, not everyone seeks to use them for their own selfish means.
It was pure grace.
Pure grace in action.
It was hope.
It was love and compassion.
And it gave me hope. 

In our scripture today we heard of one snapshot of Daniels life. It was not the first time he had been under threat, for in each generation that he served during his exile he faced persecution and abuse. And each time he relied on God to come to his aid, to prevail.
As we begin our advent season. As we wait in anticipation to hear again the stories of the nativity, let us remember that faith and hope are not confined to the bible. Not confined to Old Testament tales, but that through faith in our God, and his Son Jesus, there are people who still rely on God to come to their aid, to help them prevail against all odds.
These people are the living stones. They live by faith. They hope against hope that a day will come when they do not need to do the work, but until that day comes they are Advent People. Waiting, preparing for the Advent of Hope.
For Syria. For Lebanon. For all God’s people. In all places.
And that, that gives us hope too.

Five Days in Lebanon.

How to distill five days of talking, walking, observing, witnessing, travelling, praying, and discerning into anything that resembles coherence? 
That is the question, most exercising me right now. 

Listening to the people of this place: those born here, those who have chosen to make this place their home, those who landed here with no choice and those who are just passing through. 
Watching displaced children, traumatised, fearful, anxious, but still able to smile, to hope. Seeing them loved and cared for by those whose only aim in life is to bring God's love into these trembling hearts. 
Seeking to understand what is really needed, and not jump in with both feet assuming I might know better. 

Walking through the bustling city, with its cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, religious affiliation, wealth and poverty side by side. The food and drink,  the smells and sounds, the heat. 
All combine to be a heady mix. 

I am not sure what I expected before I came here.
And. I am still not sure what I have received. 
I think it's the children that have had the greatest impact.

On Sunday, in church, part of the family, well fed, well cared for, secure, loved, wanted.
On Monday, in school. Refugees. Status-less. Undernourished, afraid, timid, loved, wanted. 
On Tuesday, on the streets, refugees, begging, hungry, bold, desperate, unwanted, unloved, exploited. 
On Wednesday, in school. Refugees. Well fed, nourished, loved, cared for. 
On Thursday, older, in education, bright young people at the AUB, learning, growing, exploring, secure, loved, confident of their place in the world. 

Friday, 11 November 2016


Boat ribs at low tide, Brodick, Isle of Arran (c) JRen 2016
I came across this poem as I skimmed a new book - a collection of readings for Advent, which includes the last week of November all the way through to January 8th - it is an eclectic mix, of poetry and prose, philosophy and musings, and I am looking forward to spending daily time with it at the end of this month.
I offer this poem now in the light of today - Armistice Day, Sunday - Remembrance Sunday - and the way the world is this week - stunned, afraid, anxious, rebellious, resigned... many, many feelings, all entwined. 

Sylvia Plath - Black Rook 
in Rainy Weather 

On the stiff twig up there 
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall, 
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire, 
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain: 
A certain minor light may still 
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then - 
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent 

By bestowing largesse, honour,
One might say love. At any rate,
I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical, 
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever Angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season 
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you dare to call those spasmodic 
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the Angel,
For that rare, random descent. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Sacred Pause on Retreat

I bought this book, Sacred Pause, as soon as it was published, but it has taken until now for me to really, really engage with it.
It is a happy collision of signing up to an overnight Prayer Retreat for ministries and thinking that overnight wouldn't be long enough to really switch off properly. So I inquired about extending the night to a full week of retreat, being told that it would be possible and asking for further information about what I'd be reading while I was on retreat. 
Sacred Pause has stayed at the side of my desk for two years, begging me to pause, to take some time, to retreat with it. So it became clear to me that this was exactly what was needed. Me. Scared Pause. Time. Space. Prayer. 

I bought this book on the recommendation of RevGal book reviewer Julia, who simply said, "You need this book!" Actually she said much more, but the first line was, You need this book! So I ordered it. Imported it. Read the introduction and a couple of chapters, put it down for when I'd have time and then.... Stuff happens. Happened. Life, death, birth, marriage - all sorts of stuff. 

There is a time for everything the wise man said, and this is my time. 
For four days I have been reading, pausing, writing, taking pictures, drawing, using colour, using my imagination, using nothing, everything. Pausing. 
I am moved.
I am retreating from the world, and going deep, deeper into my own world. It's been a revelation, renewing and refreshing. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

moments of grace

Yesterday I went visiting with the puppy in tow.
It was her first go at a pastoral visit

I was going to one of a few old farmers in the congregation; he has got more frail in the past year and is now unable to get out; it was a sad day for him when they took his car away.

He has not managed to church for more than a year - except for coming to my wedding in August when he persuaded his oldest son to take  him along. I visit him regularly and we frequently share in communion.
Yesterday though, I took wedding photos and the pup. She is 7 months of bouncing spaniel - but he had specially asked to see her. So we went! 

He and his wife are in their late 80s and live pretty independently; they were thrilled to see the pictures, and more so to get to play with the puppy.... 
She is usually terrible with new people, jumping up, nipping, doing all the things she shouldn't. But with George (Dod), she stood; then she climbed onto his lap and snuggled.... 

This is them
Man and Dog
and God 
Dod & Dog

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Passover Promise - sermon October 2nd

Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8
Family traditions and rituals become part of our lives so much so that when someone new joins us they often are surprised by what or how we do things.
Family traditions and rituals are passed from generation to generation, and it is often difficult to remember when it started, or why.
It can apply to anything – and pretty much every family will be different – have their own particular idiosyncrasies – but each family will also have their own similarities… and, often we believe, because we have always done it, the surely people all through history have done it too…  the way we do Christmas; the way we celebrate birthdays; the way we mark the passing of the years – the way we remember.
It is personal; it is important; it is our tradition and once established it becomes very difficult to change, unless there is some sort of upheaval.

The Passover is probably the biggest Jewish Festival of all; it marks an important event in the life of the tribe of Israel; and it is still remembered today; still celebrated every year; it becomes special for us as Christians because it was the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends before his death. It carries great significance – for from this meal – a meal to remember the actions of God – comes our own celebration of communion – another meal to remember the actions of God.
Strangely today is known as World Communion Sunday – though generally this is celebrated most frequently by American Presbyterian Churches; it is a good day to remember that even communion has its own traditions and rituals – and that they differ from church to church, denomination to denomination.
In America today, many churches will mark World Communion, by having a special communion service, using many different types of bread from across the world; the left over bread will be shared out and given to members to take home to continue sharing the blessing; others will keep it there and it will go to a shared table lunch; still others will want to keep its sanctity and therefore it will be removed and returned to the earth – either by scattering or by burial -   so many ways; so many interpretations, but who is to say one is more right than the other?

What is really important; vital even, in all of these traditions and rituals is not the how, but the why. Why do we remember certain things? And why do others get left by the wayside?
On the personal, family level: we celebrate birthdays – to mark the passage of time, to recognise milestones: become a teenager; reaching adulthood; maturity; moving from one decade to another; passing retirement age – each is marked; each small triumph.
We mark anniversaries: wedding anniversaries in these days of broken marriage or no marriage are increasingly important – a sign of permanence and the fulfilment of promises.
There are other promises we make that are not generally observed – who knows the date they were baptised? Or the date they were confirmed? If you became an elder – do you know which date is your anniversary?
Because of social media – I know that this week marked in the 11th anniversary of my ordination – and I was a little sad that I had not remembered myself – that it took a Facebook reminder.
These last ones: baptism; confirmation; ordination – these I want to think about for these are all holy promises we make.
All through the bible we are reminded of God’s promises to the Chosen People in the Old Testament, and then all people in the New Testament – the Passover meal was repeated, and is repeated and will be repeated year on year to remind the Chosen People still that they can rely on God; that God will rescue them; that God will be with them, come what may.
For us, as Christians, we take not the Passover meal, but the offering that came out of it – our Holy Communion, which we have repeated, and will continue to repeat month by month to remind us the we can rely on God; that God is with us; that God will always be with us, come what may.
God’s Promises are to be relied upon; unlike the promises of individuals – which sometimes are constant, and sometimes may be beset with trials and tribulations; with betrayal and infidelity; God’s promise to us, through Jesus Christ is that he prepares a place for us and that he will be with us until the end of all time.
What a wonderful promise that is!
God totally understands our human frailty; knows that we make our promises with good intentions and constant hope; accepts that sometimes we will fail, or give up, or simply be overwhelmed by life. None of that is important to God – what matters is that we continue to do our best; to share God’s love; to remember.
Remember God’s promises to us and to all generations: from Passover in Egypt, to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, to us here in Earlston today: to be with us to the very end of time.

That Passover Promise is worth holding on to. 

Communion celebrated at Lake Galilee

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sermon 11 September: Fallen Promise

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 

Sermon: Fallen Promise
Perfection to Imperfection

Today we begin a new series looking through the Old Testament to some of the key stories which make up the history of God and creation. God and humanity.
As we start over we go to the beginning of it all.
Creation. Purpose. Existence.
Why are we here and what are we to do with it? 
Genesis has two versions of the creation story.
Two similar yet different interpretations - because let's face it, who really knows? There wasn't anyone there to record it for all humanity! 
today we hear snippets from the creation, and the first people set in the Garden of Eden; they were designed perfect. Innocent. They were given charge over Eden; all creation was there and they wandered freely. There was just one condition; but, the condition created temptation, and temptation drove them beyond Eden out into the world.
In the biblical story temptation comes in the guise of a serpent; a wily creature with the power of speech who is able to give voice to the internal argument we all experience every time we are tempted. And temptation can be good as well as bad; a wee treat; a moment of calm in a fraught day – temptation to pause; to stop; to enjoy; to relish. This is all in our vocabulary – and of course the temptation to stray…
During the week I read a question that bright me up short for a moment. In the biblical telling of the story God says, if you eat the fruit you will die the same day. 
Yet they did not die - so was God lying? Can God lie? 

After being a bit nonplussed, I came to these conclusions.
First: it's allegory! We cannot know for sure the detail. This is more about humanity’s relationship with the creator than the ins and outs of what Adam and Eve did. 
Second: they did not die the same day, but they were expelled from Eden the same day. They did lose eternity the same day. They did move from perfection to imperfection. They lost their innocence. Suddenly they knew. Everything.
They knew good and evil. They knew right and wrong.
Innocence died in that instant. 
Third. And this is an answer from a colleague which resonated beautifully. God as creator is our parent. As parents we tell our children to do or not do something, if it's important and for safety it may be a stern warning, even a wee threat attached. 
Don't do it, you'll die, is the threat. But it doesn't mean if they do it, we are going to literally kill them. We forgive them. We may remove them from the treat, take away the toys. Punish the offence. But we don't stop loving them, caring for them, what we want is for them to thrive, to grow to learn. 
Thus it is with God too. Innocence was lost. Knowledge was gained which would have far reaching implications. And that first implication was the realisation that they were naked and needed to cover up. The second implication was the desire to hide from God, because the knowledge also told them what they had done was wrong.
Wrong as wrong could be. 
That simple act of giving in to temptation has far reaching implications. God could have left those trees out of the garden – not put the temptation there at all. God could have not created the wily serpent. God however wanted them to be able to make choices; wanted humanity to work out for ourselves the difference between good and bad; right and wrong; to choose God or not.
Here we are today. In a world where people still sin, still lose innocence, still seek to outwit God and others. 
Evil is in the world. 
We cannot deny it.
There are those of us who will remember exactly what they were doing 15 years ago today. And already, there are those for whom today is just another day and they have no idea what anniversary it is.
Fifteen years ago today the world was changed forever. 
An age of innocence died when those men chose to take control of and fly those planes to New York and Washington DC. 
Suddenly, the violence of extremism became a reality rather than a theory, or something that happened to other people in other countries. 
And in the fifteen years since that day extremism, terrorism has become a stark reality in the western world.
From Paris to Syria; from London to Egypt Westerners have become targets. Travel has changed; security checks, what you can and cannot take with you – on 11th September 2001 innocence died. And the world was changed forever.
In some ways of course it was not new; it was not the first terrorist attack ever; it was not the first large scale attack in the world. It wasn’t even the first in the USA; but it was different – for this was not a lone voice, protesting, planting a bomb or opening fire; this was the first coordinated multi targeted attack on US soil; it was the first to play out live in TV – in that moment everything changed. Fears were born as people died.
Mistrust on a scale never before seen
Arrests and imprisonment of people because of what they wore – which marked them out as being of one particular faith and suddenly the imperfect world become a little more imperfect
Suddenly the colour of skin; the family name; where you worshipped God became factors in whether you were trustworthy or not

So…. Before we begin to spiral down into a pit of despair – let us pause.
Because, we are still here.
Humanity continues to live and love; children are born; lives go on. Temptation is a reality we all live with every day
God is still with us; Eden is somewhere on the horizon
God made us to choose. We are all made in God’s image – this doesn’t mean we look like God; it means we have potential: to love and care; show compassion; help others; protect life – my lasting image from that day 15 years ago is not the collapsing towers and other terrible images; it is of the first responders; filthy, exhausted but still helping; still searching – and then in the following days all of those who travelled to New York however they could to join the bucket lines; they were tempted to help.

The world may be imperfect – but in this imperfect, fallen world are people who are prepared to step up and reflect God’s light in the darkness – and that give me hope.


Sunrise over the Forth JMR2013

Monday, 5 September 2016

sermon 4 September - All God's Family

“Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family” – that’s people; that’s you and me. And that was the verse that inspired my choice of reading this week.
Two months ago, when we held the Civic Week service here I spoke about us all being in this together; and in fact that had been the sermon title again until I looked back and had second thoughts!

Today is the other village event of the summer – Community Day; a much newer event than Civic Week, but with a similar aim – to bring people together.
There will be stalls from many of the village groups – each showcasing, perhaps raising funds, definitely sharing information and hopefully generating a feeling of family. Focusing on the things which unite us and make us part of our community.

All through the bible there are examples of families working together; and, what happens when they do not work together, but instead fall out, bicker and turn against each other.
Although things may go terribly wrong for a while, God still finds ways to help them, move them and bring them to a better place.
The writer of Hebrews was trying to explain to the Hebrew people what Jesus did, and why. The Hebrews of course are the Jews, the Chosen People – the ones who had rejected Jesus as Messiah because of their own convictions of what a Messiah should look and behave like. Thus, here we are at the beginning of the letter with the author spelling it out:
Humans: given an amazing opportunity through Jesus – who became a little lower than angels, in order to fulfil God’s plan.
That plan was to bring all the children: all humanity to glory; to salvation. And because he does that, he is not ashamed to call them family.
What a gift!!!
We are God’s family through Jesus death and resurrection.
We can do this simply because he came and lived and was one of us. He became human in every way – he was tempted, he suffered, he laughed and cried – he experienced life in every way. And because of that he was able to break the power that sin has over all humanity – because of that we believe that death is not the end; death is only a new beginning.

That promise; that gift of life is open to all God’s People.
Who are All God’s People?
Well, everyone. Every. Single. Person.
Everyone has the same opportunity to hear that message; to be told who Jesus was and what he did, and make their own choices.
They can choose to believe or they can choose to turn their backs.
What do we do then?
How can we respond to this?
Actually I think it’s very simple; not everyone is called to preach; not everyone is called to be a missionary or serve the church in formal ways. But from the moment we invite Jesus into our lives and choose to follow him we are called to share that.

Tell people you go to church
Tell people why, how it helps you, what it means to you. In simple terms – share the Good News!

God’s family is all God’s people
All God’s people are welcome in God’s house
All God’s people are all of humanity – and each needs to have that chance, that same opportunity that we have had – to hear the promise: Jesus is not ashamed to call you family; and Jesus is here to help us – his teaching tells us to love – love each other; love ourselves; love God
And, as I have said before (and will no doubt say again)
If we can each do that – what a wonderful world we would have


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sermon 21st August - A Time for Everything

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 

Our mini-series on the Wisdom books comes to an end this week with a review of Ecclesiastes – a review of life the universe and everything.
It is supposed that the teacher referred to is none other than King Solomon; well known for his wisdom and grace; his closeness to God and his great wealth. It is perhaps lesser known that Solomon drifted from God in his latter days; sought only his own counsel and ultimately abandoned God in favour of pleasure.
The very end of the book (which I preached on last summer!) contains the philosophical and theological reflections of an old man who found that his life was meaningless because he had not relied fully on God.
Today we are examining the third chapter; the one immortalised by the Byrds in the 1960s – To everything, turn, turn, there is a purpose, turn turn… etc.

I chose for the reading to be split because those first 8 verses are so very difficult to read without it sounding like a shopping list. Breaking it up as we did helps us to listen to the words.
The second half is deeper and more philosophical; it is about how to balance life; it is about how to deal with evil in the world; it is all about faithfully living – working hard and accepting our lot.
Easy to say. More difficult to live out!
There are some wonderful things in this passage: God makes everything beautiful in its own time.
He sets eternity in out hearts – I believe this is the longing we have to know there is more than this earthly life – that sense of knowing that there is something else to come.
The teacher is observant of all around him: and once again we see – that nothing changes! Still evil and good co-exist; what will be, will be.
We are born; we live; we die. Some things will never change.
This could be really depressing!!
There’s a fatalistic air; a sense of everything being inevitable; so why bother? Why make an effort?
Well – because this is our lot and it is up to us to make of it what we can.
We all have moments of surety and moments of doubt
We all have questions; and occasionally find answers.
We all see evil in the world and feel the pain of it; the terrible destruction – both natural and man-made. And we feel the loss keenly.

The teacher observes it all; records it; reviews it; and then concludes that what we can do; the only thing to do is to work hard; enjoy what we do – make the most of it, the best of it – because what else is there to do?

 On Friday morning I came up to church; as I was going in I saw someone wandering around the graveyard; not an unusual sight  people frequently visit and wander around our cemetery. As I was leaving I noticed that the man was now sitting on one of the benches and taking in the view. I waved and said hello, and then decided to go over and chat to him. He told me he found great comfort in sitting there and I agreed it was a peaceful place. He then asked me where I thought God was? Because with the world as it is today it didn't seem like God was anywhere to be found. I then told him I was the minister - and he looked truly shocked! He said that his memory of ministers did not include anyone like me!
There followed a long and interesting conversation about the world and the evil that we witness; about the goodness and kindness of some people; and about how it is up to us to choose. It was a great conversation; far reaching, deep and insightful. I invited him to come and join us one Sunday to see what church is like now. 

I find, that whenever I stop, pause, reflect… whenever I take a moment to be intentional about what I am doing, and where I am going then God puts opportunities in my path.
I had meant to call in to the church earlier in the week – but didn’t
I was going to go up earlier that day – but I didn’t
I almost didn’t stop to chat – but the simple good morning grew into something much more meaningful.

Life can be full of vanities; of the meaningless – but it can also with no notice, no clue, suddenly become full of meaning
A chance encounter
A coincidence
A God-incidence
To paraphrase vs 12 & 13:
“There is nothing better for us than to be happy and do good while we live. That each of us may eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work – this is God’s gift to us”
Be content
Be satisfied
Work hard and honour God
This is our lot.

And this is our reward.