Sunday, 29 May 2016

Forgiveness: Letting go, moving on sermon for 29th May

2 Corinthians 2:1-10 

Once upon a time; a long time ago; I received a letter telling me amongst other things what a bad mother I was.
It was hurtful; it was based in untruths; and it was really aggressive.
And for a while I sat with it. Pondering. Reflecting. Praying. To this day I believe it was well intentioned; that the writer thought that by writing down their perceived criticism they would be helping me.

Eventually I decided to write back, I outlined the accusations and responded with explanations and affirmation of the gist of the critique.
It sort of helped. I felt a little better afterwards.
Eventually I received a response.
And, as I suspected my correspondent had no clue that what had been written would be hurtful.
It was beyond their comprehension.

Forgiveness is one of those tricky things: we can forgive a wrong, and we can hope to move on, but very often this moving on necessitates forgetting as well as forgiving. Letting go. Moving on. And that is not easy.
But it is full of grace.
Beautiful, wonderful, freeing, exhilarating, God-given Grace.
 We cannot know exactly what it is that has prompted this part of Paul’s letter – but we can be sure that the behaviour or words of another has caused unrest, anxiety and upset.
Paul is writing to appease; to calm; to send love and prayers into a hurting community. Because this is sure: the behaviour or person has caused a stushie!
It is not clear if they actually realise how much hurt they are causing; nor indeed if they acknowledge that their behaviour has caused such hurt and sadness.  But the result has been immense sadness for everyone; the ripple effect is in full flow and it seems no sector of the community is immune.
Sadness and upset is just as contagious as joy and happiness; and from this stems our corporate responsibilities: to care for each other; to share each other’s’ burdens and to let each other know that even if certain behaviours upset us, make us sad, we still love them. We still care. We still want what is best.

This reading reminds us again – if we ever needed it – that there is nothing new in the world.
Here we are 2000 years ago, and a Christian community is in uproar over the behaviour of one of their number. It is the same in families; it is the same in churches; it is the same in this century as it was back then.
People are people.
We are not perfect
We act in haste and repent at leisure
We speak out of turn; without thinking; too quickly – and once the words are out there they cannot be pulled back; they cannot be unsaid.

We each have things to forgive and things to seek forgiveness for
We each have things we need to let go of; stop worrying about; move on from.
Forgiveness is a holy thing; a holy gift.
We are all gifted forgiveness – forgiveness we may not have sought; forgiveness we may feel we do not deserve.
Nevertheless it is ours.
All is possible through Jesus

At the last supper the words he used were deep and full of meaning:
This is my body broken for you
This is my blood – poured out so that sins may be forgiven

We are forgiven through all that Jesus did for us; in that case, who are we to withhold forgiveness?
Who are we to revisit old wounds?

Forgiveness is a holy thing
To give and to receive.
To forgive takes courage and not a little vulnerability
Forgiveness is also powerful.
To know we have done wrong, hurt another and feel terrible, and then the wonder and joy, the great blessing that comes from knowing we have been forgiven – that joy cannot be underestimated.
It takes a brave person to not retaliate; not leap in when we are hurt
It takes courage and grace to be able to forgive and then move on, letting it go.
Grace – the free gift from God that never runs out; never fails us.
Let’s try to hold that thought
Let’s try to use that grace to let go, move on and be fully reconciled
Because let’s face it if Jesus can hang on a cross, his blood pouring out and his life ebbing away, and still proclaim forgiveness, who are we to withhold it?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Gifting Spirit - Sermon for 15th May

Pentecost 2016
Acts 2:1-4 & 1Cor 12:1-13

Earlier in the service we used a hot air blower pop corn machine to illustrate the Spirit blowing through and changing everything - permanently.

Sometimes, when I’m chatting to someone and they discover for the first time what I do, how I am called, what my job description is they respond
“Oh, I’m not really very religious”
To which I respond, “Neither am I!”
Or they will say, “You don’t look like a minister”, to which I reply, “Yes, I do – this is what a minister looks like!”

In both instances, people can be a bit nonplussed, because they have an image of what they imagine a minister to be: holy, religious, male, old, boring, strict, humourless, correct, and basically pretty much everything I am not – and to be truthful, what no minister is really like (apart from the male bit – there are still male ministers!)

I cannot really remember how I knew I needed to respond to the Spirit’s prompting, nor indeed, really when it happened. It just did. Through all sorts of people, events and encounters.

The only thing I know for sure is that the Spirit worked something in me, and I was never the same again. It’s like the popcorn.
Before, it’s a hard, tight, lifeless looking thing.
After, it’s broken open, soft, expansive bursting with life.

Before I was happy enough; I’d already followed, responded, changed. So I was feeling pretty good with where I was. The Spirit has already worked in me, and she was still there but I’d done the big stuff…
But you see the thing is, the Spirit doesn’t stop.
She is on a mission.
She doesn’t just come, do stuff and pass on
The Spirit comes and stays – and continues to work us, mould us, move us, change us and rewrite the story with us dragging along, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but ever moving.

We have been following the life and actions of Paul for several weeks now – we have seen his journeying, heard his writing, reflected on his teaching and witnessed to his changed life.
It wasn’t a one off thing
Everything changed
Everything moved
Everything was different – all the time
The Spirit comes – and life is never the same again.

Years ago – it must have been the mid-1990s, on what was probably pretty much the last time my parents travelled to Scotland my dad came along to our evening, interactive all ages family service with us, it was Pentecost. We were in small groups for discussion…
The discussion question was something along the lines of, “Could the Holy Spirit come down here like it did on that first Pentecost?”

There was much talking; about what it would be like; whether or not we’d believe it; whether we would reject it. Until my Dad spoke up saying, “Of course it couldn’t happen again! Why would it? God promised that once the Spirit came it would be here with us, for always. It doesn’t need to come again – it’s here right now!”

The Spirit is here, right now in our midst
We may not see her
But we feel her
What are you good at? What are your gifts and talents?
Hospitality? – thank the Spirit
Compassion? – thank the Spirit
Thank the Spirit!

“The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person”
In each person
That means you, and you, and you, and you… each and every one gathered here today, and everyone else too!

We are all gifted by the Spirit (even if we do not realise or acknowledge it)
We are all integral parts of Christ’s body the church
We are all important
It was the Spirit who guided us into faith, or towards belief – before we even knew it.
It was the Spirit’s prompting which moved us on, gave us courage when we needed it; inspired us to action, to speak, to pray to seek out that otherness which we could sense but not articulate.

The coming of the Spirit prompted the believers to action. They had to respond – it was impossible not to.

So what about us?
What are we going to do?
How are we going to react?
Where are we going to go?
Because whether we realise it or not, we are Pentecost people.
We are all touched by the Spirit.
The wind of change blows through
And we are touched by its breath
The breath of the Spirit breathes new life into us – changing us forever
You can’t un-pop the corn once it’s been blown on.

The Spirit is generous in her gifting – all are influenced by her – “The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person” (vs.7)
The spirit’s presence is shown for the good of all
In everyone
For everyone
For all time

Blow Spirit Blow
Come, show us all
Help us to remember you are with us, in us, for us… for all time

The Sanctuary at Earlston - all ready for Pentecost

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Living Spirit - sermon 8th May

1 Cor 15: 1-26, 51-57 

The Holy Spirit is alive and well – and moving and showing herself in all sorts of places.
And it is through that living Spirit which dwells in each of us that Paul wrote his convoluted, tongue twister of a letter…

And it is through that same Living Spirit, that I – some two thousand years later attempt to make some sense of it in this strange week.

A week of much busyness

A week of working and juggling house guests
A week of thinking about death and dying and resurrection
A week of talking about impending death with one who faces the final journey
A week of sadness and joy
A week of hopes and fear
A week of news and silence
A week when life matches exactly with Sunday’s text – which makes walking with the text both easier and more challenging in equal measure
And. More than that. 
A week to say “Thank you” to God, for prayers heard and answered

 So, my very first question, when I sat down with this text was – what does it mean? 

How can I distil all of that into a simple, understandable message, and how do we understand this mysterious statement that we will not all die? Hmm…. 

A minister friend, Stephanie wrote this earlier in the week:

“Jesus’ resurrection destroys the power of death; not death itself. People still die. Jesus still died. But he did not stay dead, and neither will we.”
That’s it in a nutshell – all of that convoluted back and forth is summed up right there.
People do still die
But they do not stay dead
Life goes on bigger, brighter, more beautiful, more real, more tangible, clearer – more alive. 

The Message translation includes a really great interpretation:

If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. 

Smoke and mirrors.

Yes – real, not a trick, not a hoax, not pretend and not sleight of hand.
Yes! Either the Resurrection is true 
Or we are deceived.
And I do not believe we are deceived – not for one moment.
Remember what it is that we proclaim – that God so loved the world that he sent his own Son so that those who believe in Him can have eternal life. 

This doesn’t mean we live forever; nor does it mean that this earthly life is without meaning. This life is ours to live to the full

It is ours to do whatever we can
We’ve all seen the cards, posters, pictures etc. that say something to the effect of live each day as if it were your last. A great sentiment, but not one that we actually really adhere to – unless we are suddenly faced with our own mortality. 

Life is too short to take it for granted.

Live life 
Love well
Make sure that those whom you love know it.
Make sure that you take the opportunities to do what really matters.
Because no one dies saying, I wish I’d spent more time in the office… 
The Message goes on to say:
 It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! 

People still die.

People we love; people we want to hold on to.
But – the power that death holds is diminished, destroyed, gone, through Jesus.
People we love will still die
But they will not stay dead – for this is our hope. 
The hope of eternity.
We will all be reunited
We will all meet again
We will all celebrate
The gift of our precious Saviour Jesus Christ
God’s promise to us
And the real hope and joy of the gospel
In Christ we live