Saturday, 28 October 2017

Our Buildings, Our People, Our Future

Our Buildings, Our People, Our Future
1 Kings Ch. 5-8

Solomon’s plan to build a temple worthy of God was a bold ambition, born of a promise delivered to his father, David.
It had lived with him through all his childhood and now, as he has succeeded his father, the time is ripe. There is peace in the land, and God has blessed him with wisdom and discernment.
All is well, and now, is the time.
The temple was magnificent! In the verses that were excluded from our readings this morning, the cedars, the bronze, the gold – the tens of thousands of workers, the dimensions and the planning are detailed. Nothing was stinted; nothing denied – this house for God to dwell in would be like no other.
The temple was an important statement too: ‘We are Here’. The kingdom is established; and by dedicating it, establishing and performing rituals, Solomon is instilling in the people a certainty for their time. By repeating and performing set rituals they created a sense of belonging, a sense of self, and, most important of all, a permanent connection to God.

We live in a world of constant change and uncertainty. All around us things we knew are changing. We are in a change of age.
I’m not sure what the historians will make of it all a hundred years from now; but think for a moment of all the things you have witnessed in your lifetime.
Wars; communication; travel; entertainment; education; health… there is no area of life that has not been subject to change.
Not even in the church. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women. In those 50 years the numbers of churches, ministers and members in the Church of Scotland has changed drastically.
Statistics are not always helpful – taken alone they can paint an extremely gloomy picture of decline and fall.
In the past fortnight, I have attended two particular events – the first was an introduction to Path of Renewal, and the second a Presbytery day with an excellent talk from Professor David Fergusson on Faith & Religion in Modern Scotland.
Each gave new insights, and each was very encouraging, even with those gloomy numbers.

Solomon was King in an age where the people had finally established a peaceful kingdom; wars were a thing of the past, and now was the time to look forward and plan a future with God in the midst of them.
I wonder – if I were to ask you right now what our church’s mission statement is, could you tell me? If not the exact words, can you recall the emphasis? The main hope?
Don’t worry – I didn’t remember it all either. I did remember something about being in the community, and bringing people closer to God.
It was that thought of Solomon’s desire to bring God into the midst of the people that brought our own mission statement to mind. It actually states:
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”
Our motto appears on the wee logo that is always on the order sheet: Earlston Building Faith and Fellowship.

Those are our aims for the people of our community.
They are aims for all; not just the faithful few; not just those who happen to have their names on a list.
They are for everyone who lives in, or is part of, our community.
It is that desire which has inspired our application to join Path of Renewal. Over the past six months or so, a small group from Session and congregation have been working together to look to the future for our church community.
You have seen aspects of this in the questionnaire that asked you about what you might want to see happening to our buildings; you’ve seen it in the development of the Church Newsletter from a single sheet to a 20-page magazine with input from both church and community. You’ve seen it through the developing of a Community CafĂ© and of Messy Church.
Now though, we are seeking further development, and looking to join the Path of Renewal movement in order to get extra support and training; which we hope will help us build on the foundations we already have, to reach out to more people.
Our application has been successful – we just have to now accept and take the next step.

Solomon’s desire to build a place for God to be in-dwelling with God’s people was fit for his age. The Temple became a place for God to be contained. Yet, God can never be contained, for God is everywhere; God is everything; God is.
Solomon’s Kingdom was settled and secure, yet that magnificent temple would be pulled down, and rebuilt, and destroyed again. Nothing is really permanent.

As we reflect on that, we can reflect also on where we are. Settled? Or in turmoil? Or maybe, somewhere in between.
As I said earlier, we are in an age of change: this is the technological age; life has changed exponentially in the past century.
When I was a little girl, we didn’t have a phone in the house until I was 5 or 6 years old; we didn’t get a TV until I was 7 or 8… the radio had to be left to warm up; milk arrived on the doorstep every morning; there were two post deliveries every day; shops were only open five and a half days a week – or some even four and two half days.
My dad went to work, and my mum stayed home.
We went to church on Sunday – and it was simple, there were no shops open and no rival groups or clubs. We knew our minister and he knew each of the families in his very small parish.
The village I grew up in, was similar in size to Earlston, and it had three different churches, each with its own congregation, and its own story. And each had regular full attendance.
Fast forward from the 1960s to now and life couldn’t be more different. We can choose to wait in the church for the people to choose to come to us, or we can break down the barriers, and take the church out into the community.
That is the heart of Path of Renewal, to help us explore new ways of bringing the church beyond these four walls to the community.
This mission may involve doing things differently, but the one thing that will never change is our faith. Keeping God at the centre, encouraging faithfulness, helping others discover faith, showing those who’ve never heard or understood the Good News, that faith really is good news. That it is not for a small elite group, but for anyone, everyone.
If we as Earlston Church are able to grasp this challenge to bring the gospel out of the church and into the community, then being part of Path of Renewal will help us to increase and develop our missionary outlook, to bring the Good News of Jesus; to show God’s amazing love; and to build a team of people with a heart for God.
Everyone can have a role too!
Because even if you may feel you can’t do anything else, or take on anything more, there is one essential thing we need – your prayers. Prayer is the tool which we rely on; it inspires and encourages.
Path of Renewal isn’t a set programme with a defined number of stages. We can’t tell you that in month one we will do such and such, and by month six we will have achieved this or that. The tagline for Path of Renewal is “A Movement not a Programme”
Growth is still possible, even in this strange technological age; we can take small steps forward just as we have been doing in the past couple of years; or we can continue taking those steps with others alongside, to help and encourage each other, and bring about change that will last and leave a church fit for the future.
As Solomon dedicated his temple he prayed:
“You, Lord, have placed the sun in the sky, yet you have chosen to live in clouds and darkness. Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live in forever.”
Solomon’s Temple was right for its age; we have the opportunity to do something that is right for our age.
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”

We are Earlston Church: Building Faith and Fellowship with our community.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Hearing God in the Silence - sermon 15 October

1 Samuel 3: 1-16 - the call of Samuel

Names are important to us; knowing who we are, and knowing others.
Identifying who they may be related to, and discovering family connections, all can often begin with a name.

If you have ever attended a conference or a large meeting where you were expected to network and mingle you may have been faced with the dubious joy of the name tag
Often a sticky label and a marker pen
And the task of writing your name and sticking it to your chest so no one has the inconvenience of having to ask who you are.
I think they are meant to help
Meant to make people feel more at ease
Being known and knowing others is important to us.

Now, sometimes our name is not exactly how we are known.
For example, if you have ever visited a friend or family member in hospital you’ll have seen a board above the bed with your loved one’s name ascribed.
Nowadays, the staff work hard to make sure they know the name a person goes by, but it doesn’t always work, if like me your given and known name match- it’s not likely to be a problem
But, often we discover, our friends are not known by their given name.
My father, James Bernard; was always called Bernard
But doctors invariably call him James, or Jim, or Jimmy
My son known to all of you as Jamie, is actually James!

And sometimes, the person we know should always be Mr or Mrs – not the familiarity of their first name. it simply is as it is.
Knowing our names; being known
Hearing our names and listening or responding when someone calls.... can never be underestimated.

Do you think God calls you by name?
Names are very important to God.
In fact, there are many times in the Bible when God called someone by name.
One day, Moses saw a burning bush and went over to take a look. God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses answered, "Here I am." (Exodus 3:4)
As Jesus walked down the streets of Jericho one day, he stopped and looked up in a tree. "Zacchaeus, come down right now. I am going to your house today." When Jesus called his name, Zacchaeus came down. (Luke 19:5)
God also chose to change given names:
Before the apostle Paul became a follower of Christ, his name was Saul. As he was going to Damascus to persecute the disciples, a bright light flashed around him. He fell to the ground and he heard a voice from heaven say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul answered, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:1-5) – Saul of course was later renamed Paul.
Simon the fisherman, was renamed by Jesus – Simon, I name you Peter, for on this Rock I will build my church.

Abram became Abraham
Jacob became Israel
And so on…

This morning we were once again reminded of the story of the boy named Samuel.
Samuel's mother was a woman named Hannah. She suffered greatly because she was barren; she wanted a son more than anything, so she prayed and asked God to give her a son. She promised God that if he would give her a son, she would give him back to the LORD to serve him all the days of his life.
Her prayers in the temple were so fervent that the priest Eli thought she must be drunk. However, God heard her prayer and Hannah bore the son she asked for, Samuel, and she kept her promise to God. When the boy was old enough, she took him to the temple and presented him to Eli the priest. From that day on, Samuel served in the temple under Eli.

As Eli was an old man, and Samuel a boy, it was Samuel’s role to care for and learn from the aged priest. So, to hear his name called in the night was not entirely unexpected. However, when again and again the voice calling him was not the old man, the boy was confused.

Eli’s heart must have filled with dread as he realised what was really happening… and telling the boy to answer, knowing that there could be dire news coming…

"Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."
Some people think that God only calls adults, or holy people; or wise people; or especially good people.
Truth is, God can call any one of us, at any time.
Because God knows us
Knows what we can do; knows also what we need, when we need it.

God doesn’t need us to wear sticky labels; for God knows our name just as he knew the name of Samuel.

Samuel was placed in a dilemma; he may well have received a prophecy, but it was not good news, and it was especially not good news for his master Eli and his sons.
Yet, the old man helped him along; encouraged him, helped him to put the vision into words. The old man listened, just as he had encouraged the boy to listen to God’s voice.
In his heart I am sure he knew that his sons were going to bring punishment down on themselves and the family. And he accepted the news for what it was. Knowing that God’s judgment was righteous and fair.
For Samuel, this was just the start; from then on, he grew in wisdom and became God’s prophet, bringing the people back to God, and eventually, bringing them a new king. But that’s another story!

Samuel, teaches us that age is no barrier; that whatever our age, or our position; whatever the story around us, God sees into the heart, and God can choose to use and inspire in and through the most unlikely of circumstances – if we can just pause, and listen.  

Hearing God in the stillness - Iona 2017

Sunday, 8 October 2017

God Provides

Exodus 16: 1-18; sermon for 8th October

We have jumped ahead in the story of the Israelites.
Two weeks ago, we were watching as Jacob and Esau battled it out for blessings and birthrights; now generations have passed. Jacob’s sons have given birth to a nation.
They have lived in exile and as slaves to the all powerful Egyptians. Last week (if we hadn’t been doing harvest) we would have heard about Moses encounter with God in the desert: the burning bush and the voice that told him to stop, take off his shoes for he had reached holy ground. God told Moses he had heard his people’s cry and he would rescue them.

Now, God is in action again; through God’s interceding the Israelites were freed from slavery and escaped Egypt; but their rejoicing at God’s provision has once again turned to bitter wailing. They have been in the wilderness for just six weeks; it is desert, and the desert is barren. They begin to complain loudly to Moses and Aaron – blaming them for the conditions they are in; blaming them for taking them away from the safety of Egypt – even though there they had been slaves, poorly treated and persecuted. God calls to Moses and tells him that all will be well. God will provide food, in the morning and the evening. All they need for each day will be provided.
And, so it was.
And, so it remained. For as long as they wandered in the desert, there was food every day. Morning and evening. God provided.
As I pondered this reading and its message this week I asked myself this question:
“Where is the manna for me today?”
Now, clearly, I am not talking literally about miraculous bread that comes from heaven with the early morning dew; but I am talking about what I need to feed my soul; what I need to help sustain my faith and be who God calls me to be.
We all experience wilderness times. Times when we feel we have maybe lost direction; or perhaps enthusiasm is on the wane. Times when we may call on God but not necessarily know the divine presence in our hearts. These wilderness times can be lonely, difficult and hard to bear.
Energy and enthusiasm are low, and we struggle to find meaning and hope in anything. These are the days when we especially need manna. Bread of Heaven – the thing which can nourish our souls and make us fit and well again.
“Where is the manna for me?”
The answer to that question will be different for each of us. It may be in rest and relaxation; or time spent out in the fresh air. You may be someone who needs a good walk to waken you up and revive your flagging spirits.
Or maybe you need a companion? Someone to talk to, someone who will take the time to listen and let you know you are not alone.
“Where is the manna for me?”
There are days when manna feels less necessary; everything is going well. Life is running on an even keel; we are all moving forward with the same goals in mind and the same hopes for the future – life is good. No need for manna, we are firing on all cylinders and everything is going well.
It just takes a small thing though for it all to come tumbling down.
How blessed we are to know that God has a plan; God sees the bigger picture and knows without doubt that we will wander from, all well, to Lord help me, in a heartbeat.
God will provide
God will bless
God knows us; knows me; knows you.
God knows each of us exactly as we are. Knows the things that will drag us down; and also knows what we need to renew, refresh, start over again.
What a blessing that is!!
When we need manna – it will come. We may, like this Israelites look at it and wonder – “what is it?”
What is it?
It is hope
It is joy
It is nourishment for the soul
It is all we need; when we need it.
As we close our service later on, we will be singing Guide me oh thou Great Jehovah – the hymn inspired by this story.
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
*feed me till my want is o’er.
Bread of heaven – God’s sustaining, feeds us until we want no more.
Feeds us until we are satisfied
Feeds us – physically, spiritually – completely
Feeds us, through our friends, through our praying,
God Provides
And we are satisfied

Not manna - but fruits of God's providing all the same

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Micah: Justice, Love Humility - sermons shared 17 September 2017

Sunday 17th September was remarkable! Our service  was jointly led by Me with two colleagues, Rev Marci Glass from the USA and Rev Rola Sleiman from Lebanon. 
It was a golden opportunity, and between us we reflected on Micah's vision, recorded in chapter 6:6-8 
What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Below you will find our three short sermons on each of the elements, Marci chose Justice, Rola chose Humble Fellowship and I chose (was happy to be left with) Constant Love  

Three RevGals ready to preach the Word

To Seek Justice

I'm a justice kind of person. Sometimes that's a good quality, and sometimes less so. I'm willing to stand up for the people whose voices are not being heard and advocate with them to bring justice and mercy their way. When that kind of justice informs my life, things go pretty well.
I only have 5 minutes, so I will spare you of the illustrations of when my finely-honed sense of justice doesn't bring out the best in me.
Justice work has taken up a fair amount of my pubic ministry in the United States, both working for justice in the church and in the secular political sphere as well. While the United States technically has a separation of church and state that is different than here in Scotland, clergy still can use our office to speak to public matters. I regularly speak to the state legislature and my city council about issues where I see proposed ordinances working in opposition to the values I see in scripture. I advocate for better care for homeless people, access to healthcare, women's rights to make their own healthcare choices, welcome and hospitality for refugees and immigrants, and for the full inclusion of people in church and society, regardless of their sexual orientation.
St Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching". I do preach about justice issues from the pulpit, if the issue is related to the text I'm preaching. I recognize that unless my life outside the pulpit matches the words I say when I'm preaching, then my words are in vain. I pray my walking is my preaching, as much as my sermons are. As the hymn we just sang puts it, "faith proves itself in deeds".
Of course, one person's deeds, or stands on issues of justice may be seen by another person as heresy, or at least bad public policy. And people of faith differ on all of those justice issues I have mentioned, even within my congregation. People have different views on those and so many other issues at play in our world today. While scripture is my guide as I navigate issues of justice, I recognize it is also the guide for some of the people who view those same topics and reach very different conclusions.
I don't want to steal from the rest of our passage from Micah, which is what Julie and Rola are going to be preaching on, but it is important that Micah connects those three behaviors. If justice is not pursued while attending to "loving kindness" and "walking humbly" as the text continues, it ceases to be justice. Justice, removed from loving kindness and humility is a bullying dominance.
Martin Luther King, Jr, an American civil rights icon, whose writings challenge me every day, wrote this about the relationship to love and justice:
"Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love".
Justice is never about only removing someone from oppression. Justice has to also be about liberating the oppressor. Walter Wink, an American theologian wrote:
“The command to love our enemies reminds us that our first task towards oppressors is pastoral: to help them recover their humanity... It is not enough to become politically free; we must also become human.
“There is no one, and surely no entire people, in whom the image of God has been utterly extinguished. Faith in God means believing that anyone can be transformed, regardless of the past.”
This is not to say we are to remain passive in the face of injustice. Just because an oppressor is also a child of God does not mean we stand by and encourage their oppression. To really seek justice that would redeem us all, on both sides of an issue, requires us to engage in faithful discussion--to see where they are coming from.
Are we willing to be in a listening, conversational posture with the people we see as oppressors? Are we willing to trust they have something to teach us as much as we have to teach them? Are we willing to be wrong in the face of our opponents, for the cause of God's justice? It reveals a truth of the risk of faith--by following a God who chose to die on a cross, we claim our strength in God's vulnerability.
As Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth in chapter 1: "For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength." One might argue that Jesus' very life, and death, and resurrection, are the divine embodiment of Micah's instruction to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

The problems of the world are huge. Individually, we may feel we cannot make a difference. God doesn't call us to single-handedly fix the world. Friends, that is God's job, not ours. God does call us to participate in God's work of justice and redemption-- It can be as simple, and as profound, as one on one conversations over a beverage or a meal with people who see the world very differently than we do, trusting the promise that God, our creator and sustainer, is at work to redeem us all. 

To Embrace Love 

It is so simple; what does God require of us? To seek justice, embrace love (show constant love) and walk humbly with God. Love causes us to do amazing things; things we never knew possible. Things we thought only others could do.
People the world over know and understand that crazy little thing called love. Or do they?! Love. In English, we have just one word – which can mean so many very different things; in other languages, they are far more liberal, using different words for the different expressions of love. Whether it is romantic love, friendship love, loyal love, holy love… there is a different word. What Micah was describing is holy love I think; and this, holy love, is the one thing we all have, all the time, even when, or maybe even, especially when, we are not aware of it. when the prophet Micah committed his vision to paper – recorded the words, I wonder if he ever thought just how much the simple phrase we are exploring this morning, would grow in the hearts of the faithful? That these three things would last and be repeated, again and again, thousands of years later.
Love has been the greatest motivation for many heroic acts; for many foolish gestures; and for many ordinary, quiet lives of faithful people.
In reality, to show love is simply to express our humanity – for humanity at its best is indeed loving and kind. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who heard that command lived by it.
The prophets talked about love and faith; Jesus talked about love – when he was asked what was the greatest commandment his answer was simple: love God with all your heart and all your soul, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
All through history, men and women have sought to love and be loved. And, have written poetry and prose, composed music and song, created novels and movies all about love; Love between two people; love between us and our dogs, love between friends who have overcome great adversity together – pretty much every aspect of love has been recorded.
The divine spark of love implanted in each of us has caused us to seek companions on the journey; to create friendships based on mutual respect and love.
Maybe that simple truth is too simple for some.
But for me, as I look at the world, it remains my hope for all humanity – that each will acknowledge that God’s greatest gift to us, was that spark, that love, planted within each of us – reminding us, again and again, we love because God loved us first.

To Walk Humbly with God

 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Winston Churchill was once asked by one of his helpers, "Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed?" "It’s quite flattering," replied Churchill. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."
It is very beneficial to always train our mind that we are not the center of the world, and that we do not control everything in life. Humility dear ones, is a worldwide human virtue that we teach our children to adopt, but to us as Christians and believers the greatest example of humility can be found in our Lord Jesus Christ "Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus set aside His divine glory to take the form of a servant. He voluntarily accepted temptation, hunger, loneliness, suffering, and death in order to understand and identify with each one of us.
When Jesus chose to become man He laid aside His glorious majesty, so that when He was "lifted up from the earth," He could "draw all men" to Himself. (John 12:32) Jesus had to suffer humiliation in order that we could be forgiven.
If you humble yourself and repent of your pride and understand that u will find the ability to forgive the unforgivable.
Thus to say, “I am not the center of the world and I can’t control everything in life means, I am admitting I have weakness and limitations, I am not in control of everything in my universe, I need help from a power far greater than myself.
PRIDE is not so much bragging as it is this illusion that I am at the center and can manage everything on my own without help. Bragging may be a symptom of pride, but pride itself is much deeper. Even very insecure people who would never be caught bragging can demonstrate an amazing amount of pride.
HUMILITY therefore is the opposite of this attitude. Humility is just living in the truth about ourselves… and the truth is I am not God, I’m not the center, I have needs, I have things I can’t control, I am dependent on God. That’s humility.
Because Jesus broke into history to begin a spiritual kingdom that expands one heart at time, we too can say,
“There is a God. So I can just let go. Sometimes being out of control or serving in obscurity is our chance to grow in my acceptance of reality… I’m not God, I’m just his precious son and daughter!”
A church located in a town with a seminary needed a substitute preacher when their pastor was on vacation. The President of the seminary chose their best student. Straight A’s, the teachers all loved him. Ego as big as creation, obviously unaware of his own limitations. The young man wrote a great sermon and memorized it. On Sunday morning he confidently climbed into the pulpit and immediately forgot his sermon. He managed to muddle through it but left the pulpit in unhappy. A sweet little lady has some advice for him as she shook his hand that morning. She Told him “If you had gone into that pulpit with the attitude that you had when you came out of that pulpit, you would have come out of that pulpit with the attitude you had when you climbed into it.”
The humility of Jesus Christ is rooted in his experience of God’s love. His heart and soul were filled with that love so that all his emotional and spiritual needs were completely met. His cup overflowed! Jesus knew who he was: a beloved child of the God he called “Father!”
His confidence, his power, his courage his humility came from one place: his faith in a loving God. The love of God so filled his heart that his life became an expression of that love. He recognized every human being as a brother or a sister, just as important in the eyes of God as he was. He loved and cared for everyone because each person was his brother or sister.
Humble disciples of Jesus Christ begin with faith in the love of God, with hearts and souls filled with that love. We feel no need to act important because we are important. No need to pretend we are somebody, because we are somebody: we are the beloved children of God. Humble disciples of Jesus Christ strike an important balance. Confident without bragging; humble without losing our dignity and loved without putting ourselves at the center of the universe. Hearts full of God’s love give us the confidence that God affirms our successes and forgives our mistakes.
God gives us the ability to be the love we are. To measure up to the standard that the author of the book of James describes: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
One day a sage came to a King for an interview. The sage had to wait for a long time because the King was very busy. Finally, the King said he could come in.
When the sage entered the hall, the first thing he did was to take off his hat and bow to the King. Immediately the King took off his crown and bowed to the sage. The ministers and others who were around the King asked, “What are you doing? He took off his hat because he is an ordinary man. But you are the King. Why should you have to take off your crown?”
The King said to his ministers, “You fools, do you think I wish to remain inferior to an ordinary man? He is humble and modest. His humility is a peerless virtue’. He showed his respect to me. If I did not take off my crown, then I would be showing less humility than an ordinary man, and I would be defeated by him. If I am the King, I should be better than everybody in everything. That is why I took off my crown and bowed to him!”
Dear sisters and brothers let us think of the example of a tree. When the tree is in full bloom, when it is filled with ripe fruits, when it really has something to offer the world, the tree bows down. If we can become one with the consciousness of a tree, we will feel that the more we have to offer, the more humility we will have, the more we have God’s love in our hearts the more pride vanishes and humility takes its place. For our Lord we give glory and honor Amen.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

GO! Sermon 10 September

Genesis 21: 1-3,6; 22:1-14


(Letting go and trusting the unseen.)

There are passages in scripture which are not necessarily hard to understand, but cause us some serious thinking and consternation. Stories which cause us to pause and think, “what the heck?!”

Today’s reading is such a one of these.
In the first part we are told God blessed Sarah with a son; and Sarah’s joy is so complete she laughs for sheer delight. Then, just as the ancient couple are getting used to the fact that God’s promises are real and true, God does the unthinkable and tells Abraham to take the boy and prove his faith in God by sacrificing his only son.
It makes no sense!
The boy is the future
The boy is the fulfilment of God’s covenant promise
An unbreakable vow
A lasting legacy
It makes no sense!!
This passage tempts us to use explanations and excuses for God
God was just testing him
God didn’t really mean it
This is the God of the Old Testament – the God of the New testament is different – (this one is actually heresy!)

What are we to think?
And why is it there?
What good thing can we learn about God and God’s relationship with Abraham and humanity?
Is there any good thing in this passage? Except perhaps the ending – when Abraham is stopped at the last minute, and Isaac is spared.
But for me, even that seems a little off – how will Isaac ever feel able to trust his father and his God again? Will he forever be looking over his shoulder, wondering if God will test him again?
And what would Sarah say if she heard about it? or more accurately, what did she say, when Isaac told his beloved mother just what her husband had done? I’m guessing there may have been some raised voices here.

Perhaps, what I need to do instead of trying to explain the unexplainable is to explore the symbols here.
Abraham – father of a nation – has one son, and one son only.
Abraham – father of a nation – yet this promised destiny lies in this single life. A life that is precarious and vulnerable.
The bible, the law forbids child sacrifice – God doesn’t require the death of any human life in sacrifice
Rather, God seeks three things, as the prophet Micah tells us – not our burnt offerings, but that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. (A theme we will be exploring more fully next week)

Abraham had been promised his descendants would be as stars in the sky or sand on a beach – innumerable. Beyond measure. Hard to imagine when you’re ancient and you’ve just one child.
Yet, Abraham also needed to be able to let go of his own dreams and release them to Isaac and all the generations to come. I think it is time for me to own that I have no answer. In all my reflecting and discussing and reading I have yet to come across an answer that really satisfies me.
I look at our world:
Fires and storms
Earthquakes and floods
Hurricanes and disasters
Where do they come from? Who is responsible? Who makes bad things happen?

My own personal feeling about death and disaster is the things happen. Those things which the world may refer to as an “Act of God” – I prefer to think of as acts of nature – weather happens; volcanoes exist; tectonic plates move; storms blow up; God is there, alongside those who call out; those in need.
God doesn’t make it happen, any more than God prevents it from happening. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care, more that God is not our puppet master – moving us round the chess board of life – blowing us into danger, or sheltering us from harm.
Did God really want Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son? Or did those who chronicled the early Old Testament want to establish the changeover, the inheritance being passed on – the new line being established. For Abraham to realise that it was not through him alone, but through his son, and his sons, and their sons – and on down the generations.  
Rather than sacrifice – the death of hopes and dream; this was about trust and obedience; following God’s leading; relying on God’s strength.
The world is a wild and complicated place; life is full of ups and downs; highs and lows; life and death; hope and anxiety. All intertwined, all interdependent; God doesn’t make bad stuff happen – if that was so, how could we believe in a God of love?
God is with God’s people – all God’s people.
In the storm and the fire
In the hurricane and the earthquake
Wherever people are, God is
In us, with us, through us, for us
God – creator, friend, counsellor – all wrapped up together
Parent, Brother, Companion
Constant, Word, Breath

All encompassing; in every moment
When we walk the path of life
We can trust that God is there in every step
When we follow God’s commands and leading – we can trust.
Always and forever


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Sermon 18 June: How Long O Lord?

Psalm 13 
John 6:35-40

How Long?
Sometimes life and liturgy come together in beautiful synergy – the readings of the day fit perfectly with the events in the world that week.
This is one of those weeks as the country joined together in sorrow and lament over the horrific events in London. Not terrorism this time, but nonetheless terrifying.
You may remember the disaster movie from the 1970s – Towering Inferno? In the movie they were able to rescue most of those trapped in the tower block from the roof; and extinguished the fire by blowing up the water towers on the roof and flooding the building with water.
Sadly, truth is more brutal than fiction; the fire raged too quickly, too fiercely; it was night; there was conflicting advice; and as a result many people perished – and many more lost everything.
Those who lived in Grenfell Tower, and those who live in similar dwellings are raising their voices to cry out: How Long?
How many more tragedies must happen before the rules on high rise properties are changed?
How much longer, must those who are poor, continue to live in unsafe properties?
How long will it be?
The Psalm asks God for answers: how long must we wait? How long will we feel alone? How long must we watch as innocent lives are taken? And not only asking those questions – but daring to give God an ultimatum: “Look at me!! answer me!!! Otherwise I will just give up”.
The Psalms! In them there is always an answer to our deepest longings.

The psalm speaks into the questions that are being asked not only by the survivors, the bereaved, the other residents in similar places, but also by others who see the injustice and inequality so obvious in the stark contrast between the wealth of Kensington when compared with the abject poverty of high rise living.
The Psalm is coupled with a short reading from St John’s Gospel: Jesus’ assertion of his mission and God’s promise: that Jesus’ followers will be raised up on the last day; the promise that all who call on the Son will receive eternal life.

Somehow though, even when the readings fit so perfectly the mood and the events of a week, it is still hard to find what to say; how to speak; how to bring hope into a hopeless situation.
So, I offer this: in every time of horror or tragedy; of fear or distress; in each moment that hope seems to be utterly unreachable, there are the helpers.
There are always, helpers.
Good, good people prepared to offer of themselves.
In every time of disaster, when the death toll rises, there are glimpses of goodness; heroes who may not save everyone, but can save someone.
Firefighters entered and re-entered the burning building, to bring more than 60 people to safety.
A man caught a baby dropped from a 5th floor window by a distraught mother; I believe the baby survived.
Within hours people who lived in the area poured in, donating clothes, shoes, bedding, food, water, bringing phone chargers, offering support weeping, sharing, praying together.
Even in the worst tragedy, people help.
They don’t choose to help one over another, they simply come together and help, whatever, wherever, however they can.
The gospel reading today reminds us: “(God)’s will is that Jesus shall raise up all he has been given; that those who see the Son and call on his name shall have eternal life.”

There is no qualifier there; no conditions placed. It is simple.
Call on his name – and God will hear you.
Call on his name and Jesus will welcome you
Call on his name – know that God is waiting always

Life is not perfect;
Life does not always go the way we hope
Life is not always pretty or predictable
Life is full of everything: good and bad; light and dark; happy and sad; we cannot predict how it will go, but we can choose to be positive, to be hopeful, to be loving and kind and to care for others.
All others.
No matter where they come from or who they are.
For they are all God’s children.
How long O God?
How long must we wait for you?
Make us content with the question, knowing that when we rely on you; when we praise you; when we turn to you – you O God are there, always and forever.
Beach at Lossiemouth - JRen2009

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Stand up! Speak out! Pentecost Sermon 2017

Stand up. Speak out.
“the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:4)
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23)

The Spirit enables them…
The gifts of the Spirit are:
Self control
We live in times that are not always kind, not always loving; not always self controlled
We are living through days when generosity seems far away
When peace feels a distant memory
When joy is tinged with sadness
When patience has worn thin

We are living through strange and terrible times.

And yet.
I am old enough to remember similar days in the 1970s.
Others here are old enough to remember uncertainty in the 1960s
Or the fear of the 1950s
And the horror of world war in the 30s and 40s…

Just because this feels new; feels personal; feels immediate – we also need to remember that as the old teacher wrote – there is nothing new under the sun.

2000 or so years ago the disciples gathered together, fearful, afraid, paralysed with grief and unable to move outside their tight, familiar circle.
Even though they have seen Jesus – know God’s power has overcome evil; that life is there for the taking – they are still afraid.

A rushing wind
A sensation of God’s presence
And the rush of joy that exploded over them as the Spirit came to do her work.

And suddenly -  the Spirit enabled them to speak
And they were filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

And then everything was fine
And they all lived happily ever after…
Except of course it wasn’t and they didn’t.
Not in the simplistic, safe, fairy tale way at least.

God is not a fairy tale!!
God is all seeing; all powerful; ever present
Our advocate
Our strength
Our power
Our friend
Our comforter
Our everything.

The world may seem mad
Those who seek to wreak havoc – an unseen enemy, may seem overwhelming and unassailable.
Yet, with God, nothing is impossible.
The fruits of the Spirit remind us, again and again, we have hidden reserves; unlimited reserves; holy reserves.
And, "no matter what" we can prevail.
God is good, no matter what.
We are God's children, no matter what.
Love will conquer madness, no matter what.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was a fulfilment of God’s promise; of Jesus’ promise.
The coming of the Holy Spirit heralded a new era – an era that continues to this day
God is with us, no matter what.
The Spirit came, and all God’s People received her power – the were moved to stand up. To speak out. No matter what.
The Spirit brought an infinite supply of
The gifts of the Spirit are:
Self control
Ours for the taking
Ours for the using

Ours – no matter what