Monday, 20 March 2017

Sermon 19 March Breaking Rules and Finding Hope

Luke Chapter 15

The Pharisees started grumbling…
Once again, they are witnessing Jesus behaving in a way they consider is undesirable – in a way that contravenes the Law. Not God’s law. But the law that has grown up around God’s instructions, received via Moses – and now, adjusted and amended and changed beyond all recognition into something much more than the original. From the grumbling comes the accusations: you can’t be a man of God if you welcome these undesirables into your company; you can’t be a man of the law if you disregard the rules; you can’t be a holy one if you don’t even recognise the basics of our belief…
So, Jesus being Jesus, lands them with another teaching example – another set of parables. He may break rules – man-made rules; but, God’s concern is with the gathering in of the lost things… little by little, one by one, each cast out person is told they are loved, and made to feel welcome in the kingdom. On the face of it, the parables seem to be about losing things; the fact is, they are about the exact opposite, they are about finding precious things that were lost, but are now restored. And, of course, the parables aren’t really, about sheep, coins and sons at all either!
These three parables aren't about losing things...they are about the determination of God. Determination for reconciliation, between us and God as illustrated in the first two parables; and reconciliation in God-centred community/family as illustrated in the third parable.
The first two parables do not seem logical – you have 99 of 100 sheep – yet, you’ll abandon the others to find the one – how does that make sense?
You have 9 of 10 silver coins – and then when you find it, you throw a big party to celebrate – spending money you don’t have!
How does that make sense?
That’s the crux of the story – God’s love and grace are lavish and generous and without limit. They don’t have to make sense; they don’t have to be logical – God’s love in its purest form is absurd! And that, that is a wondrous gift for each of us.
For it means God puts no limit on the opportunities for grace in our lives; God put no conditions; no restrictions – love and grace are freely available.
The third story is different; the father and the sons. The son is not lost accidentally; it is a deliberate act of defiance.
Yet, in spite of this betrayal; on the son’s return the father is waiting for him; more, looking out for him; more still, runs to greet and embrace him, enveloping him in his arms and celebrating his return.
The son has been foolish; and disrespectful; he has certainly broken all the rules; he knows this, and is ready to confess his mistakes, to seek forgiveness – but the father doesn’t listen to the prepared speech; the very fact that the son has taken the first step is enough. He is welcomed home.
Both sons however, need redemption. The second son, the one who was loyal and hardworking; the one who respected his father, and conformed to tradition, was outraged. His anger is directed at both his father and his brother. He feels that his father is favouring his brother over him; he cannot understand why someone so undeserving is being treated so royally.
This is the brother I can identify with!
Perhaps he is the one we can all identify with. For if we truly view the sons as humanity; and the Father as God; if we view working the farm as life; this means that all those people who are lazy and unthinking; all those who do terrible things, will be welcomed home if they return.
It is important to know that the father did not send out search parties; he did not set out to find the boy; but, as soon as he knew he was coming he ran forward to pull him home.
It is part of the human condition, that we seek forgiveness, work hard to share the gospel – live our lives as faithfully as we can. It is also part of the human condition to look at others and judge – we can’t help it.
Time and again in our current political climate I look at what is happening both here and around the world, and I am horrified, afraid, concerned and distressed at the way people are treated; at the way power is wielded; at the way people of power are behaving.
And yet, there is a small voice, whispering in my ear and reminding me: he too is a beloved child of God; she is known and cherished; he belongs in God’s family.
And I, like the older son, feel fury and indignation! How can this be?
And I hear again those words of the father in the parable
“We have to celebrate and be glad, for this brother of yours was dead and is now alive; he was lost and is now found”.
 God loves us
And God loves those we do not love; do not trust; do not value.
Everyone has the chance to reflect and turn; and when they do, the father will be waiting to welcome them home.
Because God does not follow man made rules; God’s rules do not exclude – they bestow hope to every child of God.
And that is worth celebrating!


Brodick Beach, Isle of Arran (JRen 2017)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The peace of Early Morning

In our parish, we are undertaking a Lenten discipline of early morning worship; once per week, on a Wednesday morning the faithful gather round the table at 7.30 am.
This means the minister arrives in church by 7.15 am

The church
the dawn light
the stillness
the gentle murmur of hushed voices greeting each other

the corporate act of worship; voices blending to respond to ancient words of welcome; all contribute to the feeling of holy

We share the worship
We listen to scripture
We break bread together
And then we go, off to whatever the day is calling us to...
It is simple
It takes no more than 15 minutes
yet, in those few minutes, the day begins, the heart is filled, the word is shared, and Love lives again.

it is profound in its simplicity 
and that is where beauty lies

Praise God for the morning!

Living Under the Rainbow - sermon for 12 March

Isaiah 65: 17-25; Luke 13: 1-9 

Today’s gospel records a conversation that has been repeated time and again in every generation – bad stuff happens; does it mean I did something bad? Why does bad stuff happen to good people? And for that matter, why does good stuff happen to bad people.

Time and again we witness events; situations and are drawn to ask, Why?
Hundreds of years earlier the prophet Isaiah was blessed with a vision of the world not as it is, but how it could be. Where all is equal; where the work of our hands is to our benefit and not someone else’s; where life is long and trouble free; where peace reigns and justice is given to everyone.
It is a vision of the New Jerusalem – heaven if you like.
But. And here’s the thing.
That vision of hope and renewal is not merely a cloud vision of a possibility in some distant land; nor is it to be left to heaven only, but is to be strived for here and now in this world – it is for us to work for justice; it is for us to strive for peace; it is for us to speak out and work for those who have no voice helping in whichever way we can.
Throughout scripture we are confronted by God’s repeated call to act justly. The continuing poverty of millions in a world of plenty, the gross inequalities in the way we conduct trade are affronts to his goodness and justice. They demand a response from us.
Traidcraft was founded as a Christian response to poverty. As one of the pioneers of fair trade in the UK we rely heavily on the support of God’s people who buy our products, who give to our charity, and who campaign with us for trade justice and a world freed from the scandal of poverty.
Christ calls us to fairness and justice in many, different ways. Some ways are easy and require little effort or personal sacrifice, but others are difficult and will mean us having to change what we buy and where we shop, and to go without ourselves.
Some ways will bring us praise from those around us and win us admiration, but others may bring criticism and make us unpopular, when we raise our voice for the voiceless, when we call for justice for the poor.
Some ways we will find interesting and absorbing and will play to our natural strengths, but others we will find tedious and a chore.
In some of these ways we may please both Christ and ourselves; in other ways, we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet we know that we have the power to be able to act in all these ways because Christ inspires and strengthens us, and because we know that he has no hands or feet on earth but ours. If justice is to be done, it is we who are called to do it.

There is no assurance that it will be easy; there was no promise in a vision that has come from God of a life of ease; but it will be worth it.
Jesus had a strong and radical message; but it was not all doom and gloom, he was full of compassion and sought to shake those who were complacent and to encourage those who were excluded. The parable of the fig tree reminds us that there is always another chance; always time to change, to turn, to start over.
There is always time to try again – be nourished, fed by the Spirit and bear fruit.
God destroyed the world in a great flood; and afterwards promised that the rainbow would endure to remind us that God would never do that again; that humanity was given another chance to start over.
We live under the promise of the rainbow; we can choose to help others, give them a second chance, or we can choose to ignore and look out only for ourselves.
But if we choose that way, the warning is stark – Jesus said, “if you do not turn from your sins, you will die.”

It is not our place to judge each other; but it is our place to do our best to help; to work together; to bring about justice for the oppressed
We are rainbow people

It is up to us
Under the Rainbow Kite