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