Saturday, 8 December 2018

Be Prepared

Malachi 3: 1-4; Luke 3: 1-6
In the 57th year of the reign of Elizabeth the second, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Alex Salmond was First Minister of Scotland and Barak Obama was President of the United States; during the Moderatorial Year of Right Reverend William Hewitt…
Now with a bit of thought, I am sure you wold be able to work out what year I am talking about?
It is 2009…

For the readers of Luke’s narrative, the information he gave them, enabled them to know what the year was, and fixed the point in history.
They would know when it was that the Wildman came out of the wilderness proclaiming the year of the Lord.
Declaring that it was time to get ready; to be prepared.
His message was strong…
His message was uncompromising
His message was prophetic.
Get yourselves ready!
Turn away from sin!
Be baptised and God will forgive you!

The simplicity of John’s message struck a chord with simple folks; it touched the heart of their hunger
They all knew they needed to connect with God
They just had lost touch with HOW to do so

People today are not so different really
The wilderness some of us encounter may not look like that desert, but it exists nevertheless.
It may be loneliness
Or a feeling of isolation
Or being overwhelmed by the world and everything that is happening around us…

The sense of emptiness can touch each of us at any time, and leads to a seeking of … something.
Something intangible; difficult to explain or define…
We are seeking something other in our lives
We are seeking to know how to connect, or reconnect with God out of the wilderness as we respond to the call to be prepared.
We respond to the call to “be prepared” because we can identify with it

This time of year is all about preparations:
Making lists
Tidying up
Planning meals
Buying gifts
Writing cards
Sending invitations
Accepting invitations
And journeying – near or far there are also going to be journeys
And the busy-ness of all that festive cheer is so overwhelming, so all-consuming
That sometimes we forget; we totally forget why we are doing it

What is Christmas all about?
What do we do all of the planning and shopping and writing and journeying for?

Well I have an answer
It is an answer that came to me out of the blue – when, if truth be told, I was feeling uninspired, lost in the wilderness and a little blue myself...
 And suddenly I remembered!!

All of the preparations are not only for me
They are so I can share something
 All of the preparations are not just for the family
They are so I can show something
All of the preparations are not simply for the fun
They are so we can all share something
 And the something?
The something is love

Christmas IS about fun and family and feasting and friends and the fullness of life
 But more than anything else it’s about love

All the preparing
Of house and home
And life and living
And body and spirit
All comes down to love:
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second; when Theresa May was Prime Minister, and the country was waiting with baited breath for answers and resolution: the people of Earlston listened again to the voice crying: in the wilderness prepare for the God of Love
In your wilderness prepare for Love.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Be Alert

Be Alert - sermon for 2nd December 

Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Luke 21: 25 – 36 

Traditionally the first Sunday of Advent signifies HOPE.
And of our two readings this morning, the prophet Jeremiah starts out as a beacon of hope: Surely the days are coming… he writes as God speaks, when I will fulfil the promise  made.
There is much to hope for in God’s promises; God’s promises can be relied upon… and as we prepare to remember God’s greatest promise, fulfilled in a vulnerable baby more than 2000 years ago, it is good to have hope.
And then we come to the third week in a row of doom and gloom and the end of the world as Jesus comes back in judgement…
But, hang on a moment! That second paragraph tells us something else; something that really is hopeful.
Jesus and parables; yes, they always have some hope if you know where to look.
Fig trees; buds, new growth… that is a good sign, isn’t it?
(You all know of my connection with the RevGals, and I know I have told you before about the reflections we share on the week’s passages and how that might inform our preaching and worship each week. Over on our blog, there was a really helpful discussion about the fig tree and changing seasons.
Jesus talked about the signs of spring turning to summer; of buds and leaves and what we all know to look out for; and that when we see these things, we will know that the Kingdom of God is near at hand... In other words, the Realm of God is always at hand!!
Wow!! I had never looked at it like that before, but there it is; every year, day follows day; week follows week  and seasons come and seasons go… and as we witness them, we witness God’s kingdom at world all around us.
Now, if that isn’t hopeful, I don’t know what is!!
There’s more… because, obviously, sometimes we are not aware of God’s Kingdom; we get weighed down by the worries of  the world; we read in the news of terrible things happening and we forget to remember God’s Kingdom.
Counter to that –
When we pay attention, we are able to see the nearness of God’s Realm and the possibilities there are for hope and liberation.
As soon as we are able to listen for God and follow holy ways, we discover that it really is possible for Christ to come again.
In the deepest mysteries of faith we are able to recognise, that even in the darkest times, God is there; even in the worst situations, Hope becomes possible.
God does not just leave us to our own devices but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now.
Jesus calls us to be alert… to be ready, to keep a lightness in our hearts and let the light shine.
As we witness the signs of winter we know that the earth needs to rest in order to have the strength for spring growth; as we hunker down, keep warm, and share the joy of Christmas – deep in the darkest weeks of winter, we remember again why Jesus came: to bring light in the darkness. Darkness we see; darkness we pierce with brilliant lights! Darkness that shows us hope.
Winter sunlight JMR2010

This hope is indeed, Good News.
Good News that our world needs in today’s tumult and confusion.
In this first week of advent, may we all be agents of Hope and may we remind ourselves again to be alert for the light of the Kingdom.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

How long must we wait - sermon for 18 November

Hebrews 10: 11-25; Mark 13: 1-8

Entering a big city, when you’ve been out in the countryside can make the mind play tricks, the buildings seem bigger; the traffic noisier; the crowds pushier…
I well remember the first time I travelled to America – how big it all seemed.
Travelling from the airport into Seattle I was speechless looking out of the window; everything seemed huge: the roads were wider, and they we tiered – so there were two more highways above; the buildings scraped the sky, reaching ever higher.
As we moved through the city and into the suburbs, to where my friends lived, I discovered their small apartment, was not quite as pokey as I had been led to believe.

It’s all a matter of scale; for in a couple of days none of it really seemed that big after all; my mind had adjusted, and I was able to regain perspective.
Now that I have been back and forth fairly frequently, I am not so overwhelmed as I was twenty years ago.

As humans we adapt; we move from one thing to another, and what is strange, or big, or overpowering becomes the new normal.

The disciples had been travelling with Jesus for around three years; but they were still, really, country folk at heart. Coming to Jerusalem, the big city, was a novelty; and the Temple was a magnificent building – they were rightly awed by it.
Jesus, appears to be less impressed, and issues this terrible prophecy: it will all fall; the temple will be toppled.

Of course, immediately they began to clamour for more information – how? Why? When? How will we know? What warnings will there be?
Jesus continues to speak in riddles; and it seems he is laying the foundation for the end of things: wars and rumours of wars; fire and earthquakes…
Jesus knows they are leaving the Temple for the last time before he is arrested but this is not the end.

The destruction, the fall of the Temple, the violence and persecution are not sure signs of what is to come.
This is not the end. 
These things may occur and they may indeed be happening but this is not the end.

Here we are 2000 years later; still living faithful lives; still waiting.
All things are changing, the Temple is not the focal point anymore. 
Now we focus not on a building, but on an event: the resurrection. 
We know that faith is not about the buildings, but about the people.

We of course, also have the wisdom of hindsight: we know the fall of the  temple in around 70AD did not signify the end of the age and the return of Jesus.

We also have the complacency of 2000 years; there have been wars, and conflicts; famines and earthquakes; fires and flood, and still the world goes on; still humanity continues.
We may find ourselves saying, sure Jesus will return, but it won’t be in our lifetime.
The passage of time has numbed us to the reality of Jesus’ promise.

But we are now living in challenging days; the church is facing a new crisis; one it has not before dealt with.
Faith may seem hollow because it has been institutionalised;
Yet there is still hope in this passage.

Faith is not restricted to what the institution of the church is able to do; for Jesus predicts that these institutions, even the biggest ones built, with the greatest stones and minds and fervour shall not last.
Our Hope instead is in the arrival of Jesus and his kingdom.

How can we hear Jesus’ words that Temples will fall but the end is not yet? There is always new life and such upheaval has always been the way of it as one generation moves into another.

In these days of uncertainty; when our presbytery is tasked with once again looking at ministerial numbers. It is good to ask hard questions.

Is it right to use vast resources within the church to keep the stones in place?
Does the ‘listing’ of buildings that preserve their and our heritage have an uncanny way of preserving the problems that institutionalise us as well. 

What are Jesus words to us?
“Do not be alarmed”

The writer to the Hebrews was writing to people who were unsettled; he was writing in a time of change.
Today’s passage is clear: our confidence is not in the building, but in Jesus; and through Jesus we have hope.

Through Jesus we are able to  hold on fast to the promises of faith. Because of that, the author writes: “Let us provoke one another to love and good deeds… to meet together… to encourage one another…”

The world can be a big scary place
And we can feel small and isolated in it
But, we are not alone
We are never alone

We have a living God, who seeks good for us
And through God’s prompting we can work together for whatever our future is.

Over the next few weeks, a small group from our church, will be meeting with small groups from some of our neighbouring churches to consider the future plan:
What do we need to continue to be the church here in the  Leader Valley?
How can we bring the gospel message of Love to all the people who live here?
Their task is challenging; and we are living through challenging days.

Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed”
Jesus called us to love each other; to love God – Jesus also promised he would return.

When? We do not know
How long do we wait?
We do not know…

But this we do know: God is love, and in God’s love we can overcome all things.

Demolition of outbuildings at Earlston Manse

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Why do we give? A sermon for Remembrance Sunday

“Out of her poverty, she has put in everything she had…” (Mark 12:44)
Every widow; every orphan; every amputee; every one suffering from PTSD; every shell-shocked mind.
Every private; every corporal; every able seaman; every flight engineer…

Each, put in their two pennies.
Everything they had
Everything they were
Everything they lost
Given – for hope.

The human desire to strive for justice; to protect the vulnerable; to stand up for the oppressed can be summed up in the Psalmist’s verses:
Happy are those … whose hope is in the Lord their God; who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
 The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow (Ps 146: 5,6, 7-9)

For so many in the Great War a simple faith in God was core to everything; the words of the bible brought comfort; the very fact that each serviceman was given a bible tells us that.
The cost; the true price of war – cannot be measured in pounds and pennies, but in lives – shortened or changed – given in trust.
Trusting that the loss would not be futile
Trusting that the forfeit would be worth it
Trusting, that those who sent them out into peril knew what they were doing.
Trusting that their actions would fulfil God’s vision: justice for the oppressed.

Those young men who marched off to war in 1914 had no inkling of what would happen next; but all believed that it would be over by Christmas; they they’d be back home in no time… but as weeks turned to months; and then months turned to years, they, and their loved ones discovered it was not to be so simple.
Jesus, sat down and watched… the people; praying; offering; worshipping. Jesus watched, and Jesus knew the true cost to each donor.
And I am sure; that in 1914, Jesus watched the people: praying; marching; offering; worshipping.
Jesus watched, and Jesus knew the true cost to each donor. Every life cut short; every life changed through terrible injury; every home with empty chairs for those who would not return.
We now, in 2018. One hundred years after the guns fell silent, need to continue to remember the true cost of war.
There are few now who remember the Second War; and none remain from the Great War.

But, conflict continues. And British service personnel are deployed all around the world.
The Baltics…
Today, as we remember 100 years ago; we must also remember all who continue to serve our country; all who continue to answer the call to serve, to uphold justice; to restore peace; to bring safety in an unsafe world..
As we remember, may we be thankful, grateful, knowing that because of them, our lives are more secure.

Jesus knows all about sacrifice; it is through his sacrifice that we have hope for tomorrow.
Why do we give?
We give to honour the fallen; to honour each other; to honour God
We give to remember.
Remembrance Display Earlston Church 2018

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Sermon 14 October: What Must I Do?

Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

The encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Man is one I have turned back to, time and again; it features in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels too; and it tells us something about priorities, and motives.  – whatever our status, hearing the assertion that it is virtually impossible for the wealthy to get into heaven is one which disturbs and resonates in equal measure.
The story is multi-layered, but all too often we look at it and assume it is a simple story about the way God looks upon rich people – blessed are the poor after all.
But this story is much, much deeper than this. And Jesus is saddened by the man’s inability to shake loose from his chains.
This letter to the Hebrews could well have been addressed to that rich young man...
As I explained last week, we do not know who the writer of this letter/sermon is; but we do know he cuts to the heart of things: in this passage the word of God is alive and active!
There is nothing that can be hidden from God
And it is to God we must give an account of ourselves – thus we see the tie to the gospel as the rich man – approaches Jesus – clearly troubled and anxious about something
His question is to the point “What must I do to receive eternal life”

Jesus had spent the majority of his time with others being asked to heal; to relieve and to soothe. For this young man to come along and ask about eternity must have been a heart stopping moment of joy for Jesus. And of course, Jesus knew the heart of this young man; he wanted to tease out of him the nub of what was really bothering him.
When Jesus gave him the received answer: “keep the law”, the man is not satisfied
He is a righteous and good man
He has studied scriptures
Loved God
Been faithful and true to all the commandments
But in his hearts he knew there was something missing
Something not quite right
He was discomfited
And Jesus looked at him
And Jesus knew him
And Jesus loved him.

Up to this point in the narrative he could have been any one of the hundreds in the crowd
But now we know that he is different
He is wealthy
And he loves being wealthy and all it gives him
And he cannot let it go
He cannot let it slip
He is bound by it; chained; restrained and restricted by his wealth.

His despair at being told to sell it all; give it away and follow Jesus is too much. And he is unable to let go
So he turns to leave
To walk away...

If Hollywood was writing this script at the last minute he’d turn back – leave his wealth behind and claim the life Jesus is offering him – and they would all live happily ever after.
But this isn’t Hollywood; this is scripture; and scripture teaches us about life.
Real life
Not soap opera life; not movie town life
No happy ever after ending recorded here
Instead, Jesus turns to his disciples and makes a sweeping statement which seems totally at odds with everything else they know about Jesus
How hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom!!

This is shocking enough
What follows is worse
It’s a conundrum: easier for the rich to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

To the disciples, this is so impossible; so devastating a suggestion that we can feel their despondency – and identify with Peter as he wails – “but we’ve already given up so much!”
What on earth are we doing?
Why are we following?
Is there no one who can be saved?
We have already given up so much
Jesus, as ever is turning things upside down
Those who are first in this world will be last
And the last will be first

God knows us
Our weaknesses
Our indulgences
The things which test us
The things that we love
Things are not important
People are
Things are replaceable
People are not
Things are useful and used
People are loveable and loved
Don’t confuse the two!!
People were created to be loved
Things were created to be used
The reason why the world in is CHAOS
Is because things are being loved
And people are being used

The writer to the Hebrews said, “have confidence then, and approach God’s throne where there is grace – grace to help us just when we need it”
Grace is there to help us, when like the rich young man we cannot let go of that which holds us back.
Jesus, God, knows exactly what is on our hearts; and, God gifts us grace – riches that will support us.
Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Grace – enough to lift us and inspire us; to move us from where we are, to where we need to be.
We do not know what happened to that rich young man – we are told he went away, grieving for he had many possessions.
What do you think?
Did he think about it and start to give away all of his things?
Did he carry on as before, loving God, being faithful but always aware that something was missing?
 We can only speculate about him; in our own lives though, we can do as Jesus asked
Not literally giving everything away – but looking at our priorities; loving God, knowing we are beloved by God; and remembering what else Jesus said: “for God, all things are possible”.
That is our hope; that is our answer
In the age to come – eternal life.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

What is Cleanliness?

sermon 2 September 
James 1: 17-27  Mark 7: 1-8, 21-23 

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
Why did Jesus talk in parables?
·      Disturbed
·      Raised questions
·      Challenged behaviour
·      Answers had to be sought – not obvious
From now to end November we are going to consider lots of questions raised by Jesus’ teaching, and God’s word.

Today, we heard about one of Jesus’ many encounters with authorities
They were obsessed with sticking to rules, exactly as written. 
Jesus wanted them to realise that the rules were no protection in themselves, but the motivation – so are you doing this in order to be seen doing this?
Are you doing this to tick the box and add to your “score”?
Or, are you doing this because you want to, you need to, because you value your own life and that of others?

The apostle James’ Epistle has long been a source of contention; it very nearly didn’t make it into the bible.
Luther called it an epistle of straw, with no real substance; and James’ theology of works which we hear a little bit about today was a huge talking point:
Saved by our works?
Or saved by belief in Jesus as our saviour?
Saved by what we do?
Or saved by God’s grace?

James does not say we are save only by our works. But that if we are truly followers of Christ, then others will see that by our behaviour.
What he was observing was people who said they were followers of Jesus, but who did nothing to show it.
The crux of this is the final verse, highlighted on the front of today’s service  sheet:
Pure and genuine religion means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you
Society in the first century was very different to now; widows and orphans had no status; they relied on family for support, and if they had no family they were literally destitute.
The new Christian Fellowships that were springing up were trying hard to exercise care and compassion; living as they had witnessed Jesus live; remembering his teaching, his parables, his arguments with the authorities.
Maybe there had been an argument about how far they were to go?
Maybe some were complaining about how many orphans and widows they had to support?!
We don’t know.
But what we do know is that there was sufficient discussion for James to write about it; we do know that James had paused to explain about what “pure religion” was.

Ironic that the Pharisees who had argued so vociferously with Jesus thought they were protecting “pure religion”
How easy it was then to slip into old ways; how easy it is still.

What are the things that cause us to slip?
What are the rituals that have become precious to us?
What are the things we hang onto to keep our religion “pure”?
And what would Jesus really say about that?

One of the most enduring memories I have of the two weeks I spent with our friends from Malawi is when we took them to visit two Food Banks, one in Selkirk and the other in Edinburgh. They were shocked that we, who seem to have so much in their eyes, have people who are genuinely poor in our communities. But they also saw that our churches are responding, and feeding the widows and orphans of our community.
The other memory is of the exuberance and joy they felt and showed when they were in worship.
My Scottish-ness keeps me from dancing in the aisles, but I do know, that there are times when I too feel the Spirit bubbling up in me…
What is cleanliness really? It is to live out Jesus’ teaching as it applies in our context today. Not ritualistic hand washing, but to keep away from things which distract us; to help when we are able; to allow God’s Spirit to bubble up occasionally; and to do our best to speak out, to act kindly and to give generously.

What do we need to do?

Sermon notes 26 August (actual sermon unscripted!!)
Micah 6: 6-8 John 6: 22-29

School’s back
Groups are starting up again
And the seasons roll round

As we begin a new season; a new session it is good to take a moment’s pause and ask…

What does God require of me?

Over the past three weeks I have been privileged to be part of a group that has hosted guests from the world church.
So many things we held in common; so many things that were different.
So many things that comforted; so many things that challenged.
We as a church family have, over the eight weeks of  summer witnessed four baptisms, welcoming families, committing to pray for and support babies and their families; and of course, last week, one young woman, who told us why baptism was important to her. 
Why faith and prayer, and knowing God in her life, was the core of her life.
As I have conversed with Rev Nellie about how we each serve our parishes in two very different parts of the world I have asked myself that question again…
What does God require of me?

And today, in our readings we have heard both the Old Testament prophet Micah and Jesus in the New Testament explaining what it is that God requires of any of us.
Micah’s explanation was threefold:
Do what is just
Show constant love
Live humbly with God
Jesus’ description was even simpler:
Believe in the one sent by God.
Believe in Jesus.

We don’t have to make life complicated.
And that is probably the thing I have learnt above all else from our visitors.
Life does not have to be complicated.
Life is simple.
And, as those of you who hear me speak regularly will know, love is the answer!

Each other
Because if we live in a loving manner, then everything else falls into place.
If we are loving, we won’t be unkind; we won’t be unjust; we won’t ignore God.

It really is that simple.
If we truly believe in Jesus’ message and teaching, then the world becomes a kinder place.
What does God want us to do?
Do what is just
Show constant love
Live humbly with God
And, believe in his son Jesus.

Everything else will fall in beside that.