Saturday, 12 May 2018

Out of Sight sermon for 13 May

 Out of Sight…

As most of  you know, this time next week I will be in Edinburgh at the General Assembly.
As some of you know, the General Assembly is the annual gathering of the church, where representatives from every area where the Church of Scotland serves come together, representing their Presbyteries, but acting independently, to listen to reports of the work that the wider church has done over the past year, reflect on what that means, and instruct those councils for the work to come.
Alongside our commissioners there will be representatives from the world Church and Interdenominational Bodies; from charities and other organisations who work alongside our church. There will be youth reps and older people; there will be ministers and elders – it will be the church gathered from around the world – and around 800 voices will lift in praise and prayer.
General Assembly can be dry and dull; but it can also be vibrant and encouraging, uplifting and inspiring. The theme this year is “Peace be with YOU!” – with an exclamation mark – it is a triumphant shout, not  a passive murmur.
More than 2000 years ago, as Jesus left the earth for the final time he promised that although he would be gone, out of sight, they would not be alone for he was sending the Holy Spirit, to fill them with power and strength and the enable them to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth”.
Here we are, 2000 years later, the descendants of those witnesses, in the furthest reaches of the world; in every corner; on every continent, responsible for sharing the news and love of God in Jesus Christ, in our community, in our small corner.

As we prepare to remember again the first outpouring of the Spirit, I am preparing for the General Assembly.
This week, in preparation for this I received a copy of the “Strategic Plan” for the next 10 years; it states, “whatever we do, we do prayerfully, with humility and seeking to be in tune with the Spirit of God at work in the world”
Alongside preparing for GA, I have also been preparing for our own local review; this happens every five years, reviewing our work, our place, our church. And I find I am challenged; we are blessed with a small but active and committed congregation and trustees – elders and board members who willingly give of their time and talents for the church here in our community; alongside the work I do here in the parish, I also fulfil my ordination vows in engaging with the wider church at both presbytery and national level.
Currently, our charge is under terms of what is called reviewable tenure, which means every seven years, the charge is reviewed to consider whether it is still right to have a full time minister; do we need more help? Could we manage with a minister who works less time? Other charges in the area are under unrestricted tenure – there is no compunction for review of tenure every seven years; (I’ve been here seven years so it happens that that review is also due this year, but it will not happen until later in the year)
It has long been the view of our trustees and minister that we should move to an unrestricted tenure, to give more stability and security. But, as I look at our national church; there are challenges which in all consciousness mean that I can no longer support that thought.
The numbers of vacancies continue to rise; the length of vacancies continues to grow; almost one in four congregations do not have a minister at all!
The sad reality is that in the next five to ten years this number will not improve, it is estimated that the numbers will continue to drop.

And yet!!! We are resurrection people!!
We are ascension people!
“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” (Earlston)
“whatever we do, we do prayerfully, with humility and seeking to be in tune with the Spirit of God at work in the world” (strategic plan)
“when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Jesus)

The week after assembly there is to be a gathering in Galashiels for members of congregations in Presbytery to gather and try to do a creative positive forward looking realistic appraisal of our area.
Can we collaborate with our neighbours?
Can we create a hub where fewer minsters work together with lay people to bring together the three elements of being church today: Worship; Community; Discipleship.
Can we work together – to build our community; to bring worship in new more accessible ways to more people; and to make disciples of those who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Maybe you think “I am too old for change”
Maybe you feel, “this church (my church) will see me out”
Maybe you hope that if you just keep your head down it will all somehow just be ok.
Or maybe, just maybe you can see opportunities here?
Maybe, just maybe change doesn’t feel like a terrible thing – maybe it is scary, but maybe also, it is exactly what we, what the church needs!
Maybe, you can help to envisage a church fit for our children’s children? And their children? Maybe you can be creative, and help to come up with a plan that will bring the news of Jesus’ love into hearts who are crying out for it.
Our church meets for an hour a week in this building; but  continues to be church, at home, on the street, in the hall, and the working place for the other 167 hours in each week…

Jesus may be out of sight; but the Spirit is living and here and active – we are Resurrection people!
Are we looking out? Or in?
Are we looking forward? Or back?
Up? Or down?
The angel came to the disciples as they looked up to the sky and told them to stop gazing  at clouds, and get back to doing what Jesus told them to.
We are Earlston Church.
We can sit and wait for the end, or we can go and share the joy of being Ascension People, Children of Pentecost – we are Earlston Church:
“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”

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Born of God

 Sermon 6 May; John 15: 9-17; 1 John 5: 1-6

Today we bring to a close our short exploration of John’s first letter; this letter which has been full of a desire to share God’s unconditional love with the reader.
This letter which has filled us with hope and encouragement and love.
This letter, which explains God’s love, and – explains to the reader, to us, the role we are expected to play in the world, God’s world.
John makes bold claims: believing that Jesus was the Christ, is God’s Son, carries with it other responsibilities – obey the commandments; love each other.
John the  evangelist, “The Disciple Jesus loved”, was probably one of the younger disciples; he was trusted with the care of Jesus’ mother; he is the author of not only a gospel and three epistles, but the final book of the New Testament – the Book of Revelation.
All of his writings focus on two things: light and love; God’s love for humanity; God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ; our love which is a divine gift from God; our capacity for transforming, sacrificial love. The Light of the World – Jesus; the power of holy light to overcome darkness; the role of light in our lives – to make us  children of light…
The final discourse, which is recorded through chapters 14, 15 and 16; begins with the footwashing and teaching about what it really means to be a leader (chapter 13) and then an impassioned prayer for his beloved disciples (ch. 17) asking the Father to help his followers, to strengthen them for what lay ahead. It is a prayer which is compelling, beautiful, full of love.
The crux of today’s gospel reading, and the final part of the epistle can be summed up in two verses:
“The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments”, and,
“You did not choose me, but I chose  you”
For me this second verse, from the gospel, is the one which has inspired me and encouraged me, through all my years of ministry – from before I considered I might be called into ministry I have been aware, of God’s prompting ne, nudging me, nurturing me.
And it is awe inspiring!
The knowledge that is at the heart of this, that my dawning realisation of the reality of God, is not through my own power, my own choosing, but because God already knew me; God already chose me; God already, to quote the prophet Jeremiah – “knew the plans he had for me”
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (29:11)
If we truly believe that Jesus is God’s Son
If we truly believe that Jesus’ mission was to show us how to live in love and light
If we truly believe, that through Jesus we have hope for the future, hope for eternity; then everything we do; everything we say, everything we hope for, can be realised.
Now, let me just pause a moment.
Because, even believing all of this does not give us some magical protection against disaster or illness or other people’s wilfulness – bad stuff still happens to good people; good things still happen to bad people. It may sound simple in theory, but we all know that in practise life is not that simple.
So, although Jesus’ teaching shows us love is the way; and John, the beloved disciple’s writing expounds on the power of God’s Love, reality sets in.
Life happens.
Jesus’ words in the gospel do not point to some magic formula. For after saying that he chose them, he goes on to tell the disciples that they are appointed to go out and bear fruit.
They are told to love one another.
They are not told life will be perfect or easy. Far from it, this passage concludes with the reality that in some cases, the world will hate them; that they will be expelled from the synagogue; that they will feel alone, bereft, abandoned. Jesus wants them to understand the difference between this world and the next. And to know  that through all he does, the world – the worldly – is conquered.
I was once challenged as a student, when I made this assertion that in the next world, in eternity, all will be well.
The challenge came in a question: are you suggesting that happiness, peace, light can only be found in heaven? Can we not be happy and blessed now?
Much has changed in the intervening years; my view of the world is far less simplistic than it was back then; I have witnessed great sadness and tragedy as I have ministered to those God has called me to care for.
I do truly believe that our heavenly life will be perfection.
But I also believe that happiness is not only a heavenly gift; that in spite of tragedy and difficulties we can have a life of light and love in this world; we can conquer our worldly struggles and burdens.
“(God’s) commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faithWho is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:3-5)
That’s us.
We are the ones who believe  that Jesus is God’s Son; we are born of God; we can therefore conquer the world. Not the whole world, but the whole of our world.
We will suffer hardships – but God is with us
We will feel sorrow and pain – and God is with us
We will have moments of darkness – but God is with us – bringing light.

God’s love; God’s commands all bring us to this point.
We are God’s children; born of love; born of God.
And with that love
We can conquer; we can overcome
We are: LOVED.