Sunday, 3 June 2018

Sermon, 3 June, Communion Sunday: 'Fix you'


This morning we shared in the Lord's Supper.
Below is today's sermon, with a little bit of 
Coldplay, kintsugi, Cohen, and Communion!

READING: 2 Cor. 4.5-12; Mark 2.23 - 3.6

SERMON
Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen

When you try your best but you don't succeed 
When you get what you want 
but not what you need 
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep 
Stuck in reverse...
When the tears come streaming down your face 
'Cause you lose something you can't replace 
When you love someone but it goes to waste 
What could it be worse?...
Lights will guide you home 
And ignite your bones 
And I will try to fix you

Lyrics from the Coldplay song ‘Fix you’.
There’s a lot that’s broken in our readings this morning.
in Mark, we hear of a man who’s broken:
in need of healing because his hand has shrivelled.
Beyond the man with the shrivelled hand, there’s a broken system.
We see this in the scene just before we meet the man in the synagogue:
the disciples, walking through a field, are hungry,
and do the most natural of things,
grab a snack on the go.
Except, that to the religious authorities, this is against the Law.
It’s bad enough to be travelling on the Sabbath,
but they should have prepared beforehand if they wanted food:
taking from the field was seen as harvesting – work...and you don’t work on the Sabbath.

Alerted to the rogue Rabbi and his ragtag followers,
the religious authorities are now ready to try and catch him out.
Arriving at the synagogue on another Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples are watched closely:
will Jesus will break the Law by healing the man?
You know the end of that story:
of course he does.
And is distressed that the ones who should understand the spirit of the Law,
have instead turned it into something soul-destroying...
in a sense, they’ve wrung the life out of it,
and by doing so, have caused it to crush the life out of others.
The Law has become a burden, not a help.

I’ve often said that the Gospel of Mark moves quickly. And here’s a case in point:
Chapter 3, verse 6 is the 79th verse in the Gospel.
And already, Jesus, in healing the man, has made enemies who
are looking to find ways to kill him.
By demonstrating that the Law was intended to be something life-giving,
by showing the religious authorities that compassion and care always come before ideology,
Jesus, the Lord of life, and Lord of the Sabbath, is marked for death:
and it will lead to his body eventually being broken upon a Cross.

But what of our other reading?
The Christians in Corinth have been in a bit of a mess.
Through Paul’s letters, we see that they’ve become a broken and fractured community:
here, the followers of Jesus – the Body of Christ – is broken.
In this second letter to the community, things seem to settling down,
and Paul is providing handy hints and helps for being a reconciled community –
reconciled in Jesus,
and reconciled to one another.
There’s been some seriously bad behaviour –
fighting at communion: please, don’t do this! –
fighting over theology – again, let’s not...
even fighting about who was the best Christian –
this, in arguments about spiritual gifts.
Paul has had his hands full, trying to untangle the mess that the
Corinthian Christians had gotten themselves into.
In all their carryings-on, they’d lost sight of Jesus,
and had lost sight of seeing Jesus in each other.
While the light of God was there in the midst, their own broken humanity
had caused it to burn dim indeed.
Caught up in their own needs,
fighting for a place at the table,
or to prove that they alone were holders of the correct doctrine,
they could no longer see the bigger picture –
that they were all equally beloved of God,
and that they were all equally meant to shine
with his light and life and love
no matter how similar or different they were to one another.

At this point in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares with them his struggles:
while being beloved of God is a great and wonderful gift,
it doesn’t mean life’s difficulties just disappear in a puff of magical smoke.
Sometimes, it actually gets more difficult,
especially when you’re doing your level best to avoid putting yourself above God and others –
so very human – and instead, trying to put God in first place.
But, it’s when you do put God first, that you see God’s light shine like a beacon,
showing you the path ahead.
Paul tells them that
Yes, we’re frail, we break as easily as clay jars, but, inside is a great treasure –
life in him,
life that gives us the strength to keep going, hard-pressed as we are.
Paul urges his friends in Corinth
to let God’s light shine,
to let God’s life ripple through every fibre of their being,
to let God’s love reconcile them to him and to one another,
so that, united in Him,
they show the world what God looks like.

There’s an ancient tradition in Japan, ‘kintsugi’,
which is to repair broken pots or ceramics by fusing the cracks with powdered gold or silver:
not hiding the cracks, but making them beautifully visible.
What had been broken, is now fixed.
What had no value, is now beyond price.
Held up, the light shines through the cracks –
flagging up the treasure in the clay jar.
Poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen once famously said:
'There is a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in.'
Each one of us holds that treasure within us:
the light of Gods love –
grace poured out upon us without limit –
God, mending our brokenness, and making something more beautiful.
Shortly, as his people, as the Body of Christ here in the Upper Clyde,
we’ll share in bread and wine:
the meal of reconciliation -
reconciliation with God,
and with one another.
The meal that reminds us that, just as God, in Christ, put us first,
so, as his friends, we are to put him at the centre and remember that:
there is the Cross, and his broken, and dismembered body...
and there is new life:
for in community, as we eat the bread and drink the wine,
we re-member him and are made whole –
a community of reconciliation and resurrection,
called to be his light in the world.

The story goes that, 
“During the bombing raids of World War II, 
thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. 
The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps 
where they received food and good care. 
But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. 
They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. 
Nothing seemed to reassure them. 
Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. 
Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. 
All through the night, the bread reminded them, ‘Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.’”[1]

As friends and followers of Jesus, today, we eat and drink –
and will be fed and nourished by the One who makes us whole, and calls us his own:
the One who is the Bread of Heaven;
the One who knows a thing or two about fixing and mending broken things and broken people;
the One whose light shines in the darkness and who will never be overcome.
The One to whom belongs all honour, and praise and glory, Amen.

[1] From the book 'Sleeping with Bread' by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn -
excellent wee book helping to work on what matters, what gives you life, etc. 

Monday, 28 May 2018

Sermon, Sun 27 May: The God who is more...

READINGS: Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17

SERMON
Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen...

About a century or two ago, in a small European mountain village, the local minister decided that all the people who had green eyes should leave.
Only the villagers with blue eyes were direct descendants of the original settlers.
To have green eyes meant that, at some point, they, or an ancestor, had come from somewhere else.
The green-eyed villagers had different values,
different customs and traditions:
they saw things differently, and sometimes this created tension in the village.
Green eyes meant that they didn’t truly belong.
Surely, life would be simpler if the differences disappeared and everyone was the same?
Surely, life would be simpler without having to live alongside, and work with, these others?
Naturally, there was a big uproar from the green-eyed villagers.
Some of them had lived all their lives in the village – had settled, married, raised children.
This was their home.
And, where else could they possibly go?

Being, as he thought, a reasonable man, the minister made a deal.
He would have a religious debate with a member of the green-eyed community.
If their champion won, they could stay.
If the minister won, the green-eyed villagers would have to leave.
Realising that they had no choice, the green-eyed villagers picked a
bright young girl named Myra to represent them.
Now, Myra was the top of the class at school, and, thinking she could do
a fairly decent job of it, agreed.
However, she asked for one addition to the debate.
To make it more interesting, neither side would be allowed to talk.
The minister agreed.

The day of the great debate came.
Myra and the minister sat opposite each other for a full minute before the
minister raised his hand and showed three fingers.
Myra looked back at him and raised one finger.

The minister waved his fingers in a circle around his head.
Myra pointed to the ground where she sat.

The minister pulled out a loaf of bread and a chalice of wine.
Myra pulled out an apple.

Shaking his head, the minister stood up and said,
"I give up. This lass is too good. You win: you can all stay."

An hour later, the kirk session and some members from the congregation had
gathered ‘round the minister asking him what happened.
The minister said,
"First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity.
She responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still
one God common to both our communities.
Then I waved my fingers around me to show her that God was all around us.
She responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us.
I pulled out the bread and the wine to show that God nourishes us, and takes away our sins.
She pulled out an apple to remind me of the Garden of Eden and original sin.
She had an answer for everything.
What could I do?"

Meanwhile, the green-eyed villagers had crowded around Myra
"What happened?" they asked.
"Well," said Myra,
"First he said to me that we had three days to get out of here.
I told him that not one of us was leaving.
Then he decided to play hardball and told me that this whole village would be cleared of our kind.
I let him know that we were staying right here."
"And then?" asked a woman.
"I don't know," said Myra.
"He took out his lunch and I took out mine."
----------------------------------
Two very different ways of seeing something.
And that’s exactly what we find here, in both of our readings this morning.
Our first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, recounts a vision that Isaiah has.
It’s mysterious, awe-inspiring.
It’s shown in grand scale:
the great heavenly temple, where the Lord sits upon a high throne –
majestic, exalted.
The train of his robe is so large that it fills the temple.
Surrounding God, are seraphs:
heavenly creatures, the highest in the hierarchy of the angelic host.
Their sole purpose is to proclaim God’s holiness:
‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The sound of their voices, as they sing God’s praises, is so powerful,
that the very doorposts, the thresholds, shake
and the temple itself fills with smoke –
possibly a reference to prayer and the incense used when making a sacrifice to God.
The whole scene  is wondrous...
and terrifying.
A display of God’s utter might and power:
hard to imagine,
harder to understand...
and the prophet,
seeing the most high,
seeing the One whose imagination and love brought the world into being,
seeing a glimpse of the immensity and greatness of God...
is overwhelmed.

No one can see God, and live.
It’s just too much to bear.
No one can see God, and not be aware of just how small they are:
God is so all; and we are so small.
No one can see God, and cope with the pure love and goodness that they see
and in the seeing, sense their own lack of love and goodness.
‘Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among
a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King:
the Lord Almighty.’
Isaiah is amazed, and terrified, and completely undone by this encounter with God.
And yet, all is not lost.
In the midst of the majesty... is mercy.
The offences that Isaiah beholds within himself, when beholding the wonder of God,
are taken away –
he is made whole and the pure fire of God’s love burns within him.
When God asks ‘Whom shall I send?’
Isaiah says: ‘Here I am. Send me.’
In the end, he becomes one of the greatest of the prophets,
touched by the love of God
to touch the lives of others for God
and to be God’s messenger in the world.

Isaiah’s vision of God, of God’s calling,
of God’s love, is one way of seeing God:
an ‘oh’ moment that is as beautiful as it is breath-taking.
A moment where every hair stands on end:
electrifying.
A moment that can do nothing other than bring a response:
love is met ...with love.

In contrast, our second reading of an encounter with God is far less grand.
Having met the prophet Isaiah, our gospel reading introduces us to the Pharisee, Nicodemus.
He’s a teacher of the Law, a member of the Jewish Council:
he’s part of the religious establishment of his time.
And, he’s curious, as well as cautious.
He’s heard of this rabbi, Jesus;
knows he’s done miraculous things.
He wants to know –
wants to see Jesus –
wants to understand.
Under the cover of darkness, he skulks through the streets of Jerusalem,
and finds himself at the place where Jesus is staying.
He’s full of questions, and yet, Jesus remains an enigma.
Each question is answered in a completely unexpected way:
he’s particularly flummoxed by all this ‘being reborn’ stuff that Jesus is talking about –
but it’s about spiritual life, not that journey from the womb.
Jesus talks of ‘water and the Spirit,’
and to help Nicodemus better understand,  widens the conversation out:
essentially, it’s all about
God’s love,
God’s mercy,
God’s desire to be in relationship,
to be involved,
to be at the centre of our lives.

To be reborn is to see anew,
is to understand that there is more to God
than just following a bunch of rules;
to be reborn is to see that there is more to God:
God is Father,
and God is Son,
and God is Spirit –
different and yet one.
Mysterious, and yet made known in Jesus,
and giving life to all through the Spirit –
the Spirit that unites all to God,
and brings us into God’s family:
as God’s children,
and as brothers and sisters to one another.
To be reborn is to recognise that we belong to a community gathered to love God –
not just individually but together,
just as God in Trinity, is in community.
Each one of us makes the whole community,
just as Father, Son, and Spirit, make up the fullness that is God.

As Jesus talks to Nicodemus, he reminds him that God cannot be put in a box:
‘the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot 
tell where it comes from or where it is going.’
Nicodemus, the teacher, the religious official, is basically told:
‘you can’t control God, but you can trust him.’

This last week, at the General Assembly,
hard questions were asked about the future of the church.
For some, the future was bleak.
There was the language of control,
the language of ‘managing decline.’
There was corporate language and number crunching and ‘hard facts.’
And there was a report called ‘the strategic plan’ which seemed to be written
far from the reality that many parishes, and indeed, presbyteries were facing.
And, it was thrown out:
the Assembly found its voice.
The time to act was seen to be now, not looking 10 years down the track.
From that debate, connections and conversations were had over lunch, or a cuppa:
the beginnings, perhaps, of seeing that to be church is not
so much a matter of the survival of the fittest,
and the forgone conclusion that the biggest and wealthiest win –
but rather, that we’re all in this together:
rural and town, priority areas and leafy suburbs.
Rather than seeing ourselves as a people ‘managing decline’
perhaps last week, we began to see
like Isaiah, like Nicodemus,
the God who is more...
and the God who connects us to him,
and to each other...
the God who calls us
to serve him,
to serve one another,
and to serve the world,
in love –
and in all our diversity:
whether our eyes are green, or blue, or something else entirely.

It’s Trinity Sunday.
And the Father, Son, and Spirit dance together:
each playing a part...
Perhaps, we, who are created in God’s image are called to the great work of dancing together –
and as we do, we play our part in being God’s good news in a world that’s starving for more:
for the God, who is more than we could ever hope for or imagine,
and in whom we find life, now, and forever. Amen.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

News, contacts, events:Fri 18 - Sat 26May


The Minister will be unavailable from 
1pm, Fri 18th to 1pm, Sat 26th of May 
due to General Assembly commitments.


During this time, urgent pastoral cover will be provided by the Rev. George Shand of the Tinto Parishes. His number is 01899 309400. For all other enquiries, please contact our Session Clerk, Heather Watt at 01899 850211



What's On?




Sun 20 May, Morning Worship at 10.30am: Pentecost.
We welcome the Rev. Sandy Strachan this morning as he leads us in worship.
There will also be an opportunity to donate to the work of Christian Aid after the service, via the basket in the vestibule, for those who missed out last week.





Further ahead:
Sun 27 May:
Morning Worship at 10.30am: Trinity Sunday. We hear from the prophet, Isaiah, about his encounter with God, and of God's call on his life. In our gospel reading, the theme of new beginnings is explored further, as we listen in to a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, and ponder new birth. Join us for worship.

‘Blether and Biscuits’, pt 2: 
1.30-2.30pm Abington Village Hall and then
3.00-4.00pm at Roberton Village Hall
Whether you attend church regularly, from time to time, or have never been, we’re ready to listen. Come and join us for a blether and biscuits. We’re on tour and invite you to chat about the things that matter to you and the things you feel are important to this area. This forms part of our Local Church Review process and replaces the postcard questionnaire. There’s now an online short questionnaire and we’ll have hard copies in all four halls, which can be done anonymously. We’re hoping some of these conversations will help us as we look ahead to the future.
We'd be delighted to see you.
Pick a location and time that best suits you, and see you there.
And, if you can't make it, perhaps you'd be able to fill in our wee online survey [replacing the postcard mentioned in the Easter magazine which is much more eco-friendly!]
Here's the link
Thanks in advance!

and, after a busy day, why not wind down with our:
6.30pm Evening Worship at Leadhills Village Hall. We continue our journey with Paul. This month we reflect on some themes from the Letter to the Galatians. Join us in this shorter and more relaxed time of worship, and stay on for tea/coffee/juice and some home baking afterwards. All welcome.

Even further ahead: 
Tues 12 June – Guild Outing to visit the churches in Carlops and West Linton. Lunch at Whitmuir Organic Place, Lamancha. Names to Mary Hamilton or Heather Watt.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Christian Aid Week 2018

Sunday saw the start of Christian Aid Week 2018.
During our time of worship we played the following clip as we reflected on the
excellent work that Christian Aid does, sharing God's love in practical, life-giving ways.
This Christian Aid Week, what ways can we share God's love?

Saturday, 12 May 2018

'Blether and Biscuits': we're on the road

‘Blether and Biscuits’
On Sunday 13 and 27 May, UCPC is on the road.
Whether you attend church regularly, from time to time, or have never been, we’re ready to listen. Come and join us for a blether and biscuits. We’re on tour and invite you to chat about the things that matter to you and the things you feel are important to this area.
Sun 13 May we're at:
1.30-2.30pm Leadhills Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Crawford Village Hall
And then,
on Sun 27 May, we’ll be at:
1.30-2.30pm Abington Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Roberton Village Hall

We'd be so delighted to see you.
Pick a location and time that best suits you, and see you there.

In our Easter magazine, we'd mentioned a questionnaire postcard - keen-eyed observers will have seen that it didn't appear. This was due to circumstances beyond our control, but now we've got it up online -
which is much more eco-friendly!
Short online questionnaire - here's the link
If you've got a couple of minutes, we'd really like your comments and feedback. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Concert: Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra

Fiddlers' Rally with the Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra

Upper Clyde  Parish Church present a fiddlers' rally with:

The Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra


We're delighted to welcome back the CFO, who'll be performing in:

Crawfordjohn Hall on Friday 11th May at 7.30pm  

Tickets £10 each. Contact Janet 01864 504265

A light supper is included in the cost of the ticket.
There'll also be a bar on the night.

For more information on the Orchestra please see callyfiddleorchestra.co.uk

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

'Blether and Biscuits': we're on the road

‘Blether and Biscuits’
On Sunday 13 and 27 May, UCPC is on the road.
Whether you attend church regularly, from time to time, or have never been, we’re ready to listen. Come and join us for a blether and biscuits. We’re on tour and invite you to chat about the things that matter to you and the things you feel are important to this area.
Sun 13 May we're at:
1.30-2.30pm Leadhills Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Crawford Village Hall
And then,
on Sun 27 May, we’ll be at:
1.30-2.30pm Abington Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Roberton Village Hall

We'd be so delighted to see you.
Pick a location and time that best suits you, and see you there.

In our Easter magazine, we'd mentioned a questionnaire postcard - keen-eyed observers will have seen that it didn't appear. This was due to circumstances beyond our control, but now we've got it up online -
which is much more eco-friendly!
Short online questionnaire - here's the link
If you've got a couple of minutes, we'd really like your comments and feedback. Thanks in advance!

Monday, 7 May 2018

Sermon, Sun 6 May: 'Abide'

READINGS: 1 John 5:1-6;  John 15:1-17

SERMON
Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.

At our last Kirk Session meeting, we were thinking of Jesus, of vines and branches,
of God’s love, and of the meaning –
not of names [earlier in service we were talking about names, and Jesus naming us as friends]
 – but of words, or rather, one particular word within our gospel reading from John.
The translation of the bible we have talks of ‘remaining’
now, I hasten to add, that this is not a conversation about the various merits or demerits of Brexit!
Seriously, let’s just not go there!

Jesus says ‘remain in my love.’
A little earlier in the conversation, when talking of vines and branches, he says:
‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain on the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. If a person remains in me,
and I, in them, they will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.’
Older translations of this passage,
of this conversation,
use a different word for ‘remain.’
So, apart from those of you who were at Session, can anyone remember
the word I might be thinking of?
It’s ‘abide.’
‘Abide in my love.’
But what do we mean by ‘abiding’ or to ‘abide’?

Well, I’m glad you asked.
I pulled out a couple of trusty dictionaries to see what they might say.
So here we go:
These days, the most common sense of the word ‘abide’ means:
to ‘agree, or acquiescence, to stick to – or follow - the rules, to conform.’
Or, there’s an entirely different meaning:
it’s a case of not being able to stand someone or something.
Now, although Jesus calls us to love one another, sometimes we might be heard to mutter darkly:
‘I can’t abide that man on the telly!’
Occasionally, it can be used in the term of remembering:
‘while that painting/ piece of music/ continues to be in people’s minds, 
the memory of her will abide.’
Here, in our translation, we have the word ‘remain’:
to stick with a thing or stick by a person.
But, there’s a lovely, much older sense of the word ‘abide’ and it means
‘to dwell, to live in, to inhabit.’
‘To dwell’ - if we substituted that word, our passage would sound like this:
'Dwell in me – live in me, as I also dwell in you...
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you dwell in me and I in you, 
you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing...'
and later in the passage:
‘dwell – live - in my love.’

Jesus calls us his friends.
He asks us to ‘dwell in him.’
Think of the best and closest friend you’ve ever had:
the shared stories,
secret conversations,
often your own private shorthand language –
the person who most understands you, and you, them.
The friend you feel 'at home' with.
In our gospel passage, this is what Jesus is getting at:
a friendship at such a deep and close level that there are no secrets;
where you are truly known,
fully accepted and loved for who you are.

Jesus is our dwelling place – our home –
our place of rest;
our shelter from the storm;
our security.
The place within whom we find space to live, and move, and have our very being;
the place where we can most fully be ourselves – no masks, just us...warts and all.
The place where we can come in from the crazy-busy, sometimes alarming world,
slip on our baffies, and just go ‘phew...’
And, the place where we are, out in the world.

In order to blossom and flourish, we do best when we have a home.
Jesus... is our home:
the door is open,
the table’s set,
the bread is broken –
he bids us to bide awhile,
to be, to rest,
to talk about the meaning and the stuff of life –
to crack on with the living of our lives;
to share our lives with him.
He calls us his friends and calls us to make our home with him –
in the here and now,
even as we look ahead to the not yet.
He offers us the hospitality of his heart.

Jesus is our home.
But what does it mean to live in Jesus?
Because being at home is more than scheduling in a 10.30 appointment on a Sunday,
or fitting in a meeting here and there –
being at home is coorying in, putting down roots.
So, how can we better find ways of being ‘at home’ with Jesus?
Well, helpfully for us, Jesus is the home that travels with us wherever, whenever we are:
he has made his home in us...
as we make ours in him.

I think I’ve said before, that when I was a shiny, brand new Christian,
I really wanted to get my head around prayer, and spending time with God.
And, in my usual way, I turned to books, and found there were many on this very subject.
But, my word, it was all very ‘efficient’ and almost terrifyingly organised.
One book suggested that ‘if you only have one hour,
then spend the first 15 minutes in praise,
the next 15 minutes confessing your sins,
the next 10 minutes giving thanks to God,
and the next 20 minutes praying for the world, for others, and for your own particular needs.
Friends, I’m sure there are some people who find that structure an excellent one,
but it really didn’t work for me or my kind of personality.
So many of these spiritually improving books became a stick to beat myself with –
truly, I just didn’t measure up.
And then, at some point, I realised:
that in and through God’s love and grace, the business of having to measure up wasn’t required -
I was a beloved child of God, and that’s all that mattered:
being at home with God was not a tick-box exercise, but a way of being.
So, how then to live in Jesus – to dwell with him?

Something that helped me was a wee book that I may have mentioned to some of you.
It’s a book called ‘The Practice of the Presence of God'
written by a 17thC monk called Brother Lawrence.
He lived a simple life, and a busy one: and through it all, developed being present with God –
abiding in God –
making God his home as God had made a home within him.
For Lawrence, whether within set times for prayer and worship,
or in the midst of the pots and pans of the monastery kitchen,
he worked at abiding, dwelling, in God.
He said:
‘I possess God as peacefully in the bustle of my kitchen, 
where sometimes several people are asking me for different things at the same time, 
as I do upon my knees.’

For me, I find some of my most profound moments of abiding in God come
when I happen to be driving from one thing to another.
Or, in conversation with others, sometimes a little nugget of insight happens
and a quiet ‘thank you’ finds itself fluttering upwards.
Or, even just sitting on the beach listening to the waves,
or walking outside and checking on the progress of the lambs
bouncing about in the fields at the back and front of the manse...
Moments of soul restoration which are gifts
given by the One who restores our souls
and who makes his home in us,
and invites us to make our home with him:
who invites us to live in love –
for he is love –
and as we grow in that love,
so we show that love to those around us.
Or, if you like,
as we are shown hospitality by Jesus, so we show hospitality to others.
We become a place of welcome and a sanctuary;
we become a place where others can truly be themselves, as we are truly ourselves;
we become a place where others can blossom and flourish, just as in Jesus, we blossom and flourish.
We open the door and welcome people into our hearts and our lives:
a subversive and radical thing to do in a world of suspicion, fear, and hostility.
That’s why I’m keen that we try to support things like our wee
'on the road and out into the community' effort – ‘Blether and Biscuits’
To find ways to connect,
to find ways to listen to people who live in the community – in our villages.
How might we show what it is to be welcome?
Being present, actively listening...
offering a cuppa and a chance to talk...
well, it’s a simple start,
and I’m interested to see who comes,
interested to hear the conversations,
interested to see where we might go from this.

‘Dwell in me – live in me’ says Jesus.
Sometimes we mess up, other days, we somehow get it right.
But remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,
because living in Jesus is an ongoing process, over a lifetime,
with every morning a fresh opportunity to know and to grow in him.
And we know that we can take comfort and assurance from Jesus’s words,
for we believe and trust that He makes a home for us;
that He makes His home within us;
and that He has gone ahead of us to prepare our heavenly home.

Whatever sort of physical place we live in,
we belong with Jesus, upheld by His love and surrounded in His peace.
As Dorothy famously said in the Wizard of Oz –
‘There’s no place like home.’
Jesus is our heart’s-home.
And with Him, whatever may be happening in our lives, it’s good to know that:
there’s no place... like home.  Amen.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Concert: Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra

Fiddlers' Rally with the Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra

Upper Clyde  Parish Church present a fiddlers' rally with:

The Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra


We're delighted to welcome back the CFO, who'll be performing in:

Crawfordjohn Hall on Friday 11th May at 7.30pm  

Tickets £10 each. Contact Janet 01864 504265

A light supper is included in the cost of the ticket.
There'll also be a bar on the night.

For more information on the Orchestra please see callyfiddleorchestra.co.uk

Friday, 4 May 2018

'Blether and Biscuits': we're on the road...

‘Blether and Biscuits’
On Sunday 13 and 27 May, UCPC is on the road.
Whether you attend church regularly, from time to time, or have never been, we’re ready to listen. Come and join us for a blether and biscuits. We’re on tour and invite you to chat about the things that matter to you and the things you feel are important to this area.
Sun 13 May we're at:
1.30-2.30pm Leadhills Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Crawford Village Hall
And then,
on Sun 27 May, we’ll be at:
1.30-2.30pm Abington Village Hall
3.00-4.00pm at Roberton Village Hall

We'd be so delighted to see you.
Pick a location and time that best suits you, and see you there.

In our Easter magazine, we'd mentioned a questionnaire postcard - keen-eyed observers will have seen that it didn't appear. This was due to circumstances beyond our control, but now we've got it up online -
which is much more eco-friendly!
Short online questionnaire - here's the link
If you've got a couple of minutes, we'd really like your comments and feedback. Thanks in advance!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Sermon, Sun 29 April: 'A funny thing happened on the way to Ethiopia'

READINGS: 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8; Acts 8:26-40

SERMON
Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever found yourself on an entirely unexpected journey?
When I was growing up, there were no trains.
No. I’m not quite that old.
It’s not because trains hadn’t been invented,
it’s just that, at that at some point back in the 60’s, the local council, in its wisdom,
had pulled up all the train tracks.
It was the ‘age of the automobile’:
who would want to catch the train when you could travel in the comfort of your car?
Well, turns out, quite a few folk.
In the late 90’s, new train tracks were put in, and so, trains now grace the Gold Coast once more.
But basically, until I was 20, I had never travelled by train:
didn’t really know the way of all things train.
Which is why, on one fateful day, with a couple of friends in tow on a day trip to Brisbane –
which did have trains, well...we thought we’d go for a train trip.
Our first, ever.
Cheerfully, we bought our tickets.
Happily, we daundered to the platform.
Delightedly, we watched trains doing what trains do.
And we waited for the train that would take us to Toowong.
We didn’t have the greatest grasp on the geography of the city,
but we vaguely knew we wanted to travel in a westerly direction.
We watched, as a train glided along the track by our platform.
‘What’s that?’ one friend asked, looking at a sign on the front of the train.
‘Oh, I guess it’s the name of the train,’ said I, blithely.
‘Redfern – interesting name.’
We hopped on board.
It was all a little bit exciting.
It was made even more exciting when we suddenly realised that we were going
not to the hills, but to the seaside – the completely opposite direction,
and that, no, trains didn’t have nice names...
they had the names of destinations on them.
Turned out that ‘Redfern’ was a suburb of Brisbane. Who knew?
Truly, we were that clueless.
It was a most unexpected journey, however, a kindly conductor put us right.
We eventually landed up at our intended destination.
Mostly, these days, I’ve got a bit of a better understanding of trains and other modes of transport.
But then again, given I’d intended travelling to, and living in, the South Pacific,
I’m still wondering what I’m doing in Scotland.

Have you ever found yourself on an entirely unexpected journey?
Well, in our reading from the Book of Acts, that’s exactly what happens to Philip,
a follower of Jesus;
a different chap to Philip, the Apostle.
Let’s set the scene a little:
Philip was one of seven men chosen by the disciples of Jesus to be a deacon – 
basically to ensure that the Greek speaking widows of the growing young church
were not overlooked when it came to the daily distribution of food.
The community cared for, and looked after, its most vulnerable.
He’s mentioned several times in the Book of Acts,
and is described as one filled with the Spirit and with wisdom.
Later, he’ll provide hospitality to the Apostle Paul,
and we discover that he's also father to four daughters who prophesy.
In the meantime, he’s there, in those very early days of the church,
before Christians even had that name.
And Philip is also there, at the beginning of troubled times –
times of persecution by the Romans and the religious authorities.

Our reading occurs just after Stephen, another of the seven deacons,
has been stoned to death, after which a great persecution happens
in Jerusalem, which causes the followers of Jesus to scatter.
Philip, along with others, ends up in Samaria –
effectively ‘enemy’ territory:
the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was strained.
Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
The sting in the tale is that Jesus’ listeners could never imagine such a thing
as a ‘good’ Samaritan – they were different, they were the enemy, they were to be feared.
Nevertheless, there, among those very Samaritans,
Philip shares the story of the resurrected rabbi:
the one who told stories about God –
of being connected to God as branches are to a vine...
of that connection being one of love...
of God’s love dwelling within us,
and of us, dwelling in God’s love.

At some point, as we heard in the reading, God instructs Philip to head south, and so he does.
Traveling along, he meets an Ethiopian –
high-powered, important:
this man is the Queen’s treasurer.
These days, perhaps we’re so used to thinking of Ethiopia in terms of
drought, and hunger, and aid programmes,
that it might be hard to imagine that at the time our story takes place,
Ethiopia is an ancient, powerful, and wealthy kingdom.
We don’t learn the name of this Ethiopian official,
but we do know that he’s riding along in his chariot, attempting to read scripture,
and struggling to get to grips with it.
Here’s a man who’s on a journey in more ways than one –
sure, he’s physically moving around,
but he’s on a spiritual search.
Many people, from many nations,
had gathered in Jerusalem at the time of what we now refer to as Pentecost.
They’d gathered to celebrate Shavuoth, a major Jewish festival –
and our man from Ethiopia was returning home from this feast in his chariot...
And God tells Philip to head for the chariot and to stay near it:
so I’ve got this picture in my head of wee Philip jogging alongside the chariot
while the man reads on.
Clearly the chap is puzzling over the meaning of what he’s reading
and ever-jogging Philip asks him if he can help.
The man is more than happy with the offer,
which is possibly good news for Philip as it means no more jogging.
Philip’s now invited on to the chariot and they have a big conversation –
‘Let me tell you about Jesus’ he says as they explore scripture together.
And, having heard the story of Jesus, and travelling past water, the Ethiopian says:
‘So, what’s to stop me being baptised?’
And the answer: nothing.
There, and then, both are open to God at work in their lives.
Philip and the Ethiopian head to the water and another follower of Jesus
is added to the growing numbers of the church on that very day.
And just like that, mysteriously, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit and
lands up in Azotus about 30km away,
leaving the Ethiopian to head on his way rejoicing.

Connected to God in love,
open to sharing that love with others,
Philip has a most unexpected journey – is fruitful.
In love, he sees the Samaritans, not as enemies, but as friends he’s not yet met;
in love, he sees the Ethiopian, not as unclean, but as someone beloved of God.
Connected and living within the perfect love of God –
Philip trusts in God enough to have no fear.

As 1st John says: ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’
Let’s flip that around for a moment:
if love casts out fear,
then, fear casts out love.
There’s that old song from the 70’s ‘The things we do for love’
what about the things we do for fear?
Fear builds walls.
Fear withdraws – barricades itself in.
Fear scapegoats anyone who might be different –
‘it’s their fault we don’t have jobs.’
It judges unjustly;
it sees enemies where there are none;
it dehumanises in order to justify shocking behaviour:
‘they’re animals, they deserve to be treated like that.’
Fear...disconnects.
It loses sight of God.
It loses sight of those created in the image of God.
It sees only the bad.
It loses sight ...of hope.

Perfect love...casts out fear.
Then what of the things we do for love?
Love builds bridges, not walls;
love builds people up, not brings them down;
love celebrates difference and looks for points of connection;
love looks outwards,
is open-handed and open-hearted –
is open to unexpected journeys and surprising conversations.
Love is welcoming and finds a way forward –
sometimes on old pathways,
and sometimes on new.
Love sees God’s image in the other,
for, love sees God,
for love is of God...
for God is love.
And, ‘we love, because God loved us first.’

If we take away one thing today from this story in Acts, let it be this:
live into the possibility of love –
let love continue to build within you
a sense of wonder,
a sense of possibility,
a sense that we are not withered dying branches separated from the vine –
but rather, that we are connected to the vine, to God,
who, if we’re open to hearing what he’d have us do,
might just take us down some unexpected paths,
where there’s hope, and where there’s life.

Quite serendipitously, yesterday I came across this poem by Sheenagh Pugh –
and it just really resonated.
I leave it with you. It’s called ‘Sometimes’:
Sometimes
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

We live in uncertain times.
So did Philip and the early followers of Jesus.
Choose this day, as the 21st century followers of Jesus,
whether to cast out love,
or cast out fear...
And, should you do this last,
prepare for unexpected journeys and surprising conversations. Amen.

Monday, 9 April 2018

News, events, contacts...Mon 9-Mon 23 April



Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Mon 9th - Mon 23rd April inclusive
  

During this time, urgent pastoral/funeral cover will be provided by the Rev. George Shand of the Tinto Parishes 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Heather Watt, our Session Clerk on 01899 850211




.

Sun 15 and 22 April, 10.30am: Morning worship will be conducted by the Rev. Sandy Strachan, making a return visit while the Minister is on leave.

Thurs 12 April, 7pm: Writing group meets at the Colebrooke Arms in Crawfordjohn. All welcome to come along and share a short piece of your own writing, or bring along something from a favourite writer.

Sun 22 April, 6.30: Evening worship: Wanlockhead Village Hall. We re-join the Apostle Paul on his travels. This month, thoughts from Corinth. Worship will be lead by Moira White. All welcome to join us for this more informal style of worship. Tea/coffee and baking will be available after worship.

Thur 26 April, 7pm: Kirk Session meets in the Church Hall

Fri 11 May, 7.30pm: Caledonian Fiddlers' Orchestra return to Crawfordjohn hall. This is a fundraiser for the church, so it would be great to see a good crowd. Tickets are £10 can be purchased from: Janet T, Isobel T, Anne B, Mary H. Molly W, Jeanette W.  Offers of help, by way of: baking, furniture moving etc would be very much appreciated. Please contact one the above members of the Social Committee.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sermon, Sunday 8 April: 'Every day is Easter'

READINGS: 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20.19-31

This morning, it was a case of a sermon in two parts. The initial section commented on Thomas' reputation, making use of the cartoon further below, and upon the ups and downs of faith - and that faith was something that was always in motion. It ended with the following reflection written by Roddy Hamilton:

Every day is Easter
When Thomas touched the wounds
and set himself free
it was Easter day

When Peter’s three “yes’s” to Jesus
finished his three denials
it was Easter day

When Mary ready to embalm the dead
ran in fear from the empty tomb
it was Easter day

When the disciples looked from afar
at a breakfast of fish on the beach
it was Easter day

When Emmaus became synonymous
with welcome, and the breaking of bread
with strangers
it was Easter day

When Paul was blinded by the light
and recognised the voice niggling in his head
it was Easter day

When the hungry are fed at the table
the same table as the rich
it is Easter day

When weapons are beaten to ploughshares
and peace is a word to be shouted
it is Easter day

When the stranger is welcomed in community
and the lonely are restored to relationship
it is Easter day
                      Roddy Hamilton

SERMON pt 2/

Happy Easter: Christ has risen –
he has risen indeed, alleluia!
Earlier, I said that every day is Easter.
And certainly, although we celebrated Easter Sunday last week,
in a pretty all-singing and all-dancing way,
we’re still very much in the season of Easter.
So, at least for the next few weeks,
you’ll be hearing some of the stories of people who met with,
who experienced first-hand, the resurrected Jesus.
And this week, we meet the disciples –
and particularly, Thomas, in a story that moves from Easter day,
through to the following Sunday.

It must have been disconcerting that first Easter Sunday.
Early in the morning, the women had gone to the garden,
where Jesus’ tomb was –
where Jesus’ body was...
or, so they thought.
Distress, fear, and then, wonder,
as they discover
the stone rolled away,
the empty tomb,
and messengers proclaiming:
‘He is not here: he has risen.’
Mary Magdalene races back to tell the strange news to the other followers.
Peter and John race to see for themselves,
then head back to the upper room where the disciples have all gathered.
Meanwhile, Mary has also gone back to the garden
and meets the gardener, who turns out to be the risen Lord.
He tells her to go and tell the others.
Essentially, the first person to preach the gospel is a woman.

That first Easter Sunday morning has been a busy, unsettling one.
Dare the disciples hope, as they sit in their locked room,
that the impossible news is ... possible?
Dare they think, behind the firmly shut door,
that the unbelievable...can be believed?
Morning turns to afternoon, turns to evening.
And still the disciples are there, in that room –
with that closed, and firmly bolted, door.
Apart from our friend, Thomas,
the rest of Jesus’ friends are clearly going nowhere any time soon.
Perhaps as they’ve talked and talked of the morning’s news.
Perhaps as they’ve pondered every tiny detail, they’ve fallen into the paralysis of analysis.
The sit, they talk, and they don't go anywhere.
So, Jesus comes to them.
Jesus walks into that locked room and begins to open their minds –
if not totally blow their minds.
And, in the process,
somehow, picking over the little bitty details don’t seem as important,
as they encounter the light of the One
who is the Light of the World,
and who bids them to follow him,
to walk in the light,
to walk the way of peace,
to walk the way of forgiveness,
to walk the way of faith –
with all its ups and downs.

We know the other part to that first Easter evening.
At some point, Thomas comes back, and finds his friends suddenly alive, transformed.
They talk of having seen Jesus.
And he, ever the realist, won’t accept the impossible possibility of resurrection.
As they have seen it for themselves, so too, not unreasonably, Thomas refuses to believe until he has seen Jesus.

A week passes.
And there they are:
still in that upper room,
still with the door firmly closed,
the lock securely bolted.
What have they been doing all that time?
Seriously?
All, apart from Thomas, have now seen Jesus;
have been amazed;
have felt the flutterings of the Spirit
as Jesus breathed upon them
and spoke words of peace.
Yet, they seem stuck.
Maybe they’re still so stunned, they can do nothing else.
Or, maybe they’re wondering just what it is that they’re supposed to do.
Will Jesus come back with instructions?
We don’t know what keeps them there behind closed doors.
But, again, if they won’t go out, Jesus will come in:
locked and bolted doors are child’s play
to the One who overcame death,
and opened the door of the tomb.

Jesus seeks out Thomas,
and that pragmatic, practical realist
now has to broaden his ways of thinking,
widen his understanding –
open his mind to the radical reality of the resurrection.
It’s not long until these followers of Jesus
will fling open the doors of that locked room
and go out seeking to transform the world
with the message of God’s love,
with the message of the good news of life.
And Thomas ends up travelling far.
According to legend, he travels to India, telling the story of Jesus along the way,
and eventually settles in Kerala, planting churches from about the year 50.
He reputedly dies there around 72AD.
No longer stuck in particular ways of thinking,
no longer stuck behind closed doors,
Thomas’ faith transforms him,
moves him, halfway across the world,
to witness to the resurrection:
to tell the story of the impossible,
made possible.

Sometimes, we get stuck:
sometimes we’re like the disciples in that securely locked room:
for whatever reason, we find ourselves not really going anywhere fast.
Sometimes, we add into that mix, an added dash of Thomas’ pragmatic, practical realism,
forgetting that his particular story ends with the transformation to an opened mind and heart:
faith in motion.

Like Thomas,
like the other friends and followers of Jesus,
we are called to be a people in motion,
for faith is not static,
hey, faith can even move mountains.
Faith works best when it’s not kept locked in a room behind a bolted door...
And, as we see in the gospel reading,
if closed doors can be opened by Jesus,
even locked hearts and bolted minds can be opened by him.
Faith moves us from being locked into death and being open to life –
to entertaining possibilities of the resurrection:
of new life,
of a full life,
of a life lived authentically in the here and now;
and faith opens up the possibility of  life and hope to others around us,
and around the world.

As Jesus breathed his peace upon his disciples,
so he is the One who breathes his peace into us;
who gives us strength, and courage,
and dares us to move towards hope;
who bids us follow him;
who sends us out into the world;
who calls us to be his witnesses
to life in all its fulness;
to love in all its transforming glory;
and to tell the story of the impossible,
made possible,
for, with God, all things are possible.

Happy Easter: Christ has risen –
he has risen indeed, alleluia!
For now, every day is Easter.

Let’s pray:
God of life, in the wake of Easter,
may we ride a wave of irrepressible hope
rising from the deep,
following the trajectory of love over
the turbulences of our living and
through its currents.
May we be open to joy,
and may we sense Your presence
hovering ever with us—
ever speaking new creation—
ever calling us into possibility. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Easter 2018: Of halleluias and hot air balloons


Happy Easter!
Christ has risen, he has risen indeed! Alleluia!

After a busy, and very full service, with stories told by friends of Jesus about that first Easter morning, and resurrecting the Alleluias that had been 'buried' through the season of Lent, the short clip above is a wee walk through the worship space in the quietness after the morning service...

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Holy Week and Easter services...

Services for Holy Week and Easter:
7pm, Thurs 29 March, Maundy Thursday: 
A short service, around the communion table, as we remember and reflect on the Last Supper. We will share the bread and wine of communion together

7pm, Fri 30 March, Good Friday*: 
'Tenebrae' service, in the style of Taize. Through readings and Taize music, we remember the events of that first Good Friday. 

10.30am, 1 April, Easter Sunday:
We'll be celebrating the Resurrection and resurrecting our 'buried' Alleluias at our all-age-friendly Easter service 

*All services will be held in the Parish Church in Abington this year....
[due to Lamington Chapel refurbishing works] 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Psalm 23 series: windows 'Living on the Land'

Some photos ... of photos!


Our series on Psalm 23 was accompanied by decorated windows, featuring photographs by Carol Taylor and poems by Dee Yates, from their 'Living on the Land' exhibition.
Huge thanks to both of them for permission to make use of their work.







Friday, 23 March 2018

Palm Sunday to Easter services...

Services from Palm Sunday, through Holy Week, to Easter:
Sun 25 March: Palm Sunday
10.30am: 'Palms to the Passion' - a service of readings and reflections walking from the palms, to the Passion.
At the Parish Church in Abingon
6.30pm: 'A journey with Jesus'. Informal evening service in which we'll share a simple communion

7pm, Thurs 29 March, Maundy Thursday: 
a short service, around the communion table, as we remember and reflect on the Last Supper. We will share the bread and wine of communion together

7pm, Fri 30 March, Good Friday: 
'Tenebrae' service, in the style of Taize. Through readings and Taize music, we remember the events of that first Good Friday. 

10.30am, 1 April, Easter Sunday:
We'll be celebrating the Resurrection and resurrecting our 'buried' Alleluias at our all-age-friendly Easter service 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Sermon, Sun 18 Mar: wk6 - 'surely goodness and love...forever'


The last in our shortened series [due to snow!] on Psalm 23.

READINGS: Ps 23; Matt 7:7-12; Rom 8:18-39

SERMON
Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

‘Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’

He’s known as the ‘trickster’.
He’s a maker of mischief,
a bringer of troubles.
He’s cunning and clever and always comes up with new ways
in which to embarrass and annoy folk.
He’s always looking to amuse himself at the expense of others.
He can’t be trusted:
he’s shifty –
quite literally –
he can change his shape.
He’s a giant, he’s a joker,
...he’s a god.
Specifically, he’s Loki,
one of the gods from Norse mythology and, his character is such that,
even his fellow gods get a bit fed up.
Eventually, so the story goes,
Loki is banished to a cave and is faced with a fairly nasty punishment.
And, if you’ve seen any of the ‘Thor’ Marvel movie series,
you’ll know that Loki is not a good god.
Run into him, and you do so at your peril.

In the world of our psalmist, there are varieties of nations and
peoples surrounding the nation of Israel.
There’s also a variety of gods –
so many different gods to choose from.
What makes the god of Israel the one to pick?
And so the psalmist draws up a list of
character traits to encourage the Israelites to stick with their particular god.
This is a god who is like a shepherd:
he doesn’t just sit detached looking down on us and leaving us to our own devices –
he looks after us;
he makes sure we lack for nothing;
he ensures we are fed and nourished;
he leads us, guides us –
rather than just let us fend for ourselves;
he takes us to places of refreshing and rest;
he walks with us in the dark places –
and doesn’t abandon us...
with him, we come through the dark places and out to the other side;
he cares for us, even when we are surrounded by enemies;
he shows us that we matter, are special,
by the pouring of oil upon our heads – he treats us like royalty;
he blesses us with his goodness and loving-kindness all our lives –
‘loving-kindness’ a word which we often translate as ‘mercy’.

But there’s more, says the Psalmist, it doesn’t end there –
God’s love and care for us stretches beyond our finite space and time.
It stretches beyond the grave, for, when our days on earth are done,
God invites us to live with him forever...
In life and beyond our earthly life,
God is with us,
and God is loving us –
God’s love never ends.

This is our God, says the psalmist.
Our God does all of this, for us.
And he does all of this because at the very core of his being is love – loving-kindness:
everything stems from God’s great love.
The whole of creation was created in, and with, love:
and God saw that it was ...good.
Good, because it was created in love by the One who is the source of all goodness.
And, here’s a thing:
the great God who made everything –
the Ruler of the heavens and the earth –
is not too grand to stoop to loving us mere mortals.
This is the God who’s worth sticking with;
this is the God who is worth choosing.

This theme is taken up in the New Testament.
In a world surrounded by a variety of gods to choose from,
we find in our Gospel reading that this particular God hears:
ask – and you will receive;
seek – and you will find;
knock – and God will open the door to you:
not with an arm twisted behind his back, but cheerfully, willingly;
delighted that you are asking, and seeking, and knocking –
delighted that you are coming to him,
and no good thing will he withhold.
In Romans, Paul also picks up on this sense of God’s love and goodness:
‘And we know that in all things – all things – that God works for the good of those who love him.’
Paul also understands that God’s goodness, God’s loving-kindness,
is a past, present, and future thing:
God loved us before we were even created;
God loves us here and now;
God will love us for eternity.
Time can’t separate us from God’s love –
God has loved,
God does love,
God will continue to love.
God’s ongoing, consistent love, born out of his sheer goodness,
is...and always will be.
If time can’t separate us from God’s love, what can?
Death can’t.
Life can’t.
All the spiritual powers on heaven and earth can’t.
Nothing we have done, nothing we will do can separate us from God’s love.
In echoes of Psalm 139, we can’t go anywhere without being in God’s loving presence –
whether we’re on the highest of heights,
or in the deepest of depths,
no matter the distance –
there is no distance in God’s love:
we are not held at arm’s-length...
we are held close,
close to the very heartbeat of God.
And there’s nothing in all of creation that can ever separate us:
God, our Shepherd,
looks out for us,
and looks at us with extravagant love.

God has more than enough love to go around –
God’s love is not like pie that needs to be portioned into set bits and kept:
God has enough love to go around with plenty to spare besides.
That is our God.
In amidst the many gods that vie for our attention here in the 21st century,
the god of goodness and loving-kindness is the God who we choose –
or, more to the point, is the God who chooses us.

My Gran, was one of those people everyone should have in their life:
probably the funniest person I’ve ever met,
filled with goodness,
filled with love –
and, standing in her stockinged feet at all of her 4ft 11inches,
she was a fierce fighter on behalf of underdogs everywhere.
When she wasn’t telling stories, or off helping others,
she’d have quieter moments where she’d think about her life: not an easy one.
Occasionally she’d tell me about different people,
or different situations in her life,
and end with saying:
‘Y’know, God plays funny tricks.’
It made me think of Loki – the trickster god, the maker of mischief.
But, our God is not the Loki-variety kind of god:
no shifting sands,
no amusing himself at our expense.
While God does have a sense of humour –
after all, where do you think we get it from? –
God doesn’t amuse himself willy-nilly at our expense.
Our God is not capricious,
is not a will-o-the-wisp,
who messes with our lives based upon a whim:
our God can be trusted.
Our God is entirely consistent.
And we come right back to love and goodness:
it is because God is entirely motivated by love that God is not a god who plays funny tricks.
Probably one of the rare times I disagreed with my gran on something.

Held in God’s love, and, trusting in that love,
we find incredible freedom to let go of all that would stop us from being
the people that God created us to be:
and, as God loves,
so God calls us to love.
As God loves unstintingly, generously,
so we are called to love in that same manner –
to spread God’s love,
not hoard it and hide it away.
Nothing is stronger than God’s love.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
We see that, in a journey made by God into the territory of human beings:
we see God’s love...in the flesh and bone of Jesus.
We see love lived out by him as he challenged the powers that be to be loving, not oppressive;
in him, we see love lived out in service of others – and especially the least, and the lost;
we see love moved to journey to the Cross –
travelling into the darkest of valleys...
and love conquering death:
love showing us the way through that valley,
and into the hope of redemption and resurrection,
love that held nothing back:
goodness and loving-kindness without measure.
We see love –
found in the One who is with us –
not against us.
This is the God the Psalmist sang of to his people,
the God that Matthew wrote of,
as he told the story of Jesus telling stories
of asking, seeking, and knocking –
and of the God who responds;
this is the God that Paul spoke of, in a letter to a community of believers in Rome,
faced with persecution at the hands of a ruler who believed himself to be a god...
yet was merely human,
and narcissistic and toxic.
The God of the psalmist, of Matthew, of Paul...
is our God,
who loves us
and whose goodness and loving-kindness is with us all our days,
and who, in his goodness and loving-kindness,
brings us, at the last, to live with him forever:
where there shall be no more tears,
no more pain...
where there shall be:
a place of rest,
a place of joy,
a place of perfect love,
a place promised to us, and in which we hope,
for Jesus has gone before us and shows us the way –
for he is the Way.

What makes the god of the Psalmist,
the god of Matthew, and of Paul,
the god we pick,
the god we choose to stick with?
It’s simply this:
it's because...
1 The Lord is our shepherd, we shall lack nothing.
2     He makes us lie down in green pastures,
he leads us beside quiet waters,
3     he restores our souls.
He guides us in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though we walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil,
    for you are with us;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort us.
5 You prepare a table before us
    in the presence of our enemies.
You anoint each of our heads with oil;
    our cups overflow.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow us
    all the days of our lives,
and we will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. Amen.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sermon: Sun 11 Mar - wk5 Ps23 series: You prepare a table before me

Communion Sunday...
READINGS: Ps 23; Luke 22:7-27

SERMON
May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’

Over the last two weeks around the UK, a variety of activities have been happening to highlight Fairtrade fortnight, which ends today.
Given ‘Snowmageddon’ the week before in our own area, I’ve been busy catching up on school assemblies this week, where we’ve had some fun, and thought about food, and fairness.
Or, more to the point, unfairness.
At each school assembly, the children were divided into two teams and I asked them to choose a team name that was a little more exciting than just ‘Team 1’ and ‘Team 2’.
I was a wee bit alarmed when one of the teams named themselves ‘The Terminators’
and thought to myself:
‘Hope we won’t need any medics, ‘cos this group seem pretty serious about winning!’ 

The object of the game was to collect as many chocolate mini-eggs as possible
from a large glass bowl on a table. On each side of the bowl, there were smaller bowls,
one for each team. Both teams were given a dice and had to throw a number –
which allowed their team champions to come up and gather mini-eggs, one egg at a time.
Meanwhile, the other team would throw their dice so that they could send their
team champion up, while the other team champion had to go sit back down...
And so on.
Fairly straightforward, yes?
But, of course, it wasn’t.
One team was allowed to start first, without having to throw their dice.
That team also had a lovely spoon to help fish out the mini-eggs...
And when they had to throw their dice, they could take their turn
on the roll of a #6, a #3, or a #1.
The other team...
well, the rules were a little different:
they were only allowed to start after their dice rolled on to the appropriate number;
they only got the one number, #6;
and they didn’t get a spoon, they had to use chopsticks.
The looks on the faces of children from both teams were priceless:
you could tell when the penny dropped about the implications of the rules
by either the looks of horror or the big grins.
And the responses from each of the school teams who were on the side with
the harder job of it were fascinating.
There were cries of ‘But that’s not fair!’
or ‘But that’s really hard!’
Some small shoulders visibly slumped,
while some brows furrowed – trying to work out how to best meet this challenge.
All of the teams with the harder task did gamely give it a go:
...after all, chocolate is a fairly strong incentive.
However, I was hugely impressed with one team, who responded by really working together:
as each person on their team came up to try and use the chopsticks
the others would come up too, and try to encourage them, and offer advice:
‘oh, what if you do it like this...or that?’
The difficult challenge ended up turning them into a team,
where all were involved in a common goal,
where all were encouraged,
and where each played their part in helping.
It was wonderful to see.
And, they even managed to get some of the chocolate eggs.

When we finished the game, we talked about how it felt to be on each team:
Who enjoyed the game?
Clearly, the teams that won.
Why didn’t the teams that lost enjoy it?
Clearly, it just wasn’t fair.
How did that make them feel?
‘Sad’, ‘angry’, ‘tired’, ‘a bit hopeless’.
We began to think about what it might be like to live in a country where
the rules for trying to sell your food, or other goods, didn’t seem to be in your favour.
We thought of the head start that some countries had because they had more money:
more money meant more opportunities:
for education,
so that people could learn how to make better equipment to use for working,
or to spend on research to find new ways to have better harvests.
We worked out that the more you had, the more you could do,
and that you had more power to make the rules that would work best for you,
so that you could become wealthier, and get more things.
And we thought of those countries around the world that didn’t have the same opportunities.
It just wasn’t fair –
and, even more unfair was the thought that there were more than enough resources
in the world to feed every single human being:
that nobody in the world needed to go hungry...
but, because of unfair rules,
some countries could stockpile and even waste vast amounts of food,
while others had barely enough to go around.
As we thought about this, we wondered about ways in which we could help
balance things out a little more:
we talked about ways that might help change the rules,
and that this was the whole point of what Fairtrade was about:
that if everyone played by the same rules,
then everyone could eat at the banqueting table where there was more than enough for all.

‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’

Jesus...changes the rules.
All through the gospels, we get glimpses of Jesus heading to a meal, or being a guest at a meal.
His first miracle in the Gospel of John happens while he’s a guest, at a wedding in Cana,
where he ensures that there’s enough wine to go ‘round so that cups truly can overflow.
We see him as host, at meals where many thousands of people are fed;
and here, in our gospel reading from Luke,
we see him as host of a smaller, more intimate meal with his friends,
a meal that has been referred to down the years as ‘The Last Supper.’
It is a meal that is uniquely his,
and yet a meal that has been fashioned out of an earlier meal – the Passover meal –
which looked back and remembered the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt...

Perhaps, the ‘last supper’ might better be named ‘the first supper’ –
for as he shares it with his disciples in that Upper Room, he’s doing a new thing.
As Jesus shapes it, this meal becomes a meal that’s designed to remember:
‘Do this to remember me’ 
he bids his friends, over bread and wine.
But it does more.
This meal is also one that looks forward:
to each time that friends of Jesus gather –
and who, in the Holy Spirit,
and in the meal shared,
are made one in him.
It’s not a meal for individuals – it’s a community meal –
a meal we share in common...
Communion.
It’s a meal that binds us together in God’s love,
it’s about being together,
being Christ’s body:
all playing our part,
all helping one another,
encouraging one another,
as we share in that common goal of living out that love shown to us in the life of Jesus.

Ultimately, the meal that Jesus creates,
and bids us share, is a meal that looks forward to the end of all days –
to that great heavenly banquet.
As we take and eat the bread and wine here,
we remember that this is a meal that symbolises life:
the bread of heaven
the water of life...
nourishment that strengthens us now,
and food that sustains us eternally.

Jesus...changes the rules.
And Jesus is the bread of life.
The meal he creates is not
the sole province of the rich and the powerful;
it’s not to be kept for the select few.
We do know that it’s made for the ones who feel surrounded by enemies –
enemies who would keep them
poor, hungry, vulnerable,
dependent and disadvantaged.
A ‘table in the presence of my enemies’:
a table that makes the statement that
in God, all have a head-start in his love, for all are equally beloved;
a table that has at its centrepiece justice and mercy and reconciliation,
and an understanding of power that is about service –
service to God and to others.

Jesus...changes the rules
and sets before us a meal.
It’s a new meal, a new way:
a feast of shared abundance where all are welcome,
where all are invited to feast upon life as together, we feast upon the gift
of bread and wine,
of forgivenenss,
of liberation,
of justice,
and freedom.
And, having been fed,
we move from the table and go back out into the world
and change the rules, as Jesus did,
and in so doing, bring in God’s kingdom of heaven for all. Amen.