Monday, 28 December 2015

Sunday Preview: Wise Men, stars, camels...

Join us, this Sunday, for the last Sunday of the Christmas season - where we'll be pondering Wise Men, a bright shining star, and perhaps a camel or two. 

10.30am in the Parish Church, Abington.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Sermon, Christmas Eve - Watchnight, 2015

picture from
It is a story both ordinary
and extraordinary.
Deeply profound,
yet stunningly simple.
Come to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him:
born the King of angels.
Come, let us adore him...

In a small, overlooked, largely ignored town -
the kind of place where, it seems,
nothing ever really happens,
on one particular night
the place is hooching and teeming
with vast crowds of people.
People, who, having left the town
where nothing much ever happened,
happen to come back,
because, on a whim,
the great and powerful overlord:
Augustus, Emperor of Rome,
decides that he wants to count
everything he has:
to take stock...
Indeed, all around the Roman Empire,
there is a large movement of people:
a movement of the less great,
the less powerful.
All are obliged to travel to their
home towns to register -
to be counted, along with the sheep, the cattle, gold, silver,
wheat, wine, and any other thing
that needs counting.

But this particular backwater town,
in a backwater province
on the edge of the Empire,
is poised to move
from obscurity
into history.
Prophets had spoken of it:
that out of little, ordinary Bethlehem,
something quite extraordinary would come.

Two ordinary, everyday people,
travelling from Nazareth
are caught up in the great counting exercise.
He: a tradesman - a carpenter.
She: pregnant before marriage.
He: initially dubious of the parentage,
but now standing by her.
She: ready to go into labour at any moment.
He: anxious.
Both: exhausted and seeking a place to stay.
And there is nowhere.
Every room is booked,
every nook and cranny filled.

Desperate, they knock on one last door.
There is no room.
And then, perhaps,
seeing her condition,
their desperation,
pity mingles with embarrassment
as he offers them space
to sleep among the animals.
It is rough, crude, shelter.
Much less than that.
But it will do.
And as they begin to settle amongst
the straw and smell,
the baby begins to make its way
into the muck and mire of the byre
pushing its way out into the world.
Just another child.
Like every other child.
But not quite.
For angels foretold this birth to her...
and to him.
Ordinary, yet extraordinary.
God of God
light of light
Very God - begotten not created
Come, let us adore him...

And shepherds - ordinary, everyday, workaday men -
men shunned by good, religious folk -
are visited by angels and told the news.
The herald angels don’t sing ‘hark!’
to high priest, or king...
The privileged, the ones of rank,
are the last to find out that something of interest may have happened.
arrives in the everyday goings on of the ordinary.

After ordinary shepherds are serenaded
by the extraordinary heavenly host of angels,
they drop everything and take up the invitation to:
‘come and behold him’
They join the heavenly song,
giving glory to God in the highest
as they greet the ordinary couple
with the new-born child,
who is resting in a food-trough.
A strange throne for the King of angels,
the King of Heaven:
God’s promised Messiah.

Much later, this seemingly ordinary,
yet somehow extraordinary child
will receive other visitors,
who want to come and adore him;
and his parents will accept strange
and beautiful gifts from them.

...But on this night,
heaven breaks into earth with his birth.
Hope springs up, where once it was lost.
This is the night of promise fulfilled -
of the long time of waiting, over.
This is the night where ordinary
becomes extraordinary;
where the less great,
the less powerful
are celebrated and lifted high -
where old definitions of power and importance
are defined anew.

This is the night,
this is the time,
that we tell the Christmas story once again;
where we remember that:
We were heavy with sorrow, 
but joy interrupted.
We were deep in the night, 
but a star appeared.
We were silent with sadness, 
but the heavens rang.
    And the splendour shone around them
    When the time had fully come.

We were hardened by conflict, 
but love intervened.
We were frightened by shadows, 
but light took them away.
We were haunted by fears, 
but a child brought us hope.
            And Mary laid him in a manger
            When the time had fully come.

We were dismal and defeated, 
but faith set us on fire.
We were weary and complaining, 
but our hearts discovered praise.
We were doubtful and confused, 
but a door to life was opened.
            And the guiding star went before them
            When the time had fully come.

We were arrogant and angry, 
but his innocence disarmed us.
We were cruel, crude, and clumsy, 
but his grace made all things new.
We were selfish, narrow, greedy, 
but his joy we had to share.
        And they offered him their treasured gifts
        When the time had fully come.

We were sheep who had lost their way, 
but the shepherd knew our names.
We were strangers without a country, 
but our kingdom came to us.
We were children far from home, 
but God sent his Son to guide.
            And the Word was flesh among us
            When the time had fully come.
                            [written by Kenneth I. Morse, from “In Straw and Story]

It is a story both ordinary
and extraordinary.
Deeply profound,
yet stunningly simple.
Come to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him:
born the King of angels.
Come, let us adore him...

This is the night,
the morning,
where we tell the Christmas story once again:
where we sing with angels,
and welcome the Christ-child
into our hearts and homes once more...
This is the time when we sing:
‘Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born for our salvation;
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing...
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ The Lord.’ Amen.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Carol service, Wanlockhead: with Leadhills Silver Band

Our evening service on the 20th saw the annual Carol Service
at Wanlockhead - Scotland's highest village. As ever, we were
ably led by our friends from the Leadhills Silver Band.
Huge thanks to them, and for everyone who turned out.
And yes, mince pies were consumed afterwards...

Here's a wee clip from the service:

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Nativity Service, 2015

Great fun this morning - with lots of gift boxes to open, giving us clues with which to tell
the story of the first Christmas. Visits, too, from shepherds, angels, wise guys, an innkeeper,
Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, and assorted animals in the stable.
Below, some pictures:
the Innkeeper eyes two Shepherds suspiciously, as they
approach the stable...
Angels, stars, a manger, a baby...
Magi on the move, stable-bound...

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas Services [update]

Just an update on services over this Christmas season...  
Everyone welcome!

Sunday 20 December: 
*10.30am: All-age Nativity service - rumour has it that an angel or two
may even be flying in during the service... the Minister has a strong suspicion that
there will be mince pies
with post-service tea and coffee.
*6.30 Evening Carol Service at Wanlockhead, sing along to much-loved carols
accompanied by the fabulous Leadhills Silver Band.

Thursday 24 December, Christmas Eve:
*6.30 Carol Service at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington: led by the Minister
...and then, in the parish church at Abington:
*11pm pre-Watchnight mulled wine and mince pies in the Church Hall
*11.30pm: Watchnight service - come, welcome the Christ-child in...

Sunday 27 December:
*10.30am: Service of Lessons and Carols -
well, after all, it's still the Christmas season! opportunity to sing a few more carols before they're packed away for next year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sermon, Sunday 13 December, 3 Advent

Our white tree was decorated with footprints:
on one side inscribed with a symbol for a dream or a vision
that we have for our lives/ our church/ our world...
and on the other, a first step we might make to begin to see the
dream into reality.

Given our Nativity Service next week, our theme today was 'joy', as we thought of Mary's response to God.
The sermon was in the form of an adapted monologue told from Mary's point of view...*

Micah 5:2-5[a]
Luke 1:39-45
Luke 1: 46-55 the Magnificat

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

Why me? Why me?
I am an old woman now, with what seems to me
several lifetimes' experience behind me,
and I still can’t answer that question properly.
Don’t get me wrong:
I remain convinced that God has a habit of -
raising up the humble and overthrowing the proud.
If nothing else, I’m proof that God uses the most unlikely to fulfil his promise!
I remember the day I met my cousin Elizabeth:
she came rushing from her house to greet me with such joy -
and then, it felt as if I’d turned prophet:
as from out of nowhere, I heard myself singing
a great song of liberation and rejoicing.
But why he chose me in particular – well, you see, that continues to astound me.
I feel so privileged, so undeserving,
and yet, oh, so very glad that I chose to say ‘yes’.

Honestly, though, it was bit of a bolt from the blue.
Who would have thought that in the midst of doing my daily chores -
I was off to the well to fetch some water -
such a momentous thing would happen?
I don’t think I was even doing anything particularly spiritual -
my mind was on many things,
but I can’t say that God was in the midst of my thoughts.
In fact, as I walked along that well-worn path with my water pot,
I was thinking about what marriage to Joseph would be like.
Although the date hadn’t been set, the wedding wouldn’t be too far away -
relatives on either side were busy negotiating, and were nearly done.

There’d never been any doubt about the match -
our families had known each other for years,
and this match had been spoken of for years..
but you know what it’s like:
everyone loves to make a song and dance about this kinds of thing;
it was our custom.
I was looking forward to the wedding day.
The whole village would be there and distant relatives as well.
There would be feasting and music,
dancing and banter,
laughter and, yes, tears.
While moving into a different stage of life,
I was leaving the ones I’d grown up with...
a happy-sad day.
But, I was happy with the prospect of marrying Joseph –
my parents had made a wise choice,
even wiser than I thought, as events transpired.
He was good, sensitive and gentle, hardworking and widely respected.
True, he was a bit older than me, but then I valued someone of
maturity and experience.
I was just a slip of a girl, barely a woman,
and I needed someone to help me grow up
and deal with the responsibilities that would come with
being a wife and, hopefully, a mother.
And then came that life-changing encounter.

Everything I had planned, hoped and dreamed about
was shattered by the angel's message.
God had noticed ... me?
But, I was just a lass - of no importance.
I wasn’t anything that special...
And while I had my family responsibilities -
like fetching the water and generally mucking in...
well, suddenly it seemed I was about to have even greater responsibility thrust upon me:
Suddenly it seemed that the whole course of my nation's destiny,
no, of the world even, hung upon my response to the angel’s question.

It was a terrifying choice.
Saying 'No' was nigh unthinkable when I was in the presence
of the angel of the Lord of Hosts.
But saying 'Yes' might mean
the end of any marriage,
the loss of a husband,
the certain loss of my reputation and any respect in the village.
What would my parents say?
And how could I begin to parent the Messiah, Emmanuel?
I was totally inexperienced and largely unprepared for motherhood.
It was an awesome responsibility.
God was taking an enormous risk.
I mean, really - I’m not so sure that this was actually such a good plan...
In any case, how could I conceive  and bear a son without a man?

All those thoughts raced through my head as I heard Gabriel's words.
But it was as if God had already pre-empted me -
headed my reasons and rationalisations off at the pass.
He got it: he knew and understood my quandary.
Now I know that seems a silly thing to say, for God knows everything,
even our deepest unspoken thoughts,
but as you can imagine, I was pretty confused.
What clinched it for me was the announcement about Elizabeth's pregnancy.
Now in her sixth month, she was a woman who had despaired
of ever having a child - and yet, her she was... pregnant!
A miracle!
My defences crumbled.
I surrendered to the divine purpose.
God had sought me out.
He would fulfil his promise to his people.
And he would do this, through me...
but it still was my choice.
I chose ‘yes’.

Little did I know then what that 'yes' implied.
Sure, I could foresee the scandal,
hear the gossip,
the pain in my family,
...Joseph's disbelief and rejection.
But as far as Joseph was concerned,
God turned that round, I did not lose him,
although the wedding was a very muted affair.
I was thrilled to visit Elizabeth, to share in her joy and she in mine.
She understood, but strangely, so did the child in her womb -
it was positively leaping about for joy in there.

I was blessed indeed...
However, even though I was truly blessed,
that didn't shield me from danger, or distress, or unexpected joy.
For I didn't foresee the weary road to Bethlehem in my last week of pregnancy;
the birth in the stable;
the angels, the shepherds, and the coming of the wise men.
I was heartened and overjoyed by Simeon's blessing on Jesus in the temple,
but disturbed by his prophetic words:
'A sword would pierce my heart.'
That was unnerving, but, I thought it was fulfilled when we
fled to Egypt and heard of the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem.
But no, it was not what he’d meant...
he was seeing far further into the future than that,
when my son was no longer a baby, but a grown man...
on a Friday grown dark with shame and blood and pain.
Simeon’s words, and the words of long-ago prophets
ringing out the words of salvation and promised fulfilment
as my son hung bruised and bleeding from the Cross.
I would have given everything to have taken his place -
spared him that pain -
avoided that death...
as he hung there, giving everything for the world.
His agony, my agony, as I watched.

My ‘yes’ to God ending in this - surely, it couldn't be?
But this was not an ending: it was to be a new beginning.
It did not end here on a cross...
My steps led me, one morning, to a garden:
to an empty tomb and new life - resurrection.
While night had fallen,
nevertheless, the sun had also risen...

But all of that was a long time ago, and for now, I ponder that baby -
so small,
God’s fragile gift for the world.
And I am Mary, blessed among women:
'For he that is mighty has magnified me 
and holy is his name.'   Amen.

*I've lost the original version of this, so can't attribute where needed...

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Parish Magazine

Our parish magazine has returned after a near-3 year break, just in time for
Advent, Christmas, and the New Year.

You can find it over here

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas events and services

A quick overview of events and services happening over the seasonal period:

Christmas Events/
Community Christmas carols: 
Why not join us for some community singing?
Junction 13 Community Choir will meet for a one-off rehearsal
on Thursday 17th from 7.30-9pm.
This, to get us in form for:
Friday 18th carol singing at Leadhills Community Christmas Carols from 6.45pm;
informal carol singing Saturday 19th outside Abington Store at 5pm.
And then, to help with our Nativity service on Sunday 20 December.
Come and join us, and bring some friends!!

Christmas Special Worship Services/

Sunday 13 December, 3pm: ‘Tidings of comfort and joy’. 
A quiet service for reflection and remembering.
Especially for all who struggle at this time of year.
There will be time during this service to remember those,
who for whatever reason, are no longer with us. If you know of a
friend or neighbour who might find this helpful, please do invite them to join us.
Tea and coffee will be available in the hall after worship.

Thursday 17 December, 11am: joint schools service -
Leadhills, Abington, and Crawford Primary Schools gather at the church
for music, and readings, and Christmassy things

Saturday 19 December, 2-4pm(ish) Christmas mini-retreat: 
The church will be open and all are invited to come along at any point
during this time for quiet space. There will be ‘meditation stations’ in various
areas of the church with a Christmas-oriented theme, and you’re welcome to
interact with these as a means of helping to focus your thoughts on the
reason for the season. Tea, coffee, and mince pies will be available in the hall.
[After this time, why not pop across for some community carol singing by the
Abington Store?]

Sunday 20 December: 
*10.30am: All-age Nativity service - rumour has it that an angel
may even be flying in during the service...
*6.30 Evening Carol Service at Wanlockhead, sing along to much-loved carols
accompanied by the fabulous Leadhills Silver Band.

Thursday 24 December, Christmas Eve:
*6.30 Carol Service at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington: led by the Minister
*11pm pre-Watchnight mulled wine and mince pies in the Church Hall
*11.30pm: Watchnight service - come, welcome the Christ-child in...

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Manse musings: hospitality, welcome, and Christmas...

[from our resurrected parish magazine - December issue 2016 - 
date of writing was earlier, due to publishing schedules, hence the October ref.]

This time, exactly a year ago [29 October] I was in the old manse surrounded by boxes and preparing to head out to the church for the evening to be both ordained and inducted as the parish minister of Upper Clyde. It’s been possibly the quickest year of my life. Right from the outset, it was all go: my very first Sunday included a baptism, the second was Remembrance Sunday, and the third was another baptism. Thereafter, it was the whirlwind that was Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, during which, the church sanctuary became a life-sized stable complete with donkey, manger, bales of hay, and a shining [LED] Star of Bethlehem.  I have a strong suspicion that we might not have seen the last of the stable...[thanks to the construction crew!] In the midst of this, I had a ‘moving experience’ as I relocated down the road to the new manse and began to finally unpack boxes and settle in.

Right from the beginning of my time here - actually, even before I officially started - I’ve been made to feel so welcome by people both in and out of the church. From Wiston to Wanlockhead, there’s a huge depth of hospitality and generosity among the people of this parish which is quite humbling for this ‘townie’ minister to see and experience. Thanks for making it so incredibly easy to fit in and settle into my job and my new home. Over the course of time, relationships have been built, and many conversations have been had - at the school gates, in village halls or stores, in homes, church, or even the occasional field. Sometimes the conversations have touched on the raw stuff of life, as well as the joyful, or the weather; through them all, I count it an immense privilege when people have shared their stories with me. Regardless of whether you’re a ‘member’ or not of the Kirk, if I can be of help with a listening ear, please don’t hesitate.     

I’m also very grateful to the Kirk Session of Upper Clyde for their kindness and support to this new minister; I’ve very much appreciated their wise counsel, their wide range of skills and gifts, and the depth of understanding of the parish that they serve in as elders. It has also been a joy to welcome and ordain three of our church members into the eldership this year: Ursula Baillie, Teresa Brasier, and Aileen Gemmel.  Along with the Session, I’d also like to thank the members of the congregation for your encouragement, and your willingness to share a vast array of gifts: from hospitality and home-baking, to reading, or singing in the monthly choir, to arranging flowers and magicking up the occasional cup of tea for a thirsty minister - and also for your quiet patience and bemused smiles on those Sundays when I’ve inadvertently had a service with more than one new hymn! I’m gradually getting to know what you do and don’t know, so a big thank you for your bearing with me, and a big thank you to our three organists who try to keep us all ‘singing from the same hymn book’! 

Hospitality, welcome, and building relationships are also themes that loom large through Advent and Christmas.  The story of what happened in a stable over 2 000 years ago in Bethlehem is very much a story of hospitality and welcome: God, all-powerful becoming God, all vulnerable - dependent upon the hospitality of the human heart to take him in.  As each of us prepare to mark the coming season in our many different ways, as we enjoy time spent with family and friends, as well as remember loved ones no longer with us, may all of our homes be places of welcome and warmth, and may we know the peace and the joy of the Christ child, this Christmas. 

Thanks for taking me in as your minister this year,


Monday, 7 December 2015

Sermon, Sunday 6 Dec, 2 Advent: 'Prepare'

Over the season of Advent, we are decorating a bare, white tree with various symbols.   
Last week, we reminded ourselves we are a people of promise, 
that we are people who live with hope in our hearts.
Writing our names on the back of green paper leaves, the 'empty' tree sprang into life...
This week, picking up on the Advent theme of 'peace', we named places where peace
is absent/ or people who live in areas where there is no peace. These mini-peace prayers
were in the shape of doves, which nestled among the tree branches....

The sermon picked up on the Advent theme of preparing for Christ's coming,
focusing upon John the Baptist
Malachi 3: 1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 1: 68-79

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

In a far away land, 
in a far away time,
there lived a people oppressed 
by a foreign power…
Occasionally, some among them would shake their fists at their overlords, 
and some would rebel… 
but they were too weak and too powerless 
to resist for long.  
Mostly, the people kept their heads down and just got on with 
the business of living and making the best out of a bad situation.
In this far away land, so long ago, 
the people felt forgotten by their God…

In their distant past, their God had travelled with their ancestors, 
had rescued them from other oppressors, 
and spoken with them through inspired visionaries – prophets.
The voices of the prophets had given hope - reassurance, in the dark times.
The voices of the prophets warned and promised:
warned of judgement, spoke of justice, 
promised God’s mercy, rescue, love and grace. 
But the prophets had long since gone.
God seemed far away.
And then… 
the silence was broken by the cries of a wailing infant.
A prophet was born.
His name was John -
the last and greatest of the prophets.

John was the answer to prayer of a childless couple: Elizabeth and Zechariah.  
And it was said by folk far and wide 
that the hand of the Lord was upon John, 
...and all wondered what would become of him.
And Zechariah, filled with awe, thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit prophesied:
He saw God once again saving his people – 
liberating them from the phoney peace that had been brought by the Romans:
phoney, because peace is not peace if you’re living under the heel of the oppressor.
He saw the beginnings of God’s promise to his ancestors coming true, 
coming to fulfillment, and his son was the one who would usher 
in that fulfillment -
preparing the way, 
preparing God’s people:
John, prophet of the Highest.
John, messenger of God.

God’s voice once again sounded through the land 
in John’s words of repentance, salvation, forgiveness, and compassion.  
In John’s message were words of light and life 
and hope and peace.                                                 
John’s words were words of preparation for the One who would follow, 
who would be greater than him.
John’s words sounded through the wilderness places:
‘Be prepared.
Be prepared to see what God has done;
what God is doing...
what God will do.
Clear the decks!
Make the roads straight!
Get rid of the obstacles…
Get rid of anything that will stop you hearing and seeing what God is doing’
That, in a nutshell, was what John was all about – 
calling God’s people to stop, look, listen and prepare:
To be prepared for the coming of Christ.

And if we were to continue reading the gospel, 
we’d find out that many people did listen to John, messenger of God.
They flocked to hear -
and, on hearing, they chose to change, to repent, 
to turn their lives around to face God, 
not look the other way.

And, there were also those who didn’t listen.
They were just busy getting on with their lives
And the sounds of their busyness blocked out the sound of God’s words….
God’s life-giving words.
…Such extraordinary words – 
Words about God’s Word – Jesus: 
God become human.  
God’s ‘extraordinary’ Word…
The Word ignored in the routine humdrum of the everyday.
But whether God’s people responded or not, 
whether God’s people prepared… or not.. 
light grew in the darkness regardless… 
a light which the darkness has never been able to fully extinguish:
the light which shines, on those who live in the darkness under the shadow of death….

On this second Sunday in the season we call ‘Advent’ we encounter John the Baptiser, 
who called God’s people so long ago to prepare for an encounter with God.
And down through the years, John continues to call God’s people to prepare to encounter God…
And his message meets us - here, now …
In this time,
in this place.

As we were reminded last week, Advent is the season of waiting… 
and in the waiting time, we, too, prepare to encounter God.
It can be a hard thing to have to wait...
it can be a very hard thing to swim against the tide of tinsel and glitter in the 
headlong rush to Christmas. 
In the jangle of tills and the jingle of carols we find it 
harder and harder to hear God’s voice…
Pressurised to worship at the altar of consumerism, 
to worship the retail God who is never satisfied, 
it takes all the energy we can muster to fight against it 
and to remember the real ‘reason for the season’… 
We can easily get caught on the merry-go-round that seems to 
whirl dizzyingly faster and faster, almost unable to stop and to take time.
...And sometimes… the busyness is also a way of avoiding that encounter with God.  
The reading from Malachi talks of God’s coming in dramatic terms:  
Of a refining fire, of purification…
Malachi says:
‘Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?’
Perhaps, sometimes it just feels safer to hide under the tinsel and glitter?

The birth of John,
the liberating song of his father, Zechariah,
John’s life, and his message to all to be prepared for Christ’s coming 
challenges us.
forces us to stop, to think…
and to ask questions:
In this time,
in this place, 
how are we preparing to encounter God made flesh, this Advent?
Is there something we need to do to make it easier for Christ to enter our terrain
and to be known in the world?  
Is there some path through our souls which we need to straighten, to smooth?
Is there some mountain of an obstacle that needs to be levelled 
so that Christ will meet less resistance in us? 

As we prepare to encounter God with us, 
I’m reminded of an old Celtic saying about meeting Christ in the stranger’s guise.  
It reminds us that we’re all created 
in the image of God… 
As we encounter one another – 
even, or especially, in the midst of this busy waiting and preparing time – 
are we prepared to see and to encounter Christ in one another?  
As Paul saw Christ in and at work in the lives of the Philippians, 
do we see and encourage one another to be more like Christ?
Someone once said that Advent is ‘preparing for the long view: 
we reflect on the coming of Christ past, present and future.
Christ past – in the miracle in the stable in Bethlehem;
Christ present – born again in our lives now;
Christ future – when he will come again at the completion of all things.’

Advent is a time that prepares us for more than Christmas…
At Christmas, it’s right to sing the well-loved carols of joy, 
that tell the story of the Christ-child… 
but the story is bigger, so much bigger:
We’re also telling the story of the God who sees the pain of His people 
and who breaks into His world to lead us out of pain and darkness.  
God gives birth to hope where there’s despair, 
light where there’s shadow,
And life, where there’s death.
It is the greatest story:
A story deep and rich and beautiful;
A story which lasts forever;
A story that makes sense to prepare ourselves for.

If we stop,
if we still ourselves,
if we listen very hard, 
perhaps we might just hear a miracle:
the beating of a tiny heart…
the heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us:
the One who is wonderful, counsellor, 
prince of Peace... mighty God.
Over this Advent, let’s watch, wait, listen…
and prepare to be amazed as we encounter God
in Christ once more. 

Let’s pray:
Loving God
You are not distant or detached
You meet us where we are.
In this season of Advent
Help us prepare to look for you 
behind the tinsel and the glitter,
that we may worship you in spirit and in truth,
and in hope-filled joy.  
Come now, O prince of peace...
we, your people, are waiting.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Guild News: 'taste and see'

The Guild will meet:
in the Church Hall on Wednesday 9 December, at 2pm.
Members have been invited to bring and share some of their favourite Christmas recipes -
to 'taste and see'.
Given how many great bakers we have, this should be a tasty meeting!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Sermon, Sunday 29 Nov, Advent 1: 'Hope'

Our theme today... 'hope', as we lit our first Advent candle.  
Jeremiah 33:10-16
Psalm 25:1-10   
Luke 21:25-36

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

Once upon a time, there was a travelling preacher named 
Nathaniel Evans. Every day, he’d walk along a straight, 
almost endless road, that ran cross-country through the Australian Outback.
As he walked along the road, Nate spent his time preaching to the various lost souls who’d drive past.
In a cheerfully matter of fact way, he’d cry out:
“Repent, the End of the World is Near!” 
One day, as he was walking, 
he came upon a big lever -
[note on pronunciation here: I'm foreign! You say ‘leaver’...I say ‘levver’!] 
It was in the middle of nowhere, just by the side of the road. 
And it had a sign next to it that read: 
“Pull this to end the world”
Nate realised that this would be an awesome spot to preach at - 
after all, visual clues are always handy. 
Over the course of the day, Nate preached his wee heart out, calling:
“Repent, the End of the World is Near!”
And as he preached by the large lever, gradually, 
cars, buses, and trucks all pulled up and listened to him.
All was well, until there were so many people, 
and so many vehicles, that the road was nearly blocked. 
...It was then that a big 18-wheel rig came down the highway, 
and alas,... couldn’t stop in time. 
The driver was faced with a stark choice: 
run over Nathaniel, or run over the lever.
...Later, at the scene, 
the driver explained to the Highway Patrol that he’d really had no choice...
Pointing to the spot where Nathaniel Evans had been preaching,
he said, with a sigh:
“Better Nate than Lever.”
[Yes, I really feel I should hang my head in shame for that story...!] 

On this first Sunday of Advent, the key word for the day is...
which I’m hoping that you’ve already picked up!
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking about some hard themes:
as we’ve heard strange and difficult readings from scripture. 
Apocalyptic texts that brought with them words of devastation, and destruction - 
words giving the sense of impending doom:
the end of the world as we know it.
And this morning, in our gospel passage from Luke, 
we hear of yet more signs and portents for the end of the world.
over these last few weeks, even in the midst of these hard texts of the bible -
perhaps especially in the midst of these hard texts,
we’ve discovered that we need not fear:
for it is Jesus who holds the keys to life and death
the keys to the kingdom that lasts for eternity.
And, we’ve learnt that we need not be surprised when we see and hear
wars and rumours of war, for we are the ones who hope, 
and who help others to hope -
shining Christ’s light into the darkness -
beacons showing that it’s God’s kingdom that ultimately prevails...
that there’s more to life than terror and fear.
And in our reading from Luke today, 
we’re reminded again, that these strange, apocalyptic texts
that can appear to be so frightening, 
are actually     words     of hope...
Luke 21:28 - ‘stand up and lift up your heads, for your 
redemption is drawing near’.
There it is: HOPE...

This year, 
these last weeks, 
we’ve watched the gathering clouds of what seems like impending doom...
A sense of fear has been in the air, as we’ve listened to, and seen, 
words and acts of violence - almost unimaginable in their horror.
People fleeing in terror from their homes -
homes where they, and their families before them had lived for generations...
people escaping from a regime seemingly built upon a mandate of 
destruction, chaos, and death.
We are witnesses to the hawks of war currently circling, 
and politicians rattling sabres ...
speaking of arming for yet another conflict, 
and in denial that the old Empire, with its position and 
power and privilege has long-since passed away.

We watch.
And some of us - perhaps a number of us, feel helpless.
‘stand up, lift up your heads’ says Luke, 
speaking from a time and a place - and a former nation 
that had also known conflict -
and indeed, still does.

Our Old Testament reading also speaks of that same nation,
in a time 600 years before Jesus was born.
A time in which the people of Israel saw all that they loved and held dear
become as dust and ashes and ruin:
Their city, their nation, destroyed;
their rulers and elite carried off to exile in Babylon.
They had been a great nation,
but, they had begun to rot at the core, and wither.
They had been warned by the prophets to turn back to God:
to live as his people,
to be faithful,
to love justice,
but, they had stopped up their ears.
Now they were cut down.
As is the way of things, no longer a great nation, 
they looked back to the glory days of empire and despaired.
They were a people unable to stand up, 
unable to lift up their heads:
but in their midst, the prophet Jeremiah stands, lifts up his head -
listens to God:
God who listens to the despair of his people;
God, who has a message for them in their time of suffering.
It is a message of consolation, and of comfort...
a message of hope.
Proclaiming God’s message to his people,
the prophet Jeremiah brings words to raise up the people’s drooping heads.
These people are God’s people - a people of promise...
And God is promising them that: 
‘the day is surely coming’ 
when their suffering shall come to an end.
There will be restoration and renewal.
Having been cut down, the tree will once again sprout:
a righteous branch from David’s line will grow from what had seemed a barren stump...
There will be justice, righteousness, salvation will come -
all will live in safety.
‘The day is surely coming’, the prophet says. 
Look up!
Take heart!
There is one yet to come,
one we wait for who will bring this to pass:
there is hope.

I’m minded of that classic children’s story 'The Secret Garden', 
written by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
At one point in the book, young Dickon and his new friend Mary 
explore the hidden garden.  As they wander, and look about them, 
it feels grey, lifeless. The trees, the rose bushes, 
all seem ... dead.
Is there hope that this garden?  
Will ever grow again?
To Mary’s untrained eyes, the answer is ‘no’.
But Dickon knows better.
Taking out his knife, he cuts into a branch...and finds:
‘a shoot which looked brownish green instead of hard, dry grey.’
Showing this to Mary, he tells her that, deep inside, the tree is as ‘wick’:
as full of life and promise and hope as both Mary and Dickon.
And, in that story, Dickon is proved very much to be right - 
there is new life in both the secret garden and in the lives 
of all of the story’s characters.

The message of Jeremiah,
the words of Luke,
are words of waiting,
of watching,
of hope..
These are the themes of Advent
Although the world around us appears utterly broken:
with the threat of terrorism, political points-scoring and opportunism,
economic crisis and poverty,
the pollution of the environment on a mass scale, even so:...
look up, 
take heart.
There is one yet to come,
one we wait for who will bring the healing of the nations,
the healing of the world.
New shoots from withered branches.
Writer, Gary Charles states that: 
'the stories of Advent are dug from the harsh soil of human struggle 
and the littered landscape of dashed dreams. They are told from the 
vista where sin still reigns supreme and hope has gone on vacation.'
(Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1). 

When we read of the story of the sufferings of God’s people, in Jeremiah,
when we read of signs and portents of the end, in Luke,
they are reminders to us to look up.
But we also look out:
to our world -
where God calls us, like Jeremiah,
to proclaim words of hope;
words that speak of green shoots,
of life,
of resurrection.
As we look around our communities,
where might we breathe words of hope, 
words of life?
Where might we bring green shoots of compassion and peace and love?

The season of Advent is a time of year to look up,
and to look out...
But, we also look in:
for we are also called to look at our own hearts -
to bend them towards God,
to align the deepest longings of our hearts 
with the great and beautiful heart of God.
Advent is a time of waiting -
filled with hope, for the One who is to come. 
When we live in love and act in hope, 
when we gather again and again at the table to remember what Jesus did 
and to recall that Jesus is with us, 
it is then that we are truly a people of Advent hope. 
How might we encourage one another to persist in living our lives in hope?

We tend to think of the month of December as the Christmas season, 
and so easily forget the in-between time, the waiting time that is Advent. 
We're learning a new day in the shopping calendar here in the UK: 
‘Black Friday’ - which, apparently was this Friday just passed.
Advent, however, is a different kind of time: 
we in the church are on a different calendar from the rest of the world -
a calendar which reminds us that we live in the time between the times, 
between what is dying and what is being born, 
between the 'already' of Christ's reign and the 'not yet' of Advent." 
And so, as we begin the Advent journey together once more, 
we voice our longing in the words:
Come, thou long expected Jesus... Amen.

Let’s sing that hymn together, as we turn to hymn #472 in our hymn book...

*some sources used:
'Feasting on the Word'
'Sermon Seeds' - Kathryn Matthews

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sermon, Sunday 22 Nov: Reign of Christ Sunday

Reign of Christ Sunday/             

Ps 19; Revelation 1:4(b)-8; John 18:33-37

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

Be thou my vison, o Lord of my heart:
naught be all else to me save that thou art;
thou my best thought in the day or the night
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light ...

The scene is a concert in Indiana, 1974.
Around the arena, the crowds are going wild
after the singer has finished yet another number.
There’s a great buzz in the air - the atmosphere’s electric.
In the midst of saying his ‘thank you’s’ as his audience applauds,
the singer spots a fan waving a sign.
‘Honey, what’s that? The sign? I can’t see it - can you show me?’
She turns the sign so it’s facing him directly.
He thanks her for doing so and then,
is caught on the hop as he reads it.
The sign says:
‘Elvis, you’re the king’
And Elvis, for that’s who the singer is, responds:
‘Darlin’ thank you. The thought is beautiful,
and I love you for it but... I can’t accept this kingship thing.
I’m not ‘the king’.
Jesus Christ is the King:
I’m just an entertainer.’

I love this story.
Apparently, this happened time and time again at Elvis concerts.
For all of his fame, and for all of his flaws,
Elvis was apparently quite a humble man -
and, at one point, was said to have wondered what might
have happened had he followed his other childhood ambition,
and become a preacher instead of a rock star.
Something of the faith of his younger days
apparently stayed with him enough,
that it bothered him when people called him ‘the King’.
He knew who he was, and it wasn’t Jesus.

Our gospel passage this morning talks of kings and kingdoms.
And while this text is more often associated with Holy Week and Easter,
the context of kingship in the passage makes it also
very fitting for this Sunday of the year that we know as
‘Christ the King Sunday’ - or 'Reign of Christ'. 
A little back-story to put the text into its context:
Jesus has entered Jerusalem.
It has been a good start,
with cheering crowds gathering excitedly to see him.
As he arrives, there’s a great buzz in the air - the atmosphere is electric
and as his audience shouts out his name,
instead of signs - as in the case of Elvis - palms are waved.
The week progresses, but, after openly criticising the religious authorities
and upsetting trading tables at the temple, Jesus is a marked man.
We know the story:
a story of love and of betrayal;
a garden arrest and the kiss of death;
interrogation by the High Priests;
denial by disciples.
Religious authorities getting the civil authorities involved -
because they wanted to keep their hands clean on the Sabbath -
best to hand this Jesus to the occupying Gentiles.

It's a game of thrones -
a game of principalities and power:
and in the meeting between Jesus and Pilate,
which of them is really the one in charge - the one with true authority?
From an onlooker’s perspective, indeed, from the perspective
of worldly hierarchies and understandings of power,
it would be reasonable to say that it’s
Pilate who holds the keys to life and death here:
he is under the authority of the Emperor of Rome.
Pilate has the power to make an end of Jesus.
But, from the perspective of God’s understanding of power,
it is Jesus who holds the keys to life and death,
the keys to the kingdom that lasts for eternity,
for he is the Alpha and the Omega:
the beginning and the end.

In their longer exchange - beyond the limits of our text this morning -
Pilate becomes increasingly anxious about this man standing in front of him.
He’s unnerved.
And decides to do all that he can to keep Jesus alive.
But he can’t.
It's not within his power.
Ultimately, the writer of the gospel will demonstrate
that Pilate has less power than he thinks he does.
The religious authorities also think they have power here:
they think that they are driving the action,
getting Pilate to comply with their plans...
but, the truth is, what happens can only happen
because Jesus is allowing it to happen.
His is the true power here:
wrapped up in non-violent self-giving.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true Word
I ever with thee, and thou with me Lord;
thou my great Father, thine own I would be,
thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

In their encounter, Jesus talks of ‘testifying to the truth’:
if we were to read on, Pilate asks Jesus -
the Way, the Truth, the Life -
‘what is truth?’
As they talk of kingship and kingdoms,
the truth is that, for all of Rome’s might,
there is a greater, more powerful kingdom -
one that is not of this world.
And immediately having stated this,
Jesus goes on to say that if his kingdom were of the world
‘my servants would fight to prevent my arrest...’
‘My servants would fight...’
This is a huge clue to the type of kingdom which Jesus reigns over -
there is another way for his servants to act:

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight,
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, and thou my high tower,
raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power.

This is a different kingdom -
not of might,
not of crushing down at the heel,
of subjugation and humiliation:
this is a kingdom where servants choose not to meet violence with violence;
it is where servants of this kingdom choose, instead,
to break from the endless cycle of bloodshed and escalating conflict.
Those who follow Jesus seek the way of peace -
of mediation, of reconciliation -
for in the path of peace is wisdom and life,
and the understanding that we need not fear,
for the power of the One we serve is mightier than any earthly power -
for love and truth are the mightiest of all weapons.
It is a kingdom of love divine, all love’s excelling:
there is no greater love,
there is no greater kingdom.

Riches I heed not, nor earth’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always,
thou and thou only the first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

The kingdom of the One we serve is a ‘true’ kingdom,
in that it is modelled upon the One who lived his life authentically.
In other sections of the gospels, Jesus talks of living life abundantly - fully.
Here, in his encounter with Pilate, we see this
fullness of life evidenced in his statement:
‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, 
and for this, I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’
The truth of Jesus is bound up with who he is and what he was
sent into the world to do.
He gave up the riches of heaven,
he gave up his power and became human -
he gave himself up to the authorities
to witness to the truth of God’s love;
standing as a prisoner,
he refused to use his power to return violence with violence;
This is a very different kind of king - a ruler who does not give in to fear,
a ruler who speaks love and friendship to the whole human family:
who opens his arms wide to let all in to his kingdom.

As his servants,
as his friends and followers,
we are called to witness to his kingdom:
to give of ourselves -
to shine Christ in ten thousand places,
to testify to the truth of his kingdom;
to use that which we’ve been given not for personal gain,
but for the common good;
to speak, not of the love of power,
but of the power of love.

High King of Heaven, after victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, o bright heav’ns sun.
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, o ruler of all...

May he be our vision, and our King, this day, and always...
Let’s pray:
Lord God, you are the Alpha and the Omega,
the A and the Z, and all the letters in between:
Abiding, accepting, awesome …
Beckoning, benevolent, blessing …
Caring, challenging, creative …
Dazzling, demanding, dynamic …
Enabling, encouraging, equipping …
Fair, faithful, forgiving …
Generous, gentle, guiding …
Hearing, helping, holy …
Immortal, inspiring, intimate …
Joyful, judging, just …
Keeping, kind, knowing …
Leading, listening, loving …
Magnificent, majestic, mysterious …
Near, nudging, nurturing …
Offering, omnipotent, overwhelming …
Patient, personal, providing …
Questing, questioning, quickening …
Real, reconciling, refreshing …
Sovereign, speaking, sustaining …
Tender, tough, trustworthy …
Understanding, unique, uniting …
Valuing, victorious, vital …
Welcoming, whispering, winsome …
X – the unknown; extraordinary …
Yearning; yesterday, today and for ever …
Zealous, zestful, zingy …
Lord God, you are the Alpha and the Omega,
the A and the Z, and all the letters in between.

We sing together:
HYMN 465 Be thou my vision

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

November Discussion Group: Are you ready?

Upper Clyde Discussion group meets in Leadhills Village Hall on:

Thursday 19th November, 7.30pm

This month, the group will be led by Teresa Brasier.
Topic for the evening is:

Are you Ready?

We may look ahead to the coming Advent / Christmas season, and I suspect we'll talk about many other topics as well.  Whether you're a regular, or if it's your first time along, it'll be great
to see you!  To help us in our thinking and talking, there'll be plenty of tea, coffee, and cake.
See you there.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Upper Clyde Schools Drawing Competition results

Recently, we set up a challenge for the children in the five primary schools
that fall within our parish bounds:
Wiston, Lamington, Abington, Crawford, and Leadhills.
We were amazed by how many entries we had, and delighted
by the fantastic efforts and talent shown by all the children.
As a wee thank you, Nikki the minister visited each school today with a
small surprise... along with presenting the book tokens to each of our winners.

It was incredibly hard to make our decision.
Our team of judges had to work out which overall entry would,
in their opinion, make the best cover for the Christmas edition of our
parish magazine, and pick up a sense of the spirit of Christmas.
Although we hadn't deliberately set out to make sure every school won
something, in the end, our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners were from 3
different, as a bonus, we decided to award best runners up
in the other 2 schools. [We also hadn't anticipated 3 Nativity scenes, but there you go!]
Because there were so many great entries, we also thought it would be a
shame if there wasn't an opportunity for everyone to have a chance to
admire the amazing talents of the children in our area, so...
In December, we're going to have an exhibition of all the work submitted
by the children, in the Church Hall in Abington.  
Once we know the date, we'll get that posted up here, but we certainly
hope to have it up on display 2 weeks before Christmas.
And, after all of that, scroll down for the results.  

Congratulations to:

1st PRIZE: Elen Foley, of Leadhills Primary, for her very eye-catching drawing.

1st prize: Elen Foley, P6, Leadhills Primary

Well done, Elen. All four judges were unanimous in their decision: this really caught our eye and we thought it would make an excellent cover for our parish magazine. The composition of the drawing was very well thought out - a really nice sense of balance. We also liked the angels with their trumpets and halos.
Along with having her drawing feature as our magazine cover, Elen also wins a £20 book token for her efforts.

2nd PRIZE: Charlotte Connor, Lamington Primary

2nd prize: Charlotte Connor, P3, Lamington Primary

Great work, Charlotte. A wee touch of the starry, starry Van Gough sky there, we thought! We also loved the wee kneeling angel holding the candle very carefully.
Charlotte wins a £15 book token.

3rd PRIZE: Zak Cousins, Crawford Primary 

Zak Cousins, P6, Crawford Primary

And another winning entry here, this time by Zak.  
A £10 book token for this great effort. We really liked the huge stars - and the splash of red with the holly berries was very eye-catching: a nice touch!


Joint runners up:

Harmony....P4, Abington Primary
Megan McCaskie, P2, Wiston Primary
And, from Abington and Wiston, our runners up were:
Harmony Black from Abington, and Megan McCaskie from Wiston,
who will both receive a £5 book token each.

You've all been stars.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sermon, Sunday 15 November: 'Wu're doomed'

This morning's sermon, based on the following readings:
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
and Mark 13:1-8

At the beginning of worship this morning, we lit a candle of peace, having a short time of silence as we remembered all those affected by the attacks in Baghdad last week, and Beirut and Paris this week.

SERMON: ‘Wu're doomed.’

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of 

all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

‘It’s the end of the world as we know it…’
it’s the title of a song by the band R.E.M.
And, given our readings this morning,
you couldn’t help but think that the end is nigh -
that the ‘day’ is approaching.
And for those of you who remember ‘Dad’s Army’,
Private Fraser comes to mind, with his immortal words:
‘Doomed. Wu’re doomed, I tell you.’
Right about now, I’m guessing that you’re beginning to think
this is not going to be a very cheerful sermon, aren’t you? 
Fasten your seat-belts, this may be a bumpy ride...

Our gospel passage this morning, Mark chapter 13, talks of end times.
Scholars refer to this passage as ‘the little apocalypse’,
and the word apocalypse means ‘to reveal’ or to ‘unveil’.
Jesus is revealing, or unveiling, to the disciples
what’s going to happen in the future, and it’s not
sounding that great to their ears.

This bible passage is set in the time just after Jesus’
triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
after he’s driven all of the moneylenders from the temple,
and it occurs just before the plots to betray and kill Jesus are put into action.
The passage takes place in two settings:
Just outside of the temple, and then later,
on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple.
And I really like the sense of wide-eyed wonder and awe
that’s shown by one of the disciples who is obviously seeing
the temple for the very first time.
He’s a wee laddie from a wee village and the temple is obviously
the biggest building he’s ever seen - a building so huge as to almost
be beyond his comprehension. 
He’s a bit gob-smacked by it, basically,
and he says as much to the teacher, to Jesus:
‘Look! What massive stones!
What magnificent buildings!’
For him, it’s truly a ‘wow’ moment to be there in Jerusalem
to see this amazing place.
And then, he hears something even more amazing:
Jesus says to him:
'Yep, and all of it will be thrown down.'
I suspect that this particular disciple’s eyes grow even wider by this comment -
The temple...destroyed?
The temple that had been standing for near on 500 years,
and which had recently undergone a massive extension
in the reign of Herod the Great?
Surely, this was not possible...?
But Jesus is saying that, indeed, it is.

Straight after this the gospel writer moves us
across to the Mount of Olives. 
Jesus is sitting looking at the temple… and talking. 
But this is not a public discussion -
Jesus isn’t preaching to multitudes here:
he’s talking with his friends, those who are the closest to him;
those who are possibly the most serious about following him;
those who know him to be a truth-speaker and so,
those who believe that what he says is true
even if it is something as astonishing as the
prediction of the great temple’s destruction.
Their question to Jesus reveals this:
they know he’s not joking –
that he’s not just saying what he’s been saying
about the temple for shock value.
And so they ask:
‘when will this be?
How will we know?'

Imagine them, sitting there listening to all of what
Jesus is saying.
How must they feel hearing the answer that Jesus gives?
The words that Jesus says?
Everything they’ve ever known is about to change.
The temple will fall;
their world will be turned upside-down:
their very lives will be in danger.

They know his every word is true.
They know, that this will happen.
His words are graphic, clear.
But rather than trying to fill his friends with fear,
he’s trying to reassure them:
there’s comfort to be found in the words.
But, it’s the end of the world as we know it.
The end is nigh.
The ‘Day’ is approaching...
wu’re doomed:
And yet, there’s ‘comfort’??
Comfort even in the midst of prophecies
of persecution and distress?
Comfort in predictions of suffering…?
There’s comfort in the truth that:
this is not all that there is.

If these words of Jesus are true,
these words of destruction:
words of wars and rumours of wars,
words of unimaginable upheaval -
if these words are true, then so are the words that say:
‘Do not be alarmed.
Do not be afraid.
And if we were to read further on
in the gospel passage we realise why:
we’d hear words that promise his return.

Jesus knew that suffering would come to him.
He knew that suffering would come to Jerusalem.
He knew that suffering would come to his friends.
He knew that suffering would continue in the world -
and he also knew that some day, suffering would come to an end.
He says to his friends:
'do not be troubled.
Don’t be afraid.'

But we also need to remember that
when Jesus says to his followers
‘don’t be alarmed’
that it isn’t based on promises that they –
or for that matter, that we
will somehow be exempt from sorrrow,
that suffering will miss our houses.
It’s not based on assurances that wars will take place
far away  from our homeland,
or that terrorism will not strike us or our neighbourhoods.
And, it’s not based on pledges of revenge or retaliation
upon those who hurt us:
The words of comfort which Jesus gives
in the 13th chapter of Mark are founded on the truth that:
we have not been abandoned.
The words of comfort that Jesus gives
in the midst of a message about
destruction and change and turmoil are:
that he will return.

The strange comfort embedded in Mark chapter 13
is that when the followers of Jesus Christ –
when we as followers of Jesus Christ -
hear wars and rumours of wars,
we hear them less as cause for fear,
and more as a reminder that the words of Jesus are true.
When nation rises against nation,
when there are earthquakes and famines,
we are to remember this scene at the Temple and his words.
We’re to remember that:
upheaval and change are the only constant
and that they show us that although we live in the now,
we wait in hope for the not yet to come.

This hope can be seen shining through our passage
from the letter to the Hebrews:
Although things can appear to be awful -
the rise of foodbanks,
global economic meltdown,
wars, violence, terrorism -
in hope, we have confidence to approach God,
because He who has promised is faithful.

Back to Mark:
Earlier, I referred to the text in the gospel as ‘apocalyptic’.
While a normal reaction to reading apocalyptic literature
might be one of fear, the actual purpose is quite the opposite:
it's to instil hope.
It's to remind us that God's in charge.
The Mark passage talks of 'birthpangs' –
it's not the end...
it's a new beginning. 
And the writer to the Hebrews talks of 'a new and living way. 
These passages are hope-filled passages, not fear-filled passages.
They're about transformation and restoration.
They’re about reconciliation, and the healing of old hurts.
From the depths of the deepest, darkest places,
they blaze out the message that the light still shines,
the light can, and will, overcome,
that the darkness will not, can never win:
for if God is for us, who can be against us?

Teamed up with the psalm for the day, Psalm 16,
we get a picture of who we have faith in:
believing in a God who listens, a God who responds.
We cry for protection, and God is our refuge;
we seek wisdom and God gives good counsel;
we feel abandoned or afraid and we’re reminded that God
is constantly at our side and never lets us go;
we despair, and God teaches us to rejoice
and makes our hearts glad;
we are lost, or not quite sure of the way,
and God shows us the path of life.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
The end is nigh.
The ‘Day’ is approaching.
But ...
we’re not to just stand warmed by the knowledge of our comfort…
We’re not just to stand idly by when wars are declared
and shrug our shoulders and go back to the crossword puzzle…
Just because Jesus says that such things are going to happen in the world
doesn’t mean that we, as his followers, do nothing
doesn’t mean we don’t do all within our power to help
alleviate suffering and promote peace –
and there’s plenty in the rest of the gospels
and the Old Testament to teach us that.

A well-beloved Presbyterian pastor in the United States,
Fred Rogers, told a story from his childhood - he said:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, 
my mother would say to me,
"Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
To this day, especially in times of "disaster,"
I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted 

by realizing that there are still so many helpers – 
so many caring people in this world."
As people sought safety in Paris, so the helpers came -
and social media came into its own through the twitter hashtag:
#PorteOuverte: Parisians opening their doors, their homes,
to help those needing shelter from the attackers.

We, who love God, and believe in his unfailing faithfulness,
witness to God’s love by being the helpers -
the ones who care for this world and all who live within it.
When wars and rumours of wars circle the planet;
when those who embrace the way of terror, violence and fear,
seek to destroy other human beings,
we are the helpers:
we are there in the midst of the horror,
we are the ones who protest for peace,
we are the ones who help relieve suffering:
we are the ones who help rebuild -
for we carry that most precious of gifts to the world:
the light that shines in the darkness.

At this time, in this place,
here in a world thrown into confusion, chaos, and despair,
we can wait for the fulfilment of all things without worry;
We wait without fear;
we wait in hope;
we wait with our hands dirty from our work as helpers in this world.
We wait with our hearts full of compassion for those who suffer;
we wait alongside those whose bodies are riddled with disease,
or with bullets;
we wait with those who join us in longing
for the redemption of all creation:
for the ending and the beginning.
We wait, but not idly:
we work in hopefulness, not hopelessness.

Change will come - that's always been a given in a finite universe.
But that change is in the hands of the One who holds all things
and who is faithful;
who guards us and guides us,
and who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings.
In change, there’s also a comfort –
comfort in the words ‘fear not, little flock’
The end is just the beginning,
The 'Day' is approaching.
But it’s a new dawn,
it’s a new day,
it’s a new life:
and trusting in the one who is faithful,
we can sing in the midst of change.
In the rest of the line from the R.E.M song:
'It's the end of the world as we know it,
...and I feel fine'.

Let’s pray:
All-loving God,
when the walls of the Temple fell,
you opened the way to your presence,
through the offering of Jesus' blood.
Help us to approach you with a true heart,
in full assurance of faith,
and, unwavering, hold fast to hope;
that in times of change,
And in times of trouble we may
encourage one another,
and stir ourselves to your service,
in your name we pray, Amen.