Wednesday, 28 January 2015

'Pop-up Community Choir': those who wish to sing, always find a song

Enjoy singing?
Like singing with others?
Want to learn songs old and new?

UCPC is in the process of setting up and trialling a 'pop-up community choir'.
We'll be hosting rehearsals in the parish church hall, Abington on:
Thursdays 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th May, from 7.30-9pm.

This is a community choir - all are welcome.
No choral experience or music reading ability necessary: 
just bring your enthusiasm and we'll do the rest!!

A friendly first outing in public - 
Our initial plan is to feature the choir at the parish 'Songs of Praise' service on Sunday 31 May 
where we'll also be joined by members of the Leadhills Silver Band.
The pieces we're looking at learning/ rehearsing are:
'Wade in the Water' and 'I'm Gonna Sing' - you can find them here at the BBC website

Thereafter, as we build up our repertoire, we hope to have the next public outing
as guests of the Leadhills Silver Band, at their concert in June - date tbc.

And, plans are already shaping up for an evening of music and singing [at a larger community hall in one of the villages, tbc] later in the year, probably early October. We're hoping to be joined by another community choir, and have a few handy musicians around as well for some good craic.

[Looking even further ahead, we might even think about some village carolling around Christmas, but as this is being posted in January, let's not think about that right this moment!]

If you'd like to find out more, or sign up, please contact
Nikki Macdonald - minister.upperclyde[at]
Teresa Brasier - teresabrasier[at]

Or you can leave a comment in the box at the bottom of this post and we can respond to your query there.

“Then the singing enveloped me.
It was furry and resonant,
coming from everyone's very heart.
There was no sense of performance or judgment,
only that the music was breath and food.”
Anne LamottTraveling Mercies

Monday, 26 January 2015

Sermon: Sun 25 Jan - 'Task avoidance?'

What is it to be called by God?
How do we respond?
And what is the Good News?

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Mark 1:14-20

SERMON: 'Task avoidance?'
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, 

Task avoidance:
You know what it’s like -
you’ve a job that needs done.
So...  you think about it for a wee while.
You might go make a cup of tea,
go and do something else.
The task, however, still needs done.
You nod to yourself,
psych yourself up,
and decide that really, you do just need
to nip out to the shop.
You come back,
task still not done.
You’re feeling a wee bit guilty now,
as you think of this task.
So, to comfort yourself,
you make another cup of tea.
The task, however, is still there,
still hanging over you,
still needing to be done.
Eventually, having faffed about
for half the morning,
you finally, finally   do    the     task.
And, having finished the job,
you try not to think about the fact that actually, 
doing the task took a lot less time than you spent trying to avoid the task.
Or perhaps that’s just me?

Some people will go to great lengths when it comes to task avoidance.
I suspect, however, not quite to the same extent as Jonah.
Jonah’s task avoidance was quite
spectacularly extreme -
when called upon by God to do a task,           
he decides to go on a cruise to a destination roughly 2 500 miles 
in the opposite direction to where God calls him to go.
And, hilariously, given he’s a prophet,
he’s kind of hoping that the God who sees all,
the God who knows all things,
won’t notice.

Jonah really doesn’t come across very well in this story.
He’s pouty and petulant:
a prophet who, when God calls,
basically does the equivalent of throwing all of his toys out of the pram.
He does not want this task.
He won’t do this task -
in fact, he’d be quite happy if the Ninevites were actually all destroyed by God.
His hatred of the Ninevites -
and of the greater Assyrian Empire that they represent -
his hatred, coupled with his disobedience, could, in fact, cost them their lives.
And he’s fine with that.
So, instead of heading 500 miles east into what we now know as Iraq
he jumps on a boat heading west to what was then seen as pretty much
the uttermost ends of the earth...
And, for those fans of the old TV programme ‘Chewin the Fat’,
in my head, I can almost hear him saying:
‘gonnae no do that, God’

We know the overall story, having spent a little time thinking about it earlier in the service.  And our Old Testament reading puts us at that point in the story where our friend Jonah has been spat out onto a beach, by the strange, large fish that had swallowed him whole.
Having initially been called by God to go to Ninevah, and, having run away,
God calls Jonah once more:
‘So, Jonah... Ninevah?’
Realising that the game is up, 
and that God has indeed noticed what he’s been doing -
or not doing -
Jonah finally heads east to Ninevah and is confronted with what seems to be
an enormous city:
a city so huge that it takes 3 days to get across.
Jonah nevertheless, utters his prophetic words:
‘doomed, you’re all doomed, I tell you.’
It’s not exactly great news -
and there’s neither comfort,
nor a crumb of hope in anything that Jonah says to the apparently doomed Ninevites.

But the Ninevites - the allegedly proud, foreign, idolatrous, horrible Ninevites -
do something quite extraordinary:
they hear what Jonah says
they believe what Jonah says -
they listen to this odd man wandering about their city...
and they are so alarmed that they make a response.
They turn to God and humble themselves before him:
every    single    one of them,
from the King, right through to the humblest inhabitant.
And, as a demonstration of their sincerity,
they don sackcloth, and call upon God’s mercy.
And, to Jonah’s utter disgust,
God spares them,
just as Jonah knew God would;
which is why he was avoiding the task in the first place.

In the story, the Ninevites, having heard bad news, discover good news:
that God is merciful,
that God’s mercy is wide,
and extends even to them.
That they, just like the Israelites, are beloved and called by name.
That the roof won’t fall in should they happen to visit his house.
A fact that Jonah, God’s prophet, and one of the children of Israel,
really can’t get to grips with -
he doesn’t want to share God’s blessing,
he doesn’t want to share God’s good news of love with those he considers enemies -
heck, he doesn’t even want to talk to them.
His is a reluctant response to God’s call.

In our gospel passage, however, we find a very different response.
John the Baptist has just been arrested.
Jesus, despite this, preaches in public.
Travelling to the Galilee, he preaches good news:
turn to God,
believe the good news -
the good news of God’s love for all,
the good news of liberation,
the good news of the breaking in of God’s kingdom of heaven upon earth,
the good news of restoration,
of abundant life.

There on the seashore,
Simon and Andrew are casting their nets.
Jesus walks by.
What is it about Jesus that catches their attention?
What is it about him, that intrigues them enough to leave their families,
their homes,
their livelihoods
in response to his words:
‘Come, follow me and I’ll make you fishers of people.’
No side trips to foreign climes here -
the gospel notes:
‘at once, they left their nets and followed him’
They followed him, even though they had no idea where they might be going,
or what the future might hold.
And shortly thereafter, James and John, sons of Zebedee, also respond to the call -
a call that will be the adventure of a lifetime;
a call that will teach them much about the wideness of God’s love.

And still God calls.
Each one of us is called by God,
each one of us is beloved,
and each one of us is tasked to share the good news - in action and in word -
of God’s all-embracing love
wherever we are and to whoever we’re with...
and even to those, who, like Jonah, we’d rather not even talk to.
For the good news, as those of you who were here last week might recall, 
is news that breaks down barriers of hostility.
It is about reconciliation -
of healing the hurts of broken relationships -
with family, with friend, with neighbour.
It is the gospel of peace in a world of restless disquiet.
It is the good news of comfort,
of hope,
of loving-kindness.
It is news that is as relevant today as it was in Jonah’s day:
news that cuts to the heart of those who would build their own private empires
upon the backs of the less powerful.
News that affirms,
encourages, and celebrates the ones who are normally either invisible,
or bullied, or belittled.
The good news that we are loved for who we are no matter what.
The good news that we are tasked to share.

What’s our response to that task?

Let’s pray:
Creator God,
thank you for a faith that is
more of an adventure than a declaration,
more of a journey than an arrival,
more of a question than an answer.
May we live within the dynamism of belief
that takes us and shares with us
experiences yet unknown,
that opens our eyes to what is yet to be,
that stirs our souls with longing and intent
Thank you for a faith that is
open to renewal, willing to journey,
that dares to believe
that not all things stay the same
and that you, O God, are in the changing.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

It's Tuesday but Sunday's coming: Sunday preview 25 Jan 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; and Mark 1:14-20

Two seaside stories feature in worship this coming Sunday.
In our Old Testament reading, we find Jonah, just after discovering a slightly different method of transportation - possibly a wee bit fishy.
Having been asked by God to go to Ninevah, and having refused, Jonah is now asked again.  This time, he goes, possibly not singing 'Whale meet again'.
(okay, sorry about that!)

Our Gospel passage takes us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Brothers Simon and Andrew are fishing.  When Jesus invites them to 'come, follow me', they leave their nets immediately.

Join us this week as we unpack the contrast in responding to God's call, and maybe reflect a little on our own response to God's call in our lives.
10.30 at UCPC in Abington.  See you there.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sermon: Sun 18 Jan - The well is deep/ Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015

For those of you unable to make it today, the sermon.
Today is the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and the reading chosen, and being used in many churches around the world observing this, is:
John 4: 1-42 - the story of Jesus' encounter at a well, with a Samaritan woman.

Let us 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.

Two people.
A woman.
A man.
Given what we learn of her background,
her life experiences,
she’s probably older than him.
He’s a young man.
A teacher,
a rabbi,
in the early stages of his ministry,
wandering the countryside with his band of disciples.

Two people.
Two different, yet similar cultures.
Cultures that are antagonistic towards one another.
An antagonism that demonstrates that they have a past history.
Two cultures that had, many hundreds of years ago,
been one culture until stronger neighbours effectively caused a schism.
A schism that, as the years rolled by,
widened into a chasm of misunderstanding;
that misunderstanding resulting in mutual suspicion and open hostility.
Two cultures that perhaps, were really more like an estranged family.

Instead of working towards reconciliation -
of celebrating the many things they had in common,
these two cultures - Jews and Samaritans -
focused instead upon their differences;
distinguished their own identities by not being like ‘them over there.’
Part of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ strategy included a very common tactic still used today:
using language to lessen the ‘other’ - to dehumanise them.
So, for Jewish people, for example, Samaritans were thought of as animals,
and described as such:
they were labelled, not as a people, but as ‘a herd’.
The worst insult a Jew could make against another Jew was to call them a ‘Samaritan’.
Samaritans were outsiders:
not       like      ‘us’.
And the interesting thing, when you begin to dehumanise someone who is different,
who is other,
is that there’s a knock-on effect in the way that you interact with them,
in the way that you treat them.

When you tell yourself that your enemy is not even human, you find yourself justifying all sorts of inhuman behaviour upon them.
In this case, behaviour that resulted in burning down the Samaritan holy place -
the temple on Mt Gerazim by Jewish people.
Or behaviour that resulted in Samaritans lying in wait to attack Jews travelling
from Galilee to Jerusalem - which is why Galileans tended to use the longer 
road on the other side of the Jordan River: they feared for their lives.
Such division,
such a deep well of bitterness.

But back at our well in Samaria, to:
two people.
A man.
A woman.
From two cultures that mutually despise each other, and if at all possible,
try to have nothing at all to do with each other.
Two people
now face to face,
having to look each other in the eye,
and see each other.
Really see each other.
And, in the seeing,
recognising their common humanity.

In this story of outsiders,
ironically, it’s Jesus who is the outsider -
he’s the foreigner, the stranger,
stepping into Samaritan lands because it was the quickest route
to get to his actual destination.
The riskier route.
And, he’s alone, initially.
The disciples have headed off into town on a shopping trip.
It’s the 6th hour of the day - in our reckoning, midday -
and he’s been walking,
and walking the dusty roads.
He’s weary.
Bone-crushingly so.
And he pauses to rest.
A stranger,
and tired.
Three reasons in and of themselves that make him vulnerable.

She - and we never learn her name - she comes to the well at midday. 
It’s not the usual time to gather water,
for that’s normally done in the cool of the morning or early evening
in the company of other women.
We don’t know why she goes alone to the well - the text doesn’t give us the reason.
But she, too, is vulnerable.
She’s a woman.
She’s alone.
And she’s just turned up to this place
and finds herself face to face with a man, and a Jewish one, at that.

Perhaps as she looks at him, she thinks:
‘ah, he’s really just a laddie, I can handle him’
She’s got experience of having to handle men.
Often, when this story comes up,
this unnamed Samaritan woman is described as a less than moral character -
This, based on the number of husbands, and of her current domestic arrangement.
Certainly, that’s one way to look at her.
But there are cultural contexts here that are not a part of our lives now,
and we need to take these on board.
It was a culture where women were virtually property -
a culture where women who found themselves alone were especially vulnerable:
a woman needed the protection of a man.

This particular woman could easily have been widowed, abandoned, divorced - 
and it was very easy for men to get a divorce.
She could also have had a series of Levirate marriages - married to her deceased first husbands brother, or brothers, in order to procure him an heir.
For whatever reason, this woman found herself repeatedly vulnerable and needing protection. 
She married.
She may have been immoral, or she may have had a simply hellish and tragic life. 
There’s no hint at all in the text that Jesus sees her in terms of ‘a sinner’
Nor is there any sense that he’s absolving her of guilt from a shameful past. 
It’s just not in the text.

I wonder if the tragedy of her life is what Jesus sees, when he looks at her?
Talks with her?
Comments upon her life?
She doesn’t take his comment in any way as a judgement call.
He’s seen to the heart of things,
seen beyond easy, shaming labels,
has seen her for who she truly is.
Her response?
He speaks the truth he couldn’t possibly have known -
‘I see you are a prophet.’
Perhaps there’s almost a confession of faith in her comment?

By the well, these two strangers have a deep, profound conversation.
It’s the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anyone.
It’s a barrier-breaking conversation:
between Jew and Samaritan,
between male and female.
People, who in normal, everyday contexts would not give each other the time of day.
It’s a life-giving conversation about thirst-quenching water:
the water of eternal life.
Water, that was previously thought to be available only for the Jewish nation.
Water that bubbles and flows and is available for all who will drink from this deep well.

In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are invited to go to the well,
the place where barriers are broken,
the place where we can see beyond labels;
beyond differences of race,
of gender or orientation,
beyond differences of religion,
beyond even differences within our own faith.
Here, at the well, we are invited to drink deeply of the living water,
and to go and share this water with others - to invite them to ‘come and see’ -
come and see the One who sees us fully.
And, as we are seen, so too, we see one another fully,
and realise that we are united in our common humanity;
and that each of us is 
seen by Jesus,
loved by Jesus,
and has the capacity to bear witness
to the one who comes to enlighten our lives and world 
and to give us living water that will satisfy even our deepest thirst.’  (David Lose)

Let’s pray:
God of life,
Shower us in your living water,
bringing us to new life, fresh and clean.
Walk with us as we share the knowledge
of your living water with others,
so that all might live.  Amen.  

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Winter wonderland - stay safe!

Weather's been a wee bit 'interesting', and I know that there's a bunch of you pretty much snowed in. Keep warm, stay safe. If it looks too dodgy to get to church, then the minister would rather you stayed in one piece, stayed at home, and ...slept in for Jesus smile emoticon
The sermon will be posted here hopefully Sunday afternoon or Monday.

Theme of the service overall is on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
and the sermon will be reflecting upon Jesus' encounter with the unnamed woman at the well.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Sermon Sunday 11 Jan - on the baptism of Jesus

Given the weather was so dire, the sermon from Sunday has been posted for the folk who were snowed in!

Isaiah 55: 1-11
Mark 1: 4-11

Sermon: 'Baptised in God's grace'

In last week’s service, we followed the star to Bethlehem with the Wise Men.  And each one of us was given a star with a word on it -
to help us as we journeyed towards God.   
My word    was ‘grace’.
I remember grinning - because ‘grace’
is a great word and, if you spend any amount
of time with me,
you’ll find that I quite like talking about it.
But what has ‘grace’ got to do with our readings today?  
And, in particular,
what has it got to do with baptism?
I could finish the sermon now in one word:
Grace has everything to do with baptism.
To paraphrase a song that’s been doing the rounds this last several months:
‘it’s all about that grace, ‘bout that grace.’

It’s God’s grace which causes the prophet Isaiah to proclaim a 
very important message to God’s people:
‘come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters...
hear me, that your soul may live...
I will make a covenant - an agreement - with you...’
Isaiah urges the Israelites to
‘seek the Lord while he may be found... to:
turn to the Lord...
God will have mercy
he will freely pardon’
Isaiah also talks of God’s word, which will not return empty, but shall accomplish God’s will’...

Come to the waters...’
words of grace.
And, Jesus, the Word made flesh,
responds to God’s gracious invitation
and does just that - he comes to the waters of the River Jordan
and is baptised by John.
And here’s the curious thing -
a detail that’s caused Christians throughout the ages to have some quite long discussions:
John’s baptism, we’re told, was about repentance, -
repentance meaning ‘to turn away from old ways, and to turn to God.
John’s baptism is about repentance
and the forgiveness of sin.
So, why is Jesus,
Son of God,
the One without sin
splashing around amidst the waters of baptism?
What does Jesus’ baptism mean?
And, what does it tell us, his followers, about him?

Some scholars say that although Jesus *was* God’s son, 
he was baptised so that he could identify with the rest of humanity. 
This is fair enough, but I think it goes a little deeper than that:
deeper than skin deep, perhaps.
At the nub of it, we have to get our heads around the nature of Jesus:
yes, we know that he’s fully divine...
but he’s also fully human
He’s not just ‘taking on human form’ -
appearing to be human...
that’s a very ancient heresy known as Docetism.
Jesus is human - fully and completely human, 
just like us:
flesh and blood and bone.
He’s not just identifying with humanity -
the fact of his being human makes him a part of humanity.
In Jesus, God not only becomes fleshbut fully human,
born into family, tribe, and community.
And Jesus, as fully human, has to deal as we do
with temptation, suffering, pain and death.
Because otherwise, there’s not much point to the next part of the story -
his temptation in the wilderness.
If there isn’t the potential that he’s going to give in to temptation,
then, it’s not really that much of a temptation, is it?
So, what’s really happening here at the river?

We come back to grace.
The baptism of Jesus is a pivotal moment in his life:
it signals the beginning of his ministry -
a deliberate turning from his way of life as carpenter and carpenter’s son,
with all the duties and responsibilities that go with it.
Jesus moves Godwards in baptism:
turns to the task he’s been given by God -
as the Word who will not return empty,
as the one who will fulfil what God asks.
It’s grace that propels Jesus forward,
grace that causes him to come to the waters.
In baptism, it’s grace that affirms he belongs to, and is a part of humanity...
and it’s grace that affirms that he belongs to, and is beloved by, God:
‘you are my Son, whom I love;
with you I am well pleased.’
... baptised, belonging, and beloved.
‘The purpose of Jesus’ baptism is seen in the days and years that follow 
this moment in the River Jordan.  It’s when we see Jesus take his place 
with hurting people, that baptism starts to make sense. 
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan foreshadows his baptism on the cross. 
Baptism is Jesus’ commissioning for ministry.
In the waters of baptism, Jesus heard the Spirit calling him to speak the truth and live with grace.’
[Brett Younger ‘Beginnings’]

‘Come to the waters’ ...
and for nearly 2 000 years, that is what those who follow Christ have done - 
have come to the waters of baptism.
It’s the sacrament, the ritual, used to show that we, too, belong
and are beloved by God.

Often, we arrive at the ‘River Jordan’ [baptismal font] in the arms of adults -
parents, or grandparents, adults who care for us and who understand 
that something important is happening in the act of baptism.
And this important thing is, that, in the waters of baptism,
God says to each one of us:
‘you are my son,
my daughter,
whom I love;
with you, I am well pleased.’

Baptism brings us into the community of God’s people - 
the church - the body of Christ:
we belong,
are a part of the community of faith.
We belong,
are God’s beloved.
And here’s the grace bit again -
all this, when for the most part, we are way too young to understand what’s happening.
But, I wonder,
regardless of what age we are when we come to the waters:
do we ever fully understand what God has done for us within the act of baptism?
Perhaps our calling to follow, to become disciples,
is based around working out that very question - working out what it is to walk
in the grace-filled way:
continually moving Godwards;
listening to God so that our souls might live;
learning of God’s mercy,
looking to Jesus, our guardian and our guide;
living out the promise of our baptism as God’s beloved.

I love the story of that great and rambunctious, 
and very earthy reformer, Martin Luther:
having caused a bit of a stir and probably inadvertently 
kicking off the Protestant Reformation, Luther was hunted and hounded 
by those who disagreed with his calls for change,
who were angered by his charges that the church was corrupt and decaying, 
and in need of turning back to God.
At times he despaired;
at times, he was tempted to give it all up.
And at those very times, when things felt like they were crowding in on him,
when it was all becoming too, too much, and he began to be filled 
with doubt and uncertainty, Luther would remind himself of a very important thing:
‘I am baptised’
‘I am baptised’
‘I    am    baptised’
By God’s grace, he was saved;
through the waters of baptism he belonged -
through the waters of baptism he was beloved.
The fact of his baptism, and of what it symbolised kept Luther going 
in the dark and difficult times.
In our own dark times, let us find strength and courage in our own baptism,
let it be a reminder of God’s continued love,
of God’s faithful companionship
as we follow him in faith.

In baptism, we come to the waters of grace:
every time we witness a baptism we see God’s grace enacted -
and, if we listen, really listen,
we might just hear in the midst of it all,
God’s voice, reminding us our own baptism
reminding us that we belong
that we are his beloved
and that he is well pleased with us. 
Now, that is grace.


Monday, 12 January 2015

God goes to the movies... Lent discussion groups

' must remember this...'
Well, you don't have to remember, but it would be great if you did:
While it's not that long since we put away the Christmas tree, time has a habit of marching on.  Looking towards February, the season of Lent approaches.  The 5 weeks of Lent provide a great time-frame to have a short-term discussion group...
Like the old Hollywood classics?
Fancy chewing the fat over some of life's big questions?
Our Lent discussion group will do both as we explore themes based on that great movie classic 'Casablanca'.

Why 'Casablanca'?
It has a lot to say about love, hope and sacrifice and we'll apply these themes as we look at the Christian faith and our lives today. Many of the themes (such as love, sacrifice, and hope) are universal, transcending place and time...and others (such as the topic of refugees and the theme of discplacement) are sadly still just as relevant in our war-torn world today as they were in the 1940's when 'Casablanca' was released.

When and where?
Sun 22 Feb, 3pm:
We kick off with an afternoon matinee viewing of 'Casablanca' in the Abington Church Hall - movie free, popcorn optional!
(and if you just want to come and watch the film without coming to the discussion groups, you're more than welcome!)

Thereafter, two groups meet over the 5 weeks of Lent at:
Crawford - from Tues 24 Feb at 2pm, in the Manse
Leadhills - from Thurs 26 Feb at 7.30pm in Hopetoun Arms Hotel.

What do you need?
A copy of the book 'A Beautiful Friendship' - let Nikki know you want a copy - she will bulk order.
Cost of the book is £5.99

For more information, and to sign up, please contact the minister by:
a/ leaving a comment here
b/ emailing her at minister.upperclyde at gmail dot com (using @ and . )
c/ checking the church hall noticeboard