Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sunday preview: Communion

Bread broken.
Wine, poured.
Ordinary, yet extraordinary.

Come, remember: a man,
ordinary, yet extraordinary.

Come nourish body and soul.
Come, for it is his table
and all are welcome to the feast.
Come, not because you're perfect,
but because you're loved.

Sunday, 10.30, 
Upper Clyde Church, Abington.

In this second Sunday of Lent, we'll continue reflecting on 'the kin-dom' of God: what kind of community are we called to be, as we journey with Jesus? 
This week: a cross-carrying community.

A shortened version of the service has been recorded for Radio Scotland, and will be broadcast 
on Sunday morning at 6.30am.  
You can also listen on i-player after the broadcast by following this link

If you like singing, we'll be having a 'scratch' choir from 9.45 in the church, to learn an anthem
to sing for the service.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sermon, Sunday 22 Feb, 1 Lent: A Covenanted Community

Over the course of Lent, we'll be reflecting on the theme:
'the kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community' -
thinking about what it is to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and his body here on earth.
Lent 1 explores our communal relationship with God as a covenanted community
Lent 2 takes up the theme of being a cross-carrying community
Lent 3, a reforming community
Lent 4, a beloved community
and Lent 5, a forgiven community.
1st READING: Genesis 9:8-17
2nd READING: Mark 1:9-15

SERMON  ‘A covenanted community’
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.

Most of us know this story -
a man, his family,
oodles of animals,
a jolly big boat, and...
water, water, everywhere.
Mostly, when the story of Noah and his ark crops up in worship,
it’s easy to get caught up with all the animals:
the cute and the fluffy,
the small and the furry
the tweets and the purring...
to sing cheery songs about animals going into
the arky arky - in twosies, twosies...
...Apparently they didn’t like wearing onesies -
I do know some humans who wear them, however.
But the story of Noah and the ark is anything but cute and cuddly.
This is a hard story to read, to hear.
Yes, there are animals - all kinds of animals...

Animals bleating and tweeting,
baying and braying,
beaked and clawed.
Clip-clopping and slithering and stomping,
moving inexorably towards the sanctuary of the boat.
Two of each kind - even, unfortunately, midgies.
And then, there’s the rain:
the first drop of rain.
then another.
And another.
Drops making puddles,
drops filling and bursting dams,
pouring into rivers -
rivers overrunning,
overspilling into the sea.
Water meeting water,
rising relentlessly
and, as it rises,
lifting the boat with its cargo.

For 40 days and 40 nights
it rains...
it pours,
and the waters continue to rise.
The world is submerged.
On the 41st day, the rain stops and the waters cease swelling.
The floodgates of heaven close and a wind blows across
the ocean that is the world.
The waters recede, subside.
Bit by soggy bit.
Uncovering the mountain-tops,
the hills,
revealing valleys,
until eventually, after months of waiting,
the family,
and the multitude of animals,
emerge, stand on dry ground.

It’s a hard story to read, to hear...
for everything, everyone, they’ve ever known...
has gone.
The whole world has changed -
their whole lives have changed
under the torrents of God’s watery wrath.
God the Creator, in this act, becoming God the destroyer.

This image of God is uncomfortable, doesn’t sit easily with us.
And historically, there’ve been plenty of people who have rather wished
that we didn’t bother so much with the Hebrew Bible -
so many difficult bits to have to think about;
much easier to think of the nice God of the New Testament.
Of gentle Jesus, meek and mild...
Thinking about the story of Noah, and all those fluffy wee animals,
perhaps we want to make our God
fluffy...maybe even cute ‘n cuddly,
domesticated: a tame God -
for a tame God is easier to cope with
than thinking of the untamed God of great power and might
seen in this bible story.
And, actually, were the animals on the ark really so tame, so fluffy?
I’m reminded of the C. S. Lewis stories of Narnia,
and of the character of Aslan -
Creator and Lord over all Narnia - the great lion...
loving, compassionate, but, as the reader is often reminded:
‘he’s not a tame lion, you know.’

So how do we reconcile our notion of a loving God with the God who confronts us in this text?
It’s not an easy question and I suspect that there’s not an easy answer. 
Sorry about that.
But let’s look again at this picture of God.
In a sky, blue and cloud-free:
another arc - the arc, the bend of rainbow stretching overhead.
And a new word - ‘covenant’ -
is heard and described for the first time in the Bible -
a word uttered repeatedly by God:
Verse 9 ‘I now establish my covenant with you...’
Verse 11 ‘I establish my covenant with you...’
Verse 12 ‘This is the sign of the covenant... a covenant
for all generations to come...’
Verse 13 the rainbow as ‘the sign of the covenant...
Verse 15 ‘I will remember my covenant...’
Verse 16 ‘I will...remember the ever-lasting covenant...’
And verse 17 ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have
established between me and all life on the earth.’
I’m not sure just how much more you could
actually shoe-horn the word ‘covenant’ into these few verses of our text.
Covenant is obviously hugely important given the amount of times
the word is repeated here. 
What’s a covenant? 
And what’s going on?

A covenant is an agreement, a promise, a contract.
It implies that there’s some kind of relationship between the parties involved within this arrangement.
After the destruction of the world,
in the after-math of the great flood,
is there a change of heart,  
an expression of deep heart-rending regret by God,
seen within these repeated assurances ...
seen within the promise made and the shimmering sign of the rainbow?
The story tells us of God’s power,
fierce and wild
but there’s a twist in this hard to read,
hard to hear tale -
for this is, perhaps, a tale about repentance: God’s repentance -
repentance meaning a change of heart;
repentance meaning a turning from,
and a turning towards;
repentance meaning finding a new,
a different way of being and relating;
...repentance that has at its heart   reconciliation -
for repentance is always, always about the restoration of relationship.
In this case, God’s great desire to rebuild and to restore the fractured relationship with humanity.

God reconciles himself to humanity and to the world in this story.
‘God, in goodness and love, chooses to be bound with all creation, promising to preserve and not destroy.’
A bow is set within the sky -
A bow that, should an arrow be fired,
would shoot away from the earth,
and not into it;
would shoot away from the earth...and into the heavens.
A sign that God would rather undergo
suffering himself than ever, ever cause suffering upon humanity and upon the world.
Never again.
Never     again.

This first of all covenants is the model and mark
for repentance, reconciliation, and relationship. 
Over thousands of years, God will make other, different covenants with the people 
he chooses to call his own - the people of the promise.

As God’s gathered people here, and now,
we are inheritors of that promise - we are a covenanted community:
called as God’s own.
The season of Lent is a good time to think of this idea of covenant -
and of our communal relationship and bond with God.
What is it to be God’s community?

Before we explore that, let’s think of the other story we heard earlier.
It too, involved water.
It too, involved repentance and 40 days in the wilderness -
not of ocean wilds, but of barren desert.
We see a man baptised;
discover that this is God’s son - beloved - with whom God is pleased.
God’s son...baptised:
Jesus’ first appearance in the gospel of Mark sees him undertaking a ritual of repentance ...
harking back to that first covenant of God with Noah, perhaps?
As we read more of the story of Jesus, we walk with him to Jerusalem
and discover another sign
another symbol -
another way of being:
the way of the cross -
and the suffering Son of God,
taking upon himself all the pain and muck and mess of humanity:
carrying the weight of all the world
upon his shoulders -
the only shoulders capable of carrying that load.
Doing this, rather than seeing an ancient promise broken.
In this act, we learn about the deep, deep love and faithfulness of God,
but here too, is a twist in the tale -
death is not the end
it is upended,
Love wins, and hope will have its way.
But before that, before Resurrection Sunday, there’s the waiting time.

As God’s gathered people here, and now,
what is it to be God’s community - a covenanted community?
We are one in Christ, yet we’re also diverse -
a wild and woolly mix indeed, at times,
just like that assortment living on the ark.
And, just like that assortment on the ark,
there’s an art in working out how we manage to live together without clawing - or even biting one another -
though sometimes that happens too.
And because it does, we’re a community of reconciliation:
of second, third, fourth, and fifth to the power of infinity chances.
A community of repentance and of open-heartedness:
to God, to neighbour, and to ourselves;
prepared to change our heart, our direction,
our way of being in the world and among one another.
A community where sacrificial love is our standard:
‘for there is not greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’  [Jn 15:13]
A community bound to God and to each other -
for through Christ, our brother, we are brothers and sisters together:
the kin-dom of God -
God, with whom we are in covenant,
and who we are called to love, to serve,
to praise and to worship, now and always.

And to him be all praise, and honour and glory, forever, Amen.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

God goes to the movies reminder...or/ What has 'Casablanca' got to do with Lent?

Hi folks - just a reminder that our Lent discussion groups kick off this coming week.
Sunday afternoon, at 3pm, we'll be watching 'Casablanca'  in the church hall.
The minister will be bringing - and sharing - lots of popcorn.

Details can be found on this link
Also, if you've not yet signed up for one of the discussion groups, get in touch with Nikki - contact details here

Friday, 20 February 2015

UCPC - broadcasting to the nation...pt 2

A couple of weeks ago, this post gave details about our upcoming appearance on Radio Scotland.  A fun time was had by all involved in making the programmes, followed by a superb soup and sandwich [and awesome selection of cakes] lunch kindly provided by the Church Social Committee.  Great group effort!
It's getting close to broadcast time and the first of the programmes is now up on the Radio Scotland site, soon to be aired.  You can find the link here.

There will be 4 altogether, for 2, 3, 4, and 5th Sundays of Lent.  There may also be some slight variation to what we'll be doing in church on each of those Sundays, but it will be relatively close.

And here are some pics of our readers...

From l-r:
Ailsa Macintosh -
Radio Scotland; Teresa B, Andy F, Nikki Mac, Robert G, Jenny W, Greta C, and Morag B.


Jenny being 'wired up'

Robert - wired for sound
Teresa - sound check
the meenister, getting in on the act

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season we know and name as 'Lent'.
Join us this evening at 7.30pm for a brief service, in the church, Abington...
Marked as God's own through the marking of ashes on our palms,
we journey into lent and look toward Easter.

A quiet Lenten reflection ...

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Annual leave - contacts, information, church notices

The minister will be on leave from: 
Thurs 5 - Tues 17 Feb.  

Pulpit cover will be provided by the Rev Sandy Strachan.  Sandy has a wee connection with the parish - while training for ministry, he was supervised by our Session Clerk's husband, Bob.  By way of an odd kind of synchonicity, while a minister in Musselburgh many years back, Sandy supervised Nikki's supervisor.
Prior to retiring, Sandy worked for the NHS as a healthcare chaplain in Dumfries.

Funeral cover will be given by the Rev George Shand of the Tinto Parishes.  Let's hope nobody needs to get in touch with George, however, he can be contacted on 01899 309400.

For any ongoing parish queries, please contact our Session Clerk Moira White 
on 01659 74261

Guild News: the next meeting of the Guild will be held in the church hall on 11 Feb. at 2pm.  The speaker will be Rena White.

Ash Wednesday Service: 18 Feb, 7.30pm.  Join us, in the Parish Church, for a brief service to mark the beginning of the season of Lent.

'Wee Sing': Thursday 19 Feb, 7.30pm at the church.  Enjoy singing?  Like to learn the occasional new hymn before you meet it unexpectedly in worship?  Join us in the church hall for an informal gathering as together we sing and learn some of the upcoming hymns appearing over Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  All are welcome.

Sun 22 Feb, 3pm: 'God goes to the movies'.  To tie in with our Lent groups, we'll be watching 'Casablanca' in the Church Hall.  Helpful for all attending our Lent groups, this is also open to anyone who'd just like to come along and watch the film.  Bring your popcorn, pull up a seat, and enjoy an afternoon with Rick and Ilsa at Rick's Cafe.

Lent discussion groups begin week commencing 23 Feb.  What has 'Casablanca' got to do with Lent?  Much more than you'd expect!  Come and find out more at our Lent discussion groups, running over the 5 weeks of Lent.
Two groups to choose from:
Tuesdays, 2pm in the manse, Crawford, or/
Thursdays, 7.30pm at the Hopetoun Arms, Leadhills.
We'll be using the book 'A Beautiful Friendship' to aid our discussions.  Book costs £5.99.
To order, sign up on the sheet up on the hall noticeboard at church.

World Day of Prayer Service: Friday 6 March, 2.30pm, in the church.

UCPC on Radio Scotland.  Don't forget to tune in (or listen on i-player) as we broadcast worship to the nation!  The programmes were recorded on Wed. 4 Feb, and will go out on:
Radio Scotland's 'New Every Morning' programme at 6.30am, on:
1, 8, 15, and 22 March.

Are you on Facebook?  So are we.  If you've not discovered our Facebook page yet,
you'll find us here.  Don't forget to click 'like' and to share the link with folk you know.

UCPC - Broadcasting to the nation

BBC Radio Scotland - recording worship in a parish church near you:
Wed morning from 10.30 - four short, made-for-radio services which will be broadcast to the nation on:
1, 8, 15, and 22 March - at the exceptionally pious hour of 6.30am.
Let us give thanks to God for the wonders or pre-recorded radio, and for the joy that is i-player!!
If you're curious to see how outside broadcasts are made, join us from 10.30 at the parish church in Abington!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Sermon Sun 1 Feb: 'What do you want with us, Jesus?'

A sermon based on Mark 1:21-28

SERMON ‘What do you want with us, Jesus?’  

Sometimes, I think before you begin reading the Gospel of Mark,
a wee sign should flash up somewhere saying:
‘Warning: fasten your seatbelts!’
Because the pace of this particular gospel’s recounting of the story of Jesus is breathtakingly fast. 
Like a small child feeling a little overwhelmed by the
sheer speed of a car,
reading the Gospel of Mark can feel a bit like watching those oh-so-fast cars in Formula One racing.

Like a drum-beat,
like a heart-beat,
the Greek word ‘eutheos’,
meaning ‘immediately’, or ‘straight away’
courses through this gospel - setting the pace,
setting the rhythm within which Jesus’ life is portrayed -
a rhythm showing Jesus as a man of action.

With breakneck speed, it seems as if,
with every few sentences, we’ve moved to
another remarkable scene,
another astonishing event.
And within each speedily passing scene things change,
are transformed:
will never be the same again.
There’s the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism;
and a split-second later, Jesus is in the Wilderness
being tempted by Satan
and being tended by angels;
then, whoosh - suddenly we find John now in prison for upsetting the apple-cart, and Jesus beginning his public ministry.
Alongside this, he’s also calling the first disciples.
No sooner has Jesus called, and collected, his disciples by the seaside,
than we find ourselves in Capernaum,
where Jesus, while teaching in the synagogue, heals a man from what’s described as an ‘evil’ or ‘impure’ spirit.
All that, and we’re still only in Chapter One.
As I said: ‘fasten your seatbelts’ -
you might also just want to catch your breath.

Our text this morning, in this action-packed first chapter,
looks like a relatively straightforward story -
Jesus moseys on in, into Capernaum,
heads to the synagogue on the Sabbath -
entirely normal behaviour for a good, Jewish boy.
Slightly less normal behaviour - he daunders up to the front and begins to teach...
but okay, a visiting new rabbi - why not let him teach?
The people go ‘oooh’ at his authoritative teaching. 
Obviously, what he’s said has gone down very well.
In the midst of it all - a chap disrupts the meeting,
challenges Jesus, and is healed.
Once more, the people go ‘oooh’ -
obviously impressed by this show of power.
The news spreads quickly.

But is this story quite so straightforward?
Well, I suspect you already know how I’m going to answer that.
It’s not.
There are a few wee things bubbling away in this text,
so let’s dig a little deeper - although we won’t cover all of them.

Now, if we were to go back to verse 14,
we’d see that Jesus had begun proclaiming the good news of God -
this, almost immediately after John the Baptist is imprisoned.
The timing is interesting.
The timing is brave.
Jesus’ audience, I suspect, would have understood it as that.
It begs a question:
is it this bravery that brings him to the attention of the folk
in the synagogue at Capernaum?
Has he been invited to preach there, so that they can hear more?
Or does he just wander in -
but they already know a little about him,
because he’s been out and about preaching?
Out of curiosity, then, are happy for him to take to the pulpit? 
Maybe an impromptu invitation is offered:
‘As you’re here, perhaps you might like to say a few words, Jesus?’

However it happens, he teaches.
But the story is remarkably silent about just what it is that he teaches:
no mention of scripture used, no mention of actual content.
All we have to go on is, that whatever it is he says to them,
they are seriously impressed.
What we’re left with, what Mark’s implying,
is that it’s almost not what Jesus is saying,
it’s more about how he’s saying it:
again, for Mark, it’s Jesus’ actions more than his words, that are important.

We know that Jesus’ act of teaching leaves the congregation in the synagogue amazed - 
amazed because, as we’re told in verse 22,
he teaches ‘as one who had authority.’

...Okay, so what’s that all about?
What were the scribes, the rabbis,
the teachers of the Law doing, if not teaching with authority?
Apparently, backing up everything they said by quoting other learned rabbis 
down through the ages -
crossing every ‘t’,
dotting every ‘i’,
playing it very, very safe -
and, like any good lawyer, making sure that if they said anything that might be vaguely controversial,
there was some kind of precedent to back it up.
Not quite daring to trust that God might move through them,
or speak through them,
and so, trying to hem God in by their teaching style:
‘You have heard it said in Isaiah that... x,y, z.
Now, Rabbi so and so thought that this meant this and that.
And Rabbi such and such has this to say on the matter.’
...And in     comes     Jesus,
whose style we see elsewhere in scripture,
whose style sounds like this:
‘you have heard it said that...a, b, c;
but I say...this.’
Woah - wait a minute. 'I' say this?
Jesus, the Word of God, comes in and opens up
the word of God contained in Scripture.
There, in the synagogue, he takes Scripture
and transforms the way it’s taught.
Suddenly, Scripture feels fresh, comes alive -
becomes the living word in the hands of the Son of God.
It’s this transformative way of engaging with Scripture
that leaves the congregation amazed.
But wait.
There’s more.

Even as Scripture is transformed in front of them,
is released from the dead hand of countless cautious
anecdotes and comments,
another voice sounds throughout the synagogue:
‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  
I know who you are - the Holy One of God!’

We don’t know who this man is -
this man troubled by an impure or evil spirit.
Truth be told, we don’t know what it is that troubles him,
causes him to call out in the way he does.
We could spend time speculating about demon possession,
or talk about advances in medical science
and the beginnings of a pool of knowledge around the field of 
mental health in the last century.
But ...the point is, whatever is happening in this man’s life -
he has a troubled spirit, he’s a troubled soul.
We don’t know who this man is,
and neither do we know why he’s there, with his ‘impurity’,
in the midst of those who would consider themselves ‘pure’, ‘righteous’...
he    just    is: there.

How long had he been living with this ...thing?
And why did the folk in the synagogue seem not to notice that anything 
might be wrong before he speaks up?
Tantalising questions, which we don’t have an answer for
this side of heaven.
And, thinking of heaven -
if we were to go back to Jesus’ baptism, you might remember in verse 11 
the voice coming from heaven saying
‘You are my Son...’
a voice identifying who Jesus is.
Interestingly, the second voice in the Gospel of Mark, to identify who Jesus is, 
comes from this troubled man:
‘I know who you are, the Holy One of God’

And, immediately, another transformation:
Jesus heals the man there and then.
Not only has he shown his authority through the way
he engages with, and unpacks Scripture,
Jesus shows his authority through his compassionate healing.
The man’s life is suddenly transformed:
the light of Light has shone into the hidden corners of this man’s soul -
the darkness is lifted.
He’s released from that which has weighed him down
and is brought into a new way of engaging with the world,
a new way of living.
‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’ says the man...
and Jesus responds    by setting him free.

The teaching of Scripture is transformed;
the troubled man is transformed;
but these are not the only transformations in this story:
as they witness Jesus, in word and in action, the community is transformed. 
They are left amazed.
So much so, that they spread the news of this astonishing rabbi 
with the power to breathe life into their bible,
to give new life to the troubled in spirit.
They lose no time effectively gossiping the gospel - proclaiming the good news.

 ‘What do you want with us, Jesus?’
It’s a question we need to ask ourselves.
What does Jesus want with us...?
You, me, and our community as a whole?
To take away those things that trouble our souls.
To shine the light of his love into those dark, hidden corners of our lives 
that we dare not face on our own;
to bring us out of the darkness and into his marvellous light.
To set us free to be the people we were created to be;
and to love God,
and our neighbour,
and ourselves, without impediment. 
To live fully, abundantly...joyfully...
And in that transformation,
in word and in action,
to show others the power and authority that Jesus has still -
to shine light in the darkness,
to heal the troubled in spirit,
and to transform the world -
this day, and to the end of all days...
And to his name be glory and praise forever,