Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Guild News - Storytelling

September meeting:
Our first meeting for the new session was on Wednesday 9 September, in the Church Hall.

A great turnout of members were there and heard the Rev. Sarah Agnew, a storyteller -
and she sure can tell a story!! The ladies heard stories of passion, persecution, courage,
and love for our fellow man, ending on a story that made us laugh, about an apple, of all things!
Thanks to our Hostess for the evening (lovely home baking) and Chair, Jenny,
who ended the meeting with a rousing hymn and blessing.
Please come and join us next month as, from October, our meetings move to 2pm,
as winter approaches.
A warm welcome waits!!

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Big (Community) Gig - SATURDAY 3rd October!


Don't miss it...

Songs of Praise Evening Service: music clip

A great evening, with some old favourites, and some new tunes in Leadhills Village Hall.  Thanks to our friends from Leadhills Silver Band and, to Doreen on the pipes.  The clip was filmed at the close of worship, and is a wee snippet from 'Highland Cathedral'

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sermon, Sun 27 Sept: Lord's Prayer series, wk 5 'Whose kingdom? Whose glory?'

Prior to the sermon, the congregation were invited to use the painting by Sieger Koder for the first section - in italics- as a reflection tool.

READING: Psalm 145
READING: John 13:1-17

SERMON ‘Whose kingdom? Whose glory?
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

Jesus, my Lord.
What are you doing?
You must stop this now.
Look, everyone will see.
You can’t do this to me.
Not    me.
You’re the guest of honour.
Not the servant.
I mean, what’s the point of being in charge
when you don’t get the glory?
Look - you’ll get your prayer shawl dirty.
It’s going to trail in the water.
Dirty water for washing mucky feet.

Are you mad, Lord?
Please get up now before everyone notices.
It’s not your job to wash hot and dusty feet -
you’re the Rabbi, the Master...
not the servant.
...Get up.
Please Jesus, please get up and
stop this foolish nonsense.
This is not how it should be.
How is this modelling God’s kingdom?
God’s power?
God’s glory?
Please      ....stop.
This is making me so uncomfortable.
Why would you do such a thing?
Is this a lesson in humility?
Is this what you’re trying to teach me?
Or is it something else?
Is it about hospitality, learning to serve?
Is this what I need to learn?
Is this what you want us to do?
Well let me tell you now, it’ll never happen.
People who should be honoured...serving?
The great becoming...least?
Yet,    here you are…    doing exactly that.
You, my Lord, my Master, my friend and brother,
kneeling right here,
humbling yourself...

I thought that the Messiah, when he came,
would be strong, powerful;
a warrior who would sweep through the land
and conquer all before him -
throw down the Romans,
restore our nation...
make us a great kingdom once more.
What sort of kingdom,
what sort of glory is it that you bring?
A kingdom where the mighty wash dirty feet?
Where the powerful use their power
to bring a healing touch,
kindness, care and compassion?
Where real glory is found in raising others -
helping them stand, valuing all?

Are we to serve too?
Are we to do this to others?
You know, I don’t know if I can…
But if you can, then I must.
As you wash my feet, I wonder who else
you will do this to.
Will you do it to everyone, each one of us?
Surely not just me, Lord.
Will you do it to Judas?  Will you?
Are we to reach out to everyone?
To wash the feet of all?
The homeless?
The addict?
The diseased?
The weak and the hungry?
Those different from us?
Those from a different country?
Those from a different faith?
Those we’d rather not know and want to avoid?
Surely not them?
And I look at your feet,
your vulnerable feet.
And I look at your hand,
resting so assuredly there.
And then I see your eyes,
reflected in the water of the bowl.
And our eyes meet.
You look sad, Jesus.
Are you sad with me?
Sad that I haven’t understood yet?
Are you sad with all of us?
That we haven’t done what you expected?
That we’re not ready yet?
Lord, I’m trying.
I’m really trying to understand.
Give me time and I’ll get it.
I know I will.
Just let me get my head round this
awesome thing you’re asking of me.
Of us.
None of us are ready, Lord.
But I’ll try.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, let me serve you, as you have served me.*

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
I’ve been following some of the political debates amongst the
various contenders vying to become President of the United States.
In particular, a certain Donald Trump,
he of the American version of ‘The Apprentice’.
There’s an ironic aptness to his name,
for Trump seems supremely skilled at blowing his own horn.
He is awesome.
He’s the best, the smartest, the most efficient...
not like all those other stupid idiots...
He is powerful, rich, influential
and will crush anyone who stands in his way.
He’s strong - tough - and more than capable of doing the job of President:
heck, it’s a walk in the park on a sunny day.
You’d be dumb if you didn’t back him.
... Well, that appears to be the message he’s trying to get folk to buy into.
Alongside this, is a policy that seems to be one of
trying to find the most crass, offensive and outrageous statement to make,
in order to get more media space.
Nothing seems sacred,
no-one is deserving of respect:
well, possibly only Mr Trump himself.
In the kingdom of Trump, the weak, the inefficient,
the non-producers, the immigrants,
would be crushed or exiled,
and women put back in their rightful place -
doing as they’re told and being thankful...
and woe betide them if they suffer the misfortune of not being pretty.
In Trump’s kingdom, a dog eat dog world,
only the strongest survive and deserve to thrive -
no one else has a place at the conference table.

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
There have always been Donald Trumps.
People who have worked at becoming powerful:
people who have used their skills, their connections,
everything at their disposal to control others.
Wars have been fought - and continue even now -
to establish supremacy,
to conquer and subjugate others,
to stake a claim in the corridors of power
and in the history books.
We live, too, in the age of self-glorification:
the cult of celebrity,
where people are famous for...being famous,
not necessarily for any particular skill.
A society in which consumerism prods at
internal insecurities and encourages us all
to get this or that new gadget, car, home...
to keep up with the neighbours, or even better:
to forge ahead of them,
to be a trendsetter, to be cool.
To be the one everyone else wants to hang out with,
and who everyone else is secretly a little jealous of.
You’ve got to make your mark on those around you...

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
Kingdoms, power, glory.
Might versus right.
But where is real power to be found?
Is it in the jockeying for political position?
Is it found in all the pride and the posturing?
Is it there, in amidst the growing pile of possessions,
where reputations are built upon getting just the right brand?
Our psalm, and our gospel reading, serve to give us perspective,
to provide a different definition of kingdom,
of power,  of glory.
They help us to re-frame the questions, and, our lives, once more:
Whose kingdom?
Whose power?
Whose glory...?

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
Not our kingdoms,
the small empires we try to create,
not our power,
not our glory...
and not forever -
for we are dust, and to dust we will return.

In an upper room,
the One who is in the place of honour,
humbles himself,
and kneels.
Real power is found
in the tenderest of touches,
in the feel of water
on foot,
and a towel
wiping dry.
real power will be found
outside the gates of the city,
where the flotsam and jetsam
of life hang,
suspended upon wood:
where he will hang,
on a cross,
between thieves,
with a sign saying ‘King’.
A strange throne for a king.
Three days after that,
real power will be found
in an early morning garden
at the open door of a tomb.
Real power is not brokering fear;
it’s found in words of reassurance -
and a voice saying
'peace be with you, be not afraid.'
Real power is found in a love that loves to the end,
that lays down his life for others,
and where glory is found in service to all.

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
Real power is not raging,
nor plotting, nor self-aggrandising:
for when power is real
it has no need of such devices.
Real power is vulnerable,
compassionate, and self-giving.
It points to a kingdom where those who seek refuge are blessed,
where those who are least, are raised up -
a kingdom of the Magnificat -
of liberation from false power that oppresses the weak,
a kingdom that breaks the chains of poverty,
and allows dreams to breathe,
hope to be nurtured,
...potential to be nourished;
a kingdom where the King of glory
walks with the wounded and the weary,
the footsore, and the heart-sick;
who gives comfort to the suffering ones
even at the cost of personal suffering.

‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.’
Whose kingdom?
Whose power?
Whose glory...?

Here, at the very end of the Lord’s Prayer,
having asked God for our own needs,
we come full circle, back to God.
We find ourselves echoing, as a reminder,
just whose kingdom we’re praying for, and about.
Thy kingdom come’...
‘For thine is the kingdom’,
and we remember just who it is we’re praying to:
the One who holds all power in his hands,
and who models that power
in the Son,
who holds a towel 
in his ...

Let us pray:
Jesus, our Lord, our Saviour, our friend...
You knew your hour had come.
You knew your betrayer.
You knew your enemies.
But you loved unto the end.
Thank you for loving us, even unto death.
Teach us to love like you love.
Teach us to love each other,
to love even our enemies,
like you loved us.

You took on the form of a servant,
washing the feet of those whom you discipled.
You defined power and glory
through humility and servanthood.
You are he who was surely sent from God.
Thank you for serving for us.
Teach us to be servants without fail;
to make humility our constant companion
and to seek no glory for ourselves.
Each time we pray the prayer you taught us,
remind us, when we forget, whose we are,
and whom we serve.
As your community, as disciples,
and, as friends who try to follow in your way,
so we pray together your prayer, praying:

*Sermon beginning, in italics, adapted from a meditation by Rev Ruth Innes.
The original can be found here.  With thanks to Ruth for her permission to use this.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Evening Worship: Songs of Praise, Leadhills...

Join us for our Songs of Praise service in the Village Hall, Leadhills at 6.30pm.
Featuring Leadhills Silver Band. 
All welcome!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sunday preview: power and glory

This Sunday will see the end of our 5 week series on the Lord's Prayer.

We'll be thinking about the last section of the prayer:
'for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen'

How do we define what real power is?
How might that be different to the way power is defined in God's kingdom?
Where is glory to be found? 
Our readings for Sunday might just give us some clues:
Psalm 145 and John 13:1-17

See you Sunday, 10.30am, in the Parish Church at Abington

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Sermon, Sun 20 Sept: Lord's Prayer: For what shall we pray? pt 2 life, forgiveness, protection

Exodus 16:1-12
Ephesians 6:10-20
Luke 12:22-32 

SERMON ‘For what shall we pray? Pt 2/life, forgiveness, protection’
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.

As some of you know, I come from Queensland, in Australia.
Now, Queensland rejoices in having - if I recall correctly -
7 out of the top 10 most deadly snakes in the world.
It also has its share of incredibly poisonous and deadly spiders.
And, should you decide that seeking refuge in the water might be a good idea,
well, you’ve got box jellyfish, sharks, and crocodiles to deal with.
So many things designed to kill you.
I’m often asked why I moved to Scotland.
I’d say it was pretty obvious!!

A story goes that, in the early days, when Queensland 

was being settled by the Brits, a Scottish missionary travelled away 
up to the far north - the pointy bit - of Queensland.
He encountered many dangers as he travelled in this wild, exotic, and strange place.
One day, he was fording a creek, and as he crossed, he was suddenly very aware 

that two eyes were watching him from the water:
a crocodile.
The missionary began to sweat a little,
moved a wee bit more quickly,
and started to pray rather fervently:
‘Lord, oh Lord, hear my prayer!’
He paused, the panic causing him to struggle to marshal his thoughts.
The two eyes, and a now visible snout, were getting alarmingly closer.
‘Lord - please, make this crocodile a Christian!!’
It felt as if the whole world was standing still
...and then...
the croc swam across to the bank, and waited for the 

missionary to emerge from the creek.
‘Greetings, brother!’ it said.
The missionary, relieved, walked up to the croc,
thanked God for hearing his prayer, and replied: 

‘Greetings to you, brother!’
The croc looking at the missionary, smiled a toothy smile, and said:
‘Let us pray.’
Both bowed their heads, and the croc said:
‘Lord, for what I am about to eat, I give you thanks. Amen.’ 
What is prayer?
To whom do we pray?
How do we pray?
These are the questions that form the heart of this series 

on the prayer that Jesus taught us: the Lord’s Prayer.
And we are nearly at the end - week 4 of 5.
A quick recap, then.
What is prayer?
And to whom do we pray?
Prayer is keeping company with God.
It’s an ongoing conversation - with words and with silence.
It’s being present with God, or, another way of looking at it:
it’s remembering that God is always present with us.

And how do we pray?
Prayers of grace by crocodiles aside,
our reading in Ephesians observes that there are many kinds of prayers:
‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.’
There is our community prayer: the Lord’s Prayer,
which provides a working template for how we direct and shape our prayers,
and which is also the prayer that unites Christians all around the world,
reminding us that we are a community.

And for what do we pray?
Last week, we began to tease this out.
We reflected on the first section of the requests within the Lord’s Prayer:
praying for God’s kingdom to come,
God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This week, we look at the second section of requests in the Lord’s Prayer,
and here, the focus turns us:
‘Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. 

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil...’

Over the course of these last weeks,
I’ve been reading Tom Wright’s wee book on the Lord’s Prayer - 

The Lord and his Prayer.
And, having arrived at this point of the prayer, Wright observes that:
‘the danger with the prayer for bread is that we get there too soon.’
What he means by this is that, when it comes to the matter of prayer,
it’s really quite easy to fall into the habit of racing ahead 

in our prayers in order to get to that part where we, in effect,
present to God a kind of shopping list of wants, desires, and needs.
Wright says that ‘to do to let greed get in the way of grace.’
Perhaps that’s a little harsh, particularly if you’re not actually 

praying for a gold Mercedes or the latest new technological gadget:
when you’re not praying for wants, but are praying out of dire need.
When a loved one, is ill - or when you yourself are ill, in pain, are anxious,
it’s hard not to just launch straight into a list -
‘ her’
or ‘ me!’
I have a strong suspicion that to do so actually ends up 

undermining the way we pray.
We begin with ‘Our Father...’
and this reminds us that we take our cares and concerns
to the One who formed us and made us for his own.
We move to ‘thy kingdom come, thy will’
to remind us that in God’s kingdom, all anxieties cease,
and that, as we seek God’s will,
turn our minds to seeking his kingdom first,
and strive to bring in a foretaste of that heavenly kingdom to earth, 

we work towards bringing in all that is life-affirming, and life-giving.
These parts of the Lord’s Prayer provide the foundation upon
which we’re able to base our own requests.
And, as we look at the type of requests given within the Lord’s Prayer,
what is it that we’re bidden to pray for ourselves?

The first: ‘our daily bread’
The second: ‘forgiveness’
And the third and fourth: ‘protection’
But actually - they all amount to the same thing:
we are praying    for life.
Each prayer bidding concerns that which sustains,
that which gives life.
At its most basic, we need our daily bread to enable us to keep 

putting one foot in front of the other.
Without food, we die.
I’m minded of our reading from Exodus:
having escaped from slavery in Egypt, to a strange freedom 

that involved wandering in the wilderness,
the Israelites were naturally anxious...
and yet, they’d seen miracles,
been delivered from oppression in quite marvellous ways 

by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They had visible evidence that God was with them as they
watched the pillar of cloud by day,
and the pillar of fire at night.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the desert, slavery in Egypt 

was beginning to look rather attractive:
‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat
and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert
to starve the entire assembly to death!’

Oh dear.
And there, in the desert, in the midst of the muttering and complaining,
God listens to their cries.
...Give us this day our daily bread
And God did:
in the miracle of the manna in the desert.
A strange bread, but life-giving.
Giving enough life to the Israelites to ensure that
they could continue their wilderness journey.

When we pray for our daily bread,
we’re asking for God to sustain us -
to give us that which enables us to live...
so that we can seek first the kingdom,
as we worship and serve Our Father.
And so, even in that very basic prayer request for physical sustenance
there’s an added a spiritual dimension.
And let’s not forget that Jesus is the bread of life upon whom we also feed.
We pray for our daily bread:
for body and for soul...
for life in all its fullness.

I think that it’s no coincidence that immediately
following this request for sustenance, for life,
is a request that concerns forgiveness.
‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’
If we have prayed to the One who, in Jesus, 

embodied grace, mercy and forgiveness,
so too, we must embody grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
To choose to forgive is to choose to live.
Holding on to hurts, slights, and righteous grievances
has the effect of destroying us, in the end.
And forgiveness is not a soft option:
I’ve said it before, I’ll very probably say it again:
forgiveness is not for wimps.
It’s tough stuff.
Perhaps the very stuff that requires the spiritual armour of God
to help us stand firm,
to help us to overcome the temptation of coorying into our hurts
keeping them close to our hearts,
wallowing in unforgiveness to the point where we see nothing else;
like being weighed down by heavy iron chains
which keep us pinned down, unable to fly.
That way is not life-giving, it’s life-sapping.

Forgives us our we forgive:
it’s an interesting prayer bidding.
We’re asking that the measure that we forgive others
is the same measure of forgiveness that we ask of God.
Given that human beings can be our own harshest critics,
I’m rather glad that God has limitless grace and forgiveness -
more than enough to go around.
We forgive, so that we can live.

Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil...
I like this two-parter section of the prayer:
There’s the acknowledgement that we will be faced with temptation.
Sure we’ll put on the armour of God and fight it.
But, we’ll also mess up.
It’s what we do.
We make our choices - sometimes good, sometimes ...less so.
And because we have that propensity to mess up,
the prayer acknowledges that we need saved:
deliver us, Lord.
This part of the Lord’s Prayer is asking for God’s protection.
It’s an acknowledgement that, this side of heaven,
life does have its struggles and we need God’s help - 

we can’t do this by ourselves.

Turning back to our gospel reading, and borrowing again from Tom Wright:
‘Reflecting on the birds and flowers isn’t meant to encourage
a kind of romantic nature-mysticism, but to stimulate serious understanding:
God, the creator, loves to give good gifts,
loves to give you the kingdom - loves, that is, to bring his 

sovereign care and rescue right to your own door. ...
If your God is the father who calls you his child, what is to stop you from trusting him?’

What then, shall we pray?
Here, in this template of prayer,
this prayer that Jesus - the bread of life - taught us,
we find that what we’re bidden to pray for is life - 

life, in all its fullness.   Amen.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Reflection zone: be still

Busy week?
Give yourself the gift of 2 minutes, be still, and know that God
and is sufficient for all of your needs.
Aaaand breathe...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Welcome to our new elders!

Congratulations and welcome to our three new elders!

It was a very special, and very happy, day on Sunday. 
We were delighted to ordain Ursula Baillie, Teresa Brasier, and Aileen Gemmell into the eldership.  
Ursula, Teresa, and Aileen are the first elders to be ordained into what is now the Upper Clyde Parish - a union of Glencaple and Lowther parishes which joined together just under three years ago. 
Along with their ordination certificates, our new elders were each presented with a holding cross, made of olive wood from the Holy Land.  
After the service the congregation celebrated with quite a lot of cake!  
UCPC Session, with our three newest elders at the front:
l-r Aileen, Teresa, and Ursula

And, there was cake!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Discussion group returns

Missed the chat?
Missed throwing around thoughts over a cuppa and cake?
Pull up a chair at the table:
discussion group is back for the new session!
Friday 18 September, 7.30pm 
[then back to Thursday nights again!]
Leadhills Village Hall

This month, we'll be pondering:

'How can we offer hospitality?'

See you there!
Programme for the season will be posted soon...

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sermon, Sun. 13 Sept: Lord's Prayer Series - Wk 3 'For what shall we pray?' pt 1

Today in worship, we were delighted to ordain and welcome three new elders. A rather massive cake and wee celebration followed!
A good day, I think.
Below is this morning's sermon...

READING: Ephesians 2:11-22
READING: Revelation 21:1-7, 22-27; and 22:1-5

SERMON ‘For what shall we pray?
Pt 1/heaven on earth’

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.

Story is a powerful thing.
We were reminded of this on Wednesday
at the Guild by visiting storyteller and fellow Aussie, Sarah Agnew.
Sarah told us several stories.
First, we heard some of her own story:
we discovered her long-held passion for all things Shakespeare -
that master teller of stories - 
and of how Sarah wept with joy upon finally realising a life-long dream:
visiting Shakespeare’s home, his birthplace.
She then moved us into darker places -
telling us stories of persecution and punishment for being different, other.
A story of humanity set amidst the inhumanity of World War 2,
was followed by a story from early 19th century Iceland:
the story of Agnes Magnúsdottir - the last woman to be executed there.
As the stories unfolded, darkness moved to light:
we heard the story of John Newton, and of how he
came to write that well-beloved hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’
and oh, how we sang that first verse with feeling at the end of that particular story.
And finally, a brief story: a joyful and fun recounting of apple-eating -
we were almost wincing with her as she bit into that imagined apple.
It was a great evening and we’re hoping she’ll come back
and visit with us again in the New Year

Story is a powerful thing:
Who are we?
What is our story?
How did we get here, and why are we here?
... Where are we going?
These questions apply not just to each one of us as individuals,
they can also be - and have been -  asked of the church, us:
Christ’s body here on earth.
As the church, what is our story?
How did we get here?
Why are we here?
and where are we going?

Stories have a beginning, a middle, an end.
And we are a community of story.
The Church began on the day of Pentecost,
with the promised coming of the Holy Spirit,
It was formed by those who had walked and talked with Jesus,
and who shared his story with others...
Others, who, down through the centuries, passed the story on,
spread it throughout the world.
A story shared, even now, here in this small corner of Christ’s body,
in the Upper Clyde, nearly 2 000 years later.

Story is a powerful thing:
And within our community of faith, we tell stories within stories.
Last Sunday, in bread and in wine, we shared the story
of that last meal Jesus had with his friends,
as we remembered him in the Sacrament of Communion.
Over these five weeks, we’re sharing the story
of the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples -
his prayer, which we say weekly.
It’s a prayer that, when unpacked, also tells us stories:
of whose we are, whom we serve;
of those matters that are important enough in life to bring before
the Creator of the Universe, Our Father.
The prayer tells a story, too, of heaven and earth and the
kingdom of heaven on earth -
‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven’

Story is a powerful thing.
And stories have a beginning, a middle, an end.
If the story of the church begins on that day of Pentecost
through the sharing of Jesus’ story,
then, along with countless generations since that day:
we’re somewhere in the middle part of our story as the church -
a wee bit further along the middle perhaps, than the Ephesians.
However, in our reading from Ephesians,
we, like the community of believers in Ephesus,
are reminded that we are citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
Through Jesus, we are:
 ‘fellow-citizens with God’s people
and members of God’s household...’

Essentially: members of the household of heaven.
And in our reading from the Book of Revelation,
we hear the ending of the story...
of how things all turn out,
...of where we’re going.

Written at a time when the Roman Empire was stepping
up its persecution of the early church -
where people who professed faith in Christ
suffered and died for that faith,
John, disciple and seer, reveals the ending of the story.
To a people suffering under the weight of the relentless Roman machine -
efficient, ruthless, deadly,
John gives comfort:
the might of the Roman Empire may be terrifying indeed,
may claim to be an eternal empire,
but, set against the One who created the heavens and established the earth,
the One who is eternal,
Rome is nothing.
It will wither and fade.
Rome will be defeated.
In the end, it is not evil empire that wins out,
but the kingdom of God.

In his vision, the last of many visions -
the last of his ‘revelations’ -
John shows God’s kingdom come and God’s will done.
And, here’s the ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ part:
the heavenly city comes down to earth:
there’s no separation anymore between God and humanity -
We see God, face to face,
we see God who makes his home among us.
Now, we know in part:
then, John tells his audience, we shall see face to face.

Story is a powerful thing.
And in this story of endings and new beginnings,
what do we learn of God’s kingdom?
Perhaps that this parish is a little piece of heaven on earth already...
Because the picture painted by John of the kingdom of heaven
tells us that a river runs through it - but enough of the River Clyde!
In Revelation, John describes the River of the Water of Life,
flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb, through the New Jerusalem.
And we see the Tree of Life, bearing fruit all throughout the year:
now all can eat and be satisfied for there are no longer any prohibitions.
The leaves bring healing:
nations healed,
the curse revoked.
Humanity healed and liberated from self-destructive behaviours -
‘nothing impure will enter’
for all impurities will have been made pure,
all will be reversed.
What we’re seeing is the re-creation of Eden:
in the ending, we see the beginning of that older story.

What of God’s kingdom?
It is a kingdom in which God’s servants will also
reign with God - not reigning ‘over’ anyone -
for unlike Rome, this is not a rule of domination,
but of mutual community and sharing.
In God’s kingdom, there’s no temple because there’s no need:
God dwells with us.
In God’s kingdom, there’s no more night:
the Lord will be the light upon his servants
In God’s kingdom, there are no shut gates:
the gates are open all day...and as night has gone,
the gates are ever open, welcoming of all -
even foreigners are invited into
the kingdom of heaven where there’s sanctuary and space
and enough room for all to find a home.
In God’s kingdom, there’s no more tears:
the horror and heartbreak and suffering have passed -
the old has gone, and the new has come.
Life has defeated death.
New Testament scholar, Professor Barbara Rossing, comments that:
‘Revelation seeks to make God’s vision of beauty so persuasive 
and real that the audience will “come out” of the evil empire 
in order to enter into the promised land of blessing and healing’   

I love the way pastor and poet, Rick Fry, puts a more modern take on this vision of John’s,
for readers and listeners here and now:
It ends where it all began.
There will be a time when we make it
through the darkest valleys of cooking appliance bombs,
bubble-bursting economies, bone-chilling diagnoses,
our own personal failures, dead-ends, loneliness and fears.
We will make our way through the shadows 

towards the shimmering river of life,
leading to the primordial garden,
where we will be healed by the leaves
and the sweet grainy fruit of the tree of life.
We will no longer turn our faces towards the wall in order to hide our shame.
Rather, the Lamb will lead us to the New Jerusalem.
The gates will be open wide.
In thanksgiving we will enter.
No more hatred, envy, or fear.
God will be present among all the wandering people of the nations.
We will find ourselves streaming into this strange city
along with the peoples of different cultures,
peoples of times past and future.
We walk by a faint glimmer of light now,
yet it grows more defined as the glory of God halos the city skyline,
welcoming us home.

Story is a powerful thing.
But, as the church, we don’t just sit back
and wait for the ending of the story.
‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven’

We see ahead to the ending, but, implicit in the prayer we utter weekly,
is a call to be bringers in of that kingdom now.
A call to work to recreate Eden...
to work towards seeing heaven on earth.
It is a call to social justice:
we are the ones who are to be peace-bringers,
for we tell the story of the Prince of Peace -
we are his people.
As his people, we are to seek ways
of living together peaceably, harmoniously;
to look to the needs of each other, not just look to ourselves.
We’re to be consolers, called to acts of compassion,
called to wipe away every tear from every eye.
To bring healing of heart and mind
and body and soul - to one another
and to the wider community of humanity;
to bring others into the promised land of blessing and healing;
to give of ourselves in love,
just as Christ, in love, gave himself for us.
And, as we do so, yes, it will be costly,
for nothing truly worthwhile is easy.

The following verses are widely attributed to Mother Teresa,
who understood a little about costly giving:
and while I address these generally to all of us,
I address these particularly to our 'almost' elders
Ursula, Teresa, and Aileen:
As you take up your new role of giving and serving this
community of faith as elders,
this is both a charge and a challenge to you:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. 
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. 
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends 

and some genuine enemies. 
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. 
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. 
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway

Story is a powerful thing.
And we know the end of the story, as people of faith.
But here, and now, in the middle of the story,
how then, shall we live?
What story will we create within the communities
and villages in which we live and work?
Will it be a story of self-service or self-giving?
Will it be a story of darkness or a story of hope, and light, and life?
Will it be a story in which we can pray truly:
‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven’
?  Amen.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Lunch Club returns!

Lunch Club returns:

Join us for gorgeous home-made soup, scrumptious dessert, tea/ coffee, and friendly blethers. All welcome. Please book in with Jenny W. using the phone number above.  If you'd like to come along but have transport difficulties, let us know and we'll try to organise some car sharing.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Sermon, Sunday 6 Sept: Exploring the Lord's Prayer Series - Wk 2 'To whom do we pray?'

A busy morning in church, as we listened to the singing group,
shared together in Communion, rededicated the Guild, and continued our series on the Lord's Prayer...

READING: Ephesians 1:2-14
READING: Luke 15:11-32

SERMON ‘To whom shall we pray?’

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.

To whom do we pray?
The opening of the Lord’s Prayer not only helps us to begin
to frame the way we pray, it helps us to understand a little
of the nature of the one we’re praying to:
‘Our Father, who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name...’
And our gospel reading this morning helps to tease out
an understanding of the very first two words of the prayer:
‘Our Father’ -
‘There was once a man who had two sons’
and then, he had just one.

There is at least one point, in his day,
when the old man finds himself walking absently
towards the boundary gate of the farm.
There, he stands, sometimes just for a minute,
but sometimes, longer,
looking down the road that both leads away from home,
but which is also the way to home.
Many months have passed since the boy left.
There had been a hard conversation.
A conversation in which his youngest son had virtually wished him dead:
‘give me my share of the property now.’
A shocking request, offensive in the extreme.
The son was in such a hurry to get away from home - from him -
that he couldn’t even wait for his father to die.
Insult and injury combine in the son’s demand.

Word has got out around the district, as it always does:
old friends and neighbours are horrified: first, at the son’s request,
and then, that the old man has acquiesced.
In an honour culture, such as this was,
it’s not an easy thing to lose the respect of friends and neighbours.
It’s not an easy thing to lose land that’s been tended for generations.
And, it is not an easy thing to lose a son into the bargain.
The son’s request to have his entitlement of a third of the land
has been at great financial cost to the father;
but his plan to leave everyone and everything he’s known,
has broken the old man’s heart.
The land sold, the son gone,
the father waits by the gate wondering if he’ll ever see the boy again.
The older son, and the neighbours, shake their heads:
perhaps muttering under their breath:
‘good riddance to bad rubbish.’

We know the story.
We know that somewhere,
in a land far away -
a place a long way away from the prying eyes of family and of neighbours,
the younger son lives the high life, which all too soon comes to an end.
He faces hardship and humiliation.
In desperation, he hatches a plan.
He rehearses a speech as he finds himself
placing one foot in front of the other,
returning back along the road that leads to home.
Is he actually sorry for what he’s done?
Sorry that he’s hurt his father?
Is he more sorry for himself and how his dreams of escape
have gone so horribly wrong?
...We don’t really know.
All we do know, is that he knows
that the only logical thing to do is to head home and see if the old man will
at least let him come back and work as a labourer.

Is the parable misnamed, I wonder?
Certainly, the younger son has been a prodigal -
wasteful, profligate, foolish.
But, to the listeners of the parable,
the father’s behaviour has also been foolish.
You don’t divide the long-tended land
at the whim of an upstart, disrespectful son.
Instead, you put the boy in his place and maintain the land,
as generations of your family have done before you -
and, as future generations will do, long after you’ve gone.
To the hearers of the parable, the story could also be named:
‘the prodigal father’ for, in their tradition and culture,
his actions would also be deemed as
wasteful, profligate, foolish.

The foolishness is further aggravated by the fact that
the father yearns for the wastrel son,
and can be seen each day waiting at the gate wondering if he’ll return.
In the minds of some of the listeners, such a son would be dead to them:
once he’d gone, they would have had a symbolic funeral.
There would be no wistful waiting at the gate, return,
no second chance.
In an honour culture such as theirs,
the great dishonour shown by the son to the father
would be like nails in a coffin.

But this is not what happens.
Which is exactly the point of the parable:
it’s totally counter-cultural.
It’s not about keeping tally, keeping score.
It’s not about holding on to wrongs,
to insults, to injuries...
it’s not about keeping your honour and status intact.
What it is about,
is relationship and reconciliation -
and love in the most outrageous of circumstances.
Which is why the hearers of this particular parable about a father and a son
are in for a shock when the ending of the story happens.
For what they hear is even more astonishing:
upon seeing his beloved child return,
the old man casts all dignity to the wind -
he ...runs.
In order to run, he’d have had to hitch up his clothing:
an old man, in unseemly haste,
showing bare legs as he races to meet the son.
It’s just not the done thing.
This astonishing behaviour is further compounded when he embraces his son -
the son who left,
but who came back.
Rather than immediately berating him, the father is overjoyed.
There’s a celebration.
This child of his is not dead.
He’s alive.
He’s come home.

Regardless of the behaviour of this son,
the father has never stopped loving him.
I wonder if the son is as astonished
as the neighbours,
as his brother,
as the hearers of the parable very probably are?
As he’s embraced, and welcomed back in,
by the deep love and compassion of his father,
I wonder, does he see things differently?
Before, his father had been a means to an end.
Even on his way home, perhaps it had been a calculated risk
that at least he might have somewhere to lay his head.
A series of negotiations.
But here, the son encounters a father much less concerned with negotiations,
and much more concerned about relationship.
In the embrace of grace,
in the face of unexpected and undeserved love,
will the son be moved to love in return?

‘Our Father’...
What is this ‘father’ like, the One we approach in prayer?
There’s an expression I’ve come across occasionally,
over the time I’ve lived in Scotland - it goes along the lines of:
‘Mind yersel’ or ye’ll end up in the book of nae rubbin oot’
Behind that expression is an understanding
of a God who does keep tally,
who does keep count -
which goes completely against the God of grace and mercy
exemplified by the father within the parable that Jesus told.

The One we address in prayer is the same who embraces us no matter
how far from home we’ve travelled;
who rejoices when we come back and who longs for us to keep company with him -
in our lives and through our prayers.
The Almighty Creator of the universe invites us to call him ‘Father’ -
as he, in turn, calls us his sons, his daughters.

He is ‘Our’ Father - not just ‘my’ Father:
he calls us into a relationship that is communal.
As Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters,
so we are brothers and sisters to one another.
To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to pray the prayer that we share in common -
just as, shortly, we will share our common meal of bread and wine,
and be in communion with both God, and one another.
This is why being a Christian is not about
‘me and my God’ -
it is about ‘us, and our Father’.

‘Our Father, who art in heaven’
whose name is holy.
Who loves us deeply, faithfully, patiently ... graciously.
Who desires that we, who have experienced his all-embracing love,
go out into the world, and share that love with others -
to have hearts that don’t build up an account of hurt,
but rather, to have hearts filled with compassion.
In this week, faced with images and stories of human tragedy on a grand scale,
let us move out into our Father’s world:
let us seek ways in which to heal hurts,
to comfort the afflicted,
to feed the hungry,
to stand at the gate looking for those to whom we can offer sanctuary
and a taste of our Father’s extravagant love.
Doing all this,
knowing whose we are, and whom we serve, [*Guild motto]
and, in the knowledge of how deep the Father’s love for us. [*referencing the final hymn]

Friday, 4 September 2015

Starwords/ starwards: a post-summer re-cap

On the very first Sunday of the year, having walked with the Magi, or Wise Men, to Bethelehem in search of a king, we thought about our own journeys starwards in faith, following Jesus.
You can read the preparations for that service over here.
Given it was the beginning of a new year, and the closing of the old year, we wondered about signs, waymarkers, to keep us moving forward in faith. As we did so, star shapes were handed out with individual words on them - all different - with the invitation to make use of the word given as a tool for pondering and prayer over the course of the year.
My star/word was 'grace' and I placed it by the middle window in the study.
Everytime I come into the room, there it is, as a reminder.
Sometimes I engage with it, and sometimes I don't, but it has been a useful and quiet companion for my reflections.  I'm hoping the thoughts and prayers over the course of this year, on the matter of grace, have permeated gently into both worship and pastoral care, and even - perhaps especially!! - into those routine admin. tasks that I'm less keen on.

If you've used your star/word at times over the year - how has the process been for you?
Have there been new insights into faith and life?
Comfort on tougher days?
Gentle joy and ongoing confirmation of God's love?
Has having a gentle reminder word and symbol been helpful in your journey?
I'd love to know...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Sarah tells stories - at UCPC Guild

Earlier in the year, we were delighted to have storyteller, and Uniting Church of Australia minister, Sarah Agnew lead us in worship while the minister was on leave.  Sarah will be making a return appearance: this time, visiting the Upper Clyde Guild on Wed. 9 September, 7.30pm.
We are looking forward to seeing her and hearing more stories.

Communion Sunday 6 September

Join us this Sunday as we share in the

bread and wine of Communion

All welcome

Parish Church, in Abington, 10.30am, Sunday 6 September