Monday, 30 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sermon, Sunday 22 Nov: Reign of Christ Sunday

Reign of Christ Sunday/             

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We sing together:
HYMN 465 Be thou my vision

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

November Discussion Group: Are you ready?

Upper Clyde Discussion group meets in Leadhills Village Hall on:

Thursday 19th November, 7.30pm

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

Are you Ready?

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

Monday, 16 November 2015

Upper Clyde Schools Drawing Competition results

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

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

Congratulations to:

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

1st prize: Elen Foley, P6, Leadhills Primary

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

2nd PRIZE: Charlotte Connor, Lamington Primary

2nd prize: Charlotte Connor, P3, Lamington Primary

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

3rd PRIZE: Zak Cousins, Crawford Primary 

Zak Cousins, P6, Crawford Primary

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


Joint runners up:

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

You've all been stars.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

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

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

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

SERMON: ‘Wu're doomed.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sunday sneak preview

A picture  clue for worship, Sunday 15th.
Some of you may remember this chap... but is he right?
Come to morning worship and find out!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sermon, Sunday 8 Nov: Remembrance Sunday

Today's sermon, on Remembrance Sunday...
picking up some events in the year of 1915:

READINGS: Psalm 46;  John 15: 1-17

As an Australian, the year 1915
is indelibly imprinted on my psyche:
and the reason for this can be condensed into one word -
Australia had become a nation in 1901,
and the campaign in Gallipoli
alongside the British Forces beginning on the 25th of April, 1915,
has been seen down the decades as the coming of age of that nation:
the first time that Australians fought as Australians...
And the 25th of April is our big time of commemoration each year -
it’s known as ANZAC Day.

According to family legend, on my mother’s side of the family -
my Great-grandfather, served in the Light Horse at Gallipoli...
although in this particular campaign, there were no brave charges on horseback;
this long-drawn out battle, lasting over 8 months,
fought on the beaches and scrubby cliffs of the Dardanelles,
was about digging in,crawling up steep hills,
shinnying through gullies under sniper fire...
having to deal with that most strategic of disadvantages
in trying to stay alive at the bottom of cliffs while your enemies
dropped shells on you from above.
It was the first time that the Lighthorsemen fought without their horses -
fighting alongside the infantry.
And in a way, this lack of charging horses signalled the end
to a centuries old style of combat:
the age of modern warfare had begun.

But there are some things that are age-less:
The stories of comradeship among the men who became
known as the ANZACS is legendary in Australia -
each looked out for the other:
the spirit of mateship was born on the beaches
of Suvla Bay, Anzac Cove, Cape Helles...
But mateship, love of friends, is not just the sole province of Aussies -
even though we might like to think we invented it.
Over many decades, I’m sure we’ve all had stories passed down to us,
or watched T.V. programmes, or read books about the Great War
in which that same spirit of comradeship - mateship - friendship,
was displayed quite strongly, heroically.

Our gospel text this morning talks of friendship:
God’s friendship with human beings
our friendship with God...
and our friendship with one another.
We are called to remain in God’s love,
and, we are called to love.

Last week we reflected a little on love, and I noted that,
in summing up the commandments, Jesus was, essentially saying that
‘all we love.’
In our gospel passage today, Jesus talks of the relationship between
God the Father, and himself - the Son...
The early theologian, Augustine,
described the love of the persons of the Trinity -
Father, Son, and Spirit, as  being utterly undergirded by love -
each concerned with the other,
allowing space for the other to be...
In thinking of Father Son and Spirit, Augustine described the relationship as
the Lover,
the Beloved,
and the love that unites them.
One God, in a perfect community of love;
modelling for us, what love looks like,
how it should be,
and, that it’s about community...
Jesus, in John chapter 15, is teaching the disciples about a
theology of friendship - built upon the model of love shown by God.
 It’s a love of care and concern,
it’s joyful,
recognising - as Marjorie Pickthall’s poem did* -
that we are the body of Christ...
and recognising the Christ within each one of us.

In the thigh deep mud of Ypres,
on battlefields all across Europe, Asia, Africa,
in the midst of bullets whistling past
and heavy artillery blasting craters where once grew barley;
in the bowels of ship’s engine rooms,
the claustrophobic conditions of submarines and tanks,
amongst the newly created flying squadrons...
I suspect that the words of Jesus:
‘greater love has no-one than this:
that one lay down his life for another’
took on a heightened perspective.
Friends did sacrifice their all for friends.
But even in the midst of fire, some combatants also recognised
that the ones they fought could, in another life, have been friends.

I recently came across a poem written by Charles Hamilton Sorley.
He was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
He was only 20 when he died, but his poem, ‘To Germany’
shows an incredible depth and maturity.
Sorley had spent some time travelling and studying in Germany
before entering Oxford, when war was declared.
His poem reflects his own feelings for a country which he felt had nurtured him,
but which is now ‘the enemy’.
He writes of the political ambitions of both Germany and Great Britain,
and of the soldiers on both sides, caught in the midst of it -
sharing the same experiences...
’groping blindly’ through the fields of battle.
He writes of peace - and that, when it comes,
these now enemies can be friends once more.
He sees, with great clarity, that those on the other side
are not monsters - but men like himself...
and in that understanding,
there is an empathy,
there’s pity in his poem...
and to have pity, is to have love - even for an enemy.

It is a powerful thing to have love enough to lay down your life for a friend...
but the way of love is more expansive still...
it is to learn love for those called ‘enemies.’
I think Sorley understood some of that, even if he couldn’t necessarily
have seen a way out of the great conflict he found himself in,
on the Western Front.
Here’s his poem:

'To Germany'
You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined...
we stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each others dearest ways we stand,
and hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

When it is peace, then we may view again 
with new won eyes each other's truer form
and wonder. Grown more loving kind and warm
we'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain, 
when it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
the darkness and the thunder and the rain.
As we remember those who died -
men like Sorley,
men from all corners of the once British Empire -
all those caught up in conflict in that first world war,
and all those wars since then...
how do we view the words of Jesus, I wonder?
Those words of complete self-giving -
of laying down our lives for our friends?
How do we work through a theology of friendship
and build a community of love,
as we follow the One who, in a few short weeks,
we will remember as the Prince of Peace?
For, in a sense, that is the legacy that those who fell in war have left to us -
and the task which Jesus calls us to:
to shine the light of love into all the corners of this world;
to walk in the ways of peace;
to be reconcilers -
as God, in Christ, reconciled humanity to him.
It is no easy task, and it’s a task that is not about
gaining glory for ourselves...
We seek to build a community of love and friendship that is expansive,
warm, and welcoming,
and we do this for God’s glory.
And so, to him, be the glory,
this day and always.  Amen.

[Marjorie Pickthall - her poem, 'Marching Men', had been read out earlier:
Under the level winter sky
I saw a thousand Christs go by.
They sang an idle song and free
As they went up to calvary.

Careless of eye and coarse of lip,
They marched in holiest fellowship.
That heaven might heal the world, they gave
Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave.

With souls unpurged and steadfast breath
They supped the sacrament of death.
And for each one, far off, apart,
Seven swords have rent a woman's heart.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday services

Services will be held at:

10.30 Abington - there will be an Act of Remembrance during parish worship 

11.00 Wanlockhead Memorial - led by Margaret Mackay

12.30 Leadhills Memorial - led by the Minister, Nikki Macdonald

1.30 Crawford Memorial - led by the Minister, Nikki Macdonald

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

GANDL inter-school drawing competition: update

A huge thank you to our five primary schools for all your efforts - all the drawings were great!
What a talented bunch of young people we have in our area.

Our panel of four judges had a very hard time deciding on the top three entries,
but on Sunday afternoon, after a lot of thinking - assisted by tea and cake - we made
our decision. In the end, after we'd looked at them all silently [and carefully tried to keep the entries
anonymous, by not looking at any names!],we realised that, independently, we were very much
in agreement, to our relief! 
Although we hadn't deliberately set out to have 3 different schools represented within
the winning entries, [we were judging on merit and on what we felt would work for our magazine cover]
when we realised that we had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes for three of our schools,
we decided to add a prize each to the other two schools - the best entry for
that school, again based on what we felt met what we were looking for.
So we have also two runners-up as a result, who will each recieve a £5 Book Token.
An announcement will be made soon, once we've sent the magazine off to be printed.

Also, we liked all the drawings so much, that we've decided to do a big display of them
all in our Church Hall - and make a large photo of them together. We're just working out
how best to display them, and will let you all know when you can come and see them,
which will be some time in December.
Thanks again everyone - what a bunch of stars you are.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Guild News: Nepal

'Nepal' from Chetan Raghuram on Vimeo.

Our speaker for the October meeting was Margo Leadbetter, who gave an interesting and
eye opening talk on her trip to Nepal. She told, and showed us with her pictures, how beautiful
the country is and the people are very welcoming.
In the last year they have been struggling to rebuild homes after the devastating earthquake.*
 [*Blog editor's note: World Mission has recently set a challenge to all Church of Scotland Presbyteries: 
'Let us Build a House'. You can read about it here.  And the pic below is a copy of their leaflet]
'Let us build a house': World Mission challenge
Thanks to the Chairperson and hostess for the afternoon.
Fellowship ended in the usual way with a prayer and closing hymn.

The next Guild meeting is on Wednesday 11th November in the Church Hall at 2.00pm.
The speaker is Rev. Nancy Norman, speaking on our theme 'BE BOLD.BE STRONG.'
                                                                   Aileen Gemmell, on behalf of UCPC Guild