Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Contacts, information, church notices

The minister will be on leave from: Fri 22 Jan - Thurs 4 Feb. 

Pulpit and funeral cover: 

Sunday 24 Jan - we welcome back the Rev Sandy Strachan. Prior to retiring, Sandy worked for the NHS as a healthcare chaplain in Dumfries.

Sunday 31 Jan - and another welcome return: this time Uniting Church of Australia minister, the Rev Sarah Agnew.
Sarah is a Biblical Storyteller, Poet and Uniting Church Minister who is currently working on her PhD at New College. Sarah facilitates workshops, worship and classes that invite people to tell their own stories, discover the Biblical story, and communicate effectively, because she is passionate about sharing stories that celebrate the fullness of our humanity.

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

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


News, events, and general notices:

The Lunch Club will be held on Wednesday 27th, from 12.30 pm, in the Church hall. Join us for soup, a sweet, tea/ coffee, and a catch up with friends. The cost is £5. If you’ve not booked, please let Jenny Worthington know by Tuesday afternoon, for catering purposes.

Parish magazine: Our next parish magazine is in process of being created. We’re hoping to have it distributed before Palm Sunday - the 20th of March. It will be Holy Week and Easter-related. If you’d like to submit material to be included: a poem, a story, suitable jokes... please let Dee Yates know, and if all items could be handed in by Sunday 14th of February.
The magazine team would love your input on what you’d like to see included in upcoming parish magazines. Thanks in advance!

Creative crafters’ group: do you enjoy handicrafts? Would you like to meet up with other like-minded folk with the purpose of putting your talents to use around the church? The minister would love to see you. There are already several interested folk - come and join us as we work towards creating seasonally appropriate materials for use in worship. The main project is aimed for Advent and Christmas. Once we’ve identified a time and day for meeting up, we’ll be gathering together in the church hall - and refreshments will be on hand. All welcome!

Church notices - volunteers: the minister is looking for volunteers who would read out the church notices before worship on Sunday mornings. Ideally, it would be great to have a team of 4-5 people, working on a rotational basis. Please let the Nikki know if you’d be willing to do this - and thanks for those who have already offered.

Lent is on its way! And there are several items for your diaries:
Pancake Party - Tuesday 9th of February, at 7pm: Nikki will be hosting a pancake evening at the manse, to which all are very welcome to come along.  A bit of fun before we move into the season of Lent. Why not bring along a favourite pancake topping?

Ash Wednesday Service - Wednesday 10th of February, at 7pm: there will be a short evening service to mark Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning to Lent. The service will be a time for reflection and preparation, as we begin the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem...All are welcome.

Our Lent discussion groups will once again combine faith and film.
We'll be contemplating the themes brought out in the film 'Chocolat', making use of the study book:
'Christ and the Chocolaterie'.
We begin together in the Church Hall on Sunday 14th of February, at 3pm.
There may be a sighting of Johnny Depp, and popcorn - or chocolates - might be appropriate accompaniments for the afternoon... Regardless of whether you're thinking of joining a discussion group or not, why not come along for the afternoon for some fun. as we introduce the series in a gentle relaxing way.
Discussion Group details/
Sundays at 3pm in the Hopetoun Arms at Leadhills - an opportunity to sit by the fire for a 'chill and chat' as we explore the study book.
Subject to numbers, another group will be held in the manse, in Crawford during the week.
Please use the sign up sheet in the hall - and let Nikki know if you’d like to order the accompanying book, which will cost £5.99

Monday, 18 January 2016

Reflection Zone: wedding, wine, and song

miracles in unexpected places...!!
Given worship was cancelled on Sunday morning due to weather, some thoughts about the gospel reading for the day, in which we hear the story of the Wedding at Cana - John 2:1-11.
It's a big affair - anyone who's anyone is there.
Actually...not just the great and the good:
the whole community is there, along with extended family connections from elsewhere.
Well into the 7 day period of feasting, a potential embarrassment is discovered: they are running low on wine.
Actually...not just potential embarrassment that can be easily smoothed over and later forgotten about: for providing hospitality falls into the realm of sacred duty and social standing. This will be talked about for generations to come; will lower the family's social standing; will cause disgrace.

This is a society bound by honour and status, where a
good reputation isn't just a nice thing to have, a luxury...
reputation in this culture is a make or break. Not providing for one's guests
is about to break the reputation of this particular family: they will be disgraced.
And not in that Downton Abbey or Victorian melodrama kind of way.
This really will bring ruin upon them -
put them on the edge, the margins, no longer in the comfortable middle:
their name will be mud.
The old, well-known saying:
'sticks and stones may break my bones, 
but names will never hurt me'
is a saying that would never have been uttered by people in
the society and culture that Jesus lived in:
your name mattered.
To lose one's name had consequences that rippled
through the societal fabric; it could cut through the delicate threads
of connection like an axe. Jobs could be lost, neighbours could shun you.
It could threaten your survival in a way that we, who don't live in
an honour culture, really can't quite comprehend.

Faced with disgrace, the beleaguered host family is also faced with a major difficulty:
there's no handy supermarket nearby to send one of the servants off
to go and fill a trolley with wine and quietly bring it back, the guests none-the-wiser.
But then, the mother of one of the guests has a quiet word with her son.
Nudges him.
Initially reluctant, and saying something about
'my time not come. I'm not yet ready,'
perhaps he understands that he has to begin somewhere -
why not here?
This, the first of Jesus' miracles, is done within the setting of a domestic drama;
is played out behind the scenes:
of the household, only the servants know where this 'best' wine has come from.
Later, Jesus will go on to feed the multitudes, and restore the sick.
But here, in this quiet scene,
with an overwhelming amount of wine that will last well beyond
the seven days this wedding feast*, Jesus responds to a particular need,
restoring reputation in danger of being destroyed, certainly, but more:
demonstrating the nature of grace which is
life-giving, abundant, joyful, and free -
and a sign pointing to the heavenly banquet where there is more than enough for all.

*for those who like facts and figures: the amount of wine would be roughly
equivalent to 1 000 bottles... some party!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Morning worship cancelled

*****Morning worship cancelled Sun 17 Jan.*****

Hi folks. Could you please pass this on to any folk you know who might be thinking 
of venturing to church in the morning and thanks.
Consulting with some of the elders, I've made the decision to cancel church in the morning due to the weather. Apparently due for more of the white stuff through the evening and into tomorrow, so better to be safe! Whether a sleep-in, or off sledging, enjoy your day! :)

It's back! God goes to the Movies - 'Chocolat'

'I can resist everything, except temptation'...Oscar Wilde

'God goes to the movies

Lent is a season where folk traditionally either give something up, or take something on...
While some people give up chocolate for Lent: UCPC will be taking on 'Chocolat' -
using the film to pick out and discuss some common Lenten themes...

Sun 14 Feb, 3pm: Film viewing -
To tie in with our Lent discussion group/s, we'll be watching 'Chocolat' in the Church Hall.  While this will be helpful for all attending our Lent groups, anyone who'd just like to come along and watch the film is very welcome.  Bring your popcorn - or chocolate! - pull up a seat, and enjoy an afternoon with Juliette and Johnny...

Lent discussion groups - begin week commencing 14 Feb. for 5 weeks on:
Sunday afternoons, 3pm at the Hopetoun Arms, Leadhills.
[depending on numbers and timing, an additional group will be hosted in the manse at Crawford on an afternoon or evening tbc]

We'll be using the book 'Christ and the Chocolaterie' to aid our discussions.
Book costs £5.99.
To order the book, sign up on the sheet up on the hall noticeboard at church or contact Nikki via
the 'contact us' link on the right hand side-bar of this page - or order at a local bookseller near you or online...

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

New group - 'Creative Crafters'

Enjoy doing various handcrafts?
Like a creative challenge, a blether, and a cuppa?
Come and join our 'Creative Crafters' group, which will meet in the church hall. Dates and times to be confirmed.

The initial challenge is to gather together, and explore creating some seasonal banners to be hung in the church.
To start us off, the minister is particularly keen to see what ideas the
group might come up with and create for Advent and Christmas 2016.
If you’re interested, and know folk outwith the congregation who’d also be interested, please contact Nikki via the contact link on the right-hand column.
Having announced this on Sunday during worship, we've already got three keen folk, who are raring to go. Come and join us!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Sermon, Sunday 10 Jan: 'Called by name'

The weather came in, and so we dug ourselves into church, and dug ourselves back out. 13 hardy souls managed to get through the snow for worship this morning. For those who couldn't make it, sermon and a little something extra of what we were doing in church today.

1st READING: Ps 29
2nd READING: Isaiah 43:1-7
3rd  READING: Luke 3:15-17,21-22

SERMON ‘Called by name’
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 redeemer. Amen...

That’s it: all gone.
Done and dusted for another year -
well, actually, less than a year:
because, as those of you who were gifted with
new calendars and diaries will know,
there’s only 349 days left until Christmas.
It’ll come ‘round quickly enough.
But, for the most part,
the tinsel and twinkly lights,
the baubles, and assorted other tree decorations
have been packed away:
the tree, back in it’s box -
or, in the process of being
recycled and chopped up for kindling.
The hope and expectation of Advent
has been realised.
The child has been born,
angels have visited shepherds,
shepherds have visited the stable;
wise men have followed a star to the manger,
given their presents,
and headed home by another way.
Time to move on and get those boxes
back in the loft.
[or wherever you store them!]

Time moves very swiftly in the church year -
no hanging about loitering in Bethlehem for us:
as we heard in our readings earlier,
within the passing of a week,
the babe in the manger
has become a grown man of 30,
standing on the banks of the River Jordan
watching his cousin John baptising the crowds
who have been drawn by his message of repentance.
Repentance: refocusing, reorienting and re-turning
to follow the One who, in love, made us and calls us for his own.

But perhaps it’s not quite time to put all the
boxes away - for in our gospel reading there’s a sense of Advent déjà vu.
A sense of expectation and wondering is in the air,
and it centres around the identity of John:
just who exactly is he?
Could it be...?
Could he be the Christ -
the Anointed One -
the Messiah?
His appearance, his dress, his words, and his actions
are very much prophetic:
he’s calling the people to turn back to God.
But John knows exactly who he is -
he’s the messenger for the Messiah,
and he is quick to dispel any speculation
about his own greatness.
‘One more powerful’ is coming, ‘one more worthy’ -
and we heard possibly John’s most well-known line:
about his not being worthy enough to even untie the Messiah’s sandals.
He is John, the straightener of paths,
preparing the way:
he is not the way.
And having answered them, I suspect the crowd then want to ask:
‘Well, if you’re not the Messiah, then who is?’

The question of the Messiah’s identity is answered by the writer
of the gospel in an odd manner;
for the One who is the way, the truth, the life - the Messiah -
does something rather unusual.
This One, who John claims is more powerful, and more worthy than he is
quietly heads off to queue alongside those who have
come to submit to a baptism of repentance -
an act of refocusing, reorienting, re-turning their faces to God.
The Son of God,
Prince of Peace,
Wonderful, counsellor, Messiah...
doesn’t stand on ceremony,
doesn’t jump the queue
doesn’t demand first place:
he takes his turn, and stands in line
amidst those who are searching,
amidst those who feel a lack -
the sense of something - someone - missing from their lives;
amidst those who feel broken, and bereft;
those who seek comfort;
those who seek meaning;
those who somehow understand that there is more to life than
waking, working, eating, sleeping.
He is amidst and alongside:
PCUSA pastor, Bob Brearley, notes that:
‘all we know about the baptism of Jesus is that it was with “all the people” 
... Jesus presented himself for baptism as an act of solidarity with a nation 
and a world of sinners. Jesus simply got on line with 
everyone who had been broken by the “wear and tear” of this 
selfish world and had all but given up on themselves and their God. 
When the line of downtrodden and sin-sick people formed in 
hopes of new beginnings through a return to God, 
Jesus joined them. 
At his baptism, he identified with the damaged and broken people 
who needed God.’
        [Robert Brearley in FOTW,YrC, Vol.1]

The incarnation, beyond the birth,
shows itself through Jesus’ identifying with people -
he is flesh of our flesh,
bone of our bone:
with us,
as one of us,
demonstrating his power by choosing not to oppress,
not to lord it over us.
‘Who is this?’ the crowd at the river may ask.
He’s the Messiah, but by seeking baptism,
by walking in humility alongside them,
he’s the Messiah - but not as they've understood
what a Messiah should be.
Is it then, a case of mistaken identity?

The theme of identity is writ large in this recounting of Jesus’ baptism.
Is John the Messiah?
Is Jesus the Messiah?
Well, yes, but not quite what they were expecting.
But then, confirmation of his identity from a much higher source -
comes through the waters of baptism.
Jesus emerges from the water and,
in a small added detail that the account in Matthew doesn’t have,
he prays:
turns his focus upon God,
identifies with God -
recognising that he doesn't walk on the journey of faith in his own strength;
he doesn't make this journey alone:
God - Father and Spirit - are right there with him...
In this sense, perhaps, he views his baptism as a defining marker:
having lived a private life, his baptism serves as an act of commitment -
a signal that the moment had come to begin his ministry:
he consciously turns from his old life going about his carpentering in the workshop,
to his new life on the journey with God -
and on his journey towards Jerusalem,
that city which doesn’t honour its prophets.

God confirms this act of baptism with his blessing:
as Jesus prays that the heavens open,
the Spirit, like a dove, descends,
and a voice from heaven is heard, saying:
‘You...are my Son,
whom I love;
with you I am well pleased.’
It’s a great divine affirmation.
Having witnessed to his humanity through showing his relationship with people
through standing in solidarity with them
by standing in line and by being baptised with them -
we see Jesus reveal his divinity,
through showing his relationship with God through prayer.
His baptism is one of identity and belonging:
Son of Man
Son of God.

But baptism is essentially about identity and belonging.
As followers in faith here and now,
baptism is about who we are and whose we are.
Baptism is a sign of reconciliation and relationship:
a way of showing that our face is turned towards God, not away from God;
a way of showing that relationship with God is also about relationship with others:
the people of God.
We are baptised into Christ:
joined to God,
and joined to one another;
standing for God
and for each other.
Baptism is a sign of what God has done,
is doing, and will do in our lives - both now and for all time

We are baptised into life - not death;
baptised into freedom - not slavery;
baptised into community -
being baptised is not just about ‘me and my God’
We are all of us God’s children -
members of God’s family;
brothers and sisters in Christ.

Who are we?
I love the words in our reading from Isaiah today:
we are -
created and formed by God;
we are redeemed;
we are known - for God calls us by name;
we are God’s;
we are precious in God’s sight - and because of that,
not worthless, but worthy of honour;
we are loved.
We are God’s people and he is with us.
‘Our core identity lies not in our roles as individuals,
or in our relative size and wealth as [a congregation],
but in God’s identification of us as 
“precious in my sight, and honoured.” 
Our sense of belonging comes not from the acceptance of our peers 
or the status of our communities but from the One who 
claims us and will never let us go.’ 
           [W. Carter Lester in FOTW]

Baptism marks us as God’s people.
We turn our face towards God -
and there are days when we relax in God’s love,
and days when we resist God’s love;
days when we catch fleeting glimpses of
what God’s kingdom of heaven could be like on earth;
and days when it feels more like hell on earth.
We skip, and we stumble,
and we sometimes stop beside still waters to rest...
Baptism marks us as a people on a journey.

We wonder at the incarnation - of God walking for a time as one of us.
We ponder on the challenge that Jesus, the Messiah, calls us to -
which is to share, in word and in deed,
the good news that God is with us,
and to live life fully, abundantly.
In faith, we recognise the presence of the One
whose desire is to love us,
and who seeks to be loved in return.

Whether babe in the manger
or baptised man,
the good news of Jesus can’t be contained:
we may have packed away the physical signs and tokens of Christmas -
the tree may be gone, but the message remains:
as God is for us,
as God became one of us -
so we are for God,
so we become his hands, his feet,
seeing with his eyes of compassion
as we look around our world.

The great civil rights preacher, Howard Thurman, wrote:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart."

We are called by name - and are God’s own.
As we live into our baptism,
as we live into our identity as God’s precious ones,
so we continue to bring the light and hope of the Messiah
into our hearts,
our homes,
our world.
And perhaps, at the deepest of levels, the reality of Christmas
is born in us each time we do.

[immediately following the sermon, we took some time to remember and reflect 
on our baptism. Every had been given a stone as they came into worship. 
At the front of the church, the font had a large glass jar with water in it. 
The following is basically what we did...]

There’s an old tradition in some communities of the baptised,
that happens either on New Year’s Eve,
or early in the new year - often on the Sunday focusing upon Jesus’ baptism.
It’s a time for remembering and reflecting upon our baptism:
hard to remember for those of us who may have been babes in arms -
but each time we have a baptism in church, in a way,
we’re reminded of the vows made on our behalf.
And so, today, on this second Sunday of the new year,
and the Sunday upon which we've been thinking about Jesus’ baptism,
let’s take a quiet moment now to think upon our own identity
as God’s beloved ones...
as someone who is precious in his sight -
      [silence space for reflection]
Sometimes, it’s hard to accept that affirmation
of God's love, but here and now, remember:
you are God’s son,
you are God’s daughter:
with you,
he is well pleased.

As you came in this morning, each of you were given a stone.
As you can see, placed on our baptismal font is a large container of water...
and by the side, a candle, symbolising the light that has come into
the world through Jesus.
Over the next wee while, having been thinking of your baptism,
and of who you are and whose you are,
I’d invite you to come forward and place the stone into the water
as a reminder of your baptism...
and as the stones are gathered together,
let them remind us also that in baptism we are bound together -
as Christ’s body, and as brothers and sisters...
[people brought their stones and placed them in the water...
followed by a time of quiet reflection.  Thereafter, we said the following
prayer together...]

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.   Amen.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Epiphany, chocolate stars, and poetry

Today in worship we thought of journeys, as we observed
Epiphany, and mused on Magi, and star-following.
Last year, we gave out star words for reflecting on the journey. This year, chocolate stars were give to everyone for sustenance as we begin the journey of this new year!

Regardless of chocolate, it's the perfect time of year to dust of T. S. Eliot's great poem, 'The journey of the Magi', which
featured in the sermon:

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
"The Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot from Collected Poems 1909-1962. © Faber and Faber, 1974.